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 United States, there are 1,095,304 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 63,871 deaths and 155,737 reported recoveries.

Globally, there are 3,321,771 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 234,404 deaths and 1,049,876 reported recoveries.

•  Amazon-owned Whole Foods said yesterday that it plans to provide free, disposable face masks to customers entering its stores, and will request - though not require - that shoppers wear masks.

Amazon said yesterday that "to help protect the safety and health of our Team Members and communities, we will be requesting customers wear masks in Whole Foods Market stores … Within the next week, we will be offering free, disposable masks to all Whole Foods Market customers nationwide when they arrive at the store to shop. If customers don't already have their own face covering, they will be able to pick up a mask at the entrance of the Whole Foods Market store."

Business Insider reports that "Amazon said it has also provided masks to all Amazon employees, delivery service partners, Amazon Flex drivers, seasonal employees, and Whole Foods Market Team Members.   The company also recently provided face shields to Whole Foods workers and Amazon Prime Now shoppers."

What a smart idea.  Though I think they should go the whole way, and require that customers wear them for the time being, since any customer not wearing a mask is putting other customers at risk.  Since I happen to be one of those customers from time to time, I take this personally.

•  Kroger yesterday "announced the launch of an expanded Dairy Rescue Program, designed to support children and families during the COVID-19 pandemic through the summer months. In partnership with its dairy cooperative suppliers and farmers across the Midwest and South, Kroger will process and donate about 200,000 gallons of additional milk to Feeding America food banks and community organizations through the end of August, uplifting its Zero Hunger | Zero Waste initiative. 

"Kroger’s Centennial Dairy partnership in Atlanta, GA with Dairy Farmers of America, to direct 24,000 half-gallons of milk to support health care workers and first responders in Augusta, Macon and Savannah, GA during the pandemic over the next month."

•  Kroger also announced this week "the launch of Social, Social – a new weekly, nationwide stay-at-home celebration designed to bring its millions of customers together safely at home, uniting through food and festivity. During this unprecedented time, we’re all looking for little moments and activities to spark joy.

"The Social, Social campaign kicks off this Saturday, May 2 from 4-6 p.m. ET with a modern spin on the old-fashioned ice cream social. The event will be hosted every Saturday until June 9. For a list of weekly themes, visit the Kroger Social, Social Facebook event page."

Essentially, shoppers who are interested shop for products featured in the week's Social at Kroger, ands then download a digital kit to help them plan for the event, which is held on social media.

Great idea for creating community at a time when people are yearning for connections.  Sort of a virtual happy hour, but without the booze.

•  The Associated Press  reports that "American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines said Thursday they will soon require passengers to cover their faces during flights, following the lead of JetBlue Airways.

"The move comes as airlines big and small contemplate how to comply with social-distancing recommendations in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic."

•  Axios reports that when people begin flying again, they may find enormous changes in the experience - more, even, than after 9/11.  Experts say that for one thing, everything will take longer.

Among the changes that passengers may find:  "Masks and social distancing are only the beginning … Passengers might need to upload a document to confirm the presence of COVID-19 antibodies before they fly … Passengers could be required to arrive at least four hours ahead of their flight and pass through a 'disinfection tunnel' or thermal scanner … The pre-flight safety video might include sanitation procedures. In-flight magazines will be removed, seat back pockets emptied, and passengers will likely use their own devices to watch videos. An in-flight janitor might keep lavatories and other high-touch areas disinfected after passenger use."

•  Interesting piece about a technology that could find its way into the retail sector from the Seattle Times:

"Paine Field Airport in Everett began screening passengers’ body temperatures with a thermal camera Wednesday because fever is a known symptom of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

"Passengers are screened before reaching the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint, according to an announcement by Propeller Airports, which operates Paine Field.

"The machine used, an Elevated Body Temperature Detection System, never touches passengers and is noninvasive.  If the machine detects fever, the passenger will be screened again, and the passenger and airline will decide whether the person is well enough to travel, according to the statement."

•  McDonald's reportedly is changing its supply chain procedures in response to expected meat shortages created by processing plant closures prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.  Instead of restaurant management ordering the meat that they think will need, the company now will calculate demand and send meat based on those numbers.

MSN reports that "while McDonald's is able to meet the system's needs at this point, distribution centers went on managed supply and restaurants on controlled allocation as of Wednesday out of an abundance of caution.  The new approach does not necessarily mean that McDonald's is facing shortages, but instead that the company is more closely monitoring and managing meat supply across the U.S. as the situation changes on a daily and hour basis."

•  Politico has a story about how California's Modoc County - described as a "desolate" location " with fewer than 9,600 residents, "located in a 4,200-square-mile corner of northeast California that borders Oregon and Nevada" - plans to defy Gov. Gavin Newsom's statewide lockdown order by allowing bars, restaurants and churches to open this weekend.

The story says that "Modoc officials submitted a plan last week to Newsom outlining their proposal to lift the statewide lockdown order, but the governor has given no indication he intends to free individual counties from his statewide restrictions. The county issued a strategic reopening plan this week that would allow bars, restaurants, churches and non-essential businesses to reopen indoor operations with proper social distancing — all banned under Newsom's current restrictions."

Politico notes that rural Modoc, "like many counties far from the coast, diverges from the California known nationally. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats more than 2-1, while 71 percent of voters chose Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election."

Heather Hadwick, deputy director of the county's Office of Emergency Services, characterized Modoc's position this way:  "We’re not in this at all to defy anything. We align with the plans. We’re just at a different phase in this because of where we are and how we live  … Somebody has to step up for rural California and we just happened to be the first."

This is going to be an ongoing debate that will take place within a lot of states, as well as across the country among states that share borders.  Not every location will be at the same stage of pandemic spread, and so people will want to either relax or toughen the rules based on local conditions.  That's totally understandable, but there is the problem that a virus neither understands nor respects the concept of borders … and so there will be tensions brewing, probably for months.

•  From Axios:

"New York State Attorney General Letitia James has joined a growing group of critics in calling on cable and satellite TV providers to rebate Pay-TV fees to consumers … Her argument is that consumers shouldn't have to pay the same amount for cable and satellite packages, which include expensive sports networks, when those sports networks aren't carrying any live sports."

In letters to TV providers, James asked them to "immediately prepare and provide plans to the attorney general's office for how they will provide financial relief to consumers until live sports programming is resumed … At a time when so many New Yorkers have lost their jobs and are struggling, it is grossly unfair that cable and satellite television providers would continue to charge fees for services they are not even providing."

I think this is a fair point.  If you have a cable package because you want to be able to watch baseball games, and there are no baseball games, you ought to be entitled to a some sort of refund or reduction on your monthly fees.  And the cable companies ought not be able to fall back on the claim that they are showing games from 1976, which is not exactly the same thing.