Last night, Slate published a story about Amazon's surrender in the local sales tax war, and how their next move could be even more disruptive for local businesses:
But now Amazon has a new game. Now that it has agreed to collect sales taxes, the company can legally set up warehouses right inside some of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation. Why would it want to do that? Because Amazon’s new goal is to get stuff to you immediately—as soon as a few hours after you hit Buy...It’s hard to overstate how thoroughly this move will shake up the retail industry. Same-day delivery has long been the holy grail of Internet retailers, something that dozens of startups have tried and failed to accomplish. (Remember Kozmo.com?) But Amazon is investing billions to make next-day delivery standard, and same-day delivery an option for lots of customers. If it can pull that off, the company will permanently alter how we shop. To put it more bluntly: Physical retailers will be hosed.
This story probably sounds histrionic to a lot of you, but it seems pretty reasonable to me. When the Great Walmart in the Sky starts offering near-instant gratification, a lot of small retailers are going to feel the same Amazon pinch that bookstores started feeling a decade ago.
Urban Craft Uprising is this weekend, July 7th and 8th, from 11 am to 5 pm both days. The summer UCU is much less stressful than the Christmas UCU—there are fewer desperate present-hunters and more casual browsers looking for something nifty and new. I cannot recommend it enough.
That is all.
After the reignited hoopla about the Amazon retail store rumors yesterday, I got an e-mail from a smart Slog reader who sent along this video of a Samsung store in Seoul. I agree with his assertion that if there is an Amazon store on the way, it will look a lot like this:
The important thing to take away here is that it's got a lot of wide-open spaces and plenty of interactivity. I was especially interested in the front of the Samsung store, when the narrator says they host events in that hall. I could see the front of an Amazon store being used for readings and lectures, to give the impression of a place where people want to linger, a hands-on hangout that serves as a sort of museum for the merchandise, with books out at the periphery to class the joint up. And to eliminate one of the biggest costs of a retail store—care and maintenance of overstock—customers can buy smaller items onsite, but bigger items would be delivered to the customers' doors the next day, or even before they get home. It's an Apple store crossed with a community center. If Amazon doesn't build a retail chain like this in America in the next few years, somebody's going to.
I think it was... 1987, and I was with there with my mom. But it looks like I'm going to need to drop by one soon.
Smart retailers used to market to gay couples because we were all DINKs—"double income, no kids"—and so had lots of disposable income. But while gay dads by definition aren't DINKs, of course, this ad is going to attract gay people who have kids, gay people who don't, gay people who want kids, gay people who don't, etc., both for what it says about JC Penney and for what it says about the culture. Well done, JCPenney. Suck it, haters.
A print ad and a TV ad from Miroslav Underwear, whose "quality is best appreciated up close."
First, Vermont came for the Walmarts. I said nothing, because I hate Walmarts. Now, Vermont is coming for the dollar stores?
Shawn Cunningham, a resident here in Chester who is fighting Dollar General’s plan to open down the street from the town common, said that since dollar stores tend to be much smaller than big-box stores, they are often not barred by local zoning rules meant to keep sprawl in check.
“It’s not like you’re bringing in a 100,000-square-foot supercenter,” said Mr. Cunningham, who started a group, Smart Growth Chester, to fight the Dollar General proposal
This is a good argument to be having. So let's talk about it, Slog:
As the New York Times reports, Skittles sales are up:
The candy has been piled into makeshift memorials, crammed into the pockets of thousands of people who have shown up at rallies in his name and sent to the Sanford Police Department to protest the lack of an arrest in the case.
Like the hoodie sweatshirt he was wearing, the candy has been transformed into a cultural icon, a symbol of racial injustice that underscores Trayvon’s youth and the circumstances surrounding his death. But in the offices of the company that makes Skittles, Wrigley, and its parent company, Mars, Skittles’ new level of fame has quickly become a kind of marketing crisis that is threatening to hurt the company even as sales improve.
“You get trained if someone dies eating your product, but I don’t think anyone has been through training for something like this,” said Beth Gallant, a marketing professor at Lehigh University...
And as Movieline reports, the release of the action comedy Neighborhood Watch is complicated:
High five to Fox for pulling their bullet-ridden Neighborhood Watch marketing materials from Florida theaters this week following the February killing of Trayvon Martin. Trying to get as much distance as possible from the teaser's emphasis on grown men Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Richard Ayoade stalking and finger-shooting suburban kids is a good idea and a sensitive move — not to mention a no-brainer necessity, PR-wise — so the studio's forthcoming campaign will likely focus on the film's "broad alien-invasion comedy" elements. But even four months from now, will it be too soon for Neighborhood Watch to make fun escapism out of vigilante violence?
This is probably my favorite news story of the week: The Navajo Nation is suing Urban Outfitters over their use of the word "Navajo" on a line of (shitty, shitty) products. The tribe sent a cease-and-desist letter months ago, but says that while some of the product names have been changed (like the underpants and the FLASK—no, I'm not joking), others are still being sold through other brands and outlets.
The lawsuit filed late Tuesday in U.S. District Court in New Mexico alleges trademark violations and violations of the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act, which makes it illegal to sell arts or crafts in a way to falsely suggest they're made by American Indians when they're not.
The tribe has about 10 registered trademarks on the Navajo name that cover clothing, footwear, online retail sales, household products and textiles. Tribal justice officials said they're intent on protecting what they believe are among the tribe's most valuable assets.
I can't wait to see how this plays out. It looks like they have a seriously legitimate trademark law case.
Thanks, Slog Tipper Lindsay!
Having failed in their push to get JC Penneys to fire their openly homosexual spokesmodel, the AFA-affiliated group One Million Moms (can we stop calling them that? It's clear this group involves less than a dozen disgruntled housewives) goes after Toys R Us for selling a new Archie comic book with a gay wedding on the cover. From the Mom's "sample letter" (bolds mine):
As a mother and a member of OneMillionMoms.com, I am extremely disappointed to learn that select Toys 'R' Us stores are now selling 'Archie' comic books with a same-sex wedding displayed on the front cover. I am referring to the ones where the front cover reads "Just Married" with two men marrying, one wearing a service uniform.
Unfortunately, children are now being exposed to same-sex marriage in your toy store. This is the last place a parent would expect to be confronted with questions from their children on topics that are too complicated for them to understand. Issues of this nature are being introduced too early and too soon, which is becoming extremely common and unnecessary.
A trip to the toy store turns into a premature discussion on sexual orientation and is completely uncalled for. Toys 'R' Us should be more responsible in the products they carry.
Please remove all the same-sex "Just Married - Archie" comic books immediately from your shelves. My decision to shop in your stores depends on it.
I imagine at least seven or eight of these letters have poured into Toys R Us's corporate inbox. Will they cave like wusses or stand strong like Penneys (whose TV ads got ferocious applause from the pro-gay crowd at the Cinerama Oscars Party)? The situations aren't exactly identical—Ellen was a carefully chosen spokesperson for Penneys, the Archie comic is just one of a thousand products sold at Toys R Us—but we shall see.
Thank you, RightWingWatch.
In Mexico (via Reddit):
The Mexican Supreme Court of Justice on Thursday ruled that Wal-Mart de Mexico may not pay employees in part with vouchers redeemable only at its stores. The court nullified the employment contract of a worker who challenged the voucher payments, finding that they violated Article 123 of the Mexican Constitution, which guarantees the right to "dignified and socially useful work."
The sad part is, I could totally see conservatives justifying this kind of practice in the United States if they could get away with it. This is why regulations and "activist judges" are important.
Last week, I slogged about the push by the American Family Association offshoot One Million Moms to get JC Penney to fire Ellen Degeneres as its spokesmodel due to her open homosexuality, and how JC Penney told the bigot moms to shove it.
During a show taping today, Ellen addressed the kerfuffle (along with the reconfirmed unconstitutionality of Prop 8) and won by a million. Enjoy.
UPDATE: The original video's been yanked, but you may see it here.
Thank you, Towleroad.
If this is true, Good E-Reader has run a hell of a scoop:
Amazon sources close to the situation have told us that the company is planning on rolling out a retail store in Seattle within the next few months. This project is a test to gauge the market and see if a chain of stores would be profitable. They intend on going with the small boutique route with the main emphasis on books from their growing line of Amazon Exclusives and selling their e-readers and tablets.
The store itself is not just selling tangible items like e-readers and tablets but also their books. Amazon recently started their own publishing division and has locked up many indie and prominent figures to write exclusively with the company. This has prompted their rivals such as Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million to publicly proclaim they won’t touch Amazon’s physical books with a ten-foot pole. Amazon launching their own store will give customer a way to physically buy books and also sample ebooks via WIFI when they are in a physical location.
The store is reportedly going to open before Christmas, sometime after Amazon releases the Kindle Fire 2. The rumor suggests that these stores will more closely resemble Apple Stores, rather than Walmarts. This isn't the first time this rumor has come up, but it does seem likely, especially considering the way Amazon's tech side has modeled themselves after Apple in recent years. The problem with the Apple model is that it's hard to lightly stock a bookstore—you try explaining to the angry schmuck who "drove all the way in from Redmond and had to find parking" about why you don't carry the new Glenn Beck book when you do carry Nancy Pearl's Book Lust line. This is going to take some fine-tuned messaging, I think.
Earlier this week, the American Family Association group One Million Moms lashed out against JC Penney's new choice of spokesmodel:
Recently JC Penney announced that comedian Ellen Degeneres will be the company's new spokesperson. Funny that JC Penney thinks hiring an open homosexual spokesperson will help their business when most of their customers are traditional families. More sales will be lost than gained unless they replace their spokesperson quickly. Unless JC Penney decides to be neutral in the culture war then their brand transformation will be unsuccessful.
The good news: JC Penney doesn't give a shit, and has reiterated its support of Ellen as the company's new spokesperson. Read the full Yahoo! story on the aborted brouhaha here. (You'll notice that the Yahoo! story has over 10,000 comments, and the majority of them seem to be about how unappealing Penney's new TV ad is.
So, you know that old joke about the retailer who sells items below cost, but claims he'll make it up on volume? Well, Amazon's latest earnings report is kinda like that:
Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN), the world’s largest Internet retailer, missed analysts’ fourth-quarter revenue estimates and reported a 57 percent decline in profit, dragged down by shipping costs and the money-losing Kindle Fire.
Sales rose 35 percent from the previous quarter to $17.4 billion, but that fell short of the $18.3 billion Wall Street consensus. Net income fell to $177 million, or 38 cents a share, down from $416 million and 91 cents in the year ago quarter. That actually beat analysts consensus projection of 16 cents a share.
But perhaps what most disappointed Wall Street was the soft guidance for the current quarter, which came in at between $12 billion and $13.4 billion in sales, and a possible quarterly loss, compared to the $13.4 billion to $14.9 billion analysts had been projecting. Shares fell about 10 percent in after-hours trading.
As for the Kindle, Amazon says it sold 177 percent more units than in the previous holiday quarter, but once again didn't release any actual numbers. That's a healthy increase, but I'm wondering if it's as healthy as most observers expected?
In any case, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos doesn't seem to be too worried about slim margins or quarterly results, instead choosing to sacrifice short term profits as part of a long term strategy. Time will tell.
Harvard Business Review tells us about former Apple Senior Vice President of Retail Operations and current J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson's attempts to rebuild the department store into something new:
... Johnson aims to create 80 to 100 highly-branded "stores within a store" (e.g. a Martha Stewart boutique). Channeling the spirit of Apple's Genius Bar, every J.C. Penney will also have a "Town Square" offering complimentary services to customers as well as promotions such as free hot dogs and ice cream in July.
The lynchpin of J.C. Penney's revitalization is a new "Fair and Square Every Day" pricing strategy. The plan stems from Johnson's realization that three-quarters of everything sold at J.C. Penney is typically sold at a 50% discount from list price. Instead of using deep discount sales to attract customers, starting this week the chain will simply offer three prices: (1) "Every Day", (2) "Month Long Value" (theme sales such as back-to-school related products in August), and (3) "Best Prices" (clearance). Prices will also now end in "0" instead of "99" and price tags will list just one price (instead of including the de rigueur "previously sold at a higher price" convention).
When I was a kid, Sears tried to do away with sales, pushing an everyday low prices angle. It was a New Coke-level disaster that lasted, if I recall correctly, much less than a year. Is this re-imagining destined for the same fate? Or is Johnson going to redesign the department store for the 21st century? Is this the first real attempt to make brick-and-mortar stores something that the internet can't replicate? It's up to you to decide, Slog!
Retailers in Virginia are pissed off about this:
After California, Texas, New York and Indiana all enacted legislation forcing Amazon to start collecting the taxes and imposed deadlines to do so, Virginia startled observers of the Amazon-tax-scofflaw issue by announcing just before Christmas that it would allow the company to skip collecting state sales tax despite having a physical presence in the state.
If they made the same deal with Walmart, there would be outrage in the streets for the government-subsidized unfair competition, but The Great Walmart in the Sky is measured on a different scale than brick-and-mortar retailers.
Daily Finance brings news that in Brookville, Ohio...
...two years ago (several months after the Great Recession officially ended), an intrepid group of entrepreneurs pooled their capital to set up a new kind of retailer by the name of "The All American Store."
The All American Store is exactly what the name implies. It's a corner retailer. A hardware store. An echo of the old general stores that used to be the mainstay of retailing in so many small towns across the land. And AAS sells American-made goods — much like the goods I argued that Sears should consider selling.
To those who say it's not possible for Sears to reinvent itself — that "Made in America" is too quaint a concept to work, or that "we don't make anything in America anymore, so how could you sell it?" — AAS has a response: Yes, we make it. Yes, we sell it. And yes, this can work.
I think all it would take is one retailer to push this nationwide to instigate serious anti-Walmart feelings in the average American. But what's the catch? Well, according to the article, while several products cost as little as 15% more than the Chinese versions Walmart sells, most of them cost 50 to 100% more. So let's pretend an All-American Store is opening in your neighborhood...
Slog tipper Joe says "I think it would be in Slog's wheelhouse to review this." The Peter Piper Pecker Puffer (link NSFW) is described as follows:
A glass dildo that is also a pipe. Let your imagination take control and bring your relationship to the next level. Measures ten inches overall, the dildo is eight inches and pipe part is two inches.
It costs 32 dollars, marked down from $42.66. If any Slog readers tries it out—hell, maybe some of you could throw in and split the costs if you're willing to, you know, share—you'll have to be sure to let us know what you think.
Sears Holdings Corp. plans to close between 100 and 120 Sears and Kmart stores after poor sales during the holidays, the most crucial time of year for retailers.
Sears was my first employer after I graduated high school. I worked on the replenishment team in the men's department, which meant my job was folding and displaying jeans. I didn't work very hard at all; the majority of the job consisted of trying to operate something called a "Gizmo," which was Sears's very first attempt at a computerized inventory management device. It was basically a super-early version of one of those scanning guns you get nowadays if you're putting together a wedding registry at a department store; you go around and scan barcodes into the machine, which then files the products into a database for easy retrieval. It did not work, and it was ridiculously expensive.
But most of the job consisted of shirking work: An hourlong coffee break in the morning, a lunch break that often stretched to a couple hours, and a huge back room full of stock that I could hide in when I didn't feel like working. It was the kind of work that Republicans think all unionized government work is like: I could foist any customer requests off to a member of the sales team, because I was strictly a stocking employee. As far as minimum wage mall jobs go, it was a dream. I can totally understand why the company is falling apart.
Booksellers Waterstone's has apologised for inappropriately promoting Adolf Hitler's book Mein Kampf as a "perfect" Christmas present.
But the UK's largest bookshop chain has denied it is attempting to bolster sales of the infamously antisemitic work, despite the JC discovering several stores deliberately and prominently displaying the book.
Staff at Waterstone's in Huddersfield used a festive point-of-sale sticker to promote the book as "the perfect present" with an accompanying personal recommendation message by a staff member trumpeting the book as "an essential read for anyone".
A manager at a bookstore I worked at once noticed that a staff member had faced out a copy of The Turner Diaries on its shelf in fiction. He asked the employee why he did it, and the employee said it was to show that we carried everything, regardless of political inclination. The manager agreed that bookstores shouldn't censor the books that they carry, but he added, "Just because we have to carry that piece of shit book doesn't mean we have to make a big fucking production over it." The book stayed on the shelf, but it stayed inconspicuous, spine-out, from that point on. That strikes me as a pretty good rule of thumb for bookstores, I think.
A lost Christmas classic "found" by local comedian Paul Merrill...
"Could you please please please mention this in the slog today?" asks a Slog tipper. "Help local artists and craftspeople pay rent!"
You work hard for that money, and you should spend it on stuff that kicks just as much ass as you do. At the Bizarre Bazaar, you’ll find uniquely bizarre wares for your holiday shopping pleasure. The Bazaar features gifts to fit many budget levels: jewelry made out of hardware, sexy men’s underwear, survival bracelets, badge bling, va-va-voom inspired flirty wear, delicious PacNW-inspired & -sourced snacks, gorgeous handmade wedding & party details, kusadama, puppet art (and/or art puppets), and very much more. Plus! A well-stocked mimosa bar and other beverage refreshments, as well as something for the holiday sweet tooth!
Parking is available on the street, or at any various neighborhood lots. (Favorite cheap one is the Seattle Central lot, at the corner of Pine & Harvard.) Also, you will not starve on Capitol Hill—grab a bite and come shop!
11 AM-4 PM
@ the Erickson Theatre, 1524 Harvard Ave. (On Capitol Hill, between Pike & Pine.)
Avoid the mall! Buy local! Admission is free! Come early! Bring cash!
I'll be at the advice booth for about an hour, and my old bookselling muscles are aching for a workout. Let me help you find something for everyone on your shopping list, so you can finally know the simple joy of finishing your holiday shopping a full week before Christmas. I can make your shopping experience as painless as humanly possible, starting at 3 pm tomorrow. See you there.
Every single one of these handmade doll versions of famous female authors! Click it click it click it! Seriously, y'all. I cannot believe Phillis Wheatley. Or Sylvia Plath (pictured at the above link, not on the site anymore). The Hairpin's already having fun with Judy Blume. Omigod! I keep clicking on more of them! The Etsy shop, Uneek Doll Designs (I am ignoring that spelling with all my might), is getting all this blog press for the author dolls, but LOOK! Carmen Miranda. My productivity for today may be ruined, but your Christmas is set. Don't even look elsewhere. You're welcome.
H/t to the entire lady-internet.
Galleycat reported this morning that Senator Olympia Snowe called on Amazon.com to cancel their price-check app promotion. Snowe, a Republican from Maine, published a comment on her site just before the promotion took place on Saturday the 10th:
Amazon's promotion - paying consumers to visit small businesses and leave empty-handed - is an attack on Main Street businesses that employ workers in our communities. Small businesses are fighting everyday to compete with giant retailers, such as Amazon, and incentivizing consumers to spy on local shops is a bridge too far...I urge Amazon to cancel its planned promotion, and look for ways to partner with Main Street, not promote anti-competitive behavior that could shutter the doors of America's small businesses.
This price check app promotion got Amazon more bad mainstream press than anything in recent memory. (Even the 1984 Kindle messup mostly simmered on literary blogs.) Between their fight against state taxes and this, they're starting to get on the testy sides of some prominent people. If I were Amazon, I'd be doing some unambiguously good things before the tide of public opinion turns against the public, but then, Amazon has never given much of a shit about the perception of their company, anyway.
Go here to read more about the woman caught making meth inside of an Oklahoma Walmart.
Remember when I said that Amazon.com's Flow app was "about as close as Amazon can legally come to stealing from small businesses, taking advantage of their high overhead by treating them as product showrooms without giving them a cent of subsidy" about a month ago? I was wrong. They can get closer:
Apparently concerned that it's not already doing enough to undermine local physical retailers across the country, Amazon.com announced it will pay customers $5[*] to go into a local store, scan an item, walk out, and buy the same item on Amazon. Please don't do this cheap, sad thing.
To get the $5 discount, you're supposed to use Amazon's "Price Check" iPhone and Android app to scan in the bar code of an item and then indicate what price the item is being sold at. This gives Amazon valuable intelligence on how various retailers are pricing various items.
What a great idea! An online retailer convinces customers to do product research for them while simultaneously using small businesses as unpaid showrooms. Someone must have had a huge laugh in the South Lake Union conference room where that idea was brought up. Let me be clear: If you do this, you're a fucking asshole.
* Important notice: The discount is actually 5%, so it isn't really Amazon paying customers $5 unless they buy a $100 product through the app.