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Did you know that in some restaurants, they charge you more if you ask for real maple syrup with your breakfast instead of the fake stuff.  I didn't - until the Canadians who make the real stuff took out a full page ad in the Sunday New York Times.  The ad is self-deprecating, smart, and the cause is noble - I try only to use the real stuff on my pancakes and french toast (though I must confess that I'm partial to Runamok syrups from Vermont.

Here's the ad referenced in the video:

by Kevin Coupe

A few weeks ago, I looked askance at a comment by Best Buy CEO Corie Barry that blamed all the money that Taylor Swift fans were spending on concert tickets and merchandise for stagnant sales in her stores.  I thought it was a silly comment - a retailer's job is to understand consumer priorities and to adapt and cater to them.  Excuses are not acceptable.

(By the way, I see that Taylor Swift has been shortlisted for the Time Person of the Year cover.  While I think the whole concept is anachronistic, I do think that there's no question that she should be the winner - Taylor Swift has been an economic force, creative joy and bright spot in an otherwise rather dismal year.  But I digress.)

Anyway, I got the following email and pictures yesterday from MNB reader Lynn Olsen that I thought qualified as an Eye-Opener.  The email tells the following story:

I received a gift card to Best Buy recently and decided, once again, to try desperately to spend it last week on a Garmin golf watch. 

No go, and the photos show why.  Even a core category like batteries seemed beyond their ability to be in stock. This has been a recurring situation for several years. 

The one person who talked with me, after I approached him, said “The item is probably online, sorry for the inconvenience”.  

One key thing I learned very early in my 38 years of retail management is that air does not sell well.

And here are the pictures:

Memo to Corie Barry:   Open your Eyes.  Run better stores.  Have better in-stock levels.  And stop whining about T-Swift.

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The Wall Street Journal reports that CVS Health plans to "move away from the complex formulas used to set the prices of the prescription drugs it sells, shifting to a simpler model that could upend how American pharmacies are paid."  The goal, the story says, is to have "CVS’s roughly 9,500 retail pharmacies … reimbursed by pharmacy-benefit managers and other payers based on the amount that CVS paid for the drugs, in addition to a limited markup and a flat fee to cover the services involved in handling and dispensing the prescriptions. Today, pharmacies are generally paid using complex measures that aren’t directly based on what they spent to purchase specific drugs."

The Journal notes that "a similar payment model, sometimes known as 'cost plus,' has been promoted by entrepreneur Mark Cuban’s eponymous pharmacy company, among others, which have said it brings greater clarity and accountability to drug pricing.  CVS’s move, which is to be phased in starting in the first half of 2024, will take the approach to a far greater scale, embedding it in a company that stands at the core of the American drug-supply chain."

KC's View:

Here's the bottom line from the Journal piece:  "CVS is making the move as it seeks to stabilize its retail pharmacy business, which has long struggled with stagnating margins on its core function of dispensing prescriptions."

If CVS wants to simplify and lower prescription pricing, that's a good idea.  Though I think many of us would argue that it has a lot more work to do than just that if it wants to stabilize its pharmacy business.  Like maybe more pharmacists?

The other, larger point - it is heartening to see that an entrepreneur like Mark Cuban can start a company that clearly is moving the needle and create competitive pressures even on much larger entities.

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From Axios:

"As America ages, senior care — in-home and at facilities — is increasingly out of reach … Nearly 70% of seniors will need long-term care services as they age, per Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies.

"But just 13% of adults 75+ who live alone can afford assisted living — and only 14% can afford in-home care, according to the center's analysis of 97 metro areas.

"For context, more than 40% of Americans 65+ live alone. When considering seniors over 80, that share jumps to nearly 60%."

KC's View:

Add to this equation three more factors.

•  America has at least 600 hundred fewer nursing homes than it did a half-dozen years ago.

•  US life expectancy is increasing.

•  Baby boomers have had fewer kids than earlier generations, which means we have fewer family members to help us as we age.

I think this creates enormous opportunities for retailers, who should be able to figure out which of their stores have the oldest customers and then start to formulate programs - working with doctors, hospitals and other facilities that cater to the aged - that help them in myriad ways.  It isn't the only issue, but nutrition is such an important part of staying healthy as we age, and food retailers especially can play a critical role in this continuum.

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The Seattle Times reports on how workers at a number of Amazon warehouse and fulfillment facilities are concerned about toxicity -  not the workplace culture, but rather unsafe chemicals that could be putting them at risk.

An excerpt:

"Warehouse workers at some of Amazon’s facilities have to handle potentially hazardous materials every day … In January, L&I (Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries) inspectors cited Amazon’s Spokane warehouse for failing to properly train workers on how to handle hazardous chemicals or ensure employees wore appropriate eye protection, according to a previously unpublicized citation."

The story goes on:

"The chemicals in Amazon’s warehouses, mostly consumer goods that customers order on, include pesticides, cleaning products and even some shampoos. Those items can leak through their packaging, exposing employees to potent odors that cause dizziness, nausea, skin irritation and, in some cases, vision loss, L&I reported.

"Inspecting the Spokane warehouse last year, L&I found some Amazon employees did not wear eye protection while handling packages that could leak. In winter, frozen items were also prone to explode, the department found in interviews with six employees.

"Workers who handled hazardous chemicals were not effectively trained on how to identify the materials they were handling or the risks they posed, L&I alleged. One worker told the department they determined if a chemical was hazardous based on the 'glare or shimmer' of the container. Another said they went by smell; if they got nauseous, they assumed it was hazardous."

The Times writes that "Amazon disputes the claims, maintaining that all front-line employees receive safety training that includes information on chemicals and how to read labels. Only trained employees clean up chemical spills, said Amazon, which has appealed L&I’s citation."

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Reuters reports that "as holiday shoppers return items purchased during Black Friday and Cyber Monday online shopping sprees, more U.S. retailers could tell them to keep items that cost more to ship back than they are worth.

"This year, 59% of retailers offer so-called 'returnless' or 'keep it' policies for unwanted products whose returns costs exceed their value, according to returns services firm goTRG, which surveyed 500 executives at 21 major retailers, including Walmart and Amazon."

A year ago, the number was 26 percent of retailers - which means that the number of companies embracing this approach as a way of saving money has more than doubled.  Reuters writes that these "results come as U.S. shoppers are expected to return $173 billion worth of holiday purchases in the U.S. this year, 28% more than last year."

KC's View:

We've had this happen to use several times in recent months, and it is a little disconcerting.  But we've gotten used to it.

The question is to what degree these policies, as they become more widespread, reshape consumers' mindsets and expectations in every retail experience.

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Food & Wine reports that "spectators at the Paris 2024 Olympics won’t be able to have a beer while they watch badminton, or sip a gin and tonic during the gymnastics competitions … A law that has been on the books in France for over 30 years puts significant restrictions on the sale of alcohol in the sports stadiums and other venues where Olympic events will be held next summer, and the Games’ organizers won’t be asking for any kind of exemptions."

Sauf … "there are exceptions for VIP suites inside stadiums and arenas," which are governed by a different law.

Some context from the Food & Wine story:

"Evin’s Law went into effect in 1991, and limits the marketing and advertising of alcohol and tobacco products. It also means that alcohol of any kind can’t be sold to the general public inside stadiums during sporting events … even competitions sponsored by booze companies are rebranded when they’re being held in France: most notably, the Heineken Champions Cup rugby competition is known as the H Cup when it takes place within the country.)

"Each event organizer can apply for an exemption from Evin’s Law for 10 events per year, per municipality — but the sheer size and scale of the Olympics makes that impossible."

KC's View:

Sacre bleu!  I was gobsmacked by this.  (My brilliant son Brian brought this interesting article to my attention and I couldn’t believe it to be true.)

in France, a place where a glass of wine with pretty much every meal or snack is one of the staffs of life, this law is almost unfathomable … especially since it only seems to apply to le grand public, and not to the folks who can spend thousands on a ticket.

I'm not sure that this would play in New York. In fact, it was the legendary New York detective Popeye Doyle who once said, "I'd rather be a lamppost in New York than the president of France."  (See Gene Hackman in 1975's "French Connection II," one of the best, if underappreciated, sequels ever made.)

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•  From Small Business Trends:

"The entire Cyber Week, from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, brought in $38 billion, up 7.8% compared to the previous year. This growth was consistent across various shopping days, including Thanksgiving and Black Friday, pointing towards an overall robust holiday season in e-commerce."

•  From The Information:

Amazon will stop broadcasting matches from the U.K.’s top soccer league in 2025. The Premier League said Monday that it had sold four years of U.K. broadcast rights starting with the 2025-2026 season to Comcast’s Sky Sports and Warner Bros. Discovery’s TNT Sports for a total of $8.5 billion.

Prime Video has broadcast 20 out of the Premier League’s several hundred matches per season each year since it entered the market in 2019, but appears to be outbid in this round.

The Information notes that "Amazon isn’t getting out of soccer entirely - through a separate deal, Prime Video will broadcast 17 Champions League games per year in the U.K. starting in 2024."

•  From the South China Morning Post:

", the international business-to-business wholesale marketplace of Alibaba Group Holding, expects the roll-out of a new artificial intelligence (AI) tool to help the platform’s merchants automate their client-facing operations, including writing emails, to entice more customers overseas.

"An AI-upgraded version of OKKI, the customer relationship management software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering under Alibaba Cloud, will be available to foreign trade merchants from Friday, according to

"It said the response rate of these merchants’ overseas clients improved by 32 per cent when their business correspondence was polished by OKKI."

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•  From the Wall Street Journal:

"Saks Fifth Avenue wants to buy rival Neiman Marcus. Neiman is open to a deal. But the two luxury retailers can’t agree on the terms of a marriage.

"This week, Neiman rejected Saks’s most recent takeover offer, which valued the upscale chain at close to $3 billion, according to people familiar with the situation. Neiman objected to the deal’s structure, a significant portion of which wasn’t in cash, some of the people said.

"The two companies have been negotiating for months, the latest round of on-again, off-again talks that date back more than a decade. A combination would give the luxury department store chains more clout with designer brands as consumers curtail spending on pricey goods.

"The talks are continuing, but a deal, if one is reached, is unlikely to come before early next year, the people continued. Both companies are controlled by investor groups.

"Both companies have also had recent struggles. Neiman filed for bankruptcy in 2020 but is on stronger footing since emerging from court protection with far less debt. Saks, which is owned by HBC, has delayed paying some suppliers to help manage its cash.  HBC, which also owns the Hudson’s Bay department-store chain in Canada, recently raised $340 million by selling real estate—cash that will help fund its retail operations."

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In Monday Night Football, the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Jacksonville Jaguars in overtime, 34-31.

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