business news in context, analysis with attitude

We had a story the other day about how scientists are testing the notion of having electronic data screens on product packaging labels, with the idea being that it would allow consumers access to considerably more information than they have now with static, printed labels.

Prompting one MNB user to write:

Sounds interesting, but have the developers thought beyond just getting their innovation out to the market?  What happens when that high tech label is discarded along with the package?  Are we adding more to the un-recyclable waste stream with more toxic wastes?  How do we recycle or separate out the batteries and polymers from the rest of the package?  Many of the same people who are looking for more information are also conscious of the “footprint” that the waste will produce.  I agree with you that you could simply scan a code and get all that information and more on your smartphone.  At the same time, you could also generate a coupon or discount if the item was purchased.

Another MNB user agreed:

I would certainly never claim to be an environmentalist, but I do my part of reuse, recycle, or compost as much as possible. I also work to ensure that the electronics that have broken or lived their useful life, are donated, given to someone who can fix them, or taken to an electronics recycling or reuse location. I also carry my smartphone at all times and agree that scanning a code could provide a near infinite amount of information. I cannot imagine purchasing a food item, or most any other consumer good for that matter, that has an electronic label without some understanding of how I could get rid of it without going to landfill.

MNB took note the other day of a story about how Target brought in Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to give employees an inspirational talking-to. It apparently only went so far, as one MNB user wrote:

My husband is a Target employee and was in attendance for the Howard Shultz speech at Target this week.  He said his speech was very meaningful and uplifting.  Brian Cornell then got up and talked only about the numbers … I don’t think most Target employees walked away with a good feeling after that.

I commented the other day within the context of an article about how fast food might be a public health hazard that I trusted this does not apply to a Double Double Animal Style from In-N-Out. (I don't much care if it does, to be honest.)

MNB reader Tom Redwine wrote:

Regarding your comment on the fast food article, I immediately recalled this quote from a movie I happened upon this weekend (and promptly stopped everything I was doing to watch it to the end): "I don't know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations."

One day I'll get to an In-N-Out; I'm already looking forward to one of their juicy rationalizations… animal style.

I must admit that In-N-Out does not give me a Big Chill. Rather the opposite.

Responding to our story about consumers rising up in social media to object to the speculation by the AMC theater chain CEO that someday texting may be allowed in movie theaters, one MNB user wrote:

You may be familiar with the Alamo Drafthouse, a chain of theaters originating in Texas. They are dead serious about the no text rule, and will play this and other similar messages just before the main feature starts. As a customer who just purchased a ticket to a movie that I expect to enjoy with no distractions, I love the attitude, regardless of how harsh and blunt and it may seem.

Excellent. I'm familiar with Alamo Drafthouse, but have never actually been to one. I have to remedy that one of these days.

Another reader wrote:

I’m retired, looking for another job. I may forward my resume to AMC HR. They may soon have an opening at the top.

We had a piece the other day about some customers who wanted Amazon to stop selling any Donald Trump-related merchandise, saying that he is a sexist, homophobe and assorted other unsavory things. I thought this was absurd, no matter how you feel about Trump - if you don;t want him to sell stuff, just don't buy it.

The story - and subsequent responses - generated the following email from MNB reader Ron Pizur:

Thanks for posting the reader responses to your Amazon story. I've been living in the Netherlands for over 11 years and I tend to miss out on all of the political stuff going on back home. I do try to read the headlines, but honestly I get fed up with the polarization and since living here gives me the opportunity to tune most of it out I tend to do so.

I am always shocked at how people tend to think of politics as a football game and pick which sideline they are on. Perhaps instead of a single game they should think of politics as a league with many teams and it is fine to align yourself with a totally different team. Then after a season where all of these teams of differing opinions have had a chance to play against each other we will arrive at a clear cut winner. Only having the option of two teams means that you are given a love or hate choice.

I'm not promoting having multiple parties (or at least not 32 of them). I see how going to that extreme here in Europe has the potential to never get anything done (at least not for long). What I would like to see is the ability to have a real debate on issues in an effort to come to a good choice. But I digress.

Your reader responses are great examples of the polarization of the U.S. and, in turn, their attitudes. Your final words on the topic are (as usual) right on and the calming voice of reason. Hopefully those readers who have responded realize that they can choose to sit in the end zone and perhaps enjoy the different perspective on the field that such a choice offers.

Regarding the improved food and food service offered by Wawa, MNB user Daniel Hogan wrote:

I went to Philadelphia with some friends for New Year’s Eve 2012, of course we went to Pat’s & Geno’s for cheese steaks while we were visiting. We also stopped at a Wawa on the trip, & joked that the best cheese steak we got in Philly was from Wawa. Except we really weren’t joking, Wawa is on point.

And from another reader, a different perspective:

I hardly recognize the inside of a Wawa anymore when I visit New Jersey (which we do far more frequently than you'd imagine, being an eight-hour drive away). I grew up with Wawa being a traditional convenience store, and a pretty comprehensive one, at that. If you were in the midst of making dinner and realized you had run out of something -- rice, sugar, eggs, butter, whatever -- you could run down to Wawa and grab it fast. You might even get lucky and find a banana or a tomato if you needed one. So I still think that's what Wawa is for. But the chain has made a total shift in emphasis, as your article describes. It's a store full of grab-and-go junk food, primarily, with fresh milk, eggs, and butter scattered around. Here's the bottom line for relevancy: my 29-year-old son loves Wawa. I have no interest in going there anymore. I see who Wawa wants as a customer -- not me!

Michael Sansolo had a column the other day that took note of how Amazon's offering of a bridal registry service threatens other businesses that have depended on such a service for sales and profits, which prompted one MNB user to write:

As one who believes Amazon is among the greatest job destroyers in this country, and leads the way in the de-socialization of America, I do believe using Amazon as a bride registry makes sense for all the reason Mr. Sansolo points out. That does not prevent me from feeling a bit of sadness for the Millennial generation who will ultimately feel the effects of the half empty malls, shuttered brick and mortars and ultimately loss of entry level to midrange jobs and the unfortunate consequences that follow.

See our story above about malls.

Plus, I think your observation about Amazon being a job destroyer only is true if the rest of the economy and culture does not adjust to how the world is changing. If all we do is sit around and whine about how technology is changing things, you're right. But I think we can do better than that.

We've had some stories and commentary here about the North Carolina bathroom law and how business has stood up against it (not that this has done much good to this point). One MNB user wanted to weigh in:

This will probably drive you up a wall, but I think it is important. Deeply held religious beliefs are protected by the US Constitution under amendment one. Reasonable accommodations should be made for those beliefs. Same should be said for the transgendered, but religious freedom is explicitly protected under the constitution. It is a slippery slope when the so-called persecuted become the persecutors. In the history of the world, Jews and Christians have been persecuted and slaughtered up to and including today.Many Non religious people find Christianity and other religions to be very strange and foreign to them.  But in a free and just society, religious beliefs must be protected.

I came to these strong feelings in a somewhat non traditional way. I don't consider myself to be religious, maybe more spiritual. When the gay marriage issue came up, I fell on the rights of gays to be married. A friend of mine told me to mark his words. It's not about gay rights to marry, that would be fine. It was about forcing Christians to bend to the GLTB movement. He said that people would be forced by the power of the state to not only condone the behavior, but to actively support it. That's not possible I thought. He said that people with deeply held religious beliefs will be labeled bigots or much worse. He predicted that bakers and florist would be forced to participate. He said that one day, it may be illegal for a reverend or priest to refuse to officiate a gay wedding. I said no way. All of the gay people I know aren't like that.  He said its not gay people, it's a movement. It's a movement against religion. You will be forced to believe and the state will enforce it. I thought he was just a radical right winger and I was the enlightened liberal thinker. Let people believe what they want. Let people chose their lifestyle.

Could you imagine living in a world where people label your beliefs as bigoted and not welcome in a free society. Doesn't religion hold some sort of a place in society that they should also be tolerated and respected?

In Boston, the largest and most successful adoption service was that of the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. Their successful placement rates and outcomes for the children were second to none. Not even close. The city of Boston decided that it wasn't enough to let other adoption services to serve the gay and lesbian community. The Catholic Church needed to do it too. It was just plain bigoted that the Catholic Church didn't allow adoptions to same sex couples. They past an ordinance that forbid the Catholic Church from practicing their deeply help religious beliefs. If you didn't do it, you're out of the adoption services. The Cardinal pleaded with the city council to reconsider because it would force them to close their highly successful adoption services. One of the council members was quoted as responding "that is the goal". How bad is that. Hurt children because we cannot tolerate sexual beliefs that match our own.

There is plenty of room to tolerate both the sexual movement and religion. The same companies that have no problem doing business with the likes of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia who actually have laws on their books that homosexuality is punishable by death have a problem with states having religious liberty laws. What the heck.

I am not in favor of the the NC law. It states that sex at birth. That is wrong. That is the only state with something like that. If someone wants to transition to the opposite sex, who am I to judge. But if you have not fully transitioned, you must make the accommodation not me. It's not my decision, it's yours. I do not want a man in a girls locker room. I don't care if they identify as a women. Until they transition, they are a man. That is reasonable. That belief is based on science and anatomy, not bigotry. Everyone needs to bend a little bid and respect each other. Calling people bigots based on deeply held religious beliefs is just as bad as a homosexual slur. It shouldn't be tolerated in a free and just society.

To be absolutely clear, your beliefs do not "drive me up a wall." Far from it. I'm entirely capable of accepting the fact that not everybody is going to agree with me, understanding where people are coming from even if they don't agree with me, and postulating that there ought to be ways to find common ground even when people's beliefs are at polar opposites. (In fact, that's sort of the thinking behind MNB ... though I'm not sure I knew 15 years ago the directions that it would take...)

Several quick points:

I do think that it is very dicey ground when religious freedom appears to create, allow or sanction perceived discriminatory behavior.

The North Carolina law, in my opinion, was a political act, not a moral or religious statement.

I mentioned in FaceTime last week that the Starbucks Roastery & Tasting Room in Seattle seemed to offer a perfectly acceptable approach to the while bathroom question. Check it out. HERE!!!!!!!!!! click here

I think your point that companies that do business in nations with far more discriminatory rules about certain issues suddenly getting outraged about North Carolina law demonstrates a certain level of hypocrisy is entirely reasonable.

We had a story the other day about how BJ's Wholesale Club is giving its members a pick-up option at all of its 213 locations, allowing them to buy without actually wandering up and down the aisles; members can sign onto the retailer's website to reserve items, which then will be picked by an employee, placed in a shopping cart and left at the service desk. An email is sent to the member, who then can go into the store, pay for the items and take them home.

I commented, in part:

I know they say that half a loaf is better than none, but this option just strikes me as half baked. I'm not sure why BJ's wouldn't allow members to pay for the items online and then have an employee take them out to the car when the member rolls up at a delivery depot ... except that maybe it seemed too hard.

If you're gonna jump into the e-commerce pool, you have to actually jump in ... not just stick a toe in the water in a way that is so hesitant that it hardly creates a ripple.

One MNB user disagreed:

The wholesale club model is built around keeping labor costs to a minimum. It seems a small price to pay to have to actually enter the store to collect my purchase. After all, the already-overworked staff has gone to the trouble of collecting all the items in my order.

But another MNB user wrote:

Kevin – totally in agreement with this “half-baked” attempt by BJ’s to solve which most retailers are trying to create which is “curbside” service
Take for example – CVS – where you don’t even need to leave your car.  You order, you pay online and an app/service will alert the CVS team when you are pulling into the parking lot for pickup of product.
Does this new idea for BJ’s help – of course it does – but I still have to park (football size parking lot) – find a “clean” (no coupons, food, empty  boxes) cart, then go inside and now wait in line at the Customer Service window versus the standard line to pay.

Biggest loss at retail = “impulse” buys!  - maybe this is why CVS had vision of this concept and sold off their endcaps to suppliers with the most $$$.  You don’t need endcaps for deals/impulse buys when the shoppers aren’t coming inside the store.

Last week, MNB reported that the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) presented Missouri Representative Dan Shaul (District 113), state director of the Missouri Grocers Association, with its annual Donald H. MacManus Award "for his extraordinary leadership in public affairs and his dedication to both industry and community relations."

I commented:

One of the things that FMI lauded Shaul for was the introduction of a bill - that eventually became state law - preventing any local municipality from banning any kind of shopping bag or establishing fines or fees for their use. When the bill finally became law - with an override of the governor's veto - it included an amendment that also prevented any local municipality from increasing their minimum wage over the state's. All of which I find interesting, and positions that I trust will guide him next time he is faced with a federal law superseding its own state laws.

MNB reader Kevin Weaver took this one step further:

Pretty disappointing and eye opening,  for me at least, that the FMI rewarded an individual who blocked an environmental initiative that is trending nationally, and put an obstacle in the path to higher wages.  FMI proves once again that they are behind the times and their heads firmly in the ground looking for 1955.  Why wouldn't they want to take credit for leading instead of rewarding out of date and non-productive initiatives?   Imagine a progressive FMI.....

On the subject of Amazon's $30 million, three-year contract with the New York City public schools that will result in it providing e-books to the nation's largest public school system, MNB user Donna Burns wrote:

I often have comments in my head but rarely write them…this one has me thinking…

I have a daughter about to graduate high school and a son who is a sophomore in college. They are the product of the on-line text books and notepad taking generation although I must admit it is more convenient and perhaps less costly for our kids to have their text books and English required reading available on line, it has been a detriment to their overall ability to retain information.

They simply cannot skim through, flip back and forth, quickly reference material, study efficiently, write in margins or underline as they can with in hand books.
Yes, I know you can do all these things with Kindles etc..I have one…but it is vastly different to read for pleasure then to read to learn, retain and test.
to test my theory, we had our daughter take notes solely on her notepad for a 2 week lesson plan in Government…no note taking on paper.  She studied from her notepad, took the test and received an 88%.

She then went back to taking notes traditionally (which is her preference) on paper for the next 2 week lesson plan.  She studied from her written notes, took the test and received a 96%.

No, it is not scientific Kevin, just a thought that when you are required to WRITE something down on paper it may cause your developing brain a minute more to pause and think about what you are learning.

Donna, I'm glad that this time you wrote ... but I'm going to disagree with you.

I'm not sure why someone can't read an e-book and not take notes on a piece of paper at the same time. In fact, if a kid knows that this is the best way for them to learn, it seems to me that it would be standard operating procedure.

Different kids learn in different ways, and when the educational system fails, it often can be because it teaches subjects in one way to everybody ...

The big advantage to e-books is that they can be both less expensive and more current ... and I think that when it comes to education, those are huge advantages.

I commented the other day, within the context of a story about how Alexander Hamilton's place on the $10 bill has been preserved in part because of the enormous popularity of the Broadway rap musical 'Hamilton," that I am always happy when culture has an impact on public policy, and that I think more money ought to be spent on the arts in this country.

Prompting MNB user Monte Stowell to write:

With tongue in cheek, I ask, “How much is a ticket to see Hamilton the play in NYC or wherever else it might be playing?” Based on ticket prices I have heard about, we are spending a lot on Arts and Culture.

Good point.

To be clear, though, I was talking about public money ... money that ought to come out of the US budget to support the arts.

Responding to the same story, another MNB user wrote:

On this money thing…as long as we dedicate space on our money to individuals someone is going to pick that individual and the people making the decision apart. While unfortunate it’s a microcosm of our society and our digital world..everything gets blown up into a cause celeb  (IMHO). Those chosen to be represented on the money are/were after all human and very likely have/had some flaws that can be uncovered…especially those who existed in different era’s with different cultural values & norms.

I think the individual faces on the money need to be reserved for those who have unarguable status or made some unarguable MAJOR contribution to our countries evolution. Washington perfect example, Lincoln another great example, Tubman.. I’m for it. Ben question why not more love for Jefferson..I mean he wrote the Declaration of Independence and authorized the LA purchase… and he’s only on race track money and nickels…What about FDR..he gets the dime?? Really you use a lot of those nickels and dimes?…Maybe cousin Teddy needs a place too…I mean natural conservation ( while controversial has a major impact on the face of our country..Grand Canyon, Yosemite to name just 2).  Again, I like Tubman but maybe MLK needs more prominent position. Washington’s got the dollar and the let’s fix that. Eliminating duplication could free up a few openings for some new patriots. As for Hamilton and Jackson…they may have been top patriots in an earlier age but our country has evolved significantly and those two gents may have been out ranked by other patriots in the past 100 years.

Anyway my point,  (“geez finally” Kevin says) is maybe we can evaluate duplication (i.e. Washington & Jefferson), focus on selecting THE MOST significant figures and putting them on the highest circulating pieces. You know what else I like…I think its proposed for the $20 and the $5 – that being group images or images of significant events on the backs of bills. The example I think I heard was Lincoln stays on the front of the $5 but the back shows maybe MLK’s I have a dream speech at the mall. Maybe a shot of the Gettysburg address or emancipation proclamation. I think that gives real artistic opportunity for us to be inclusive of other significant contributors without losing sight of the MAJOR patriots who have significantly impacted our country.

And a slight twist for you - while I like this discussion, as long as we’re talking money, I’d much rather dedicate the time and energy to figuring out how we reduce our debt vs what our money looks like….however , that is an interesting topic that allows us all a voice in what we reflect as important events, individuals, attributes and values of our great country.

On another subject, MNB reader Ken Wagar wrote:

I'm not sure you thought through the ramifications of your statement regarding Costco's getting into the Chicken raising and processing business. You said: " I generally think that the more one can control one's own circumstances, the better. Control means being able to better differentiate, and differentiating is always the best way to succeed.

While I think such a statement is accurate in some circumstances I am not so sure about others, particularly when it comes to raising and processing livestock and everything that goes into it. Monsanto which seems these days to be an evil empire by many exercised control by producing GMO seed, created a significant point of differentiation but how is that working out for them now? The disasters of the peanut company example, the adulterated ice cream example and Chipotle problems suggest that the whole process of plant and animal raising handling and distribution has inherent risks. I'm not at all sure that retailers are in the best position to own more of these raw material development companies, is that really in their wheelhouse. With the buying power of a Costco they should be able to set exacting standards and negotiate long term contracts with existing suppliers to provide what they want, how they want it, when they want it and build in or require the safeguards they want and need.

Am I better off building my own house rather than using a contractor for control, or doing surgery on myself, of course not, partially because I don't have the skills, talent and expertise and partially because I would not be very efficient or effective at it.

I think many people vastly underestimate the job that farmers and food processors do to provide us much more often than not safe food at good prices. Do we have too many food contamination issues, absolutely just as we have too many deaths and illnesses due to medical procedures and medicines. But that doesn't mean an "I will do it myself" decision makes sense.

You do a great job day in and day out, just not sure you thought this through. We aren't talking here about amazon controlling home delivery logistics we are talking about food!

Fair point. But to be clear, as pointed out in the story, Costco wants to own the facility. It is going to use an experienced third party to run it.

Speaking of chickens, I joked the other day when yet another story about a company promising to shift to cage-free eggs broke:

Y'think chickens everywhere read this torrent of stories and breathe a sigh of relief?

One MNB user had a thought about this:

This makes me think, what if we did know what chickens were thinking and what if they thought the same way we do as humans? You have to think there would be a group of chickens that would find the negative in this story, just like there is always a group of people that find things negative or offensive.

Chicken 1: “Did you guys hear the news? They are going to stop putting us in these tiny, cramped cages and let us be more free!!!”

Chicken 2: “That’s just great! (upset) Now they will let us think we are happy and free until they flip on us and have us killed. At least with the way things are now, we know how they feel about us.”

I don't know. Sounds like Chicken 2 is just trying to egg the other chicken on.

Finally, responding to my FaceTime video last week in which I enjoyed pizza, beer and coffee at the Starbucks Roastery & Tasting Room in Seattle, MNB reader Steve Traun wrote:

Kevin – You have the best job in the world - and BTW, you do it very well!

Thanks. I appreciate that. I do know that I enjoy my work ... and that I never forget how lucky I am.
KC's View: