business news in context, analysis with attitude

Got a number of emails responding to Monday’s commentary, ‘Black Friday…In More Ways Than One,” which looked at the death of a Walmart employee last weekend when he was trampled by crowds looking for deals early Friday morning.

One MNB user wrote:

Your comments, while recognizing the real problem here about our society, you then as usual, cruse right into the solution of placing the responsibility of alleviating the problems on to “BIG BUSINESS” which in some way reminds me of a recent economic fix (that also did not work) where “BIG GOVERNMENT” stuck their nose and our $$ in as well. Once again the devil is in the details and the more you people keep glazing over the root causes of why are society is breaking down or why our sense of humanity has diminished or why our economy is failing despite the unconstitutional Government intervention, then the deeper the pain will be felt for the most vulnerable who are lied to repeatedly by “do-gooders” like yourself with your quick and easy fixes. Just keep ignoring the root cause of all of these problems because you’re in charge now with nobody left to blame.

Not sure where to start responding to this. My goal yesterday was to point out a broader problem, not to assess blame…though there is plenty to go around. And it doesn’t really matter who is to blame – the retailer will be held accountable, will face lawsuits in this matter, and therefore needs to preemptively come up with solutions (not just for PR reasons).

I’m also not sure what phrases like “you people” and “you’re in charge now” mean. Except that there seems to be a bit of hostility here.

As for being a “do-gooder,” I’m not nearly a good enough person to qualify.

This was not the only criticism I received. Another MNB user had some thoughts about my commentary on a different story yesterday:

I’m not sure that it necessarily is a done deal that Obama will support “card check” legislation. The theory, expressed in both editorials and on Sunday morning television shows, is that the new administration won’t want to add to the cost burdens of businesses at this point in time, even if convinced that it would help the working class. In addition, these seems to be a sense that it will be critical for Obama to gain some “street cred” with conservatives and Republicans, and that backing off this legislation – especially at the current time – would be a good way to gain cooperation that will be more helpful in the long run.

I hope that this reasoning plays out. Taking away the secret ballot would be a significant mistake and upset whatever balance of power there is between management and labor.

This MNB user wrote:

Kevin, if things don't continue to be good at Morning News Beat and I hope they continue to grow and prosper for many years, but if they don't you can always go work at Disney Land because I really believe you live in a fairy tale land sometimes. When you make a statement regarding the secret ballot like maybe Congress and the President-elect won't want to impose additional costs on businesses, then you do live on a fairy tale lane. The unions gave Obama ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY MILLION DOLLARS mainly on the premise of eliminating the secret ballot. They are dancing in the streets.

I wish life would be a bowl of cherries as you sometimes fantasize. As far as balling out the big three auto companies, I totally disagree with giving them a dime. In the early 80's when Lee Iacocca went to Washington, he had plan, he executed it, and it was successful. These guys fly to Washington ask for money with no plan. Giving them money would just prolong the inevitable. I agree with Mitt Romney, let them go chapter 11 and reorganize and try to get to profitability. Before the government gives them any money, I would rather see them give any tax payer that wants to buy a new American car $10,000 or whatever the number is and make them work for the money and at least the hard working taxpayer gets something for his. How much would the sales increase be if we divided the $25 billion dollars by a certain rebate number. Finally, I haven't heard a thing from the UAW of how they are willing to help fix this mess. Shouldn't they come to the party as well?

To be fair, I didn’t precisely say that I thought that Obama would defy the unions – just that I thought it was possible (other people far smarter than I think so, too) and a good idea. But I’m not betting on it.

As for the Big Three, I haven’t supported a bailout….if anything, I’ve expressed ambivalence about it, and have been extremely critical of the auto companies and the unions.

That said, I hope MNB continues to be viable for a long time, too. I’m too old for fairy tales.

More email on the Black Friday trampling death, as one MNB user wrote:

I called my sister who lives in the NY metro area. I asked why did New Yorkers have to live up to their reputation of being uncaring and self-centered? (Having grown up in the NY area I know most New Yorkers are kind caring people – but the stereotype still holds for most of the country.) Your article is correct what happened at Walmart was bound to happen. For years there have been reports of pushing, shoving, grabbing, cat fights and fist fights. We’ve been out-of-stock on sale merchandise so often we’ve help create the mob mentality of get it now and get what’s mine or there won’t be any for me. Add in a bad economy and “the mob mentality” and we have a tragedy. My condolences to the worker’s family.

I might be getting old (ye old calendar check says I am) but I remember my years as a buyer (technically I still am a buyer but not for a retailer.) Isn’t there anyone today working as a merchant that knows that people will still shop when the price is right, especially when times are bad? I was always amazed how customers instinctively knew when our prices were cut to the bone to stimulate sales and sales we got – profit was something you worried about another day. They know we’ll “drop our pants” as we panic looking at daily sales numbers and on-hand inventories. Yes “the industry” has done a fine job of teaching the consumer to wait us out, we’ve shown them how low we’re willing to go – they’ll wait. None of this is new, go back to other hard times and learn – those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it… We are all consumers, just look at yourself, your family and friends to see the trend.

Sorry the for cynicism but I worked retail for many years. I’m wondering how much today’s retailers care about their workers on the line and what the companies have done to help create Peace on Earth. Good will to men. (Other than sell a sign that says it…) Apparently greed isn’t just on Wall Street.

MNB user John Hall wrote:

I have wondered why retailers haven’t used the system of issuing numbers to those in line and allow a set amount of customers in the store at one time. This would truly reward those who waited in line for hours and hold back those who cause the rush at opening time. This has solved the mass chaos problems at major sporting events and concerts and help to eliminate fights and injuries. I am totally confused at how a retailer could place themselves in a position of culpability of fights, injuries and now even deaths.

Let’s face it, the Black Friday mobs are only interested in the hot deals and not their fellow man. Issuing tickets may not a popular way to start the holiday gift season but it will maintain order and eliminate what we are seeing. Has anyone even talked about the amount of people in the store at this time and what the local fire code for the store is?

This will only get worse unless something is done to maintain a reasonable amount of order. Of course this may start a whole new side business of scalping…

MNB user Mark E Monroe wrote:

Our culture has lost touch with what is important? Ya think? I guess in typical American fashion, we recognize these things about a decade too late.

The U.S.A as we knew it will never again exist in our lifetimes (the borrow and spend game is over)…the sooner people wake up and realize that (and start saving), the better off they’ll be…

Another MNB user wrote:

If any advertised item out of stock had to be covered by a rain check redeemable for 30 days it would eliminate the hunt. You could still put a time limit on when they are to be issued but it would restore order. Would it hurt the retailer that only stocks 5-10 of the ad –Yes – but it would be more civilized.

MNB user Jackie Lembke wrote:

Not much else can be said about human nature and the tendency for a crowd to become a mob when a single person knows better (I hope). The bargains on Friday weren’t worth the rare chance to sleep in, so I skipped the frenzy and spent a lovely day doing very little. I plan to continue that tradition for years to come.

Wise person.

Even Michael Sansolo had some thoughts:

Much as we'd all like to quickly solve issues like the Black Friday death at Walmart, the truth is we can't. There are no magic ways to change the behavior of crowds and I really doubt we'll see the end of these limited type offers. But steps can be taken.

Nearly 30 years ago, 11 people in Cincinnati were trampled to death by a surging crowd rushing for seats to a rock concert. In the aftermath of that tragedy, Cincinnati banned open or festival seating, but few others followed. Instead, most venues changed crowd control outside their events and at entry points. In 2004, Cincinnati rescinded its ban to be more competitive in attracting top acts.

Retailers face the same dilemma now. No one is going to unilaterally surrender the Black Friday Frenzy, no matter how unprofitable those sales might be. And it's hard to believe that manners and decorum will return to the gathering crowd. But if rock concerts could get this right, somehow there must be a lesson for retailers. Too bad we didn't study Cincinnati's sad lessons earlier.

On the subject of the FDA’s efforts to restructure its food safety efforts, one MNB user wrote:

Unless the FDA defines its mission (stated mission is to protect citizens…but seems that mission really is to promote business at citizens’ risk) nothing changes but added money spent.

Key word is lack of trust!

Couple points:

1. Bribes are common business practices in Asian countries…no trust there.
2. Do we really want to pay foreign regulators to do the FDA’s job (if we can’t trust FDA, how do we trust who they hire).
3. The reason we formed the FDA was because the private sector could not be trusted…what has changed?

KC's View: