From Gizmodo The US Consumer Product Safety Commi…

From Gizmodo

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission just made the Apple battery recall official. It’ll affect 1.1 million Sony-made batteries in the US alone. Between all the PS3‘s bad press and these battery recalls, it’s not going to be an easy year for Sony, is it?

Name of Product: Rechargeable, lithium-ion batteries with cells manufactured by Sony for certain previous iBook G4 and PowerBook G4 notebook computers only.

Units: About 1.1 million battery packs (an additional 700,000 battery packs were sold outside the U.S.)

Battery Cell Manufacturer: Sony Energy Devices Corp., of Japan

Computer Manufacturer: Apple Computer Inc., of Cupertino, Calif.

Hazard: These lithium-ion batteries can overheat, posing a fire hazard to consumers.

Incidents/Injuries: Apple has received nine reports of batteries overheating, including two reports of minor burns from handling overheated computers and other reports of minor property damage. No serious injuries were reported.

Description: The recalled lithium-ion batteries were used with the following computers: 12-inch iBook G4, 12-inch PowerBook G4 and 15-inch PowerBook G4. Consumers should remove the battery from the computer to view the model and serial numbers labeled on the bottom of the unit.

More details, including how to know if yours is defective, and how to get a new battery, after the jump.

Computer model name Battery model number Battery serial numbers
12-inch iBook G4 A1061 ZZ338 through ZZ427 3K429 through 3K611 6C510 through 6C626

12-inch PowerBook G4 A1079 ZZ411 through ZZ427 3K428 through 3K611

15-inch PowerBook G4 A1078 and A1148 3K425 through 3K601 6N530 through 6N551 6N601

No other Apple notebook computers are involved in this recall.

Sold Through: Apple’s online store, Apple retail stores nationwide, and Apple Authorized Resellers from October 2003 through August 2006 for between $900 and $2300. The batteries also were sold separately for about $130.

Assembled in: Japan, Taiwan and China

Remedy: Consumers should stop using the recalled batteries immediately and contact Apple to arrange for a replacement battery, free of charge. After removing the recalled battery from their iBook or PowerBook, consumers should plug in the AC adapter to power the computer until a replacement battery arrives.

Consumer Contact: : Contact Apple at (800) 275-2273 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. CT Monday through Sunday or log on to Apple’s Web site at to check the battery’s serial number and request a replacement battery.

[More information at CPSC]
Apple Battery Recall

From Food, Breaking News on Food & B…

From Food, Breaking News on Food & Beverage Development – North America

Customized branding brings corporate logos to M&Ms

By Lorraine Heller
8/16/2006- Masterfoods USA will soon allow companies to feature their logos or messages on its M&M chocolates, in a marketing move expected to launch a new platform of growth for the product.

‘My Branding’, due to become available next month, is the next step in the company’s personalization campaign, which has seen sales double since its introduction last year.

Masterfoods USA expects similar success from its latest initiative, which marks a major step in the increasingly popular trend of brand customization. The idea behind this type of marketing is consistent with other brand development techniques: strengthening consumer loyalty through brand association.

“This has been a paradigm change for our business. It’s been a significant breakthrough in pushing our brand as it allows consumers to make greater connections. People love to interact and experience a brand in different ways, and they have embraced this opportunity,” said Jim Cass, vice president and general manager of ‘My M&M’S’.

Indeed, customized branding is being increasingly offered on a number of food and beverage products. Earlier this month Heinz announced it will allow consumers to personalize the text on its ketchup labels. And General Mills prints consumer photographs on its Wheaties cereal boxes, which are normally associated with famous athletes.

Other initiatives include personalized Jones Soda bottles and customized Hershey chocolate bars.

Masterfoods USA, a division of Mars Inc, considers 1996 to be the start of its brand personalization program, when the firm made its M&M chocolates available in 21 colors. While the standard M&M product remained a five-color mix, consumers were able to order the chocolates in any one of a variety of shades through the internet or in specialty stores.

And in 2005, the firm launched its ‘My M&M’S’ initiative, which allowed consumers to choose a message to be printed on the chocolates for a charge of around $45. The majority of sales are online, with a small proportion conducted in specialty candy stores.

The company now receives approximately 800 to 1,000 orders a day, and expects the business to expand further.

“Over the next few years we hope to reach out to a million consumers every year, and we expect the business to generate around $1 million in sales,” said Cass.

“M&M’S is a mega brand. When you are able to bring a significant marketing idea to consumers, it becomes very big,” he told

However, until now, the corporate market has not had a large presence in the company’s marketing plan. But its new ‘My Branding’ program will transfer the standard concept of placing corporate logos and slogans on items such as pens and gifts onto a consumable good.

Under the new program, the company with charge a $100 set up fee, together with up to $30 per pound of branded chocolates. Language and logos deemed ‘inappropriate’ by the company, as well as direct competitors, will not be allowed to feature on the popular chocolate brand.

“Personalization and customization is a need in the market, and it will continue to grow. Any time a brand can make a personal connection with consumers it will enhance the brand. Consumers want things made for them. If they get this, a brand will have their loyalty,” said Cass.

Over the next few years Masterfoods USA expects My M&M’S to become a “significant portion” of the total brand. The program is currently only available in the US, but is due to be implemented in other countries as early as next year.

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The Switch is Sweet. It’s no secret: I’m a fan…

The Switch is Sweet.

It’s no secret: I’m a fan of Mickey Drexler. He’s a branding and marketing genius, and Mickey and I have something in common: he’s a University at Buffalo alum, so what’s not to like?

Like Ann Taylor previously (the store, not the NPR announcer), after the Gap ousted Mickey from his CEO chair, he joined J. Crew. His golden touch is already apparent. Like other visionaries, Drexler is not always the first to do something, but always does whatever it is better than the competition. Which is why the Gap is in BIG trouble.

I worked for the Gap during Mickey’s golden years, the mid- to late-1980s. Mickey had rescued Don and Doris’ Fisher’s floundering jean and record shop, and in so doing, was anointed by the Fishers as official golden boy. During most of his reign at the Gap, Mickey enjoyed carte blance. He also enjoyed complete and total control. One example: in 1988, the majority of merchandise sold at the Gap was either Denim, jersey, or fleece. Some time before my arrival, Mickey had declared polyester dead, and all jersey — from that day on — was to be made from 100% cotton (these were the days before Lycra was even a thought in the minds of DuPont chemists…). Mickey helped to make the once desirable polyester and acrylic of the 1960s and 1970s, the fashion swear words of the 1980s. Synthetics were to be used only when absolutely necessary. Shortly after the 100% jersey cotton decree, Mickey declared that 60/40 fleece — the fabric that all sweats were made of — to be dead. Like good Gappers, we literally gathered our now passe running pants, hoodies, and zip-ups, took them to Lynn’s (our store manager) house, and burned — or more accurately, melted — the shameful evidence of fashion ignorance.

With virtually equal efficiency and circumstance, all Gap stores were rid of the now dreaded textile, now doomed for undesirable retailers like K-Mart and Goodwill, and destined for fashion laggards like grandparents and the poor. The dreaded 60/40 — perfectly acceptable the week before Mickey’s decree — was replaced with fleece made from a more desirable 80/20 blend. In this instance, the 20% synthetic content was excusable, as it helped to “wick” sweat from the body during exercise. We all, good Gappers all, were relieved. What’s interesting: not only did the Gappers blindly follow orders, but so too, did the fashionistas. With nearly equal efficiency, 60/40 was out across the board, and 80/20 was in. Never mind the fact that 5 years later, Mickey founded Old Navy, a Gap division that sold 60/40 fleece — and even worse 100% polyester — as its bread and butter, is entirely another story, but underscores the hypnotic power and genius of Mickey.

So why does any of this matter. Well, truth told, it doesn’t. But, it’s interesting to watch as Mickey reinvigorates a well known but lagging brand. If Mickey can pull in a few bucks from every J. Crew catalog he sends out, Mr. Crew will be a happy guy. First on the hit list, naturally, is the baby he coddled for over 20 years. The Gap is in the cross hairs — not from Leslie Wexner or any of his Limited spin-offs, and not from imports like H&M, but from the creator himself, and he’s going full-force.

Exhibit A. J. Crew stores. Cleaned up, cleaned out, and ready for a flush of new and exciting merchandise, Mickey and his new team are ready to pounce. J. Crew is ready for a renaissance, and it’s about ready to happen. Armed with fresh bucks from the J. Crew IPO, Mickey is prepping the preppy retailer to get ready for a stellar Q4. I popped in to a J. Crew yesterday, and sure enough, the khakis were backlisted, while fresh, fashion-forward merchandise was featured front and center. The significant cue that change is on the horizon will be when J. Crew stores re-set the floor plan to be half mens/half womens at the entry, rather than the current womens front, mens back that we’ve been seeing for a few years. My guess is that it’s right around the corner.

Mickey is getting ready to grow the company too. Madewell, will take on Gap and Old Navy, and will feature well made, durable women’s clothing. Likely not too far behind will be a similar Men’s division, and a reinvigorated Kids shop, while J. Crew is left to take on Banana Republic. All neat and tidy, it will be interesting to see how long it takes. As it stands now, the Gap as a whole has plummeted in to the trap that the Limited found itself in in the late 1980s. Too many divisions, with too much similar merchandise, at polar opposite price points — the divisions begin to cannibalize each other. Far better to limit the opening of new outlets, and keep the mystique alive — it’s brand fertilizer, or a carrot on a stick — close enough to smell, but not close enough to get to. And, somewhat sadly, the Gap has no instinct that it’s happening — what the Gap folks don’t realize is that Mickey built the company, and likewise, Mickey can take it down. The collective cluelessness at the Gap is evidenced by the recent foray into upscale womens apparel (Forth & Towne) which is hopelessly modeled on the failed 1987 Gap-fuelled Hemisphere experiment, and will likely fail. Similarly, the redesign of traditional Gap stores in Connecticut and Colorado to better distinguish the store environment from the merchandise is shortsighted, and will more probably dilute the Gap brand rather than rescue it.

Now, for full disclosure. Mickey and I have something else in common. We were both booted from the Gap. One evening in 1993, after working for the Gap for 4 years, I was fired from the Gap — my first job, to which I gave my heart and soul. After one particularly tough summer day, my then district manager, Nadine, yelled at me for something stupid, and I called her an impolite name. The next day, I was history. Just like Mickey, after a fabulous run as a retail giant, I was out, just like that. It was a long time ago and I’ve let it go, but I still remember the sting. So somewhere deep inside of me, I have this gnawing feeling: comeuppance is sweet, and in some sense, it would be fun to watch the big blue bully fall down and skin its knee. So Mickey, if you’re out there, reading this — good luck brother, I know you can — and will — do it, and when the stock breaks $30 (which by my estimate will be soon), lunch is on me.

It’s an exciting time to be a retail watcher. The man who changed the way Americans shop, and the way the world buys is about to do it again. Stay tuned, it’s likely to be an interesting few months…

Tops has Stopped: a gaping hole in Ahold? What …

Tops has Stopped: a gaping hole in Ahold?

What happened to Tops? As a kid, we were a Tops family, in the Buffalo area, there was no other supermarket. At the time, Wegmans had not yet entered the Buffalo market, A&P and Loblaws had pulled out, and the Bells and Super Duper stores were old-fashioned and dirty. Tops was the locally-owned (Buffalo folklore held that it was mob-owned, but nonetheless) chain that purveyed a consistent range of national brands and high quality (Tops and Hy-Top) in-house brands.

After Super Duper and Bells folded, and Wegmans had become an established 2nd in the Buffalo market, Tops was subsumed into the Dutch grocery conglomerate Ahold family. In the mid-1980s, the still locally-managed Tops stores growth strategy seemed a perfect match for the European giant. Perhaps driven by competition from the forward-looking Wegmans, Tops stores were renovated, moved to larger or more high profile locations, expanded, and sported a vogue, architecturally sophisticated white on white interior design. The brightly lit, clean stores quickly put an end to the local play on the “Tops Never Stops” slogan, jokingly to “Tops never mops.”

The complete turn around, however wasn’t limited only to the stores. A complete overhaul of merchandising, in-house brand labeling, and in-store signage changed the way shoppers moved through the store, and how products were featured. The aesthetic was almost Gap-like; bountiful, clean, organized, and bright. Typically messy hand lettered signage was replace by an easy-to-read “grid” design that helped to standardize both unit and display across the chain. The simplicity of the graphic design created a strong visual presence in the typically over-crowded and visually noisy POP-heavy supermarket world. This degree of consistency substantially upscaled the Tops store experience, placing it among the best supermarket experiences in the world. Shoppers seemed to follow in kind — I vividly recall packed Tops stores — parking lots so full, and lines so long, it was more like a day at the amusement park than at the supermarket.

Tops quickly became the crown jewel of the Ahold portfolio, so much so, Tops quickly became the premier and flagship brand. Capitalizing on the successful re-design, giant Tops International stores were introduced, Finast stores in Ohio were renovated and re-named Tops, and Ahold’s growing Southeast Asian grocery business was unified and branded under the Tops banner. (Visit the Tops Thailand website here.) The growth of a Buffalo born and bred company was amazing, in less than 30 years the brand had literally stretched across the Northeast, and across the globe.

Then, it hit the fan.

In the late ’90s, Ahold hit rough financial times, and began to sell off North and South American chains. Ahold consolidated North American chains, effectively merging the New England Stop-n-Shop franchise into the Maryland-based Giant-Landover franchise. Not long to follow, Tops was effectively folded into the Pennsylvania-based Giant-Carlyle franchise. The massive Tops headquarters building built in with huge local-subsidies in Amherst, NY in the mid-90s was downscaled by nearly 80%, and “redundant” departments were transferred to Carlyle.

And that’s when things really went wrong. The always Buffalo-managed Tops was now managed by outsiders. Tops had simply become an asset and ceased being a Buffalo institution. In an effort to maintain market share but cut costs, retrenched from less profitable product lines and decreased the square footage of new stores. Stores were redesigned to look and feel “warmer.” Lots of wood was added, as were kitschy farm and garden tableaus, along with lots of red — red signage, red trim. In-house labels were brought in alignment with Giant labeling (again, lots of red, along with farms, flowers, windmills, and nearly impossible-to-read script typography). Nearly overnight, the sophistication, standardization, and cleanliness were gone. The brand that had become a gem was being quickly liquidated, diluted and diffused to the point of no return.

From an outside standpoint, it’s clear that the Giant-Carlyle folks hadn’t a clue of the brand equity Tops brought to the table. If they had any sense, Giant would now be Tops. Alas, that isn’t the case, and over the years, the Tops brand continued to devolve. In 2004 Ahold reopened it’s flagship Buffalo Tops International as a Martin’s store. The rationale behind this was never clear, and the store was a tremendous flop. Within 9 months, the store reverted to the Tops brand. The once spacious and bright store is now dark, and claustrophobic, and clearly different from any other Tops store in the area.

This evening, I popped in to the Tops in Penfield, just outside of Rochester. The Penfield Tops has clearly been forgotten — it’s as if time has frozen it in 1992. It’s white, clean, bright, and spacious. The only similarity to the stores in Buffalo: it was also empty. Sadly, after shuttering a number of stores in Northern Ohio, Ahold announced that it hopes to divest the remainder Northern Ohio Tops stores, because they are “underperforming.”

Is Ahold BLIND? These stores haven’t always been underperforming, and in fact, have thrived in Kroger-controlled territory for years. Ahold couldn’t bungle the Tops brand any more if it tried to, and it’s a very a sad chapter in the life of the once proudly Buffalo-based retailer. However, I believe there is hope. My advice to Ahold: dump Carlyle. Get Tops BACK to Buffalo. Invest in cleaning up the stores, retraining associates, and offering customers a true reason (other than coupons and rebates) to shop at Tops. After Ahold divested the Thai Tops chain, the retailer took off. It rebranded its lackluster “Bonus Card” into the clever SPOT club (get it, S-P-O-T is T-O-P-S backward), pioneered “Club Mom” and the store-within-a-store drug store concept. All have been tremendous successes and dial in to the aspirant Thai market. Similar moves could be made in North American stores to emphasize service over price. In 2006 select Tops stores started to heavily discount gasoline as part of a Bonus Card premium. Even in a price conscious market like Buffalo, at a time when gas is more expensive than it has ever been, the program has gone over like a lead balloon. That’s a cue for Ahold that it’s time to start thinking differently, and out of the box it has put itself in to.

An update on the Gap Saga. Shortly after my last …

An update on the Gap Saga.

Shortly after my last entry, I received an e-mail from Chris Black, VP of Operations for Gap Direct.

Mr. Bitterman,

My name is Chris Black and I am the Vice President, Operations with Gap Inc. Direct in Ohio. I was recently made aware of the challenges associated with your recent order, and would like to sincerely apologize for the difficulty you have experienced in trying to obtain the Gap Fitted T-shirts.

Upon researching your situation, I understand that we did not appropriately address your concerns and did not overnight these items to you when we had the opportunity to do so. Please know that the shipping charges from your recent order have been credited to your account. Additionally, we will promptly send you prepaid shipping labels to accommodate your associated returns. Lastly, should you receive this email and have the opportunity to respond, we will gladly ship you the T-Shirts you originally ordered to the UK address you designate, or to your home address.

I attempted to contact you this morning at your home number, but was unable to reach you. I would like to personally speak with you regarding this situation upon your return from vacation. Please contact me at your convenience via email or phone. I look forward to speaking with you and am hopeful we can reach a resolution that meets your satisfaction.


Chris Black
Vice President, Operations
Gap Inc. Direct


True to his word, Mr. Black, and his trusty assistant, Buffy Fisher (according to her, no relation to Doris and Don — though she did admit that she likes to joke that she is their granddaughter!) made sure that the proper size shirts arrived. And arrive, they did. Buffy even phoned to ensure that they were received.

So, after a VERY long and greuling process — I did receive the shirts. While I very much appreciate Chris and Buffy’s efforts, I wonder how a less squeeky wheel might have been treated. It’s certainly a shame that I had to write to a VP (after speaking to at least 4 different staffers) to get a response. Bottom line — though I was angry, and flabbergasted that the order was incorrect, I’m still disappointed that it took so much effort on my part. From here on, I’ll make sure to toss my two cents in another direction. Despite the final effort, the Gap has lost me as a customer.

Target Scam. I’m absolutely DONE with shoppi…

Target Scam.

I’m absolutely DONE with shopping at Target. Here’s the deal:

This past week, I purchased a Thomas O’Brien sideboard for $164.00 at the Target store on Delaware Avenue, in Buffalo, NY.

At the time I purchased the piece, I was stunned that it was so heavy, and I was more than stunned that there were no Target team members available to help me lift it. After pushing the help button at the end of the aisle, and waiting for an inordanitely long time, my friend and I managed to slide the piece from the high shelf and on to two carts.

I might note (for those of you that know me) I’m a 200lb young man, in decent shape. Without exaggeration, the box weighed at least 300lbs, and was about 6 feet long.

We (my friend and I) proceeded to move the piece (on two carts) through the store, and received a few chuckles (!) from target team members, but never once did any team member ask if they could help out, when clearly, we were struggling to move this mammoth piece.

This alone was enough to make me angry. But wait, there’s MORE:

When we reached the cashier, I asked — very directly — when this had been makred down, and whether it would be marked down before the end of summer. The cashier looked baffled, and summoned a manager over to help. The manager assured me that the price was “as low as it will go” and on his own accord, added “after this, we’ll donate it to charity.”

I purchased the sideboard, and without any help from a Target team member (even though a manager had been present at the sale), got it in to my car, home, and assembled.

The assembly was a nightmare because the directions were poorly done. That’s another story entirely. I might add at this point, that I am a trained architect — and even I — with years of schooling, had difficulty assembling the sideboard.

The next day, I visited the Target Store in Penfield, NY. Imagine my surprise to find that the VERY SAME sideboard had been marked down to $84. Clearly, this must have been an error, as I had purchased it only the day before, and I had made a point to ask about future markdowns.

I summoned a manager (Nancy), who informed me that it was the correct price, and that it had been marked down last night! She explained that each department does markdowns on a different day of the week. I was STUNNED.

I explained my situation, to which Nancy replied, “our policy is that you would have to bring the original piece back, return it, and buy this one off the shelf.” I persisted, and explained that the piece weighed nearly 350lbs, and that it would be impossible to bring back in its assembled state. To this, Nancy replied “yeah, that is too bad, but it’s our policy, sorry.”

Are you kidding me!?

I am appauled. As a long time shopper and, dare I say, fan of Target, I am floored that customer service is so lax, and the return policy so inflexible.

I’m sure you will all understand, that I cannot, in good conscience, shop at Target until this matter is resolved. Furthermore, I feel that it is my responsibility as a consumer to share this expereince with my family, friends, and colleagues. I feel strongly that this practice is not only unfair, but patently unethical. In any case, it is certainly not the excellent and accommodating customer service I have come to expect from one of my most favorite companies and places to shop.


I wrote a version of the above synopsis in a letter to Robert Ulrich, the CEO of Target. Here’s his response:


Dear Alex Bitterman,

Thanks for contacting Target. Robert Ulrich, Chairman and CEO, received your e-mail and asked me to respond on his behalf.

We’re always looking for ways to make the Target shopping experience better for every guest. I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t receive the type of service you expect at Target while visiting our North Buffalo and Fairport Target stores.

At Target we expect our team members to help you in a professional manner. We also know the importance of having well trained team members who can quickly help you find the things you’re looking for. The attitude and behavior you describe aren’t consistent with our guest service philosophy. Your feedback is very helpful to us and I’ll be sure to make your comments available to the Store Training Leads for further review with their staff.

I’d like to take a closer look at your concern about pricing. To do this I need a little more information. Here’s what I’ll need:

– Your Receipt ID (18-digit) number. This number can be found on the bottom of your receipt.; and
– Our product number, also known as a DPCI (Department, Class and Item) number. You can find this nine-digit number on your receipt next to the item, or on a price tag and shelf label at the store.; or
– A Universal Product Code, also known as a UPC or barcode. You can find this 12-digit number on the item packaging; or
– A more detailed description of the item, including specifics such as color, brand, model name/number, size/weight, etc.

Thanks for shopping at Target. I look forward to working with you.


Target Executive Office


After doing all that, I then received a response:


Dear Alex Bitterman,

Thanks for following up with information about the product. I did confirm the price did reduce once more while on clearance. I’m sorry for any frustration this may have caused. I’m not able to do a price adjustment for you on the product, but I did mail you a Target GiftCard as a gesture of goodwill.

We always welcome your feedback, so if we can assist you in the future, please contact our Target Guest Relations team at (800) 440-0680. You can also speak with a team member at the Guest Services Desk at your local Target store, or visit us on Either way, we’re here to help!

Thanks for shopping with us. I hope we’ll see you again soon at Target.


Target Guest Relations


Are you kidding? What goodwill? Here’s a 300lb box, move it yourself… oh, and here’s a giftcard for the money we screwed you out of? No thanks. Target is no longer on my list of favorites. Oh, and I should mention, the sideboard is still original price on the website! See for yourself here.

Feel free to share your Target experiences by using the ‘comments’ feature below.