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    Published on: January 23, 2019

    Content Guy's Note: The goal of "The Innovation Conversation" is to explore some facet of the fast-changing, technology-driven retail landscape and how it affects businesses and consumers. It is, we think, fertile territory ... and one that Tom Furphy - a former Amazon executive, the originator of Amazon Fresh, and currently CEO and Managing Director of Consumer Equity Partners (CEP), a venture capital and venture development firm in Seattle, WA, that works with many top retailers and manufacturers - is uniquely positioned to address.

    This week, we talk about how Walmart has achieved a massive shift in culture, but how such a leap is not out of reach for far smaller companies looking to compete…

    And now, the Conversation continues…

    KC: I’m not sure that last week was an actual turning point for Walmart, but it certainly was a turning point in how I view the company … which is saying something, because I’ve been saying for a while that Walmart seems to be surprising a lot of people with how nimble and innovative it seems to be.

    First, I did a podcast at Google’s NYC offices in which more than a few smart people told me that Walmart is the most innovative retailer out there right now - which is saying something.  (That podcast ran on MNB just a couple of days ago.)  Then, in short order, Walmart more than doubles the delivery companies with which it is working around the country and promises to expand its delivery business even more, it starts advertising for a CEO to run a so-called “stealth company” that is designed to be disruptive (I’m sure the folks in Bentonville loved the buzz about that),  Plus, they open a 340,000-square-foot, high-tech, automated consolidation center in California designed to  be the first in Walmart’s supply chain to receive, sort, and ship freight three times faster than conventional warehouses.

    I guess I have two questions/observations:  1)  Would you agree that Walmart has managed to achieve a remarkable shift in culture in how it approaches internal disruption of a legacy business.  And 2) What are they drinking in Bentonville these days, because whatever it is, it’s working.

    Tom Furphy:
    I absolutely agree that Walmart has achieved a massive shift in culture over the past few years, post the acquisition of They made a massive bet on buying that company, its culture and leader Marc Lore for $3.3 billion. The technology and infrastructure that Walmart purchased was worth maybe a tiny fraction of the purchase price. But what they acquired in risk-taking, innovation and bold vision may end up being worth far more than the purchase price.

    Building off the cultural impact of this acquisition, we’ve seen Walmart turbocharge their ecommerce and omnichannel efforts. They’ve made a number of public and private bets, they are experimenting widely, and they are not slowing down. We see them deciding to build some components of the services themselves and partnering for others. The resultant ecosystem that they are bringing to market is impressive. It’s robust, nimble and is well positioned to grow and go where the customer goes.

    Walmart is a massive company – the world’s largest retailer. As a result, they need to make these massive bets to move the needle. They have the scale to be able to afford lots of experiments. But if you think about it, the cost of these relative to the size of the company’s volume and balance sheet, is not very extreme. The acquisition price, while bold, amounted to less than 1% of that year’s sales. The amount they’re spending on R&D each year, and I’m guessing here, is likely no more than 1% of a current year’s sales.

    Most retailers can afford this level of investment. They may not have existing budget for it, but with a little re-engineering of the existing cost structure, they could make room. I’d argue that retailers can’t afford to not be making R&D investments of at least 1% of sales. They’re all chasing Amazon, who experts calculate spent roughly $23B in 2017, or approximately 13% of revenue and 7% of their product sales that year on R&D. Everyone needs to be thinking and acting more like them.

    KC: Having spent time at both CES and NRF over the past couple of weeks, as well as with some very smart and accomplished technology folks who have visions of some remarkable changes in how the retail business will approach e-commerce in general and things like BOPIS in particular, I can’t shake the feeling I have that the distance between the haves and the have-nots is only going to get larger, and that the ability to spend the kind of money necessary to compete will mean that smaller companies will find themselves at a disadvantage.

    Now, I would offer a caveat to that conclusion, which is that some small independents - the ones that have been expert at creating for themselves differential advantages that and relevant to and resonate with the shopper - are going to be fine, because they have experience at turning their small size into a competitive strength.  But the vast middle of the competitive field, where they have neither big bucks nor a ton of imagination, probably is screwed.  Thoughts?

    I think the gap will widen only if the have-nots let it. I don’t think anyone will be screwed solely because of their size or seeming lack of resources to fund innovation. As I said above, anyone, including those in the middle, can scrape together enough budget to adequately experiment and innovate. It’s not about size or resources, it’s about motivation and customer focus.

    Smaller regionals and independents certainly don’t have the wherewithal to make bets at the scale of Amazon, Walmart or Kroger. These are massive companies with massive resources. A five-store test for them is a lot less impactful than a one- or five-store test for a 25-store chain. But, as you say, many small retailers do have a history of leveraging their small size to their advantage. They know their customer, focus on them and to innovate to better serve them. That positions them to make smart bets on testing and measuring. For them, even a small test can produce enough results to determine potential.

    We’re now more frequently seeing the big guys use ecosystems of partners to nimbly and cost-effectively build new go-to-market paths. They define the customer value proposition, then weave together third party and homegrown capabilities to configure, test and scale the service. There is absolutely no reason that a mid-sized retailer cannot do the same thing.

    KC: In other words, retail death is a choice. I’ll buy that.

    In our businesses, we’re seeing many interesting collaborations where service providers are linking together to provide tests across a number of retailers, large and small. They’re collating the results, adjusting and iterating. These can all be done well within reasonable R&D budgets. Retailers of all sizes must actively seek these collaborations to remain relevant to their customers.

    KC: Finally - Amazon Prime has more than 100 million members?  Yikes?  At this point I have no idea what the under/over is … but I’d bet the over.  You?

    Prime has clearly been a successful program for Amazon. Nearly 100% of the people I ask say that they love being a Prime member. It’s hard to argue with the benefits of free two-day shipping, access to Amazing content and now special pricing at Whole Foods, all for $10 per month. That’s not to say that Amazon can rest on their laurels. We’ve seen some evidence of shipping speeds slowing and perhaps some selection becoming ineligible for Prime shipping. It’s understandable that Amazon may need to tune the program. But it’s important to continue to deliver an ever-expanding value proposition.

    Who knows how high the membership numbers can go. It does seem that Amazon will make good on continually improving the value proposition. That should keep churn low and continue to attract new members. The law of large numbers will apply. And not every household will become Prime members. But it seems there’s still a little runway for growth ahead.

    The numbers are truly impressive. At 101 million Prime customers, Amazon receives over $12 billion in revenue annually to offset the cost of the program. Those customers account for over $141 billion in annual sales. And Amazon has them captive to market more and more products and services. I’d say that’s an impressive loyalty program!

    The Conversation will continue…

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 23, 2019

    by Kevin Coupe

    The Washington Post this morning has a story about how George Mason University in Virginia has received “a fleet of 25 delivery robots that can haul up to 20 pounds each as they roll across campus at four miles per hour,” providing on-demand food delivery.

    An app developed by Starship Technologies, which created the robots, “allows George Mason students to order food from places such as Blaze Pizza, Starbucks and Dunkin,’ as well as a grocery store, though the list of options is supposed to increase in the coming weeks, according to organizers. Once an order has been placed, users drop a pin where they want their delivery to be sent. The robot’s progress can be monitored using an interactive map. Once the machine arrives, users receive an alert, allowing them to unlock the robot using the app.”

    It is part of a slow but steadily evolving robotics revolution, the Post writes: “Robots delivering food are becoming more common on college campuses. This month, students at University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., began ordering snacks and beverages for the first time from a bright-colored roving robot on wheels known as the Snackbot. At the University of California at Berkeley, a food delivery company called Kiwi launched its robots on campus last year.”

    The development of robotics to serve customers in this way won’t be without potholes, but it strikes me as inevitable that it will continue to expand in terms of availability and acceptance. And it raises a larger question about what these students will expect from stores and technology once they leave college and move into the real world? I think they’ll want similar offerings to be available to them at their homes and workplaces, and it will be incumbent on retailers and technology companies to provide them.

