business news in context, analysis with attitude

First of all, thanks for all the good wishes yesterday. The plague came and went, and I’m feeling a lot better today. (And yes, to those people who said I should not be traveling on business when sick, I know that I was running the risk of infecting other people. But I’m a one-man show...and my position has generally been that if death and/or blood are not involved, I’m doing my best to show up.)

Got the following email from MNB user Joe Davis:

Kevin, good eye-opener on the AMEX-Twitter sync.  Here in Atlanta we have synced up our cards with FourSquare and taken great advantage of the “Small Business” program they have with some of our neighborhood favorites.  Much like the Twitter deal, you just check-in, use your card to pay, and you get $5 off on your next statement.  When we first came across it at one of our favorite restaurants, we called over the manager to ensure he wasn’t paying anything out of his pocket if we used the discount – as we want him to grow his business, not subsidize it.  He said it was AMEX’s money and their program that he signed up for, so I think this is a great example of how to use social media in an incremental and value-added manner.


Once again, to piggyback on Michael Sansolo’s piece yesterday about the social networking study being released by the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council (for which he serves as research director) it is worth reading the first three sections, which can be downloaded for free here.

This is important, need-to-know stuff.

We had a piece yesterday about how Kroger was putting in electric car charging stations in some of its Texas stores, and I noted that this was ironic since Chevy has announced that it will stop making Volts for five weeks because of soft sales; this despite the fact that some reports suggest that 100,000 electric cars will be sold in the US this year.

One MNB user responded:

Didn’t California have problems with brown outs not that long ago?  What’s going to happen when people plug their cars into this already fragile and stressed resource?  Electricity isn’t free and just because it costs $X.00 per Kilowatt today doesn’t mean it won’t go up as demand increases.  All the assumptions get thrown on their ear if they don’t figure in the Law of Supply and Demand.  Remember what Corn for Ethanol did to our food prices, an unintended consequence that I don’t think anyone thought through.

Coal is still the predominant fuel used to create electricity today and it’s also a limited resource.  We’re merely swapping one fossil fuel for another.  Has anybody asked if this is a good idea first?

A far better option would be a solar array on every house used solely to charge your vehicle but I’m not sure the technology is sufficient to provide enough energy to justify the switch.  I guess technology wise I still lean toward the Hybrid engine technologies that seem to be hitting a more mature period in their production.

Another MNB user wrote:

I just had to smile on your comment about the forecasts of 100,000 vehicles. I was thinking of Mark Twain and the quote "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated". In this case, the reports of electric vehicles sales forecasts have been EXTREMELY over forecasted. In all, GM has likely had more success than others. If the words success and Volt can be in the same sentence. For January and February, GM sold 626 Volts and the majority were sold to themselves - the government.
GM, Nissan, Mitsubishi have all struggled. While we can and should applaud alternative works, they are not being seen as a value to the consumer or at least the average consumer.
Charging stations along with other green initiatives by retailers are the politically correct thing to do. They are image over substance, but image is important. Most retailers, as likely Kroger is also, are installing them with grants on our tax dollars. Their cost is limited. Their use will be extremely limited to zero. They can claim a PR gain. We paid the bill. All good.
While I don't know for a fact that Kroger is using grants. Many other retailers have and if Kroger is not, they have missed the opportunity to gain the PR points out of our wallets.
Currently the over $8,500 or more in tax incentives are not driving people to the dealers for Volts, Leafs or other choices. It cost your family and mine $5.3 million to put those few 600+ Volts on the road. Its hard to make that value equation work.
Chrysler announced today that it will soon make available a RAM 2500 pick up available for commercial fleet sales that operates on compressed natural gas. GM will soon make that same announcement. Honda's Civic CNG is the "Green Car of the Year" by many that give such an award.

All alternatives should be our pursuit in my opinion. I have a hard time understanding that we're not as passionate about it as we were about a moon landing in the 60's. There is as much at risk now as there was then if not more - much more.
In the meantime, our stores will add charging stations for cars that don't exist. We're ignoring other alternatives such as CNG. We think of these initiatives in the wrong context. We don't have a national passion for the real need based on our own security. We run the risk of trivializing a desperate need by making the pursuit as annoying as un-used reserved parking spaces.

On the subject of Food Lion using as double coupon promotion in Fayetteville-area stores, MNB user Mark Heckman wrote:

Double and triple coupon promotions are still effect ways to stimulate short term sales, while decimating short term profits, if that's the retailer's goal.  I question whether these ad hoc promotions will do much to enhance Food Lion's price image unless they are coupled with a comprehensive EDLP shelf program that actually brings Food Lion within reasonable range of Walmart.  To be blunt, traditional supermarkets, who still are convinced they must maintain gross margin rates in the mid-to high 20% range, are going to find the going very tough with an increasingly savvy shopper that has the knowledge of a "good price" engrained in the shopper psyche!!

We had a piece yesterday about how Walmart has asked a federal judge in Dallas “to reject a proposed class-action lawsuit in which women allege that the world’s largest retailer discriminated against Texas female workers over pay and promotions. The company said the claims are barred by the statute of limitations ... The case also can’t be pursued as a class-action matter because there is little in common among the claims made by the plaintiffs, it said.”

I commented:

I don’t mean to sound naive, but what bothers me about this story is the fact that Walmart is looking to get the case tossed because of technicalities - not because there wasn’t systemic - which is not to say coordinated and approved - problems with the way a lot of women were treated there for a long time. I think a lot of this has changed - there seem to be a lot more women working at the top of the Walmart ladder these days. But through legal maneuvering, the real issue isn’t being dealt with.

Which prompted one MNB user to write:

Kevin, I just had to comment on this situation.  The courts are throwing out the case on a technicality for lack of a better term.

I can’t help but ponder the story not long ago about Monsanto.   Just as small farmers lose in the courts against Monsanto, so will women one on one against Walmart.

Real change has appeared to have changed at Walmart and maybe the women in the suit can find solace at least in that.  Monsanto on the other hand is still using the courts to overstep and push the envelope with their right to patent protection.

KC's View: