business news in context, analysis with attitude

Our commentary yesterday about the worrisome nature of self-checkout systems, namely the possibility that points of human contact between the supermarket and customers are being eliminated, generated some email.

MNB user Pete Pierson of the Hubert Company wrote:

“I understand your concern about having contact with the customer = during the checkout process at the supermarket, but I don't think that it is necessarily for everyone. I personally LOVE self-checkout. I typically buy less than 20 items per visit and like the convenience of checking out quickly.

“I use self-checkout for three reasons:

1. I don't have to wait in long lines.
2. I am assured that I am bagging my own groceries and not some young kid who puts the cold food in with the boxed cereal
3. I don't have to make small talk with some surly checkout person who has been on his/her feet for six hours trying to make small talk with customers that probably have not been very responsive.

“Banks have implemented ATM's for those that prefer the convenience, and grocery stores have done the same. And just like banks who still offer teller service, those who prefer human contact at their grocery store can use the traditional checkout method.

“I also want to thank the gas station folks for allowing me to

MNB user Mike Shea also disagreed with us:

“I am a grocery analyst and I think your view on self check is incorrect. Self check is in fact one of the last competitive advantages to an industry that is increasingly focusing on price as a way to drive traffic. In some of the companies that I follow, 30-40% of the rings go through self check and in some Wal-Marts newer neighborhood markets, half the lanes are self check. While we continue to hear concerns about the reduction of human interaction, customers are the ones that are ‘voting’ for self check.”

Self-checkout may offer the grocery industry a differential advantage over other retail venues. But we’re more interested in how one supermarket differentiates itself from another…and, as we said yesterday, we believe that stressing mechanisms over magic can be the wrong way to go.

On the subject of irradiation, which seems to be picking up steam around the country, we got a particularly outraged email from MNB user Terry Dalton:

“Nuking the flesh of animals to make them safe to eat is not the answer. We need to move to plant based proteins for this problem and a million other reasons.”

Another MNB user wrote with a different perspective:

“The list of retailers offering irradiated meats and produce is growing almost weekly. I don't think this is a bad thing, as it does give consumers an option they didn't have before. Now, if too many retailers want to jump on this, there will be another problem.....there are not enough irradiation plants in the US to fulfill their needs. They are expensive to build and the irradiation process is timely. I hope the meat industry is taking notes on this trend....”

We wrote yesterday about how Stew Leonard’s is offerings students free ice cream cones for every “A” they get on their report cards, a report that generated several emails.

MNB user P.K. Hoover wrote:

“Stew Leonard's idea is quite good and I think we may be able to build upon it.

“Our company has for many years supported education and learning. In fact, constant improvement is one of our eight core values. One way we encourage education is by giving pay raises to students who receive straight "A"s during any marking period (Straight "A"s are a little tougher to achieve than just one, but our reward is a little higher also).”

Of course, there’s always a downside, as expressed by MNB user Brad Richardson:

“I assume that you know that this means new law suits against ice cream parlors that reward smart kids by making them obese....and the school systems for making them smart enough to get obese....and the text book companies for making them smart enough to be smart enough to get obese...and the paper manufacturers that create the paper for the text book companies that make them smart enough...”

It’s just true enough to give you a headache…

And, on the subject of one MNB user’s disappointment with the offering available at the highly touted Panera Bread Co., MNB user Steve Panza wrote:

“While in college, I took a summer session course on advertising. One of the projects the professor had us do was to write an ‘irate letter’ to a company that we had a problem with. Your reader response "Don't toss insults, don't call names, just do it in a firm, unimpassioned way" is pretty much on the money. I was having some problems with my long distance carrier at the time, and ended up with free long distance service for the rest of the summer. A letter goes a long way.”
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