    It is inevitable, and the whole thing is an Eye-Opener.

    Ironically, columnist John Kelly at the Washington Post the other day who wrote about his dismay that his Giant Food Store is not getting the robots being rolled out to some of its stores by Ahold Delhaize. Kelly, however, has a very specific task in mind for these robots - he wants them to enforce the rules of the store’s Scan It lanes, which allow for people to self-checkout after having used a handheld device to scan items as they shop the store.

    Kelly is tired of doing everything right and then getting on the special Scan It line and finding out that they person in front of him wants to pay cash, even though the system is very clear that Scan It lanes don’t accept cash. The system is great … it is the people who screw things up. “If Jurassic Park taught us anything,” he writes, “it’s that in any complex system, humans are the weak link.” (Extra credit for the movie reference.)

    What Kelly wants is this: A robot stationed at the Scan It lane, equipped with a laser beam, ready to enforce the rules.

    Which is one way to go, if a little too Terminator for my tastes…
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 23, 2019

    Business Insider reports that “FedEx is adapting to consumers' night owl shopping habits with Extra Hours. The months-old service pushes the evening order cutoff times by five to eight hours. Online orders placed as late as 2 a.m. can deliver the next day in certain metro areas, or within two days to addresses in the continental US.”

    The goal, the story says, “allows traditional retailers to compete with Amazon Prime's two-day shipping pledge.”

    The Extra Hours program works this way, according to Business Insider: “FedEx will ‘sweep’ a retailer's local big box store for the product a customer ordered. Then, FedEx Ground will pick up that product from the local store and deliver it to the customer's house the next day.

    “Before Extra Hours, FedEx might instead pick up an online order from the retailer's regional distribution center before bringing the order to a local facility. Through bypassing the process of going to a retailer's distribution center … Extra Hours shaves two or three days from the shipping process.”
    KC's View:
    Interesting to see companies like FedEx, which inevitably will end up competing in the shipping business against Amazon (see our story in FastNewsBeat, below), finding ways to help retailers that need to do better in e-commerce. Everybody is going to have to develop new business models or find new angles on traditional services, if they are going to remain relevant in this environment.

    Published on: January 23, 2019

    MarketWatch reports on how WeWork, which develops flexible office spaces around the country, plans to launch “a new kind of casual work space that will function as its own branded coffee shop.”

    Saying it will function as a kind of modern version of the town square, the company says that “WeWork tenants as well as members of the public will be able to book 100 workspace seats and six meeting rooms by the minute, hour or day – a sort of Starbucks,  that can be booked in advance.

    “There will also be a full cafe run by Australia’s Bluestone Lane hospitality company. WeWork member companies will be able to sell their own branded goods at a ‘market stand’.”
    KC's View:
    I’m a big fan of these spaces, and really interested to see how the company expands into WeLive residential spaces and WeGrow, which it describes as “a schools business to ‘unleash every human’s superpowers’.” The idea that they will integrate retail into their functionality simply makes sense, since retail can be at the heart of any robust community.

    Published on: January 23, 2019

    Portland, Oregon-based New Seasons Market announced yesterday a change in its company leadership structure, with its co-presidents now taking on different roles.

    Forrest Hoffmaster, who joined New Seasons in 2016 as CFO before taking on the co-presidency, now becomes CEO. Kristi McFarland, the company’s Chief People Officer since 2014, will become Chief Strategy Officer.

    Hoffmaster and McFarland became co-presidents about a year ago when CEO/president Wendy Collie stepped down from her role there. In the press release announcing the new leadership structure, New Seasons said that it “is the natural next step in the company’s growth, building off last year’s investments in core stores, staff benefits and relationships with local producers and community partners.”

    “We’ve had a successful year coming together around our mission,” said newly appointed CEO Forrest Hoffmaster in a press release. “We have a passionate and dedicated staff and an incredible purpose-driven leadership team committed to the long-term health of our organization, staying true to our founder-inspired values, and being a leader in the industry. Our team is structured to bring these priorities to life.”
    KC's View:
    The question is whether this will put to rest persistent speculation that New Seasons is on the market, with investor group Endeavour looking to sell it but not happy with the price it would be likely to get. We’ll see.

    One of the challenges that a company like New Seasons can have in this scenario is that to make itself more attractive to buyers, the impulse is to focus on short-term efficiencies, but its entire value proposition to stakeholders is centered on long-term effectiveness. I’m a big fan of New Seasons, and often patronize its stores during my summer adjunctivities in Portland, and I hope that kits leadership is able to provide it with a happy ending.

    Published on: January 23, 2019

    The Boston Globe has a piece that makes the following case:

    “Sears’s bankruptcy declaration in October prompted a wave of media coverage focusing on Sears’s mid-20th-century glory days and its roots in a mail-order watch business operated by Richard W. Sears with the help of watch repairer Alvah C. Roebuck. Often overlooked in those nostalgic chronicles was the man who bore much of the responsibility for building the company into a paragon of U.S. retailing. With Sears’s future hanging in the balance, this seems like a good moment to give Julius Rosenwald his due…”

    Not only did Rosenwald bring a strong focus on efficiency, innovation and customer service to Sears, but he also is notable, the story says, for how “he put his Sears fortune to philanthropic use: partnering with African American communities across the segregated South to build schools.”

    Fascinating story, largely unknown, and you can read it here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 23, 2019

    In response to the much-talked about Gillette commercial that took direct aim at “toxic masculinity,” and the kinds of “boys will be boys” rationales that often follow bad behavior, a watch manufacturer has released an online advertisement on YouTube designed to counter its message.

    Ilan Srulovic, founder of the Egard Watch Company, designed the ad to ask, "What is a man?” His answer comes in the form of a series of statistics, such as, “Men account for 93% of workplace fatalities,” “75% of single homeless people are men,” and that “men make up 79% of homicide victims” and that “nearly half of fathers denied visitation rights to their children still financially support their children.”

    “There’s been a movement in society I feel that’s just been painting men with a broad brush,” Srulovicz told “Fox & Friends,” adding, “I just don’t feel like masculinity is toxic … I think masculinity can be beautiful.”

    You can see the commercial at left.
    KC's View:
    I bring this up not just because I ran the Gillette ad last week with some supportive commentary, and I thought, in all fairness, I should run this one.

    But after I made that decision, I got an email from an MNB reader who identified himself as James S. Woods, saying:

    I will buy these watches….and no longer Gillette products.

    I am not a toxic male and will not be lectured by Social Justice Warriors or Social Justice Companies….or you.

    (I thought the James Woods name was a nice touch, since I pointed out in my original story that “semi-celebrities such as Piers Morgan and James Woods have threatened to change their brand of razors,” and that Morgan wrote online that Gillette “now wants every man to take one of their razors & cut off his testicles.” I also suggested that “when you start taking masculinity cues from Piers Morgan and James Woods, it is time to start re-evaluating your life.” I checked, by the way, and not surprisingly, James S. Woods probably isn’t the actor, since his middle name is Howard. But, as I say, a nice touch.)

    Let’s be clear about something. When Gillette produced its ad, it had to be with the hope that by taking a stand that a) was relevant and b) would be seen as positive by a majority of consumers, it would sell more razors.

    And now, by producing an opposing ad, the Egard Watch Company is hoping that it will be a) seen as relevant by potential and existing customers, and b) supportive of a position that many of them will hold. And yes, maybe sell some more watches.

    Well, we know they’re going to sell at least one … to our friend James S. Woods. Not to me, though … but mostly because I think the Egard watches are kind of ugly. But that’s just a matter of personal taste.

    I have no problem with the Egard ad … and in fact, except for timing, it could serve as a kind of bookend to the Gillette ad … because they both are rooted in accuracy, just showing different sides of the same coin.

    I’d like to believe there are a lot more good and decent men out there than men guilty of the transgressions pointed out in the Gillette commercial. I’d like to believe that I’m one of them, but I’m not offended by what Gillette was saying … rather, I’m offended by the men who give the world “masculinity” a bad connotation. Which is why I’m okay with what the Egard folks have to say.

    I’m not okay, however, with the idea that we should ignore or minimize the damage that bad men do. Ignoring toxic masculinity does nobody any good - these people need to be called out and shamed, as much as good men with good hearts should be celebrated.

    It strikes me as a moral and ethical lapse to ignore or marginalize the damage that some men do, simply because they feel empowered because of their gender. Doesn’t acknowledging these men and their activities, and society’s acceptance of them, make us a stronger culture? I certainly don’t think it makes us weaker.

    Maybe that’s a lecture. I’d prefer to think of it as a well-reasoned opinion.

    Published on: January 23, 2019

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

    USA Today has a story about how “Amazon has been ramping up its ocean shipping service, sending close to 4.7 million cartons of consumers goods from China to the United States over the past year, records show. This marks a significant move into what many believe is the company’s overall strategy of eventually controlling much of its transportation network, from trucks to airplanes and now to ships.”

    And, the story says, it “signals what many expect to be a massive shift in the global e-commerce landscape as Amazon expands up its capabilities in a fragmented and frequently difficult-to-navigate market.”

    Steve Ferreira, CEO of Ocean Audit, says, “This makes them the only e-commerce company that is able to do the whole transaction from end-to-end. Amazon now has a closed ecosystem.”

    Michael Zakkour, executive vice president for global digital commerce with Tompkins International, adds, “Nobody else has even come close to approaching this.”

    • The Los Angeles Times reports on how United Parcel Service (UPS) “is expanding a keyless-entry system for package deliveries at apartment buildings, rolling it out to Los Angeles and nine other cities after testing it in San Francisco and New York … UPS is using a remote-access lock made by New York-based Latch, in which a code is sent to a pre-credentialed UPS driver’s handheld computer, allowing entry into a high-rise building.”

    According to the story, “The efficiency gains from not having to resend packages or fumble with a ring full of keys prompted UPS to extend the service to additional cities where high-rise residential towers are common. The system, with which drivers can enter buildings but not individual apartments, will be available in mid-2019, UPS said Tuesday.”

    An example of how infrastructure is being changed to make it more friendly to things like delivery, which customers increasingly demand.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 23, 2019

    Baking Business writes about a new study from A.T. Kearney saying that millennials may end up being responsible for the end of the traditional home-cooked dinner.

    According to the study, “Shifting demographics have upended the evening mealtime routine … 62% of households are either single or couples,” which has “has changed the dynamic of how we make food, and in addition to this it’s just not one meal anymore because even if I have more than one person at the table, somebody will be gluten-free, another will be a vegan, and then someone will be paleo, and someone is trying to be keto.” Dave Donnan, senior partner at A.T. Kearney, says that “each one of those different menu options is causing more complexity to our meals.”

    David Lockwood, director of Mintel Consulting, points to a new approach to dieting also is having an impact: “In a survey, Generation X and baby boomer participants indicated they had tried approximately 3.5 different diets in the past year and 4.5 different diets over a lifetime, Mr. Lockwood said. ‘Already, at their young age, millennials and iGens, the youngest groups, are dieting more frequently in their short lifetimes than older adults in their long lifetimes,’ he said. ‘What you get is serial dieting. People who will go through Whole30, paleo, even keto now, and just try them over and over and over and keep doing it.”

    • Target Corporation has been recognized for its strong commitment to women’s leadership and gender equality in the workplace with the Network of Executive Women’s William J. Grize Award, January 21, 2019 during the Retail Industry Leaders Association’s Retail CEO Forum in Amelia Island, Florida.

    The William J. Grize Award is named for the late president and CEO of Stop & Shop, an early champion of gender diversity.

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Walgreens Boots Alliance “has agreed to pay more than $269 million to settle federal and state lawsuits that accused it of overbilling federal health-care programs.

    “Two separate settlements involving Walgreens, approved last week by U.S. District Court judges in Manhattan, were unsealed Tuesday, according to the U.S. Justice Department. U.S. officials said the company accepted responsibility for conduct the government alleged in complaints under the False Claims Act.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 23, 2019

    Bloomberg reports that Josh Hix, CEO of meal kit company Plated, is leaving the company. No reason was given for his departure.

    Plated was acquired by Albertsons in 2017, which shortly thereafter started selling the meal kits in its stores.

    According to the story, “Hix co-founded the meal-delivery service in 2012 and later pitched the idea on the television show ‘Shark Tank.’ Co-founder Nick Taranto left the company in October. At the time of the Albertsons acquisition, Bloomberg reported the deal was valued at about $200 million, though subsequent press has valued it higher.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 23, 2019

    Got the following email yesterday from MNB reader Sarah Hamaker
    reacting to our story about JC Penney’s troubles:

    I'm not surprised that JC Penney can't seem to catch a break. A personal experience involving a simple curtain order illustrates why.

    Last year, I took advantage of their "order online and pick up in store" option, and it took not once, not twice but THREE times for the company to ship me the right curtain (sent me TWICE a clearly-labeled and visible-to-the-naked-eye ivory curtain when I had ordered a green curtain). Each trip to the bricks-and-mortar store took at least half an hour once I reached the checkout counter. And, while the in-store clerks tried their best to help solve this problem not of their making, they were hampered by a very cumbersome online system that necessitated returning the wrongly sent curtain, ordering a new one, and applying all the correct discounts I had received on my original order.

    Suffice it to say that whenever I see ads for JC Penney, I shudder at the thought of buying anything from that company again, no matter how steep the discounts.

    And, from MNB reader Richard Lowe:

    As an entrepreneurial start up in 1987 onward for 20 years dealing with retailers of differing sorts - 1st mail order - then specialty - then big boxes and brick and mortar. Sears and JC Penny had to fall into the worst to do business with! They had so many rules and hurdles to overcome it cost more to process and order than could possibly be made in profit. They did no place of picture product correctly even after detailed instruction. Why do we need them?

    MNB reader Henry Stein had some thoughts about yesterday’s Retail Tomorrow podcast:

    Loved the Podcast on BOPIS. Great analysis by all the panelists.

    Got a kick out of the Starbucks Roastery (positive) comment coming just before you published your (less than positive) report. Timing is everything.

    Good stuff!!

    But MNB user Tony Moore had a different reaction:

    I guess only white men in their 40's have a thought about the future of retail.  For a guy who talks diversity, you don't appear to be "doin' the walk"  Surprised to see you moderating such a homogeneous panel group  on "Retail Tomorrow.”

    First of all, I think I’m flattered that you included me as being part of a panel of “white men in their 40’s.” I wish.

    As for your diversity point … it is completely legitimate. The homogeneous makeup of the panel was not deliberate; it just worked out that way. But that’s a lousy excuse, and I’m confident when I say to you that we will address the issue in the future.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 23, 2019

    The Baseball Hall of Fame announced its 2019 inductees yesterday, and Mariano Rivera, the career leader in saves, became the first player ever elected unanimously to the Hall.

    Also elected were two other pitchers, Roy Halladay (who died in a 2017 plane crash) and Mike Mussina, as well as Edgar Martinez, the longtime Seattle Mariners designated hitter. Also elected, by a smaller veterans committee, were designated hitter Harold Baines and reliever Lee Smith.
    KC's View:
    Nobody is going to argue with Mariano Rivera’s career or Hall of Fame credentials. But I must admit that I have a problem that he somehow managed to be the first player ever elected unanimously. Not Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio. Not Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays or Sandy Koufax. Not Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig. Not Jackie Robinson. Not Stan Musial. Or any one of dozens of legendary players.

    Give me a break.

    Rivera was a great player and competitor - the best closer of all time. From all reports, he is a good man and role model. I’m glad when people like him get recognition, and happy that the Hall of Fame continues to reject players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemons that have been tainted by the steroids scandal.

    But the first one to be elected unanimously? Hard to accept that one.