business news in context, analysis with attitude

It is always interesting to me when we get email from people reporting on their store experiences – positive and negative.

For example, one MNB user wrote to talk about a comment he’d sent to Kroger about a store he’d visited on the evening of May 29:

No cash registers open. Only way to checkout was self checkout. I hate self checkout. Lines long anyway. Sorry - if you can't have enough help to ring me out I am going elsewhere - and I did. Walmart a mile away treated me better.

Seventeen days later, he got a response from Amber Sublett, a Kroger consumer affairs representative:

Thank you for contacting Kroger. I want to apologize for the delay in response. As for the issues with USCAN and it being the only option for check out, I apologize for the inconvenience, the stores will keep USCAN open when the stores volume is at a low, this usually happens in the early and late hours, however, this being said there should always be a cashier available for those who do not wish to use the USCAN. I have sent this concern onto upper management for immediate review. Again I apologize and thank you for bringing this to our attention.

The MNB user adds as a postscript:

This is not the first time I have encountered no option but self checkout at a Kroger store - the time before I had only a few items and there were no lines.

P.S. I spared Kroger the details of the price differences for items bought that evening. One item was more because it was on sale at Kroger. All others less, some significantly less. Main downside to Walmart is that I don't feel safe there late in the evening.

Give Kroger some credit for a) apologizing for the delay in responding and b) promising to refer the matter to higher-ups. That said, I’ll be curious to see what happens from here.

I do think that, apology aside, 17 days to respond to an email is ridiculous. I believe firmly that retailers ought to have a sunset policy – every letter or issue gets responded to by the end of business on whatever day it is sent.

The real world lives on Internet time. Seventeen days is Pony Express time.

On the subject of health care reform, one MNB user wrote:

I normally look at these editorials and bite my tongue but you and Steve Burd couldn’t be more wrong in comparing auto insurance to health insurance.

Compelling argument? This drivel should be rejected outright!

The costs aren’t the same and it’s basically apples and oranges with regard to liability and the range of cost for “repairs”.


You may be opening the door for lawsuits against corporations who drove that employee to work long hours and neglect his or her health for the benefit of the company, only to get fired for driving up health care costs. I can give you a long list of people who were/are in this boat. Some of them aren’t with us anymore.

I’ve read about health conscious runners who had heart attacks on the treadmill at the doctor’s office. I guess all that healthy behavior didn’t do them any good huh?

So if I have healthy behavior, yet still get cancer, will I be rewarded? I seriously doubt that is what Steve Burd is proposing. You get sick, you are screwed…

You know, some sickness is genetic….you are born with it. But heck, let’s make ‘em pay more or better yet, fire them and get them out of our company health care plan right?

That’s the “Wall Street” answer to health care reform….it’s a cost cutting program in disguise and it’s hurting people.

In the area of personal health, people are often oblivious that they have a problem or that their behavior is contributing to a problem until it manifests itself.

I was born with high blood pressure and it runs in my family. So I’m to be penalized? I don’t think I’ll stand for that. Some medical problems are peculiar to certain races, such as high blood pressure in blacks. You going to raise their health care rates due to race or ethnicity? I think there is a law against that.

Most people think they are healthy, their doctors think they are healthy (no need to order expensive testing…that’s another cost saving move). That is until they have a problem.

Most companies are happy to “use up the youth of employees” because we are healthier at that time in our lives and have little need for doctors and hospitals. When folks get older, they start having medical problems…it’s a fact that comes with age.

Too bad some greedy companies try to kick a person out of their health insurance and their jobs when this happens. And there are companies doing just that.

They always cite these stupid examples and blame the person that probably was driven to poor health from the job they had.

Well, it isn’t right and penalizing people for this isn’t right either. You should be ashamed for supporting this false and immoral rhetoric.

Insurance was originally intended to charge one price to all so that everyone benefits and everyone helps pay the bills, not just a few. Despite this, the insurance company still makes money. The thought of charging differently within a demographic group goes against the basic definition of what insurance is supposed to be. All of us pay premiums so that when we are older or become infirm, we won’t get financially destroyed. That is how insurance works. Why is someone messing around with that? If your company can’t make this work, then something is fundamentally wrong with your insurance program or how you treat your employees. The root cause isn’t to be blamed on the employees…’s the company’s policies that are causing poor health.

KC, perhaps you better stay with the content you are familiar with and stay out of politics regarding health care reform. Or perhaps you are just stroking the president of a company.

Rather than quoting some corporate president in the Wall Street Journal, who has a predictable agenda, perhaps you had best poll those employees on the other side of the fence who got old or had a heart attack only to be let go by a greedy employer who views employees as some kind of raw commodity. I think you will get a remarkably different opinion that will never get equal time in the Wall Street Journal.

Interesting email from MNB user Glenn Harmon:

iPhones, KillerApps, Kindles… I was thinking about innovation after reading your column and receiving an e-mail from Barnes & Noble on the new books they are carrying… In all my retail career, I have always believed that if a retailer loses a customer, they probably have a chance to win them back if they can find the right approach and get their act together.

However with Barnes & Noble, their playing field with me changed forever the day I bought a Kindle. Each person who buys a Kindle is a customer they lose forever. It’s a scary thing. They did nothing wrong. I liked their stores. I enjoyed browsing their books. They just outlived my use for them, and now I have no reason to ever go back. Just like a light switch. How many other light switches are just waiting to be turned off?


Coincidentally, I was in a Barnes & Noble over the weekend for the first time in months, because Mrs. Content Guy – a third grade teacher – wanted to get presents for her room mothers. (I told her she should have given me a couple of days’ notice and I would have bought them at a discount on Amazon…and she suggested that I should stop nagging her. She was persuasive.)

Anyway, she got a couple of books and went to the counter to pay. She handed the cashier her teacher’s discount card, paid for the books, and then asked if they would wrap them. The cashier gave her a hard time, saying that if she was getting a teacher’s discount for the books then the books shouldn't be wrapped because they’re supposed to be for the classroom.

Now, this technically may have been correct. But if I’d been standing there at the transaction point, I would have pointed out that Barnes & Noble should count itself lucky that a) a customer was in its store buying books instead of doing so online, and b) a customer was buying a physical book rather than downloading one onto a Kindle or other e-book reader. Barnes & Noble is heavily invested in what I believe is a soon-to-be obsolete business model; it ought to be saying “what else can I do for you” rather than “why should I do this for you.”

On a similar subject, I wrote yesterday that “long tail virtual retailing has a much longer prospective life span than the likes of Toys R Us, in my humble opinion; then again, maybe I’m prejudiced because I’d rather visit the proctologist than a Toys R Us.”

Which led one MNB user to respond:

I have shopped Amazon eBay etc, when necessary and it is convenient yet...there is no better sight than taking your three and four year old into a brightly lit store, stocked to the hilts with toys that they can touch, play with and stare at with amazement. Did your kids do the same when they were little? I couldn't because I did not have one close to me but man, those old Geoffrey commercials made we want to go. Now, I live near one and will happily take my boys there if they ask because the store hold a little bit of magic for them...and me.

I hope that Toys R Us does not away for the sake of kids of all ages.

Maybe I’m a bad father. But when we went to Toys R Us, we tried not to take the kids because there was nothing magical about it. Dirty and disorganized, sure.

But magical? Not so much.

Maybe they’ve improved…it has been years since I’ve been in one. And will be years before I go back.

MNB reported yesterday on a Los Angeles Times story reporting that People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has found a new target – the guys at the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle who throw fish back and forth as part of the street-theater that attracts tourists and consumers to a seafood nirvana.

The guys at the fish market say they are bewildered by the charges, but PETA says that flying fish is cruel and disrespectful: “They argue that tourists would not be nearly so eager to snap photos if dead kittens or gutted lambs were sailing over their heads,” the Times wrote.

My comment, in part:

Not to sound callous, but I’m not a cat guy…so the whole flying dead kitten thing doesn’t offend me so much.

(Okay, that was a little callous. It also was a little joke. Some will say very, very little. But I couldn’t help myself.)

There’s a point up to which I find PETA’s ambitions to be honorable, even noble. Animals should not be treated cruelly, even as they are prepared for slaughter. I get that. Any thinking, feeling human being gets that.

But these fish are dead. So it isn’t like there is any cruelty involved. And when you think about it, the act of cutting open a fish, de-boning it, cooking it and then eating it (preferably with a little of Emeril’s Essence or the appropriate Tom Douglas rub used in its preparation, accompanied by a nice white wine) is a lot more cruel…Except that, of course, the fish is dead. And food. Which makes the whole cruelty thing kind of moot.

Of course, this isn’t really about not throwing fish or kittens. This is about pursuing an agenda that wants people to live a completely vegetarian lifestyle…which, while I respect that choice when other people make it, isn’t something I need or want to be lectured about. And I don’t think that this makes me, or any of the millions of people who agree with me, evil or callous or cruel.

MNB user John Morgan responded:

I'm not a fish guy, so I concur with your thoughts on Pike Place Market. However, I am a cat guy, and I predict you're going to see a VERY full mailbox regarding your "little joke." Good luck!

Actually, while I got a lot of email…there was almost no reaction to my little joke...other than people who wanted to top me. For example, one MNB user wrote:

Unlike yourself KC, I like cats. I have several in my freezer right now.

But on a more serious note…

Another MNB user wrote:

When I first saw salmon being thrown through the air at Pike Place, I thought it was a celebration of their glorious lives. The fish are thrown in such a way that they look like they are leaping the rapids. Life can’t be honored without reference to death, and vice versa.

MNB user John Giggy wrote:

I wonder if the folks from PETA worry about the dead dinosaurs when they fill their cars with gas or the bugs that smashed into their windshields as they drove to their last meeting. I also am for the humane treatment of animals but these people need to get real at some point.

MNB user Connie Montgomery wrote:

I am an animal lover and support many Animal Rescue and Humane societies.

But I refuse to support PETA.

PETA continues to get more bizarre in there "projects" and have gotten away from the real cruelty that is occurring. Animals being hoarded and without the means to feed them, fighting animals, dragging behind vehicles, dropping off bridges, and horses starving in captivity: these are all cruelty.

Some animals are our food chain. Fish being one. (Cats are not--at least not in America). Such is life. Like you said, those fish in question are already dead. They have yet to prove that fish "feel" anything. My husband and I are avid fisher"men". We put fish on ice after catching, which is what the fishermen that catch the fish we eat do. This is the most humane way to kill a fish.

PETA has had some good causes in their day, but in the last 20 years, they have gone off the deep end.

Still another MNB user wrote:

Does PETA have any regard for the feeling of the poor shark they jumped about a dozen press releases ago?

It’s a shame that an organization that once did so much fine work to raise awareness about animal cruelty (clubbing of seals, abuse of pets, etc.) has, thru a combination of shrillness and a total lack of common sense, devolved into a punch line.

Another MNB user wrote:

I couldn't agree with you more. I respect people's decisions, until they decide to try to force them on me. Besides, there's an old saying on this topic; If god hadn't intended for man to eat animals and fish, he wouldn't have made them out of food. By the way, what type of wine would you suggest we serve with a nice broiled "sea kitten"?

Maybe a nice Persian white.
KC's View: