business news in context, analysis with attitude

Got a number of emails the other day regarding our confluence of stories on Walmart trying to compete with Amazon online despite some cultural and infrastructure barriers, and Amazon’s new decision to offer a five percent discount to people using its smart phone price comparison application.

MNB user Mark Raddant wrote:

It seems to me WalMart is asking the brick and mortar employees to support on line business which many view as the competition for their very jobs.  On-line is to brick and mortar as WalMart was to local businesses, and many of their employees are very, very aware of this.

They’d better figure out a way around this, or face online irrelevance.

Another MNB user wrote:

As for vs Amazon, I am an Amazon Prime member, so I get my orders delivered in 2 days. Yet, I have used Walmart Site to Store often, especially for larger items with free shipping to store or items that Walmart sells directly rather than buying through a 3rd party from Amazon who does not offer a great return policy. Having used site to store option at many Walmart stores I can vouch that the service is slowly getting better as they have redesigned the delivery counters to be at the front of the store rather than in the back in the receiving section and also given some training to their employees.

Although $8B is only 2% of Walmart revenue, it is still $8B, not very long ago that is where Amazon’s revenues were till it reached that tipping point. Walmart has slowly started to figure out the shipping and delivery to home pricing which was key to Amazon’s success. It won’t be long before Amazon feels the pressure if they’re not feeling it already. This is all good for me as a consumer as I get better prices with more convenience.

I have been shifting a lot of my grocery purchases online – split between Walmart and Amazon.

MNMB user Jay Schafer wrote:

The stories on Site-to-Store ordering are interesting. Have you ever tried Lowes' version of this?

When I was shopping in a Home Depot recently, I remembered that I had seen a grill on sale at While still in Home Depot, I pulled out my smart phone and ordered the grill. By the time I checked out at Home Depot and drove to Lowes, the grill was already in the locked cabinet at the front of the store- for items ordered online that are in stock at its stores, Lowes guarantees that they will be in the front of the store and ready for pickup within 20 minutes - and I was able to pick up the item quickly and without fuss, and without walking to the back 40 of the store.

I have no connection to Lowes, but IMHO this is how to do Site-to-Store ordering well: position the ordered items up front, guarantee a maximum time from when the customer places the order to when it is ready, and generally make it easy for the customer. Lowes gets this, and it gets more of my money in return. If I could do my grocery and CPG shopping like this and pay roughly the same prices as retail, I would do so in a heartbeat.

MNB user Andy Casey wrote:

Sounds like this new Amazon moved is aimed squarely at Wal-Mart, particularly since WM excluded online stores from their price match guarantee earlier this year. The clear undertone is "WM won't match Amazon prices but we will beat theirs by 5%".  Pretty sure we can predict how this will turn out.

It may be the very definition of what makes Walmart and different.

And regarding the individual customer data that Amazon collects, one MNB user wrote:

Seems to me that Amazon is about to have a much more nimble syndicated data offering to compete with the likes of IRI and Nielsen.

We had a story yesterday about how one out of four Starbucks card purchases are now being made via its mobile application, which I confessed I’d never used. Which prompted a number of emails...

MNB user Anjana Nigam wrote:

You have to use the SBX mobile app! I have been using nothing else since it came out and see more people using it every day. It is instant, the moment you scan it updates your balance and keeps record of all your transactions, so you can figure out just how much you’re spending at SBX – too much in my case. You also have the reward stars adding up in the same app and every 15 drinks you get a free drink which I usually give to my kid to use for her $6 mega venti frappe- something something drink! It gets you free refills of coffee, ice coffee and tea/ ice-tea while you’re in the store, it also gets you premium milk and syrup shots just like the gold reward card. In addition it also tells you the nearest SBX and whether it is open, and gives you directions. You can even add funds directly by linking your credit card….and SBX sends you many freebies as a result of using this app.

What could be better for a coffee addict!

Another MNB user chimed in:

I’ve been using the Starbucks mobile app since it came out and I love it. It’s convenient and easy to use. Plus, it has the added bonus of stiffing banks out of a swipe fee. Makes me smile every time I use it. Seems to me like more retailers could avoid fees and increase profits through a similar app.

Okay. I used the app yesterday. I loved it. And the guy at Starbucks said that his store gets a lot more than one out of four people using it.

There is apparently one downside, according to an MNB user:

I LOVE the mobile app and have been using it since January; but, even with the update last month, they do not tell you that some drive-thru Starbucks will refuse to take your mobile payment.  Those that don’t say it is a corporate mandate because of the liability of damage to the phone if dropped.  Just a little chink in the otherwise flawless expectation from this company.

On the subject of law changes that could make it possible for horse meat to be sold legally in this country for human consumption, one MNB user wrote:

Horses are not bred for meat in this country….it is akin to eating unwanted cats and dogs because they are not cared for. 

I've actually ridden some escapees from the kill pen.  I worked as a riding instructor in a large successful stable, and if the friendly horse killers noticed some likely prospects for school horses among their purchases, they would bring them to the stables for us to try.  Our endorsement meant an escape from the abattoir.

There are in fact, too many horses in this country.  Tens and tens of thousands of Thoroughbred racehorses that don't become winners are dumped every year on a market that now relies on Warmbloods and other breeds for the elite show jumpers.  In fact, even some great stars of the track, like Ferdinand, a Kentucky Derby winner, wind up slaughtered when they can no longer produce stakes winning progeny.

My mother worked as a bookkeeper on a Virginia horse farm during WWII, near Newport News where my father was stationed.  One of the elderly residents of the barn turned up for dinner one night…on a plate.  Peace Pan was lovingly toasted and praised by the family and then greatly enjoyed.  Somehow that always seemed fitting.  But Peace Pan didn't spend the last hours of his life in terror.

In my comment on this story, I wrote, in part:

I hear horses, I think Trigger. Silver. Seabiscuit. Man O’War. Phar Lap. Not to mention the horses my daughter rides on Sundays. I simply cannot imagine eating one.

Other than the Borden’s mascots, how many famous cows are there?

I got dozens of emails responding to this, most of them mentioning one specific set of cows ... the cows mentioned at the end of this highly detailed email from MNB user Mike Franklin:

Are you kidding me??? There have been famous cows all throughout history…and cows have a great sense of humor! And what about the cow that jumped over the moon?????
1.     Achelous - Greek river god who, while fighting Hercules in the form of bull, had one of his horns broken off which was later made into the Cornucopia.
2.    Babe (Blue Cow) – Paul Bunyan’s Cow.
3.    Laughing Cow - Red cow used by Bel to market Laughing Cow cheese. The cow has a long history.
4.    Milka Cow - Purple cow used for marketing chocolate as modestly presented on the German Milka website.
5.    Minotaur - Half bull/half human son of Minos's wife and a white bull given to Minos by Poseidon.
6.    Mrs. O'Leary's Cow - A cow belonging to Mrs. O'Leary which allegedly started the great fire of Chicago.
7.    Nandini - The Hindu cow of plenty.
8.    South Park Cows - The name of the World Dodgeball Championship winning team from South Park who beat the reigning Chinese champions in episode 205
9.    Taurus - The name used by Zeus when he took the shape of a white bull to seduce Europa.
And what about the, “Eat Mor Chiken” Cows – they even parachute into football games, however they spell horribly.

I’m sure there are some udder ones, too. Thanks for raising my consciousness. (Achelous? Really?)

And finally, from MNB user Debra K.W. Topham:

Thanks, Kevin for a great movie recommendation to The Descendants!  Your commentary was on target.

My pleasure. Really.

(In so many ways, I seem to get the most pleasure when people like my movie, book, beer and wine reviews.)
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