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    Published on: October 31, 2019

    This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either ... they are similar, but not exactly the same. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

    Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    I got a lesson the other day in why sometimes all the preparation in the world doesn't matter - reality comes along and smacks you upside the head. And I'm convinced that there is a business lesson in there somewhere.

    I was thinking the other day that I ought to get a jump on getting of those Real ID drivers licenses that will be required for getting through security at airports. These new drivers licenses will have a star in one corner, signifying that they meet the new Homeland Security requirements; they won't be mandatory for another year, but I uncharacteristically decided to get ahead of the wave.

    First step: gather everything I needed. In fact, even more than I needed. I had my old drivers license, passport, passport card, several pay stubs and some bills with my name and address on them. And, of course, my Social Security card.

    Next step: Go to DMV. Which I did. Normally this is a wretched experience, but in Connecticut there is a satellite office in Stamford where they have limited services, but you can pay eight bucks to make an appointment, which saves a lot of time and anxiety. As anyone who has endured a DMV experience can tell you, this is one of the best ways to spent $8 that I can imagine.

    I get there on time, pay the entry fee, and get called up to the window. I told the woman why I was there, and she said, "Okay, let's see if you have what you need." So I showed her - my old drivers license, passport, passport card, several pay stubs and some bills with my name and address on them. And, of course, my Social Security card. I was feeling good. Even triumphant.

    She shook her head. "Sorry, but I can't use this Social Security card."

    "Why?" I was crestfallen.

    "Because it is laminated."

    "Of course it is laminated," I said. "I got it 55 years ago - it wouldn't have survived if I hadn't laminated it."

    She was very nice, said she was sorry, and recommended that I go to the Stamford Social Security office to order up a new one. She even gave me back my eight dollars.

    So I got in the Mustang, drove over to the federal offices, signed in and waited a few minutes to be called.

    When I finally got up to the window, I told the young man what I needed, and he grinned. "You went to DMV for a new license, huh?"


    I handed him my old card, and he shook his head. "You're not supposed to laminate it. It says so on the back of the card."
    "Turn it over," I said. "It doesn't say that."

    He turned it over and looked at it. And then looked at me. And then looked at the card. And then looked at me.

    "You're right, it doesn't," he said. "You probably were born before lamination was invented."


    I stared at him for a moment. Horrified. I couldn't believe he'd actually said that. But then I laughed … because I have to admit it was a pretty funny line.

    Then, he processed the request, and when I get my new card, I'll go back to the DMV and try again.

    It was, however, a great example of how sometimes it doesn't matter how prepared you are. Stuff happens. Unexpected stuff. And you have to deal with it.

    Oh, and one other thing. I checked, and found out that lamination was invented in 1912. I'm old, but not that old.

    That's what is on my mind this morning and, as always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

    KC's View:

    Published on: October 31, 2019

    Good story in Fortune about how Stitch Fix, the subscription clothing business, plans to expand its use of predictive analytics to better figure out what its customers want and grow its business.

    Traditionally, customers have been able to go on Stitch Fix, fill out a questionnaire, and then a company "stylist" sends out a box of clothing keyed to a customer's stated tastes and preferences. Customers then keep what they want and send back what they don't - fees are keyed to how much they keep - and the system is supposed to get smarter with each shipment as preferences get more concrete. Shipments are sent at a frequency determined by the shopper.

    Now, the story says, the goal is to use all that data to create even greater personalization … and even prompt online impulse buys in between shipments.

    I'm a huge believer in Stitch Fix and that business model. I've not a user, but my wife, son and daughter are. My son would tell you that Stitch Fix totally "gets" him - he cut back on shipment frequency because he liked so much of what was in each box. My wife and daughter, less so … but they like the business model enough that they also use Nordstrom's Trunk Club. They all have completely gotten over the notion of shopping for clothing in traditional stores.

    No reason to think this behavior won't extend to other retail segments, and won't be replicated by many of their peers.

    You can read the entire story here.

    It is an Eye-Opener … and instructive, since deeper customer knowledge and vaster customer data are critical to success in the current hyper-competitive climate.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 31, 2019

    Business Insider reports that Kroger plans a major rebranding effort, having concluded that its customers do not have a firm enough grasp of what the nation's largest traditional supermarket chain stands for.

    "Today, customers don't know what to make of the Kroger brand," an internal memo obtained by Business InsiderA says. "We're trying to be everything to everyone — saying too many things in a fragmented way. And it shows."

    The memo goes on to say that Kroger's "old approaches aren't working … It's been long proven that strong brands drive business," but "we're a Fortune #17 company that doesn't break the top 100 in brand value ranking."

    Kroger is said to be planning an unveiling of its rebranding effort next week.

    Business Insider writes that "the nation's largest traditional grocer appears to be rebranding as it faces heightened competition from rivals including Walmart, Amazon-owned Whole Foods, discount grocers Aldi and Lidl, and dollar stores. Walmart and Whole Foods are rapidly growing their online grocery services, while discount and dollar stores are driving down prices. 

    "Kroger's memo concedes that the company is losing to some of those competitors when it comes to branding."

    The goal of a rebranded Kroger will be to take "a clear stand that fresh shouldn't just be for some, it should be for all," and that it "has a standout look that is instantly identifiable and ownable and will linger in the hearts and minds of our customers … Kroger expects the new brand to 'drive repeat trips and very firmly solidify our leadership position in the industry,' the memo states."
    KC's View:
    It is possible that Kroger's greater willingness to try a variety of initiatives has unintentionally diluted its brand identity, and I give the company credit for recognizing the problem and addressing it. It may be that while it is making major investments in things like Ocado-powered robotic warehouses, that message - and its relevance to shoppers - is not making it through to the consuming public.

    It seems to me that it will be critical for Kroger to define itself not in terms of the competition - it cannot and should not be Walmart or Amazon or Whole Foods or Lidl or Aldi - but in terms of defined strengths and advantages.

    None of this is easy - Kroger has a dozen or so banners, more than 2,700 stores and 450,000 employees, and it already has been engaged in a expensive "Restock Kroger" transformation effort.

    But there are things that Kroger may need to do in order to compete with an enhanced brand image.

    One thing I'd be thinking about is bringing all Kroger's delivery options in-house, and part of a centralized approach to logistics that does not farm any of it out to third-party delivery services like Instacart (which really only wants to take shopper data and compete with its client chains). I'd make the delivery of high-quality products and services a core brand value … and begin the transition to in-house systems.

    I'd also think about developing a replenishment option that could compete with Amazon's Subscribe & Save (itself a $10 billion business), but might have even greater relevance when combined with an effective bricks-and-mortar option.

    These are just some ideas. The folks at Kroger are a lot smarter than I am, and really don't need my help. I do, however, agree with the idea of enhancing and strengthening its brand image and value proposition. It may be that it is seen as being too middle of the road, and the middle of the road is where you find roadkill.

    Published on: October 31, 2019

    CNet reports that Walmart is considering the sale of its Vudu on-demand video streaming business, which it acquired in 2010 for about $100 million.

    The reason? According to the story, "The retailer has found it would have to heavily invest in the business to compete in a sector dominated by the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime … Walmart reportedly feels Vudu 'isn't core to its business'."

    Walmart is not commenting on the possible sale.
    KC's View:
    Once again, it appears that Walmart is engaged in the sale - or at least, the consideration of the sale - of non-core businesses. This is not as criticism - just an observation.

    But … it illustrates, I believe, a core difference between Walmart and Amazon.

    Walmart is a retailer. Always will be. It is core to its identity, vision and operations.

    Amazon, not so much. Sure, retailing is important to its business model, but it also is focused on a wide range of other sectors - from web services to video streaming - that quite literally create an ecosystem that envelops its customers. It just sees the world differently than almost every other retailing entity.

    This could be an advantage. Might even end up being a weakness at some point (though I wouldn't bet on it.) But it is a fundamental difference, and needs to be factored into every analysis of these companies.

    Published on: October 31, 2019

    The Washington Post reports that Siddharth Breja, the former vice president of global finance for vaping company Juul, "contends in a new lawsuit that Juul released 1 million tainted vaping pods into the market, then failed to warn retailers and consumers."

    Breja says that he was "inappropriately terminated" after "raising concerns about a shipment of mint-flavored refill kits and for protesting the company’s refusal to alert the public. The suit also alleges that Juul breached several California business regulations."

    The Post writes that "Juul is already facing scores of lawsuits and federal scrutiny stemming from allegations it created a youth vaping epidemic. Meanwhile, medical officials are scrambling to unravel a rash of lung illnesses tied to vaping devices that have sickened more than 1,600 users and caused 34 deaths, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although many of the cases have been linked to black market THC products, public health officials have not ruled out nicotine-based e-cigarettes as a culprit. The panic has caused seven states and several cities, including San Francisco, where Juul is headquartered, to restrict e-cigarettes to various degrees."

    Juul has responded to the lawsuit by saying that Breja "failed to demonstrate the leadership qualities needed in his role. … The allegations concerning safety issues with Juul products are equally meritless."
    KC's View:
    Let me get this straight. Pods that are designed to addict customers, and probably cause their deaths down the road, may have been additionally tainted?

    Somehow, that seems redundant. Also, if true, even more despicable than selling stuff that is designed to addict and kill people.

    Published on: October 31, 2019

    CNN has a story about how "Walmart, Albertsons, Stop & Shop, Meijer, Hy-Vee and others are building automated mini-warehouses inside their stores and opening up 'dark stores' - locations that look like supermarkets but are closed to customers - to make deliveries and prepare pickup orders."

    The goal is simple - find a way to fulfill growing customer demand for online shopping while not congesting the aisles of traditional stores. In addition, experts say that it is less expensive to deliver from micro-fulfillment centers than it is from traditional warehouses - which is important in a business where margins already are tight.

    The story offers numerous examples of how these chains are growing their dark store movement.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 31, 2019

    TechCrunch reports that Walmart now gives its customers "the ability to shop for alcohol online, noting that more than 2,000 Walmart locations across 29 states will now let you pick up wine and beer along with your other grocery purchases. The alcohol pickup service has to abide by local laws, which limits its expansion in some cases.

    "In addition, Walmart says that now more than 200 stores in California and Florida are also offering alcohol delivery. It plans expansions on this front, as well."

    The story notes that "Walmart has been slowly ramping up its online alcohol shopping options for some time, in accordance with local, county and state regulations. Its Sam’s Club subsidiary has offered this option, too, by way of Instacart. In the latter case, Sam’s Club has been able to offer delivery of spirits, like Tito’s vodka or those from Sam’s Club’s own 'Member’s Mark' brand, among others."
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 31, 2019

    Reuters reports that "Google owner Alphabet Inc has made an offer to acquire U.S. wearable device maker Fitbit Inc, as it eyes a slice of the crowded market for fitness trackers and smartwatches."

    The story says that "there is no certainty that the negotiations between Google and Fitbit will lead to any deal, the sources said, asking not to be identified because the matter is confidential … A deal for Fitbit would come as its dominant share of the fitness tracking sector continues to be chipped away by cheaper offerings from companies such as China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and Xiaomi Corp."

    Reuters notes that "while Google has joined other major technology companies such as Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd in developing smart phones, it has yet to develop any wearable offerings."
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 31, 2019

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

    USA Today reports that Kroger "is reversing its ban on Visa credit cards that affected a small number of its stores, the company confirmed Wednesday … Kroger had said it was banning Visa to save money on processing fees and keep groceries low. In April, officials also said they would consider expanding the ban to additional stores" beyond the initial ban at its Foods Co. and Smith's Food & Drug chains.

    I'm sure the credit card companies will position this as a win, but I hope that it actually is Kroger that got the win, bringing to heel companies that charge usurious feels that only increase operating costs. Kroger, the country's largest traditional grocery company, is in the unique position to strike a blow for its customers.

    USA Today reports that "liquidation sales at the remaining Dressbarn stores will start Friday, the struggling retailer announced Wednesday. While the 544 stores will close no later than Dec. 26, the women's clothing website is expected to relaunch in 2020 with a new owner, the company said in a news release … Some stores have already closed since the company announced its plans in May to shutter all locations. Dressbarn is part of New Jersey-based Ascena Retail Group, whose other brands include Ann Taylor, Lane Bryant, Catherines, Cacique and Justice."

    The story notes that "the retailer also announced that it has sold the intellectual property assets of Dressbarn and 'has begun the process of transitioning its ecommerce business" to a subsidiary of Retail Ecommerce Ventures LLC'" - which will not accept "gift cards, merchandise credits and other previously issued offers from Dressbarn."

    reports that "amid declining beer sales and the growth of trendy drinks like White Claw, Molson Coors, the maker of Coors Light, Miller Light and Blue Moon, announced Wednesday it will cut 500 jobs and rebrand itself to a 'beverage company,' not just a beer one."

    In doing so, "Molson Coors said it would cut 400 to 500 jobs out of its total 17,550, which amounts to nearly 3% of its workforce … The company said it would close its Denver office and move its headquarters to Chicago … Molson Coors Brewing Co. will now be called Molson Coors Beverage Co., a subtle branding change that shifts the company away from just beer."

    What will they change the name to when CBD becomes a growing, even major, part of their business? Just asking.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 31, 2019

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 31, 2019

    In the seventh and deciding game of the World Series, the Washington Nationals staged a late-inning comeback to defeat the Houston Astros 6-2 and take the fall classic. It was the first time in World Series history that all the games had been won by the away team … the first championship for a Washington baseball team since 1924 (when the Washington Senators did it, led by pitcher Walter "Big Train" Johnson) …and the first championship for this franchise, which started out as the Montreal Expos in 1969.
    KC's View:
    Pitchers and catchers report in 103 days … and baseball - the "most important thing that doesn't matter," in the words of the late, great Robert B. Parker - will begin again.

    Published on: October 31, 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: