The death of retail.

I often read laments about the sorry state of sales in the retail sector. But then I go shopping and realize the lengths to which some stores will go to ensure that I don’t buy something.

I was at Shoppers Drug Mart, a large Canadian pharmacy chain. They are doing their best to emulate US chains like Walgreens and CVS, though with higher prices. They have recently started to build superstores that carry much more stuff.

As my wife and I wandered through one such store, we kept seeing things that we might like to buy, only to find that they had no indications of price. To find out the price I had to go to the cashier, wait in line, and ask her the price. After a couple of items I decided it wasn’t worth the bother, meaning that the store lost out in about $150 in sales from us alone.

This seems to be a frequent occurrence in the stores I’ve shopped in lately. At least some stores, such as Wal-Mart, acknowledge that this occasionally happens and put price scanners on the aisles for me to use.

Shoppers Drug Mart seems to be able to get away with this due to the lack of competitive choice in Canada. There is only one other (smaller) pharmacy chain. They are probably seeing competition from department stores though. Generic over the counter drugs like aspirin are about half the price at Zellers (a Target-like store) as they are at Shoppers Drug Mart.

Note to retail stores: If you don’t care enough about your customers to help them shop in your store, they’ll shop somewhere else.

The pleasure of Starbucks.

Rick Segal has noticed something about Starbucks that I’ve often noticed myself – Starbucks employees seem to genuinely care about my experience, and Starbucks lets them do just that:

Here’s a good example of giving tools to the front line. I dropped by the local Starbucks in Aurora to grab a latte. I ordered a decaf and got it straight away. Hmm. This decaf is for the birds.

I walk back up and say, ya know, decaf isn’t really very good, my fault, I should stick to the real thing. Person says, so sorry sir and goes immediately into making a new one. I say, twice, really not your fault, never had decaf, ain’t doing that again. Yucking it right up.

In addition to my new drink, she hands me a coupon for free one.

Umm, it wasn’t your fault, I ordered wrong thing. No worries, sir, we want people to have a great experience.

I can honestly say that I’ve never had a bad experience at Starbucks.

I’ve had plenty of good ones though. The other day the power wen out in my city while I was at Starbucks. I was about to use the restroom and without being asked the staff went off to find a flashlight so that I wouldn’t be in the dark.

Whenever I’ve had a drink that didn’t delight me, they made me a new drink AND gave me a coupon for a free drink. On Mother’s Day they handed my wife a $5 Starbucks card. When I walk into my favorite Starbucks they remember me and automatically start making me my favorite drink.

They are always cheerful and chatty and pleasant to be around. I’m not sure how Starbucks achieves this but they are obviously doing something right.

A ringtone tops the charts.

A cell phone ringtone based on the sound of a revving Swedish mo-ped is going to keep Coldplay out of the number one spot on the British singles chart, outselling the band four to one:

“Crazy Frog Axel F,” a ring tone based on the sound of a revving Swedish mo-ped, is the first tune being used on mobile phones to cross into mainstream music charts, said Gennaro Castaldo, a spokesman for HMV, the British music retailing chain.

Coldplay had hoped to go straight to No. 1 on this Sunday’s British singles chart with its new song, “Speed of Sound.” But by Saturday, it appeared that the ring tone – which is available for digital download and as a compact disc single – would prevail, said Castaldo.

Suicide hotline back in action.

The other day I mentioned a government decision to limit the hours of a suicide hotline to between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

It seems that the government has rethought that decision and will keep the suicide hotline open 24 hours a day. Perhaps their decision was motivated by embarrassment:

Yesterday, CNN’s American Morning crew jumped on the item.

Makes perfect sense, crusty anchor Jack Cafferty told millions of viewers around the world. When are you most likely to be troubled by something? Noon on Tuesday, right? When you’re all alone in the middle of the night, the suicide thing will be closed.

However, Prince Edward Island is apparently a happy place. The hot line only gets 50 suicide-related calls a year. The officials hope they’ll all come during the day.

That is not a great way to be on CNN, winced one Islander familiar with the comings and goings in the provincial legislature. We should be on CNN for our great golf courses, not cancelling the suicide hot line.

The statistics on suicide were surprising:

In Canada, suicide accounts for 24 per cent of all deaths among 15- to 24-year-olds, and 16 per cent of deaths among 25- to 44-year-olds, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, which does not break figures down by province.

The culture of secrecy.

The Canadian Newspaper Association has completed the first Freedom-of-Information audit across Canada. The audit was done by 89 reporters from 45 papers, over a two-month period from February to April. The reporters acted as private citizens attempting to obtain information that should be public. The results, which varied from province to province, weren’t good:

Reporters visited city halls, police forces, school boards and federal government offices seeking public records on such routine matters as employee sick days, classroom sizes and road repairs. Government officials granted the information requested in just 32 per cent of in-person visits. Even when reporters paid fees for formal access requests, the information was fully or partially released in only 62 per cent of cases.

[...]

A disturbing trend identified in the audit was the degree of questioning by bureaucrats aimed at people requesting information. In some cases, officials became more forthcoming once they learned the person seeking information was a reporter. Canada’s information laws stipulate the identities of those making requests and their reasons for wanting information need not be provided to access public records.

In some cases, reporters were told that it would cost thousands of dollars to provide information that should be easily available. Locally the police force stated that freedom of information requests would not be approved for sick day information – something which should be publicly available.

Working as designed?

Netscape 8 apparently breaks the display of XML content in Microsoft Internet Explorer, so Microsoft is recommending that IE users uninstall it.

Why are people assuming that this is a bug? AOL is a competitor to MSN after all. Maybe they intended that to happen, not that I’m suggesting a competitor would actually do that. But didn’t Microsoft Windows Media Player once break RealAudio when you installed it?

And maybe, just maybe, people who install Netscape 8 don’t want to use Internet Explorer.