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An inside look at top retailers and the consumers they covet

New options for frustrated TV cable cord cutters. More live sports!

Jeff Buesing of Minnetonka wasn't thinking about watching football when he cut the cable cord earlier this year, But when the NFL season started in September, he wrote on Facebook: "One of the drawbacks to cutting the cable and going with a la carte TV -- No Vikings."

A dearth of live sports used to be and to some degree still remains a bugaboo for cord cutters, But Buesing ignored one important part of cord cutting that cord nevers (consumers, often under age 30, who've never subscribed to cable) don't try: an antenna. With an antenna, Buesing and other fans can watch the Vikings. 

TV antennas can be as simple as indoor rabbit ears or as obtrusive as a pole with wings on the roof, but they will bring in about 40 local and national channels. Professional installers can help choose the best antenna for reception-challenged areas. Twin Cities installers include Cable Alternatives, Mr. HDTV Man, Enhanced Home Technology and Johnny's TV. Ness Electronics in Burnsville just introduced a new line of antennas called Skyblueantenna that improves reception with VHF channels such as KARE 11 and FOX 9. 

Cord cutters now have six multi-channel streaming options, according to John Brillhart, founder of Cable Alternatives, which helps consumers choose an antenna and streaming services. In 2017 22.2 million U.S. adults are expected to cut the cord on cable and satellite, up from 16.7 million in 2016, according to eMarketer. 

1. Sling TV. Believed to be the most competitively-priced multi-channel streaming service, according to Brillhart. Local channels, Netflix, Fox Sports North, HGTV, Food, AMC, TNT, TBS and more for $25/month.  

2. PlayStation Vue. It offers a large number of channels including major sports networks such as FSN, BTN, ESPN, NBCSN plus Discovery, HGTV, FOX News, MSNBC, Food and more. It's available on a streaming devices such as Roku and FireTV as well as PlayStation. Packages with sports start at $45/month.

3. Direct TV Now. It's an offshoot of DirecTV, but a dish is not needed. Has a richer channel selection than PS Vue, including Discovery, History, MTV, Comedy Central, and C-Span. Note that the popular NFL Sunday Ticket package is not available to Now subscribers unless they have a dish. $35/month for 65 channels. 

4. FuboTV. The only startup channel service that's not part of a media conglomerate, Fubo is mostly sports centric, especially soccer. Its one glaring omission? No ESPN. It also includes HGTV, Hallmark, AMC and others. $40/month after a two month $20/month teaser rate. 

5. Hulu Live TV. It's got most of the major channels but also a rich on-demand library with selections such as the popular "Handmaid's Tale." $40/month.

6. YouTube TV. New this year, YouTube TV is the only multi-channel service to offer feeds from NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX and CW. The ability to watch is limited mostly to mobile devices, or on TV with Google Chromecast or AirTV via AppleTV. $35/month.

Brillhart said that none of the streaming services includes PBS, but it can be added with an antenna. All services are month to month, generally without contracts, sign-up fees or cancellation fees. Streaming requires a device such as a Roku or Amazon Fire which cost between $30 and $100. 

Most streaming services have free trial periods, but for those who want assistance selecting one and setting it up, Cable Alternatives will help. Prices range from $350 to $400 for the consultation, installation and materials. Monthly streaming fees are extra.  

Whole Foods' price cuts drew customers from Trader Joe's, Target

It's been six weeks now since Amazon grabbed the public's attention by announcing eye-popping price reductions at the grocery chain it bought whose notoriety for high prices garnered it the nickname "whole paycheck."

Now various data analyses and reports are coming in, looking at which retail competitors turned out to be the biggest losers as a result of the price changes at Whole Foods while also raising questions about just how deep and sustained those price cuts really were. 

One thing seems clear. The price cuts brought a lot more curious customers to Whole Foods when they first took hold in the last week of August. According to an analysis of mobile phone location data by Thasos Group, foot traffic to Whole Foods spiked 17 percent that week, but it seems to have been fairly short-lived. Traffic tapered off in subsequent weeks to about 4 percent higher than the same time last year.

The largest percentage of new customers, the firm found, came from people who regularly shop Walmart (24 percent), followed by Kroger (16 percent) and Costco (15 percent).

What about Target? Many expected the Minneapolis-based retailer to be one of the most vulnerable to the Amazon-Whole Foods merger. But it didn't see as big of an impact, at least not initially because of the price cuts, as some analysts had thought.

While it didn't land in the top 3 of the list above, Target did make another list when the researchers analyzed the data another way, accounting for the relative size of the customer base of the retailers to figure out which retailers felt the biggest sting.

Taking that into account, Thasos calculated that about 3 percent of Target's customer base defected to Whole Foods.

But those who suffered the most, according to the analysis, was Trader Joe's, which saw 10 percent of its customers heading to Whole Foods, and Sprouts Farmers Market, where the defection rate was 8 percent.

That's not surprising given research from consulting firm Magid whose data shows that 45 percent of Trader Joe's shoppers already also shopped at Whole Foods, compared to 23 percent for Target,19 percent for Costco, 9 percent for Walmart and 8 percent for Kroger.

So here's another lingering question: How deep were the price cuts at Whole Foods and how far across the board did they go?

Gordon Haskett analyst Chuck Grom attempted to answer just that by analyzing a basket of 110 items at a Whole Foods in New Jersey over the last several weeks to gauge the depth and change in prices before and after the acquisition.

He found that the average prices on that basket of items actually went up 1.1 percent.

While acknowledging that prices of some items saw significant drops, such as items in the bakery, he said prices crept up on other items, notably frozen food items.

So the net effect of the cuts, he concluded, was basically negligible.