business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB yesterday took note of a Seattle Times report that Amazon is pondering possible changes in its product review system, with spokesman Tom Cook saying, “We are taking a close look at our policies regarding activism reviews and are considering changes." Prompting the move are cases in which women who wrote about the Sandy Hook mass killings were savaged by "conspiracy theorists who believe the shootings were an Obama administration hoax to push for gun-control legislation"; there also are other cases in which people have used the forum of online reviews to press political points of view that sometimes were irrelevant to the products.

I commented:

When I took note of the original Times story, I suggested that the kinds of reviews being aimed at women who wrote about surviving the Sandy Hook experience were emblematic of a coarsening of civil discourse in America. In retrospect, I think that was an understatement. At the risk of being uncivil myself, I think these people are emblematic of the kind of slimy hate-mongers who, unfortunately, are able to use social media to promulgate uninformed and ignorant points of view.

Nothing wrong with a reasonable debate about Constitutional issues. But these people are nuts.

As a frequent Amazon user and readers of customer reviews - which have from the beginning, been a game changer for the retailer - I have absolutely no problem if they want to change the rules so that reviews have to be written by people who actually have bought the products, and have to be relevant to the product being reviewed. I'm not sure this would protect the authors of the Sandy Hook-related books, but the bar ought to be at least that high for reviewers.

FYI...I've been urged over the years to get rid of the edited and curated approach to "Your Views" and just put up a message board, which would take a lot less time on my part. But I see some of the stuff that comes across my laptop, and I respect the time it takes for MNB readers to peruse the site each day ... I don't want to abuse your affection and respect by wasting your time.

It would require an investment of people and money for Amazon to take a more curated approach to reviews, and I know Jeff Bezos prefers algorithms to people ... but in this case, respect for the shopper ought to justify an adjusted approach.

MNB user Shelley des Islets responded:

While I agree that some kind of measure/threshold that limits that kind of lunacy is a good idea, I have to admit I would be terribly sad if it meant we'd no longer have the kind of explosion in creativity that pops up in response to some products ... I'm hoping there's a way to keep these bursts of rogue, playful creativity around and still provide safeguards from seriously damaging attacks.

From another reader:

Bravo for your comments today on the coarsening of civil discourse in America!
I did want to add to your comments, and also open up a discussion on how this has happened.

As Americans have moved toward receiving their news digitally, it has allowed them to “select the voice” that they want to hear. This means there is no longer a common touch point for Americans to come together and create “open to listen” stories—no Howard Cosell, no Walter Cronkite that we all listened to last night and are talking about today.

Instead, people are searching out and finding news that reflects their own viewpoints, since their own viewpoints are then supported, there is no reason to think about any other ideas—leading to a further radicalization of their own viewpoints.

One of the reasons I continue to subscribe to your daily news is that you don’t always support my viewpoints. You also publicize comments from people you don’t always agree with, and freely admit that you are biased.

The point is, I think it is vitally important for retailers to constantly challenge their own beliefs and viewpoints—because no matter what our personal beliefs are, our customers are more diverse than we are. We owe it to our customers to create a safe space not driven by our own beliefs or the beliefs of those with “coarsening discourse.”


We also had a story yesterday about how department store chain Kohl's has announced that "it will once again keep its doors open 24 hours a day in the final countdown to Christmas. Starting Dec. 17 at 7 a.m., the discount department store will remain open for more than 170 hours straight, giving shoppers until 6 p.m. Christmas Eve to finish their shopping."

I commented:

And, to steal a line from "SNL," in a related move, the Internet announced that it will be open all the time, forever.

MNB user Kim Richardson-Roach wrote:

I would like to offer a different perspective in Kohl’s announcement to keep their stores open starting 12/17 until 12/24 at 6 PM.  Even though it might at first blush seem like it is not a value add – there is most likely some very strategic thoughts to why they make this investment.
Even though our world has allowed us to leverage internet shopping much more and many companies are still offering delivery in time for Christmas.  We are very quickly getting to the date where delivery by Christmas will be an extra charge or not guaranteed at all.
I personally am now dealing with the need to go purchase presents that I purchased on-line several weeks ago and today just received the Backorder has now been cancelled email and they will credit my account.  This isn’t going to help me for Christmas – I need to give a present under the tree and I am not going to take the chance of buying something on line – I am going to have to go to a store and make the purchase.
I agree that having the internet open 24/7 is very helpful and most people are leveraging this capability – but there is that critical point in time that the traditional bricks and mortar locations will win out and when Kohl’s looks back at their history – they feel this happens starting 12/17.  They are just capitalizing on a need and making it top of mind to the consumer.

Fair point. It may just have been my cynicism speaking.

Yesterday we reported on a Washington Post story about how Sam's Club president/CEO Rosalind Brewer is under attack for comments she recently made in a CNN interview that some have deemed to be racist.

Brewer, an African-American female, was asked about how she tries to encourage diversity not just at Walmart, but also in other corporations. And she said:

“My executive team is very diverse, and I make that a priority. I demand it of my team and within the structure. And then, every now and then, you have to nudge your partners, and you have to speak up and speak out. And I try to use my platform for that. … I try to set an example. I try to mentor many women inside my company and outside the company because I think it’s important.

“And I talk to my suppliers about it. Just today we met with a supplier, and the entire other side of the table was all Caucasian males. That was interesting. I decided not to talk about it directly with [the supplier’s] folks in the room because there were actually no females, like, levels down. So I’m going to place a call to him.”

I commented:

The story also makes clear that four out of the eight people on Brewer's executive team are white men ... which all by itself ought to put to rest some of the outcry.

Most of what this proves, I think, is that some people are always looking for a fight. The people who are complaining about Brewer's statement are probably the same ones who said they plan to boycott "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" because the presence of a more diverse cast reflects an inherent prejudice against white men.

White men should just get over it. We/they don't dominate the world the way we/they used to, and everything from business to popular culture is going to reflect this.

Brewer wasn't saying that she was biased against white men ... just that businesses that want to do business with Walmart perhaps ought to better reflect the demographic makeup of the people they are trying to sell stuff to.

Much ado about nothing. Except that petty people with big voices and exaggerated senses of their own importance always have a way of soaking up all the oxygen in the room.

One MNB user wrote:

Kevin, first I'm a big fan of yours and like what your do and for the most part agree with you. But in the case of Ms. Brewer I think you got it wrong.

First let's take her performance since coming to Sam's, it's been poor to say the least. I keep hearing that she not happy with what's going on but has done little to improve the assortment or sales (let's not forget this is an industry that change can come quick with such limited sku's and inventory). Now she thinks adding higher price ticket items will do the trick, obviously she must not spend much time in her clubs or Costco, as this isn't the answer. Trust me, the club (Sam's) industry needs a person who understands it, she doesn't.

I would encourage you ask the trade and others who have worked with her their thoughts as what i just shared with you is the popular opinion of her .  To tell other CEOs who they should hire with this type of message is unreal. I and other CEOs take offense to this. WE hire based on the skills and professionalism and not the race, gender or religion. While I agree all MUST be given equal and fair opportunity to advance, suggesting in this roundabout way that one's business might benefit by have a person who is like her in race and color on the call is out of bounds. But if Ms. Brewer feels that CEO will now go out and reassign teams to fit her likes isn't going to happen. I think what Ms. Brewer did was to secure her job based on her OWN poor performance. She just made it much harder for Mr. McMillon and the board to fire her now.

One MNB user responded:

I think that it is absolutely appropriate that the best candidate serve in any role regardless of race.  No one should ever be passed over for a position based on color, race, religion sex or any other attribute protected or not that does not affect the job.  I think that some people’s reaction to Brewer’s comments are overly sensitive, but I always suggest we should have some balance in the discussion.  If Brewer meets with a minority company with an all-black group of representatives--which has been the case for me many times—I hope she also contacts them to encourage that they work on getting more balance in the company.

Also, as a white man, if I meet with a company with all black representatives, is it appropriate for me to contact them and suggest they add some white diversity?  I would offer that based on Brewer’s comments, it should be not only appropriate but expected as good business.  While at first my comments may seem argumentative, that is not the intent, as I have seen all kinds of naturally heavy bias in companies (Asian Companies, Latin American Companies, etc.) and only want some deeper thought on a tough issue.  I am not sure that we should look at the historical domination of white men in business management as justification for biased thinking in any form, by anyone.

And from another:

Racism is racism.  If it isn’t OK to object to having nothing but black women calling on me (and it most certainly would not be) then it isn’t OK to object to having nothing but white men calling on me.  Very simple.  There is clearly a double standard when it comes to these matters and I think it is fair to call it out.

From another reader:

I’m not taking a position for or against Donald Trump, but I appreciate that he is drawing attention to the whole political correctness discussion. We seem to have become so PC sensitive that it is hard to state an opinion without being vilified by someone looking to further their own agenda.

I have to be honest here. Nothing that Brewer said sounds like racism to me. And she wasn't asking for people to be fired or reassigned. To me, it sounded like she was going to suggest to this supplier that hr (or she) ought to think in more diverse terms in the future ... especially because the people who shop at Sam's are not exclusively white guys.

I also recognize that this can be a tricky subject because it always can be construed that pressing for diversity is the same thing as reverse racism. I suppose it can be, but isn't necessarily the same thing ... and I think that at some point common sense and reasonable sensitivity have to take over.

Here's the thing. I'm a 61-year-old white male who has lived his life in very specific circumstances. There are things I will never, ever know. Some of it is gender, some of it skin color, some of it is ethnicity, and some of it is life experience. If a company depends on some knowledge of and experience with those things to be successful, I'm probably the wrong guy to hire.

That's not racism. It is a reality of doing business is a far more diverse world, in which companies need to have a more diverse approach to hiring. This doesn't mean the advancement of people who are unqualified ... just being open to possibilities and opportunities that never used to matter.

MNB user Chris Utz wrote:

It seems that anyone can cry foul, depending on who’s ox is being gored.  I work at a very progressive company; women in our department outnumber us old white guys.  Recent hires include 3 women and only one man.  I recently recommended another female job applicant for our team.  We have many people of color, Latino descent and foreign countries, working at our corporate headquarters at all levels, from new hires to senior management.

The enjoyable part of coming to work each day is the positive, welcoming and friendly work environment.  That’s part of the reason for our company’s strength.  We are polite to one-another, almost to a fault, which can create an occasional bottleneck in the elevators.  I’d be shocked to discover anyone here with a chip on their shoulder.   I would be appalled if someone publicly representing our company went off on a preachy negative rant, regardless of their heritage, religion or political persuasion.  There’s no place for such behavior in a modern work environment.

Lucky you. I'd like to work in a positive, welcoming and friendly environment, but I work by myself ...
KC's View: