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Friday, March 16, 2012

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Friday Morning Eye-Opener: License To Spy

by Kevin Coupe

Okay, maybe you’ve seen this before. But I never had, and thought it was just the coolest thing.

I was in the parking lot this week of the Santa Monica Place mall in California, the fabulously redesigned plaza at the south end of the Third Street Promenade.

One of the things that I noticed was that as I drove around looking for a parking space, there were lights lined along the ceiling that were red if the space was taken, green if empty. That made it a lot easier to find a space in the crowded lot ... but that wasn’t the Eye-Opener.

No, what knocked my socks off was the fact that each light had a little camera aimed at the parking space. And at the payment kiosks throughout the garage, there was a computer (pictured) that allowed you to find your car simply by punching in the license plate number. The computer would then access all of the mini cameras, find your corresponding plate, and tell you where your car was.

That’s cool. A little Big Brother-ish, but very cool and an Eye-Opener nevertheless.

(Of course, I also realized that if this existed years ago, it would have rendered as obsolete that old “Seinfeld” episode about getting lost in a mall parking lot...)

The Dog House, And How To Avoid It

Fast Company has a good piece about how to stay out of the customer’s dog house.

(Actually, the magazine uses another euphemism for being in trouble with the customer. It is a kind of list. The kind none of us want to be on. You can read about it here.)

The dog house “isn’t going away,” Fast Company argues. “In fact, consumer expectations are making it easier to land there than ever. We’ve come to expect all of our in store shopping to be as intuitive as the Apple Store, our information searches to be as easy and relevant as Google, our customer service to be as responsive as Zappos, and our technology interactions to be as seamless as Zipcar. Part of this is because modern consumers interact with so many services in such rapid succession. If you’re traveling, you might pass through the hands of a dozen service providers in just a few hours, including airline, airport, rental car company, Yelp, restaurant, hotel, credit-card company, and Facebook. This proximity prompts continual comparison.”

But these constant comparisons, the story suggests, ought to be seen as license to borrow/steal/imitate examples of how other companies take care of shoppers: “If you know your customers’ expectations are being shaped by another category (or provider), then it’s time to start borrowing, heavily and without shame. But it’s also time to sweat out the details--to figure out how to fulfill those expectations in a way that customers will embrace. On a flattened playing field with a multitude of players, customers expect service innovation as well as delivery.”

KC's View: This just reinforces the notion that because, for consumers, all boundaries and barriers are coming down, retailers need to think the same way - looking everywhere for inspiration and innovation, because shoppers are finding the highest standard and holding everyone to it.

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

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Now back to regularly scheduled editorial...

UK Chief Brasher Departs Tesco With A Touch Of Class

As expected, Tesco’s UK chief, Richard Brasher, announced yesterday that he was stepping down, to be replaced in that role by Tesco CEO Phillip Clarke, who clearly feels the need to exert control over a part of the business seeing a decline in market share.

In making the announcement, Brasher circulated the following memo to company employees:

After 25 great years at Tesco I have decided to step down from the Board as CEO of the UK and Republic of Ireland, and to leave the business in July once I have effected a smooth transition of the UK business to Philip.

Given my deep loyalty to Tesco and to all of you who work in it, this has been a very difficult decision.  I have been privileged to be a part of a truly great journey over the past two decades.  Together we have built an outstanding business.

I have felt immensely proud over the past year to lead Tesco in the UK and Ireland – still by any measure the strong, beating heart of the Group.  The UK is a great business full of great people.  With the right investment plan, some care and the determination and pride we all share, we can not only regain lost ground but reach new heights.

I know that Philip entirely shares my views and appreciates that the success of the UK business is pivotal to the success of the Group.  I respect his determination to be even more closely involved in it.  However, if even the best of teams is to succeed, it must have only one captain.  Any lack of clarity on this damages the team, and hence why I am clear that my decision is the right one for Tesco.

I will leave with my many fond memories.  Above all, I will always remember the commitment of all of you to do the right thing both for customers and for your teams.  This is what has defined us in the past and I am confident is what will continue to define you in the future, however strong the headwinds or the temptation to take a different path.

I wish each and every one of you the very best for the future.  Be confident in doing the right thing, especially when it is hard.  And remember the power of a gift.  If as you go through life you give a little more than you take, you will not only enjoy life more, you will get back more than you could ever imagine.

Good luck and my very best, as always...

KC's View: Classy guy. And when people behave in a way that is commendable, it ought to be recognized.

I know it is hardly an apples-to-apples comparison, but it struck me as particularly interesting in the wake of the resignation letter written by Goldman Sachs employee Greg Smith - and run in the New York Times - in which he accused the company of having a poisonous culture that puts its own profits above customers’ needs. “It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off,” Smith wrote.

I don’t want to slam Smith here - it was one of the great kiss-off resignations of all time. And maybe it will bring needed attention to a business sector that deserves to be eviscerated from time to time.

Still, it does seem a little petty when compared to the language used by Brasher.

Report: Fair Trade Product Sales Growing

The Huffington Post carries a story saying that “ sales of products with Fair Trade USA's seal of approval for ethics and sustainability rose 75 percent in the fourth quarter of last year over the first quarter of 2011 ... The spike in sales took place even though fair trade-certified products, about 95 percent of which are edible goods, almost always cost more than alternative items.”

The data was compiled by retail research company Spins.

According to Mary Jo Cook, chief impact officer of Fair Trade USA, “a major reason for the tremendous growth in sales is the recent embrace of fair trade by a few major brands ... Ben & Jerry's, for example, committed to using fair trade ingredients in February 2010 and has slowly been moving toward universal adoption for all its products. That means that some consumers may have started to buy fair trade-certified products without realizing.”

However, Cook also says that there is evidence that “many customers are more concerned about ethics than they used to be.”

KC's View: I’m a little skeptical ... the same way I was skeptical yesterday about a study suggesting that people were willing to spend more on environmentally friendly packaging. Not totally disbelieving, but skeptical.

I think they want to, and want to think they do. But these are tough times for a lot of folks, and compromises sometimes have to be made.

That said, I was gobsmacked by the MNB user to responded to yesterday’s story by writing:

Perception Research Services probably did the survey among people living in San Francisco who also drive Chevy Volts. Morons.

That just strikes me as so unfairly dismissive.

I like that people want to do the right thing.

Unless, of course, you actually think that it somehow is better to have packaging that is not environmentally friendly. Or to not buy Fair Trade products.

I just can’t be that cynical. And I’m capable of a lot of cynicism.

Effort Seeks To Establish Basic Food Nomenclature On Web reports that “an open data standard for food has emerged on the web. With such a tool, restaurants, food apps, grocery stores, the government and other interested parties can tell that arugula is also called rocket salad, no matter where on the web it occurs or what a restaurant menu or recipe app calls it. Right now, that’s an impossible task, which leads to inefficiencies in both consumer-facing apps and the supply chains of restaurants and grocery stores.”

According to the story, “a group of folks concerned about sustainable foods have built the seeds of an open food database hosted on Heroku.” The group consists of “a restaurateur, someone from an urban gardening movement, someone from Code for America and someone who rates sustainable restaurants.”

It is just the beginning of the process: “So far, they have created a database of 1,000 foods and hope to have 7,000 that folks can access.”

The MNB Walmart Watch

Bloomberg reports that Walmart started selling the new iPad today at midnight - an eight hour head-start over the nation’s Apple Stores.

As the iPad goes on sale, some experts believe that as many as a million could be sold by close of business today.

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

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• C-store chain Casey’s General Stores announced yesterday that it is about to “break ground on their first site in Kentucky later this month. This store will be located in Cadiz, Kentucky and will mark the 12th state in which Casey’s operates.” Casey’s is based in Ankeny, Iowa, and currently operates more than 1,600 stores in 11 states.

• The Associated Press reports that “Chinese state television has accused McDonald's and French retailer Carrefour of selling expired chicken products in separate incidents amid public anxiety in China over food safety. McDonald's Corp. and Carrefour Inc. issued public apologies Friday and said they were investigating the report by China Central Television.”
Specifically, a McDonald's restaurant in Beijing is accused of having “sold chicken wings 90 minutes after they were cooked while the company's rules set a 30-minute limit. It said employees at a Carrefour store in the central city of Zhengzhou changed expiration dates on some chicken and sold regular chickens as more expensive free-range birds.”

• In its annual report yesterday, Sears Holdings said it plans to close 43 Sears hometown dealer stores and 10 Sears Hardware stores during the first half of this year.

The Chicago Tribune notes that “the closures follow Sears' plan, announced in late December, to shutter up to 120 poor performing Sears and Kmart stores and a plan, disclosed in February, to close all nine of its Great Indoors stores.”

Your Views: The Joke’s On You

Yesterday, I offered in “FaceTime” my favorite Irish joke.

Which prompted two MNB readers to to the same.
One MNB user wrote:

Flynn staggered home very late after another evening with his drinking buddy, Paddy.  He took off his shoes to avoid waking his wife, Mary.  He tiptoed as quietly as he could toward the stairs leading to their upstairs bedroom, but misjudged the bottom step.  As he caught himself by grabbing the banister, his body swung around and he landed heavily on his rump.  A whiskey bottle in each back pocket broke and made the landing especially painful.

Managing not to yell, Flynn sprung up, pulled down his pants, and looked in the hall mirror to see that his butt cheeks were cut and bleeding.  He managed to quietly find a full box of Band-Aids and began putting a Band-Aid as best he could on each place he saw blood.  He then hid the now almost empty Band-Aid box and shuffled and stumbled his way to bed.

In the morning, Flynn woke up with searing pain in both his head and butt and Mary staring at him from across the room. 

She said, "You were drunk again last night weren't you?" 

Flynn said, "Why would you say such a mean thing?" 

"Well," Mary said, "it could be the open front door, it could be the broken glass at the bottom of the stairs, it could be the drops of blood trailing through the house, it could be your bloodshot eyes, but's all those Band-Aids stuck on the hall mirror...”

And MNB user Stewart Sundholm chimed in:

Patrick Fitzgerald is driving around looking for a place to park, running very late for a meeting.

Exasperated - he calls out to God and says "Dear Lord - please help me find a place to park! I promise to stop drinking, Ill go to church every Sunday and Ill even start treating my wife better!"

Thirty seconds later, Patrick comes across a spot right across the street from his meeting.

He then says to God: "Never mind, I found one..."

We got a million of them...

MNB will get back to the serious emails next week. In the meantime, have a happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

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Now back to regularly scheduled editorial...

OffBeat: Glorious Food

Lots of travel the last 10 days or so. (In fact, as you read this, I’m probably flying home to Connecticut from the west coast.)

But that means lots of great food.

Two meals stand out.

I had the opportunity to spend last weekend in Boston and Cambridge because of a pair of commitments. Great places both. In Boston, I always make a point of having the paella at Legal Test Kitchen, and whenever possible, the banana pancakes at The Paramount. And in Cambridge, I just like walking around and looking at all the really, really smart people. It is a little intimidating, but it gives me hope.

This time around, though, I had the most amazing meal during my Cambridge visit. At the suggestion of a new friend of mine (who I have never met, but have communicated with via Facebook and email), I went to Rialto ... sat at the bar and had the most amazing sandwich - Roasted duck, with Gruyère and gingered figs (pictured). Delicious hand cut fries. And a beer I'd never had before - Prestige Lager from Haiti, which managed to be light and rich at the same time. One of my favorite kinds of meals - alone at a strange bar, eating and drinking things that are new to me...

And then, just last night, while in California, an old friend of mine from college, Tony Stanton, suggested that we meet at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant for dinner. It was called El Farolito, in Placentia - way out of the way for both of us, but roughly halfway between where he lives, in Temecula, and where I was staying in Redondo Beach.

And let me tell you ... El Farolito was worth the trip ... serving, among other things, the best chicken chilaquiles I have ever eaten.

Amazing. And suddenly, Placentia, California, doesn’t look that remote to me. It looks like a place that is well worth the drive...

It was a beer week, not a wine week...and let me recommend a couple to you - the Harpoon Celtic Ale, and Troeg’s Amber Ale, both of which were wonderful.

Perfect week.

Next week, Wisconsin ...

That’s it for now. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.


Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

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