business news in context, analysis with attitude

Regarding Walmart's decision to close half its Chicago stores, MNB reader Mike Bach wrote:

Walmart warned the market and its vendors that changes in the store base was coming.  Therefore, Portland and Chicago store closings were not a real surprise.

Walmart has long enjoyed “anchor tenant” status within the centers they operate.  What will be interesting to watch is the changes that will occur in leasing rates within the impacted store centers.   With Walmart leaving, Family Dollar, Dollar General and ALDI find some nice sites to position there stores, thus eliminating any concern about food deserts being created by Walmart’s departure.  We should expect tax abatements to incentivize these small store formats to replace Walmart.

I hope this round of closings becomes a wake-up call to state governments to be responsive to help in areas where profitability can be impacted by legislation.

And, on the broader subject of urban issues hitting retailers, MNB reader Rich Heiland wrote:

The issue of urban decay is not a new one. It goes back, in our times, to the post-World War II era when suburbs mushroomed and both people and jobs left cities. To begin listing the problems facing cities would take more time and space than you have. We now live just west of Philadelphia so are treated to nightly news stories of carjackings, shootings and other crime. There currently is a mayor's race underway and all seven candidates are saying basically the same thing - get rid of guns, get rid of crime, get rid of dirty streets and potholes. The problem is "getting rid" of is not "adding to." The reality, as I see it, is that cities are inflicted with, and reflecting, national issues that no local elected official can solve. There is no question we need to reduce gun violence, return urban schools to parity, put jobs with liveable wages with reach of those who either cannot leave the city or choose to remain. But, until we decide at a national level that our cities are worth having, we are asking local officials to do the impossible. I say all this as a fan of cities. Particularly European ones where many of these issues have been resolved to a functional degree.

From another reader:

I appreciate your optimism in hoping that big cities will “return”. However, I suggest that the rebound will start with new and better leadership. As of September 2020, the top 100 largest US cities are run by 64 Democrats, 28 Republicans, three independents and four non-partisans. Americans continue to leave big cities in favor of a safer, more promising lifestyle. It’s a complex problem but it’s clear by the actions of major retailers like Walmart, Whole Foods, Walgreens, etc. the safety of their employees and interests of their shareholders are not being met in many large, urban areas. I live in Southern California. Los Angeles voters opted for Karen Bass, a career politician over Rick Caruso, a successful businessman. Let’s see if Bass’s leadership can change the direction of another large American city riddled with crime, homelessness, declining schools, etc. 

I think there is some evidence (Mike Bloomberg) that business leaders make effective political leaders.  There's also some evidence that this is not always the case.

And from another:

Definitely very unfortunate that Chicago is losing stores that are bringing lower prices to the citizenry.  With the stores closing, hopefully the city is working with them to benefit the communities they are in.  Possibly converting them to homeless shelters or community centers that people can go to in a safe environment. 

One MNB reader offered an opinion about Amazon's decision to back off traditional stock awards to employees:

I'm not being flippant about Amazon and how they structure their bonuses, and to many it may indeed be a big deal.

However, there is always another side of the coin, or the issue.  

In my nearly 50 years of employment, I've worked for one company that actually paid a bonus.  I worked for them for 12 years before they outsourced my department and laid me and most of my coworkers off.  In 12 years, I got one bonus, that's right , I got paid a bonus one year.

Everywhere else I worked, my end of year bonus was that I got to keep my job, well, at least until I didn't.  There was the time in the second week of January when I was called in being told it was for my annual review, when it fact I got laid off.  There were two full time people in my department, and both of us got laid off.

So yes, bonuses and how they are paid may well be very important to many people, unfortunately, there's lots of us for whom it's not important, because we don't get bonuses.

If we're lucky, we get to keep our jobs.

Forgive me, but that sounds like a terrible way to spend a work life.

Yesterday the Cincinnati Business Courier wrote that Sprouts CEO Jack Sinclair 

"is not too worried about the potential $24.6 billion merger of Kroger and Albertsons Cos. affecting his company, and he doesn’t know how much it’ll actually help the two large chains compete against Walmart." He said that "his company operates on a completely different side of the grocery industry than downtown Cincinnati-based Kroger and Albertsons and their brands."

I commented:

Sinclair may be saying he's not worried, but I'd be willing to bet that inside Sprouts, they;'ll be working overtime to emphasize and sharpen their competitive and differential advantages.

One MNB reader responded:

I worked for Jack when he was at Walmart.  He is a great guy and extremely smart.  He wants to ensure Sprout’s doesn’t lose the focus and get distracted with the merger.  He has his eye on it, but you are right, they are sharpening the pencils and will protect their turf. He is too good of a merchant to not.

Loved this comment from an MNB reader about how Walmart is suing credit card partner Capital One, with the bank saying it will "vigorously defend the suit."

In my short 61 years on this planet, I’ve learned when a lawyer says, ‘we will vigorously defend the suit’, they are not in a good place.  Just an observation.  

The other day, responding to an MNB reader who wrote in about the need for better and more effective gun legislation, I wrote:

“Oh, come on.  Are you seriously suggesting that our nation and culture ought to prioritize the banning of some people from owning guns, or banning unqualified or untrained people from owning guns, over the banning of books and drag shows?

How can you suggest such a thing and consider yourself a serious person?”

Another MNB reader wrote:

I would love to know what % of readers didn’t realize you were being sarcastic.

Not enough.

Regarding Amazon's decisions to make it a little harder, and a little more expensive, to make returns in certain cases, one MNB reader wrote:

I’m not surprised by this, but it definitely makes me think twice about buying something from Amazon. Side note: I went to return something a month ago, and that particular item said it would cost something like $4.99 to return to UPS, so I drove it over to Kohl’s. Doesn’t appear that is the norm with returns though. Not sure why one item shows as a cost to return to UPS and others free (at the moment).

Because they want to control the returns process.  Step outside the preferred lanes, and it'll cost you.

Regarding Walmart's EV charging stations initiative, MNB reader Deborah Faragher wrote:

Can’t help but think that cinemas should be a prime target for providing charging stations.  Talk about a win/win.  Wouldn’t that be right up your alley, Michael and Kevin???  

Great idea.

From another reader:

The new Ford EV pick up lists at $100,000.  I seriously doubt many of these will be in Walmart parking lots.

First of all, I'm not sure Walmart would agree with you - it is actively trying to attract high net worth shoppers.

And second, it may be that once some folks buy that $100,000 EV, Walmart may look a lot more attractive.

Yesterday I cited new research from Hub Entertainment says that there are some 204 million smart TVs in US households, marking the first time the number has exceeded 200 million and reflecting the degree to which the home entertainment sector has evolved.

And I commented:

At what point are we going to stop calling them TV sets?  The name hasn't changed since people were watching "I Love Lucy" on 15-inch black-and-white screens in the 1950s, and yet the technology and the experience - not to mention the content - have changed in enormous and fundamental ways.  "TV set" doesn't seem to capture the reality, and I think we need to come up with a new name that reflects this evolution.

One MNB reader responded:

A new name . . . .probably means a price increase.

Maybe.  But even smart TVs are remarkably cheap these days.  I checked on Amazon, and you can get a 24-inch RCA 2 Smart LED TV for $89.99.  

No matter what name it goes by.