General Mills reverses arbitration clause

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Earlier this week I shared some articles about the new “arbitration” language on the General Mills site. Well, they’ve apparently changed their minds now due to consumer backlash:

But in a blogpost on its corporate website on Saturday, General Mills said it was changing back to its old legal terms.

“We rarely have disputes with consumers –- and arbitration would have simply streamlined how complaints are handled,” the company’s blogpost said. “Many companies do the same, and we felt it would be helpful. But consumers didn’t like it.”

Read more at The Huffington Post.

I have no words for this General Mills mishegos

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Here — read for yourself: “When Liking a Brand Online Voids Your Rights to Sue.”

Might downloading a 50-cent coupon for Cheerios cost you legal rights?

General Mills, the maker of cereals like Cheerios and Chex as well as brands like Bisquick and Betty Crocker, has quietly added language to its website to alert consumers that they give up their right to sue the company if they download coupons, “join” it in online communities like Facebook, enter a company-sponsored sweepstakes or contest or interact with it in a variety of other ways.

Instead, anyone who has received anything that could be construed as a benefit and who then has a dispute with the company over its products will have to use informal negotiation via email or go through arbitration to seek relief, according to the new terms posted on its site.

Or… “Why You Shouldn’t Like Cheerios on Facebook”

When asked what a consumer should do, Richard Daynard, Northeastern Distinguished Professor of Law, responded that they should definitely not “like” any General Mills brands on Facebook and perhaps take it further than that. “A smart consumer would actually not buy General Mills products,” he says.

Or… “General Mills: If you Clip This Coupon, You Can’t Sue Us!”

In other words: It just became nearly impossible to get a deal on a General Mills product without forfeiting your rights to sue the company. Even if your kid with a peanut allergy eats a Fiber One bar with trace amounts of peanuts and gets sick.

It reminds me of the increasingly bizarre language we’re seeing on coupons, just taken to the next level.

Jewel parent buys Safeway, Jewel buys more Dominick’s, Staples closing stores

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Let’s just lump all our dizzifying news announcements today, mm-kay?

Jewel buying more Dominick’s

Jewel has a new president and is buying five more former Dominick’s stores. Locations:

  • 763 Howard Street in Chicago
  • 424 W. Division in Chicago
  • 3243 S. 115th St in Merrionette Park
  • 800 NW Highway in Fox River Grove
  • 345 S. Rand Road in Lake Zurich.

Jewel parent company is buying Safeway (who just closed Dominick’s)

Jewel Owner to Buy Dominick’s Parent for $9B.

Safeway says it has agreed to be acquired by an investment group led by Cerebus Capital Management, the owner of Albertsons and several other supermarket chains.

Investment Firm Cerberus to Buy Safeway for $9 Billion.

Under terms of the long-rumored deal, Safeway will merge its brands with Albertsons. The Idaho-based grocer, the naton’s fifth-largest, is controlled by Cerberus, which operates more than 1,100 stores under the Albertsons, Acme, Jewel-Osco and Shaw’s brands.

Wait, so they closed our Dominick’s and now Jewel is merging with Safeway? I’m so confused… lol.

Staples will be closing up to 225 stores by 2015

Staples Closing 225 Stores, Strengthening Online Focus.

Staples said Thursday it will close 225 stores in North America by the end of 2015 amid falling fourth-quarter revenue as sales increasingly shift online.

Keep stocking up on that free after rebate paper while you can!

Did I miss anything?

Or is that enough news for today. :)

Been watching the JC Penney saga? Ron Johnson is out!

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Jadeyzma and Jenifer both shared this story from the Chicago Tribune: JC Penney CEO Ron Johnson is OUT today, and has been replaced by… his predecessor.

J.C. Penney Chief Executive Ron Johnson, who tried to replace sales and coupons with everyday low prices, is out after sales plunged 25 percent last year, and the department store chain said it will replace him with his predecessor Mike Ullman.

Shares in J.C. Penney rose nearly 11 percent after the initial CNBC report that Johnson was out, then fell 6 percent after the company said Ullman was back.

And here’s another report from the New York Times:

Still, it is a curious move to go back to Mr. Ullman. Most of the senior employees that he had assembled at Penney either left or were dismissed by Mr. Johnson. And it was dissatisfaction with where Mr. Ullman was taking the company that led Mr. Ackman to look for another leader in the first place. Though profitable, Penney was seen as a mediocre retailer that was losing ground to competitors like Macy’s and Kohl’s.

Now, it is unprofitable, still losing ground to Macy’s and Kohl’s, and in the midst of a very expensive turnaround, the future of which is uncertain. Though some of Mr. Johnson’s plans can no doubt be jettisoned, his new merchandise is arriving in stores, the stores are undergoing extensive renovations, and Penney has already revised pricing several times. The company is also fighting Macy’s in court over Penney’s attempt to sell Martha Stewart home goods in its stores.

What do you think — are they going to be able to turn it around with Johnson now gone?

Customers leaving Walmart?

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I thought this was an interesting article yesterday over on the Bloomberg site: Customers Flee Walmart Empty Shelves for Target, Costco.

It’s not as though the merchandise isn’t there. It’s piling up in aisles and in the back of stores because Wal-Mart doesn’t have enough bodies to restock the shelves, according to interviews with store workers. In the past five years, the world’s largest retailer added 455 U.S. Wal-Mart stores, a 13 percent increase, according to filings and the company’s website. In the same period, its total U.S. workforce, which includes Sam’s Club employees, dropped by about 20,000, or 1.4 percent. Wal-Mart employs about 1.4 million U.S. workers.

Disorganized Stores

A thinly spread workforce has other consequences: Longer check-out lines, less help with electronics and jewelry and more disorganized stores, according to Hancock, other shoppers and store workers. Last month, Wal-Mart placed last among department and discount stores in the American Customer Satisfaction Index, the sixth year in a row the company had either tied or taken the last spot. The dwindling level of customer service comes as Wal- Mart (WMT) has touted its in-store experience to lure shoppers and counter rival Amazon.com Inc.

What do you guys think, especially those of you who regularly shop Walmart — has this been your experience?

Let’s Chat — Coupon clipping declines…

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So there’s yet another in a series of articles on the decline in coupon usage on the front of the Today site today: “Coupon Clipping Declines as Shoppers Get Savvier.”

Leaving aside the misleading nature of the headline itself, let’s look at what they’re actually saying. A couple of relevant quotes:

But experts say that while frugality is still in vogue, many shoppers have gotten so savvy at saving money that they’ve moved past the coupon.

“It was like the training wheels … to teach people how to save money,” Phil Lempert, the chief executive of Supermarket Guru, said of coupons.

Training wheels? lol — I guess it’s better than the JC Penney CEO comparing coupons to drugs, but… What’s interesting is that there is a lot in here about what consumers want in order to move beyond “training wheels,” but I read some of this as more what the industry thinks we should want. For instance.

Some customers have started to want more than a one-size-fits-all coupon that you clip out of a Sunday newspaper, Mounts said.  Instead, more shoppers are looking for personalized deals that more closely match their shopping habits. They also want deals that are delivered digitally so they don’t have to manage a stack of paper.

Can anyone say Just for U? I read quotes like these and hear these sentiments from people, and then think about the amount of time I have spend in line at customer service at Dominick’s. My “stack of paper” lets me down a little less often. Yes, I use JFU (and other digital coupons) and appreciate the deals, but not because that’s what I’m looking for per se. Instead, it’s because that’s what we have to do now because it is being pushed on us.

I think the actual reason for the decline in coupon redemption is pretty clearly spelled out earlier in the article:

For starters, there were slightly fewer coupons. The industry distributed about 310 billion coupons in 2012, down from 313 billion in 2011 and a big drop from 336 billion in 2010, according to Inmar’s research.

Last year’s batch of coupons also tended to be for smaller discounts and to expire more quickly than in the past, Mounts said.

Does anyone else ever want to respond to these with a: Well, duh. Fewer coupons — and especially, fewer food coupons — coupled with lower values and shorter expiration dates make it harder for people to redeem coupons in the quantities they did in the past. Add to that fewer store promos, language limiting the number of coupons you can use (in some cases to one per transaction!) and tightening retailer restrictions, and it’s not really a surprise.

Let’s chat

What do you think? Are you using fewer coupons in the past? Am I wrong, and you all really do want all digital, all the time?

A couple of articles on Jewel-Osco’s new direction post-sale

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Here are a couple of articles to check out regarding what might happen at Jewel now that the chain’s sale has gone through:

Here are a couple of interesting quotes. First from the Trib, here’s a quote from new Jewel-Osco president William Emmons: “We took over the business on Friday and immediately made a decision to adjust prices across all Jewel-Osco stores on many regularly purchased items, like milk and bread. We want to show customers, from day one, that Jewel-Osco is serious about winning their business — and that begins with offering fair and competitive prices. Because our company has a decentralized operating structure, each market is enabled to make its own decisions in the best interests of operating great stores.” Huh — have you guys noticed immediate price adjustments?

And from Coupons in the News: — from an Albertsons LLC spokesperson, but reading this with a sense of foreboding if they extend it to Jewel: ““We don’t think that one coupon policy is something that we could arrive at,” spokesperson Christine Wilcox told Coupons in the News today. She dismissed a corporate coupon policy as being a “cookie cutter” approach that does not fit in with Albertsons LLC’s philosophy, of letting local stores decide how best to serve their own communities. She did not indicate exactly when such a change would take place at the newly-acquired chains, saying it was too soon to talk specifics. But she did offer that “we hope our customers will be delighted with any changes they may see.”

So what do you guys think — and what would you LIKE to see change?

You guys been reading about the LivingSocial firings?

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Hmm. Most articles aren’t as dire as The Daily Beast’s Why Groupon and LivingSocial Are Doomed, but LivingSocial just laid off 400 people (10% of its workforce), and neither site is doing as well as it used to.

Both companies are likely suffering from a few fundamental problems. David Reibstein, a marketing professor at the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania, was an early daily-deal skeptic. In May 2011 he argued that the business would eventually suffer because merchants would realize that the coupons aren’t a great deal for them. Reibstein argued that Groupon’s customers were likely “price-sensitive,” meaning they search for the best deal they can find. This means that they are not likely to turn into repeat customers. So the merchants offer a deal, sometimes at a loss, but then get little future business.

This effect has been confirmed empirically by a team of marketing researchers who tracked three businesses for a year after they offered a social coupon. All three companies lost money the month they offered the coupon and will have difficulty earning it back. According to analysis done by the two researchers, V. Kumar and Bharath Rajan, the companies would need 15, 18, and 98 months (almost eight years) to earn back their lost profits. The reason? “The three businesses had difficulty retaining most of the new customers who were attracted to the coupon offers,” the two researchers wrote in the MIT Sloan Management Review.

Hmm…

Doesn’t this happen every year at Toys R Us?

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There’s a reason I don’t often post TRU online deals any more… remember the $1.00 games fiasco from last year? Now check out this article from Consumerist:

Toys R Us went after customers in a big way this holiday weekend, opening early on Thanksgiving to compete with Walmart and Target, and offering deep discounts on coveted items. But the company may have overextended itself, as shoppers are complaining about canceled orders and having to wait ridiculously long times just to speak to a human.

Consumerist reader Kelly says she ordered 10 items over the weekend, including some for in-store pick-up. But now she’s finding out — after she could have shopped elsewhere — that three of those orders have subsequently been canceled.

Like many other people, she attempted to contact Toys R Us by phone, but gave up after 45 minutes without an answer….

Want some entertainment? Head over and read the comments on the Toys R Us Facebook page.