retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: September 30, 2019

    The Retail Tomorrow podcast goes to GroceryShop 2019 in Las Vegas for an in-depth discussion of not just the strategies and tactics preoccupying many of the attendees, but the motivations behind the decisions they are making with regard to brand identity and technology.

    There were some three thousand attendees at GroceryShop this year, from about a thousand companies and 30 countries, all looking for a competitive edge found in innovative technologies, disruptive business models and provocative insights. Sifting through the presentations and exhibits for Retail Tomorrow, looking for nuggets of wisdom that have the potential to animate and differentiate a retailer, are:

    • Lisa Sedlar, CEO, Green Zebra Grocery.
    • Scott Moses, Managing Director at PJ Solomon.
    • Bob Perry, Director of Business Development, NBC Universal
    • Tom Furphy, CEO/Managing Director, Consumer Equity Partners.

    The host: Kevin Coupe, MorningNewsBeat’s “Content Guy.”

    You can listen to the podcast here, as well as on iTunes and GooglePlay.

    This edition of the Retail Tomorrow podcast is brought to you by the Global Market Development Center (GMDC), connecting people & companies to opportunities for growth.


    Pictured, below: Lisa Sedlar, Scott Moses, Tom Furphy, Bob Perry













    KC's View:

    Published on: September 30, 2019

    Forever 21, which the New York Times describes as having "helped popularize fast fashion in the United States with its bustling stores and $5 tops," confirmed over the weekend that it is filing for bankruptcy, stopping operations in 40 countries, and closing 350 stores overall, 178 of them in the US.

    The Times writes that the move reflects the "eroding power of shopping malls and the shifting tastes of young consumers … The bankruptcy is a blow to a company that prided itself on embodying the American dream, as well as a reminder of how quickly the retail landscape is transforming. Forever 21 experienced big success in the early 2000s with its troves of merchandise that imitated of-the-moment designer styles at rock-bottom prices. It joined Zara and H&M in making fast, disposable fashion widely available to American shoppers, especially young women, who were exposed to new wares seemingly every time they entered a store. But the company expanded too aggressively just as technology was beginning to upend its business."

    And, the story says, the closings "puts a spotlight on the widening chasm between America’s lower-quality malls, which are losing customers and anchor tenants, and its top shopping centers, which continue to draw foot traffic."
    KC's View:
    One of those malls happens to be near me, in Stamford, Connecticut. I've talked about the Stamford Town Center here from time to time, using words like "mausoleum" and "depressing." It has gotten worse, with the announced closures of stores like Chico's, Pottery Barn and Williams Sonoma … and I suspect that there will be more as a new mall opens a few miles away in Norwalk. If the enormous Forever 21 there closes, it will leave an enormous empty space in the mall going into the holiday shopping season that will just add to the image of an outdated, virtually obsolete shell of a shopping experience. (When the kids were young, it was enormously difficult to get a parking space there in December. Not so much in recent years.)

    Every once in a while there are rumors about the Stamford Town Center, that its future will be as a campus for the University of Connecticut, or as senior citizen housing. Wouldn't surprise me. Not at all.

    I have a daughter who no doubt is part of the problem. She prefers to do almost all of her clothes shopping online, uses subscription services StitchFix and Trunk Club on a regular basis, and sees no advantage in actually going to almost any store.

    The one exception in her mind, as it happens, is the food store - she likes shopping for fresh foods at the actual store. (Not CPG products.) There's a lesson in that, because I do not think she is an outlier on this. I think she reflects an entire generation.

    To be clear, much of the pain at Forever 21 is self-inflicted … they expanded way too fast, and seem not to have integrated omnichannel trends into their business model to the degree they should've. These are mistakes one cannot make if one wants to have any chance of surviving.

    Published on: September 30, 2019

    The Poughkeepsie Journal has a story about the Applestone Meat Company there, which "has created a whole new way of shopping for freshly butchered local meat, with high-end, gleaming-clean retail shops that are open 24/7. They offer serve-yourself vending machines stocked with vacuum-sealed packages of everything from Porterhouse steaks, short ribs and rack of lamb to hamburger meat and homemade sausages … You just swipe your credit card, push a button, slide open the door and retrieve your sustainably raised meat selection. Fire up the grill at home and you’re good to go."

    The seven vending machines, each devoted to a specific category, are in addition to a manned retail service window open during traditional business hours.

    It isn't just vending with which Applestone is innovating: " It’s doing so well, in fact, that they will open a Grill Park in the spring. The grilling space sits behind the store, with eight charcoal grills available to any and all. Buy meat from one of the vending machines, or bring your own hot dogs and steaks."

    Josh Applestone, owner of the company, is described as a third-generation butcher and former vegan who "has long been ahead of the pack when it comes to top-quality local meats and knowing how to butcher whole animals and sell the nose-to-tail parts in innovative ways."
    KC's View:
    A Grill Park? That's a pretty interesting idea … and goes along with the notion that stores needs to be more than a source of product, but a resource for their customers. Imagine if they had grilling lessons of various kinds … it'd be great.

    I also love the idea of the vending machines. It isn't hard to imagine such an idea taking off … it seems especially attractive if the retailer has an established reputation and a high level of trust.

    Content Guy's Note: I am really, really curious how long it takes some MNB reader to get the semi-obscure movie reference in the headline … and how many make the connection.

    Published on: September 30, 2019

    CNBC reports that "General Motors is partnering with Amazon to enable the tech company’s Alexa voice assistant in millions of its vehicles … the popular voice technology will be available on model year 2018 and newer Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC vehicles with compatible infotainment systems in the first half of next year.

    The CNBC story notes that "Amazon has previously announced Alexa in-vehicle partnerships with automakers such as Ford Motor, BMW Group, including Mini, and Audi."
    KC's View:
    The story points out that "with the downloaded Alexa app, drivers will be able to control smart devices in their home such as thermostats and lights in addition to controlling in-vehicle features such as their radio, phone and navigation. A cell phone is not required to use the features."

    What's interesting about this is that it doesn't mention "shopping," which has to be on the short list of functionalities. The idea, almost certainly, is that I be able to call in to Whole Foods or some other Amazon-powered retailer while driving my car, and in pretty short order pull up to a click-and-collect location and have the stuff placed in my car.

    This has to be part of Amazon's view of the future.

    Published on: September 30, 2019

    Fox News reports that the US House of Representatives has passed a bill "that provides safe harbor to banks that work with legal marijuana businesses, removing a significant roadblock to growth in the budding cannabis industry."

    According to the story, the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act – known as the SAFE Banking Act "passed 321-103, with 91 Republicans voting for it and Alabama Rep. Terri Sewell the only Democrat voting against it."

    However, Fox News reports that "the legislation faces an uncertain fate in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been reluctant to bring up marijuana-related bills."

    Some context from the Fox News piece: "The SAFE Banking Act would allow cannabis businesses to access financial services that have long been difficult to find due to their gray-area status — often legal in their individual state but illegal federally. Even cannabis businesses like hemp growers and CBD manufacturers that don't work directly with THC, the intoxicating chemical in marijuana, have struggled to access banking services due to trepidation that still hangs over the industry. Under the bill, marijuana businesses would be able to open accounts, take on loans, accept credit cards and deposit money into banks that now seldom associate with them for fear of repercussions from the federal government.

    "Those services will be important for a sector that added 64,389 jobs in 2018, according to a report by Leafly and Whitney Economics, and could grow even more as pot laws continue to loosen across the United States."
    KC's View:
    It seems to be a fact of life that cannabis, in some form or another, is going to be legal in this country in most places. Does anyone reasonably think that we are going to go back to the days when it wasn't? (To be honest, I have mixed emotions about this … but I think it is important to deal with the facts, not woulda-coulda-shoulda.)

    And so, if the industry is going to be legal, what is to be gained by denying it access to financial services?I have trouble understanding this.

    In fact, by doing so, it seems to me that "denial" is exactly what is happening … in a number of ways.

    Published on: September 30, 2019

    Los Angeles Times business columnist David Lazarus has a good piece about Amazon's health care ambitions, writing about how it is "simultaneously learning how to dispense and deliver drugs online by testing an online pharmacy on its employees." While Amazon has been secretive about its intentions, recent moves, the story says, have made the picture clearer.

    The Times headline may say it all: Amazon Care may be to healthcare what Amazon Prime is to shopping.

    You can read the story here.
    KC's View:
    Lazarus concedes that at this point there are more questions that answers…

    "How ambitious are Amazon’s plans? Does it see Amazon Care becoming a sort of online CVS MinuteClinic, or will it offer more comprehensive treatment? Will it work with all insurance companies? Will Amazon offer its own insurance?

    "What are the consequences of telemedicine to some extent replacing in-person visits with medical professionals? Will care suffer as a result?"

    But he concludes that there is no question that the US healthcare system is ripe for disruption, and that Amazon - perhaps the most customer-obsessed company in the world - may be positioned to deliver it.

    Ready or not.

    Published on: September 30, 2019

    Fast Company reports that delivery service Door Dash has suffered a data breach, saying that it happened "on May 4, 2019, when an unauthorized third party accessed some DoorDash user data. However, DoorDash only discovered the breach earlier this month.

    "Approximately 4.9 million consumers, DoorDash delivery workers, and merchants who joined the platform on or before April 5, 2018, are affected … Profile information including names, email addresses, delivery addresses, order history, and phone numbers were accessed in the breach. Passwords were also accessed in the breach, however, they were salted and hashed, which in theory makes them unreadable.

    "Some but not all of the DoorDash customers affected had the last four digits of consumer payment cards accessed. However, DoorDash says 'full credit card information, such as full payment card numbers or a CVV, was not accessed'."

    The story says that "users who joined DoorDash after April 5, 2018, are not affected."


    • Amazon said last week that it has acquired technology startup INLT, which makes software that would allow the retailer's third party vendors to import products into the US, managing both costs and customs clearances. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 30, 2019

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

    • The Seattle Times reports that Macy's plans to close its landmark store in downtown Seattle, completing what has been a slow but immutable shrinkage of its space at that location.

    It was just two years ago that Amazon took over the top six floors of the building, putting offices (and one Amazon Go store) into the space, leaving Macy's with just the two bottom floors.

    Clearance sales will begin after the holidays, in January.

    It is perhaps reflective of broader realities that Macy's also announced that "this year the 161-foot high Macy’s star that is lit annually to mark the start of the holidays in Seattle will not shine," because it is "in need of repair." The same might be said of its business model.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 30, 2019

    Got this response from MNB reader Kathleen Ottaviano to Kate McMahon's piece last week about The Dinner Daily's customized meal plans:

    Thank you, Kate for this article!  I’ve been using a meal kit service, but every week when I unpack the items and throw away the plastic I have a vision of Greta Thunberg giving me the evil eye.

    This sounds like the perfect combination of cost savings for me while being better for the environment.   I’m checking it out now!




    We also got several responses to last week's column by Michael Sansolo.

    MNB reader John Rand wrote:

    Just caught up with Michael's Shawshank Redemption column, and wanted to say that referring to  “young Gen Xers” may be at least, in part, making the same point as the column. No matter how you define Gen X, they are no longer the youngsters, either as workers in the business or as  consumers.  Gen X is now (mostly) mature, married, probably has a home and a mortgage, has a couple of kids at least school age, has been in the working world for 20 years or so.

    The descriptors for generational groups are imprecise, but Gen Y / Millennial commonly float about as successors to Gen X. Gen X is the group immediately following Boomers, which you, Kevin, and Michael are … The last of the Boomer group, even in its most expanded form, was born by around 1965. Gen X would be (roughly) born between 1965 and 1985 – which would make the youngest of the group at least in the middle 30s, and the leading edge in their 50s.

    Catch up, guys. The young POV you so rightly advocate should be heeded in the changing marketplace is in the hands of people in their 20s and 30s – and however described, they are not Gen X.


    From another reader:

    While Michael’s main point, quoting Shawshank Redemption, was to put ourselves in positions of discomfort, he mentions “courting opinions from all parts of our teams, including those young Gen X staffers…”  We Gen X staffers are not so young any more, and some of the dang Millennials are over 30! Just goes to show how fast things move these days…



    MNB reader Carl Jorgensen responded to my piece about regenerative agriculture:

    Thanks for running the piece on the new business coalition pushing regenerative agriculture. Using regenerative farming methods to restore soil health (which sequesters atmospheric carbon) and biodiversity in our food production system may be the single most powerful way we can fight climate change.
     


    On another subject, from another MNB reader:

    Love your coverage on the ongoing new frontier of food, specifically the plant-based burger wars. I'm sorry to hear you had some bad experiences with Impossible. I highly recommend Beyond Meat/Beyond Burger - in my opinion, a far better product all around. We've been eating their stuff for years and love it. Another great one to check out is Before the Butcher, or, if you're ever in Minneapolis, the Herbivorous Butcher.



    MNB last week took note of a New York Times report on the passing, at age 108, of Anthony Mancinelli, who had been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's oldest working barber. Mancinelli, who had only retired a few weeks ago after being diagnosed with jaw cancer, started cutting hair when President Warren Harding was in the White House, and he had cut the hair of some four generations of men.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    I love these types of stories about regular people. I hope you’ll keep including them.   I definitely learned why I carry several extra pounds;  I like thicker pasta and wide noodles.  If only I had known to eat thin spaghetti like Mr. Manicelli.



    I've spent a lot of time writing about what I called vaping-gate … the problems that the vaping business is encountering because seemingly related illnesses, which has led to bans in some places - including the decision by some retailers, like Walmart, not to carry them.

    MNB retailer Mike Arnold wrote:

    No one is claiming they used Juul products that I have seen. Synthetic THC and other off the street chemicals are suspected. I don’t think people should be using tobacco or vaping but I also don’t think that you wash a whole industry down the drain for a few bad actors and bad decisions by the users.  

    If that was how it is supposed to be done, the beer, wine and alcohol industry would be long gone...For that matter most industries would be gone. Newsletters too!


    I disagree. These products are all designed to addict people, and if those people end up dead, well, that's too bad because there are a lot more addicts in the pipeline … especially if you can use flavors and marketing to get them when they're young.

    Beer and wine are not designed to addict you. It can happen, but they're not engineered that way. I hope people get addicted to newsletters like mine, but I'm pretty sure they won't kill you.

    I have no sympathy for any of these people or companies. I'd wash them all down the drain in a second.

    (For new MNB readers … I've always been upfront about my feelings regarding this industry. My mom died of lung cancer at age 67 after having been a 40-year smoker. I don't absolve her of blame, but I detest these people.)
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 30, 2019

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

    The Major League Baseball playoff picture finally is set…

    National League East - Atlanta Braves
    National League Central - St. Louis Cardinals
    National League West - Los Angeles Dodgers
    Wild Cards - Milwaukee Brewers, Washington Nationals


    American League East - New York Yankees
    American League Central - Minnesota Twins
    American League West - Houston Astros
    Wild Cards - Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland Athletics

    If I had to guess, it'll end up being the Dodgers vs. the Astros in the World Series. But that's hardly making a risky bet.



    In Week Four of National Football League action…

    Washington 3
    NY Giants 24

    Kansas City 34
    Detroit 30

    Tennessee 24
    Atlanta 10

    Cleveland 40
    Baltimore 25

    Oakland 31
    Indianapolis 24

    New England 16
    Buffalo 10

    Carolina 16
    Houston 10

    LA Chargers 30
    Miami 10

    Tampa Bay 55
    LA Rams 40

    Seattle 27
    Arizona 10

    Minnesota 6
    Chicago 16

    Jacksonville 26
    Denver 24

    Dallas 10
    New Orleans 12
    KC's View: