Wednesday, June 17, 2020

What will the return of retail look like in the coming months - years?

Recently, because of the Pandemic, there has been a great deal of talk about the ability for retail to recover from “stay-at-home” restrictions put in place to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Having spent a great number of years working in retail, and then owning a small retail store while simultaneously creating a life in technology, I think I understand the viability of the question - can small retail return? Can any retail return, big or small? And if so, which type of retail has the better chance?

Small retail stores of today have one thing big retail does not and is often lost in online buying: the knowledgeable individual working in the establishment. The person who is really into what they are selling. They are (or can be); enthusiastic, excited, and totally enjoy what they are doing. They are willing to tell all they know. Most are also very customer oriented and love the fact that people come to them for their knowledge and guidance on purchases. They can be, and often are, a great influence in the market.

I must admit, when working for Federated Department stores in the early 70's we had people who would learn about the products they were selling. They even had training sessions. Today big retail will hire people to ring up the sale and make sure their area is clean - training went away as a reduction in cost. The only place I have seen knowledgeable people in big retail is in the cosmetics department. It is downhill from there, so why go?

I am aware of the small business owner who went into business for themselves and not the consumer. These business owners will most likely not return. They were not there originally for their customers, but for the prestige of owning a business. The ones that loved retail will try to get back and may be able to pull it off. They need support. They need friends. This IS their Life!

 What started me down this was an article this morning in the New York Times by Alexandar Alter "Bookstores Are Struggling. Is a New E-Commerce Site the Answer?"  - Warning - you may have to join, sign-in, or subscribe, to read. 

It was very insightful about the plight of the small bookstore owner during this pandemic. Today there is an online option for the small bookstore owner to stay in business, however, will it work when things open back up? Will it change the way they run their business in the future, or will it hurt them?

I am an avid reader so my own personal experience: In the 60's/70's I went to a small bookstore, and although it was part of a chain the chain allowed the manager to be a quasi-owner, and she was fantastic. She would even call when a new book was published by a particular author she knew I liked, and had knowledge about the book. I ONLY shopped with her. The store is gone as is the chain and now I shop at Amazon.

On the other side of this bookstore quandary: I have an author friend who just published another book. In his email he pointed us to Amazon to buy the book. Before I finished reading the email I bought the book on my Kindle. I am not a young person; however, I have gotten over the need for the tactile feel of paper.

As an afterthought, what small businesses s can return? Good question. How about hardware stores where knowledge can be sought after, beauty salons, coffee shops who allow conversation, perhaps ice cream stores. 

A great deal of knowledge can be had online today in almost every category, the small business can be a source of influence with specific products as can friends and other associates. This pandemic has increased the online sales volume (from what I read) but has definitely put more people online searching for information, which is what it is all about.



Monday, June 15, 2020

Monday Morning Read: Om Malik provides some interesting thoughts today and into the future.

In my email this morning was a blog post by Om Malik, "Has pandemic pushed us into a post-human future?" I recommend you take time to follow the link and read what Om has to say. 

I have followed Om Malik for years as I believe he is a very good interpreter, and reporter, of the technology arena of today. Om's input brings a real human insight to whatever he is writing, or talking, about. I found this particular article very appropriate in today’s world. 

I know I have always chased the future and tech but I still feel a lot of what he is saying is true. Perhaps the reason we have succeeded, in most cases, of staying at home during these lock down's is we do not have the immediate connection with  large businesses as people thought. We miss it and we don't miss it, if that makes any sense. 

My wife and I have owned small businesses and understand the connection with people. In my heart I really think there is a chance for the comeback of small businesses, on the Mom & Pop side, mainly because of what Om talks about in this post. We want to do business with people we know and are part of our community. 

Only once did I ever feel I had connection to a sales person in a large department store but I have had many connections with a people in the corner dry cleaner, a drug store, wine shop, deli, and other local owned businesses as well as local restaurants. Perhaps we will see a return to this. I have to admit I really won’t miss JC Penny's, Nordstrom's, or Macy’s - even thought I spent a number of years working with Federated Department Stores – as did our son. I mistakenly believed the customer comes first but realized later it was the stockholder. 

 Oh, and OM is a good photographer. There are other links, check them out. 

 Enjoy.


Monday, May 11, 2020

Thinking About Tomorrow - Personal and Business

Because of the Pandemic many things have already changed and many more will change. The big one I see is WE will change. There is already talk about what happens when things open up. I found the most recent article in "tech blog" from Peter Diamandis, "4 Industries Impacted & What's Next...."  quite interesting as he presents the challenges and lay's out potential future opportunities. Things have already changed and more things are going to change. Rather than fear the future, we need to find the way to a better Life. 

Below are some notes that I started in April but are still relevant today. We have all read that it takes 21 Days to Break a Habit, and the converse, it takes 21 Days to Make a New Habit.  From Lifehack is a link (and there are many out there) with some thoughts on ; How Long Does It Take to Break a Habit? Science Will Tell You. Some say 21 days and some say 28 to 30 days. We are going on 60 to 90 days and don't know when it will end. We will have new habits

Businesses, small and large, will have new ways of working. Remote working (article below) will have been found to be more successful than originally thought. There will be GREAT effects rippling thought the world of work, family, and play. We just might have more office space than needed and we can Zoom to that meeting rather than fly. Yes it's all been around but now we are finding just how easy it is and how important, or not, some of these things can be. 

Apparently I am not the only one who is hypothesizing about potential outcomes of our current status of "Stay at Home"  and work related issues. In reading this ZDNet article, "CFOs looking to make remote work, telecommuting more permanent following COVID-19, says Gartner survey", they cover some bigger issues like cancelling offsite meetings and travel expenses because we all now know how to ZOOM, or Go To Meeting, Skype, and other means of communications visually.  This article on ZDNet is part of a Special Feature on Working From Home: The Future of Business Remote.

The impact could be huge. How about offsite office rental being vacated, airline seats empty as well as hotel rooms, rental car companies looking for customers. The Service Industry will take a big hit; Uber, Lyft, Conventions Center's, as well as well known cities for hosting conventions.

There is more to be concerned with if the impact continues.  

Monday, April 13, 2020

Our First Attempt at The Kroger Pickup Service - We Like What We Found.


This past weekend my wife and I used Kroger's Grocery Pickup service for the first time. 

To begin my wife had talked to several others who had used this service and so we decided we had to find out for ourselves just how it worked. 

This is where it does benefit you to be a Kroger Loyalty Card member. When we went to the Kroger website and signed in, we found a record of what we have purchased in the past. I cannot remember when we first joined the Kroger Loyalty Card program, however, we probably joined soon after it started (in the year 2000) - I like to do things like that. 

Once you access the app on your phone, or go online with a computer (which is what we did), the first thing you to do is to pick the Kroger location you are going to pick up the groceries from. There are many Kroger stores in our area, and we frequent 3 of them on a regular basis. The one closest is the oldest and we use it more like a convenience store, quick in and out. We have another one within 4+ miles where we used to go for our big order’s, but then Kroger opened a bigger (newer) store about 6 miles away and we started going there. 

I mention the above because when we were selecting the store for our grocery pickup it turned out not to be anyone of the ones we would normally use. We had already been forewarned that it was not always quick, same day, next day, kind of thing.  We found a list of all Kroger Stores on the website with suggested pick up times. The shortest in the list was 4 days away, on Sunday, and it was a completely different location than we were used to, but still within 5 miles. Since we started this on Wednesday night, we had plenty of time and selected the shorted time location. We do not normally shop until Saturday or Sunday anyway

Once we brought up the website on the computer, we started going through all the items. Adding things to the cart was easy. First, we went through all the items we would normally purchase, then we started looking for items not on our normal list. We also ordered some wine in the process. 

Once we placed the order we did not go back to add to, or alter, the order in any way. I understand you can do that for a certain amount of time.  

In talking to friends, we were also warned of great lines at the pickup spaces at Kroger. Our pickup time was set for between 1:00 PM and 2:00 PM on Sunday. Preparing for long lines we arrived at 12:25 PM to find there were no cars in the allotted spaces - so we pulled in.

The sign said to call a number and someone would take care of us. We called the number, explained we were early, gave them our order number, and they said not a problem. We were asked if we had coupons and then sent someone out to the car to pick up the coupon (only one) and shortly our groceries were brought to the car. 

The people who brought out the groceries put them into the back of the car, explained that one item, which was out of stock, could be substituted with another, they had a suggestion which we accepted. One item was not available and there was not a replacement. 

We were back on the road by 12:50 PM and headed home. 

Once home we brought in the groceries and the wine and verified everything and said "This is cool. We will do this again". 

I will say it was a very pleasant experience. We did discover we did not order a few things because when walking down the aisles we were used to having a visual experience to remind us of something we needed. In the case of ordering online you do not have that same visual walk-through experience. Next time we will plan better, but for a first-time trial - this was really great.  


Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Today's Life At a Distance - Both Social and Business

A while back I wrote on "A thought about the current conditions affecting our society." and today I find Google is thinking the same thing. Think with Google (a newsletter you can subscribe to) has an article, "Will social distancing accelerate a trend toward home as headquarters?" within which they bring up some interesting changing statistics. Very good read along the lines of will this pandemic accelerate our changing ways in working and shopping? We have time to think and this read can help one be creative for the future.

If you are in business today you should be interested in these cultural and social changes that are occurring. I know there has always been change, however, over time it has been gradual. Today the times we are going through can, and will, accelerate change. The longer we are working from home the more the use of technology will expand because people will figure out better ways to connect using new tools.

Look at the popularity of the product Zoom. Because of the sudden growth in usage Zoom is accelerating it's security. No one anticipated people putting links on Facebook to have meetings all over the country/world, families and businesses.

Technology of communication has been accepted quickly and has led to the sudden growth everywhere. People (customers, clients, employees, families, and friends) are using Skype for personal calls (do not need a Microsoft account), even Go To Meeting can be used on ALL devices. Not to mention text messaging, email, all leading to mobile phone data usage going out of sight. Issues with apps which can only be available on some, or certain, devices are not ready for main stream. We need tools that can be used on ALL devices. We are all different.

The individual is better connected now than ever before - and so is the office.

From the business perspective there are many things to consider.

  • What if people, who now have to work from home - mandated by this pandemic, figure out they can make it work very well? Where they were hesitant initially they have now grown to like it. They have made it work because they had to, and work it will.
  • What if both small, and big business, discover their reluctance to advance in this direction was a mistake? They now find, with a great number of people working from home, there are advantages. Advantages could be; 
    • reduced overhead of office space - particularly where space is rented
    • there is also a reduction of related expenses like,
      • phone lines, 
      • wireless and internet setups in every office. 
    • IT can still connect to the individuals computer. 
  • We all can meet online reducing travel expenses and it is liked by many.
  • People can work from anywhere, what a concept.
I am sure the list can get longer, I am also sure there should be increases in pay to compensate for use of home space, however, is it possible that maintenance of home systems is now to the provider of the service? 

What else could we benefit from this "Life At a Distance" and "Work At a Distance"?

I am sure there are those that want to get back to the office as soon as possible because it was a refuge, a hide-out, however, that number, overtime, could be a great deal smaller. 

I am also sure that there will be cries of "INSECURE" but we need to make it "SECURE". Don't blame it on others - get your own act in place. 


There are many other considerations, but under the current conditions, everyone is getting an education in Life at a distance, and perhaps, there are more advantages we have not yet discovered.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Shopping During the Pandemic or Virus Outbreak


My wife and I, as many other, had to go grocery shopping during this time of “Stay at Home” and “Social Distancing”.  We make a list and then start out. As usual what we want, at this time, may not be carried by the first store we go to, Saturday was no exception.

I have read a great deal about what is being done to protect employees as well as consumers. It wasn’t quite as I expected – for a state which has been trying to stay  ahead of the problem.

I don’t thing people are listening or taking it as seriously as I would have expected.

It is a bit warm in this mask.
First, we had been out on Thursday night and were quite impressed with product being back on the shelf at our favorite Kroger. As we have been doing, we are wearing masks to filter the incoming as well as the outgoing air we breathe.

I was quite surprised at the number of people not wearing masks, including employees. I know it is a problem getting masks but I thought Kroger would be doing the best the could to; 1) protect their employees, 2) their customers, and 3) to set a good example as a concerned citizen. Alas not the case.

On Saturday we had to go back out again for a few things we were not able to acquire on Thursday night. This time we went to Meijer’s, which is very close to us.

At Meijer’s there were many people wearing masks, but again no employees. I had to ask for help and while getting it from the employee – who was quite pleasant – many passed by. Social Distancing may have only been practiced by those wearing masks. People bunched together in the aisles, bumping into each other, a normal day at the grocery store.

After leaving Meijer’s we still had something to find and so to a different Kroger this time and we were able to find what we wanted. I noticed when we went in there was quite a crowd at this Kroger, a lot of people, however, we were the only ones wearing masks.

I understand that Kroger is in the process of putting up shields for the cashiers but what about the other workers in the aisles? Nothing, no masks, no gloves, and they are handling our food products. Hmm…should we be scrubbing the cans and frozen packages when we get home?

And again, people bunched up in lines, it was like they had never heard of “Social Distancing”.

Now, in Ohio, we are not doing great, but our State Government is trying – but not sure everyone is listening. 

On our way out of Kroger we did see 4 people with masks – 3 outside the store headed in.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

A thought about the current conditions affecting our society.


This is the first time, in my memory, that American's are being forced to hunker down because of something that is happening to us directly. The COVID-19 (WEBMD), or Coronavirus (CDC) as we call it, could be presenting people all over the world with a new Lifestyle.

We are entering a period of great isolation with restaurants, bars, and stores, closing. Libraries, and schools, have locked their doors. Places of congregation; shopping malls, gyms, churches, synagogues, temples. Even places where one votes, now not open to us.  

Limited to groups of 10 and stay 10 feet apart. Difficult to comprehend and difficult to enforce, but coming at us.

In this struggle we are not going ‘over there’ as the song says, it is coming here. This time we need to help ourselves and each other. The whole world is facing this adversary. We cannot shoot it or burn it, and it isn’t visible – not hiding around a corner, behind a bush.

One very big outcome of this battle, and our “Shelter-In-Place” demands, we are not enjoying the relationship with others in the workplace or anywhere socially. Schooling is now going online; people are working from home; people are buying online. People are getting their news online – minute by minute.

All in the name of self-preservation. For how long?

Yes, we have the tools to communicate via phone, text, computer, video, without touching, smelling, or feeling the presence of one another. How long will it take to get used to this? And what will it feel like when we can meet again outside? Joyous, I imagine, but awkward?

What could be the long-range result of this new Lifestyle?

Will this Life we are now engaging in bring more immediate advancements to our Stay-At-Home technologies?

·       Will people get used to watching more TV and not go to the movies?
·       Will; people get used to eating at home and think this may be a better life?
·       Will people get used to shopping online?
·       Will people understand and become better at learning online?

Churches are going online, concerts going online, meetings and conferences all going online.

Will those jobs that are going away because of AI be replaced by delivery van drivers – in the short term? There could be openings for those who fill the orders for grocery stores - with groceries to be delivered. OR will all this be handled robotically?

The government is now considering sending out checks to its citizens – is this the beginning of UBI – the Universal Basic Income?

Oh, so many questions.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Adding to My Post on Amazon: Rheem Econet Service Reached The Same Great Customer Service Level

In the change of wireless passwords I had forgotten about our Rheem Electric Water Heater. It is connected via Rheem Ecnonet to my Android device. Not able to re-connect I called Econet and Allan had me up and connected quickly and pleasantly. I'm impressed.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if all User Experiences were the same.

I suspect, as we use these wireless devices connected to our phones tech learning can be a major thing. Our phones get upgrades to operating systems and things change. The equipment you are connected to does not always get to upgrade their instructions., however, the tech's that handle Customer Service are informed and this, my friend, is good thing.

IT is a forever changing. Training and desire to stay ahead should be a major part of any organization that utilizes these technologies.

Thank you Amazon and Rheem Econet.  

Amazon and Customer Service - Another UX Experience

Last Friday I decided we needed to change our Wireless SSID and Password - not a simple task. We have many Echo devices, a number of Echo connected plugs and a variety of lights. We have Smart TV's all with Amazon Fire TV 4K devices, 2 phones, and computers. Some things are very old by today's technology - we were an Alexa Beta purchaser. OH yes, there are wireless printers in the house.

It took 2 days to get most everything back up and running without help. I had issues with an Amazon Dash Wand and the original Echo TAP. At first I wrote Amazon and received a quick response for me to call at my leisure. I took Sunday off so this morning I called.

I made one call for the TAP and then a second call for the Amazon Dash Wand. Both calls were fantastic. Wait time was at a minimum, perhaps I called early in the day.

Now no one knows I have spent over 70 years playing with technology and 30 years with the latest "stuff" (learned that from Carl Sagan"). I do not "Grok" (Robert A. Heinlein) everything. I am still an "Egg", however, I am learning.

I was treated very courteously, pleasantly, and I really believe they were both smiling. First call was answered by a male, second call by a female. Both were great calls. Beyond all the niceties, they were knowledgeable and did not make you feel like you were a problem for them.

On and off the phone in under 15 minutes and feeling like I had to write something about this experience.

Now if only other tech giants would give out phone numbers. 

Thursday, February 20, 2020

CS - Customer Service, Vs. UX - User Experience - and Life


Not to long ago I passed a sign on a McDonald's Restaurant that said they were hiring "Smiling Faces" and I had to drive around the block to take a picture of the sign. I visit McDonald's very often and lately there are not many "Smiling Faces".

Actually there are not many "Smiling Faces" anywhere I go where there is a employee - customer connection. 

This morning at McDonald's I was attended to by a robot impersonator. The individual did not smile, actually no expression. I was asked what I wanted, my response "Senior Coffee" (because I can) with a smile. Then with the same non-expression the attendant said "Cream or sugar", I said "No" and then I added "I would like a Hash Brown". As the conversation went on the same non-expression until I paid. She turned around, got my coffee, and said "This-is-your-coffee" - almost like a computer - and like I would not have known what it was.

Theory: McDonald's employees are being trained so that when they are replaced with robots we will not notice the difference. Warning: The Kiosks are only the beginning.

This is not happening at just McDonald's; but at Burger King, Starbucks, Panera Bread, department stores, and on, and on, and on.

At a Burger King we had an experience which was unbeatable. The manager was LOUD, loud enough to be offensive. She appeared to yell at everyone in the kitchen. My wife said "She is nasty" and my wife is not usually one to respond. The individual employees were pleasant but real quiet, almost a whisper. We did go to another Burger King and it was not the same.

I stopped going to Starbucks some time ago, and not because of the price. For years I held their Gold Card. The Barista training has changed, they do not have time to be pleasant, just get the order out the door. My first thought was time for pleasantness must reduce the ROI. 

PF Chang's, one of the places we used to love. We went in one day last summer and it was so hot, very hot inside. An employee said they had been there for a number of years and this was the way it is every summer - management won't, or can't fix the AC. I suspect "won't". This is also the same management that cut out all the little niceties that we liked at PF Chang's. They also cut the staff and I am sure it is in their quest to increase the ROI.

Perhaps is it ROI, however, attitude appears to becoming part of a national problem. I am finding very few pleasant people in most of any retail business - restaurants, stores - including the big ones. I get better treatment online. Yes I may have to deal with a chat environment but at least they say "Hello" and "How can I help your today?" It may be a script but it plays better on a screen than a script  used by an employee at a fast food chain, restaurant, or large department store. 

Kindness in our dealing with people is disappearing. Actually Kindness is only celebrated by Ellen DeGeneres. I do hear "Be Kind" in places but practice? Hmm…..

One could reflect on our current political stage as an example. We witness political actions in which demeaning people is the way to go. This occurs in BOTH political parties. Civility is a thing of the past. I suspect  showing courtesy, or respect for someone must be looked upon as making one weak. Sadly some take this as a mandate on how they should act to everyone.  You have to put down your rival - even in your own political party - and in your business Life. 

Sadly, some only Live by putting down someone else. I suspect it is their way of feeling better about themselves. 

The world may be watching, but sadly the kids are learning. I grew up on the Golden Rule, perhaps the perception is changing. 

Friday, January 17, 2020

Just WHO - or WHAT - Is Writing The Headlines Today

This is not the first time I have seen something like this. It really gives pause as to WHO (or WHAT) is writing the news.

From this mornings MSN News Page the following image was collected with the headline; "...guards warned to top surfing web".

Was this written by a human and is a typo? Or was this written by a bot - programmed to write copy as well as headlines? Are we getting REAL news? In the past, I believe editors would have been all over this before it got to print, but today we don't know if there is an editor. Hmm.. that editor could have been another bot.

The next question is; How do the guards 'TOP' surfing the web? By playing solitaire?