Got the following email from an MNB reader:

enjoyed Michael Sansolo’s article today on retail front-line workers, and the WaPo column he linked to.  Having worked retail for many years back in the day, I could relate to much of what was said.  I’m also a constant consumer, so I also relate to the customer side of things.  I’m very much an omnichannel shopper, going on line or to the mall as it suits my needs or situation.  Online is great if you know what you are looking for, but if I am looking for inspiration, it’s bricks-and-mortar, baby!  (But to be sure, if inspiration comes at a high price, I’m not above standing in the middle of a store scanning a price tag with the Amazon app and saving $20+.)

This Christmas shopping season, I found most stores staffed with friendlier sales people than in recent years…but not necessarily better.  I actually had to tell one young man that I needed separate gift boxes for the man’s sweater and the woman’s jacket.  Even more headache inducing:  I took advantage of the ‘ship for free to the store’ while shopping on Macy’s website for bargains that did not add up to the free shipping minimum.  Great!  What a deal!  Well, the order shipped in two packages—one went to the Macy’s women’s and home, the other went to the Macy’s men’s/kids/furniture at the other end of the mall.  Both of which had a line, of course.  Isn’t it amazing how a positive experience can be punched in the gut by stupidity?  Now, in fairness to Macy’s, I will mention the young woman who helped me get a correct size sweater to my mother after Christmas—she was a joy and was fully empowered to make it a splendid experience, which she did.  Sadly, I won’t have a need to buy women’s separates until next Christmas, and I probably can’t just drag her down the mall to the men’s location!

From an other reader:

KC says it all the time, and I'm paraphrasing, that "unless companies treat their associates as assets and not liabilities, they will never succeed.”

I have to agree 100 percent! Full disclosure … I am on the front lines of a major NE supermarket chain.

And from another:

I 100% agree with you Michael.  “People make—or break—the experience. “
We’ve shifted from being weekly Whole Foods’ shoppers to Sprouts for this very reason.

Responding to our story about changes in the meat business, MNB reader Chuck Kosel wrote:

As a long time industry vet both in store operations and now on the other side of the desk on the sales side for a manufacturer, I have watched the meat department change dramatically in the past 20 years.

Gourmet meat departments and specialty counters are no longer just an option for an operator but a necessity in today’s grocery store environment.  The consumer is demanding a better cut, quality and more traceability.

Personally for the past 5 years I have purchased all my beef and pork from local farmers that I personally sourced and both live within 3-5 minutes from my home.  I can actually watch my future meals as they roam the pasture and feast on a natural diet as I take my daily walks along the country road.

I realize I am bit spoiled but the educated consumer has choices today they never had before.  The local farmers markets are selling and taking orders that used to be owned by grocery chains.

Regarding my piece about Eataly Las Vegas, MNB reader Kelly Dean Wiseman wrote:

I notice in your photos quite a few stations staffed by workers with no customers.

Probably early in the morning, but still: you have to wonder about the profitability of so many small stations staffed at all hours. Sure, it looks pretty, but in the long run, how does this kind of staffing affect the bottom line?

I guess we’ll wait and see…

I think it was more about my timing than Eataly’s appeal.

About my coverage of CES, one MNB reader Paul Schlossberg wrote:

Especially enjoyed the bread vending machine.

In the food industry, there is always evolutionary progress.  A stream of adaptations and (positive) advances from the past.

At the Paris Vending Show in 2008, there were two bread vending machines at the show … And, I distinctly recall, in 1997 and 1998, seeing freshly-made bread stocked in (traditional) vending machines at free-standing locations in Belgium. The machines were usually in the ex-urbs, away from center cities or towns. 

At that time, I was frequently in Belgium for a client assignment. After inquiring about these placements, my clients told me that fresh bread was very important on an everyday basis. Having the vending machines so conveniently situated made it easy for people to buy it without going to the supermarket or a bakery.

On another subject, from MNB reader Diane Letson:

I know you were being humorous about the craft beer industry being impacted by the shutdown, and trust me as an IPA lover I’m traumatized as well, but you’re going to most likely receive some negative comments about making light of food safety especially after the Romaine lettuce issue. 
The nonprofit I work for, Feeding America, takes food safety very seriously because often the population we serve – low-income children, adults, and seniors – may have compromised immune systems.  And, the majority of the food that our national food bank network distributes is donated.  We are handling, transporting, and distributing food that has been deemed a bit “less than” and won’t be displayed for sale in grocery stores or is aging inventory in a manufacturer’s system that is pulled for donation.   Just one person getting sick through our system would jeopardize our entire network of 200 food bank members and 60,000 charitable agencies providing food for millions in need. 
When I’m tossing and turning at night about work, food safety or lack of it is one of the issues that keeps me up at night when I think of our extensive feeding network and feeding my own family.

Finally, regarding the Jeff Bezos divorce story that I wan yesterday, one MNB reader wrote:

Are you going to comment on the fact that he is dating a “friend” who was in his families social circle??? Heard that he tweeted his statement because NY papers were going to go to market about his new girlfriend. It seems there is more to the story but very sad for the kids to have to watch this play out in the papers.

Actually, it wasn’t the New York papers. It was the National Enquirer. Which isn’t a paper, in the sense of being journalism, at all.

Maybe I didn’t make this clear enough yesterday. My only professional interest in this story is how it affects Amazon and Bezos’ other business interests, especially the Washington Post. Other than that, his personal life is really none of my business … I know there will be ample coverage and interest because of people’s prurient interests, not to mention the fact that we’re all captivated at some level by other people’s pain and suffering, especially when the other person is the world’s richest man.

People make good decisions and bad decisions, and their choices define their lives, creating both pleasure and pain. Not really my business, except when it affects his businesses, which affect me.

I’m not incurious. Just making a decision here.