retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

•  In the US this morning, there are 367,659 cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 10,943 deaths and a reported 19,814 recoveries.

Globally, there now are 1,358,857 cases of the coronavirus, with 75,896 deaths and 290,643 reported recoveries.

•  The Associated Press has a story about the conundrum being faced by some food delivery services that have found themselves in high demand because of the pandemic.

On the one hand, they are so busy that consumers frequently cannot find delivery slots.  But on the other, the delivery businesses have to consider the extent to which they want to ramp up their investments in infrastructure … since they are working on the assumption that at some point the current scenario will come to an end.

For Ocado in the UK, for example, "a cutting edge service that relies on warehouse robots, significantly increasing deliveries would mean a big investment in new machinery and warehouses too late to catch the spike in demand."  And what nobody knows is the degree to which demand will subside.

In the US, the story says, "grocery shopping had only been slowly migrating online, making up 3% of the food retail market, according to a report last year by Deutsche Bank.

"As the crisis hit, delivery orders surged as millions of Americans stayed home. During the week of March 2, even before some cities and states imposed “stay at home” orders, Instacart, Amazon, and Walmart grocery delivery sales all jumped by at least two-thirds from the year before, according to Earnest Research. Instacart, a platform that partners with more than 25,000 stores in North America, says orders in more recent weeks have surged 150%."

I think this is a kind of existential question that the industry has to deal with, at a time when, quite frankly, retailers are dealing with a lot of existential questions.

To me, it probably means being willing to question fundamentals about the business, and challenge assumptions up and down the line.  I've said this before - I think businesses ought to be forming teams (small ones, what Jeff Bezos might refer to as one-pizza or two-pizza teams) charged with envisioning how the business should be different when we all reach the end of this tunnel, and then figuring out how to make those changes.  You have to do this now … to think about it when you get to the end of the tunnel is way too late.

I think this is something that Tom Furphy and I will talk about in tomorrow's Innovation Conversation.  Stay tuned.

•  The Los Angeles Times has a story about how the retail apocalypse that many expected in 2020 may end up being a lot better scenario than what actually unfolds.

"More than 15,000 stores could permanently close this year, according to Coresight Research, the Times writes. "That’s approaching double the 9,548 stores that big chains announced they would shutter in 2019, a particularly brutal year for retail with the bankruptcies of Payless, Gymboree, Charlotte Russe and others.

"The year had started out well with 2,910 openings and 1,883 planned closures through March 22 — far under the 5,399 closures that were announced for the same period last year. Coresight had predicted closures to pick up by the end of the year to roughly 8,000, but that’s barely more than half the number expected now … The toll of virus-related closures, which for now are temporary, is immense, with at least 600,000 mostly low-wage workers furloughed last week despite President Trump signing a $2-trillion stimulus package that includes billions in loans to damaged industries."

•  Kroger announced yesterday that it will " begin to limit the number of customers to 50% of the international building code’s calculated capacity to allow for proper physical distancing in every store … As an illustration, the standard building capacity for a grocery store is 1 person per 60 square feet. Under Kroger’s new reduced capacity limits, the number will be 1 person per 120 square feet. Kroger will begin to monitor the number of customers per square foot in its stores using its industry-leading QueVision technology, which already provides a count of the customers entering and exiting stores."

•  Reuters reports that Uber is saying that "its app will list job openings in the delivery, food production and grocery industry that its U.S. drivers can access during a slump in ride-hailing demand due to the coronavirus."

According to the story, "Uber also said it would reach out to the more than 240,000 of its registered drivers holding commercial licenses to connect them to logistics companies for employment and contract opportunities.  It also encouraged drivers to sign up for its Uber Eats food delivery service, saying restaurant orders have seen a significant increase since mid-March."

Among the companies with which Uber says it will connect its drivers are McDonald’s, FedEx, United Parcel Service, Pepsico, Hertz, Walgreens, Domino’s Pizza, andTarget-owned Shipt.

Smart move, and seemingly similar to how Amazon is working with Lyft.

•  The Seattle Times reports that Washington State's "K-12 public, private and charter schools will remain closed through the end of the academic year, Gov. Jay Inslee announced at a Monday news conference. Distance learning should continue, he said, and schools are expected to resume a normal schedule this fall."

Schools originally were scheduled to reopen on April 24, but Inslee always has stressed that the shutdown could be extended.

"We simply cannot take the chance of reopening on-site instruction in this calendar school year,” Inslee said. “We cannot risk losing the gains we have made after the peak of this pandemic presumably will have passed.”

I can tell you, as someone with a spouse who is a third grade teacher currently engaged in e-teaching, that Mrs. Content Guy never has worked harder.  (And she works really hard all the time.)  It is an enormous challenge, and I do think that two things may emerge from the experience - we'll all appreciate teachers a lot more, and parents especially will have an understanding of the demands of a modern education.

•  The Seattle Times writes that "Amazon is donating 8,200 laptops to families of elementary-school students in Seattle Public Schools who don’t have access to a device needed for remote learning while schools are closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company and school district announced Monday morning.

"The donation also kick-starts the new fund, the Education Equity Fund, stewarded by the school district’s nonprofit partner, the Alliance for Education. Businesses, community groups and individuals will be able to donate to the fund, which aims to 'support students furthest from educational justice in accessing the technology, technical support and additional learning resources required to continue to learn during the COVID-19 crisis,' the announcement says."

•  British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is said to be in intensive care in a London hospital this morning, fighting a serious coronavirus infection.

Johnson is said to be the first head of government to have been infected with Covid-19.

•  The Masters golf tournament yesterday announced that it has been rescheduled from this week to November 12-15, when it will be played, as usual, at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia.

The New York Times notes that "the event, one of the most watched sporting events annually, has never been played in the fall, where it could conceivably be vying for attention with a weekend full of professional and college football games, if the N.F.L. and the N.C.A.A resume their regular schedules."

The story also notes that the United States Open has been rescheduled for mid-September, and the P.G.A. Championship is now "scheduled to begin in San Francisco on Aug. 6. The British Open, the fourth men’s major, was canceled and will next be played in July 2021."

I'm thinking that the oddsmakers in Vegas won't just be taking bets on who might win all these various events, but also will be entertaining wagers on whether they'll actually take place.

•  Variety reports that London's West End theatre district will remain closed until June, shuttered as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.    An estimated 300,000 people attend West End theaters per week, the story notes.