Leftovers: January 4, 2016

Winter is Here

Last week’s snow and today’s cold are a reminder that 60 degrees and sunshine are not the norm for winter in New England. The freezing rain on top of a couple of inches of snow created a real clean-up mess. I’ve never minded the cold although as I get older my feet and fingers seem less willing to tolerate it. But in keeping with the saying “there’s no such thing as bad weather; there’s only bad clothing,” I stock up on wool socks and hand warmers. The Olympia Sports store next to Market Basket on Route 110 has a sale on winter socks (and other winter gear) and you can usually pick up packets of hand warmers at Target or Walmart as well as at sporting goods stores. For those not familiar with them, hand warmers come in packets of two. They remain inert while inside their foil package but once exposed to air, they generate heat for several hours. Stick them inside your gloves or coat pockets and you’re fingers will stay warm no matter what the temperature. They’re not practical for quick in-and-out trips, but they are perfect for being outside for extended periods in the winter.

Retail in 2015

For the first time we recall, no one in my immediate family purchased a gift at a mall this Christmas. Most of our shopping was done online or at stand-alone stores, many of them in Lowell. Our experience may not have been unique: the New York Times reported last week that Amazon continues to dominate online sales, earning 51 cents for every $1 of online purchases (“It’s Amazon and Also-Rans in Retailers’ Race for Online Sales”).

One of the things I still find a bit creepy about online shopping is the way your purchases and even interests are tracked and acted upon. For example, after I look at sneakers on the Zappos website, anytime I go to Google or Facebook, I see ads for sneakers. Not a coincidence. That same experience is coming to in-person shopping in traditional stores through the use of beaconing technology. Sensors inside the store detect the presence of your cell phone and its exact location within the store. The system accesses the same personal shopping database that feeds me online sneaker ads. As you approach the sneaker aisle, your phone buzzes. You just received a virtual coupon for 20% off a new pair of sneakers. For now, you have to opt-in to this system but it’s only a matter of time before we have no choice. Creepy? Convenient? Read the Times article (“Enter the Shoe Aisle, Feel Your Phone Buzz With a Personal Deal”) and decide for yourself.

Christmas on a Friday

I liked having Christmas and New Years fall on Fridays although it made for some confusing Saturdays. With 2016 being a leap year, both holidays will fall on Sundays this year. Massachusetts General Laws chapter 4, section 7 states that when Christmas, New Years, Independence Day, and Veterans Day fall on Sundays, then the legal holiday is observed “on the day following” which means we should have days off on December 26, 2016 and January 2, 2017.

Boston Globe delivery problems

One of my indulgences is home delivery of both the Boston Globe and the New York Times. It’s an expensive habit but I enjoy reading the newspaper spread across the kitchen table while eating breakfast. Since I’m an early riser, the paper has to be here by 6am, otherwise the benefit of paper succumbs to the flexibility of reading online on multiple devices. Over the past week there has been much written about the chaos that has arrived with the Globe’s switch to a new home delivery contractor. Under the old system, the same guy delivered both papers to my front porch by 4 am almost every day. The new Globe delivery company seems to have hired my former delivery person because the Globe continues to arrive at 4am. The Times, which is delivered by a new driver for the old company, is nowhere to be found.

Today’s Globe has a couple of interesting stories on this fiasco (“Globe, distributor trade blame as delivery woes persist” by Sun alum Mark Arsenault and Dan Adams and “Delivering the Globe, one street at a time” by Kevin Cullen). Whatever the faults of the new delivery company (and I’m sure there are many), the Globe management really botched this. The new company only has 90% of the drivers it needs to deliver all of its routes. Isn’t that something the Globe leadership could have known before making the cutover? Execs from the new delivery company said the Globe was aware of the scale of the coming disruption because there is no penalty clause built in to the delivery contract for the first 90 days.

This situation seems far greater than the reflexive negativity that accompanies any change. For a business with such precarious finances, it seems reckless for the Globe to put at risk its lucrative home delivery subscriptions.

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