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    Published on: January 21, 2019


    Some call it BOPIS (Buy Online, Pickup In Store). Some call it click-and-collect. No matter what you call it, this segment of e-commerce, while it presents challenges, also is an enormous opportunity for retailers that want their bricks-and-mortar stores to remain relevant, and who want to satisfy an established consumer need. (And when you put two things together, it can do magic, believe it or not.)

    In this special Retail Tomorrow podcast, recorded at Google’s New York City offices during the recent National Retail Federation (NRF) Show, we convene a panel of experts from a wide range of fields to open our eyes to the possibilities.

    This Retail Tomorrow podcast is sponsored by the Global Market Development Center (GMDC).

    Pictured below are our panel members, from left:

    • The Content Guy.
    • Lee Peterson, EVP of Thought Leadership at WD Partners.
    • Ben Conwell, Senior Managing Director & National Practice Leader of the E-commerce Fulfillment Group at Cushman Wakefield.
    • Jeff Baskin, VP of Operations at Radius Networks.
    • Dror Cohen, Chief Of Staff of Waze Ads at Waze.
    • Chris Lydle, Retail innovation Lead for Google.


    KC's View:

    Published on: January 21, 2019

    Reuters has a story about how CPG companies such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble, and Nestle all are introducing new online subscription services that offer automatic replenishment of their products to consumers, largely because such initiatives “promise stable revenues, lower delivery costs and valuable data about customers.”

    Nestle, already in the subscription business with its Nespresso coffee program, has plans to expand its subscription pet food business from the UK to continental Europe; it also is expanding a bottled water auto-replenishment business in the US.

    Unilever today is launching “its Skinsei brand in the United States after testing, offering ‘personalized’ skincare by subscription,” Reuters writes. “Unilever expanded its Dollar Shave Club subscription razor service to include cologne and beard oil in 2018 and toothpaste in 2017. Meanwhile, Procter & Gamble , the world's largest home and personal care company, expanded its Gillette on Demand razor subscription service to Canada. Subscribers can text when they are ready for their next shipment.”

    The story notes that subscription businesses have not always worked; companies such as Walmart, Mondelez and general Mills have all had them and cancelled them for a variety of reasons, including “high cancellation rates as consumers get bored, high marketing costs, costly delivery and the fact that people often end up with goods they don't want.”

    But, there is a big example of one that has worked - Amazon’s Subscribe & Save program, which has been in business for more than a dozen years ands continues to be a major business driver for Amazon that brings people into the company’s expanding ecosystem.
    KC's View:
    My friend Tom Furphy - who started Subscribe & Save when he was an Amazon executive and now writes “The Innovation Conversation” column here on MNB (he also is CEO and Managing Director of Consumer Equity Partners, but I like putting his MNB association first!) - is quoted in the Reuters story as pointing out that the replenishment segment has become “a multi-billion dollar business inside Amazon.” I’ve always been a total believer, and not just academically - in our household, we have some dozen items in the Subscribe & Save system, with each one being a product that we used to buy in stores and for which we will never, ever go to a store again.

    It is an enormous convenience, and I’m always adding items when they become available; just the other day, the printer ink we use joined the Subscribe & Save program, and I immediately added it. (In fact, if I have one criticism of Amazon this, it would be that it misses the opportunity to use its famous algorithms to let people know when products they’ve bought in the past now are available for automatic replenishment.) The prices tend to be sharp, but that’s not the major driver of our behavior.

    I actually was surprised by one passage of the Reuters story:

    “Subscriptions represent about 10 percent of all U.S. online sales, and more than 1 percent of all retail sales, said Burt Flickinger, managing director of consumer consulting firm Strategic Resources Group. He said subscriptions are the hottest part of the industry, growing more than 17 percent a year and outpacing overall online sales, which are growing more than 12 percent. He said subscriptions may exceed 10 percent of the US retail market in five years and 15 percent in 10 years.”

    I’ve been disappointed by the fact that most retailers competing with Amazon have never gotten into this business, though it is my sense that this could change in the near future as retailers embrace the clear opportunity that it presents. I know that some retailers resist the idea that they should invest in businesses that keep people out of their stores, but it is time to get over that concern - subscriptions are a way to keep people shopping with them as opposed to somebody else. That ought to be a high priority if you actually want to stay in business.

    Published on: January 21, 2019

    Amazon said over the weekend that more than 50,000 small and medium-sized businesses generated a half-million dollars or more in sales during 2018, while close to another 200,000 such businesses generated $100,000 in sales last year.

    And, Amazon said, the number of such businesses that did $1 million or more in sales last year grew by 20 percent compared to the year before. In fact, according to the statement, “Third-party sales are growing at a faster rate than first-party sales on Amazon and across retailers in the U.S. During the 2018 holiday season, Amazon reported that sales by small and medium-sized businesses outpaced its retail business sales in Amazon’s stores worldwide.”
    KC's View:
    Amazon’s Marketplace always has been an enormous advantage for the company, providing its business with a robust and dynamic selection that drives shoppers, sales and profits … it always has separated Amazon from its competition.

    It is interesting that Amazon is making this point in a press release; I suspect it may have something to do with the fact that as Amazon gets bigger and the competition gets tougher, it is critical to the Marketplace’s continued health and growth that Amazon still be seen as a legitimate and relatively friendly place through which small companies can do business.

    Published on: January 21, 2019

    Barron’s writes that as the economic fundamentals of the retail business look increasingly problematic, with sales “stagnating and profitability is getting worse with every passing quarter,” the fact is that too much blame is being assigned to Amazon.

    “Today,” the story says, “online sales represent only 8.5% of total retail sales. Amazon, at about $100 billion in sales, accounts only for 1.6% of total U.S. retail sales, which at the end of 2018 were around $6 trillion. In truth, the confluence of a half-dozen unrelated developments is responsible for weak retail sales.”

    Among these reasons, according to Barron’s:

    • Mobile phones. The story notes that everybody has them, and per-household phone bills have “more than doubled over the last decade,” with “$200 billion in consumer spending … diverted toward mobile phones.” This is money not being spent on traditional products at traditional retail businesses.

    • “The combination of mid-single-digit health care inflation and the proliferation of high-deductible plans has increased consumer direct health-care costs and further chipped away at our discretionary dollars.”

    • “We now put less value on buying and owning clothes and more value on having the latest technology or most memorable experiences—spending on travel and restaurants has grown at nearly 4x the rate of spending on objects.”

    • “Most would rather dine out than eat at home. That eats into sales of groceries, not to mention pots, pans, and fancy knife sets.”

    • Student debt, which is way higher and more financially debilitating than it used to be for preceding generations.

    • And then, there is “a hard and sad reality: The U.S. is over-retailed. We simply have too many stores. Americans have four or five times more square footage per capita than other developed countries. This bloated square footage was created for a different consumer, the one who in the ’90s and ’00s was borrowing money against her house and spending it at her local shopping mall.”

    Barron’s writes that sure, “Amazon and online sales do matter. Ten years ago, only 2.5% of retail sales took place online, and today that number is 10% percent— about a $400 billion change. Some of these online sales were captured by brick-and-mortar online sales, some by e-commerce giants like Amazon, and some by brands selling directly to consumers.”

    But, it is only one part of “a very complex retail puzzle,” and this complexity means that for a retail business to be successful, running it “requires Bezos-like qualities: being totally consumer-focused, taking risks, and thinking long term.”
    KC's View:
    Interesting piece, especially when read in the context of a Financial Times story this morning about how savvy retailers are embracing technology as a way of creating compelling consumer experiences that can effectively compete in this environment.

    Companies that see technology as gizmos and gewgaws that add to the theatricality of a store experience are only partially right. Theatricality has its place, but it has to be in the service of what customers want and need … and that is relevant to the realities of their lives. Yes, it has to be about efficiency … but it also has to be about effectiveness.

    Published on: January 21, 2019

    CNBC reports on how Target, anxious to take advantage of the demise of Toys R Us and fill a perceived marketing gap, “s expanding its in-house brand Cloud Island, which currently sells items like crib sheets, stuffed animals and baby bath toys, to include essential items like diapers, wipes, toiletries, utensils and bowls … Target says most goods will be priced under $10 — 30 to 40 percent less expensive than comparable national premium brands.”

    The story goes on to note that “Target had already started to remodel the spaces in its stores where it was selling things like cribs and strollers, putting more of those bulkier items on display and rearranging them so that they were near kids clothing and other overlapping categories. It started letting parents test out more items like car seats in stores before they buy them. And Target says those revamps are leading to sales increases.”

    CNBC says that while Target will continue to sell national brands, it believes that it can compete effectively in categories like diapers where it thinks it can bring a significant pricing advantage.
    KC's View:
    I think it is smart, obviously, to take advantage of the absence of Toys R Us, though it must be pointed out that the dearly departed Toys R Us wasn’t quite the market dominator it used to be … otherwise, it might still be with us.

    I also might be a little careful about depending on diapers being the segment to make the difference. It has been something like 22+ years since I had to buy diapers, but I seem to remember being pretty brand loyal because of fit and absorbency. (Though I cannot for the life of me remember which brand we liked.) Also … didn’t Amazon have problems a few years ago when it tried to roll out a private label diaper? (Lesson: Diapers can be messy. That much I do remember…)

    Published on: January 21, 2019

    USA Today this morning reports that a number of Sears Holdings creditors have gone to court to challenging the move by the company’s chairman and primary shareholder, Eddie Lampert, to buy what remains of the troubled business, changing that he has “engaged in a years-long ‘scheme’ to strip the company of its assets.”

    According to the story, “Lampert's hedge fund, ESL Investments, won an auction for most of Sears remaining assets this week with a $5.2-billion offer. The sale, which still needs final approval by a bankruptcy judge at a hearing slated for Feb. 1, staved off potential liquidation of the company and according to Sears will preserve 45,000 jobs.

    “But creditors say that the deal is part of a pattern by Lampert, who they say is getting a greatly diminished company at a discounted price, further enriching himself while leaving vendors, workers and others in the lurch.”

    USA Today notes that while Lampert “has given billions of dollars to keep Sears afloat and has said that he was ‘fighting like hell’ to help the once iconic company survive amid a retail landscape disrupted by the rise of online shopping and fast fashion,” he also has “presided over a series of complex financial transactions in which he has been both lender and borrower, or buyer and seller.”

    A percentage of Sears’ creditors continue to believe that they have a better shot at recovering at least some of what they are owed if Lampert is out and the retailer is liquidated.
    KC's View:
    To be honest, I have no idea if a Sears acquisition or liquidation makes more sense for the creditors. I do know that I cannot imagine any circumstance under which Lampert’s involvement is a positive for anyone other than Lampert.

    Published on: January 21, 2019

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

    • The New York Times has a story about Amazon’s advertising business. An excerpt:

    “Ads sold by Amazon, once a limited offering at the company, can now be considered a third major pillar of its business, along with e-commerce and cloud computing. Amazon’s advertising business is worth about $125 billion, more than Nike or IBM, Morgan Stanley estimates. At its core are ads placed on by makers of toilet paper or soap that want to appear near product search results on the site.

    “But many ad agencies are particularly excited by another area of advertising that is less obvious to many consumers. The company has been steadily expanding its business of selling video or display ads — the square and rectangular ads on sites across the web — and gaining ground on the industry leaders, Google and Facebook.

    “In addition to knowing what people buy, Amazon also knows where people live, because they provide delivery addresses, and which credit cards they use. It knows how old their children are from their baby registries, and who has a cold, right now, from cough syrup ordered for two-hour delivery. And the company has been expanding a self-service option for ad agencies and brands to take advantage of its data on shoppers.”

    You can read more about the service here.

    This is yet another example of the kind of muscle that Amazon exercising in various segments. The Wall Street Journal had a story the other day about how Amazon;’s private label book business - operating 15 separate imprints under the Amazon Publishing banner, publishing more than 1,200 titles in 2017 alone - is able to push and pull “promotional levers that Amazon has built to lure consumers” to “boost the opportunities of little-known writers and recharge the careers of experienced authors.” I think the really important part of that sentence is how Amazon can push and pull levers it has developed, and to which it has exclusive access.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 21, 2019

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

    • In Washington State, the News Tribune reports on “Walmart’s new FAST Unloader, a system that scans and sorts items off trucks making deliveries to its stores, is being tested at Washington state stores including Auburn, Lakewood, Puyallup, Shelton, Spanaway, Mount Vernon and Yakima.

    “The goal, says Walmart, is for its workers to be able to spend more time on the sales floor and less time in the back room sorting inventory deliveries made to the store.”

    The story notes that “last year, stores saw the start of a $56 million push in the state to reinvest in its stores with remodels and technology, including stores in Lakewood, Bonney Lake and Tumwater, while Spanaway saw the state’s first Walmart Pickup Tower. The chain also launched online grocery delivery in the area, and its ‘Check Out With Me’ app debuted over the holidays,” offering shoppers the ability to “skip the check-out line, have an associate ring up items with a handheld and print a customer’s receipt on the spot.”

    Walmart says that “more than 30 Washington stores now have grocery pickup and eight stores have a Pickup Tower. All Washington supercenters offer Check Out With Me, the Dotcom Store and handheld apps, store maps, third-party return to store and virtual reality training for associates.”

    Just one example of the degree to which Walmart is doing the kinds of things that have some people saying it is the most innovative retailer in the world.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 21, 2019

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

    Bloomberg reports that “a report released Thursday by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund found that recalls of food have increased 10 percent since 2013, with meat and poultry incidents soaring 67 percent. The most hazardous -- Class 1 recalls, or when there’s a ‘reasonable probability that eating the food will cause health problems or death’ -- edged up 6 percent overall and a whopping 83 percent for meat and poultry, the study found.”

    According to the story, “The authors aren’t sure whether the uptick in recalls is due to a more contaminated food supply or simply because new technology makes it easier to catch bacteria in products. But either way, the authors argue that any number of recalls is too high, since no consumer should have to worry that the food they buy at a grocery store will make them sick.”

    Great time to have a partial government shutdown. Geez.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 21, 2019

    We took note the other day of a New York Times story about the demise of Henri Bendel and the closure of Lord & Taylor’s Fifth Avenue flagship in Manhattan, and what the shrinking of the department store business tells us about consumers. It prompted an email from MNB reader Donald Bland:

    As the last General Manager of the Downtown JL Hudson Store in Detroit I certainly understand the demise of the “Grand Dames” of retail.

    But to look on the bright side, they were the basis upon which Americans enjoyed the thrill and excitement of shopping. I too remember going to the Downtown St. Louis Emporiums of Famous-Barr, Stix, Baer and Fuller and Scruggs ,Vandervort and Barney with my Mom. Those stores had everything on 8 floors and Christmas was all about Toyland, Christmas decorations, window dressing and gifts. Of course there were no discount stores or clubs back in the day. Only Woolworths, Kresge, Sears ,Pennys and Wards and regional department stores were the competition and they all seemed to survive during those years.

    After nearly 40 years in the retail business, I have witnessed and been party to the evolution of the trade and the customer driven changes brought about by demographic and societal shifts. The survivors like Walmart, Kohls, Target among others are testimony to the obvious. Give the customer selection, ease of shopping and payment, quick delivery and good deals and they will come. The online business is a reiteration in digital terms of Wards, Sears and Penny’s catalogue offerings. Those brands are gone or going just like the old department stores of my youth simply because the concept is virtually dead and change is inevitable.

    I enjoy MNB as it keeps me up to date in summary fashion of the business. As a retired Walmart senior executive I am delighted to see my company continue to “test and fail” in the quest for the customer’s shopping allegiance.

    Thanks for the memories and more importantly the future.

    On another subject, from MNB reader Mike Bach:

    Jeff Bezos has led Amazon into a great spot.

    They get $12 billion upfront from 101 million people.  That's 60% of his $20B cash on hand.  Then count his $35B in vendor finances.

    Perhaps most amazing is the Amazon delivery network.  Same day deliveries, making them the largest convenience store in the world with a half a billion items available.   
    Besides FedEx, what other company has an air force?  One financed by its customers?

    The financial advantage will be hard for other (competing) businesses to replicate.

    Commenting on the implications of the government shutdown, MNB reader Mary Schroeder wrote:

    We traveled the week between Christmas and New Years and made a point to say a thank you to each and every TSA representative we encountered.  I hope everyone does this…these unpaid people are helping so that their misfortunate doesn’t become ours…in a much more personal way.  They’re not on vacation or leave or however you want to spin it.  They should be celebrated for their selflessness.


    Regarding the new robotics system - “Marty” - being implemented by Ahold Delhaize store sin the US, one MNB reader wrote:

    I have to ask, what else do these robots do besides identify spills?  Seems like a huge expense to me for a job I do everyday in the produce department.  I am always on the lookout for loose grapes, green beans, water on the floor, spills, etc as I do my stocking.  I just don't see the benefits, am I missing something?

    From another reader:

    While I love the technology, Marty was as welcome during the Holidays as Uncle Eddie was to Clark. When you have tenfold the shopping  novices looking for the obscure ingredients to grandma’s stuffing mix, doing the tango with Marty by the meat case while you try to maneuver around the crowds was a real PITA. Give Marty some well-deserved time off during the holiday rush and bring him back the week after Super Bowl, when he can roam the aisles uninterrupted. BTW, why is there no Martha?

    On another subject, from another reader:

    You mentioned plastic bags in our oceans ....Please read the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Majority of plastic found is from fishing gear and lines and not plastic bottles of packaging drawing the headlines today. Fishing nets accounted for 46% of the trash and other gear, plus 20% was also debris front the 2011 Japanese tsunami…

    So, accepting those numbers as accurate, this means that two-thirds of plastic in the ocean comes from something other than plastic bags. Which suggests that we can have an impact on one-third of the situation by addressing the plastic bag situation.

    Call me a crazy tree-hugging child of the late sixties and early seventies who has tried (with varying degrees of success) not to totally lose touch with those roots, but I’d be willing to ban or regulate the use of plastic bags to have an impact on a lot less than that.

    Responding to last week’s FaceTime commentary about the bad experience I had at the New York City Starbucks Roastery, MNB reader Matt Bernstorf wrote:

    After viewing your video it reminded me of when Starbucks ended their ‘subscription’ service where you received a bag of beans every few weeks based on your consumption.  Will a bad experience at the Roastery and the end to the subscription program bankrupt Starbucks? Probably not.  However, to your point, it created the illusion the customer is less and less important.  Competitors of Starbucks are happy to capitalize on Starbucks’ lack of focus.  For example: Another coffee supplier picked up your subscription service.  Now you won’t go back to the Roastery when in NY but, will frequent a different coffee shop.  Starbucks’ lack of focus on the customer creates opportunity for a competitor.


    There was some mention in my piece about the unisex bathrooms, in which it was clear in a couple of stalls that men had been there and somehow had not developed civilized toilet habits. (I’m trying to be discreet here.)

    One MNB reader responded:

    This is what happens when you take away urinals.  In the words of Ron Burgundy, “it’s science.”

    From MNB reader Monte Stowell:

    One simple, but a very important change for Starbucks. Get rid of the Unisex bathrooms!! That was a dead on arrival change Starbucks made. What the hell were they thinking. Yes, men are basically pigs with their bathroom manners, and women should not have to use a Unisex bathroom because of this issue.

    I’m more sympathetic to this opinion than I’d like to be … but somehow, I still think that the culture would be better off if men stopped being pigs.

    Got the following email from an independent retailer regarding upbeat sentiments in the wake of UNFI’s $2.9 billion acquisition of Supervalu:

    At this moment in time, the people that were in that room are fooling themselves.  "Better pricing, service levels, increased fleet utilization, lower cost of goods", to which I will tell you we are not experiencing.  As a retailer I can tell you the transition has been anything but "seamless" (as an independent retailer, one of the most frustrating terms used when speaking to us and damn near always as far from the truth that you can get).  Week after week of not receiving orders and product, with no real reason except excuses with fingers being pointed.  Not to mention pricing, Ha! … Reps not being communicated with, high ups on both sides still having not met (we are talking VP level), getting credits, and the list goes on.  As an independent we don't have choice in our wholesaler on the west coast so obviously we do hope for success in this done-deal but can tell you the frustration level is high and our business growth (SALES) have been directly impacted by said wholesaler.

    Walmart made delivery deals with four different companies last week, which prompted me to ask if these deals are just a precursor to possible acquisitions. MNB reader Brian Blank responded:

    These contracts strike me as possibly being job interviews, with one or more companies who perform well to be on the receiving end of a purchase offer from Bentonville. Or…maybe the folks at WMT will be taking notes of what does and doesn’t work and creating their own service from what they learn.  But then again, I figured after Amazon bought Whole Foods, that Instacart would become the next Amazon acquisition, so what do I know.

    And regarding the Gillette ad about men being better than they often are, MNB reader Jeff W. Totten wrote:

    I agree with your readers. I think the Gillette ad was a good touch - respectful and trying to change males' attitudes (that need changing). I briefly saw a write-up about protestors and deleted it when I saw it was by the Fox News bunch.

    I’m tempted to suggest that one should not take seriously commentary about this subject from an organization that tolerated bad behavior from the likes of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, but let’s be clear - that means that one also should not listen to commentary from NBC (Matt Lauer) or CBS (Les moonves, Charlie Rose) or ABC (Mark Halperin). The fact is that most media companies, I suspect, are vulnerable on this issue … and I think one could say the same thing about most businesses in general.

    From MNB reader Jeff Folloder:

    I'm glad the conversation has started.  There are absolutely times when men behave like asses.  And corporate marketing has done its share of intentional exploitation.  Gillette took a calculated shot with its commercial and is experiencing some backlash.  Perhaps because some felt like it was a bit much?  Perhaps because some know that Gillette has a lot of baggage that has not been acknowledged?  Seems to me that dressing up models in skin-tight PVC with your logo emblazoned on their posteriors is clearly something that would not be what Gillette is advocating.  Yet I see no admission that Gillette has been guilty of sexist marketing and I hear no pledge that they will jettison same.  That's a bit preachy.

    Sure, it was a bit preachy. And it is fair to suggest that it was inconsistent with some past behavior. But … I also think it is important to allow people and companies to evolve, to recognize that the world has changed. If Gillette does something next month that is inconsistent with this statement of corporate values, then it needs to be called out on it.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 21, 2019

    An amazingly dramatic day in the National Football League Conference Championships, as both games went to overtime as the underdog visiting teams ended up victorious.

    In the NFC, the Los Angeles Rams defeated the New Orleans Saints 26-23.

    And, in the AFC, the New England Patriots beat the Kansas City Chiefs 37-31.

    The Patriots will meet the Rams in Super Bowl LIII, in Atlanta, on Sunday, February 3.
    KC's View: