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    Published on: September 26, 2016

    by Kevin Coupe

    The questionable panacea of self-driving cars has gotten a lot of media attention, but the Los Angeles Times over the weekend had a story that took it sone step farther, reporting that "trucks without human hands at the wheel could be on American roads within a decade, say analysts and industry executives."

    Here's how the Times frames the story:

    "On Sept. 20, the Obama administration put its weight behind automated driving, for the first time releasing federal guidelines for the systems. About a dozen states already created laws that allow for the testing of self-driving vehicles. But the federal government, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, will ultimately have to set rules to safely accommodate 80,000-pound autonomous trucks on U.S. highways."

    Wait a minute. Let's highlight just one part of that passage:

    80,000-pound autonomous trucks on U.S. highways.

    Okay, let's move on. The Times story continues:

    "In doing so, the feds have placed a bet that driverless cars and trucks will save lives. But autonomous big rigs, taxis and Ubers also promise to lower the cost of travel and transporting goods.

    "It would also be the first time that machines take direct aim at an entire class of blue-collar work in America. Other workers who do things you may think cannot be done by robots — like gardeners, home builders and trash collectors — may be next."

    And it goes on:

    "Trucking will likely be the first type of driving to be fully automated – meaning there’s no one at the wheel. One reason is that long-haul big rigs spend most of their time on highways, which are the easiest roads to navigate without human intervention.
    But there’s also a sweeter financial incentive for automating trucks. Trucking is a $700-billion industry, in which a third of costs go to compensating drivers."

    In fact, a test has been taking place:

    "For the last several months, at least one Volvo truck equipped with the software has been test driving, with a person at the wheel, on Interstate 280 or on the 101 Freeway in California."

    Now, I'm all in favor of progress. I'm a little concerned about all those truck drivers losing their jobs ... though not all that worried about some of the truck drivers I see every year when I drive my Mustang cross-country between Connecticut and Oregon, who make me think of Steven Spielberg's first movie Duel.

    I just keep coming back to the idea of 80,000-pound autonomous trucks on U.S. highways, which just sounds like a really, really bad idea. It also sounds like the concept behind Michael Bay's next movie, unless Joel Schumacher gets to it first.

    Eighty thousand pound autonomous trucks on U.S. highways? Yeah, that'll be an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2016

    The New York Times this morning has a story about how "the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, has brought together the giants of the internet including Google, Facebook and Apple to fix the clumsiness of paying for things online." The expected result is that "a new global standard for online payments — a sort of Amazon one-click payment system for the entire internet — is being completed by the consortium and its members."

    According to the story, "The standard will provide a uniform way for users to input their credit cards and payment systems to any web browser so that they can be used for any purchase on the web. After the card details are entered once, they will automatically be called up as choices for all future transactions. This will be somewhat like the existing auto-fill functions that browsers have. But with the new standard, all the data fields will be filled in invisibly, requiring just one click."

    The Times notes that there will be security advantages to such a system, since "rather than sending along all the credit card details, the browser will generate a one-time payment token that will avoid leaving your credit card number in countless databases around the world."

    This initiative, the Times writes, is "a challenge to PayPal and Amazon, the current giants of online payments. Both have gained business and fees with their more streamlined checkout processes. Neither company has participated in the current W3C effort and they are likely to continue to provide an alternative to customers who don’t want to enter their details into their browsers.

    "But the W3C has managed to bring in about 40 of the biggest players in online commerce, including Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and American Express as well as Chinese companies like Alibaba and Tencent."
    KC's View:
    The story makes clear that there have been other efforts to create such a system, but that this attempt is seen as the one that has the greatest likelihood of succeeding because of the marketing firepower being brought to the table by the various players. And, it suggests that this sort of leap could "open up new types of online commerce that aren’t possible now," like machine-to-machine payments ... in which a car could pay for a parking space.

