business news in context, analysis with attitude

It seems simplistic – indeed, obvious – to suggest that one of the great advantages and pleasures of the Internet is its interactivity.

Communication about products and services – from the extravagant and rarefied to the mundane, prosaic and even the vulgar – is no longer a one-way street. Consumers know everything. Or, at least can know everything. Which is one of the reasons that transparency is so important. (You’re transparent anyway, like it or not, so you might as well embrace it.)

Car dealers found it out early. People suddenly were shopping for cars with more information about costs and margins and performance than the salesman had. Sort of changed the balance of power. And there was no reverse, no way to go back to the way things were. So dealerships had to both be smarter and change their approach. Or be stuck in the mud of the past.

Amazon has been particularly great as posting user reviews, making them a mainstay of its online offerings. Wal-Mart recently joined the party by announcing that it would post such consumer commentary on its website.

And now, Staples has announced much the same thing, and there is speculation in the marketplace that its chief competitor, Office Depot, has similar plans.

These are smart first steps. They are steps that more retailers need to take.

But what will make these and other such innovations will be the differences that they bring. Wal-Mart and Staples and other companies can’t simply follow the Amazon model. They have to innovate beyond that, have to find ways to engage with the consumer that will give them a clear-cut and differential advantage in a cutthroat marketplace.

As for the timing of such innovations, I can only offer one word.


Because yesterday is past, and tomorrow is too far away.

Good news from medical researchers, who often confuse but every once in a while come up with a nugget of information that helps to rationalize my behavior.

According to Portuguese scientists, not only is red wine good for you, but it also may help to repair or protect the brain when it comes to other alcohol-related damage. Like, from margaritas and mojitos, which have tasted really, really good during these hot summer months.

And, I get to tell Mrs. Content Guy that yet another study – this one from Japan – says that drinking three or more cups of coffee each day can help women cut down their risk of colon cancer.

The really good news about this is that, based on what we have to do to maintain some level of good health, she gets to be the designated driver.

And still another study – this one reported in The Age in Australia – says that people Down Under “who regularly eat a Mediterranean-style diet rich in olive oil, vegetables and light cheese are halving their risk of dying from heart disease … Most frequently consumed items in this winning diet included garlic, cucumber, olive oil, salad greens, capsicum, legumes, tomato, feta and ricotta cheeses, olives, onion, watermelon, steamed fish.”

Nothing but good news here, folks.

Tough week for my friends in Minnesota because of the tragic bridge collapse in the Twin Cities, and my heart goes out to them.

It seems odds to mention it now, but I wanted to thank the Minnesota Grocers Association and its membership for showing me such a great time when I spoke at their summer conference earlier this week.

I always thought that retailers in Minnesota were an exceptionally smart breed…and my opinion was confirmed when I found out how many of them read MNB each day.

I really liked the movie version of the musical “Hairspray,” even though I went in thinking that it probably wouldn’t be my kind of movie. But it is just so gosh-darn good-natured, with tunes that made my happy feet bounce so much that my 13-year-old was embarrassed, that I couldn’t resist. John Travolta, in the role of a heavyweight Baltimore matron circa 1962 (the role has been played in all previous incarnations by men) takes a bit of getting used to, but Christopher Walken is pure dancing charm as Travolta’s husband…and Nikki Blonsky and Amanda Bynes are excellent as two teenagers growing up in a lot of ways. Set against the early days of racial upheaval, it is fair to say that the story whitewashes the facts a bit – I made sure to explain to my daughter that civil rights marches weren’t really instigated and led by white teenaged girls. But it is a fun movie, and good for the family.

I usually travel to Seattle a couple of times a year, and it is one of my favorite places – but I’d never had a chance see the Mariners play at Safeco Field – my trips have been either during the off season, or the team has been out of town.

But not this week.

I had the chance to go to Safeco with my soon-to-be-off-to-college son to watch what ended up being a 12-inning game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (surely one of the dumbest names ever given to a professional sports team). The game was a little ugly – the Mariners’ closer lost a three run lead in the ninth inning – but it is a wonderful place to watch a ballgame.

And the food – terrific! The hot dogs were as big and as tasty as any I’ve ever eaten in a sports venue (and I’ve had more than my share), and I also had a great fish sandwich. When I go back, I’ll be sure to try the sushi (Ichirolls!), Thai food and the garlic fries that smelled wonderful. (But even I can only eat so much at a sitting…)

Is it really August? Or am I dreaming?

I may be a bit of a sadist, but it is fun to watch Barry Bonds struggle, his steroid-ridden body the only thing in worse shape than his questionable ethics.

Of course, he’ll eventually hit the home run that will exceed Hank Aaron’s career total, but he’ll have to live with the knowledge that for most baseball fans, it is a meaningless home run, one that does not need an official asterisk because it already has one in the hearts of most real baseball fans.

And then, maybe he’ll go away. He’ll emerge at some point – to go to trial or go to jail or both – but he can stop being a daily newspaper story.

He’s sullied my game. Not his game, but my game. He’s unrepentant, unforgiven. And unforgivable.

Two wines to report on this week, compliments of the folks at Etta’s Seafood, still my favorite Seattle restaurant. The 2005 Hedges CMS from Washington, which is exceptionally smooth. And the 2006 Cameroni Pinot Bianco from Oregon, which was light and great with a wonderful salad made from fresh mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes and marinated onions. Mmmm…..

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.


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