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    Published on: April 27, 2017


    This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either ... they are similar, but not exactly the same. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

    Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    It seems like every week - indeed, almost every day - I read stories about this chain or that one is closing stores. Just the other day, there was a report on CNN about how Credit Suisse estimates that it's possible "more than 8,600 brick-and-mortar stores will close their doors in 2017." That's four time as many as in 2016 ... almost twice as many as in 2015 ... and 2,000 more than in 2008, the worst year for closures on record.

    Yikes.

    The Wall Street Journal also had a piece the other day that reflected the larger dilemma that bricks-and-mortar retailers face. I thought one sentence the Journal used pretty much captured it:

    "Legacy retailers are trying to play catch-up, but they’re saddled by huge fixed costs, investors who prefer dividends to innovations, and CEOs incentivized to focus on the next quarter, not the next decade."

    Is there any wonder that Amazon is having such an impact on the retail landscape?

    Retailers complain to me all the time about how Amazon doesn't play fair because it doesn't seem to have the same financial constrictions that they do.

    That's not true. Amazon just prefers innovation to dividends ... and if you invest in Amazon, you'd better walk in with that understanding. This isn't unique or original to Amazon, of course. Costco, under Jim Sinegal, made the point for years that it was more important to manage for Main Street than Wall Street, and that eventually Wall Street would catch up ... and that, in the meantime, customers would be satisfied and employees would be happy.

    I think that Amazon doesn't just focus on the next decade, but the decade after that.

    This is tough for a legacy retailer to do. There are too many fires to put out, too much temptation to seek short term gratification even at the expense of long-term viability. And complaining that Amazon doesn't play by the same rules isn't going to change their ability to play the game more effectively.

    The thing is, the situation isn't going to get any better. Walmart clearly has decided to play the game, though it is coming at it from its own direction and creating its own rules.

    That, I think, is what everybody has to do.

    You have to know who/what you are, who your customers are, how you are going to be relevant, targeted, and compelling, and what your differential advantage is.

    Short of that, I'm not sure you have any shot at all.

    You can be one of the survivors, or one of the more than 8600 stores that close this year, and who knows how many close next year and the year after.

    That's what's on my mind this morning. As always, I want to know what's on your mind.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 27, 2017

    by Kevin Coupe

    Multiple press reports say that police in Paragould, Arkansas, last weekend had to deal with a somewhat unlikely event - someone dumped a pile of some 40 snakes in a Walmart parking lot there.

    Authorities were, to say the least concerned ... at least until they found out that there was an officer in their midst who actually was a kind of "snake whisperer," and who knew that the snakes were of the garden, non-venomous variety.

    These same authorities remain unamused. Noting that nobody was hurt and no suspects have been identified, police said no charges would be filed - but that it better not happen again.

    "It is not cute. It is going to get somebody hurt," one officer said.

    But I think they're missing the point here - which is that someone wanted to hear Walmart CEO Doug McMillon say on camera, "Enough is enough! I have had it with these motherf***ing snakes in my motherf***ing parking lot," in his best Samuel L. Jackson growl.

    Now, that would be an Eye-Opener. It might even scare the hell out of Jeff Bezos.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 27, 2017

    Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP) is out with a new report on Amazon Prime membership, estimating that there 80 million members in the US, each spending an average of $1,300 a year - compared to $700 a year being spent annually by non-members shopping on Amazon.

    The report says that the membership numbers in the US have grown by 38 percent in the past year, from58 million members a year ago, and that 60 percent of Amazon customers are paying $99 a year for Prime benefits.
    KC's View:
    This is a testament to the power of what Amazon is doing, constantly expanding its ecosystem to bring more people in, which allows it to expand its services and provide more value, which then brings more people in. That's what Amazon's competitors have to deal with.

    Published on: April 27, 2017

    Advertising Age reports that Ahold Delhaize-owned Peapod, which started in 1989 as way for consumers to use their phones to order groceries to be delivered to their homes, only later to morph into one of the original e-grocery businesses, plans to launch a brand-building advertising campaign.

    The story notes that despite the fact that Peapod long predates the businesses launched by Amazon Fresh, FreshDirect and Instacart, it "lacks the brand awareness of its trendier new competition." And so, the ad campaign initially will be targeted at consumers in the New York City metropolitan area, which accounts for roughly 25 percent of its business.

    According to the story, "The Big Apple push, tagged 'The Grocery Store at Your Front Door,' will include print and digital display advertising, as well as subway takeovers at two Brooklyn locations in May and a delivery truck design contest challenging artists. Peapod, which doubled its business in Brooklyn last year and recently opened a Jersey City warehouse, tapped Southfield, Mich.-based Doner for the campaign. 360 handled PR, social and digital."
    KC's View:
    I've always felt that Peapod in some ways was an under-promoted asset for Ahold, so I'm glad to see they're throwing some money behind it. I live in a town with two Stop & Shop stores, and it would be my general impression that they don't do a lot to promote it to local residents ... which opens the window for us to patronize other stores.

    Retailers have to do everything they can to minimize the likelihood that their customers can or will go elsewhere. And I think it makes sense for all the stores in the Ahold Delhaize universe to utilize Peapod as a way to keep people in their own ecosystem.

    Published on: April 27, 2017

    Amazon has introduced a new member of its stable of voice activated computer assistants - the Echo Look, which includes a camera that can help consumers make fashion decisions by taking "full-length photos and short videos with a hands-free camera that includes built-in LED lighting, depth-sensing camera, and computer vision-based background blur."

    The camera allows the customer to see herself/himself "from every angle with the companion app," as well as "build a personal 'lookbook,' share those photos with friends, and use a StyleCheck app that dispenses fashion advice by combining "machine learning algorithms with advice from fashion specialists."

    The Echo Look also has all the traditional functionality of the devices in the Echo/Alexa family.

    You can see a video of how the Echo Look works here.

    in its analysis, the Financial Times writes that "the new feature will push the limits of how comfortable users feel giving Amazon a look into their homes. Cameras are gradually becoming more prevalent in the house, and tech companies such as Alphabet already sell in-home cameras, in Google's case, through its subsidiary Nest. However widespread adoption of in-home cameras has been limited, largely because of price and security concerns."
    KC's View:
    I'm a big Echo fan, but I can understand the qualms that FT talks about ... it would seem to me that maybe there will be a little too much information being uploaded to the cloud, creating vulnerabilities for users. Now, I'm saying this at the same time that an entire generations seem willing to expose every facet of their beings online, so maybe they won't have the same concerns.

    Whether it works or not, this is yet another example of how to look down the road and try new things.

    Published on: April 27, 2017

    The Wall Street Journal this morning has a long story about how major CPG companies and brands - ranging from Procter & Gamble to PepsiCo. and Gillett to Yoplait - are "losing ground to upstarts" as they "struggle to give consumers what they want" and "try to adapt to changing tastes."

    According to the story, "U.S. economic growth slowed in the fourth quarter, and experts say the sluggishness continued into the start of this year. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal are forecasting that gross domestic product, a broad measure of the goods and services produced across the economy, advanced by a tepid 1% in the first quarter from the previous three months. That would mark a slowdown from the roughly 2% trend that has prevailed through most of the current expansion and which President Donald Trump is seeking to double."

    You can read the entire story here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 27, 2017

    24/7 Wall Street reports that Walmart will begin "cutting fees beginning today on its Walmart2Walmart money transfer service," by as much as 20 to 90 percent. "Next month the company plans to introduce another transfer service, Bluebird2Walmart. Both programs allow the store's customers to send money to another Wal-Mart location in the United States and Puerto Rico where the recipient can present identification and pick up the cash."

    "According to Wal-Mart, it will now cost $4 to send $50 to another store, $8 to send $250 to $1,000, and $16 to send $1,250 to $2,500. Comparable rates at Western Union Co. are $5 to send $50, $12.50 to $86 to send $250 to $1,000, and $25 to $176 to send $1,250 to $2,500."

    The Bluebird2Walmart service is said to be "an extension of Wal-Mart's Bluebird service offered in conjunction with American Express Co. This service requires that a consumer establishes a Bluebird account with Wal-Mart. Receivers do not need a Bluebird account to pick up the transferred money at a nearby Wal-Mart store."
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 27, 2017

    Business Insider confirms a story that was reported here on MNB last week - that Starbucks indeed will take over the Crate & Barrel space on Chicago's Michigan Avenue to build a four-story, 43,000-square-foot Roastery store that is scheduled to open in 2019.

    It will be the third to open in the US. One already is operating in Seattle, and another is scheduled to open next year in New York City.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 27, 2017

    • The New York Times reports this morning that Barnes & Noble is promoting Demos Parneros, the company's COO, to be its new CEO, replacing Ronald Boire, who was ousted from the job last August after less than a year in the position.

    The Times writes that Parneros, "who joined Barnes & Noble from a top executive position at Staples, is taking over at a challenging time. The company is still scrambling to compete with Amazon and recover from steep losses from its digital Nook business. And despite some encouraging signs that the physical bookstore market has stabilized, Barnes & Noble has struggled to reverse sales and revenue declines."
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 27, 2017

    Jonathan Demme, the highly successful film director who brought us culture-defining hits like The Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia, but also was capable of more eclectic fare such as Melvin and Howard, Something Crazy, and Rachel Getting Married, passed away yesterday of complications from cancer. He was 73.
    KC's View:
    I'm not sure that Demme was always the best judge of material - his remakes of The Manchurian Candidate and Charade were awful, to say the least. But when he was good - as in virtually every scene of The Silence of the Lambs, which is a perfect thriller - he was extraordinary.

    Published on: April 27, 2017

    ...will return.
    KC's View: