The Associated Press marks an important anniversary, noting that it is 50 years since the first ATM was installed. In the story, there is context not just for how those first machines operated, but the long-term implications:
“It was a radical move when Barclays installed cash machines in a London suburb in 1967,” the AP writes. “The utilitarian machine gave fixed amounts of money, using special vouchers — the magnetic-striped ATM card hadn’t been invented yet. There was no way for a customer to transfer money between accounts, and bank employees tabulated transactions manually at the end of each day.
“As the ATMs became familiar, though, they changed not only the banking industry but made people comfortable interacting with kiosks in exchange for goods. Now that means getting movie tickets and boarding passes, self-checkout at grocery stores, and online shopping that brings products to your door with a few clicks. All are based on the idea that people can handle routine transactions by themselves, without a teller or cashier … ATMs meant banks could be in thousands of places at once, not just in branches, and earn billions of dollars in fees from non-customers.”
This doesn’t even count the fact that ATMs have pretty much killed the traveler’s check business.
And here’s an interesting bit of info: “Around the U.S. today are roughly 3 million cash machines, according to the ATM Industry Association. Most are actually not owned by banks, but by private companies that install them at convenience stores, restaurants and bars.”
One-Click Retail is out with research pointing out that “roughly 85% of Amazon’s private brand sales come from AmazonBasics, suggesting that there is little cause for disguising private brands – in fact the ‘Amazon’ label seems to improve sales.”
Amazon has tested a number of private label names, the study says, with “varying levels of transparency, from Wickedly Prime (fairly clear – ‘Prime’ gives it away) to Lark & Ro apparel and Happy Belly snack foods (decidedly less obvious). The distinct impression is that Amazon is testing out a variety of different ways to introduce private brands to the platform.”
The report goes on: “Not only does AmazonBasics account for 85% of all private brands sales (the remaining 15% is divided between 45 distinct labels), it's also cannibalizing other Amazon brands. Sales of Bedding and Bath label Pinzon have fallen by 50% so far this year (about $8M in lost sales) while AmazonBasics has moved into those same categories, where it has seen a growth of about 50% (or nearly $10M in sales), primarily in Bedding. In our view, this indicates an intention on the part of Amazon to reinvest in the broader (and more successful) AmazonBasics brand and move away from niche labels.”
This isn’t much of a surprise. Amazon has been very good throughout its history of not just making a value proposition, but delivering on it … often under-promising and over-delivering. Do that enough, and establish a beachhead in people’s lives, and you’re going to have credibility and equity that can be transferred to other products and services.
The competition has to also consider, though, that this isn’t just a new product or service. In fact, it is another page in a narrative that Amazon is writing … and it is the power of that story that makes the company so formidable.
Mashable reports that Walmart-owned Jet is “launching its own in-house grocery label that will encompass household staples like coffee, olive oil, laundry detergent, and paper towels.”
Called Uniquely J, the line comes out as Amazon both increases its own commitment to the Amazon Basics line and makes Whole Foods’ 365 own-label brand more accessible on its site.
The Mashable story says that the Jet version “will target ‘metro millennial’ consumers with perhaps more emphasis on quality than your average generic store brand.
It is parter of as broader strategy. The Wall Street Journal reports that “Jet plans to start selling apparel from niche online sellers that Wal-Mart has acquired over the past year, according to people familiar with the matter. It is expected to add clothes from ModCloth in coming months and Bonobos men’s apparel next year.”
This strikes me as a very sensible move, and it will be interesting to see if Walmart - which you would not think is a particularly appealing company to many “metro millennials” - is able to change perceptions in a meaningful way, and do so without eroding its appeal to its core customer base.
The more that Walmart tests its traditional boundaries, the more impressed I am with the degree to which CEO Doug McMillon seems able to re-engineer the company’s culture and allow Marc Lore a lot of space to do what needs to be done.
The New York Times reports that Ikea has come up with a solution to the problem of people being “befuddled” by its build-it-yourself furniture - it has acquired TaskRabbit, described as a company that “uses its online marketplace to connect 60,000 freelance workers, or ‘taskers,’ with people looking to hire someone to do chores like furniture assembly, moving and handyman fixes. In their listings, workers specify their hourly rates.”
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
“In a fast-changing retail environment, we continuously strive to develop new and improved products and services to make our customers’ lives a little bit easier,” says Jesper Brodin, Ikea’s CEO. “Entering the on-demand, sharing economy enables us to support that.”
Ikea operates in 40 US cities, and will continue operate independently once the Ikea deal closes.
I read this story, and the first thing I thought about was people who buy food in the supermarket and take it home, but end up being befuddled by recipes … and I have to wonder if their is a role for food retailer to create their own “taskers” to help them at home.
This may be part of a bigger trend, as we’ve recently seen Best Buy investing in more at-home services. I’m sure there are plenty of arguments for why this might not work for food, but I think someone will test it and figure out how to make it viable.
Advertising Age has a long and very good piece about Walmart is reinventing itself for a new retailing era. Here’s an excerpt:
“To survive the retail carnage that pushed Sears and Kmart toward irrelevance and dragged down success stories like Target and Kroger, the $485 billion behemoth remade itself as a unified online-offline proposition. It has rolled out drive-thru pickup of grocery orders to 1,000 of its more than 4,000 U.S. stores and has installed automated kiosks at about 100 stores where people can collect orders inside. It's using technology more smartly to maximize checkout orders at walmart.com.
“For customers who shop in person, the chain has improved its quality with revamped produce sections and higher-end exclusive or private-label apparel, food and nonfood items. Plus, it's sprucing up the appearance of its stores.
But through all of this, Walmart hasn't lost sight of its signature low-price proposition - it’s simply honed it into a more resonant pitch: We don't just save you money, we allow you to live better.”
• The Wall Street Journal reports that Canadian retailer Loblaw is close to signing a deal with Instacart to handle its grocery delivery business north of the border. It would be Instacart’s first venture outside the US.
• CNBC reports that Amazon-owned Whole Foods has “suffered a data breach of credit card information used in taprooms and full table-service restaurants in some of the grocery chain's stores … Whole Foods noted these venues use a different point-of-sale system than the main checkout systems. Credit cards used at those systems were not affected … Amazon's systems do not connect to those at Whole Foods, and Amazon purchases are not affected, Whole Foods added.”
• The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic program (NOP) has ruled that contrary to allegations made earlier this year, the Aurora organic Dairy is in full compliance with the access to pasture and grazing regulations required in organic dairy production.
NOP’s letter to Aurora says that its “investigation did not find violations of existing USDA organic regulations by Aurora … The dairy is certified organic and in good standing under the USDA organic regulations."
• Kellogg Co. said yesterday that Steven Cahillane, a former Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch executive who most recently was CEO at Nature’s Bounty, is succeeding John Bryant as the company’s CEO.
Reuters writes that as Kellogg has struggled with falling demand, Bryant “ has cut jobs and sought to streamline production over the past four years to bolster profits. But his zero-based budgeting plan - which requires expenses to be justified for each new period - has also seen sales decline steadily since the start of 2015.”
In Thursday Night Football action, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Chicago Bears 35-14.
In Major League Baseball, the playoff picture is almost complete.
In the National League, the Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers have won, respectively, the eastern, central and western division championships. The Arizona Diamondbacks clinched one of the wild card berths, with the Colorado Rockies and Milwaukee Brewers vying for the last one.
In the American League, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are taking their battle for the eastern division championship right down to the wire, with the one that loses getting one of the wild card berths. (They’ll then play the Minnesota Twins, which have clinched a wild card berth.) The Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros have clinched the AL central and western division championships.
"Star Trek: Discovery” premiered last weekend, yet another entry in the space and science fiction saga that began more than a half-century ago, and the first “Trek” TV series in more than a decade. After watching the first two episodes, I feel pretty confident saying that the “Trek” powers-that-be are trying to bring something new to the franchise while being consistent with its broader purpose, and that while it is not perfect, there is a lot of reason to feel good about the future.
“Discovery” takes place about a decade before the original “Star Trek” series, and it makes a bold choice from the beginning - its central character is a First Officer, an Earth woman named Michael Burnham who was raised on the planet Vulcan by Sarek - who fans of the series know as Spock’s father. (It has occurred to some that the fact that Burnham is portrayed by Sonequa Martin-Green, making her the first African-American woman to play the lead in a “Trek” series, also is a bold choice … but to me, it is about time.)
While Burnham has been raised with Vulcan discipline and dedication to logic, she also feels her passions strongly … and because she is young, it gets her into trouble. Which is where the first season of “Discovery” begins…as she and the United Federation of Planets find themselves in a heightening conflict with the Klingons, who seem energized by a kind of nationalistic fervor; nobody actually says it, but I keep waiting for some Klingon to say it is important to make Qo’noS great again. (I don’t want to say any more about the plot…I’m a big believer in avoiding spoilers.)
The special effects on “Discovery” are amazing, and unlike previous series, this one is laying out a season long narrative, with no stand-alone stories. While some of the plot developments seem like a bit of a reach, I think it is fair to say that all of the “Trek” series have deepened and improved as they’ve aged. “The Next Generation” and “Deep Space Nine” got much better once they got into their third seasons and beyond, and “Enterprise” only hit its stride in its fourth and final season. So I’m hopeful that “Discovery” will only get better...and it is pretty good to start with.
As I say this, I have to concede that I am a Trek fan. Have been since the first time I saw Kirk and Spock in the original series. I believe in the guiding philosophy behind “Star Trek” - that we get stronger, not weaker, when we embrace infinite diversity in infinite combinations. At its core, that’s the message that I think “Star Trek: Discovery” reflects … and it is a message of hope and inclusiveness to which I am happy to dedicate an hour of my week.
(Also…the show has a great title sequence, which you can see above. It gave me chills.)
By the way, it is worth noting here that in the US, except for the first episode that ran on CBS, “Star Trek: Discovery” only is available on the CBVS All Access paid streaming network … you can pay about $60 a year to have access to tons of programming (most of it old shows) with some advertising, or $99 for no commercials. It remains to be seen whether this will be a viable model, but we do know that last weekend, “downloads of the CBS mobile app shot up 64% compared with the two previous Sundays,” and that it “set a (CBS) record for subscriber signups in a single day,” according to Variety.
Not too long ago, Mrs. Content Guy checked something off our bucket list … we saw Paul McCartney in concert. He was doing a couple of shows at Madison Square Garden, so we went to one of them … and he was amazing. The guy is 75 years old, and he did a three-hour concert without an intermission … and best I could tell, he never even took a sip of water. The songs were wonderful, as one would expect, but the stories were highly entertaining and even a little wistful. McCartney is in fine form, and wears his celebrity very lightly, not taking himself too seriously. If you get a chance to see him in concert, I highly recommend it.
I was actually on a bit of a tear that week … just a couple of days before McCartney, my daughter took me to MSG to see a Kelly Clarkson concert. Now, I must admit that I was not really familiar with the Clarkson oeuvre … there were a couple of songs that I recognized, but couldn’t sing along with … but she was delightful, sassy, and very entertaining. And I got the chance to hang out with my daughter.
In fact, it would’ve been a total win except for the opening act - some guy named James Arthur, who, it seemed, every woman in the audience know about, but who I’d never heard of. (No surprise there.) I don’t get the appeal - he may be able to sing, but he’s awfully impressed with himself (far more than McCartney seemed to be), to the point of being unctuous. I know I’m not his target demographic, so maybe it didn’t matter … but I’ll not be seeing him again anytime soon.
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.
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