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    Published on: March 9, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    While it is a seller's market right now when it comes to jobs in the retail business, the simple fact is that this won't always be the case.  Recession will hit, and companies will look to thin their ranks and expenses.  Business acquisition and consolidation will reduce the number of jobs out there.

    It is inevitable.  Maybe sooner.  Maybe later.  But inevitable.

    And so, as a public service, MNB is happy to point you to an alternative…

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is hiring astronauts, and you could be one of the lucky ones.

    According to the USAJobs site, NASA is looking for people with a science and/or technology background and/or degrees who are willing to "spend approximately two years training on the basic skills required to be an astronaut - from spacewalking and robotics to leadership and teamwork skills. Upon completing training, they will join the active astronaut corps and become eligible for spaceflight assignment."

    You can make between $104,898 and $161,141 per year … no security clearance is required … but you must take a drug test.

    There's a terrific little recruitment video, which you can see below.

    One note, though.  Extensive travel is required … and you probably can't get frequent flyer miles.

    As I said.  Just trying to provide a public service.  (And maybe provide a lighter note on which to begin a week in which a lot of the news may be grim.)

    Published on: March 9, 2020

    Reuters reports this morning that Amazon is starting  anew business that will license its checkout-free "just walk out" technology to other retailers, and today will launch a new website designed to promote it.

    The story says that Amazon is saying that it already has signed several deals with customers that it is not yet willing to publicly identify.

    As with Amazon Go stores, consumers will be able to take products off store shelves, put them in bags or even their pockets, and then be accurately charged after they leave the store.  Unlike with Amazon Go stores, they will not need a mobile application to enter stores, but rather will just use a credit card to gain entry; that card will then be charged when they depart.

    Retailers licensing the technology will do so using their own banners;  they will not be able to open Amazon Go-branded stores.

    The JustWalkOut website provides the following information:

    •  "The installation of the technology can take as little as a few weeks from the time we have access to your store. For new store builds, we work with retailers as part of your construction or re-model plans. For existing stores, we work with retailers to install the technology while minimizing impact on current operations."

    •  "Our technology has broad applicability. It's great in places that have high demand, long lines, or wherever customers are pressed for time. The ability to quickly enter, grab what you want, and just walk out without stopping to check out is very appealing to customers."

    •  "We only collect the data needed to provide shoppers with an accurate receipt. Shoppers can think of this as similar to typical security camera footage."

    Reuters writes that "a by-product of demand for the offering would be increased usage of Amazon Web Services, the company’s cloud that underpins its checkout-free systems.

    "Still, high demand is by no means certain. Other vendors including Grabango and AiFi are offering automated checkout to retailers, which in the past have been loath to hand deals to their rival Amazon that has been the biggest disruptor of their brick-and-mortar businesses."

    However, there have been reports that airport shops are one retail segment for which Amazon Go-type tech would be ideal.

    KC's View:
    One issue that ought to be on people's minds is who will own the shopper data.  Amazon says that it only will use the shopper identification and credit card data for purposes of being able to charge the customer, but if I were licensing the technology, I'd want to make damned sure that this is guaranteed contractually.

    That said, I think this is a very big deal with enormous implications for retailing;  I have been saying since the first time I saw Amazon Go that I believe that checkout-free tech eventually will be as important to retail development as scanning.  Sure, there are other companies developing different checkout-free systems, but Amazon certainly is way ahead of the game because it has fully functioning stores of varying sizes that are using it successfully, and has said with the opening of its new Amazon Go Grocery in Seattle that size is no longer an issue for the checkout-free concept.

    Cost will be an issue, of course, but I have to believe that Amazon's tech will not be out of reach for most retailers, and will be structured, especially in view of reduced labor expenses, so that a range of companies can afford it.

    The next shoe to drop will be when Amazon starts naming names of its customers, and creates a very specific kind of momentum.

    Published on: March 9, 2020

    Albertsons, the second largest supermarket operator in the US, said on Friday that it once again will try to go public, and has filed the necessary paperwork with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

    According to the Wall Street Journal, Albertsons "unveiled its paperwork to go public after spending more than a decade under its private-equity backer, Cerberus Capital Management LP."  It said that "it hadn’t determined the number of shares or the price range for its offering."

    From the Journal story:

    "Cerberus is looking to cash out of an investment in Albertsons it made nearly 15 years ago. The private-equity firm bought about 650 Albertsons stores in 2006 and another 900 stores in 2013. Two years later, it combined Albertsons with Safeway Inc., creating a behemoth second in size to Kroger Co. among supermarket operators. Walmart Inc., which sells groceries alongside many other goods, is the nation’s top food seller.

    "After the Safeway merger, Albertsons considered going public in 2015 before scrapping that effort due to lackluster performance of retail stocks that year. Three years later, Albertsons agreed to go public by acquiring most of Rite Aid Corp. in a $24 billion merger. The two dropped the deal after investors protested pushed back on the plan.

    "Founded in 1939, Albertsons operates 2,260 stores across 34 states and the District of Columbia. The company generated more than $60.5 billion of net sales in fiscal 2018, according to filings with the SEC."

    KC's View:

    I'm not a broker or much of a stock market expert, but it is hard for me to imagine that this is a great moment to launch an IPO - after all, the market's value has dropped more than 10 percent in just the past week or so.

    But … specific timing has not been announced, so maybe the idea is to lay the foundation now, and then starting building the IPO structure once the market stabilize.

    Published on: March 9, 2020

    The BBC reports this morning that Tesco is getting out of Asia with the sale of its operations in Thailand and Malaysia for the equivalent of $10.6 billion (US).

    According to the story, "The supermarket chain has 2,000 stores across both countries, under the Tesco Lotus brand, and is selling them to Thai conglomerate CP Group."

    CEO Dave Lewis says the sale is part of an effort "to further simplify and focus" its business, allowing it to concentrate on the UK, Ireland and central Europe.  Roughly half the proceeds will be distributed to shareholders in a special dividend, with some of the balance being used to "slash debt."

    KC's View:

    Tesco has become the amazing shrinking company, with so many of its global expansion efforts of the past decade or so shuttered or sold.  Some of this is cyclical, some of it is a change in circumstance, but some of it is just the result of earlier mismanagement and misjudgment.  (Can you say Fresh & Easy?)

    Add this to the financial scandal related to the company's systemic and systematic overstatement of revenues and understatement of financial exposure, and you have a company that no longer is the jewel that was developed by Lord Ian MacLaurin out of the foundation laid by founder Jack Cohen.

    A bit of Cohen trivia:  He used to give out gold tie pints engraved with the letters "YCDBSOYA."  The meaning:  "You can't do business sitting on your arse."

    Published on: March 9, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal has the sad story of Tupperware, which for decades was a go-to brand for food containers but now has become virtually irrelevant, facing questions about whether its independent dealers-driven sales model - which centered on suburban Tupperware parties - can survive in an e-commerce world.

    According to the story, "Revenue and profits have been sagging for years, leaving investors sour on the future of the company that has been selling food containers for 74 years … Overseas, Tupperware’s bets on markets like China and Brazil have left it exposed to choppy economic growth. In the U.S., it hasn’t been able to arrest a yearslong decline in the size of its sales force. The company’s efforts to draw in customers and sellers with new kitchen items, e-commerce investments and other initiatives haven’t taken root."

    Like other direct sales brands - think Avon and Amway - "Tupperware faces questions about whether it can remain relevant as consumers migrate to shopping online and socializing has moved from living rooms to apps like Instagram," the Journal writes.

    The story notes that the party has moved on without Tupperware:  "Consumers haven’t stopped buying reusable storage containers. U.S. shoppers were expected to buy $1.44 billion of food containers last year, according to estimates from consumer-research firm Euromonitor—an increase from $1.35 billion in 2014.

    "But other companies, including Newell Brand Inc.’s Rubbermaid unit and Clorox Co. ’s Glad business, have staked out turf with their own storage offerings. Both brands are sold in stores and on websites like Amazon."

    Less than five percent of Tupperware's sales come from sources outside its direct sales force.  "I think we’re just starting to scratch the surface,” says Christopher O’Leary, Tupperware’s interim CEO.

    KC's View:

    Gee, y'think?

    Hate to be critical, but a statement as simultaneously dumb and obvious as that one ought to immediately disqualify this guy from losing the "interim" in his title.

    Go on Amazon and type in "Tupperware," and it offers thousands of options - none of them, best I can tell, actually made by Tupperware.  So the first thing I'd do is create a strategy for getting on Amazon - maybe creating an online Tupperware store power by Amazon.  I'd have to make the argument to independent sellers that if we don't do this, the brand they are repping will be obsolete.

    Next thing I'd do - try to get the brand into special sections in The Container Store, both online and in its bricks-and-mortar stores.  And if I'm on the Tupperware board - none of whom, except for the interim CEO, seems to be an experienced retailer - I'd look for someone aggressive to take the CEO job, who could shake things up quickly and accomplish this kind of change.  No excuses.

    By the way .. the Tupperware story seems to be a good object lesson in how to ignore changing technology and evolving consumer habits and turn a revered brand into something that barely is on shoppers' radar.

    Published on: March 9, 2020

    Random headlines from the health emergency that seems to be moving from being an epidemic to a global pandemic….

    •  Bloomberg reports that COVID-19 coronavirus cases have topped 109,000 worldwide, with more than 3,800 deaths.

    One estimate is that the number of cases is doubling every seven days.

    •  From the New York Times this morning:

    "The United States faces an accelerating pace of new coronavirus case reports — each of the last six days has brought more than the day before — as well as the prospect of more sweeping measures to fight the spread of the virus. Over the weekend, more than 230 cases were added, bringing the national total to well over 500.

    "In Washington State, with the epicenter in the Seattle area, Gov. Jay Inslee said he was considering mandatory measures to help keep people apart. Public school districts in several states have shut down, universities are moving classes online and canceling large gatherings, companies are telling many employees to work from home, and houses of worship are limiting services. A global health conference in Orlando, Fla., planned for Monday, with President Trump as a speaker, has been called off."

    The Times goes on:

    Officials are not yet talking about locking down whole American cities, as China and Italy have done. But the specter of isolation — of telling people in affected areas not to go out — is hovering in communities where the infection has taken hold.

    "'I don’t think you want to have folks shutting down cities like in northern Italy — we are not at that level,' Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview. 'Social distancing like in Seattle is the way to go. I’m not talking about locking down anything. There’s a big difference between voluntary social distancing and locking anything down.'

    "Dr. Fauci and other officials have been signaling that, with many new cases popping up that have no known link to foreign travel, the spread of the virus in the United States may have reached the point where it can no longer be completely contained by isolating the sick and quarantining their contacts."

    •  From USA Today:

    "Costco is among the retailers struggling to keep some products on shelves as frenzied shoppers flock to its warehouses to stock up on disinfectant, bottled water and other goods out of concerns about the coronavirus.   'We’re getting deliveries daily, but still not enough given the increased levels in demand on certain key items,'  Costco's CFO Richard Galanti said … 'Clearly, not just at Costco but at other places, you really can’t go in and generally find sanitizing items,' he added. 'And while we’re getting shipments daily, somewhere in the U.S. in whatever limited amounts  … It’s gone pretty quickly. I would assume that over the next few weeks or several weeks that’ll abate. But it depends what else happens with the virus'."

    •  WPTV News reports that "Publix supermarkets are limiting the amount of hand soaps, hand sanitizers and other items that customers can buy because of increased demand.  Stores are limiting customers to purchasing a maximum of two items for products such as gloves, wipes, and rubbing alcohol."

    •  The 34th edition of South by Southwest, the iconic Austin, Texas, music/film/technology festival scheduled to begin on Friday, has been cancelled.

    It was, the New York Times writes, "canceled by city officials on Friday over fears about the rapid spread of coronavirus.  Festival organizers and government officials had come under intense pressure in recent days to pull the plug on South by Southwest, with more than 50,000 people signing an online petition and a growing list of tech companies - among them Apple, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok - announcing their withdrawal."

    In 2019, the story notes, "South by Southwest’s various events had a combined attendance of 417,000, including 159,000 who came to the music portion, according to festival figures … Last year, the various events associated with South by Southwest - which also include programs on gaming, comedy and education - contributed $356 million to the Austin economy, according to figures circulated by the festival."

    •  From CNN:

    "Two Republican members of Congress on Sunday announced they will self-quarantine after interacting with an individual who tested positive for the novel coronavirus at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

    Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona separately said they will take the step out of caution and don't currently have any symptoms related to the pandemic."

    In addition, The Hill reports that "Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which hosts CPAC, confirmed that he too had interacted with the infected individual at one point before later shaking hands with President Trump."

    •  Italy over the weekend issued a government decree that "bans people from entering or leaving large swaths of northern Italy, including the cities of Milan, Venice and Parma and much of Italy’s industrial heartland," according to the Wall Street Journal.  "Residents of the quarantine zone aren’t allowed to travel within it, employees are asked to take leave and at-risk groups such as the elderly to stay in their homes. The decree says police and army can be deployed to enforce the quarantine if necessary. People found breaking the rules can, in theory, face up to three months in prison."

    However, the story notes, there was immediate confusion: "Transport services continued, enforcement wasn’t yet evident and Italians wondered how it was meant to work … On Sunday afternoon, there was little sign that Italian authorities in the north were enforcing the new decree, for example by deploying police to prevent people from traveling.  Trains were still going to and from Milan’s central station, with no controls on passengers … There was no immediate disruption to air travel, either, with scheduled flights still departing and landing in Milan. A sign at Milan’s Linate airport assured passengers that regular service was continuing. Italy’s national carrier, Alitalia, said it would reduce the number of flights in and out of Milan."

    •  The annual Indian Wells, California, tennis tournament has been cancelled.

    From the press release:  "The Riverside County Public Health Department has declared a public health emergency for the Coachella Valley after a confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19) locally. As a result, the 2020 BNP Paribas Open will not take place at this time due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus and the safety of the participants and attendees at the event. This is following the guidance of medical professionals, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and State of California.

    “'There is too great a risk, at this time, to the public health of the Riverside County area in holding a large gathering of this size,' said Dr. David Agus, Professor of Medicine and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California. 'It is not in the public interest of fans, players and neighboring areas for this tournament to proceed. We all have to join together to protect the community from the coronavirus outbreak'."

    KC's View:

    One thing I noticed over the weekend was that at Stew Leonard's in Norwalk, Connecticut, the checkout person was spraying and wiping down the scanner and credit card reader after every customer went through … which just gave a sense of confidence.  I wonder how many other retailers are having their people do that?  (I didn't see it happening in any of the other three supermarkets I went to over the past few days.)

    Published on: March 9, 2020

    A Wall Street Journal essay entitled, "We Actually Know What We Should Eat," suggests that while there is much debate and a plethora of theories and diets that often seemed designed to confused consumers about what to consumer, the facts are both simple and self-evident.

    An excerpt:

    "The now-constant barrage of headlines about nutrition science can make us feel like we’re doing everything wrong. Some people respond by tuning out and continuing to eat what’s familiar. Others jump on the bandwagon of each thrilling new diet that promises everything. Most of these deliver temporary results from severe restrictions that no one can maintain. Rapid weight loss is followed by rapid regain, creating a desperation that makes people eager for the next promise of magic.

    "The truth is that all good diets feature one or another balanced assemblage of wholesome, real foods—mostly plants. Even now, with our instincts suppressed, we know what a good diet is. We picture chickpeas, not Doritos; pinto beans, not jelly beans; broccoli, not Bratwurst.

    "Yet the way we eat is the leading cause of premature death in the U.S. today.  Highly processed foods, especially meats, and added sugar and salt are all significant contributors to heart disease and other chronic killers. Even our comparatively high health care costs are partly due to the damaging effects of unhealthy eating and the pharmaceuticals to treat them."

    The essay isn't just about personal health.  It also is a pretty good marketing primer on how to talk to food shoppers about issues very much on their minds, but information that is simply confusing.

    You can read it here.

    Published on: March 9, 2020

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that Starbucks "is testing a more environmentally friendly coffee cup. It hopes customers won’t notice.

    "The coffee giant on Monday started using a prototype of a more sustainable paper cup in some of its cafes in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver and London. The cup features a liner made out of biodegradable materials rather than the thin plastic liner that most paper cups use to keep liquids from seeping through. That liner has made those cups difficult to recycle because it is difficult to separate the plastic and the paper components.

    "Starbucks executives said they would ask baristas and customers whether the new cup keeps drinks hot and avoids leaks. They hope customers won’t notice any difference from the current cups."

    •  Reuters reports that "food distribution company US Foods Holding Corp said on Friday it would buy Smart Foodservice Warehouse Stores from private equity firm Apollo Global Management for $970 million, in a move to expand its base of restaurant customers.

    "Smart Foodservice operates 70 cash-and-carry stores in the United States, which cater to small and mid-sized restaurants. The company had revenue of about $1.1 billion in 2019."

    Published on: March 9, 2020

    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 Washington Post reports that Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims has concluded that "a bid protest lawsuit brought by Amazon over President Trump’s intervention in a Pentagon cloud computing contract 'is likely to succeed on the merits' of one of its central arguments."

    The story says that the judge's conclusion, included in a court document made public on Friday, is the first hint about how the court "might rule in a high-stakes bid protest over the Pentagon’s JEDI cloud computing contract, which was awarded to Microsoft in October following intervention from the White House and members of Congress.

    "In a blow to Microsoft and the Defense Department, Campbell-Smith ordered the Pentagon to halt work on JEDI. In a lengthy opinion explaining her reasoning, she sided with Amazon’s contention that the Pentagon made a mistake in evaluating prices for competing proposals from Amazon and Microsoft … Campbell-Smith has not yet ruled on Amazon’s contention that President Trump interfered personally in the bidding process, and the opinion published Friday did not mention the president by name."

    One of Amazon's contentions has been that President Trump inappropriately interfered in the bidding process, denying Amazon's bid because it's founder-CEO, Jeff Bezos, also owns the Washington Post in a private investment;  the Post has been aggressive in its coverage of the Trump administration.

    Published on: March 9, 2020

    Max von Sydow, the Swedish actor whose credits range from the the films of Ingmar Bergman (The Seventh Seal, The Passion of Ana) to more mainstream films such as The Greatest Story Ever Told, Three Days of the Condor, The Exorcist,  and even "Game of Thrones," and Star Wars Episode VII — The Force Awakens, has passed away.  He was 90.

    Published on: March 9, 2020

    One MNB reader had a thought about Tesco's decision to price-match Aldi in the UK:

    It's not mentioned often in media coverage but a big benefit of Aldi compared to Tesco and Asda here in the UK is the time saved. Most shoppers most of the time know what they want and don't need 35000 skus to choose from every trip. The price cut therefore may still not fully arrest the decline in share - I'm increasingly hooked on my done and dusted in 25 minutes Aldi missions! 

    Regarding the decision by Burlington to shut down its e-commerce site, one MNB reader wrote:

    It’s been a long time since I was in a Burlington store. Whenever I did go in it seemed like a very stale assortment that went way past “last season.” Contrast that with Marshall’s/TJMaxx, Ross Stores, etc. where there the assortment always seems fresh to reasonably fresh.

    If the merchandise in Burlington is still substantially the same I can see why e-commerce sales were lackluster, at best, and unlikely to improve.

    And regarding our coronavirus coverage, which some thought was falling into a liberal media trap, one MNB reader wrote:

    Kevin, you are correct as being a reader of your information means we are all part of a bigger audience.  Not only will the step taken to reduce potential exposure be positive for all types of ailments, washing hands goes back to all those things our mother’s taught us and we have forgot!  As the COVID 19 spread to our communities, people will get more focused, and those who are compromised with other chronic ailments or health issue need to be fully aware of the risks.  That many times means those closest to us, our parents, spouses, and kids.  Information gives us the power to make good decisions for our personal lives.

    Keep up the good work.