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    Published on: January 24, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    Excellent piece in Forbes that asks a relevant question - in a world where people seem to be more focused than ever on sustainability issues, will that force them to make a choice about convenience and the one day/free shipping guarantees to which so many of the same people have become addicted?

    There is conflicting data cited in the story:

    "A study by Future Commerce released last week found that 7% of respondents with Prime members are unsure if they will renew their membership, with some going on to say that they can wait an extra day for shipping." 

    "The report also found that consumers increasingly care more about sustainable business practices, with 42% having browsed or purchased from physical second-hand, thrift or consignment shops, and 47% saying they actively focus on buying fewer, better things."

    But…

    "Future Commerce also found in its consumer survey that the top three requirements for e-commerce websites are free shipping (58%), free returns (46.75%) and two-day delivery (30.39%)."

    And, as companies such as Amazon and Walmart invest millions in faster shipping, it drives smaller - and less-well funded - competitors to do the same.

    "Amazon and Walmart are not making its decisions in a vacuum," the story suggests.  "Consumer demand for one-day shipping would have to be apparent to execs in order to justify the huge investment required to get from two-day to one-day shipping. And it’s unknown which demographics are using one-day shipping. Are the younger generations who are self-reporting a tendency toward sustainability actually following through with this logic in their daily purchases?"

    The conclusion?

    "Shoppers are calling the shots. And unless we start putting our money where our mouth is, we’ll all be dealing with more boxes, more delivery trucks, and the long-term environmental effects of our decisions today."

    Ultimately, the Eye Opener from the story is this:  "Consumers - indeed, citizens - are pretty much able to rationalize anything."

    Which is true.  And ultimately a little depressing.

    Published on: January 24, 2020

    From the Wall Street Journal:  

    "The Trump administration is moving to curb the sale of imported counterfeit goods over the internet, warning electronic commerce platforms and warehouse operators of greater scrutiny and penalties if they don’t help ferret out fakes … The Trump administration is seeking to pressure e-commerce giants including Amazon.com Inc., which increasingly hosts lucrative third-party sales on its platform, as well as financial firms, logistics services and other companies that are positioned to help stem the rising tide of counterfeits and pirated goods."

    The story says that "the Department of Homeland Security is set to release a report Friday outlining its immediate actions and longer-term goals for enlisting e-commerce players to combat counterfeit products that officials say undermine U.S. technology and manufacturing, harm bricks-and-mortar retailers and endanger consumers."  This report will lay out the government's plans to “seek all available statutory authorities to pursue civil fines and other penalties against these entities," and will "explicitly permit the government to seek injunctive relief against third-party marketplaces and other intermediaries dealing in counterfeit merchandise.”

    KC's View:

    The argument here long has been that retailers would be better off being highly vigilant on the counterfeit issue, being better about preventing them and being as transparent as possible about product provenance.  And, I've suggested that if they didn't do this, they would have only themselves to blame if the government stepped in and imposed new rules, regulations - and penalties.  

    Which sort of seems like where we are at the moment.

    Some will argue that this is a Trump administration initiative aimed directly at Amazon and Jeff Bezos, but that may not matter.  When you know you have an enemy, you don't hand them a weapon and tell them what your weaknesses are.

    Published on: January 24, 2020

    Kroger yesterday announced that one of its new Ocado-powered robotic customer fulfillment centers will be built in Frederick, Maryland.

    It is the sixth such warehouse to be announced;  Kroger and Ocado have said they intend to have as many as 20 in the US.  It will be about 350,000 square feet, and likely will take some two years to build.

    "We are excited to bring Kroger and Ocado's latest automated warehouse to Frederick. This site will be key to delivering amazing grocery experiences to households across Maryland, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia," said Luke Jensen, CEO of Ocado Solutions.

    And Robert Clark, Kroger's senior vice president of supply chain, manufacturing and sourcing, said, "Through our strategic partnership, we are engineering a model for the region, leveraging advanced robotics technology and creative solutions to redefine the customer experience."

    KC's View:
      One of the things about this that strikes me as interesting is that there are virtually no Kroger stores north of this location - they're all to the south and west.   But I continue to wonder if these warehouses - designed to facilitate more efficient and effective delivery of e-commerce services - could be used to allow Kroger to create a pure-play e-commerce offering for markets that it does not yet serve.

    Published on: January 24, 2020

    Fox News reports that the New York City Council passed by a 43-3 margin a bill requiring the city's retailers to take cash.

    The story says that the "rationale for joining San Francisco and Philadelphia, as well as the states of New Jersey and Massachusetts, in opposing cashless shopping: It’s unfair to residents who don’t have bank accounts or to those who simply prefer cash."

    The move disregards the retailers who "argued that cashless shopping helped improve safety at stores because cashiers would not have to handle cash and managers would not have to take cash deposits to a bank, risking loss or theft.

    But, Fox News writes, cash remains highly relevant for many consumers:  "Paper money is used for nearly a third of U.S. purchases, with debit and credit cards accounting for 31 percent and 28 percent, respectively."

    KC's View:
      I understand that not everyone has access to credit and debit cards because they don't have bank accounts, and those people need to be respected.  But it does feel at some level that the communities banning all-cash stores are resolutely trying to keep at least one foot firmly planted in the past.

    As some places ban cashless stores, Amazon is investing in biometric technology that would use people's palms as identifiers. Which would mean, for example, that in an Amazon Go store where people need the mobile app to gain entry, they'd now just have to use the palms of their hands.

    I know which approach I think reflects a clear-eyed view of the future.


    Published on: January 24, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that even as major CPG companies declare that they will rid themselves of non-core businesses and "unfashionable brands" that are a drag on profits, there actually is a surprising lack of divestment activity in the sector.  In 2019, for example, such activity was 74 percent lower than in 2018.

    Why?

    The Journal writes that "portfolio sales have stalled above all because it is hard to make the math work. Selling assets for low-yielding cash typically reduces leverage and therefore earnings per share. This problem is compounded by high stock-market valuations in the consumer staples sector. Disposals of weak assets at lower valuations theoretically destroy shareholder value."

    KC's View:
      Which sort of sounds like companies that are behind the eight ball when it comes to competing and making a profit, may find it harder than expected to rectify whatever disadvantages they have.  Disadvantages that they may have created for themselves in many cases, by being less in touch with what consumers want and less focused on actual innovation than they should have been.

    Published on: January 24, 2020

    The Atlantic has a long piece about Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos that ponders what his "master plan" is.

    Bezos, the story says, has compiled an amazing portfolio:

    "Today, Bezos controls nearly 40 percent of all e-commerce in the United States. More product searches are conducted on Amazon than on Google, which has allowed Bezos to build an advertising business as valuable as the entirety of IBM. One estimate has Amazon Web Services controlling almost half of the cloud-computing industry — institutions as varied as General Electric, Unilever, and even the CIA rely on its servers. Forty-two percent of paper book sales and a third of the market for streaming video are controlled by the company; Twitch, its video platform popular among gamers, attracts 15 million users a day. Add The Washington Post to this portfolio and Bezos is, at a minimum, a rival to the likes of Disney’s Bob Iger or the suits at AT&T, and arguably the most powerful man in American culture."

    Here are four excerpts from the story, which is totally worth reading in its entirety:

    •  "To the U.S. president, he is a nemesis. To many Americans, he is a beneficent wizard of convenience and abundance. Over the course of just this past year, Amazon has announced the following endeavors: It will match potential home buyers with real-estate agents and integrate their new homes with Amazon devices; it will enable its voice assistant, Alexa, to access health-care data, such as the status of a prescription or a blood-sugar reading; it will build a 3-million-square-foot cargo airport outside Cincinnati; it will make next-day delivery standard for members of its Prime service; it will start a new chain of grocery stores, in addition to Whole Foods, which it already owns; it will stream Major League Baseball games; it will launch more than 3,000 satellites into orbit to supply the world with high-speed internet."

    •  "Bezos loves the word relentless — it appears again and again in his closely read annual letters to shareholders — and I had always assumed that his aim was domination for its own sake. In an era that celebrates corporate gigantism, he seemed determined to be the biggest of them all. But to say that Bezos’s ultimate goal is dominion over the planet is to misunderstand him. His ambitions are not bound by the gravitational pull of the Earth … Bezos worries that in the coming generations the planet’s growing energy demands will outstrip its limited supply. 'We have to go to space to save Earth,' he says."

    •  "Relentless might be the most Amazonian word, but Bezos also talks about the virtues of wandering.  'Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency,' he wrote in a letter to shareholders this year. When I spoke with workers based at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, they said what they appreciated most about their employer was the sense of intellectual autonomy it allowed. Once they had clearly articulated a mission in an approved six-pager, they typically had wide latitude to make it happen, without having to fight through multiple layers of approval. The wandering mentality has also helped Amazon continually expand into adjacent businesses — or businesses that seem, at first, unrelated. Assisted by the ever growing consumer and supplier data it collects, and the insights into human needs and human behavior it is constantly uncovering, the company keeps finding new opportunities for growth."

    •  "In the end, all that is admirable and fearsome about Amazon converges. Every item can be found on its site, which makes it the greatest shopping experience ever conceived. Every item can be found on its site, which means market power is dangerously concentrated in one company. Amazon’s smart speakers have the magical power to translate the spoken word into electronic action; Amazon’s doorbell cameras have the capacity to send video to the police, expanding the surveillance state. With its unique management structure and crystalline articulation of values and comprehensive collection of data, Amazon effortlessly scales into new businesses, a reason to marvel and cower. Jeff Bezos has won capitalism. The question for the democracy is, are we okay with that?"

    You can read the piece here.

    And … the New York Times has a story about him this morning that looks at how Bezos' image and behavior have changed in recent years, turning him a geek into tabloid fodder.  Here is an excerpt:

    "When Jeff Bezos and his former wife, MacKenzie, celebrated what would be their last anniversary together around Labor Day 2018, they arrived at a Miami nightclub with no fanfare. His table was booked online, which is 'totally what tourists do' and 'totally dorky,' the club’s celebrity liaison said in an interview at the time.

    "Almost a year later, Mr. Bezos arrived at a hot Miami seafood restaurant in grander fashion, on a 90-foot-long Leopard superyacht in what The Miami Herald called 'the most extravagant entrance ever'."

    Make of it what you will.  You can read that story here.

    Published on: January 24, 2020

    No one has any experience with the future.

    The advertising run-up to the Super Bowl has begun, and one of the commercials getting the most attention is from Planters, which shows the death of its longtime mascot, Mr. Peanut.

    You can see it above:  Mr. Peanut is driving the Nutmobile, accompanied by actors Wesley Snipes and Matt Walsh (Veep), when the vehicle goes off a cliff.  All three find themselves hanging onto a tree branch, which cannot support their weight … and it goes on from there.

    Some sort of memorial service for Mr. Peanut apparently will be shown in a Super Bowl commercial.

    AdWeek writes that "the loss of Mr. Peanut is a major moment for the brand. Planters first introduced Mr. Peanut to audiences in 1916, meaning that the mascot has been around since the midst of World War I, making him of the longest-standing brand mascots of all time."

    KC's View:
      I'm going to make a prediction right here.

    He ain't dead.  Somehow, he survives … maybe as a new peanut butter, but he survives.

    I would also suggest that this has been done before - when William Shatner "died" in a similar way in a Priceline commercial that you can see here.

    The question is whether the audience will feel entertained … cheated … or will even care at all.

    Published on: January 24, 2020

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

    •  E-commerce provider and delivery company Instacart said yesterday that it is beginning the rollout of what it is calling Instacart Meals, described as "a new grocery meals product that powers easy ordering, delivery and pickup of made-to-order food. The launch marks Instacart's move into grocery meal delivery, helping retailers bring more in-store aisles and experiences online for customers across North America."

    According to the announcement, "As a first step, Instacart has collaborated with Publix to introduce the product with a new digital deli counter including its popular Publix subs. The product will roll out to Publix locations across Florida in the coming weeks and to nearly all Publix stores across the Southeast in the months ahead, following a Florida pilot … The new Instacart Meals product makes it easy for customers to order specialty counter items alongside their groceries and household essentials, all to be delivered or picked up from the store."

    Yup.  It gets Instacart into meal delivery.   And it also allows Instacart to compile supermarkets' customer data to further arm itself to compete with those same supermarkets at some point.  It has weaponized such customer data in the past, and there is no reason to think it can't or won't in the future.

    Published on: January 24, 2020

    •  Fox Business reports that Walmart is "rolling out gym memberships to its 1.5 million U.S. employees and their families starting a $9 a paycheck, which is about $234 a year based on 26 paychecks annually."

    The story quotes Adam Stavisky, Walmart's senior vice president of U.S. Benefits, as saying, "We’re committed to providing associates and their families access to high-quality medical coverage along with tools and resources to manage their health and well-being.  The Walton Life Fitness Pass is another example of how we’re working to help our associates and their families."

    Published on: January 24, 2020

    •  The National Retail Federation (NRF) is predicting that the close to 194 million people planning to watch the Super Bowl this year "expect to spend an average $88.65 on food and beverages, merchandise and party supplies, for a total $17.2 billion nationwide.

    •  In the UK, the Times and Star reports that Morrisons plans to eliminate some 3,000 management jobs even as it plans to hire as many as 4,000 new store employees.

    David Lepley, Morrisons group retail director, tells the paper that "this proposal means more frontline colleagues improving product availability and helping customers."

    The story notes that there have been layoffs at a number of the UK's retail grocery companies, including Sainsbury and Walmart-owned Asda Group, as retailers do price-and-margin battle with German discounters Aldi and Lidl.

    Published on: January 24, 2020

    Jim Lehrer, who co-hosted and hosted the "PBS NewsHour" for decades, putting an emphasis on sober-minded journalism delivered with integrity, informed analysis and an almost studied lack of entertainment value, has passed away at age 85.

    Lehrer was perhaps best known to mass audiences for his moderation of presidential debates - he did a dozen of them between 1988 and 2012.

    In addition to his career as a newsman, Lehrer wrote some 20 novels, several plays and three memoirs.

    Published on: January 24, 2020

    Digital strategies aren't just about creating alternatives to the bricks-and-mortar shopping experience.  Done effectively, they can actually bring people back to the store, while also eliminating customer anonymity, creating rich and actionable data, and deepen relationships between the store and consumer in a way that transcends the simple transaction.

    Our newest Retail Tomorrow podcast, which brings together a terrific panel of experts from a wide range of disciplines, was recorded at Google’s New York City offices during the recent National Retail Federation (NRF) Show.  Our guests:

    •  Matt Alexander, co-founder of Neighborhood Goods, an unusual and fascinating take on physical retailing with stores in Dallas and New York.

    •  Patrick Flanagan, senior vice president of digital marketing and strategy for Simon,  which has more than 200 properties in 37 states and Puerto Rico.

    •  Tom Furphy, CEO and Managing Director of Consumer Equity Partners, a member of the Retail Tomorrow podcast family and a regular contributor to "The Innovation Conversation" on MNB.

    •  And Jalna Silverstein, a leader in Ernst & Young’s Transaction Advisory Practice and its Real Estate, Consumer Experience and Retail Strategy.

    <b>You can listen to the podcast here.

    <a href="https://www.retailtomorrow.org/podcast/online-to-off-line-all-the-lines-in-between" target="_blank"> here</a>.</b>

    This Retail Tomorrow podcast is sponsored by the Global Market Development Center (GMDC).

    Pictured below are our panel members, from left:  The Content Guy, Matt Alexander, Tom Furphy, Patrick Flanagan, Jalna Silverstein.

    Published on: January 24, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    Excellent piece in Forbes that asks a relevant question - in a world where people seem to be more focused than ever on sustainability issues, will that force them to make a choice about convenience and the one day/free shipping guarantees to which so many of the same people have become addicted?

    There is conflicting data cited in the story:

    "A study by Future Commerce released last week found that 7% of respondents with Prime members are unsure if they will renew their membership, with some going on to say that they can wait an extra day for shipping." 

    "The report also found that consumers increasingly care more about sustainable business practices, with 42% having browsed or purchased from physical second-hand, thrift or consignment shops, and 47% saying they actively focus on buying fewer, better things."

    But…

    "Future Commerce also found in its consumer survey that the top three requirements for e-commerce websites are free shipping (58%), free returns (46.75%) and two-day delivery (30.39%)."

    And, as companies such as Amazon and Walmart invest millions in faster shipping, it drives smaller - and less-well funded - competitors to do the same.

    "Amazon and Walmart are not making its decisions in a vacuum," the story suggests. "Consumer demand for one-day shipping would have to be apparent to execs in order to justify the huge investment required to get from two-day to one-day shipping. And it’s unknown which demographics are using one-day shipping. Are the younger generations who are self-reporting a tendency toward sustainability actually following through with this logic in their daily purchases?"

    The conclusion?

    "Shoppers are calling the shots. And unless we start putting our money where our mouth is, we’ll all be dealing with more boxes, more delivery trucks, and the long-term environmental effects of our decisions today."

    Ultimately, the Eye Opener from the story is this: "Consumers - indeed, citizens - are pretty much able to rationalize anything."

    Which is true. And ultimately a little depressing.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2020

    From the Wall Street Journal:

    "The Trump administration is moving to curb the sale of imported counterfeit goods over the internet, warning electronic commerce platforms and warehouse operators of greater scrutiny and penalties if they don’t help ferret out fakes … The Trump administration is seeking to pressure e-commerce giants including Amazon.com Inc., which increasingly hosts lucrative third-party sales on its platform, as well as financial firms, logistics services and other companies that are positioned to help stem the rising tide of counterfeits and pirated goods."

    The story says that "the Department of Homeland Security is set to release a report Friday outlining its immediate actions and longer-term goals for enlisting e-commerce players to combat counterfeit products that officials say undermine U.S. technology and manufacturing, harm bricks-and-mortar retailers and endanger consumers." This report will lay out the government's plans to “seek all available statutory authorities to pursue civil fines and other penalties against these entities," and will "explicitly permit the government to seek injunctive relief against third-party marketplaces and other intermediaries dealing in counterfeit merchandise.”
    KC's View:
    The argument here long has been that retailers would be better off being highly vigilant on the counterfeit issue, being better about preventing them and being as transparent as possible about product provenance. And, I've suggested that if they didn't do this, they would have only themselves to blame if the government stepped in and imposed new rules, regulations - and penalties.

    Which sort of seems like where we are at the moment.

    Some will argue that this is a Trump administration initiative aimed directly at Amazon and Jeff Bezos, but that may not matter. When you know you have an enemy, you don't hand them a weapon and tell them what your weaknesses are.

    Published on: January 24, 2020

    Kroger yesterday announced that one of its new Ocado-powered robotic customer fulfillment centers will be built in Frederick, Maryland.

    It is the sixth such warehouse to be announced; Kroger and Ocado have said they intend to have as many as 20 in the US. It will be about 350,000 square feet, and likely will take some two years to build.

    "We are excited to bring Kroger and Ocado's latest automated warehouse to Frederick. This site will be key to delivering amazing grocery experiences to households across Maryland, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia," said Luke Jensen, CEO of Ocado Solutions.

    And Robert Clark, Kroger's senior vice president of supply chain, manufacturing and sourcing, said, "Through our strategic partnership, we are engineering a model for the region, leveraging advanced robotics technology and creative solutions to redefine the customer experience."
    KC's View:
    One of the things about this that strikes me as interesting is that there are virtually no Kroger stores north of this location - they're all to the south and west. But I continue to wonder if these warehouses - designed to facilitate more efficient and effective delivery of e-commerce services - could be used to allow Kroger to create a pure-play e-commerce offering for markets that it does not yet serve.

    Published on: January 24, 2020

    Fox News reports that the New York City Council passed by a 43-3 margin a bill requiring the city's retailers to take cash.

    The story says that the "rationale for joining San Francisco and Philadelphia, as well as the states of New Jersey and Massachusetts, in opposing cashless shopping: It’s unfair to residents who don’t have bank accounts or to those who simply prefer cash."

    The move disregards the retailers who "argued that cashless shopping helped improve safety at stores because cashiers would not have to handle cash and managers would not have to take cash deposits to a bank, risking loss or theft.
    But, Fox News writes, cash remains highly relevant for many consumers: "Paper money is used for nearly a third of U.S. purchases, with debit and credit cards accounting for 31 percent and 28 percent, respectively."
    KC's View:
    I understand that not everyone has access to credit and debit cards because they don't have bank accounts, and those people need to be respected. But it does feel at some level that the communities banning all-cash stores are resolutely trying to keep at least one foot firmly planted in the past.

    As some places ban cashless stores, Amazon is investing in biometric technology that would use people's palms as identifiers. Which would mean, for example, that in an Amazon Go store where people need the mobile app to gain entry, they'd now just have to use the palms of their hands.

    I know which approach I think reflects a clear-eyed view of the future.

    Published on: January 24, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that even as major CPG companies declare that they will rid themselves of non-core businesses and "unfashionable brands" that are a drag on profits, there actually is a surprising lack of divestment activity in the sector. In 2019, for example, such activity was 74 percent lower than in 2018.

    Why?

    The Journal writes that "portfolio sales have stalled above all because it is hard to make the math work. Selling assets for low-yielding cash typically reduces leverage and therefore earnings per share. This problem is compounded by high stock-market valuations in the consumer staples sector. Disposals of weak assets at lower valuations theoretically destroy shareholder value."
    KC's View:
    Which sort of sounds like companies that are behind the eight ball when it comes to competing and making a profit, may find it harder than expected to rectify whatever disadvantages they have. Disadvantages that they may have created for themselves in many cases, by being less in touch with what consumers want and less focused on actual innovation than they should have been.

    Published on: January 24, 2020

    The Atlantic has a long piece about Amazon founder/CEO Jeff Bezos that ponders what his "master plan" is.

    Bezos, the story says, has compiled an amazing portfolio:

    "Today, Bezos controls nearly 40 percent of all e-commerce in the United States. More product searches are conducted on Amazon than on Google, which has allowed Bezos to build an advertising business as valuable as the entirety of IBM. One estimate has Amazon Web Services controlling almost half of the cloud-computing industry — institutions as varied as General Electric, Unilever, and even the CIA rely on its servers. Forty-two percent of paper book sales and a third of the market for streaming video are controlled by the company; Twitch, its video platform popular among gamers, attracts 15 million users a day. Add The Washington Post to this portfolio and Bezos is, at a minimum, a rival to the likes of Disney’s Bob Iger or the suits at AT&T, and arguably the most powerful man in American culture."

    Here are four excerpts from the story, which is totally worth reading in its entirety:

    • "To the U.S. president, he is a nemesis. To many Americans, he is a beneficent wizard of convenience and abundance. Over the course of just this past year, Amazon has announced the following endeavors: It will match potential home buyers with real-estate agents and integrate their new homes with Amazon devices; it will enable its voice assistant, Alexa, to access health-care data, such as the status of a prescription or a blood-sugar reading; it will build a 3-million-square-foot cargo airport outside Cincinnati; it will make next-day delivery standard for members of its Prime service; it will start a new chain of grocery stores, in addition to Whole Foods, which it already owns; it will stream Major League Baseball games; it will launch more than 3,000 satellites into orbit to supply the world with high-speed internet."

    • "Bezos loves the word relentless — it appears again and again in his closely read annual letters to shareholders — and I had always assumed that his aim was domination for its own sake. In an era that celebrates corporate gigantism, he seemed determined to be the biggest of them all. But to say that Bezos’s ultimate goal is dominion over the planet is to misunderstand him. His ambitions are not bound by the gravitational pull of the Earth … Bezos worries that in the coming generations the planet’s growing energy demands will outstrip its limited supply. 'We have to go to space to save Earth,' he says."

    • "Relentless might be the most Amazonian word, but Bezos also talks about the virtues of wandering. 'Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency,' he wrote in a letter to shareholders this year. When I spoke with workers based at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, they said what they appreciated most about their employer was the sense of intellectual autonomy it allowed. Once they had clearly articulated a mission in an approved six-pager, they typically had wide latitude to make it happen, without having to fight through multiple layers of approval. The wandering mentality has also helped Amazon continually expand into adjacent businesses — or businesses that seem, at first, unrelated. Assisted by the ever growing consumer and supplier data it collects, and the insights into human needs and human behavior it is constantly uncovering, the company keeps finding new opportunities for growth."

    • "In the end, all that is admirable and fearsome about Amazon converges. Every item can be found on its site, which makes it the greatest shopping experience ever conceived. Every item can be found on its site, which means market power is dangerously concentrated in one company. Amazon’s smart speakers have the magical power to translate the spoken word into electronic action; Amazon’s doorbell cameras have the capacity to send video to the police, expanding the surveillance state. With its unique management structure and crystalline articulation of values and comprehensive collection of data, Amazon effortlessly scales into new businesses, a reason to marvel and cower. Jeff Bezos has won capitalism. The question for the democracy is, are we okay with that?"

    You can read the piece here.

    And … the New York Times has a story about him this morning that looks at how Bezos' image and behavior have changed in recent years, turning him a geek into tabloid fodder. Here is an excerpt:

    "When Jeff Bezos and his former wife, MacKenzie, celebrated what would be their last anniversary together around Labor Day 2018, they arrived at a Miami nightclub with no fanfare. His table was booked online, which is 'totally what tourists do' and 'totally dorky,' the club’s celebrity liaison said in an interview at the time.

    "Almost a year later, Mr. Bezos arrived at a hot Miami seafood restaurant in grander fashion, on a 90-foot-long Leopard superyacht in what The Miami Herald called 'the most extravagant entrance ever'."

    Make of it what you will. You can read the story here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2020


    The advertising run-up to the Super Bowl has begun, and one of the commercials getting the most attention is from Planters, which shows the death of its longtime mascot, Mr. Peanut.

    You can see it at left: Mr. Peanut is driving the Nutmobile, accompanied by actors Wesley Snipes and Matt Walsh (Veep), when the vehicle goes off a cliff. All three find themselves hanging onto a tree branch, which cannot support their weight … and it goes on from there.

    Some sort of memorial service for Mr. Peanut apparently will be shown in a Super Bowl commercial.



    AdWeek writes that "the loss of Mr. Peanut is a major moment for the brand. Planters first introduced Mr. Peanut to audiences in 1916, meaning that the mascot has been around since the midst of World War I, making him of the longest-standing brand mascots of all time."
    KC's View:
    I'm going to make a prediction right here.

    He ain't dead. Somehow, he survives … maybe as a new peanut butter, but he survives.

    I would also suggest that this has been done before - when William Shatner "died" in a similar way in a Priceline commercial that you can see here.

    The question is whether the audience will feel entertained … cheated … or will even care at all.

    Published on: January 24, 2020

    • E-commerce provider and delivery company Instacart said yesterday that it is beginning the rollout of what it is calling Instacart Meals, described as "a new grocery meals product that powers easy ordering, delivery and pickup of made-to-order food. The launch marks Instacart's move into grocery meal delivery, helping retailers bring more in-store aisles and experiences online for customers across North America."

    According to the announcement, "As a first step, Instacart has collaborated with Publix to introduce the product with a new digital deli counter including its popular Publix subs. The product will roll out to Publix locations across Florida in the coming weeks and to nearly all Publix stores across the Southeast in the months ahead, following a Florida pilot … The new Instacart Meals product makes it easy for customers to order specialty counter items alongside their groceries and household essentials, all to be delivered or picked up from the store."

    Yup. It gets Instacart into meal delivery. And it also allows Instacart to compile supermarkets' customer data to further arm itself to compete with those same supermarkets at some point. It has weaponized such customer data in the past, and there is no reason to think it can't or won't in the future.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2020

    Fox Business reports that Walmart is "rolling out gym memberships to its 1.5 million U.S. employees and their families starting a $9 a paycheck, which is about $234 a year based on 26 paychecks annually."

    The story quotes Adam Stavisky, Walmart's senior vice president of U.S. Benefits, as saying, "We’re committed to providing associates and their families access to high-quality medical coverage along with tools and resources to manage their health and well-being. The Walton Life Fitness Pass is another example of how we’re working to help our associates and their families."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2020

    • The National Retail Federation (NRF) is predicting that the close to 194 million people planning to watch the Super Bowl this year "expect to spend an average $88.65 on food and beverages, merchandise and party supplies, for a total $17.2 billion nationwide.


    • In the UK, the Times and Star reports that Morrisons plans to eliminate some 3,000 management jobs even as it plans to hire as many as 4,000 new store employees.

    David Lepley, Morrisons group retail director, tells the paper that "this proposal means more frontline colleagues improving product availability and helping customers."

    The story notes that there have been layoffs at a number of the UK's retail grocery companies, including Sainsbury and Walmart-owned Asda Group, as retailers do price-and-margin battle with German discounters Aldi and Lidl.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2020

    Jim Lehrer, who co-hosted and hosted the "PBS NewsHour" for decades, putting an emphasis on sober-minded journalism delivered with integrity, informed analysis and an almost studied lack of entertainment value, has passed away at age 85.

    Lehrer was perhaps best known to mass audiences for his moderation of presidential debates - he did a dozen of them between 1988 and 2012.

    In addition to his career as a newsman, Lehrer wrote some 20 novels, several plays and three memoirs.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2020

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2020

    Digital strategies aren't just about creating alternatives to the bricks-and-mortar shopping experience. Done effectively, they can actually bring people back to the store, while also eliminating customer anonymity, creating rich and actionable data, and deepen relationships between the store and consumer in a way that transcends the simple transaction.

    Our newest Retail Tomorrow podcast, which brings together a terrific panel of experts from a wide range of disciplines, was recorded at Google’s New York City offices during the recent National Retail Federation (NRF) Show. Our guests:

    • Matt Alexander, co-founder of Neighborhood Goods, an unusual and fascinating take on physical retailing with stores in Dallas and New York.

    • Patrick Flanagan, senior vice president of digital marketing and strategy for Simon, which has more than 200 properties in 37 states and Puerto Rico.

    • Tom Furphy, CEO and Managing Director of Consumer Equity Partners, a member of the Retail Tomorrow podcast family and a regular contributor to "The Innovation Conversation" on MNB.

    • And Jalna Silverstein, a leader in Ernst & Young’s Transaction Advisory Practice and its Real Estate, Consumer Experience and Retail Strategy.

    You can listen to the podcast here.

    This Retail Tomorrow podcast is sponsored by the Global Market Development Center (GMDC).

    Pictured below are our panel members, from left: The Content Guy, Matt Alexander, Tom Furphy, Patrick Flanagan, Jalna Silverstein.

    Enjoy!







    KC's View:

    Published on: January 24, 2020

    "Star Trek: Picard" finally debuted yesterday on CBS All Access, the streaming channel, and it will come to no surprise to MNB readers that I found it engaging and thoughtful, with a real potential for provoking reconsideration of of the Star Trek universe that was first conceived by Gene Rodenberry more than 50 years ago.

    Almost from the beginning, and through six previous series (not including the animated version) and more than a dozen movies, "Star Trek" has done what science fiction is able to do so well - examine our current world by using the future as a metaphor. That was something that Rodenberry took very seriously - the series, sometimes using weird plots that would disguise the intent from network censors, was able to talk about race relations, sexuality, religion, the Vietnam war and robotics in ways that were less threatening than if they'd been dealt with head-on.

    If there was a frustration with Rodenberry's conception of the future, it was that he saw humanity in the 23rd century … a mere 200 years from now … as having solved so many of its problems. There was no poverty, no hunger, no greed, which meant that most of the conflicts that his intergalactic crews had to deal with were external - they took place on other planets, other species. That made creating drama a little difficult, but the writers usually managed to succeed, largely by creating some indelible characters and casting actors who, if they were not always the best and most talented performers around, were incredibly relatable and unique able to sell the premises set up by "Star Trek" on a weekly basis.

    Jean-Luc Picard, the captain of the starship Enterprise in "Star Trek: The Next Generation," which debuted in 1987, was embodied by perhaps the best actor ever to be cast as a "Star Trek" regular - Patrick Stewart, an accomplished British actor who brought authority, decency, intelligence, integrity, thoughtfulness and rectitude to his performance. He wasn't a space cowboy like his predecessor, James T. Kirk, played with an infectious sense of hammy joy by William Shatner. (This is no put-down. I love Shatner's performance.) Stewart's Picard was more thoughtful, largely because as the series moved through its 178 episodes, the scripts allowed him to be. Picard always seem to be wrestling with juggling his various roles as scientist, explorer, military commander, and diplomat, and Stewart made those struggles - often in subtext - particularly human. Which is key to why "Star Trek" is more resonant - in my opinion, more so than Star Wars. It is about people and values, not myth and spectacle.

    "Star Trek: Picard" picks up the now-retired captain's life two decades after he left Starfleet and took up residence running his family's vineyard and winery in France, hanging out mostly with his dog ("Number One," a name that will amuse anyone familiar with the series). I will be careful here not to indulge in any spoilers, but it is fair to say that he has left Starfleet as a matter of honor; he feels that the United Federation of Planets, which Starfleet serves, no longer is living up to its promise and potential, not adhering to its stated and implied values, operating from fear and pessimism rather than belief and optimism. It is the end of the 24th century, and the future is uncertain.

    But as the first episode begins, Picard has an encounter that changes his life. It offers him the opportunity at a kind of redemption, and he rises to the opportunity … more slowly and creakily than last we saw him, but with a firm belief that it is critical to go where no one has gone before. But make no mistake, Picard is an angry man, a kind of lion in winter - he feels the values that defined him, his life and his service have been betrayed, he isn't going gently into that good night, or that deep space. It is an evolution that Stewart plays with the assurance of an old pro who knows this character inside and out, and believes in him.

    There are tons of references to earlier episodes and movies in the first episodes, and trailers and clips suggest that there will be plenty more as the 10-episode season unfolds. (And beyond … "Star Trek: Picard" already has been renewed for a second season.) But rest assured that "Star Trek: Picard" is very much a fresh creation, willing to consider not just the great things that humanity is capable of, but the poor choices and selfish motives that can plague it and move it in the wrong direction.

    I am all-in. I cannot wait to see what they do next.



    The red wine I want to recommend this week is not from Chateau Picard, but it is a beauty - the 2016 Home Field red blend from Sonoma County. This wine is made from Zinfandel, Carigane, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, and it is rich and full-bodied and wonderful. We had it with steak and potatoes, but it would be just as good all by itself, preferably with the lights dimmed, a fire going, and the dogs curled up around your feet.



    That's it for this week … have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    Slàinte!
    KC's View: