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    Published on: June 14, 2019

    by Kevin Coupe

    Airbnb has done a pretty good job of helping to disrupt the traditional hotel business, to the point where Marriott is launching its own division to offer Airbnb-like home sharing services.

    But apparently it isn’t done.

    “Today,” Fast Company writes, “Airbnb is introducing Adventures, a collection of three- to seven-day trips that allow travelers to explore off-the-beaten-path destinations around the world. The all-inclusive trips include guides, meals, on-the-ground transport, and accommodations, along with any necessary gear.”

    Fast Company is right. I just got an email from Airbnb pitching its new Adventures service.

    This isn’t the first such line extension by Airbnb. The story notes that the company has had its Airbnb Experiences marketplace, but it was limited to daylong trips.

    “Airbnb Adventures include tracking tigers in Kenya, kayaking in Sweden, and living in an American ghost town,” the story says. “They range from culinary exploration to more physically demanding treks.”

    It is an interesting line extension for the company. Fast Company makes the point that millennials are becoming more sophisticated and, shall we say, adventuresome, in their travel interests, and the definition of “adventure,” which used to be more high risk-oriented, has broadened somewhat.

    Airbnb is hoping that it can differentiate itself by being both local and affordable, and “thinks it can set itself apart from the typical adventure fare by coming up with unique trips. Most of the operators on the platform are regional and not widely known, and many are offering trips that are exclusive to Airbnb. Adventures will range from $79 to $5,000, depending on the length of the trip and the complexity of the journey. On average, Airbnb says these trips will cost $750 for seven days, or $110 a day, which is on the more affordable end.”

    It is a good example for what a lot of consumer-facing businesses can and should do - identify evolving interests, and then find an approach that isn’t me-too.

    That’s when you come up with an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 14, 2019

    Amazon has been sending an email to suppliers in which it offers them access to a new program that is designed to help combat the presence of counterfeit goods on its site.

    “You may have heard about out item-level Authentication service, Transparency, which can help you proactively ensure that customers are receiving genuine products,” the email says. “What you may not know is that Transparency can also help you … prevent the sale and shipment of counterfeit products to Amazon customers and beyond … safeguard your brand from potential counterfeit products listed on ASINs under your brand … enable customers to verify product authenticity, regardless of point of purchase location … communicate unit-level product information to customers, including manufacturing date, location and more … protect customer reviews for your products.”

    The email is signed, “Amazon Brand Registry.”

    The Transparency site says that “after a brand starts applying unique Transparency codes for a product, Amazon will begin to look for and scan these codes within its FCs to ensure that only authentic products are shipped out to customers. Units that fail Transparency authentication checks are investigated for potential counterfeits. Suspected counterfeits will be handled as per Amazon’s anti-counterfeiting policies Selling partners are required to provide a Transparency code for every unit of Transparency-enabled products they fulfill in order for Amazon to verify that only authentic units are shipped to customers.

    Amazon says that Transparency is currently available in the United States, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom, but the Transparency app is only available currently in the US.
    KC's View:
    Counterfeit products have turned into a hairball for Amazon, which is why it is venturing into this arena. Consumers, with some justification, expect it to police the products it is selling on its site.

    My reading of the memo suggests that it is a little softball for my tastes … I think that Amazon ought to be a little tougher on this issue - requiring, not suggesting, that companies be able to prove that what they are selling are real, not fake.

    The memo is a little unclear about whether Transparency is an Amazon-owned system, or a third-party system. My sense is that the latter may have more credibility, but if Amazon is going to own its own system, it needs to structure it in a way that assures accuracy and independence … the only thing worse than not having a system would be having a system that is deceptive.

    I’m a firm believer in transparency, trackability and traceability - it is what consumers want and demand, and at some point retailers that do not have such systems at their disposal will end up at a competitive disadvantage.

    Published on: June 14, 2019

    Target seems to be upping its delivery game to keep pace with Amazon and Walmart.

    The Associated Press reports that Target is using its Shipt delivery service to provide same-day delivery “on thousands of items for $9.99 per order … Target says the same-day option will cover 65,000 items and be fulfilled in 1,500 of its 1,800 stores in 47 states. Shoppers using Target’s loyalty card will get a 5% discount.”

    The goal of the change is to make Shipt for accessible to shoppers. Until now, the story says, “Target shoppers looking to receive same-day delivery through Shipt had to go to the start-up’s website and pay $99 for an annual membership or $14 for a monthly membership. Those options will be still be available, but the retailer is making it easier by incorporating the Shipt feature on its website.”

    The move comes as “Walmart rolled out next-day delivery with a minimum order of $35 on its most popular items in certain cities. Amazon has upgraded its free shipping option to one-day delivery for Prime members who pay $119 a year.”
    KC's View:
    Smart move … it expands Shipt’s universe and keeps up with the competition. Though, for the life of me, I’m not sure why retailers competing with Target would use Shipt to bolster their own e-commerce offerings. Seems a little dangerous, long-term.

    Published on: June 14, 2019

    The Washington Post has an assessment of Whole Foods two years after it was acquired by Amazon. evaluating the degree to which it may have changed for better or worse.

    Some excerpts:

    • “Let’s be honest: Whole Foods still basically feels like the same old Whole Foods.”

    • “Amazon’s fingerprints on Whole Foods are clear. It has expanded grocery delivery and online ordering into dozens of Whole Foods stores, cut prices on select items and offered discounts for Prime members. Those pricing moves appear to have changed people’s attitudes. YouGov, which surveys shoppers about consumer brands, has found that Whole Foods’ value perception has improved meaningfully in the past two years, showing Amazon has chipped away at the ‘Whole Paycheck’ reputation.”

    • But … “Amazon’s lack of imagination at Whole Foods is something we’ve seen repeatedly as the e-commerce giant experiments with physical stores. Amazon’s bookstores aren’t that different from conventional shops. Its 4-star knick knack stores are Hallmark gift stores crossed with Brookstone. Amazon recently shuttered dozens of mall kiosks where it sold Kindle tablets and other electronics. Those Amazon formats, and those of companies like Kohl’s Corp. with which Amazon has an in-store partnership, sometimes seem to exist largely as outposts for people to return unwanted Amazon orders.”

    • “In addition to expanding home delivery or in-person pick-up of online grocery orders, Amazon has enmeshed its brand more with Whole Foods’s. People can buy Whole Foods products on Amazon, use an Amazon-branded credit card to rack up rewards, pick up Amazon packages at lockers inside Whole Foods locations, and use the Alexa digital assistant to start a Whole Foods order. These integrations and establishing Prime as the loyalty program for Whole Foods weren’t trivial changes, but they’re not groundbreaking, either.”

    • “What Amazon has done so far is to Amazon-ify Whole Foods in necessary but also obvious ways. What’s perhaps surprising is that two years in, there have been few glimpses of new ideas that Amazon could bring to the supermarket shopping.”
    KC's View:
    This strikes me as an entirely fair assessment of the impact Amazon has had on Whole Foods - there have been some changes, but not to the extent that outsiders like me would’ve expected. Which gives me pause when thinking about the new chain of physical stores that Amazon is said to be opening later this year - if Amazon doesn’t include some of its secret sauces in the recipe, what’s the point? Isn’t it opportunity squandered?

    Published on: June 14, 2019

    The issue of whether Amazon paid no federal taxes in 2018 has become something of a political hot potato, with politicians as disparate as President Donald Trump, and presidential contenders such as former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts ) arguing that that Amazon is somehow not living up to its civic responsibilities.

    The Wall Street Journal has a good piece on the subject this morning, noting that Amazon says it pays every penny in taxes that it owes, and that it likely is simply taking advantage of a tax system that offers “deductions and incentives related to investment, research and employee compensation.”

    It is a good story, and you can read it here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 14, 2019

    Just a few weeks ago, Michael Sansolo had a column here on MNB about the Goodyear-owned Roll store, which sells tires out of a unit that has a selection on display, but now service bays - once you pick out the tires you want, you can get the tires delivered and installed at your home or workplace.

    This makes sense, Michael wrote, because “there’s probably no shopping experience worse than buying car tires. It’s expensive, always inconvenient, confusing and, to top it off, requires that you sit in a crappy waiting room for a far longer period than you have been promised.”

    But if there is an experience that is equally bad, it is the one that takes place in many automobile dealership or independent service departments.

    The New York Times writes that “the waiting rooms attached to auto service departments tend to be dismal places, with stale coffee, patched seats, cable news on a flickering TV and last week’s copy of Sports Illustrated, if you’re lucky.”

    That seems to be changing, though.

    The Times writes, “At some dealerships, that no longer passes muster. Today, you can get blackened chicken or grilled salmon on the lunch menu at Honda of Fort Worth, or a complimentary workout at the fitness center attached to the Lincoln-Mercury/Land Rover-Jaguar store in Merritt Island, Fla. — assuming you wouldn’t rather play pool or watch a movie.” Some have coffee bars, while others have manicurists or massage therapists - all designed to make the experience more pleasant and serve as a differential advantage for businesses that have lots of competition.

    The reason for this shift actually is fairly simple. At a time when car pricing is highly transparent online, companies more and more depend on the quality and expertise of the service experience for their margins, and for creating customer loyalty that can be sustained.
    KC's View:
    I can hardly say it better than Michael did:

    As all businesses struggle to best delight and connect with shoppers in the new world of uber-convenient competition, it’s interesting to find examples of companies actively recreating some traditional experiences. Especially experiences that shoppers generally think suck.

    Too many of these folks, in my experience, use their service departments as a way to rip off their customers - I had a Ford dealership’s service department tell me I needed new tires a week after I had new tires put on the Mustang at an outside vendor. Stopped going there immediately … they can’[t be trusted.

    It is like taxis vs. Lyft … you can whine about the competition, or you can raise your game.

    Published on: June 14, 2019

    Bloomberg writes that “EMarketer Inc., among the most widely cited sources for estimates of U.S. online retail sales, says it now expects Amazon to account for 37.7% of online commerce this year, down from a prior estimate of 47%.”

    Here’s the explanation for the downgraded numbers:

    “Estimating Amazon’s scale is difficult because it isn’t simply a retailer but also operates in an array of different markets, including devices, cloud computing, streaming services and more. Measuring its e-commerce market share is hard, too, because the company is both a traditional retailer and online consignment shop.

    “Amazon buys products wholesale and sells them directly to consumers like a typical retailer. For those transactions, Amazon reports the entire purchase price as revenue. But for transactions generated by third-party merchants, the company only records the fees and commissions it charges them. EMarketer estimates market share based on consumer spending, not Amazon revenue, so all the money shoppers spend on Amazon is counted toward its market share.”

    Founder-CEO Jeff Bezos has said that third party merchants “accounted for 58% of gross merchandise sales on the retail site” last year.

    ZDNet reports that “IBM, KPMG, Merck and Walmart are teaming up to create a proof-of-concept blockchain network in partnership with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The aim of the pilot program -- which is tied to the US Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) -- is to help the FDA and other organizations in the drug supply chain in developing a blockchain network to identify and trace the distribution of prescription drugs … the companies hope to address multiple gaps in the current drug supply chain process, including the time it takes to track and trace inventory, the accuracy of data shared among members of the supply network, and the integrity of products in the distribution chain.”

    The story notes that “Walmart has worked with IBM since 2016 to apply new levels of traceability based on blockchain technology across the food supply chain,” and currently is “in the process of implementing IBM's blockchain as part of new food safety requirements for its suppliers.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 14, 2019

    Bloomberg has a story about how the demand for seafood continues to grow: “With rising incomes in developing nations driving demand, fish and seafood now account for almost a fifth of the animal protein people consume.”

    Which means that “the next chapter of fish production, beyond even land-based farming, is already being written—by scientists. San Francisco-based Wild Type is hoping that, as with the rise of meat substitutes (and their  arrival on Wall Street), lab-grown fish won’t be far behind. Or, for that matter, lab-grown sushi.”

    • The Washington Post reports that Tyson Foods “entered the crowded fray of alt-meat Thursday, with the country’s largest meat producer announcing it will produce plant-based meat products under the Raised & Rooted brand. They intend to release nuggets to retailers this summer, with a blended burger product to follow in the fall.”

    The Post suggests that the moves demonstrate that “traditional meat companies are eager to get in on plant-based alternatives heralded as the next big thing,” though it seems likely that “the entry of these heavy hitters presents a challenge to start-ups and other fledgling companies” in the plant-based meat business.

    • The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that “Kroger has started construction on a $55 million robotic warehouse in Monroe that will power home delivery of groceries when it begins operations in 2021.” The facility, which is being built inn partnership with British online retailer Ocado, “will employ more than 400 workers (and) will be the first of its kind in the nation,” with another 20 of the breed scheduled to be built around the country.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 14, 2019

    The other day we had a story about how Canada is looking to ban many single-use plastic items by 2021, including bags, straws, cutlery and stirring sticks, to cut harmful waste damaging the country's ecosystems.

    I asked:

    I wonder if it will be like in the US, where too many companies decide to litigate the issue and overturn the decision rather than addressing the challenge. (Am I too cynical?)

    MNB reader Lisa Malmarowski responded:

    You are absolutely not too cynical. We operate in a state where was a ban on plastic bag bans enacted by our former “leadership”.

    No matter, we’ve made the pledge as small grocer with 4 stores to eliminate single use, petroleum plastic in our operations by 2020.

    Seriously, if we can do it, surely big grocers can as well.

    We have switched to only paper or home-compostable starch-based bags in produce, we haven’t had plastic grocery bags for years, and that’s just the beginning.

    MNB took note recently of a Fast Company< i> story about how a cadre of employees at Amazon is pushing their employer to take a more aggressive stand on the issue of climate change.

    I commented:

    Fascinating stuff, and mostly, I think, because it happens in a climate (no pun intended) where employees more and more - at least in some companies - feel empowered to push their bosses to be more engaged with issues of import to them. It is climate change, but it also can be gender equality, and dealing with toxic workplaces.

    I must say, I think this is great. I grew up at a time when employees never spoke up about such things, and in retrospect, shame on us. I’m glad there has been progress, but there needs to be more. As a customer, I want to patronize companies that take stuff like this seriously.

    Prompting one MNB reader to write:

    Wow—you politicize everything!

    You won’t eat at a restaurant owned by a womanizer.  You won’t watch movies directed by or acted in by a wrongdoer. You won’t shop at a chain with an executive who’s expressed an opinion you disagree with.

    What a challenge it must be to keep your enemies-list up-to-date!

    These are not my enemies … and I don’t think of this as politicizing everything.

    Feeling weird about patronizing a restaurant owned by Mario Batali doesn’t strike me as all that radical. Nor does deciding to avoid movies made by Woody Allen. I’m not trying to be “woke.” Just trying to be awake to the world around me and support as best I can companies and institutions that I think are in synch with my values.

    There are certain ways in which we can express our values. How we treat other people. How we decide to spend our money. How we vote.

    The question, in my mind, is not why I should use such opportunities to express my values. The better question is why I wouldn’t.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 14, 2019

    In game six of the NBA finals, the Toronto Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors, 114-110, winning the best-of-seven series 4-2 and, as the writes, “sealing the first title in franchise history and claiming Canada's first championship in a major American sports league since the Toronto Blue Jays won the 1993 World Series.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 14, 2019

    Sometimes a good romantic comedy is just what the doctor ordered. Just a good one … moderately diverting, reasonably plotted, but always with sparkling performances by appealing actors that can get you past whatever shortcomings the film might have.

    We’ve had a dearth of good romantic comedies lately. Nora Ephron, who with movies like When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail gave us the most recent gold standard of the genre, has passed away. Nancy Meyers is pretty good, but hasn’t made a movie in awhile.

    Which is one of the reasons that Always Be My Maybe is welcome. It isn’t a great movie, but it does offer a pair of enormously appealing performances by Randall Park and Ali Wong that make the film work better than it has any right to.

    Park and Wong play childhood friends who eventually became lovers until they separated acrimoniously … Wong became an enormously successful chef and restaurateur, while Park suffered from a lack of ambition and pretty much tread water in his life and career. Fate - as it always does in romantic comedies - throws them together as adults, and the movie is about how their relationship is rekindled in fits and starts.

    As good as they are, though, I must say that the best reason to see the movie is Keanu Reeves, who plays a kind of bizarro version of himself in what essentially is an extended cameo that absolutely steals the film - he just picks up the movie, tucks it under his arm, and walks away with it.

    Always Be My Maybe has gotten a lot of attention for what some say is its groundbreaking use of Asian-Americans in lead roles, but while that strikes me as a fair observation, I’m happy to recommend it just because the movie works all on its own. It is available on Netflix, not theaters, and serves as a great argument for why some films are perfect for streaming services - it isn’t overly ambitious or cinematic, but it is a diverting movie for home viewing. That isn’t faint praise, by the way … I love that these kinds of films have a place where they can be seen, giving voice to actors and directors and writers who might otherwise not get the opportunity.

    As I think I’ve mentioned to you, we’re on a bit of a rosé tear in our house … and I’m pleased to turn you on to the 2018 Summer in a Bottle Rosé, which is from Wolffer Estate vineyards on Long Island in New York State. It is a lovely blend of Merlot, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Cabernet Franc, and is wonderful with seafood or a nice crisp salad.

    Back Monday. Have a great weekend.

    KC's View: