retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: May 19, 2020

    In a new series of weekly Retail Tomorrow podcasts, Sterling Hawkins, co-CEO and co-founder of CART-The Center for Advancing Retail & Technology, and MNB "Content Guy" Kevin Coupe team up to speculate, prognosticate, and formulate visions of what tomorrow's retail landscape will look like post-coronavirus.

    Airlines have one problem - lots of supply, but not nearly enough demand.  Retailers have the opposite issue - tons of demand, but trouble in certain segments coming up with supply.  And yet, as Sterling Hawkins and Kevin Coupe discuss, there are lots of lessons for retailers to learn from how airlines have been dealing with the pandemic - about leadership vs. management, about shopper-centricity vs. an operations focus, and about the importance of finding the experience's pain points and doing everything possible to reduce friction for customers.

    You can listen to the podcast here, or on iTunes and Google Play.

    Published on: May 19, 2020

    by Michael Sansolo

    Long time MNB readers know we find metaphors for business lessons in nearly every walk of life. However, due to my limited knowledge on the subject, I tend to stay away from any issues regarding the military. I’m making an exception today and I think you’ll quickly see why.

    The Washington Post recently reviewed a new book about American military might, written by Christian Brose, former staff director for the Senate Armed Services Committee and a close advisor to the late John McCain.

    The book offers up some horrible news. In war simulations of a conflict between the United States and China, the latter emerges victorious every time thanks in large part to superior use of technology and a more modernized approach to battle.

    The US, in turn, is handicapped by legacy systems and decision-making bogged down by special interests. One paragraph in particular got my attention.

    “How did this happen? It wasn’t an intelligence failure, or a malign Pentagon and Congress, or lack of money, or insufficient technological prowess. No, it was simply bureaucratic inertia compounded by entrenched interests. The Pentagon is good at doing what it did yesterday, and Congress insists on precisely that. We have been so busy buffing our legacy systems that the United States got ambushed by the future.”

    Brose then provides details such as how suggestions to remake the American military - either through less reliance on aircraft carriers or F-35 jets - fall victim to lobbying efforts by those who produce them. Again, I am no expert on anything military, but this much I can understand. When the status quo is too strong, anyone can be ambushed by the future. 

    And that should get your attention not because of military might, but because of phrases like “buffing legacy systems” and “ambushed by the future.”

    At the moment, we are in a very strange place thanks to the Covid-caused lockdown. Remote shopping is currently ascending and virtually every company finds itself in uncharted waters when it comes to business. Like it or not, we are living in the future and got there far faster than anyone imagined.

    A few years back in my work with the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council of Latin America, we did a study on the emerging world of omni-channel retailing, examining the realities of home delivery, click and collect and the changes necessary in internal company structure. It’s that last part that came to mind when I read the article about the Chinese military.

    As the retail council considered the study, the members recognized the many problems their own companies would encounter as they attempted the difficult task of moving to offer on-line shopping. Principle among them was how the status quo - or current operations - would co-exist with this new form of customer service.

    The realization was that the two would not work well together. The traditional staff and operation, through a desire to protect turf and a long challenging run-up to profitability by the on-line services, would crush the new on-line division seeing it as competition for, and a drain on, resources. For that reason, the report recommended that in building an omni-channel presence companies would need keep the new division separate from the old until ecommerce became fully established and somewhat profitable.

    You can read the report here.

    Now think about where we are today. In a flash, those on-line divisions have become mission critical and virtually overnight started accounting for an unexpectedly large portion of sales. But remember, someday normalcy will return and what will happen then? An optimistic view is that companies will recognize the importance of their remote shopping division and nourish it.  But realistically, the opposite could occur.

    So think of that example about the Chinese and US military and start planning for what happens after Covid is neutralized. Think about the knowledge and experience gained in this strange period and how to make the most of omni-channel thinking. Learn from the harsh critique of the Pentagon and stop defending yesterday’s tactics and embrace the unknown no matter how difficult.

    In short, accept that the future is coming no matter what. It’s up to you to stop buffing the legacy systems and avoid letting the future ambush you!

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com.

    His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

    And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.

    Published on: May 19, 2020

    As much as KC would love baseball to return, he's dubious - it strikes him as way too problematic, and even if they do try to bring it back, he wonders how long the game can stay on the field.  But in the event that baseball does return in 2020, KC has an idea for how to be even more fan-centric … which he sees as offering lessons for retailers trying to figure put how to be more customer-centric.

    Published on: May 19, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    The BBC reports that large firms in the UK affected by the pandemic and resulting recession that then take public money to get through the crisis will be prohibited from paying bonuses to executives and dividends to shareholders, as well as participating in share buybacks, until the loans are repaid.

    In addition, the BBC says, "The Treasury and the Bank of England also announced that from 4 June they will publish a weekly list of the companies who have accessed the Covid Corporate Financing Facility and how much they have borrowed.

    "They said: 'This change will make the scheme more transparent and enable participating businesses to demonstrate their access to the scheme'."

    Sounds like an appropriate and Eye-Opening approach to me.

    Published on: May 19, 2020

    CNBC reports this morning that Walmart said its first quarter e-commerce sales were up 74 percent, and that same-store sales for the period were up 10 percent.

    Total revenues grew by 8.6% to $134.62 billion from $123.9 billion a year earlier.  Net income rose to $3.99 billion from $3.84 billion a year earlier.

    However, CNBC reports, "Walmart said the virus has created 'unprecedented variability' in the economy, and it withdrew its financial outlook. It also said it was phasing out the Jet.com brand, the e-commerce company it bought for $3.3 billion in 2016, saying the acquisition fueled its e-commerce strategy."

    Walmart CFO Brett Biggs tells CNBC that “'it felt like several different quarters within a quarter, particularly in U.S.'  He said the retailer saw a stockpiling surge in March, with a 300% peak in pickup and delivery.

    "But Biggs said April 'started slow, particularly in general merchandise.' He said it picked up again in mid-April, after customers received stimulus money.  'The second quarter has started off pretty well as we continue to see the stimulus money come in for consumers,' he added."

    KC's View:
     

    The e-commerce increase is even higher than expected, and gives Walmart a lot of foundation on which to build going forward.

    The phase-out of the Jet brand , however, is likely to direct a lot of attention to the future of Marc Lore at Walmart.  He sold Jet to Walmart, but the expectation now will be that he'll cash in his chips and go off to a) wait out the end of whatever non-compete he has, and b) plan his next e-commerce business.

    Published on: May 19, 2020

    Fox Business reports on rumors that "Amazon and bankrupt  J.C. Penney are reportedly in talks over some type of deal," with an Amazon team currently in Plano, Texas, to talk to JC Penney execs.

    Speculation is that some sort of acquisition of a part of JC Penney's business would help Amazon build its apparel portfolio.

    Neither company is commenting on the report.

    KC's View:

    Anything is possible, but I would remind you that there also was a lot of speculation that Amazon would buy Radio Shack and Toys R Us - and almost every other traditional retail business that has had major troubles over the past decade.  Actual acquisitions of bricks-and-mortar businesses have been few.

    It is my experience that there are a bunch of stock analysts out there who love to float this kind of speculation as a way of getting their names into the financial newspapers and websites.  I give these reports little credence … though, as I say, anything is possible.

    Published on: May 19, 2020

    CNBC reports on a new Facebook survey of 86,000 small and medium-sized business owners, managers and employees, concluding that "only 45% of owners and managers of small and medium-sized businesses surveyed … said they would rehire the same workers they were forced to let go or furlough once they reopen. If that estimate holds true for similar businesses across the country, it could devastate predictions for a swift economic recovery from the crisis.

    "About a third of closed businesses surveyed said they do not expect to reopen, with many citing an inability to pay bills or rent.

    "The report also revealed the large gap in paid sick leave and time off for employees of small and medium-sized businesses. Of employees surveyed, 74% reported not having access to paid sick leave and 70% said they did not have paid time off. Those numbers were over 90% for hotel, cafe and restaurant employees surveyed."

    KC's View:

    All of which paints a picture of a very different America … in which the virus and the recession have teamed up to decimate communities and businesses.

    But, in the words of Rocky Balboa, "It ain't about how hard you hit.  It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward."

    Published on: May 19, 2020

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

    In the US this morning, there are 1,571,018 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 93,542 deaths and 361,227 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers hit a milestone - more than five million cases of the coronavirus.  As of this morning, the precise number is 5,006,675, with 325,319 fatalities and 1,973,815 reported recoveries.

    From the New York Times:

    "All 50 states have begun to reopen in at least some way, more than two months after the coronavirus thrust the country into lockdown. But there remain vast discrepancies in how states are deciding to open up, with some forging far ahead of others.

    "Connecticut was among the last states to take a plunge back to business on Wednesday, when its stay-at-home order lifted and stores, museums and offices were allowed to reopen. But not far away in New Jersey, the reopening has been more limited, with only curbside pickup at retail stores and allowances for certain industries.

    "The contrast illustrates a dynamic playing out across the country, as governors grapple with how to handle a pandemic that comes with no political playbook."

    The story goes on:  "States in the Northeast and on the West Coast, as well as Democratic-led states in the Midwest, have moved the slowest toward reopening, with several governors taking a county-by-county approach … By contrast, several states in the South opened earlier and more fully."

    The state that has reopened the fastest and most completely:  Alaska, where "Gov. Mike Dunleavy said he would lift restrictions on businesses by the end of the week, allowing restaurants, bars, gyms and others to return to full capacity. Sports and recreational activities will be allowed … Social-distancing strategies, including the wearing of masks in public, would be recommended but not required, he said."

    However, if you want to go Alaska there is still a "requirement that travelers arriving in the state stay quarantined for 14 days."

    From Axios:

    "More than half of U.S. counties don’t have a single coronavirus testing site, according to a recent report by Castlight, a health software company … That leaves a wide swath of the country — particularly rural areas — vulnerable to undetected coronavirus outbreaks, especially as lockdown measures ease."

    Here's how the numbers break out:  "54% of all counties don’t have a testing site … Among counties with 50,000 or more people, 38% don’t have any testing sites … Among rural counties with fewer than 10,000 residents, 68% don’t have any."

    The Associated Press reports that "the world cut its daily carbon dioxide emissions by 17% at the peak of the pandemic shutdown last month, a new study found.

    "But with life and heat-trapping gas levels inching back toward normal, the brief pollution break will likely be 'a drop in the ocean' when it comes to climate change, scientists said."

    The story says that "an international team of scientists calculated that pollution levels are heading back up — and for the year will end up between 4% and 7% lower than 2019 levels. That’s still the biggest annual drop in carbon emissions since World War II.  It’ll be 7% if the strictest lockdown rules remain all year long across much of the globe, 4% if they are lifted soon."

    Doesn't mean that choking the planet is inevitable.  Just means that we have to learn the lessons of the past few months and then apply them to both public policy and personal behavior.

    Bloomberg has a story about how "Amazon wants to innovate its way out of the pandemic."

    An excerpt:

    "The retailer this month posted dozens of jobs for laboratory workers in the city of Hebron, across the river from Cincinnati, including a laboratory director, technicians and assistants who will test samples collected from some of Amazon’s more than 900,000 employees. In Sunnyvale, California, the headquarters of Amazon’s Lab126 hardware group, the company is seeking microbiologists and researchers, as well as a lawyer to oversee the legal aspects of the laboratory initiative.

    "The testing project, on which Amazon expects to spend some $300 million in the three months ending in June, is the most visible element of a broad corporate effort that has Amazon executives reassigning teams across the company to deal with elements of the coronavirus. Last month, the company said that it planned to spend about $4 billion on Covid-19 related expenses during the second quarter of the year. Amazon is tight-lipped about its plans, but the array of initiatives launched so far hint at the scale of the company’s ambition to thrive in a world turned upside down."

    The story notes that "some of the projects Amazon began early in the coronavirus are starting to pay off. Last week, the company said it had started manufacturing medical face shields based on designs developed alongside a hobbyist group that have been approved for use by the National Institutes of Health. Robotics engineers are working to adjust the company’s warehouses, originally built for maximum efficiency, for a period when in-person contact and teamwork is dangerous. The company recently deployed a machine in some facilities that helps sort incoming items into bins, saving employees trips that often had them walking past co-workers."

    And, Bloomberg writes, Amazon has a structural advantage over some other companies in terms of responding to circumstances:  "Amazon structures itself around small, decentralized teams. In a time of changing market conditions or crisis, speed and flexibility take precedence over subject-matter expertise…"

    •  In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports that "Target will extend a $2-an-hour temporary pay bump through July 4 … This is the second time Target has extended the temporary pay increase in recent months. It will also continue through June 30 other pandemic-related benefits such as 30-day paid leave for high-risk employees who are 65 years or older, are pregnant or have underlying health conditions."

    The story notes that "the announcement comes as some other companies' hazard pay for frontline workers — who have taken on extra risk and stress working during the pandemic — is set to expire at the end of this month or in early June as many states begin to reopen."

    •  Forbes has a piece about New Jersey malls experiencing very different pandemics.

    One, the Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, was virtually deserted last weekend - all of its anchor tenants were closed, of course, and only one of the three (Nordstrom) seems to have a viable future.  Anchor tenant Lord & Taylor is preparing to go through liquidation, and anchor tenant Neiman Marcus has filed for bankruptcy.  

    Meanwhile, just a couple of miles to the east, the Bergen Town Center had a crowded parking lot - while the mall itself was closed, it has a Target and a Whole Foods that were humming.

    Here's the lesson, according to Forbes:  "Having a supermarket, or a Target, Walmart, or Costco, all of which have been allowed to remain open because they sell food, has become a bigger mall status symbol, and survival tool, than having a Saks, Nordstrom, or Neiman’s.

    "Another challenged Paramus Mall, Paramus Park, replaced a vacant Sears last year with a supermarket, Stew Leonard’s, that has proven to be a lifeline for the mall during the crisis."

    •  The Wall Street Journal has a story about how "national restaurant chains and other stable businesses are prodding their landlords for rent relief as the economic picture sours, setting the stage for court battles and protracted clashes between big tenants and property owners.

    "A number of blue-chip companies that made rent payments the past two months have indicated they reached their limit with June. Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. and Shake Shack Inc. said they are lobbying property owners to renegotiate the leases or offer deferred rent payments. Starbucks Corp. sent a letter to landlords asking for a range of concessions, including changes to lease terms and base rent for at least 12 months, starting next month."

    “We are a strong tenant with significant growth ahead of us, and we expect our landlords will partner with us during this difficult time period,” says Chipotle CFO Jack Hartung.

    Seems to me that "partner" is the key word here.  Like maybe a landlord could give some lease concessions in the near future in exchange for a share of receipts down the road when business is healthier.  Just a thought…

    •  Forbes reports that "New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a new partnership with drugstore giant CVS Health to help double capacity to test for the Coronavirus strain Covid-19 in the state … Cuomo said the state of New York has doubled testing capacity to reach 40,000 diagnostic tests per day as more states and the U.S. government work with retailers, including CVS Health. The drugstore chain and rival pharmacies have stressed they have health professionals and convenient real estate like parking lots to safely conduct Covid-19 tests for Americans."

    According to the story, "In the partnership with CVS, testing will come to more than 60 CVS pharmacies that will conduct 50 or more tests per day. The New York partnership comes within days of CVS’ disclosure that it was going to dramatically ramp up testing by processing up to 1.5 million tests every month."

    •  Southeastern Grocers, Inc. (SEG), parent company and home of BI-LO, Fresco y Más, Harveys Supermarket and Winn-Dixie grocery stores, together with the SEG Gives Foundation, announced the donation of nearly 258,000 $5 hunger relief bags to Feeding America. The more than $1.28 million worth of food will help provide meals* to neighbors throughout the Southeast who are facing hunger due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The Wall Street Journal has a piece about how we all can expect air travel to change as a result of the pandemic and resulting restrictions and rules.

    "Airports and airlines are rolling out temperature checks for crew and, increasingly, passengers, as well as thermal scans to spot people with elevated body temperatures. Face masks are now de rigueur for travelers across the U.S.

    "Passengers on Europe’s biggest budget carrier must raise their hands to use the toilet.

    "Forget about the perks of priority boarding at Air France. The carrier is one of several boarding passengers seated at the back of the aircraft first, to limit traffic jams in the aisle. Many airlines are removing in-flight magazines, scrapping meal services on shorter routes, and parking the duty-free cart.

    "Getting off the plane at the end of the flight could take even longer than usual as airlines try to control the typical crush, with some saying flight attendants will cue small groups when it’s their turn to stand up."

    The story goes on:  "Some of the biggest changes airlines envision are the result of what executives expect will be months, maybe years, of lower demand: They see fewer direct flights, for instance, which means more dreaded stopovers.

    "Some airlines are considering requiring passengers to sign health certifications, or to eventually carry 'immunity passports' - documentation that a passenger has had, and recovered from, the virus."

    The Journal makes the point that airlines are having to make decisions that take them directly away from policies and tactics of recent years - they are under pressure not to fill their planes, and to permanently eliminate the fees for almost everything that they've been charging.  We talked a lot about this on the Retail Tomorrow Podcast this week, but something else occurred to me when reading the Journal piece.

    It seems to me that one of the challenges to the airlines will be to continue providing frequent fliers with the perks and advantages that they're used to.  Which in some ways is ironic, because it long has been said that the airlines were better than most businesses at providing better service to better customers.  That may end up being a real challenge going forward, and I have to wonder if there are some legacy ways of doing business that they'll need to rethink.  Actually the best question is this - how many legacy ways of doing business will they have to change?

    Nice piece in the New York Times about Gerald Timothee, an Instacart delivery worker in New York City who, as news about the pandemic spread even faster than the coronavirus, worried about getting sick as he kept delivering groceries.  He called is family in Haiti to, in essence, say goodbye … he thought he was going to die.

    "The possibility of getting sick is a reality Mr. Timothee and thousands of other workers in New York City’s gig economy have had to face each day as they venture out onto the city’s streets not only to earn a living, but also to feed other residents.

    Yet for many of these workers, their initial terror has been steeled with a sense of duty and pride.  'It’s all about us right now,' Mr. Timothee said.  'We are holding this city together. I feel like a hero'."

    There are a lot of them:  "Following a dramatic increase in demand during stay-at-home orders, Instacart’s personal shopper ranks in New York City alone have swelled to more than 14,000 since March, according to company officials, an increase of more than 150 percent.

    "The company employs workers to shop for and deliver groceries and other household items ordered online through an app, paying them a fee for each delivery.

    "With a more than 400 percent increase in sales since March, Instacart has seen a greater rise since the pandemic than any other company — even Amazon or Walmart. It is one of several on-demand grocery delivery services, including Prime Now, Peapod, FreshDirect, and Shipt, which send legions of delivery people around the city every day."

    You can read the story here.

    I'm glad Gerald Timothee feels positive about his contribution … because I think we owe people like him a lot for taking risks that we'd rather not take.  They are essential, and their contributions are priceless.

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports on how this weekend, for many businesses in summer communities, represents what they hope will be a new beginning - it is Memorial Day weekend and, as one restaurateur tells the Journal, they have roughly 110 days to make enough money to survive for 365 days.

    "From Ocean City to the Jersey Shore to Cape Cod, the window between Memorial Day and Labor Day is make-or-break for hotels, restaurants, arcades and T-shirt shops," the Journal writes.  "On top of potential concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, more than 36 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits, pinching disposable incomes."

    Will it be the beginning?  Or just the beginning of the end?  I hope it is the former, but we'll know a lot more based on whether there are new pandemic outbreaks and hot spots as these communities open up.

    The New Yorker reports on one perhaps unexpected casualty of the pandemic.

    Zoos.

    The story says that there have been "an unprecedented series of crises - some existential - faced by zoological parks dedicated to the study and survival of thousands of the Earth’s other animal species.  Unlike entertainment centers, movie theatres, or sports stadiums, zoos can’t simply shut their doors or tell staff to work from home. Zoos still have to feed and care for animals - nearly a million, from six thousand species (a thousand of them endangered or threatened) in the United States alone - at a time in which revenues have plummeted to nothing … In the United States, at least eighty per cent of zoos and aquariums accredited by the A.Z.A. are closed, which means no ticket sales, no merchandise bought for the kids, no stroller rentals, and no food sales, all of which contribute to both zoo programs and long-term conservation worldwide."

    The problem, The New Yorker says, is global, and ranges from zoos that are "strapped" to somer that are "devastated."

    One interesting byproduct has been how the pandemic has affected the animals, who seem to be experiencing "the kinds of loneliness that people have … In zoos, humans offer a form of sensory stimulus to other species. Without them, the penguins, pandas, elephants, chimpanzees, and even camels and meerkats seem a little bored."

    https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/some-zoos-and-some-of-their-animals-may-not-survive-the-pandemic?utm_source=nl&utm_brand=tny&utm_mailing=TNY_Daily_051820&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_medium=email&bxid=5bda44d22ddf9c5063627842&cndid=20512672&hasha=6a96b0110d707cecc0b29c4edcbfca13&hashb=8121571d80d7303d8dddc3d860a5caba8c47842a&hashc=bf138d7485543e6a4a6a6cad59aeabfa540999b826039e03084bd082f383a6f4&esrc=CDS_OP&utm_term=TNY_Daily

    You'd think that people sheltering at home during the pandemic would lead to more book sales.

    But not so much.

    The New York Times reports that "even the publishing world hasn’t been immune to the economic fallout from the pandemic. U.S. book sales across all categories fell more than 8 percent in March, compared with March 2019, a decline that reflected the challenges publishers face in a ravaged retail landscape.

    "The steepest declines were in educational publishing, a likely result of the mass closures of schools and colleges. Revenue from prekindergarten through 12th grade instructional materials was half what it was a year ago, while course materials for higher education fell more than 8 percent. Books from university presses saw a decline of more than 21 percent."

    More detail from the Times:  "Some categories, like digital audio, which has been one of the fastest-growing formats in recent years, seemed almost pandemic-proof, with a jump of 15 percent. Downloaded audio for children grew by nearly 50 percent, as parents who are sheltering at home with children turned to audiobooks for entertainment. Somewhat surprisingly, e-book revenues dropped by nearly 5 percent, and print revenues grew by more than 1 percent."

    From TechCrunch:

    "The coronavirus outbreak has driven more consumers to turn to their smart speakers for news, information, music and entertainment, according to new data released today by NPR and Edison Research. Around three-quarters of U.S. adults 18 and up said their routines have been impacted due to COVID-19 and their media habits have changed as a result. Since the outbreak, 35% of U.S. smart speakers owners say they’re listening to more news and information through their device, and 36% say they’ve increased their consumption of music and entertainment.

    The story goes on:  "Smart speaker owners working from home during the COVID-19 outbreak were also more likely than smart speaker owners in general to make requests for news from their device on a weekly basis, but not as likely to ask for the weather, the time, or other updates.

    "In the work-from-home group, 65% said they use the device — at some point — to listen to the news while 62% of all smart speaker owners said they do."

    Business Insider reports a Maryland seafood restaurant, Fish Tales, "is adding a new dining experience to its bar and restaurant called 'bumper tables.'  The tables are on wheels, and guests can move about freely in a six-foot inner tube.

    The story says that "Revolution Events designed the tables in response to the coronavirus and experienced a surge of interest after the design was unveiled."

    •  MarketWatch has the story of a Costco store manager who is caught on video explaining to a customer that he must wear a mask, only to be told that he would  not, because, "I woke up in a free country this morning."

    The Costco manager then took away the customer's shopping cart and asked him to leave the store.

    MarketWatch notes that the video was posted on Reddit, apparently by the customer, then deleted - the story suggests that when the customer posted it, he thought he'd get a positive reaction.  He didn't, and later posted a note explaining his position:  “I got every f---ing right to not wear a mask … This isn’t about wearing a mask, it’s about control. I’m not the f---ing sheep... I was one of the only people in that store not wearing a mask.”

    I'd like to reiterate the basic reaction to the video that I saw online, and the messages that most people seem to be sending to that customer.

    Yes, you woke up in a free country.  You're free to shop elsewhere, and Costco is free to do what it feels is necessary to protect the health of its employees and other shoppers, who are behaving in a socially responsible way.

    Freedom carries with it responsibilities to your community and the requirement that you obey certain rules - you have to register your car, obey traffic signals, wear clothing when in public, etc…  In a time of national emergency, when a pandemic has killed close to 100,000 people in the US in just a few months, and more than 300,000 people globally, there is nothing wrong or even anti-freedom with imposing a few rules to prevent the spread of the disease and help our fellow freedom-loving citizens.

    However, you are free to continue being a moron.

    More evidence of how the pandemic and its impact on various businesses is playing out…

    Variety reports that Greyhound, the new Tom Hanks World War II movie that was scheduled to come out in theaters for Father's Day weekend, has been acquired by Apple TV and now will be available for streaming on the service.  No release date yet has been announced.

    The story points out that "Greyhound joins a growing list of movies that were originally slated for theatrical release, but then opted for a digital debut after the coronavirus pandemic resulted in most U.S. movie theaters remaining closed until July at the earliest."

    The question is the degree to which this reflects a change in consumer behavior that will be sustained, not short term.  I think it is going to be more and longer than expected.

    Published on: May 19, 2020

    From the Washington Post:

    "Whether it’s the mall, restaurants, concerts, ballparks or even drive-in movie theaters, Americans are making it clear: They won’t be ready to go out to their favorite destinations until they feel confident about being able to go.

    "To the bathroom, that is.

    "The idea of a return to life in public is unnerving enough for many people. But it turns out that one of the biggest obstacles to dining in a restaurant, renewing a doctor’s appointment or going back to the office is the prospect of having to use a public restroom — a tight, intimate and potentially germ-infested space.

    "It’s a hurdle vexing many business owners as they prepare to reopen in a time of social distancing, reduced capacity and heightened anxiety about the very air we breathe."

    “Americans have always had a fear of contamination from public restrooms,” Steven Soifer, president of the American Restroom Association, which advocates for safer and more private public bathrooms, tells the Post.  “What we’re seeing now is part just heightened anxiety, but it’s also part reality-based. Public restrooms in this country generally have open toilet seats — no lids — and high-pressure flushes create a plume of droplets that extends at least six feet.”

    The Post notes that "the coronavirus has been found in human waste up to a month after a victim has recovered. And a study published last week concluded that droplets from human speaking can hang in the air for at least eight minutes."

    There is some good news:  The Post notes that "makers of bathroom fixtures have seen a surge of restaurant owners and workplace managers ordering thorough renovations of their bathrooms — a level of attention unusual in a country where many public restrooms haven’t moved much higher up the design ladder than the stereotypically awful gas station bathroom."

    The Post adds:

    "Going away: Push-button soap dispensers, and those high-velocity hand dryers that can blow germs across an entire room. Coming to a restroom near you: More copper fixtures - copper has antimicrobial properties - and dryers integrated into the sink so no one walks across the room dripping water."

    KC's View:
     

    I don't want to emphasize the wrong thing here, but …. there's an American Restroom Association?  (I want to put it right out there.  When they have a convention, I want to be invited to speak at it.)

    For almost as long as I have been writing about retail, I've made sure that when visiting a store I check out the restrooms - you can tell a lot about how clean a store is by how clean the bathrooms are.  If a supermarket doesn't pay close attention to a restroom where customers go, it is hard to imagine that it is paying attention to places that customers never see.

    And it isn't like people can just stop going to the bathroom.  Especially male people of a certain age.  As my dad used to say, "When you gotta go, you gotta go."

    Published on: May 19, 2020

    The New York Times has a story about how over the past two months, an Amazon distribution center "in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania has become Amazon’s biggest Covid-19 hot spot. More employees at AVP1 have been infected by the coronavirus than at any of Amazon’s roughly 500 other facilities in the United States.

    "Local lawmakers believe that more than 100 workers have contracted the disease, but the exact number is unknown. At first, Amazon told workers about each new case. But when the total reached about 60, the announcements stopped giving specific numbers.

    "The disclosures also stopped at other Amazon warehouses. The best estimate is that more than 900 of the company’s 400,000 blue-collar workers have had the disease. But that number, crowdsourced by Jana Jumpp, an Amazon worker, almost certainly understates the spread of the illness among Amazon’s employees."

    You can read the entire story, and its analysis of the various pressures that Amazon felt and, in turn, put on its workers, here.

    Published on: May 19, 2020

    •  The BBC reports that "Uber has announced a drastic action plan to scale back its business as its losses balloon amid pandemic lockdowns.

    "The firm said it would cut 3,000 more jobs, bringing the total reductions in recent weeks to a quarter of the workforce.  It is also closing or consolidating more than 40 offices and winding down units such as its artificial intelligence lab."

    "We must establish ourselves as a self-sustaining enterprise that no longer relies on new capital or investors to keep growing, expanding and innovating," chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi wrote in a letter to staff.  "We have to take these hard actions to stand strong on our own two feet, to secure our future and to continue on our mission."

    Published on: May 19, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The Daily Voice reports that Ahold Delhaize-owned Stop & Shop said that "illegal skimming devices known as 'shimmers'" have been found at five of its stores - three in New Jersey and one each in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

    "Only customers who visited those Stop & Shop locations may have potentially been affected," the story says, and then only shoppers who used one self-checkout lane in each store over different five-day periods.

    "At this time, there is no evidence that any of the information has been misused as a result of this issue," the company said.  "Stop & Shop took immediate action to remove the devices and review store video surveillance in an effort to determine who installed them and how long they had been in use at each location.  We also notified law enforcement and engaged third-party forensic experts to analyze the devices."

    When they find the dirtbags who did this, I hope they hand 'em high … one of those stores is the Stop & Shop where I shop fairly frequently.


    •  USA Today reports that "days after filing for bankruptcy, J.C. Penney says it plans to close more than a fourth of its stores. 

    "According to a document filed with the Securities and Exchanges Commission on Monday, approximately 29% of the retailer's 846 stores, or 242 locations, will close between the current fiscal year and next fiscal year."

    Published on: May 19, 2020

    Eddie Haskell is dead.

    Ken Osmond, who played the sycophantic Haskell on "Leave It To Beaver" for the show's entire six-season run, has passed away at age 76.  No cause of death has been revealed.

    There long were rumors about Osmond's demise in Vietnam, but in fact he joined the Los Angeles Police Department in 1970 after his acting career faded away.  Variety reports that "in 1980, Osmond was struck by five bullets while in a foot chase with a suspected car thief and was protected from four of the bullets by his bullet-resistant vest, with the fifth bullet ricocheting off of his belt buckle Osmond was placed on disability and eventually retired from the force in 1988."