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    Published on: June 29, 2018

    by Kevin Coupe

    Two interesting stories about technology companies maneuvering themselves into what they hope will be more competitive positions.

    • The Hollywood Reporter reports on speculation that Amazon may be considering a bid to acquire CBS, a move that would bolster its own Prime Video business and help it “give Netflix a run for its money.” Such a purchase would be similar to the move it made into bricks-and-mortar retailing when it acquired Whole Foods, though it likely would be considerably more expensive. It would also allow Amazon be a bigger player when bidding on live events that could be programmed both online and via traditional broadcast media; in addition, it would give CBS a boost in its on-demand service, which has offered programming like “Star Trek: Discovery.”

    CNet reports that Apple is toying with the creation of a single subscription offering that would combine music, movies, TV shows and online news services - a concept, the story notes, that seems redolent of some elements of Amazon Prime. The new bundling service could be made available early next year. In other words, Apple Prime. Sort of.

    I have no idea if either of these are going to actually happen. On the other hand, they could both happen by Labor Day.

    The Eye-Opening point, I think, is that companies like Amazon and Apple almost certainly are seeking new ways to come to market, new ways to compete, and new ways to put a spin on what they’ve been doing.

    I actually am more intrigued by the Amazon speculation … because I think it can be argued that what traditional broadcast needs is a jolt from the outside that challenges traditional assumptions, and that also serves to give Amazon more places to highlight its Prime Video offerings.

    I wouldn’t bet against it happening.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 29, 2018

    Amazon yesterday said that it will spend about $1 billion to acquire PillPack, an online pharmacy business that, as the New York Times writes, “distributes pills in easy-to-use packages designed for consumers with chronic conditions and multiple prescriptions. The company sorts prescriptions by the dose and includes a label with a picture of each pill and directions on how it should be taken.”

    The Times writes that with this one move, Amazon “answered the question about when — and how — it would grab a piece of the $560 billion prescription drug industry.” And, “it was precisely the sort of deal that the health care industry had feared.

    “Amazon has been hinting at its interest in selling drugs, but it faced the problem of securing pharmacy licenses in each state. PillPack will help overcome that hurdle, since the start-up is licensed to ship drugs in 50 states - clearing the way for the e-commerce giant to quickly become a major player in the business … After early tussles with pharmacy-benefit managers like Express Scripts, PillPack also managed to work with major benefit managers and insurers, not an easy feat for an online pharmacy that directly competes with many of those companies’ mail-order businesses.”

    CNBC notes that in making the deal, Amazon outmaneuvered Walmart, which had been in talks to acquire PillPack “for months,” offering around $700 million.

    After the announcement of the deal, for what it’s worth, Walmart, Walgreen and CVS all saw their share prices go down.
    KC's View:
    I do think that this is a big deal, because I suspect that Amazon is going to be able to drive both greater distribution and lower prices, which will make PillPack even more relevant.

    I can see it now. PillPack Prime.

    Jeff Bezos strikes again. Yikes.

    By the way, it isn’t just Walmart and Walgreen and CVS that need to be concerned. It also is any retailer with a pharmacy. And, out of curiosity, what does this mean to Albertsons’ Rite Aid acquisition … because owning Rite Aid, which tends to operate stores that in my experience tend to the mediocre, may suddenly not look like quite the slam dunk competitive advantage that it did a few months ago.

    Published on: June 29, 2018

    The Silicon Valley Business Journal reports that Kroger is partnering with startup Nuro to test a program that will allow it to deliver groceries to customers via a driverless vehicle.

    According to the story, “Nuro will work with Kroger in the first application and deployment of its software in a test market that will be named in the coming weeks. The pilot program is expected to launch this fall. During the test, customers can place orders through Kroger’s ClickList online ordering system and Nuro’s app for delivery.”

    Reuters writes that “the test of Nuro’s ‘RI’ van, which is shaped like a rounded, silver lunch box, comes as Kroger and other store-based food retailers are racing to catch up with or gain an advantage over online retailer Inc, which sent grocery sellers scrambling to add home delivery after its $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods Market last year.”

    The van id described as “half the width and about two-thirds the length of a Toyota Corolla and will travel at a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour.”

    In a prepared statement, Kroger CFO Yael Cosset said that “partnering with Nuro … will create customer value by providing Americans access to fast and convenient delivery at a fair price.”
    KC's View:
    Well, maybe not that fast if the van can only do 25 MPH.

    But … it may take time for all the regulatory approvals to come through so this works, but clearly this is the act of a retailer that is intent on making up time and distance. It’ll be interesting to see how Nuro matches up with Ocado’s robotics and automated warehouses.

    It is the beginning of a big swing, which is the kind fo swing retailers have to make in the current environment.

    Published on: June 29, 2018

    CNBC reports that Walmart is introducing “a 3D virtual shopping tour on its website that would help customers browse and choose items for their homes.”

    When accessing the function, customers will be able to take a tour of a virtual apartment that will curate and showcase some 70 different brands and products that will be seen in context, as opposed to on some disembodied web page.

    Fortune writes that the service “allows shoppers to move among rooms in an apartment, using 3D imagery and 360-degree views to create a more realistic idea of how items will look inside a room. To select items, shoppers will need only click on desired products on their screen as they navigate through the virtual rooms. Beginning next month, Walmart will also introduce a ‘buy the room’ option for shoppers who want to decorate an entire room at once … That feature is targeted in part to college students who need to set up an entire dorm room or apartment at the beginning of the school year. Walmart will offer five such room collections, each of which will feature up to 20 items that the company’s data has shown to be in high demand among college students.”

    According to the story, “at a time when retailers are seeking technological advancements to enhance in-store and online customer experience,” Walmart is “pouring billions of dollars into beefing up its e-commerce business and recently announced partnerships with logistics companies to deliver groceries ordered online. Walmart's technology incubator, Store No 8, bought virtual reality startup Spatialand in February to build VR products for the retailer's stores and websites.”
    KC's View:
    I think it says something about where we are in terms of technology that this doesn’t even seem like that much of a stretch. It sounds cool, and I’d love to try it … but a huge leap? Not really. But still admirable and an indicator of where things are going online.

    Published on: June 29, 2018

    CNBC reports that The Container Store is testing “a new store prototype decked out with tech upgrades and outfitted with organization studios, digital design screens and a lounge area.” It reportedly has “a more open layout, a wider selection of inventory and design specialists on site for one-on-one appointments.”

    The key to the redesign, the story says, was paying attention to how customers were using the chain’s website and then building some of those features - adapted for bricks-and-mortar - into the physical store.

    The overhaul, CNBC reports, “ comes at a time when many older brands are navigating a constantly evolving retail landscape as Amazon grows its private-label business and threatens to disrupt categories like furniture, clothing and grocery. Many retailers, including Target, Express and Abercrombie & Fitch, are remodeling their stores to compete.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 29, 2018

    The Washington Post has a story about how, “as the nation faces a historically low level of unemployment, trucking companies are doing what economists have said firms need to do to attract and retain workers: They’re hiking pay significantly, offering bonuses and even recruiting people they previously wouldn’t have considered.

    “But it’s not working. The industry reports a growing labor shortage — 63,000 open positions this year, a number expected to more than double in coming years — that could have wide-ranging impacts on the American economy.”

    Good piece, about a subject that we’ve come back to from time to time here on MNB, and you can read it here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 29, 2018

    Yesterday’s FaceTime commentary was about an exceptional customer service experience that my brother had recently while in Scotland, compliments of a wonderful employee who went above and beyond.

    What I neglected to provide when doing the piece - and I have no excuse for this - was the name of the hotel; I was reminded of this when a number of MNB readers wrote to say that they are planning trips to St. Andrews, Scotland, and would love to use that hotel.

    Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

    The hotel in question is Kinnettles, and you can check it out here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 29, 2018

    Yesterday, I wrote a story about Farmers Fridge, which essentially is a vending machine for fresh sandwiches and salads … and that has behind it the financial backing of Danone Manifesto Ventures, an investment fund sent up by Danone, a big food company that is looking for entities that will challenge the dominance of big brands.

    I made mention in the story of pictures, but because of a coding mistake on my part, the pics did not appear until late morning eastern time. And so, I wanted to make sure they were available to anyone who is interested … which they are, below.


    KC's View:

    Published on: June 29, 2018

    • The Dayton Daily News reports that Kroger “will open a second headquarters in downtown Cincinnati to house its growing digital team … At first, the headquarters will house 600 digital associates, but the team is expected to grow to over 1,000 within three years.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 29, 2018

    • The Dallas Morning News reports that Walmart is upping its produce game, making a deal to sell packaged greens made by Eden Green Technology - described as “a Dallas-based next-generation farming company” that has developed “a vertical farm able to supply a large regional food distribution system” - in its Dallas stores.

    According to the story, “Eden said its initial products include multiple lettuce varieties and greens. Packages will be stamped with the harvest date. It's also producing Stevia leaves for a sweet salad blend, which the company said is an industry first.”

    But Walmart isn’t the only local company trying to innovate in produce: “Dallas-based Central Market has been selling fresh salad greens and herbs that are growing behind its Lovers Lane store in Dallas since April 2017. It's also using vertical farming in specially outfitted containers.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 29, 2018

    • Publix Super Markets yesterday announced that it is acquiring three Safeway stores in Florida - in Altamonte Springs, Largo, and Oakland Park.

    According to the announcement, “The three locations plan to continue operating as Safeway stores until early September. However, Safeway’s pharmacies will close prior to the main store closings. Publix posters will be displayed within Safeway’s pharmacies to advise customers once their prescriptions have transferred to the Publix Pharmacy.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 29, 2018

    • Scott Maw, Starbucks CFO since 2014, announced his November 30 retirement yesterday, though he will continue as a senior consultant to the company until March 2019.

    The retirement announcement comes as Starbucks’ chairman, Howard Schultz, leaves the company after three decades. Starbucks says that it already has begun a search for Maw’s successor.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 29, 2018

    Harlan Ellison, the acclaimed science fiction writer perhaps best known for writing the original script for “The City on the Edge of Forever,” generally considered to be one of the best “Star Trek” episodes ever made, has passed away at age 84.

    Ellison, USA Today notes, produced a lot more than science fiction: he wrote “1,700 short stories, novellas, screenplays, comic book scripts, teleplays, essays, and criticism covering literature, film, television, and print media.” He famously feuded with “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry for rewrites done to “City on the Edge of Forever,” but sued for profits from products related to the episode. Stephen King described him as “angry, funny, eloquent, hugely talented.”

    One great Ellison quote: “"The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 29, 2018

    Regarding yesterday’s story about Home Depot getting into the locker business, one MNB reader wrote:

    Home Depot, where have you been, grocery has pickup for meat and produce with literally no shelf life.
    It only makes sense that I can order and pay for my 2x4’s, nails and whatever from a Home Depot without going in and no risk of spoils…No brainer!!! Maybe rust and termites!!!
    It’s amazing that the grocery industry is ahead of nonfood in this area!

    From MNB reader Jonathan Lawrence:

    I found this particularly interesting as I was in a Home Depot yesterday afternoon and saw them installing one of these lockers near the entrance - I didn’t really notice but my wife brought it up thinking that it was a set of Amazon Lockers, to which I commented, ”Amazon doesn’t usually do orange,” and we kept going.

    What I find most interesting is how far these sort of stores, (Home Depot, Lowes, and even the dreaded Target which is the worst of the lot), have gone in terms of labeling the locations in the store and adding that information to their website, not just their app. When I look for any typical hardware item, like in this case a light switch, the website used my location to identify my local store and tell me how many were available in South Philadelphia Home Depot.

    The particular item that I was looking for was located in aisle 37, bay 3 - and I was aware of that when I walked into the store - I didn’t have to waste time finding the electrical section of which there are at least 4 aisles then walking through each to find exactly what I needed. Nope, I knew that the product I wanted was there and where I could find it. It didn’t even dawn on me to purchase online because I wanted to take a look at the item before buying.

    To me, it’s a great example of bridging the gap from online to B&M stores but probably not something we’ll see in grocery stores any time soon. I like this feature so much in fact that I’ve been known to find what I’m looking for in the parking lot before heading into the store to purchase - I find the search more efficient.

    We wrote yesterday about how Amazon announced a new service designed to help individuals set up their own delivery businesses that would in turn deliver packages for Amazon.

    Prompting MNB reader Len Okyn to write:

    Ingenious idea and talk about Keeping It Simple. Amazon created an opportunity for the young and older workforce  to become Entrepreneurs’ and fill a niche in the market for a much needed service. Way to go Jeff Bezos !!

    Yesterday we also took note of a Wall Street Journal report that the soft drink industry is facing the fact that over the past two years there have been more than a half-dozen communities that have enacted soda taxes to address what is perceived as their growing obesity problems. The solution? Since some local communities seem resistant to the soft drink companies’ persuasive charms - and the significant amounts of money they are willing to spend on lobbying to get their way - the goal now is to get states to pass laws that prevent municipalities from enacting any such taxes.

    I commented:

    Is this how democracy begins to die? I have to admit that I get downright cranky when someone tries to take away my right to vote on something. I wonder what the people making this play are hiding, or why they’re so convinced that their interests are more important than my interests as a functioning citizen in a democracy.

    I’m not saying I’m for soda taxes. I am saying that I ought to have the right to help determine my community’s position on them. And I’d be curious what positions the people spearheading efforts to stop local initiatives have taken in the past on local rights.

    I think this is a crock.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Kevin, It's a crock that you actually feel you should have any business telling your government what to do. I have been in the government and it is clear that you have no idea about how this works.

    The lobbyists rule and if you don't like it, start your own firm and change something. You clearly don't seem to have a problem with Amazon lobbying the government. Why should this bother you?

    I have less of a problem with companies lobbying than I do with lawmakers paying attention … especially when it means that they’re going to be ignoring the desires of actual constituents.

    Wait a minute. That happens all the time.

    Still a crock, though.

    And it is how democracy dies.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 29, 2018

    Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fifth in the franchise, is a profoundly stupid movie. But I’ll say this - it has a terrific marketing campaign. That’s why I went to see it. But this is a perfect example of not delivering on promises made.

    The set up is simple. Isla Nublar, the island off Costa Rica, is being threatened by a newly active volcano, which means that the various forms of dinosaurs living there - created via DNA experimentation - also are threatened. The owners of the park enlist Owen Grady and Claire Dearing (played once again by Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard) to help mount a rescue operation.

    Except that it isn’t exactly a rescue operation, at least not in the traditional, altruistic sense … and that’s when things start to go downhill.

    The problem is that we’ve been down this road before, and it seems if almost nobody in the movie has learned the lessons of the first four films - messing around with nature, and especially with dinosaurs, is a really bad idea. It never works out. (Jeff Goldblum makes a welcome, if brief, return to the series to remind us of this.) While there are some impressive set pieces, they all feel redundant, almost a best-of homage to what Steven Spielberg did before, and better. And the whole thing seems like a prelude to an inevitable sequel, when the movie studio will be back for more cash, no doubt armed with a great ad campaign and a mediocre movie.

    Now, if you want to see a good movie, I’d recommend a little indie flick called Hearts Beat Loud, which stars Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons in a lovely little coming of age story.

    Offerman plays Frank, an aging baby boomer who owns a rundown vinyl record shop in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. He’s frustrated and unhappy, and the only real pleasure he has in his life is the music he makes with his daughter, Sam. When they jam together, it makes them both come alive, and they seem to escape the sadness the feel from the death of his wife and her mother. And then, they actually do a song that begins to score on Spotify, which doesn’t fit into Sam’s plans to go to LA and study medicine.

    While Hearts Beat Loud isn’t especially profound, it has a That Thing You Do vibe that makes it work, driven by outstanding performances by Offerman and Clemons, who are completely convincing as father and daughter - and the thing to remember is that this isn’t just a coming of age story for her. It also is for him. And it all ends up being enormously moving.

    There are even two bonuses. Toni Collette is touching in a small part as Frank’s landlady, and Ted Danson plays a very non-“Cheers” style of bartender - an aging stoner who nonetheless if a font of common sense.

    I was charmed by Hearts Beat Loud - an intelligent movie by adults for adults, without superheroes or special effects. My kind of music.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 29, 2018

    As is my custom at this time of year, I'm taking a couple of weeks off…

    MNB will be on hiatus for a total of 11 editions, until Wednesday, July 18. (If something major happens, and I have access to my laptop, I'll return.)

    I’m spending most of the time in the Pacific Northwest, and I'll be spending it with Mrs. Content Guy - biking, hiking, wine tasting, beer drinking, attending the Waterfront Blues festival, and enjoying some great food.

    Of course, I’m not off the entire time. I’m just beginning my summer adjunctivity at Portland State University, team-teaching a class with Tom Gillpatrick. Plus, I’m doing a couple of sessions at the always-excellent Organic Produce Summit down in Monterey. And, I’ll be heading to Ithaca, New York, for a couple of days, where I’m doing an e-commerce session at Cornell University’s 2018 Food Executive Program. (If MNB readers happen to be at any of these events, I hope they’ll come by and say hello.) It is sort of what used to be known as a busman’s holiday.

    Between now and my return the MNB archives will, of course, be open. And, I may post the occasional note or picture on Facebook or Instagram if the spirit moves me …

    Thanks…I hope you'll also get some time this summer to recharge your batteries.

    And, as always…

    Fins Up!
    KC's View: