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    Published on: January 22, 2019

    by Michael Sansolo

    Truth be told, I don’t have much of a relationship with Conan O’Brien.

    He’s been a talk show host on the air for nearly 25 years now and honestly, I have only watched him a handful of times. I’m sure he doesn’t miss me, but he might find this unsettling; I’ve found him far more interesting when he’s off the air than when he’s on.

    For instance, when he separated from the “Tonight Show” in 2010 I was fascinated at how he and his fans mastered social media, podcasting and other then-emerging forms of communication to keep him top of mind, relevant and connected. More than most businesses he demonstrated how to use the new world of social media to connect and it worked.

    Conan is off the air again right now, and is retooling his show, which has been airing on TBS. He’s reached the conclusion that the crowded late night field doesn’t need another formulaic show so he’s smashing the model, cutting the length of his show to 30 minutes, dropping his longtime band and questioning everything about the type of presentation he has successfully mastered for all these years.

    The reality is that none of us have much in common with Conan O’Brien - not lifestyle, talent or paycheck. But his views on change, as reported in a New York Times story, should strike a note with every one of us.

    O’Brien told the Times, “Wouldn’t it be nice not to be threatened by change? Not to be threatened by so many different talk-show hosts who are all doing things in different ways? Wouldn’t it be nice to be at peace with, this is not the world I entered in 1993.”

    We hear you, Conan.

    It would be great not to be threatened by change and so many competitors fighting for our business in so many different ways. It would be great to turn back the clock to a simpler time, maybe an easier time, and just enjoy.

    But, and you know this is coming, it ain’t happening. The past is past and those times, which really weren’t so simple then, are over. We need to accept the present we are in accepting that it is complex, competitive and growing more so daily.

    So like O’Brien, we can wax nostalgic for the past, but we need to copy his willingness to break the model of current operations and find new paths to the future. There’s no way of telling if Conan’s new show will achieve the metrics he and his network obviously desire - higher ratings, especially among younger adults, and increased ad revenues. (It also is entirely possible that Conan and TBS may need to apply different metrics to evaluate success and failure.)

    Conan is demonstrating something we all need to learn and consider: our willingness to change.

    So yes, we join Conan is saying, “Wouldn’t it be nice not to be threatened by change.” But like Conan, we have to know better and embrace the change, difficult as it may be.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 22, 2019

    by Kevin Coupe

    Bloomberg business columnist Sarah Halzack has a good piece out about how it is important in retail, when evaluating technology innovations, “to separate the fanciful from the legitimately useful.”

    An example: Halzack recalls “a technology experiment I saw out in the shopping wilds on Black Friday at a Macy’s store. A touchscreen showed a video that helps you ‘discover your fit’ among various dress shirts. But the analog sign right next to it explained the shirts and their different fits capably. The screen wasn’t adding enough value to the customer to make it worthwhile.

    “Macy’s Inc. is hardly alone. Innovation that isn’t actually an improvement is quite common in retail … Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., for instance, is touting a test of digital cooler doors that can serve targeted ads. Great, just what every shopper has always wanted: to be bombarded with ads when trying to grab a soda.”

    Halzack writes that “retailers seem to place too much of a premium on showmanship when charting their innovation course. They must learn to be more strategic in how they deploy their technology budgets and talent.”

    And she quotes Scott Emmon, a former Neiman Marcus Group executive who recently left his post as head of its innovation lab, who recently wrote, “Technology must actually solve a real problem or make things easier for the customer. Internal innovation teams, largely pressured to create PR moments, do not think long term and end up investing in short-sighted experiences that have no staying power and don’t really add value to the consumer.”

    Couldn’t have said it better. And it is an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 22, 2019

    Bloomberg has a story about how a number of technology companies are racing to see if they can develop checkout-free technology to rival that used in Amazon Go stores, or at the very least technology that will allow retailers to blunt the impact of expected growth by the format.

    Daryn Nakhuda, CEO of Might AI, tells Bloomberg that “Amazon Go showed ‘how far you can go.’ Very quickly, he says, the state-of-the-art went from you-scan checkout technology to Amazon’s ‘just walk out’ approach and everything in between.” Among the companies developing new store technologies “are startups like Mighty AI,” the story says, “but established giants are wading in, too. Walmart has been testing Go-style technology, and Kroger and Microsoft recently announced a joint venture to bring elements of the e-commerce shopping experience to the grocery store.”

    In addition, France’s Carrefour and abka, a Polish convenience store operator, have committed to testing NanoStore technology developed by AiFi.
    KC's View:
    This stuff isn’t easy. The Bloomberg story makes it clear that most of the companies engaged in this “arms race” are taking longer to develop the tech than they expected, and that even Amazon took longer than anticipated to open its first Go store to the public. (It now operates none stores in three cities - Seattle, San Francisco and Chicago.)

    One question I keep getting when i’m doing speeches around the country is whether I think Amazon could license out the Go technology to other retailers. I suppose it is possible, but I wouldn’t bet on it … Amazon has shown that it has ambitious bricks-and-mortar plans, and it is likely to spend time and money on making it applicable to other retail formats (Whole Foods?) as opposed to taking the quick buck that a licensing deal would provide.

    Unless, of course, for some reason the company needs a quick buck.

    Published on: January 22, 2019

    Business Insider writes this morning that Amazon Prime membership could lose some of its appeal this year, as unlimited two-day free shipping - cited by close to eight out of 10 members as its most important perk - as more retailers catch up and begin to offer similar deals.

    The biggest threat - Walmart, which is rapidly scaling up its free shipping option, though for the moment “orders must total more than $35 to qualify … Walmart still needs to add more selection to its free two-day shipping offering to keep up with Amazon. It does offer millions of items, but not quite the 100 million items that Amazon boasts. Walmart carries only a little over half - about 55% - of Amazon's 1 million best-selling products.”
    KC's View:
    I tend to think that unless Amazon takes its eye off the ball and starts providing less value, it is going to be okay - Walmart may expand the Prime-style universe, but it won’t erode Amazon’s market share much.

    On the other hand, if Amazon’s promises exceed its ability to deliver, that could open the door to tough competition.

    Published on: January 22, 2019

    The Associated Press reports that Starbucks plans to expand its coffee delivery service so that it is available from almost 25 percent of its US coffee shops.

    Having tested the service in 200 Miami stores, Starbucks said that it will launch delivery in San Francisco today, followed by, in short order, some stores in New York, Boston, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles.

    The AP story reports that “Starbucks says 95 percent of its core menu will be available for order using the Uber Eats mobile app. There will be a $2.49 booking fee … Executives say delivery works best in dense urban areas where Uber Eats’ delivery fees are lower because of high demand, and customers spend more than they do in stores.”
    KC's View:
    Still interesting to me that Starbucks ended its subscription bulk coffee business (which I loved, and once it was gone, gave me permission to look elsewhere, and I’m now really happy with City Girl coffee) but does ant to be in the per-cup coffee delivery business.

    And when I say “interesting,” I mean “confounding.”

    Published on: January 22, 2019

    The Wall Street Journal reports on how at JC Penney, “sales are falling, its stores are stuck in malls and the turnaround strategy keeps changing. Now, three months after the embattled retailer hired a new chief executive, a handful of senior positions remain vacant.”

    In other words, creating the perception that JC Penney is facing the possibility of a Sears-style future - cuts in people, cuts in stores, and eventual bankruptcy and liquidation in a world no longer hospitable to its version of retailing.

    An excerpt from the story:

    “The Plano, Texas-based chain was once the go-to apparel retailer for middle-class families. It and Sears had once dominated American retailing but lost their customers, first to discounters like Walmart , then to fast-fashion retailers and off-price chains like T.J. Maxx. The shift to online shopping hastened their decline.

    “A strengthening economy brought Penney’s problems into sharper focus. It scaled back discounts and private brands, and focused on appliances at the expense of apparel. At a time when consumers have been spending, Penney posted a 3.5% decline in holiday sales and said it would close more stores, following a string of weak results.”

    In addition, right now, JC Penney doesn’t have “a chief merchant, chief customer officer and head of planning and allocation. Its principal accounting officer will leave March 31, and it is looking for a successor to its chief financial officer who left in October … Penney’s new CEO, Jill Soltau, joined the company late last year after Marvin Ellison left abruptly to take a new job running Lowe’s.

    Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia Business School, evaluates the company this way: ““Penney is a broken business. They are looking at a very problematic 2019. It’s the mistakes of the past coming home to roost.”
    KC's View:
    The story makes the point that JC Penney doesn’t have a Sears-level debt problem, so it has some breathing room … but what remains to be seen is whether it has any sort of vision, much less the bandwidth to implement it.

    Published on: January 22, 2019

    • The Wall Street Journal repots that Amazon, Alphabet and Walmart were, in that order, the biggest spenders last year on technology.

    According to the story, “ Inc. spent more than $13.6 billion on technology in 2018, making it the biggest corporate IT spender in the world, according to new research from International Data Corp. Google parent Alphabet Inc. and Walmart Inc. were in second and third place, respectively, with each spending nearly $12 billion last year on software, hardware, services, telecommunications equipment and staff, IDC says.

    “Servers and other data-center infrastructure account for much of Amazon’s and Google’s spending as they build cloud services to sell to other companies often seeking to decrease their own IT budgets.”

    Rounding out of top-10 spending list were JPMorgan Chase, Microsoft, Bank of America, Facebook, AT&T, Wells Fargo, and Citigroup.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 22, 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, EVP, Global Partnerships 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 22, 2019

    CNN reports that former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is actively exploring an independent bid for the presidency in 2020, as opposed to running for the Democratic Party nomination - he has “knocked Democrats for proposals he deemed too left-wing, including single-payer health care and guaranteed income.” But, he also has been highly critical of both the policies and style of the Trump administration, while saying that Donald Trump’s election “has given license to the fact that someone who is not a politician could potentially run for the presidency.”
    KC's View:
    I suspect that the GOP would be ecstatic if Schultz made such a move to run as an independent, because it would have the strong potential, if it got traction, to siphon off votes from whoever gets the Democratic nomination. The Democrats, needless to say, would be apoplectic … followed closely by Starbucks, where they’ll worry about Schultz damaging the brand and alienating half its customer base.

    Published on: January 22, 2019

    We took note the other day of a Barron’s piece about who is to blame for the so-called retail apocalypse. One MNB reader responded:

    The death of retail can’t totally be blamed on Amazon or E-com in general. The part about spending rising on things like student loans, phones, phone bills, internet bills, rising health insurance, and restaurants rang true to me. I might add 401k savings, rising property taxes, rising home insurance, extra mortgage principal payments, and home security to the list too. Also, I agree that many companies and even churches have shifted to casual dress codes, so we don’t need fancy suits/dresses/shoes like we did 30 years ago. Some of my money goes to Amazon and occasionally to brick & mortar for groceries, but most of my money goes to basic home bills, savings and to restaurants for convenience/time. Brick & mortar retail is dying because there is not as much disposable income to go around.

    So much of the much-talked-about economic recovery, which I think has benefitted a lot fewer people than some would have us believe.

    And from another reader:

    Interesting bit about what’s causing the weak retail sales, I can 100% attest to student loans as a major factor in our monthly spending. Without such insane loans, my husband and I would have an additional $1,100 per month to either help us save for big ticket items—like real estate  or new cars—and we would definitely shop more at retail locations rather than making our purchases at consignment stores or Good Will if we had more cash on hand. And we have another 8 years – at least- of paying off those loans.

    Following up on our discussion of some men’s questionable bathroom habits, MNB reader Phil Herr wrote:

    Suggesting that men are pigs may be true. However, not too long ago the head of HR of the company I used to work for printed up a sign for the women’s room: “If you sprinkle when you tinkle — wipe it up.” Seems that some women, averse to sitting on unfamiliar seats, were hovering above them and creating a mess. Just sayin’…
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 22, 2019

    The 2019 Oscar nominations are out this morning, and here are the top categories:

    Best Picture
    Black Panther
    Bohemian Rhapsody
    The Favourite
    Green Book
    A Star Is Born

    Best Actress
    Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
    Glenn Close, The Wife
    Olivia Coleman, The Favourite
    Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
    Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

    Best Actor
    Christian Bale, Vice
    Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
    Willem Dafoe, "At Eternity's Gate
    Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
    Viggo Mortensen, Green Book

    Best Supporting Actress
    Amy Adams, Vice
    Marina de Tavira, Roma
    Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
    Emma Stone, The Favourite
    Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

    Best Supporting Actor
    Mahershala Ali, Green Book
    Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
    Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born
    Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
    Sam Rockwell, Vice

    Best Director
    Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
    Pawe Pawlikowski, Cold War
    Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
    Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
    Adam McKay, Vice

    Best Original Screenplay
    The Favourite
    First Reformed
    Green Book

    Best Adapted Screenplay
    The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
    Can You Ever Forgive Me?
    If Beale Street Could Talk
    A Star Is Born
    KC's View: