business news in context, analysis with attitude

Responding to yesterday's breaking news coverage of the FTC antitrust suit against Amazon, MNB reader Joe Ciccarelli wrote:

Agree with all your observations. I would add – think AT&T, IBM and Microsoft antitrust lawsuits. It will take years and the only truly ones benefiting will be the various law firms the Government hires as well as Amazon’s legal team. The only group that could drive this to a fast conclusion with a breakup would be the shareholders / large funds if they see more value with the company split up. That’s probably what Amazon’s competitors are hoping.

Another MNB reader wrote:

On the FTC taking on Amazon in earlier news articles it was stated that the FTC would require support from numerous states to bolster it's case. The listing of states joining in looks like the usual suspects for this administration with the exception of New Hampshire (What happened to "Live free or Die"?) and possibly Oklahoma. Interestingly the West Coast is absent - California, Oregon and Washington. Could be they are too beholden to the tech industry? The last thing that will come from this is lower prices and this will be great news to the Chinese alternatives (Temu and Penduoduo) to Amazon. Bezos always said Amazon would eventually succumb to future competitive entities. I don't think he thought it would come from the government.

For the record, this probe started under a Republican administration.  So it is not entirely fair to suggest that this is a one-side-of-the-aisle action.

On a different Amazon-related issue, one MNB reader wrote:

Last week for the first time ever I was hoodwinked by a scam.  I was asked to send a $250 dollar Amazon birthday gift card to his “niece” because Amazon kept on rejecting his credit card.  I had just heard from my friend a few days before, so I went ahead and ordered the ecard.  But Amazon kept on rejecting my Amazon credit card thus adding credibility to the scam.  Luckily, I then used my American Express card.  Next day I found out my friend’s email had been hacked.  I called AMEX who told me that Amazon would not accept me cancelling the charge but gave me a number to call Amazon Customer Service.  Nowhere on the Amazon site is that number listed.  I called and they told me that the card could not be cancelled as it had already been used on an account.  They said that they would be calling me if further information was needed.  So, they knew there was a fraudulent transaction on an Amazon account.  I imagine they can reverse the transaction, but they did not say that is what they would do.  If they did, I am not sure that they would reimburse me.  Is this just another “revenue enhancement” for Amazon?  They have the account information; did they call the Police and report it?  My annual beer budget is higher than my loss but if I am not reimbursed, I will be cancelling my Prime Account (after reading the Ad info I might have anyway) and switching to other suppliers.  Amazon has not been a good supplier as many of my shipments have been delayed after shipping.  How does that happen?  If only Jeff could act like Howard and come back and fix the problems.

We took note yesterday of a Washington Post story about the passing of Burkey Belser, described as "a graphic designer who created the ubiquitous nutrition facts label — a stark rectangle listing calories, fat, sodium and other content information — that adorns the packaging of nearly every digestible product in grocery stores."

MNB reader (and, as co-founder of Sifter, an MNB sponsor) Thomas Parkinson wrote:

Three cheers to Burkey Belser who designed the Nutrition Fact Panel (NFP) in 1994.  I remember coding the first online NFP for Peapod the same year it was released.  We also displayed the first grocery picture online which I licensed from the Gladson (now Syndigo) shelf planning database.  We hand coded all the NFP data ourselves.  Of course I chose Campbell's Tomato Soup to be my first NFP and image, a tribute to the late Andy Warhol.

On the subject of problems at Dollar General, MNB reader Karl Graff wrote:

I was a store manager for about 5 months with DG. It was without a doubt the worst company I ever worked for. The store I took over was a shambles, it was dirty, disorganized and had boxes and boxes of miscellaneous merchandise hidden in the backroom that “no one” knew were there.

My training was unloading a few trucks and learning how to schedule a store open 8 am to 9 pm 6 days per week, 9-6 on Sundays,  on about 100 hours of payroll per week.

I remember going through and manually painting the disgusting restrooms and lots of other places. I re-merchandised the entire front end and figured out how to deal with the cases and cases of merchandise.

After cleaning up the store, my DM scheduled a floor cleaning. It was done and he came in a few days after. I thanked him for getting the floors done. His response. “Good. Now you can see where the rest of the dirt is.”

My son broke his wrist on the way home from school once and I was the only person in the store - I could not get anyone to cover me, nor could I close the store, and so my son had to sit in my store for over an hour with a broken wrist before I could take him to the ER.

I found another job and turned in my notice.

In the time I managed the store we were running sales increases for the first time in years and we had gone from number #16 in customer satisfaction (16 store district) to number 2.

Every interaction I had with my DM was negative. Every innovation I tried was shot down, even if I had data to show it had been successful.

I turned in my notice. On my last day I received a call from DG headquarters informing me that I was to be a training store/training manager. I told them that this was my last day and that I would not be staying for that.

I worked 60 hours a week most weeks (paid for 40 and had to clock in and out). Even though I was living only a few blocks from my DG location, when I changed jobs to work in a city 25ish miles away I actually had more time at home, including the drive time, than I had working for DG.

I survived that place and I feel bad for anyone who has to work for them. I went to work for Kmart and ever though they were a tire fire for the most part I would taken them every day over Dollar General. I won’t even shop at Dollar General.

Retail is not for the weak…

Responding to our assessment of C&S's prospects when/if it takes over the 400+ stores to be divested by Kroger and Albertsons if the FTC approves their merger, MNB reader Randy Evins wrote:

First, C&S is NOT a retailer. When they've tried in the past to operate retail stores it's not been great (Tops in Buffalo comes to mind). I agree that they've probably begun to understand that they need to be vertically integrated to be an effective food provider and this would be a great start, I just am skeptical that they can pull this off and thrive.

What I think is really going on is Kroger / Albertsons is trying to get out in front of the FTC dictating to them how many and what stores to sell off. I think the number will be around 600 not the 400 they've proposed. I think the FTC has some recent history with Albertsons selling off stores and then having those stores fail and then sell back to them at a fraction of what they sold for. The Hagens debacle is fresh in their minds. Lots of folks lost out on that deal not to mention the employees. Interesting times. I don't think the FTC is signing up for that again…..

I argued the other days that fines against companies like Dollar General ought to be significant enough to actually have some bite, an assessment with which MNB reader Howard Schneider agreed:

Seems to me too many companies view regulatory fines the same way they see legal settlements: Like inventory shrink, it’s a cost of doing business. I think some firms believe paying fines and settlements is easier and cheaper than fixing fundamental problems. Just my way of saying I agree with you, KC, about fines increasing exponentially.

Reacting to the news that Costco is getting into the health care business, MNB reader Kamran Faizi wrote:

Come to Costco where you can get a colonoscopy and organic chicken at the same time 🙂

And finally, responding to my OffBeat about Stanley Tucci, one MNB reader wrote:

We love Tucci.  His Cookbook reads just like he talks.