business news in context, analysis with attitude

One MNB reader sent me an email with some thoughts about the lawsuit filed by consumers objecting to the Kroger-Albertsons merger:

Do you think concerned grocery shoppers are most worried about a lack of competition (choices) or low prices?  I think many of us are guilty of supporting a "just cause" and shopping the opposite.  Frankly, I'm not convinced that more competition = low prices.  Anymore it seems to me (a shopper, not a retailer) that the bigger your buying power, the lower the prices.  I'm still pondering where I stand on this subject…

MNB reader Patrick Smith wrote:

As a grocery industry “lifer” it is amazing that anyone in the industry could take seriously the posit that this is pro consumer? If I were in the FTC it would take me about ½ a second to say no to this proposed merger.

Kroger has asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed, arguing that objections based on concerns about it bering anti-consumer were "speculative."

I commented:

I'm not a lawyer, but aren't most lawsuits "speculative," in that they take a position opposite that of another entity and then go before and judge and jury to attempt to prove that the speculation is factual?

And since Kroger and Albertsons both maintain that this merger is not anti-competitive and in fact is pro-consumer, shouldn't consumers actually have the most standing, rather than the least, to challenge the deal?  "Roving antitrust enforcer" may sound ominous, but this sounds more like consumers finding and using their voices to influence public policy.  Isn't that a good thing?  And shouldn't, at some level, Kroger and Albertsons welcome the opportunity to prove their case in a public forum?

I'm not even against the merger.  I'm just asking.

One MNB reader responded:

Since you’re not against the merger, just asking….  Here are some answers…….

No, most lawsuits are not speculative.  Outcomes may be unknown, but that does not make them by default, speculative.

Wasn’t there a Congressional hearing on this merger?  Is that not enough of a public forum? Plus,  aren’t a dozen state AG’s suing already? Are those not enough of s public forum?  

Lastly, let’s not be naive….  these lawsuits are not filed by consumers with a true grievance or even employees fearful of losing their jobs, they’re filed by law firms whose only aim is to get paid to go away (a rather successful business model, as it turns out, because in the rush to a $25billion Merger, $30-50mm sprinkled to 4-6 law firms shut up & go away is just line noise). Truth can be had  if one finds out which law firm filed, and on behalf of who. Example: Morgan & Morgan filing on behalf of “all grocery shoppers in LA County” will tell us what true motivations are.

There are many law practices where this is their bread & butter and all they do.

So, while I don’t disagree that consumers should have exulted standing, assuming that these lawyers represent real consumers just because they said so comes across as hopelessly naive.  

Hey, I have no dog in the fight. There are no Krogers or Albertson’s in Miami.  My wife shops at Whole Foods 3x/week and I shop at Milam’s, a great local Independent in Dade County, FL. I  can't stand the moral superiority of Whole Foods (or the fact they don’t carry Tostitos, Crest nor Tide).  

Reacting to my FaceTime video from last Friday, MNB reader Mike Sommers wrote: 

I'm surprised by your seemingly giddy excitement over the robot in the United Club.  My initial take was this is another customer contact point taken away by robots.  No different than self checkout at a grocery store.  If I can go to a grocery store and have zero interaction with an employee, driven by the retailer's choice to install self check-outs, then the only difference between shopping in the store or having the instacart's of the world delivering me the groceries is the hassle of me going into the store.  Isn't this a key piece to Amazon's past success?  Poor customer service experiences across retailers and industries and the ease of click today and have the item show up at my door hours or days later?  I know I grew tired of employees experiencing, 'don't-give-a-damn-syndrome'.  Haven't shopped at a Target for 2 years after asking an employee about an out of stock on shelf, and after the employee searched their hand held device, told me it delivered yesterday, was in the backroom, but wouldn't be put on shelf until the following evening and I could come back later in the week if I still wanted it.  Jeff Bezos delivered it to me 36 hours later and it's on subscription now...but I digress.

Isn't United losing out on another point of contact with the customer by using these robots?  However, maybe that's a good thing given the poor customer service provided by the airlines these days..and maybe United realizing their employees are suffering from don't-give-a-damn, and at least while the robot may not bring a smile or laughter during a brief conversation, it won't cause a negative experience from a conversation either since there isn't one happening.  

Was I giddy? I would've characterized myself as bemused.

Your points are good ones, though points of human contact can be hjard to maintain if there is a shortage of humans.

And I will say that, of all the airlines I fly, United does a pretty good job of getting me from point A to point B, and the folks who work there are generally pretty pleasant.

Last week, we took note of a Wall Street Journal story about how Uber Technologies CEO Dara Khosrowshahi last year "made dozens of trips as a ride-share driver … ferrying people around the hills of San Francisco."

I brought it up because of the details of what Khosrowshahi found and how it is impacting Uber, but rather because what he did was so important - getting out from behind the desk and experiencing the company's value proposition on the ground.

MNB reader Scott Nelson responded:

This reminds me of my days working at Ralphs in So Cal.  I was a grocery manager at the time in Ventura County.  We would get a heads up from the District Manager that the VP was coming to the area so we would get additional hours to make the store look good.  It was always about the labor hours.  We had a store in Calabasas at the time that was struggling and somehow the VP heard a customer complaint that was so bad that he decided to go to the store unannounced.  It was a particularly bad day.  The receiver and one of the night crew called in sick.   The store was a mess, worse than normal.   He called the District Manager and told him to get to the store NOW.  It was bad.   The one thing I remember hearing is that the VP took the DM practically by the back of his neck from check stand merchandiser to check stand merchandiser and pointed out each of the many empty hooks and shelves and said “loss of sales” “loss of sales” over  and over.   Surprisingly the struggling store received more labor hours and things improved.