business news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday I featured an email from an MNB reader that read:

I was in the Kansas City airport, the 2nd day of the “new” airport. Down in baggage claim of all places is an Amazon Go store. Now I don’t know what title the people assisting shoppers are called (mentors, geniuses, etc.) but they had two working that 2nd day. I was more than a bit surprised at the mature lady on the right, she has cane and as I noticed limited mobility. Her age is at least 70 or at least on either side of 70. 

Labor issues are an issue but can this lady really help all the people younger and more digitally native shoppers with app/software downloads and issues? Would I feel better working through the app struggle with her or a 25 year old with green hair?  Probably the latter for me but I may be in the minority. Does Amazon want a lady that might have worked in a grocery store in 1969 when she was 16 helping shoppers new to the technology? I guess it is all perception and she may have completed a great career in IT and be very capable and is doing this for fun and to meet people. I really doubt that since she is working at a Amazon Go store in an airport but who knows.

Here's the picture:

I commented:

I take your point about whether this person, at least on the face of it, is the best ambassador for Go-style technology.  In fact, we don't know if she is or not.  She may be incredibly talented at a) engaging with people, and b) teaching customers about technology.  It may matter more if she's good at (a) than (b), since (b) is sort of self-evident.  And, the fact is that if she indeed is 70, that means she was 40 in 1993, which was when Amazon was the early stages of development.

It may be that I'm taking this observation a little personally.  I'm not that far from being 70, and I think I could explain Go technology as customers.  (You should've seen me explaining the Parallel Realities technology to other Delta passengers in the Detroit airport yesterday.  I was terrific - though I suspect Mrs. Content Guy would've observed that I belonged in a Progressive Insurance commercial, cited by Dr. Rick as a bad example of how to behave in public.)

Here's the bottom line, in my view.  I think we have to be a little careful about how we evaluate people's abilities based on their age or, quite frankly, other stereotypical characteristics.  You may be right - she may have the job because she has a heartbeat and nobody else was available.  But she also may be the right person for the gig, which all by itself could be an Eye-Opener.

MNB reader Duane Eaton responded:

Oh my!  I hope this reader is not in a position of hiring talent.  If he/she/they are I hope their organization has a good labor attorney.  Full disclosure, I’m 74, and more than slightly offended.  I’m may not be as young, strong, fast or flexible as I once was, but I’m still capable of thinking, learning, and functioning effectively in a variety of work situations.  I’m pretty sure working at a service desk in an Amazon Go store could be one of those situations.  After all, I’m still younger than the President of the United States or his chief challenger.

From another reader:

I agree with you on the age issue. I am 68 years old and recently “retired” as my position of VP/GM of a chain of retail outlets, but have stayed on working on RE projects and government relations. We recently have a new web-based program to evaluate future RE sites and to get a better understanding of where our existing customers are coming from. So far, I am the resident expert at our company using this technology. Admittedly I was a bit nervous about learning this. We have a number of key people at our company much younger than me and much brighter, but I have been able to continue to learn.

You know the adage, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

From another reader:

Like you, I may be “taking this observation a little personally” re: your reader’s comments about the Amazon Go Store staffing choices. I’m still closer to 60 than 70. But, still…

Let’s start with: “…can this lady really help all the people younger and more digitally native shoppers with app/software downloads and issues?” How many younger, digitally native shoppers need that much help? Plus, the older woman isn’t there alone.

Which leads me to… “Does Amazon want a lady that might have worked in a grocery store in 1969 when she was 16 helping shoppers new to the technology?” To that I say: Does Amazon want shoppers like me—who is admittedly low-tech and has never imagined I’d ever walk into one of their stores? Probably. I can usually indulge my shopping whims…not to mention those of my adult children and my granddaughters when we’re out and about. So, even if this woman isn’t great at the app (and I’m not suggesting she can’t be…see below), she and her co-worker could work as sort of a tag team, with the younger person dealing with more complex tech questions, as needed. Maybe Amazon realizes that, with the people-skills she learned over her lifetime (yes, especially if she was ever an essential grocery store worker where she would likely have had to remain calm and be helpful to a wide range of people) the older—gutsy, IMO—woman is the perfect ambassador to folks like me. Maybe I’d feel like I belong in an Amazon Go Store after all.

Finally: “…she may have completed a great career in IT and be very capable…” How “great a career in IT” does a person have to have to work at an Amazon Go Store? Pretty sure that isn’t the only path for someone over 50 to figure out how to work an app and troubleshoot issues. I may be tech resistant. But, I have plenty of contemporaries and even older family/friends who are adopting and operating just fine with all types of technology. Even I eventually join in…most of the time. I suggest your reader not judge a book by its cover (or a wine by its label). Very old advice. As true today as ever.

As always, thanks for Morning News Beat.

And from another:

I agree with Kevin—don’t judge based on what you see. You could change the subject to the other person in the photo and say something I won’t say, but would be universally accepted as bigoted and hateful. What’s the difference?

MNB reader Bob Thomas wrote:

Maybe the lady is a retired MIT professor of Computer Science.

And MNB reader Joe Axford wrote:

I have no problem with the 70 year old lady, but I do with the empty shelves...

From MNB reader Deanna Haney:

I have always agreed that “you can’t judge a book by its cover” but wishing that the MNB reader had engaged with the mature employee to answer the question (right person for the gig or the only person available?).

I know many “mature” people who have retired and gone back to work because they’re bored.  Channeling Robert De Niro in The Intern.

You make a great point.

I have no plans to be in Kansas City anytime soon but if anyone in the MNB community happens to be in the airport, I hope you'll check out the Go store there and engage with the employees young and old.  And then, of course, report back.

Got the following email from an MNB reader:

This morning you shared how millennials are saving less and are not as healthy as they should be. 

Your answer - create a culture of kindness. I think you have used that same prescription for almost every issue in the industry. 

Happiness is an externality - reliant on others or other worldly factors. Being reliant on the world to create a happier work place is not a solution. Joy is finding internal peace regardless of the world.

As leaders it is our responsibility to be honest, optimistic and guiding. Happiness does not factor into a productive or innovative workplace. And happiness is not a guiding principle to any wisdom writing. It is not a guiding principle for really any factor in life. 

People who find inner joy are happier by nature. My workplace is not the driver to personal joy nor should we abdicate responsibility to find joy.

Be true to yourself and your values and hopefully the company values - and there you will find a productive and innovative culture. 

I don't think I said create a "culture of happiness."  I don't think that a business culture can help people who are fundamentally unhappy or unsatisfied.  And I don't believe that a culture of kindness can solve every problem in the industry.

But I do think that if business leaders create a culture that is inherently kind - and not cruel and unreasonably or gratuitously demanding - they will end up employing people who will strive for greater achievement, who will feel more invested in the business.

Regarding Starbucks' labor issues, one MNB reader wrote:

I have a granddaughter that just turned 21 last week.  She worked part-time as a hostess for Texas Roadhouse and Bob Evans.  Then three years ago as a college student she went to work part time for Starbucks.  After listening to her experiences at Starbucks I do not understand why any employee would want to unionize, and neither does she.  She is an exceptional worker and that may be part of her exceptional treatment by Starbucks but I suspect they treat all their employees that way.   This is in the Columbus, Ohio metro area.  Perhaps things are different elsewhere.

Yesterday we took note of a Common Dreams report that "a progressive coalition of more than 100 unions and consumer advocacy groups from across the United States has come together to build the 'Stop the Merger' campaign, a national and state-level effort to prevent Kroger from acquiring Albertsons and establishing the country's most powerful grocery cartel."

One MNB reader wrote:

What I find interesting is the fact that all these unions are backing this, but have failed to unionize Walmart.

I've gotten this completely wrong.  I thought - and so here - that the resurgence of unionization activity around the country would lead inevitably to an attempt to organize workers at Walmart.  It just seemed like the time was ripe for one more try.  But it hasn't happened, and I'm surprised by that.

The New York Times reported earlier this week  that a class action lawsuit has been brought by a Chicago-area man against Buffalo Wild Wings, charging that "the restaurant chain is falsely advertising its boneless wing products, which he says are more like chicken nuggets."

I commented:

The suit apparently says that the plaintiff ordered the boneless wings at a Buffalo Wild Wings and was shocked, shocked to find out they weren't actually wings - and so, like every other person, he immediately went out and got a lawyer and filed a lawsuit.

On the one hand, this is profoundly stupid and reflective of a litigious component of American culture that is distasteful.

Now, I also have to admit that I've argued here many times that things ought to be what they are, not something else.  So at some level, the suit has a point - though when I've had boneless wings, it never has occurred to me that they were the ingredients for a lawsuit.   I hope that whatever court this ends up in, the plaintiffs get a couple of bucks in restitution, and nothing else.

Maybe they just ought to call them "wingless wings."

In the end, this says more about the culture than Buffalo Wild Wings.  And what it says about the culture is plucked up.

One MNB reader wrote:

Unless that guy lives under a rock, he knew exactly what he was going to get when he ordered "boneless wings"!

Another MNB reader wrote:

This report made me chuckle.  I’ve told my now adult children for years that I wouldn’t pay for their boneless wings if they ordered them in a restaurant since all they are is higher priced chicken nuggets.  I didn’t realize I should have let them order all they wanted and I could potentially benefit from litigation.  Really though, who actually thinks boneless wings are anything other than chicken nuggets with the wing sauce of their choice.

 And from another reader:

As Neil Young wrote:

“You pay for this, but they give you that

And once you're gone, you can't come back

When you're out of the blue and into the black.”

Another MNB reader wrote:

Can I sue places that sell hamburgers that don’t have ham in them?

And from another reader:

I firmly believe that there is a far greater concern that we need to be aware of with respect to these absurd litigious issues.  First, whether we consider a lawsuit to be frivolous or not it still must be defended and often at a great cost.  And who pays that cost?  Ultimately it is the consumer that will have to bear the cost through higher prices needed to generate cash for defense.  The second issue I see is far more complex and that is what information is made available to consumers.  If you have to change the name of a boneless wing which is popular lexicon, what naming standard would be used and how easy will it be for consumers to navigate this new world.  Will Processed chicken breast reshaped and breaded find its way to the Buffalo Wild Wings menu?  Will Velveeta Shell’s and Cheese Microwaveable product instructions now state 3 ½ to 6 minutes unless you have trouble opening the lid or you need extra time for the product to cool before consuming then it might be even longer?

On another subject, one MNB reader wrote:

I tried the olive oil and coffee and played around with the ratio. Turns out 5 oz of olive oil with a teaspoon of coffee is pretty good!

I'll have to try those proportions.