    Which sounds totally cool to me, and exactly where we need to go ... eliminating all the minutiae that can clutter up our lives. (Of course, in the parking lot case, I fully expect to hear complaints about garage attendants being put out of business. I don't mean to be heartless here, but it seems to me that we need to have our eyes and minds trained on the big picture...)

    Published on: September 26, 2016

    The Wall Street Journal reports that United Parcel Service (UPS) is saying that "it successfully used a drone to deliver medicine to an island near Boston, jumping into a race with competitors such as Inc. to test drone delivery inside the US ... UPS’s brown and white drone, which was emblazoned with its logo, took off from Beverly, Mass., carrying the 2-pound package. It flew 3 miles over water within line of sight to a nearby island, touching down in a patch of grass. The drone flew autonomously, without a human pilot, simulating an urgent medical delivery."

    According to the story, "The delivery of an inhaler on Thursday was conducted in partnership with CyPhy Works, a drone maker in which UPS holds a stake. The delivery kicks off a wider test by UPS of using drones for commercial deliveries to remote or difficult-to-access areas."

    The story goes on to say that "UPS’s delivery marks the first major commercial delivery conducted via drone in the US since the Federal Aviation Administration implemented long-awaited rules in late August authorizing businesses to start using small drones. The company previously has tested drone use for indoor warehouses and international disaster or human-aid relief, which aren’t subject to the same regulations. UPS is on the FAA’s drone advisory committee."

    The Journal also notes that UPS has incentive to move to drones: "The company has higher labor costs than rival FedEx due to its unionized drivers, package sorters and other workers. Still, any wider scale use of unmanned technology to do those jobs likely would complicate the delivery giant’s relationship with the Teamsters labor union."
    KC's View:
    If eliminating labor costs is one of the best reasons for adopting drone delivery, then I think we can expect the US Postal Service (USPS) to start moving in this direction pretty soon. I wouldn't bet on it, though.

    As for drone deliveries, I think we are getting to the point where we all have to start watching the skies. Because this is happening, and almost certainly a lot faster than most people (with the probably exception of Jeff Bezos) ever would've expected.

    Published on: September 26, 2016

    The Wall Street Journal has a piece about how ugly produce suddenly has become al the rage. "Foodies and environmentalists have long appreciated the beauty of three-legged carrots and plums with proboscises, and have created a quirky market niche," the story says, Now, party driven by a marketing push being given the category by Walmart, and now Whole Foods, "ugly produce is hoping to find an eager new audience in the last place it was ever welcome: the aisles of major supermarkets."

    However, there are some concerns. The Journal writes that "the speed at which the demand has taken root has left some growers befuddled. A government-funded survey of Minnesota farmers found some feared that jumping on the ugly-produce bandwagon could cannibalize their top-shelf offerings. The farmers also reported that roughly a fifth of their produce is deemed cosmetically imperfect by industry standards."
    KC's View:
    While ugly produce largely has been seen as attractive by people looking to save a buck, the new industry approach is to market such items as unique and having character along with taste appeal - in other words, turning what traditionally has been seen as a negative into a positive. I think this is all fine, as long as there is taste appeal ... when produce doesn't taste good a fresh, that's where the whole experience falls down for me.

    Published on: September 26, 2016

    USA Today reports that a petition is circulating online "demanding that fast-food chain In-N-Out add a veggie burger option on its menu." There are more than 28,000 signatures on the petition thus far, with the originators saying they are hoping for 35,000 signatures before they present it to Lynsi Snyder, president of In-N-Out.

    The petition suggests that In-N-Out has "let fans down by failing to serve anything that would satisfy a burger-loving customer who wants a healthy, humane and sustainable option.”

    The story notes that other fast food chains - such as Chipotle, Whitecastle and Burger King - offer veggie options.
    KC's View:
    This is an interesting case. On the one hand, a business wants to be responsive to customers. On the other, part of what makes In-N-Out so unique is that it is extremely focused on a specific category, and it is most definitely not White Castle or Burger King. (Trust me on this. Recently, on a road trip, Michael Sansolo and I stopped at a White Castle out of some sort of weird desire to recapture our culinary past. Not long afterwards, we agreed that it was a day that we'd always remember as the last day we ever ate at White Castle. But I digress...)

    I think my response to this, if I were CEO of In-N-Out, would be to say that we love our customers, but that veggie burgers is not what we do. You can;t respond to every petition ... or pretty soon, In-N-Out will be serving yogurt smoothies, veggie fries, tofu burgers and spinach quiche ... if enough people signed petitions.

    Besides, it has not been my experience that not having veggie burgers seems to be hurting business at In-N-Out...

    Published on: September 26, 2016

    The Detroit Free Press has a story this morning saying that a number of supermarkets "are relaxing rules governing what had been that dictatorial 'X items or less' rule.. They are adding the word 'about' to the signs ... Two big chains, Kroger and Food Lion, say they now have express lanes that now say  'about 15 items' and  'about 12 items,' respectively in several hundred stores collectively."

    The story says that "supermarkets aim to increase how much consumers buy per visit, so capping how many items shoppers can put in their baskets or carts means those who want an in-and-out trip to the supermarket might curtail what they buy to be eligible to use an express checkout lane." Plus, adding the modifier is seen as giving consumers some measure of control, which is a positive thing,
    KC's View:
    I am a little surprised by this story since it long has been my perception that customers on the express lane generally don't know how to count, or don't give a damn about the limit on items. (In the same way that they park Range Rovers in the parking spaces reserved for people with fuel efficient vehicles. This is why the fabric of society is breaking down. No respect for rules. Don't get me started...)

    As for supermarkets adding modifiers, I'd be a lot more impressed if they actually used correct grammar. I was always taught that in this case, it should be "XX items or fewer," not "XX items or less." ("Fewer" is to be used when you are referring to countable things. Could we please get this right, people?

    Published on: September 26, 2016

    Reuters reports that "online food delivery company FreshDirect LLC said on Monday it had raised $189 million in a round led by JPMorgan Asset Management, as it seeks to expand its geographic footprint. The funding will help Long Island City, New York-based FreshDirect expand its capacity and reach, as it builds on the initial success it has enjoyed in its home area."

    FreshDirect actually has some miles on it - the company was founded in 2002 - but to this point it is just serving the New York and Philadelphia metropolitan areas.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2016

    Business Insider reports that "America's largest supermarkets are slashing prices amid ongoing food-price deflation and growing pressure from the rapid expansion of discount-grocery chains like Aldi." Which is exactly what has happened in the UK, where major supermarket chains saw prices and market shares drop as Aldi and Lidl (another discounter, which also has plans to invade the US) grew.

    The Business Insider story is a lot longer, but it basically makes the same point that we've been trying to drive home here on MNB for months ... that while the UK is a different market, US retailers need to look at what has happened to traditional food retailers there as a cautionary tale about what could happen to them if they don't get aggressive about competing effectively. There are those executives out there - and you know who you are - who think that they've been around a long time means that Aldi and Lidl can't put a dent in their operations. I just think that these executives need to be really careful about uttering words and taking positions that could come back to haunt them.

    • The Washington Post reports that expectations are positive for the coming holiday shopping season: "Deloitte, a consulting firm, predicts sales will grow this holiday season between 3.6 and 4 percent. Another consultancy, AlixPartners, estimates the industry’s sales will tick up between 3.3 and 4 percent.

    "That kind of performance would stack up favorably to last year, when the National Retail Federation reported that the industry notched 3 percent growth. That figure wasn’t terrible, but it was sharply below the 3.7 percent the group had forecast at the time. The industry chalked up its troubles in the 2015 season to a variety of factors: Promotional activity was high, and weather was unusually warm in broad swaths of the country, potentially making it less enticing to buy items such as boots and gloves. This year, analysts are noting that the economy has broadly continued to improve, and that should encourage people to shop."

    • The Associated Press reports that McDonald's is testing a Happy Meal Breakfast concept in its Tulsa, Oklahoma, stores, with the added attraction that the meal - either two McGriddles cakes or an egg and cheese McMuffin - also would be available all-day, like its other breakfast options.

    If the test is successful, the story says, the change will go national ... and add to a breakfast-all-day strategy that McDonald's says has been helpful in regaining some lost share-of-stomach momentum.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2016

    Reuters reports that Target's chief digital officer, Jason Goldberger, has left the company, a shakeup that comes "as its rivals gear up to better compete with Amazon. Wal-Mart Stores Inc last month splashed out over $3 billion to acquire e-commerce startup Jet."

    Goldberger's role, the story says, will be split between Chief Information Officer Mike McNamara, who will be responsible for the website and digital strategy, and Chief Merchandising Officer Mike Tritton, who "will take over the pricing and promotional functions of the job."
    KC's View:
    I cannot help but think that this represents a fundamental lack of understanding of how important the digital channel is, and how critical it is to have someone at the helm who understands its specific challenges and opportunities. Now, maybe the argument is that by splitting up the responsibilities between two existing executives you manage to integrate online more effectively into the broader business ... but unless McNamara and Tritton were underworked in their jobs, it is hard to imagine that Target's digital efforts are going to get the care and nurturing they deserve.

    We'll see...

    Published on: September 26, 2016

    • Arnold Palmer, who in many ways redefined the game of professional play with a muscular, aggressive, American style of play that made him one of the most recognizable and popular sports figures of the 20th century, passed away over the weekend. He was 87.

    Between 1958 through 1964, Palmer won seven major titles - four Masters, one United States Open and two British Opens. he is fifth in all-time PGA tour victories with 62, behind just Sam Snead, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan, and he won 93 tournaments in his career.

    • Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, who at 24 was considered one of the game's brightest young stars, was killed early Sunday morning in a motorboat accident. In addition to being a pitcher of extraordinary talent who was hugely popular in Florida, Fernandez had a compelling backstory - he was born in Cuba and he tried to defect three times (and was jailed as a teenager for his efforts) until finally succeeding the fourth time. And, during that successful trip, he actually leapt into the water and saved his mother from drowning.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2016

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 26, 2016

    The Major League Baseball playoff picture is beginning to take shape, as in the National League Central, the Chicago Cubs have clinched the division championship as well as home field advantage for as long as they are in the playoffs, while the Washington Nationals have locked down the NL East championship and the Los Angeles Dodgers have clinched the NL West championship. And, in the NL Wild Card race, three teams are neck-and-neck for two spots - the New York Mets (who have a one game advantage), the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants.

    Over in the American League, the Texas Rangers have clinched the AL West divisional championship, and the Boston Red Sox have nailed down a trip to the postseason, though not the AL East title (yet). The Cleveland Indians seem the probably AL Central winner, but they still have a bit of work to do on the Detroit Tigers. In the AL Wild Card race, the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles currently are in the lead, but the regular season still has a week left and there are several teams (like the Detroit Tigers and the Seattle Mariners) who could challenge if things fall right for them.

    Stay tuned...

    In week three of the National Football League season...

    Rams 37
    Buccaneers 32

    Steelers 3
    Eagles 34

    Chargers 22
    Colts 26

    Ravens 19
    Jaguars 17

    Lions 27
    Packers 34

    Vikings 22
    Panthers 10

    Cardinals 18
    Bills 33

    Redskins 29
    Giants 27

    Browns 24
    Dolphins 30

    Broncos 29
    Bengals 17

    Raiders 17
    Titans 10

    49ers 18
    Seahawks 37

    Jets 3
    Chiefs 24

    Bears 17
    Cowboys 31
    KC's View: