retail news in context, analysis with attitude

...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

• Interesting story from Bloomberg about how Amazon, contrary to pretty much all expectations, has become a major procurer "of services and supplies from mom-and-pop merchants, even those it might consider as rivals."

"Our fulfillment centers across the U.S. are encouraged to work with local businesses to support the site’s needs whether that’s connecting with local restaurants and catering companies to provide employee appreciation meals to purchasing supplies from local vendors," Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Cheeseman tells Bloomberg. "Whether it’s through the creation of jobs, purchasing from local suppliers or local giving, we’re proud to support the communities where employees live and work."

One example:

"Hondo Guillen's family runs Schaefer's Food 'N Drinks, a catering company in Chino, California. A few years ago, they started serving Amazon warehouse workers in San Bernardino tacos from a cart in the employee parking lot. Soon they were being asked to cater celebrations for Thanksgiving and Christmas and the occasional manager meeting.

"They started with tacos, quesadillas, beans and rice, keeping it simple because they'd have to serve hundreds of people at a time during a brief lunch break. Their biggest Amazon order was feeding 2,000 workers over two days, 600 at lunchtime and 400 in the evening each day. An event like that costs about $15,000 ... Business from Amazon is helping the family expand from catering to a 135-seat restaurant and bar scheduled to open any day."

Listen, there's no question that Amazon can be a retailer-and-job killer. And what it is doing in terms of supporting the local communities where it has facilities is no different from what a lot of other companies do.

But I thought it worth noting - and a kind of Eye-Opener - that reality, as always, is a little more nuanced and complicated than some might think.

• The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that while e-commerce is enormously popular in China, e-grocery has lagged in terms of acceptance. But that's changing.

"Chinese shoppers spent 90.5 billion yuan ($13.1 billion) buying fresh produce online last year, an 86% jump from the previous year, according to research firm iResearch," the Journal writes. "Alibaba and its main rival,, are ramping up their efforts to grab a slice of the online grocery-shopping market by using a new form of courier service. The service works like the Uber of delivery, and is similar to Instacart, the Silicon Valley-based grocery-delivery startup valued at roughly $3.4 billion after a funding round earlier this month."

The story continues: "The lower cost in China and a consumer culture already used to ordering restaurant meals via phone apps give the Chinese startups a chance at conquering the online grocery-shopping barrier faster than Instacart or other U.S. services such as Amazon Fresh.

"The business model has the potential to disrupt traditional courier services, with their higher efficiencies and lower costs. But there are challenges and a big question: Are Chinese shoppers ready to buy groceries online?" But the big players are convinced that by using algorithms to target customers who might be predisposed to shop for groceries online, they can get over the hump and generate some momentum for the trend.
KC's View: