Sunday, November 4, 2012

Meditations on Superstorm Sandy

It has been a week since Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on New York City.  I have so many friends and family in the tri-state area it was a matter of real concern for me.  Living in Miami, I understand what a hurricane can do.  This looked scary.  And it was.  So last Sunday I insisted my sister take my mother from her home in LI to my sister's home in Buck's County PA.  Good call!

Anyway, I've been reading about a retailer who is running a 20% off "Hurricane Sandy" sale, and presenting it as an opportunity for those in the tri-state area.  I must say, I find this utterly heinous. 

Here's why. 

Anyone in retail knows an average apparel margin is about 50%.   For those of you unfamiliar with "retail math" this means if they bought it for $5, they are selling it for $10.  I know that doesn't make any sense, but it is what it is.  Retail accounting.  It's just the math of it.  However, 20% off really is 20% off.  That means if the original selling price was $10, they wills sell it to you for $8.  That leaves them with a gross margin of $3.  The percent doesn't matter, and I could probably calculate it, but obviously, they aren't giving it away.

So who's doing who the favor here? 

The long and the short of it for me is retailers, who do employ a lot of Americans, also need to start giving something back to the communities that support them.  We are known as a 'cheap' industry.  Sometimes that's cute.  In this case, it really isn't.  I've seen good retailers.  Publix really did a lot for our community after the hurricanes of 2004-2005.  But anyone who seeks to make money off anothers heartache is not just a bad businessman, it's a bad bunch of human beings.

I know most people don't read what I write here.  They follow me on Twitter, Facebook or any of the other places I post.  But if you're reading this, please know that it is my greatest wish that we start being a bit kinder to each other.  Thus US is in a state of decline and the world knows it.  It is long past time to start working our way back to relevancy.  Not with guns.  But with becoming better world citizens.  And it starts right here at home.

end of rant.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

JetBlue Redux

I got a lovely note from JetBlue with a $25 credit towards my "next flight". How can an airline believe that a minor markdown for a future flight on an airline I have no intention of ever using again is a good thing? It's not like I need the $25 but cash money would have been a far more compelling apology.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

JetBlue - Not for Business Travelers

Warning: Rant below. I don't post on this blog often, so you know if I do, I've got something to say.

I'm sitting here at the White Plains airport after a very successful business engagement. And that's the end of the good news.

Because the client is in Westchester, it seemed to make sense to fly to this airport and avoid New York City traffic. Normally I quite happily fly on American Airlines, but that airline didn't have any direct flights here. So...I left from Fort Lauderdale, instead of Miami, and flew JetBlue instead of American. I should have known better.

I arrived at the airport 2.5 hours before scheduled flight time. We were done with our work early. When I got here, I found out my flight was delayed, but there was a flight boarding that was going to West Palm, not to far from FLL. I figured they'd let me on. The door was open, there was clearly time, and that flight itself was a couple of hours late. I know the drill, I fly a lot. I knew it would cost me some money, but it was worth it. Out of the cold, back to the warmth, and I'd figure out how to get to my car when I got back to Florida.

Not so fast, Paula Rosenblum.

The gate attendant refused to let me get on the plane. She said "it's too late, the flight is closed." The flight was not closed. She was still calling passengers to get on it. I said "look, I'm willing to pay." She was adamant. "No, our system wont let us change you." All of you who fly know that any airline will let you on an outbound flight if there are empty seats and you have a ticket. It may cost you money, but they will let you on. Not JetBlue. The best part? She blamed it on their computer system! Seriously???

Anyway, I got instantly hot and asked for her to get a supervisor. It took the supervisor 15 minutes to get here - and yes, the plane was still at the gate for all that time. By the time the supervisor arrived, the plane was closed. The supervisor was sympathetic but obviously not helpful. The gate agent had told her one story, and that story was not true. The only one with any sense of urgency was me.

So I will eventually get home tonight - just way later than I planned. But I keep thinking about that JetBlue pilot on the tarmac on October 30. He called the airport begging for help because, in his words "...I can't seem to get any help from my own company." That flight was (ironically) headed FROM Fort Lauderdale to Newark. I think I have a sense of how he must've felt.

JetBlue employees don't care, they don't go the extra mile, in fact they won't budge an inch. It offends me greatly that the gate attendant actually blamed "the system." And even as the pleasant supervisor said "Well there was no room on the plane" when I asked her directly if it was full she replied "There were only 10 empty seats." Honestly, I would have fit in ONE. Even on a bad day.

Maybe the occasional traveler can tolerate this kind of service. Business travelers really can't. I don't care if there's a TV behind my seat. I don't care that for "only" $40 I got to have 4 inches extra legroom (10 dollars an inch, I know there's a joke in there somewhere). What I care about is my TIME. These people wasted my time, insulted my intelligence and stranded me. I won't forget, and I won't ever fly them again. And if anyone asks me I'll encourage them to do the same. Do.Not.Fly.JetBlue.

Say it with me, people. Do.Not.Fly.JetBlue.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

South Florida: Snookered at Sawgrass Mills

Last Black Friday I ventured out to Aventura Mall, the 5th largest mall in the country. This year I went to Sawgrass Mills, one notch smaller and the 6th largest mall in the country. I just re-read last year’s article, and I had to laugh. It turns out the year and venue may have changed, but my strategy was pretty much the same.

Even though the mall opened at 12:01am, there was no way I was heading out early. Nikki ventured out at 3am last year and returned somewhat shell-shocked. Add to that Target’s Black Friday ad campaign that seemed to be focused on a 50+ year old housewife cum meth addict, (seriously….were these ads meant to inspire? They scared the beejezzus out of me! I hope Target had all the sudafeds locked up tight), there was no way I was going to try that. So I tried a different approach, which turned out to be a lot like my approach last year. And that was, go as late in the day as possible, in the belief crowds would have thinned. Boy was I wrong. Again.

This year when I awoke the weather was warm, but the skies cloudy. I thought for sure everyone would do their shopping right then, since it really wasn’t a beach day. So I languished and at around 4:30, I headed up to Sawgrass (last year I headed to Aventura at 2pm). I expected to see some traffic, with most people leaving. Wrong, Bunkie! People were leaving, heavily laden with bags, luggage, carts and anything else that could hold merchandise. But as many people were still arriving, and it took me more than a half hour to find a place to park.

I’m just a little sensitive to parking situations in large lots, as I was born without a particular sense – the sense of direction. And having already lost my car once last week, I was disinclined to wander far in a strange place without adult supervision. I checked all the landmarks around my car, and headed into the nearest mall entrance, which turned out to be a food court. Again, I was disinclined to wander far, so I ordered some pizza and sat. That’s when the fun began.

Holy QR Code, Batman: Mobility is HOT
Last year I was excited to find JC Penney’s mobile web site, pretty much the first I knew of that would work on my Blackberry. This year, as I sat munching on my pizza, I watched the TV screen hanging overhead. Everything was about mobile something. Sears offered me to text a number and get a 15% off coupon. Another company showed me a QR code (not knowing how far away the screen was at that location). I could take a picture of that code to take advantage of another deal. All along the way on th split screen there was a quasi-location-based network called (or akoo remote), that would allow me to text a set of numbers to akoo, and they would then play my favorite video free, right there in the Sawgrass Food Court. Yes, the sound of Justin Bieber is still ringing in my ears, and no, I did not text it, but someone did. The mall operator, Simon Property Group, has fully grasped the “problem” of the mobile device, and has found multiple ways to engage the customer.

Along with myakoo and the ads I described on the digital TV’s…you guessed it, there’s an app for that. Simon has its own iPhone app which allows you to find out about stores, dining, events, a mall map, a parking reminder (maybe it’s worth it to buy an iPhone just for that!), and driving directions to any of its properties (and there are a LOT of them).

I ventured carefully away from the food court and even wandered into a store or two. Employees had done a nice job recovering the floors – it was nothing like a party supply store before Halloween – things looked downright tidy. At some point I’d had enough, and headed back to my car. It was 7pm and vehicles were still streaming into the lot. In fact, I quickly abandoned the idea of doing a drive-by of Aventura. Aventura is the place I got lost looking for a restaurant with a client, even with my GPS on. I wasn’t going there in a crowd.

Small Business Saturday: A New Phenomenon
I had every intention of heading out to my local stores to see if American Express’s new special day “Small Business Saturday” was having an impact. The problem is it was hard to know from a distance which small businesses were involved and which ones weren’t. Since this is the event’s first year, I suppose it wasn’t completely thought out. I expect to see better publicity around it next year. After all, the very retailers Amex is trying to promote have the least resources to promote themselves. What I would expect to see, along with that nice Facebook page, is a location-based listing of participating retailers, and yes, I’d like it delivered right to my phone.

That might have been worth more than the $25 credit Amex offered me for shopping at one of the retailers. After all, who’s got time for a $25 Easter Egg Hunt the day after Black Friday? Amex, take note – these guys really DO need your help.

So ends our Black Friday tale from South Florida. The sun was not shining, but the store windows were most definitely gleaming. Frugality Fatigue is in full swing. People WANT to have a good time, and for Americans that means one thing: consume. Once you’ve consumed your dinner, it’s time to work it off by consuming some products. Then, we all go back to the beach, which is where I spent Sanguine Sunday, my own special day of rest.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Impact of the Elections

I've been asked to opine on the question of whether a Republican win will be "good for retail" or not. Here is my answer.

It may be sacrilegous for me to say this, but what may seem good for retail in the short term (less overt regulation, continued unfettered imports) can likely affect it negatively in the long term. The off-shoring of jobs that continues unabated ultimately affects American consumers, as we can observe in the stubbornly high unemployment rate. We have off-shored most low-skilled labor jobs and are working our way up the economic food chain into the middle class. In other words, we continue to be a nation focused on consumption, and an unregulated economy of consumption is unsustainable. I am forced to ask myself who will advocate for the longer term and the greater good. It's not as though the Democrats have done a bang-up job of protecting those interests, but less government is not the same as good government, and the US is sorely in need of the latter rather than the former.

The longer view says continued erosion of the middle class and continued re-distribution of wealth to the very wealthy will happen after this election. How can that possibly be good for retail?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Zone Alarm /MSFT Security Update Farkle

In my spare time, I provide pro bono tech support to a charitable organization. Yesterday, the subject of Microsoft's new security patch came up. It turns out that installing the patch on a machine running Zone Alarm (free or paid-for editions) kills internet connectivity. As of this moment, there are two fairly simple work-arounds: 1) don't install, or uninstall the security update or 2) set Zone Alarm firewall security to medium.

That's straightforward enough. One would expect Zone Alarm to fix their problem and get the program running again. Yet, Zone Alarm's recommended patch is to uninstall the update. and I have actually read comments on the net saying that "Microsoft has broken Zone Alarm". This makes me say "You're kidding me, right?"

Let's review: a vendor builds a product designed to support an operating system. The operating system is improved to eliminate a vulnerability. The people (and to some extent the vendor) blame the operating system? Nope.

Frankly, on my last remaining XP machine, I switched to Comodo anyway. It's much more elegant and requires a lot less thinking anyway.

Don't call me a Microsoft apologist...I'm not...but when you're a parasitic part of a food chain, one should not bite your host. Zone Alarm, fix the program and say "Oops".

Friday, February 8, 2008

Oops - Of course I meant Putnam

A reader of RSR's corporate blog pointed out that in my passionate discussion of the book "Bowling Alone", I had named the author as Robert Palmer, when in fact it is Robert PUTNAM. Of course I knew the right name, I've used it many times, but my fingerswent faster than my brain.

I've corrected the author's name everywhere I could find it. Sorry Dr. Putnam. My bad.