business news in context, analysis with attitude

We had an open letter to Jeff Bezos the other day that was highly critical of a new Amazon Fresh store, prompting MNB reader Monte Stowell to write:

This open letter to Jeff Bezos by the 69 year old shopper is a call to action by Jeff Bezos. Does one believe that Jeff Bezos is aware of the grand opening snafus and problems at his grand openings? I do not think he is. Retail is not just about all the new tech bells and whistles. A very important part of retail is the human element, and it is obvious that this new store format is deficient in its training and expectations for making the grand opening a positive experience for its customers. The letter this gentleman wrote to Jeff Bezos was spot on as to what needs to be addressed and corrected. Thanks for posting that letter. It will be interesting the response this gentleman gets from Jeff Bezos or from someone else in Amazon.

We had a story the other day about the continuing debate about credit card swipe fees, about which major trade associations were testifying before the US Senate.

I commented:

This is an argument that seems to be without end, with very little possibility of a resolution.  It is like the old African proverb about how, when elephants fight, the real loser is the grass.

In this case, shoppers are the grass.

Got the following email from an MNB reader:

Shoppers are indeed the grass, and not just because these fees will be baked inside of rising prices, but because these fees will impact small businesses in a bigger way and ultimately force some of these businesses to close their doors or raise their prices beyond what shoppers are willing to pay to “shop local". I can tell you that a HUGE part of our costs as a small grocery chain are from these fees. Between that and rising insurance costs, it’s untenable. But we have to accept cards because this is our world today. 

Bitcoin anyone? 

But another MNB reader wrote:

Actually, the only shoppers that are losers are the shoppers that don't use credit cards.  

And you never seem to acknowledge that there are also retailer costs associated with cash and checks.  The Brink's truck doesn't pick up that cash for free.  I presume there is a not insignificant backroom labor in handling cash and depositing checks not to mention losses from checks that "bounce". 

On the subject of Best Buy expanding beyond its traditional categories into health, fitness, personal electric transportation, outdoor products and other potentially big ticket areas, MNB reader Steve Anvik wrote:

Makes sense in that many home devices, beyond electronics to the ones mentioned - are smart devices (or have some micro processing capabilities), that some consumers will not only need assistance with .. but an opportunity for Best Buy to up sell some extended warranty.

On another subject, one MNB reader wrote:

Interesting that you report on a study by Brick Meets Click without mentioning its late founder Bill Bishop. I’m obviously wrong, but I always assumed that it was a one man show from a well known food industry pundit.

Nope.  Brick Meets Click was more than just Bill, though he certainly was the guiding intelligence behind its founding.

Got the following email from MNB reader Andy Casey responding to some of our unionization stories:

Last time inflation was this bad, back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, I was a young father trying to finish college and grad school while working full time at a unionized national grocery chain to support my family. For the most part, I had little use for our union readership (often seemed more interested in their livelihood than mine) but one thing I will give them props for is negotiating early on a CPI based cost of living adjustment that kicked in every six months or so. Made a huge difference in helping members keep up with rising prices. 

The other day we had a piece citing a story from the  Associated Press about how "the federal government has arranged for 20 internet companies 'to provide discounted service to people with low incomes, a program that could effectively make tens of millions of households eligible for free service through an already existing federal subsidy' … The program means that 'families of four earning about $55,000 annually — or those including someone eligible for Medicaid — will get a $30 monthly credit, meaning about 40 percent of Americans will qualify'."

One MNB reader was outraged:

The estimate of “40% of Americans” will qualify for this subsidy is quite frankly obscene.

We are experiencing the highest inflation in 40 years.  So let’s pour gasoline on it through more wasteful government spending!  Unbelievable!

Keep in mind that, according to the AP, "the $1 trillion infrastructure package passed by Congress last year included $14.2 billion funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides $30 monthly subsidies ($75 in tribal areas) on internet service for millions of lower-income households." So the money already had been budgeted.

Maybe I'm wrong about this - and to be honest, I'm not entirely sure how the income threshold was determined - but I think helping people who might not be able to afford high-speed internet to have access to a service that is critically important to modern life … well, that doesn't seem like such a bad deal to me.

Responding to yesterday's FaceTime about how many seniors are far more tech literate than they are given credit for, one MNB reader wrote:

Amen! Preaching to the choir here, but thanks for this one. Today’s seniors are increasingly made up of the Baby Boomers who spent their adult lives adapting to advances in technology; from broadcast TV to cable and then streaming, from records to tapes to CD’s to MP3’s to music apps, the list goes on.

I often tell folks that when I got into corporate training in the late 80’s we wrote courses on legal pads then handed them off to admins who would type them up and thus begin a cycle of red ink and re-typing until we got it where we wanted. Then off to our advertising area for typesetting and, literally, cutting and pasting images on the master pages. My lobbying efforts for a PC were finally successful with a DOS IBM and a program called Professional Write. Then came Windows, then MS Office and something called PowerPoint (what’s this for?) Then ½” VHS video recording, then digital, then training delivered on a computer disc, and now we’re authoring our own web-based courses, editing digital video and images, and tracking/assigning/delivering training through a web-based Learning Management System.

This senior (I’ll be 70 next year), and many others I work with, have kept up. Here’s the kicker. My Mom worked until her last week on this earth, using email and keeping the financials for my sister-in-law’s business using QuickBooks. At the age of 88. Back in 2014. As we keep learning, the things we think we know about any group of people is often more determined by our preconceived notions than rooted in reality. Attention must be paid! 

Another MNB reader wrote:

How true this story is about senior citizens!  I think the retailer may want to think about the next generation of senior citizens that are in their 50’s.  By the time he gets the technology in all his stores these people will be ready, willing and able to use it.  My mom is 86 and uses iPhone, computer and I-pad.  On the other hand my Dad at 87 …..not so much.

Regarding IKEA's expansion, one MNB reader wrote:

I live in a NO IKEA zone. They won’t deliver to me because it is too far. Ok why have a catalogue? The company seems to be very arrogant, and I think that will have to change at some point. I love their product, but am very frustrated with them.

That's such an odd turn of phrase … you'd think in 2022, there's be no such thing as a "no-any-retailer zone."

And finally, MNB reader Matt Nitzberg noticed a joke opportunity that I missed:

Regarding your item on Redbox:

“Variety reports this morning that ‘Redbox Entertainment, the DVD kiosk and streaming video company, has set a deal to be acquired by Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment in an all-stock transaction.’”

An “all-stock transaction” by Chicken Soup. It was right there, Kevin. 

Boom!  Can't believe I missed that.  Thanks for keeping me honest.