business news in context, analysis with attitude

First of all, a note to the several MNB users who wrote yesterday about our commentary suggesting that a major shift in the supermarket industry will take place when a major chain acquires a convenience store chain. A number of you pointed out that Kroger, which certainly qualifies as a major chain, has more than 800 c-stores around then country.

Of course they do. You’re right about that, of course.

We meant another major supermarket chain.

We continue to get email about self-checkout systems.

One MNB user wrote:

Just wanted to pass along a recent experience I had at Home Depot regarding self-checkout. Even though my local HD has had self-checkout for a while, I only started using it recently. I enjoy the human experience and prefer the full service checkout. However, soon after the self-checkout units were installed I noticed fewer human-manned checkout aisles open and long lines in those that were. Interestingly, the self-checkout aisles did not have much of a queue, if any, yet shoppers still stood in the longer lines. I finally tired of waiting in those lines and started using self-checkout.

Upon my last visit to Home Depot, I went to use the self-checkout and found them all to be closed. Apparently, there was some system or computer error that shut down all those units but not the regular registers. While the confused employees tried to figure out how to rectify this, all customers had to stand in the now expanding lines. I thought for sure they would just open more lanes to relieve the pressure on the 2 lanes that were open but that never happened. That got me thinking of the point you usually bring up about whether staff is reduced or redeployed once self-checkout is implemented. My guess on this occasion is that they did not have any register-trained employees on the floor to help alleviate this problem - a problem that likely does not occur very often.

To top it off, I didn't even get a good "human" experience as my checker was not very friendly and barely said a word to me the whole time. It actually made me miss the self checkout scanner experience which never leaves me in a worse mood than when I entered.

Well, that's one way to get people to like self-checkout…

Yesterday, we ran a self-checkout-related email from an MNB user referring to the fact that our nine-year-old daughter loves self-checkout:

"Ahhh ... your daughter has brought home to you the "rub" ... Now that you, Kevin, are not considered in the "with-it" generation, your kids have to bring you around to their world. This generation, mid-20's and down, are more connected with technology than with people. They communicate through technology instead of around the table. Cell phones, Pc's, Instant Messaging, email, etc are their preferred method of communication. So, when it comes to checkouts they are naturally more comfortable with self-checkout. This pattern will only grow and become a necessity for retailers to have to reach their younger consumer rather than a point of difference or niche."

This prompted another MNB user to respond:

Wow is that a stereotype! I agree that those of us in our mid-twenties and younger are more accustom to technological means of communication but to make a jump to say that we are more connected to technology than with people is wrong. Personally, I don't prefer to speak with someone over the computer or cell-phone but I do because that is the only way I can talk to them. We can thank technology for keeping us in touch with those friends that live in different states or parts of the world even.

Self-checkout is a great idea but there are still people that are placed in charge of this section at the stores in case there is user error or a kink in the computer... we can't fully rely on computers because after all humans did create these programs and they can only do what we tell them to. By the way, I know plenty of people well beyond their twenties that have become addicted to technology; isolating them from the "real" people around them.

In a commentary about hopeful economic signs, we noted that we remain worried that these positive signs are built on a house of cards that could easily collapse, which prompted MNB user Albert Lees to write:

I fully agree that there are far too many warning signs that scare the hell out of me. Maybe we could call it cautious optimism with a heavy emphasis on

Another MNB user wrote:

Do you think that the Bush child credit refund has anything to do with 'The back-to-school shopping season appears to have given the retail industry a much needed sales boost'? This may be a "bump" in sales as many retailers cashed these checks, and reaped the benefits.

Maybe. But there's another reality about the back-to-school season - kids grow. So they need new stuff, even if we can't always afford it.

The better barometer, we think, will be the holidays.

Finally, we got an email from an MNB user that said:

Dear Mr. Font of Knowledge:

I have heard that Twinkies, when placed in a microwave for 45 seconds at the highest setting, will explode.

Before I conduct several other experiments in our office microwave with this most nutritious food, please let me know.

We are proud to say that when we rummaged through the larder to find a Twinkie, there were none there…so we couldn't do the test.

But we have to say we're intrigued, so maybe we’ll buy one this weekend and find out.

What concerns us, however, is that you thought we'd have the answer to this question…
KC's View: