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    Published on: May 7, 2020

    And now for something a little different on FaceTime…

    Three videos.  The first one has KC introducing the second one, which is a YouTube video that is fascinating.  And then the third one offers a business lesson and puts the YouTube video in a broader context.  Enjoy.

    Published on: May 7, 2020

    Reuters has the story of how one restaurant in The Netherlands " has come up with an idea on how to offer classy outdoor dining in the age of coronavirus: small glass cabins built for two or three people, creating intimate cocoons on a public patio.

    "Waiters wear gloves and transparent face shields, and use a long board to bring dishes into the glass cabins to ensure minimal physical contact with customers."

    The concept is being tested for friends-and-family at the moment.

    According to the story, "Organisers call the project ‘Serres Séparées’ (Separate Greenhouses) because they say it sounds better in French."

    Just goes to show what is possible when you try to turn a disadvantage into a selling point.  What used to be dinner out somehow has been turned into an "intimate cocoon."

    Published on: May 7, 2020

    From the New York Times this morning:

    "As millions more Americans join the jobless rolls, even more economic pain is in the forecast.

    Another 3.2 million people filed for first-time unemployment benefits last week in the latest evidence of the economic devastation from the coronavirus pandemic.

    "The U.S. government report released Thursday brings the total tally over seven weeks to more than 33 million. The weekly numbers have declined since reaching a peak of 6.9 million claims in late March. But the data remains shocking: In many states, more than a quarter of the work force is jobless.

    "Economists expect the monthly jobs report from the Labor Department, due Friday, to show that the unemployment rate in April was 15 percent or higher, a Depression-era level. The figure will almost certainly understate the damage."

    CNBC reported on an ADP study that looked at unemployment from another angle:

    "As expected, job losses were most profound in the services and hospitality sector, as bars and restaurants had to close during the pandemic with virtually no eat-in dining allowed. In all, the sector saw 8.6 million furloughs even as some establishments tried to make up for lost business with curbside and delivery services.

    "Trade, transportation and utilities was the next hardest-hit sector, losing 3.44 million, while construction dropped 2.48 million. Other big losses came in manufacturing (1.67 million), the other services category (1.3 million), and professional and business services (1.17 million). Health care and social assistance plunged by 999,000, information services fell by 309,000 and financial services had 216,000 layoffs.

    "The only areas reporting gains were education, with 28,000, and management of companies and enterprises, at 6,000.   Broadly speaking, service-related industries fell by just over 16 million, while goods producers declined by 4.3 million."

    Published on: May 7, 2020

    On Tuesday, MNB took note of a story from the Seattle Times about how "Tim Bray, a veteran technologist and one of Amazon’s top engineers, resigned from what he called 'the best job I’ve ever had' to protest the company’s dismissal of two leaders of an employee climate group who had spoken out about treatment of warehouse workers.

    "He described the firings as 'evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture. I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison'," and added on his blog, "I quit in dismay at Amazon firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of Covid-19."

    In response to Bray's resignation and posted outrage, Brad Porter, Vice President and Distinguished Engineer, Robotics at Amazon, has posted a long  piece on LinkedIn:

    "I am a Vice President and Distinguished Engineer at Amazon. There are about 20 of us. We’re the most senior engineers at the company. We have significant impact on the technical direction of the company. We also have a significant voice in the culture of the company.

    "I was excited when Tim Bray joined Amazon. His technical expertise is well known as one of the co-authors of XML and I looked forward to the opportunity to learn from him. Unfortunately, Amazon has become a large company in my 13 years and the 20 Distinguished Engineers are spread out across the company, making it hard to collaborate closely. You see, I am one of two Distinguished Engineers in World-Wide Operations. While we rely heavily on AWS, I have not had occasion to work closely with Tim.

    "I cannot speak to everything that went into his decision to quit Amazon. He has stated his reasons. 

    "Where I object is that first Tim starts by saying 'Amazon’s messaging has been urgent that they are prioritizing this issue and putting massive efforts into warehouse safety. I actually believe this: I have heard detailed descriptions from people I trust of the intense work and huge investments. Good for them…'  He then throws in 'and let’s grant that you don’t turn a supertanker on a dime.'

    "He’s right that we are prioritizing this issue… 7 days a week since this started. He’s wrong that we were slow. I believe a strong case can be made that Amazon has responded more nimbly to this crisis than any other company in the world. New government-mandated protocols are implemented within hours. My organization invented an ability to use AI to review social distancing compliance and deployed it in 4 days, allowing us to pin point opportunities for improvement and work with the leaders in those areas to fix them. We focused our supply chain capabilities on temperature checks and face masks that were initially hard to procure. We have thermal cameras in hundreds of buildings. We redesigned our processes for everything from how to unload trucks to how to pack, sort and load packages so that they could be done by one person at least 6’ apart from their nearest neighbor. Amazon is the first major employer to begin rolling out employee testing. These are just a small sampling of the over 150 process changes we have made. Amazon is not a super-tanker… Amazon is more like an ant farm that can adapt extremely quickly.

    "And it is working. We’ve implemented a wide range of health and safety measures over a matter of weeks while continuing to provide essential products to the public. When I first joined World-Wide Operations to lead Robotics, the very first thing I learned was that safety dictated everything. Our product roadmap is driven by where we can bring increased safety, such as robotic palletizers and depalletizers that save the effort of stacking and destacking transport totes. Our deployments are gated by our safety performance. Every new robotic deployment is expected to significantly exceed the safety benchmarks set by the existing process.

    "If we want people to choose to work for Amazon helping deliver packages to customers, job number one is to convince those valuable employees that you are doing everything you can every day to keep them safe. That prerequisite was equally true 12 weeks ago when the United States was at record low unemployment rate of 3.6% and employees of all skills were in high demand everywhere, as it is now during the pandemic as we’ve hired 175,000 additional people very quickly.

    "Do we want to do more? We do and we are. We are working hard to develop and deploy additional processes and technology for a range of measures – from social distancing to contact tracing. We are developing mobile ultraviolet sanitation. My Prime Air drones and robotics group has become an R&D lab for COVID innovation that I can’t wait to share with you. Today I reviewed a list of 72 new ideas for improvements we can make.

    "Is everyone going to be convinced we are doing enough? No. When you have hundreds of thousands of people coming to work every day who are all experiencing this pandemic differently, you cannot expect everyone to react the same way. You can provide additional compensation. You can allow time off and leaves of absence. You can commit to taking care of employees if they do get sick, regardless of where they caught the virus. These are all things Amazon did almost immediately. But you can’t entirely eliminate the fear and concerns that we all share.

    "Ultimately though, Tim Bray is simply wrong when he says 'It’s that Amazon treats the humans in the warehouses as fungible units of pick-and-pack potential.'  I find that deeply offensive to the core. For those of us who work in World-Wide Operations, nothing could be farther from the truth. Our associates are the most amazing people you will meet anywhere and the heart of everything we do. Thank you for all that you do every day to deliver on Amazon's customer promise."

    KC's View:

    Nothing robotic about that response, it seems to me.

    It will be interesting down the road to see the case studies that look at how different companies have responded to the current crisis, and which ones were most effective and why.

    I'm sure that few companies will be judged perfect.  I'm sure that there are elements of Bray's criticisms that are accurate.  One question that needs to be answered - for Amazon and all its brethren - is the degree to which they constantly tried to do better and faster and more effectively.

    For an engineer, Porter has the touch of the poet … I love the description of Amazon as "not a super tanker" but "an ant farm."   What strikes me as remarkable is that this probably isn't just a result.  It also is the goal … and that's why Porter in one day "reviewed a list of 72 new ideas for improvements we can make."

    Published on: May 7, 2020

    From Vox:

    "The economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic is immense, with tens of millions unemployed and the US economy shrinking at a rate unseen in more than a decade. Global financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund are warning that Covid-19 could trigger a global economic slowdown comparable only to the Great Depression.

    "One of the groups likely to suffer the most is millennials, many of whom have yet to fully recover from the Great Recession … Millennials, often categorized as people born between 1980 and 1997, are economically vulnerable in part because they are an incredibly diverse generation, with about 55 percent being people of color. This diversity suggests that their economic situation is more broadly affected by financial inequalities than older generations.

    "In general, recent polls reveal that millennials - of all backgrounds -  are experiencing high anxiety around how the coronavirus will affect their economic realities."

    The Vox piece has 14 charts that illustrate the reasons why Millennials may feel the pain more than others, and you can see them here.

    Published on: May 7, 2020

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

    •  In the US this morning, there have been 1,263,243 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 74,809 deaths and 213,109 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 3,843,153 coronavirus cases, 265,657 deaths and 1,314,414 reported recoveries.

    •  From Bloomberg:

    "The new coronavirus appears to linger in the air in crowded spaces or rooms that lack ventilation, researchers found in a study that buttresses the notion that Covid-19 can spread through tiny airborne particles known as aerosols.

    "At two hospitals in Wuhan, China, researchers found bits of the virus’s genetic material floating in the air of hospital toilets, an indoor space housing large crowds, and rooms where medical staff take off protective gear. The study, published Monday in the journal Nature Research, didn’t seek to establish whether the airborne particles could cause infections."

    However, "The findings highlight the importance of ventilation, limiting crowds and careful sanitation efforts, the researchers said."

    •  Axios reports that a debate may be brewing about the mortality figures being used in relation to the Covid-19 coronavirus.

    "President Trump has complained to advisers about the way coronavirus deaths are being calculated, suggesting the real numbers are actually lower — and a number of his senior aides share this view, according to sources with direct knowledge," the story says.

    Some background:

    "The official said Trump has vented that the numbers seem inflated and has brought up New York's addition of more than 3,000 unconfirmed but suspected COVID-19 cases to its death toll.

    Some members of the president's team believe the government has created a distorting financial incentive for hospitals to identify coronavirus cases, the official also said.

    "A second senior official said they shared this concern.

    "Medicare is giving hospitals a 20% bonus for their treatment of coronavirus patients, as a way to help them make up for the money they’re losing because they’ve had to postpone a lot of non-coronavirus care.

    "Intentionally misdiagnosing patients with coronavirus would be fraud, and so far no one in the administration has publicly leveled such an accusation."

    However, Axios also reports that "there is no evidence the death rate has been exaggerated, and experts believe coronavirus deaths in the U.S. are being undercounted — not over-counted."

    •  Business Insider has an interview with Walmart CEO Doug McMillon in which he suggests that the changes taking place at retail, especially the  move to more pick-up and delivery, were going to happen regardless of the pandemic.

    "This is just speeding up the significant change the retail industry was already undergoing," McMillon said. "Before this crisis, we already saw a robust adoption of online pickup and delivery in our business."

    McMillon also said that the pandemic has illustrated the importance of front line employees.

    ""We've come to expect them to be there in a way we never have before, and they have risen to the occasion," he said.

    •  CNBC has an interview with CVS Health CEO Larry Merlo, in which he says that shopping habits being adopted during the pandemic may "shape how customers shop and use health care — and influence how it operates its own business.  Telemedicine instead of urgent care appointments. Prescription deliveries to the home. Diagnostic tests at the local pharmacy instead of the doctor’s office."

    “We expect that elements of today’s new norm will become part of tomorrow’s everyday routines,” Merlo says.

    The CNBC story goes on:

    "The pandemic may inspire CVS to offer new and different kinds of testing, Merlo said.

    "During the pandemic, the company has opened and staffed drive-thru testing sites for Covid-19. Patients must make an appointment and meet the criteria of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    "CVS has administered nearly 90,000 tests, Merlo said. The sites use a device made by Abbott Laboratories that can provide results in minutes. Last week, it announced plans to have nearly 1,000 drive-thru testing sites in its store parking lots by the end of May, so long as it can get supplies and lab capacity.

    "And, as researchers try to develop vaccines and treatments for Covid-19, Merlo said CVS is ready to provide another service. He said its stores across the country 'are well-positioned to provide medication therapies and vaccines when they become available'."

    •  WWLP News reports that Big Y has instituted a two-month price freeze "on thousands of grocery products in its stores across New England."

    “This is a critical time for our customers and we wanted to recognize that with more than just words of support,” says COO Michael D’Amour.  “We have all been through a tough period, and there are certainly challenges ahead, but we felt it was time to do more to help.”

    According to the story, "Items on the price freeze list includes specific popular brands of fresh chicken, butter, red and green seedless grapes, peanut butter, macaroni & cheese, breakfast cereal, English muffins, cheese, strawberries, Greek yogurt, pizza, orange juice, and spring water," with some items to be added later.

    The freeze is scheduled to run from May 1 to July 1.

    •  The Seattle Times reports that as Nordstrom plans the gradual reopening of its bricks-and-mortar fleet, it has made the decision to permanently close 16 of its stores around the country.

    According to the story, Nordstrom said "it will make changes to how its stores function in a “market-by-market” approach, and will move its big Anniversary Sale from July to August."

    Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, tells the Times that "this coronavirus crisis is the catalyst rather than the cause.  Not all of its full-line stores pull their weight. … Some have probability that is dwindling. They’re saying, ‘Look, we don’t see a future in these stores, let’s cut our losses.’”

    I will be interested to see if the Nordstrom Local concept - a small store where people can try on clothing that they've picked out online and get alterations - gets greater traction as the company goes through this transition.  My sense is that the format has a lot of potential if properly and aggressively promoted.

    I'm also interested to see what they do with a Norwalk, Connecticut, store that Nordstrom opened just a few months ago and then had to close down almost immediately.  I think it is in a mall with a lot more downside than upside, and suspect that Nordstrom only opened there because it had contractual obligations.  This might be a good excuse to shut the thing down, open a Local store in nearby Greenwich or Westport, and make a statement about the future.  (This was, by the way, possibly the worst time for Nordstrom to have opened its first New York City stores … they have to be an enormous burden on the bottom line that may not come back for years.)

    •  The New York Times this morning reports that "Gap Inc., the mall stalwart that owns its namesake brand, Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta, said it plans to reopen up to 800 stores in North America by the end of the month as retailers clamor to return to business after temporarily shutting down because of the coronavirus pandemic."

    CEO Sonia Syngal describes the approach as "responsibly aggressive" - the company wants to "open where we’re legally allowed to open as soon as we can.”

    •  Bloomberg reports that Brooks Brothers, which has seen its competitive struggles exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, "is seeking to sell itself."

    According to the story, "The retailer has extended a sale process begun last year, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because it wasn’t public.  Depending on how many stores a buyer wanted, a transaction could ultimately be part of a bankruptcy filing, they said. The company has about $600 million in debt."

    •  Reuters reports that Lord & Taylor "plans to liquidate inventory in its 38 department stores once restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus are lifted as it braces for a bankruptcy process from which it does not expect to emerge, people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday."

    The story points out that this development offers "a window into the grim future of a high-profile retailer - a storied department store chain founded in 1826 and billed as the oldest in the United States - that does not expect to survive the pandemic’s economic fallout … Lord & Taylor has lined up liquidators to help it run the “going out of business” sales and is girding to permanently close all its stores once the merchandise is sold, some of the sources said. The retailer had been exploring filing for bankruptcy among other options, including trying to negotiate relief from creditors and finding additional financing."

    Lord & Taylor currently is owned by e-commerce clothing rental business Le Tote, which acquired it to build a bricks-and-mortar portfolio to supplement its business model.

    •  A national coalition of 64 organizations representing specialty crop producers sent a letter to congressional leadership earlier this week highlighting the extraordinary measures agricultural employers are taking to protect their workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic … The letter details the collaboration between the agriculture industry, public health experts and regulatory agency officials to develop best safety practices in the field and in packing, processing and cooling facilities.

    “Given the strong food safety culture within the fresh produce industry, adapting and expanding our practices to protect workers happened quickly. The industry leveraged general recommendations offered by CDC, OSHA and various state public health agencies, tailoring them to the specialty crop industry as needed to put worker safety first,” stated United Fresh Produce Association President & CEO Tom Stenzel.

    •  Interesting - though perhaps unsurprising - story in the New York Times this morning about a new Morning Consult poll saying that close to half of men with children under 12 years of age say they are spending more time on the home schooling of their kids than their spouses during the pandemic.

    Just three percent of women agree with that assessment.

    The Times goes on:

    "Under lockdown, with pleading children and piles of dishes more visible to men, more than half of men and a quarter of women say they and their partners are splitting the housework and child care equally — something that is notable and wasn’t true a generation ago, social scientists said. In some families, current circumstances have led men to take on more, particularly if they’ve been laid off or if they can work from home and their partners can’t.

    "But over all, the crisis seems to be cementing traditional gender roles.

    "Men and women have different perceptions of how much they do. When men say they split housework evenly, past research has shown, the data shows they do not: Mothers’ perceptions are supported by rigorous data collection in which people keep diaries of the ways they spend their time. The pattern has continued during lockdown. On housework, 21 percent of men in the survey say they are doing all or most of it during lockdown, and 3 percent of women say their spouses are. While 70 percent of women say they are doing all or most of it, 19 percent of men say their partners are."

    I checked with Mrs. Content Guy - a public school third grade teacher who is doing it from home these days - and she told me that especially in families with multiple school-age children, she's encountered a lot of men who are engaged on a daily basis with their children's educations.  

    Published on: May 7, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that as states loosen their rules on what business can be open and how, restaurants looking to bring back dining-in services have to figure out not just how to get customers to return, but also how to deal with staffing issues.

    "One of the toughest calculations is proving to be just how far to go in staffing back up," the Journal writes.  "Restaurant owners say they have little sense of how many consumers will feel safe to eat out again, and under what circumstances. They are also contending with employee health and safety concerns about returning to work, and the reality that many who come back are likely to earn much less than they do now on boosted unemployment benefits."

    Some context:

    "Many restaurant owners say the requirements of federal small-business stimulus payments work at cross-purposes with the expanded unemployment benefits. To avoid repaying the loans, recipients have to tap them within eight weeks and spend the bulk of the funds on payroll costs equivalent to spending before the crisis.

    "Responding in part to restaurants’ concerns, the Treasury Department said this week that recipients won’t lose loan forgiveness if workers refuse to return.

    "Still, some restaurateurs say the enhanced unemployment benefit is another reason it makes little sense to spend the loans on keeping idled workers on the payroll when they have more pressing costs, such as rent. Only 25% of funding under the Paycheck Protection Program, known as the PPP, can be used for rent and other qualifying expenses outside of payroll."

    KC's View:

    At least in the short term, I wonder which will be the bigger challenge - dealing with the fact that some folks can make more on unemployment than working, or dealing with employees' concerns that they could get sick if they come back to work.

    And by short-term, I'm talking through the end of the year, since the argument by most health professionals that we're likely to have a resurgence of Covid-19 seems pretty persuasive.

    Published on: May 7, 2020

    The New York Times reports on how the "tripling in price of a dozen regular eggs in many parts of the country — to an excess of $3 — has prompted various lawsuits aimed at egg producers and sellers.

    "Amid a variety of cases of inflated prices all across the United States, those focused on the humble egg are among the most sweeping, despite what at first glance appears to be a relatively modest sum.

    "The Texas attorney general and a group of private individuals in California filed suit separately in late April against the largest egg producer in the United States for what they call excessive, unfair, illegal profits during the pandemic.

    "The California lawsuit also threw in other producers, giant supermarket chains like Whole Foods, Costco and Trader Joe’s, and major egg wholesalers, for a total of 26 defendants."

    The story notes that "California law sets a maximum 10 percent price increase for goods during a state of emergency, which Gov. Gavin Newsom declared on March 4. The Texas law lacks a specific parameter, but the spirit is similar. Gov. Greg Abbott first declared a state of emergency on March 13.

    "Eggs are a cheap source of protein, which makes them especially important with millions added to the unemployment rolls every week and with meat becoming scarcer."

    Published on: May 7, 2020

    •  Kroger announced this week its intention to close more than 70 of the Fred Meyer Jewelers stores that operate inside Kroger Marketplace stores.

    The Cincinnati Business Courier quotes Kroger as saying, "As part of our ongoing portfolio review, we have evaluated the business performance of Fred Meyer Jewelers in our Marketplace stores. We have made the decision to bring more focus to our vision of service America with food inspiration and uplift."

    The story says that Fred Meyer Jewelers will continue to operate in the Pacific Northwest and Utah, in select malls, and online.

    •  Koninklijke Ahold Delhaize NV this morning reported a 48 percent increase in net profit, to the equivalent $697.4 million, during Q1.  Net sales for the period were up 14.7 percent to $19.6 billion.

    US same-store sales for the company were up 13.8 percent, while in Europe they were up 9.8 percent.

    Published on: May 7, 2020

    •  United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) announced that Stacey Kravitz, currently the senior vice president of sales at UNFI Canada, has been promoted to be president of UNFI Canada.  She will succeed Peter Brennan, who is retiring.

    Published on: May 7, 2020

    Yesterday, we took note of a Washington Post story about how, as thousands of their employees were filing for unemployment benefits, some companies "rewarded their shareholders with more than $700 million in cash dividends. They are not alone. As the pandemic squeezes big companies, executives are making decisions about who will bear the brunt of the sacrifices, and in at least some cases, workers have been the first to lose, even as shareholders continue to collect."

    While I made sure to post both sides of the argument, I commented:

    The Post story reminds us of how it was just last August that the Business Roundtable issued a statement saying that the CEOs who are members no longer believed that companies primarily exist to serve shareholders, but rather need to serve all stakeholders, including employees, suppliers and customers.

    But, the Post writes, "of the chief executives who endorsed the Business Roundtable statement, at least three of their companies are among those that have implemented at least some furloughs while also issuing dividends: Caterpillar, Stanley Black & Decker and Steelcase."

    I get that CEOs have a fiduciary responsibility to their companies, and most view shareholder care as being a significant part of that.  But I think the optics on this really are lousy, and it is at least possible that companies putting shareholders first may face some backlash … especially if we end up finding out that they've taken taxpayer money during the crisis but still put shareholders' interests first.

    And, I think it is possible that they are not serving the long-term interests of their companies.

    One MNB reader responded:

    Kevin - do you realize that there are millions of us retirees that invested in 401ks, IRAs, etc. for our retirement years. NOW - we use those funds to invest in dividend issuing companies - they are a source of income for us, aka cash flow. YOU want companies to save face and stop issuing dividends to the rich. I am not rich - I spent 43 years in the Supermarket business and am not rich. I need these dividends to supplement my SS and pension.

    From another reader:

    Without shareholders there would be no employees !!  There has to be a business enterprise created by one, multiple, or thousands of shareholders before the enterprise can hire anyone.  Employees are very valuable assets for any enterprise as the output of their efforts is what make the enterprise valuable to customers as measured by revenue and should be treated as such.  From time to time, maintaining employees can be a priority due to the unique value of their output , but the enterprise exists to return value to shareholders that is measured by the market in the form of the share price.  Furloughing employees has a long term impact on the output of the organization and therefore also impacts the value of the enterprise. There is a balance to be found and successful balance will be rewarded by the value determined in the marketplace and businesses that cannot find the right balance will be punished with diminished value to shareholders.

    On a personal note, since my retirement, the value of dividends to shareholders of various companies has become particularly important to me.

    First of all, to be clear … I am very cognizant of the impact of a down market on retirement.  I'm not going to be making that move anytime soon (I hope!), but I am a lot closer to the end of my career than the beginning.  (Mrs. Content Guy is even closer.)  So I get it.

    But … My argument is less about the primary importance of shareholders than it is about what I think should be seen as the significance of employees.  I worry that companies that treat their shareholders better than their employees are creating a company culture that ultimately values the wrong things.

    I believe fervently in the "officers eat last" philosophy espoused by the US Marines, and that the smartest executives I know apply to their own organizations.

    (I know a guy who says that you can immediately size up a company culture by bringing top management and middle management into a room and opening a bunch of pizza boxes.  If the C-level execs eat first, there's a problem.)

    I also think that the long-term health of a company - including its stock price - is dependent on the health and vitality of its culture, including how it treats employees. 

    Though I'll concede that short-term stock returns often are based on many of the wrong things.

    Yesterday, we also reported on a story from Vice, which had a story about how - to use its headline - "Yelp is Screwing Over Restaurants By Quietly Replacing Their Phone Numbers."

    It works this way:  "Even though restaurants are capable of taking orders directly—after all, both numbers are routed to the same place—Yelp is pushing customers to Grubhub-owned phone numbers in order to facilitate what Grubhub calls a 'referral fee' of between 15 percent and 20 percent of the order total."

    In other words, instead of looking out for its retail clients and their patrons, Yelp is looking out for itself.

    I commented:

    Read this story … and then think about whether any service provider with which you might be working is looking out for your brand equity (which ought to be its primary job), or looking to build its own business on your back, even if that means laying the foundation to eventually be able to compete with you.

    Think about it.  Is there any company with which you are working that might fit that description?


    MNB reader Jeff Weidauer raised his hand:

    Ha! Can you say Instacart?

    Exactly.  Extra credit to Mr. Weidauer.

    And MNB reader Mike Slattery wrote:

    This should be a cautionary tale for those supermarkets outsourcing delivery. They can’t say you didn’t warn them!

    Mrs. Content Guy often suggests that when I get on my soapbox about stuff like this, I sound like I am channeling John the Baptist … and then she reminds me how John the Baptist ended up. 

    And finally, on another subject, from MNB reader Rich Heiland:

    Your observations about your local book store, and how it had 20 years to get its arms around the whole internet and customer service thing, brought to mind a book I first read in 1992 - Michael Gerber’s "Emyth."

    To cut to the chase he posited that most small businesses grew not from a desire to have a business or be a business but out of a passion. Someone loved something or someone was good at something (a technician) and so it became a business with zero foundation in business itself.

    I suspect your local store was created by someone who passionately loves books, wanted to be immersed in the physical sense of a book - the feel, touch and smell. And wanted to interact with those who shared that passion. I suspect that while the world outside their door sped by, they remained holed up with what they love. Gerber wrote that is the case with a lot of small businesses and while the passion is admirable, it is in the end no way to run a business. Maybe the bookshop owner should read Gerber. 

    I think you have it exactly right.

    One point.  While I got an email the day after I placed the order acknowledging it, it now has been several days and nobody has communicated anything about when the book might be available.  I'm willing to spend a little more money to patronize a local business, and I';m even willing to wait - but I am unwilling to be kept in the dark.  Just talk to me, dammit!

    For the record, after I did the video, a friend of mine immediately downloaded the book, "Lincoln on the Verge," onto his iPad and spent $14.  Amazon is selling the hardcover (though it is out of stock at the moment) for $18.  My local bookstore is selling the hardcover for $35.

    I repeat.  If stores like this don't survive, it isn't homicide.  It is suicide.

    Published on: May 7, 2020

    I'm happy to announce that on Friday, at 8 pm EDT / 5 pm PDT, we're going to do it again … our third MNB Virtual Happy Hour.

    I'm scheduling this one a little later in the day to make it easier for west coast readers to join us.  (You can, of course, join in no matter where you live.)

    The folks at GMDC have once again agreed to sponsor and host it, and here's the link:

    Hopefully, you can put it on your calendar … choose a libation for Happy Hour … and then prop up your laptop or warm up your computer on Friday for a conversation and a drink.  (You don't have to tell me you're coming, but it would be nice to know.)

    See you tomorrow night!