business news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from MNB reader Mike Sommers:

Surprised by your dismissive context regarding Amazon changing Whole Foods Market Prime delivery options.  What happened to, 'compete is a verb', and customer-centric approach?  In the rear-view perspective this looks like a bait and switch tactic, Amazon allowing new customers to sign-up for a service which included free WFM delivery, then changing it.  Simply canceling the subscription per your recommendation, to my knowledge, isn't pro-rated so you pay for the year and if you cancel halfway through, you don't get a refund.  Amazon should be required to offer the services for the duration of someone's subscription even if they've discontinued it for new customers, or allow a refund, or have their day in court to defend a seemingly bait and switch tactic.  

I was a little glib in my commentary about the story, from GeekWire, which reported that "a proposed class action lawsuit alleges that Amazon breached its contract with Prime members last year when it stopped offering free two-hour delivery on Whole Foods purchases of $35 or more."

I commented:

Might've been easier, not to say with fewer legal bills, to just cancel Amazon Prime service.  Hard to imagine that Amazon doesn't have a legal loophole that allows it to change the rules when it wants to.

To be clear, I wasn't arguing that Amazon/Whole Foods was right … just that they probably had a loophole in whatever contract we all signed.

But you make a fair point.

Chiming in on the discussion about whether climate change requires that traditional benchmarks of capitalism need to be adjusted to some degree, - which was prompted by a piece that I ran by Tufts University senior Meghan Smith - one MNB reader wrote:

You are assuming that climate change is completely the result of humans. Read counterpoints to that. I suggest "Inconvenient Facts," by Gregory Wrightstone if you claim to have an open mind that you are espousing.

Actually, I'm not assuming anything … I am trusting the vast majority of climate scientists who believe that human beings have contributed to the climate crisis, and who argue that it would be foolhardy to do nothing to try to combat it.

I'm not a scientist … though when I googled the book you mention, I did see an awful lot of entries that debunked the book, citing its willingness to twist data to support its own biases and promote myths that many educated people feel are unsupportable.  (I feel like this is the same argument that took place during the pandemic, when what should've been a public health policy conversation somehow became a political football.)

That's okay.  We're not going to resolve the argument here, and MNB probably isn't the place to have an extended debate about the source of climate change.  I don't expect to persuade you, and you're probably not going to persuade me.

Here's my bottom line feeling.  I think it seems utterly reasonable to believe that human beings have contributed to climate change, and that it makes a lot more sense to try to do something about it and then find out it was not necessary, as opposed to assuming that nothing could be done about it and then find out we should have tried.  Especially when there seems to be ample evidence that while this approach may upend some traditional businesses and industries, in the end it will be good for the economy.

So I'm sorry.  I'm not going to read the book, because I just don't need to go down that rabbit hole.  If I do, I might not find my way out, and then I'll start using MNB to spout QAnon conspiracy theories, and eventually I'll find myself joining the Proud Boys.

I did a piece last week about a shopping experience that left me enormously dissatisfied with two retailers and a supplier - Chobani Vanilla Oat Yogurt was a new product that appeared on Whole Foods' and Stop & Shop's shelves, only to disappear without explanation.  I mentioned that I'd written to Chobani asking if there was a supply chain issue, but had heard nothing back, which prompted this email:

The failure for Chobani to reply to your question is very unlike them. Agree 100% that failure to reply make a bad situation worse...and they know that.

Now that you have gone public....share their response.

I expect it to be fast and acknowledging their error.

Nope.  Nothing,  Not from Chobani.  Not from Whole Foods.  Not from Stop & Shop.

Which says a lot about all of them, IMNSHO.

Yesterday we cited a Wall Street Journal story saying that the once-and-current CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, plans to stay in the job longer than originally scheduled.  His current timetable is to stay until next March, at which point he will be succeeded by someone from outside the organization.

I commented, in part:

Schultz says that new and changed circumstances have required "Starbucks to rethink its operations in ways no CEO could have fully anticipated."  If that's true, why did (just-departed CEO Kevin Johnson have to go?  (And don't tell me that he left voluntarily.)

Also … for the record, I think it is fair to describe Johnson as an "outside hire."  After all, he was with Microsoft for 16 years and then Juniper Networks (as CEO) for more than five years before coming to Starbucks as president/COO in 2015.  And when Jim Donald joined the company in 2002, becoming president/CEO in 2005, it was as someone with an outside retail pedigree - he'd been at Walmart, Safeway and Pathmark.

In both cases, Schultz's messiah complex kicked in.  Is there any reason to think that it will go differently this time?

Just asking.

MNB reader Dan Jones wrote:

 It is an indictment of Schultz and the remaining Starbucks team that they need to go outside the organization for talent.   There are nearly 400,000 Starbucks employees.  If none of the current employees have driven change or suggested adjustments for operating in these times it is a poor reflection on the leaders and culture at Starbucks today.

And, from MNB reader Bob Thomas:

It should be noted that Johnson was CEO when Juniper Networks was involved in offering bribes in China and Russia.  “Though Juniper learned of these practices in late 2009, according to the SEC, it allowed the payments to continue for another four years until 2013.”  Johnson left Juniper in 2013.  The company paid more than 11 million dollars in fines to avoid prosecution.  Juniper Networks neither admitted nor denied it engaged in any wrongdoing, 

On the subject of Amazon's over-expansion of warehouse space, MNB reader Steve Anvik wrote:

Best wishes to any Monday morning QB who thinks Amazon over-expanded warehouse or delivery capability during Covid. As an Amazon customer I for one applaud they “did what it took” to support supplies & delivery norms. To have errored the other way would have brought a criticism from other MMQB.  Stop whining Jassy, others.

On the subject of the economy the wild range of projections about what will happen next, one MNB reader wrote:

It’s called the “dismal science” for a reason, KC.    Economists cannot agree on what they had for dinner last evening, much less what will happen in the future with something as complex as the economy.

And finally, from MNB reader Deborah Faragher:

Sorry to hear your Portland venture is not on the schedule this year but happy to know you’ll at least be in the area.

As for Philly cheesesteaks, I highly recommend on your next visit a trip to Jim’s at 4th and South Sts.  I figure this is up there with your cheeseburger study but, in all honesty, Pat’s and Geno’s, while garnering praise, are not our favorites.  Try Jim’s and let me know!  My preference is with American Cheese though Whiz is good.  They also do a mean hoagie and you usually don’t have to wait in line for that!

Next time.