business news in context, analysis with attitude

More commentary about Amazon’s new “Fresh” program, which it is testing as a way of delivering fresh foods to customers in its own vans. MNB user W. Alan Burris wrote:

If Amazon Fresh uses the same customer service system as, there will be some unhappy customers. I think that Amazon needs to drastically upgrade its customer response and complaint handling before expanding into a new market. Up until a couple of months ago I thought that was the greatest and did most of my online business with it. Then someone stole the number of one of my credit cards and made some improper charges. Visa called to inquire if those were my charges and when informed that they were not made by me, cancelled the credit card and issued a new one. Although I provided Amazon with the new number and had other valid credit card numbers listed on my Amazon account, Amazon blocked my account. After considerable effort, I found a phone number for Amazon customer service. Over the last two months, I have spent hours talking on the phone with the Amazon reps who always repeated and repeated the same message that they could only fill out a form which would be forwarded to the “account specialists” who would correct the problem in 3-5 days. However, nothing happens and it is impossible to speak with an “account specialist” or anyone with the authority to resolve problems. I would have just set up a new account except that I want the order history from my old account. Yesterday, after another frustrating phone call, I Googled for a better Amazon phone number and learned that there are none. I also learned that there are a lot of unhappy Amazon customers and blogs and websites devoted to the problem of contacting Amazon and obtaining resolution of customer problems. One blog sympathized with the people hired to answer the Amazon complaint phones and talk with angry customers with no power to resolve problems. Amazon’s answer to resolving customer problems is to stonewall. Is this a company that you want to buy your groceries from?

However, MNB user Bob Richardson – who lives on Mercer Island near Seattle, where Amazon is testing the service – had a different perspective:

Boy, was I wrong! My thoughts were the same as many others.... I need to see, feel and smell our produce before I would buy. Growing up in Hawaii we had access to wonderful fruits and vegetables. For two summers I picked pineapples. After college I worked in the supermarket industry for several years. My wife usually asks me to pick out the fruit when we shop. Now it has become an ego thing for me and NO WAY we were going to buy produce without my stamp of approval. My wife wanted to try it. We received our delivery from Amazon Fresh about two weeks ago and boy was I wrong!

The pineapple and cantaloupe were excellent and gone within two days. I hate being wrong or maybe just don't like changes........ didn't like the idea of cell phones or emails either. The prices were good and the product excellent. We will continue to buy from Amazon Fresh IF they continue to satisfy.

Michael Sansolo’s piece yesterday about the supermarket industry embracing new laws that would require restaurants and fast feeders to provide nutritional information – because, he said, it would actually give supermarket operators a competitive advantage – also generated some comment.

MNB user Glenn Harmon wrote:

Do you realize what a burden you are creating for restaurants as you support this direction? It is ludicrous to propose that independent restaurateurs be required to indicate nutritional information on their “special of the day”. The cost of implementing this alone would drive the one in ten success rate further into the ground. How many people can you imagine will look at the nutritional info for Buffalo Wings and beer at their local pub and say: “Now that I know that’s bad for me, make that a double order.” Give me a break. Fettuccini Alfredo is bad for me. I don’t need a nutritional label on the menu to tell me that. It tastes good, and I don’t want to wait for the chef to go back to his computer and reformulate the label when I ask for him to throw a few garlic shrimp on top. All this legislation will do is drive costs up, sales down, and creativity in the garbage…and in the end, we’ll all still be fat, unless we gain a modicum of self control.

Another MNB user wrote:

I love the thought of nutrition information for restaurants and it seems easy for the chains that have consistent national menus and increasingly national kitchens preparing the dishes or ingredients. But I wonder about implementation with the local mom & pop cafés and the high-end restaurants that adapt their menus to the fresh ingredients available during the year.

It seems quite a burden to create a nutrition table for a diner with 200+ meals or a restaurant chef who decides at 1:00 pm that the fresh Tilapia for the day would go great with a tarragon white wine sauce and a mix of lightly sautéed fresh vegetables. And how to measure the fat and protein content of different steaks?

Not sure how to bridge the gap, but it seems difficult to have a one-size fits all-meals nutrition rule.

One MNB user had an addition comment about the hiring of deposed home Depot CEO Bob Nardelli to run Chrysler:

As a consumer, the biggest problem I had with Home Depot was the continually decreasing quality of the products and services I bought. As a business person and as someone who has a partner who worked for Home Depot, it was the terrible working conditions for its employees and some of the Dilbert-like policies he instituted. The end result for me – I’m not buying anything from Chrysler. The engine will probably fall out.

Regarding Publix’s decision to make certain antibiotics available to consumers free-of-charge, one MNB user wrote:

We shouldn't be surprised to see innovation coming from the private sectors. Nothing like a free market in terms of innovative thinking.

But MNB user Steve Young-Burns wrote:

Shouldn't a full health and wellness program put the emphasis - and subsequent PR and Marketing push - on prevention? Good nutrition, exercise, Five A Day, read books...Nah, those don't make good headlines. Free antibiotics for all!

MNB user John Tatum chimed in:

The generic pharmaceutical market is the best of the free enterprise system with open competition, same products and many competitors. It is not a surprise that the US has the cheapest generic products in the world; yes, cheaper than Canada. And now, they are being leveraged as loss leaders to drive retail traffic!

The issue is new pharmaceutical formulations that save lives and significantly enhance the enjoyment of people’s lives, but take on average close to $1B to bring to market. The US consumer pays the largest portion of this cost, while other markets fix prices for these branded pharmaceuticals. There is a reason a large percentage of Pharma R&D resides in the US.

I am an unabashed supporter of free-enterprise and have yet to see better results from a controlled market.

I made a couple of wisecracks yesterday about former New York City Mayor and current Republican presidential nomination contender Rudy Giuliani shopping at Wal-Mart during a campaign stop, and I wondered when the last time he really shopped at a big box store, as opposed to making disguised campaign appearances. To which one MNB user responded:

To most of us, I'd guess, liking to shop somewhere and actually shopping there are two distantly different things.

I like shopping at Neiman-Marcus, a habit I picked up while living in Dallas years ago, but, today, wouldn't necessarily cross the street to shop there.


It probably is worth pointing out that I’d make the same observation about not living in the real world about virtually every one of the presidential candidates, no matter what side of the aisle they occupy.

BTW, we kid because we love.
KC's View: