Royal Dutch Shell’s plan to reintroduce attendants to the forecourts of Britain’s petrol stations is bothering me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of better service, but, as everyone knows, such improvements – particularly the personal “shall I check your tyre pressures, madam?” service promised by Shell – cost money. I’ll drink a litre of unleaded if the Shell plan isn’t really based on selling more stuff. Read more
Jeff Bezos is famously smart but I wonder whether he has thought through all the political implications of Amazon’s strategy of becoming back-office ecommerce infrastructure provider to the world.
The first part of FT colleague Barney Jopson’s series on the etailer was full of insight, but it was the comparison between Amazon and investment banks that struck me most forcefully. As Barney writes:
One investment banker says Amazon’s position is reminiscent of Goldman Sachs’ dual role as a broker and trader at the centre of capital markets. “People complain about conflicts of interest. But you still have to do business with them.”
Like Goldman and others, Amazon has set out to simplify the life of its clients, so they can concentrate on what they do best. One business identified by the FT investigation – RJF Books and More – has delegated the “selling, shipping, customer service, payments and complaints” functions to Amazon, which left me wondering what else was left for RJF to do. Simplification was a strong theme of my recent trip to Silicon Valley, where countless start-ups, and a few larger businesses like NetSuite and Salesforce.com, are offering businesses the opportunity to “plug in” their operations to outsourced back-office services and payment systems. Read more
I can’t help thinking that Jesse Boot and Charles R Walgreen Senior were destined to meet eventually. With Tuesday’s deal between the UK’s Alliance Boots and Walgreens of the US, the paths of the two pharmacy chains, each founded more than 100 years ago, finally cross. Boot – son of the original founder John – was said to have a “talent for business”; Walgreen, though he built his business more slowly initially, “instituted a level of service and personal attention unequalled by virtually any other pharmacy in Chicago”, according to the company history. Read more
I wonder what Sir Terry Leahy, former chief executive of Tesco, makes of the fanfare about rival UK retailer Marks and Spencer launching a bank with HSBC. According to Marc Bolland, M&S boss, the rationale for putting 50 bank branches inside its stores goes as follows:
This bank will be built on M&S values; putting the customer at the heart of the proposition and delivering the exceptional service that sets us apart from the competition.
There were some interesting foretastes of Monday’s deal between Amazon and the big UK bookstore chain Waterstones in comments made by the latter’s managing director, James Daunt, at the FT a few weeks ago.
Mr Daunt – who had previously called the etailer a “ruthless, moneymaking devil” – spoke at a roundtable in early May to launch the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award. You can listen to a podcast of his initial interview in which he pointed out that all bookshops had to find ways to make the environment for book-buying attractive again. He added:
The largest of us face the additional challenge of how do we become a relevant part of this new digital world, in which, clearly, a substantial part of the reading that our customers engage in is going to take place.
With scent and skincare giant Coty’s $10bn bid approach for Avon Products, the descendants of Johannes Benckiser have put Bart Becht straight back to work.
Lady Gaga’s first perfume 'Monster', made in conjunction with Coty, is due to be released this year. Image by AFP/Getty
Mr Becht stepped down last summer as a highly acclaimed (and paid) chief executive of Reckitt Benckiser, the listed household goods and personal care group in which private family company Joh A Benckiser has a 15 per cent stake. By November, with the applause of Reckitt’s investors still ringing in his ears, he had stepped in to chair another Benckiser holding – unlisted Coty, the biggest fragrance company in the world, with perfume brands from Calvin Klein to Lady Gaga’s forthcoming ‘Monster’.
For all the soft-focus marketing of Coty’s products, Mr Becht’s “Dear Andrea” letter to his Avon counterpart Andrea Jung is as direct as the sales pitch for his former employer’s popular Cillit Bang grime-cleaner. The Dutchman writes:
We were surprised and disappointed that Avon’s Board of Directors has no interest in a discussion to explore our acquisition proposal…. We do not understand how your Board’s unwillingness to discuss our proposal can serve the best interests of Avon’s shareholders.
KFC tempura chicken strips get progressively spicier, the deeper you penetrate inland China. Iglo’s frozen fish fingers used to have four different colours of breadcrumb, depending where you bought them in Europe.
Luxury goods companies increasingly seem to inhabit a parallel universe.
Many ordinary shopkeepers – at least in the recession-blighted west – are grappling with slumping sales, falling share prices and the threat of bankruptcy.
In the US, in an effort to offset worse than expected post-Thanksgiving trading, many stores caused confusion, according to the New York Times, by bringing forward “Super Saturday” – a day of pre-Christmas discounting – to December 17. In the UK, the bleak outlook for the likes of HMV, Peacocks and Blacks Leisure, is a symptom of what one analyst forecasts will be the worst Christmas for a decade.
Contrast that gloom with the great expectations of the luxury brands. On Wednesday, Mulberry announced it would appoint Bruno Guillon, a director of Hermès, the high-end French company, as its next CEO. He’ll lead the UK bagmaker’s push into Asia. The group’s shares added another 3 per cent, having risen 60 per cent in the past year. Read more