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    Published on: October 28, 2019

    Emerging technologies in the health and wellness segment are empowering consumers who more and more are invested in self-care … which can best be defined as a cultural trend keyed to people who want to feel good, look good, live longer and live better. In this new Retail Tomorrow podcast, recorded in front of a live audience at the recent GMDC Selfcare Summit, we talk about the technologies and trends that we heard about there, provide insights into how consumers will interact with them, and offer guidance to companies looking to invest in this burgeoning segment.

    Our guests for this podcast are members of the regular Retail Tomorrow podcast family:

    • Tom Furphy, CEO and Managing Director of Consumer Equity Partners.

    • Nancy Giordano, a strategic futurist who specializes in the post-digital world.

    • Sterling Hawkins, co-founder of the Center for Advancing Retail & Technology.

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

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

    This edition of the Retail Tomorrow podcast is brought to you by GMDC, the Global Market Development Center.

    Pictured, below, from left: Kevin Coupe, Nancy Giordano, Tom Furphy, Sterling Hawkins

    KC's View:

    Published on: October 28, 2019

    CNN has a story about how Walmart and Target are taking very different approaches to the idea of using robotics in stores. Both are "testing robots in their warehouses" to varying degrees, but stores are another matter.

    Walmart, for example, is expected to "to add self-driving robots that scrub floors to 1,860 of its more-than 4,700 US stores by February. It will also add robots that scan shelf inventory at 350 stores and bots at 1,700 stores that automatically scan boxes as they come off delivery trucks and sort them by department onto conveyer belts … The company says 'smart assistants' will reduce the amount of time workers spend on 'repeatable, predictable and manual' tasks in stores, allowing workers to switch to selling merchandise to shoppers and other customer service roles."

    But Target, "which has around 1,850 US stores and 360,000 workers, has eschewed a robot-worker strategy.

    "The retailer has added self-checkout and automatic cash-counting machines to hundreds of stores in recent years. But Target CEO Brian Cornell said … his chain will not bring on the type of robots Walmart has deployed in stores."

    "You won't see robots in Target stores anytime soon," Cornell tells CNN. "We really think, even in today's environment, where people are talking about AI and robotics and different elements of technology, the human touch still really matters."
    KC's View:
    Neither approach is necessarily right or wrong, but I do think that they indicate fundamentally different views of the future, each of which has implications in the public policy area.

    For me, the notion of actual people being a differentiator is the preferred one … as long as the people are appropriately deployed in strategic ways. But I do think that robots can perform tasks that people cannot and would rather not perform, and that it makes sense to put them to work in those areas.

    This all makes sense at a time of really low unemployment, but the question is what happens when recession kicks in and when unemployment starts to rise. It isn't like stores will just put the robots in the back room … in fact, they'll embrace technology even more, because it will be seen as a cost-saver.

    So what happens to those people? I'm no economist, but I wonder if it will be harder to dig ourselves out of economic doldrums when we're living in a new technological reality.

    Published on: October 28, 2019

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Transform Holdco, which is the parent holding company of what remains of Sears, may not hold onto the iconic Die Hard brand, which it has been selling since 1967.

    According to the story, the company, which was "created by the financier Eddie Lampert that bought the Sears and Kmart chains out of bankruptcy, has hired Guggenheim Partners to advise on the potential sales, after receiving inquiries from buyers."

    The Journal notes that "prior to the bankruptcy filing, Sears had been selling assets, including some of its real estate and iconic brands. The Craftsman tool brand was acquired by Stanley Black & Decker Inc. in 2017. But it wasn’t able to find buyers for everything it wanted to sell. The Kenmore appliance brand was on the block for two years, but never found a suitable buyer, according to Mr. Lampert. In 2018, he offered to buy Kenmore himself, but the deal was never consummated."
    KC's View:
    Sears probably doesn't have much choice at this point, since it has to do something to stanch the bleeding. But this is yet another example of brand erosion at Sears, where pretty much every move they've made has ended up being fruitless.

    It is worth pointing out that Sears hasn't sold Die Hard exclusively since 2017, when it made a deal with another retailer to make the brand available. That retailer was Amazon.

    Published on: October 28, 2019

    The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) - soon to be rebranded as the Consumer Brands Association (CBA) - is out with a new study saying that "the market for cannabidiol (CBD) products is booming," but that "consumers are confused about what CBD is, what it does and whether CBD products are safe.

    "More concerning, with one-in-three Americans using CBD, the overwhelming majority (76%) assumes CBD products are subject to federal regulations and safety oversight when, in fact, no such regulations exist."

    The report goes on: "today’s multi-billion-dollar CBD industry operates within a disjointed, patchwork system of state regulations. Upon learning no federal agency oversees CBD products, 82% percent of Americans expressed alarm, 67% of whom say they are 'extremely' or 'very' concerned. Another 84% are worried about the varying regulations that could result from the current state-by-state patchwork system."

    Passages from the report:

    • "GMA’s survey reveals that six-in-ten Americans are familiar with CBD, but confusion is rampant. Four-in-ten Americans (39%) incorrectly believe CBD is just another name for marijuana and more than half mistakenly think it can get you 'high.' Despite clear confusion, two-thirds (66%) of Americans say they believe it is safe."

    •Survey respondents use CBD for a variety of different reasons — most commonly for pain management (52%), stress or anxiety reduction (50%) and sleep issues (43%). And, despite the lack of reliable research, testing or uniform regulatory oversight, 21% report using CBD to alleviate cancer symptoms or treat the effects of a neurological disorder. To date, CBD has only been approved by the FDA for use in the treatment of epilepsy."
    KC's View:
    Education of consumers always is better. Always. And so I agree with GMA/CBA that the more transparency in such things, the better.

    The irony is that under previous management, I'm not sure GMA always has been in favor of transparency. In fact, just the opposite. I hope that under new management, it has seen the light.

    Published on: October 28, 2019

    Long and fascinating piece in the New York Times over the weekend that puts the Amazon delivery infrastructure into context, noting that "immense changes in New York have been driven by tech giants, other private businesses and, increasingly, by independent couriers, often without the city’s involvement, oversight or even its awareness."

    An excerpt:

    "To deliver Amazon orders and countless others from businesses that sell over the internet, the very fabric of major urban areas around the world is being transformed. And New York City, where more than 1.5 million packages are delivered daily, shows the impact that this push for convenience is having on gridlock, roadway safety and pollution.

    "Delivery trucks operated by UPS and FedEx double-park on streets and block bus and bike lanes. They racked up more than 471,000 parking violations last year, a 34 percent increase from 2013.
    The main entryway for packages into New York City, leading to the George Washington Bridge from New Jersey, has become the most congested interchange in the country. Trucks heading toward the bridge travel at 23 miles per hour, down from 30 m.p.h. five years ago.

    "While the rise of ride-hailing services like Uber has unquestionably caused more traffic, the proliferation of trucks has worsened the problem. As a result, cars in the busiest parts of Manhattan now move just above a jogger’s pace, about 7 m.p.h., roughly 23 percent slower than at the beginning of the decade."

    You can read the entire story here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 28, 2019

    Bloomberg reports that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), a 2020 presidential candidate, have written to Chairman Joe Simons of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking it to "investigate whether Inc. violated federal law in its handling of security ahead of a Capital One Financial Corp. breach that exposed data from about 100 million people in the U.S."

    According to the story, "an August 2018 email … appeared to be alerting Amazon to a security issue -- known as a server side request forgery, or SSRF vulnerability -- that played a significant role in the breach, as well as a response from the company promising to look into the issue.

    "The letter from the senators also says that Amazon’s failure to address the flaw as competitors Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Microsoft Corp. have done 'has been the subject of significant public discussion among cybersecurity experts for the past five years, including in presentations at major industry conferences.'

    "The FTC should look into whether Amazon’s failure to secure its services 'constitutes an unfair business practice,' which would violate federal law, the letter said."
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 28, 2019

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

    • From the New York Post:

    "Thousands of Wegmans superfans flooded the cult-favorite grocery store’s first Big Apple outpost Sunday — including some who began lining up in the pouring rain at 4 a.m. for its grand opening … The shop opened at 7 a.m. to cheers from those standing in a line that had already wrapped around the sprawling store.

    "At least 3,000 shoppers had made the pilgrimage to the 74,000-square-foot store by noon, said an employee of the Rochester, NY-based grocery chain."

    “I’ve been waiting for this my whole adult life,” Kimberly Ciaccia, 40, of Brooklyn, tells the Post. “I had tears in my eyes. I was so excited."

    • The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced last week that it has largely closed its vaunted Open Agricultural Initiative, known as OpenAg, which, as the New York Times reports, had "received millions of dollars in corporate sponsorships and was promoted in glowing news features, including a '60 Minutes' segment about the Media Lab called 'The Future Factory' … The OpenAg project focused on designing and deploying so-called food computers, small high-tech greenhouses meant to allow crops to thrive in thin air, without soil or sunlight and under precisely controlled conditions."

    MIT reportedly performed a "sweeping assessment" of the program before ordering the closure, and the Times notes that it "has been accused of misleading sponsors and the public by exaggerating results, while the Media Lab has been under scrutiny for its financial ties to the convicted sex offender and financier Jeffrey Epstein."

    In addition, OpenAg "was a favorite of Joichi Ito, who was the Media Lab’s director until September, when he resigned under pressure after his efforts to conceal his financial connections to Mr. Epstein were disclosed. The financier killed himself in jail in August after being indicted on federal sex-trafficking charges.

    • Ahold Delhaize-owned Stop & Shop announced a multiyear partnership with the NY Giants last week that will make the supermarket company the team's official tailgate and homegate partner.

    “Stop & Shop has been a valued partner of the New York Giants organization for close to a decade as we are both committed to our communities and to promoting healthy lifestyles,” said Giants Chief Commercial Officer Pete Guelli in a prepared statement. “We are thrilled to be able to grow this partnership in the coming years.”

    Maybe Stop & Shop could provide the Giants with a couple of athletic warehouse employees who could actually play offense and defense.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 28, 2019

    FoodBev Media reports that Kraft Heinz's Evolv Ventures venture capital group has led a $23 million round of financing for cannabis technology startup Flowhub, described as "a cannabis retail software company which delivers compliance, point of sale, inventory tracking and business intelligence data to cannabis dispensaries through a digital platform."

    The story notes that "Evolv Ventures was established by Kraft Heinz last year to invest in emerging tech companies that are 'transforming the food industry,' and this investment is the third venture made by Evolv and its first in the cannabis tech sector … The overarching goal of the venture arm is to support Kraft Heinz’s efforts to keep on top of changing trends in the food and beverage industry, and CBD-infused products are gaining interest from consumers due to their perceived functional benefits."
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 28, 2019

    Content Guy’s Note: Stories in this section are, in my estimation, important and relevant to business. However, they are relegated to this slot because some MNB readers have made clear that they prefer a politics-free MNB; I can't do that because sometimes the news calls out for coverage and commentary, but at least I can make it easy for folks to skip it if they so desire.

    • The US Department of Defense last week awarded a $10 billion technology contract for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, known as JEDI, to Microsoft, spurning Amazon, which generally has been seen as the leader in this technology and had been thought to be the leading candidate to get the 10-year contract.

    The New York Times reports that "the contract has an outsize importance because it is central to the Pentagon’s efforts to modernize its technology. Much of the military operates on 1980s and 1990s computer systems, and the Defense Department has spent billions of dollars trying to make them talk to one another.

    "The decision was a surprise because Amazon had been considered the front-runner, in part because it had built cloud services for the Central Intelligence Agency. But that was before Mr. Trump became publicly hostile to Mr. Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post. The president often refers to the newspaper as the 'Amazon Washington Post' and has accused it of spreading 'fake news.'

    "In public, Mr. Trump said there were other 'great companies' that should have a chance at the contract. But a speechwriter for former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says in a book scheduled for publication next week that Mr. Trump had wanted to foil Amazon and give the contract to another company … The award to Microsoft is likely to fuel suspicions that Mr. Trump may have weighed in privately as well as publicly against Amazon. Experts on federal contracting said it would be highly improper for a president to intervene in the awarding of a contract."

    The contract award is said to boost Microsoft's efforts to compete with Amazon in the cloud computing segment, where Amazon has an approximate 45 percent market share, compared with Microsoft's 25 percent. And, it "is also a hit to the reputation of Amazon, which decided last year to open a large outpost in Northern Virginia that will eventually employ at least 25,000 people."
    KC's View:
    The story also makes the point that the political angles in the contract decisions will at the very least will give Amazon grounds to protest the decision. And Amazon certainly can afford the legal fees…

    Published on: October 28, 2019

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 28, 2019

    The Houston Astros had a big weekend in the World Series, defeating the Washington Nationals 4-1, 9-1 and 7-1, taking a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.

    In Week Eight of National Football League action…

    Seattle 27
    Atlanta 20

    LA Chargers 17
    Chicago 16

    NY Giants 26
    Detroit 31

    NY Jets 15
    Jacksonville 29

    Cincinnati 10
    LA Rams 24

    Tampa Bay 23
    Tennessee 27

    Philadelphia 31
    Buffalo 13

    Denver 13
    Indianapolis 15

    Arizona 9
    New Orleans 31

    Carolina 13
    San Francisco 51

    Oakland 24
    Houston 27

    Cleveland 13
    New England 27

    Green Bay 31
    Kansas City 24

    And, in the 44th running of the annual Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC, Jordan Tropf of Silver Springs, Maryland, won the men's side of the race with a time 2:27:43. Brittany Charboneau of Golden, Colorado, won the women's race, finishing in 2:44:47.
    KC's View:
    And, with a level of personal pride, may I say that David M. Coupe finished the MCM - his first marathon - with a time of 5:19:42. (This bested his father's 2001 MCM time of 5:35:29 and 2004 time of 5:24:03.)