business 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: June 15, 2020

    Bloomberg this morning exclusively reports on how Walmart has just announced a new deal with Canadian e-commerce company Shopify that, the story says, will "expand its third-party marketplace site and grab more of the pandemic-fueled surge in online shopping."

    The deal will add some 1,200 Shopify sellers to Walmart's third-party marketplace, which already "offers more than 75 million products."

    For Shopify, Bloomberg's Matthew Boyle writes,  the deal "provides its network of millions of merchants access to Walmart’s customers, and follows a May linkup with Facebook Inc. that allowed retailers to import Shopify product catalogs to the social-media giant’s new Shops service."

    The story notes that "the collaboration is Walmart’s latest attempt to expand the scale and profitability of its $21.5 billion U.S. e-commerce business, which is gaining ground on market leader Inc. but continues to lose money. In recent years, Walmart has rolled out a fulfillment service for third-party sellers, allowed customers to return marketplace items in its physical stores and jettisoned millions of third-party items that didn’t meet quality standards."

    KC's View:

    A few quick thoughts here…

    First, this strikes me as a relatively low-stress way for Walmart to continue growing the third-party seller business, which, the story says, "grew at a faster pace than Walmart’s overall web business in the first quarter," and also tends to be more profitable … which is similar to Amazon's experience.

    It is an interesting shift for Shopify, which typically would position its retailers to compete with the likes of Walmart, as opposed to getting into bed with it.  But the gold rush that is e-commerce, especially because of the acceleration created by the pandemic's impact on consumer behavior, means that we may see a lot of strange bedfellows.

    We have a story below about Amazon under regulatory scrutiny … and I have to wonder to what degree this Walmart-Shopify deal could cause it to adjust its policies to be more vendor-friendly.  I also have to think while this ratchets up the competition, it also gives Amazon the ability to argue that it isn't any sort of monopoly or is guilty of antitrust violations.

    Some of Walmart's e-commerce moves - think Jetblack - haven't worked out, but CEO Doug McMillon hasn't indicated that he has soured on the sector.  This tends to prove it.

    One interesting note from the Bloomberg story:

    "There are risks to opening the doors to more and more sellers. Walmart’s marketplace, along with Amazon’s, has faced criticism over the years for carrying offensive items like Confederate flags. In recent years, Walmart has pulled about 20 million items off the site that didn’t meet its quality standards. Though Amazon’s marketplace is open to virtually anyone who goes through an online registration process, Walmart’s is invite-only so it can vet sellers. It also uses machine learning and keyword recognition technology to spot suspect sellers."

    Walmart is going to have to be even more vigilant going forward, I think, since the nation seems to be getting only more polarized with every passing day … which creates an environment in which an online sales platform can be abused and generate controversy.

    Published on: June 15, 2020

    KC tells the story of Tito's Tacos, in Culver City, California, where they take not just their food seriously, but also their brand equity - which is why the business made a commitment that far bigger and better capitalized companies don't.  

    Published on: June 15, 2020

    On Friday morning, MNB and numerous other media outlets reported that despite having been explicit in its support for the Black Lives Matter movement and pledged via social media that it would "stand in solidarity with our Black partners, customers and communities," Starbucks would not allow its employees to wear Black Lives Matter T-shirts, pins, or any other accessory that  mentions the movement.

    By lunchtime, the company reversed itself.

    Not only that, Starbucks announced that it would buy and distribute Black Lives Matter t-shirts to its employees working in company-owned cafes.

    “We see you. We hear you. Black Lives Matter. That is a fact and will never change,” the company said Friday. “This movement is a catalyst for change, and right now, it’s telling us a lot of things need to be addressed so we can make space to heal.”

    The original concerns as expressed by the company were related to what it called "agitators who misconstrue the fundamental principles of the Black Lives Matter movement — and in certain circumstances, intentionally repurpose them to amplify divisiveness.”  But a backlash on social media, including some calls for a boycott, moved the company to reverse its policy.

    KC's View:

    Score one for Victor Hugo, who, as I noted on Friday, once wrote, "Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come." 

    On Friday morning, before the reversal was announced, I wrote that I suspected that "it won't be long before Starbucks reverses its position on this - it decided at some point to allow visible tattoos, and it'll allow Black Lives Matter paraphernalia."  (So score one for me, too.  Though this probably will be the first and only time that Victor Hugo and I are linked.)

    While I recognize it can be problematic for retailers to allow political and social commentary by store employees, the original reaction seemed off-brand to me.  Starbucks, after all, always has had a progressive bent, and it wasn't all that long ago that the company was encouraging baristas to engage in conversations about race with customers.  (Not its best idea, even if well-intentioned.)  Plus, Starbucks - which is having as tough time of it because of the pandemic - can ill-afford any sort of boycott and associated bad publicity.

    The growing popular support for the Black Lives Matter movement - it has grown enormously over the past month, part of a general shift in public opinion about matters of race and criminal justice - has given a lot of companies license to stake out political positions that just a few months ago might have seemed unthinkable.  Though, to be clear, it will be instructive to see of many of these companies' statements and financial contributions are connected to actual changes in diversity policies.  I hope so … because it will be the right thing to do, and because these companies may be particularly vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy if their positions are seen as merely performative.

    I'll return one more time to another Victor Hugo quote:  "He who does not weep does not see."

    Published on: June 15, 2020

    The New York Times reports that the states of California and Washington are conducting separate investigations into "whether Amazon abuses its power over sellers on the tech giant’s site."

    The California probe is said to be about whether Amazon is using third-party sales data to make decisions about what private label products it will offer an d how it will price them.

    The Washington investigation, according to the Times, is into whether "Amazon makes it harder for sellers to list their products on other websites."

    Officials in both states did not comment on the investigations.

    Meanwhile, CNN reports that "New York Attorney General Letitia James' office has interviewed workers from several New York City Amazon facilities as part of a probe into the company's response to coronavirus … Some Amazon warehouse workers have claimed the company did not do enough to safeguard them from the virus. The Attorney General's office talked to employees about allegations concerning personal protective equipment and other safeguards related to Covid-19, as well as allegations of retaliation in the firing of an Amazon employee based out of Staten Island, the office said."

    The Times writes that "the interest in Amazon’s lucrative marketplace is a signal that scrutiny of the company is widening, including criticism of the working conditions in its warehouses and accusations that it boxes out small business and competitors. Liberal politicians have singled out the company and its founder, Jeff Bezos, the wealthiest person in the world, as examples of out-of-control corporate power."

    Just last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that  "the European Union plans to file formal antitrust charges against Amazon … over the e-commerce company’s treatment of third-party sellers, according to people familiar with the matter."

    Amazon's position has been its site actually empowers third-party sellers to the benefit of consumers, and therefore should not be seen as any sort of antitrust violation.

    Some context from the Times:

    "Amazon is among several tech giants facing antitrust investigations into its market power. The Department of Justice is likely to bring an antitrust suit against Google later this year, and the Federal Trade Commission has been examining Facebook’s acquisition of rival services.

    "In the last year, state attorneys general have increasingly joined federal law enforcement in scrutinizing the companies. Texas is leading a multistate inquiry of Google and its sprawling business, while New York has helmed an investigation into Facebook.

    But so far, Amazon has avoided the same level of scrutiny. An F.T.C. investigation into its practices has attracted far less attention and state officials have not publicly revealed their inquiries."

    KC's View:

    "So far," it seems, will only get you so far.

    It is possible that Amazon may find itself in the middle of a perfect storm.  Liberals don't like it because the company is so big and so rich and has so much power.  Conservatives don't like it because of Bezos' progressive politics and his ownership of the Washington Post.  Unions don't like it because it is anti-union (which, when you think about it, isn't the most progressive attitude).  Plus, there are questions about how it treats and pays warehouse employees (also not seen as being progressive).  Plus there is all the power that it has accumulated via the tentacles that it has into so many businesses - cloud computing, entertainment, sports, etc…

    Amazon, in fact, may be in that rarest of positions - ubiquitous, successful and even seeing its power growing with every passing day because of pandemic-related consumer trends toward e-commerce - and yet still hated and/or distrusted by almost everyone.

    Almost everyone.  Because there remains the matter of all the consumers who love Amazon - love the convenience it offers, see its ubiquity as a positive rather than a negative, and could give a rat's patootie about its politics as long as they get two-day delivery via Amazon Prime.

    I would continue to argue that when it comes to private label, Amazon is doing what every retailer does - when it sees a brand that is particularly successful, it decides to knock it off and undercut it on price.  Amazon may do this better than anyone else - with more robust data and greater effectiveness - but this is the way the game is played.

    While Amazon has to be concerned about the various investigations - it no doubt is increasing its budget lines for both lawyers and lobbyists (see lobbying story below) - the company does not seem to be slowing down.

    The Puget Sound Business Journal reports that Amazon is working with Goldman Sachs to develop "a lending program for third-party sellers."

    According to the story, "Amazon's third-party sellers will begin receiving invitations on Seller Central, Amazon's hub for third-party sellers. Credit lines could reach up to $1 million and fixed annual interest rates will span 6.99% to 20.99% … The program represents an expansion of Amazon's lending program for third-party sellers. The company already offers a much more modest loan program that gives sellers fast access to cash.

    "That program, known as Amazon Lending, is available by invitation only and offers short-term loans to Amazon sellers based on their sales performance. Amazon provides no information about the algorithm it uses to determine who gets the cash, nor can businesses plan around the loans."

    One expert tells the Business Journal that "the Goldman program is good news for Amazon's third-party sellers, especially considering most banks don't understand the Fulfilled By Amazon business model. Thomson said most banks want to use inventory as collateral, but Amazon doesn't let banks into its facilities to review a third-party seller's inventory, which makes it difficult for third-party sellers to get loans."

    Which suggests that Amazon's argument will in part be that a) we make it possible for third-parties to reach consumers they never had access to before, and b) we're actually lending them money so they can be more viable.  In other words, it is putting its money where its mouth is.

    Published on: June 15, 2020

    Advertising Age reports that Johnson & Johnson is going to launch a new multi-tone pack of Band-Aids as a way of addressing issues of racial diversity and consciousness.

    On Instagram last week, the company posted:

    “We hear you. We see you. We’re listening to you. We stand in solidarity with our Black colleagues, collaborators and community in the fight against racism, violence and injustice. We are committed to taking actions to create tangible change for the black community. We are committed to launching a range of bandages in light, medium and deep shades of Brown and Black skin tones that embrace the beauty of diverse skin.”

    The new Band-Aids won't be on store shelves until next year.

    However, Ad Age notes that this is not the first time Band-Aid has done this - in 2005, it brought out "a line with multiple skin tones called Perfect Blend, but it was discontinued 'due to lack of interest'."

    In addition, the story points out, Band-Aid does offer a clear bandage, and "other brands, including Tru-Colour and Curad also market bandages for varying skin tones."

    KC's View:

    I guess it is better to do this than not, but I think J&J has to be a little worried that this will be seen as opportunistic rather than sincere, that it will look like it is putting a Band-Aid on a deep societal wound.

    I may be wrong about this, but I would imagine that it may be more important how many people in the company are people of color, and to what degree the people in leadership reflect a diverse view of the world.

    Published on: June 15, 2020

    The Los Angeles Times has a piece about Dumpling, a new shopping app that offers consumers an alternative to using Instacart - the service is sort of an Uber for shopping.

     Here's how the Times frames the story:

    "Instacart is well-known for enlisting freelancers to shop for other people’s groceries. However, making a decent hourly wage with this app became increasingly challenging in a COVID-changed world. That’s partly because the app sets the terms of work, including the delivery fee. And that fee hasn’t been adjusted for today’s market, where personal shoppers can spend hours waiting in line to find still-scarce supplies."

    A new alternative is a new smartphone app called Dumpling, which "helps set shoppers up in business for themselves. With this app, you say when you’re available and how much you charge to shop and deliver. You even set your own minimum tip. If the customer books your service, they are contractually obligated to pay all the fees, including the tip.

    "This allows shoppers to price for things like distance to the store and whether they’re likely to wait in line."

    The story goes on:  "First, when you buy groceries through Instacart, you pay a mark-up on each item. That mark-up may or may not be apparent to the customer.  There is no grocery mark-up with Dumpling. When you buy groceries through Dumpling, the app estimates the cost. But the real cost will be whatever the shopper pays to complete your order, plus shopper and site fees. You are provided a receipt, showing how much was paid for each item.

    "Additionally, customers choose their Dumpling shopper based on location and the shopper’s reviews. Assuming you like that person, you can have that same shopper complete your order every time."

    The Times notes that while "shoppers with Instacart only have to pay for their own transportation and insulated bags, Dumpling shoppers have to pay fees to list and sell their services through the platform too. That said, Dumpling’s fees are modest.

    There’s a $10 fee to get set up on the site. That gives you access to a Dumpling credit card, a listing on the company’s website and Dumpling’s ZIP Code-fueled shopper search tool. In addition, shoppers pay either a $39 monthly fee or a $5 per-transaction fee each time they book a job … Dumpling also adds a 5% fee onto customer orders for payment processing."

    KC's View:

    It is hard to know whether this is a sustainable model, though I was impressed by how easy it was for me to get set up on Dumpling as a consumer.

    It does make me wonder whether there are partnerships between retailers and Dumpling - or just some of its shoppers - that could be created here.   Or whether there is something to be learned from the model that retailers could adapt/steal, allowing them to have more proprietary offerings that reflect their value proposition rather than outsourcing it.

    Published on: June 15, 2020

    Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic and how businesses and various business sectors are trying to recover from it, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  In the United States, there have been 2,162,228 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 117,858 deaths and 870,050 reported recoveries.

    Globally, we have passed eight million confirmed coronavirus cases - the number this morning is 8,013,963, with 435,988 fatalities and 4,137,614 reported recoveries.

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans on Friday to wear masks and distance themselves from others as states reopen and large gatherings take place, including protests related to the killing of George Floyd and events tied to the presidential election.

    "The agency released two sets of guidelines on Friday that outline best practices for people deciding to go out and attend events, including large gatherings. The guidelines recommend that people maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from one another, avoid shaking hands or hugging, and keep hand sanitizer, a face covering and tissues handy.

    "The CDC also listed questions that people should ask themselves when deciding to go somewhere, such as whether they are high-risk or live with someone at high risk, and if the virus is spreading within their community.

    "The new recommendations are meant to supplement, rather than replace, guidance from state and local health officials, the CDC says."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday threatened to reverse reopening in parts of the state that aren’t following or enforcing coronavirus safety rules. He said the state had received 25,000 reports of reopening violations, predominantly in Manhattan and the Hamptons, as New York City and the rest of the state reopen.

    "Lots of violations of social distancing, parties in the street, restaurants and bars ignoring laws,” Mr. Cuomo said. “Enforce the law or there will be state action.”

    •  The Associated Press reports that Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is saying that "a noticeable increase in coronavirus infections was cause for concern and that she was putting all county applications for further reopening on hold for seven days … The Oregon Health Authority reported 178 new confirmed COVID-19 cases Thursday, marking the highest daily count in the state since the start of the pandemic … Officials said the increased case number is partly due to the expansion of 'widespread availability of testing, increased contact tracing, active monitoring of close contacts of cases' and recent workplace outbreaks."

    There's no question that we are going to see more cases as we do more testing.  This only means that we are getting a more accurate picture.  But we also know that outbreaks have the potential of overwhelming health systems, not to mention leading to more deaths.  Vigilance is all.

    •  Bloomberg reports that "Florida reported its biggest single-day increase in new cases since the state began releasing its reports once a day on April 25.

    "New cases rose to 73,552 on Saturday, up 3.6% from a day earlier and well above the average increase of 2.1% in the previous seven days. Deaths among Florida residents reached 2,925, a 1.7% increase."

    •  The Washington Post reports that "Anthony S. Fauci said Friday that it is a 'danger' and 'risky' for people to be gathering in large groups … The nation’s top infectious-disease expert advised on a podcast that if gatherings take place, people should 'make sure' to wear a mask."

    The Post  notes that Fauci said his advice applies to both protest rallies and political rallies.

    The story points out that "across the South and West, coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are on the rise. In Texas, more than 2,100 people in the state were hospitalized with covid-19 as of Friday, according to state data tracked by The Washington Post, and intensive care units are reportedly at 88 percent capacity in the Houston area. Arkansas reported 731 new cases, the largest since the pandemic began. And in North Carolina, cases topped 40,000 after its highest single-day increase."

    •  The New York Times reports that "China on Sunday reported 57 new confirmed infections, its highest single-day tally in two months, renewing fears that the country’s grip on the pandemic is not yet secure.

    "Of the 38 locally transmitted cases, 36 were in the capital, Beijing, where the authorities are conducting mass testing at a major seafood and produce market that appears to be the source of a new outbreak. It is the most cases the city has reported in one day since the coronavirus first emerged. Beijing had gone eight weeks without a single locally transmitted case until a total of seven were detected on Thursday and Friday."

    •  In Japan, the Wall Street Journal reports, "Tokyo is stepping up testing of people who work at clubs where male hosts or female hostesses interact closely with customers after 18 people connected to a single host club in the Shinjuku nightlife area tested positive. Tokyo on Sunday reported a total of 47 new positive cases, including those 18, the highest figure since a state of emergency was lifted last month.

    "Gov. Yuriko Koike has repeatedly said nightlife spots are the biggest cause of new infections because people are interacting closely in poorly ventilated spaces and, after a few drinks, may fail to observe precautions such as staying 6 feet apart."

    •  From Fox Business:

    "Regional grocery chain Albertsons Companies ended its 'Appreciation Pay' Saturday, which provided a $2 hourly bonus to in-store employees.

    "The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union – one of the world’s largest labor unions for foodservice employees – is not pleased with the decision … But, FOX Business has learned the grocery chain is planning a 'reward payment' for employees who are working during a global pandemic."

    Albertsons released the following statement:

    "We are deeply grateful for how our front-line associates served their neighbors in an extreme time of need. Not only did they ensure everyone had access to essential goods, they enacted numerous proactive measures to protect the health and safety of everyone walking into the store … As much of the country lifts restrictions and businesses re-open their doors, we will thank associates with a reward payment following the final extension of the temporary $2-per-hour appreciation pay through June 13.

    "The reward will be equal to $4 per hour for their average hours worked per week between March 15 and June 13.  For this reward, all eligible associates will be credited with a minimum average of 15 hours worked per week."

    •  From Fox Business:

    "As the country continues to reopen in phases, Kroger grocery stores in the Mid-Atlantic Division are returning to normal operating hours Sunday, the company announced.

    "This regional update will still include special shopping hours for seniors and high-risk customers, which will take place between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. from Tuesday to Thursday. Pharmacy hours inside stores will not be changed at this time. However, fuel centers will be open between 6 a.m. and 10 or 11 p.m. depending on each location."

    •  From Bloomberg:

    "Galen G. Weston, the scion of the billionaire family that controls Canada’s biggest grocer, Loblaw Cos., became the company’s public face through his polished appearances in promotional videos and television ads. But the executive’s latest attempt at controlling the message has turned into a public relations fiasco.

    "In a post on a Loblaw website Thursday, Weston, who’s the executive chairman, shared how he briefly flouted physical distancing rules to help his frail father, W. G. Galen Weston. It was a rare personal glimpse inside a discreet family that controls a $7.6-billion fortune in retail and real estate.

    "That made the letter’s conclusion more jarring. Weston announced Loblaw would end a temporary pay bump to employees who kept its supermarkets and pharmacies running during the height of the Covid-19 panic, before signing off: “Your safety and the well-being of our colleagues remain our top priority. Be well, Galen Weston.”

    Bloomberg says that "the backlash was immediate from consumers and unions representing the company’s employees, who used social media to contrast the decision with the Weston family’s wealth and the company’s booming business during the coronavirus crisis."

    Well, maybe not his top priority…

    •  One of the unexpected results of the pandemic:  people are consuming less sugar.

    Bloomberg reports that "the global closure of restaurants, sports arenas and cinemas means sugar demand will drop this season for the first time in four decades, according to Czarnikow Group. Drink and confectionery sales at giants including Coca-Cola Co. and Nestle SA have fallen, and while economies start to reopen, it’s unclear how quickly demand will recover as incomes and employment fall."

    “Consumption out of home is normally more than what you would now substitute and have at home,” said Ben Seed, an analyst at Czarnikow in London. “If you go to the cinema you would probably quite happily have a liter or maybe more of soda while you watch the film, whereas we just don’t think people would drink a whole liter of soda while watching Netflix.”

    Vodka consumption, on the other hand, is off the charts.  But hey, you have to make trade-offs.

    •  Ultimately, Hollywood blinked.

    Warner Bros. announced on Friday that it is delaying two summer releases that it - and the industry at large - were hoping would jump-start Americans' return to movie theaters post-pandemic.

    Tenet, the new Christopher Nolan-directed thriller, will now be released to theaters on July 31, two weeks later than originally planned.

    And Wonder Woman 1984 will now come out on October 2, instead of the original mid-August date.

    The Washington Post writes that the Tenet postponement "signals the first crack in a studio, and filmmaker, that had previously remained steadfast in its belief that audiences would return to theaters in mid-July, even as nearly every competitor was scrambling to push movies deeper into the summer or later."

    I wouldn't bet on "Tenet" making that July 31 date, unless there is no second wave of infections.  It isn't just people wanting to return to theaters - it also is theaters not wanting to be sued if someone goes and then gets sick.  Are they going to ask people to sign agreements saying they won't sue?  

    Published on: June 15, 2020

    The Washington Post reports that "under the withering microscope of government watchdogs, tech companies including Amazon, Facebook and Google have funded a bevy of political groups that have helped push positive polling and engaged in other fingerprint-free tactics designed to deter regulators who seek to break up or penalize the industry. The approach reflects the growing threats they now face from the Justice Department and the country’s top attorneys general, who have been investigating them on antitrust grounds.

    "The Connected Commerce Council, for example, is a Washington-based nonprofit that bills itself as a voice for small businesses. But it counts Amazon, Facebook and Google as 'partners,' and in recent months the group known as 3C has put its muscle to work arguing that Silicon Valley giants do not threaten competition, stifle smaller rivals and harm consumers in the process."

    The story goes on:  "Silicon Valley tech giants — and companies across a range of industries — often back a wide array of advocacy groups to boost their political fortunes. They aren’t required to disclose how much they spend on these organizations and exactly how involved they are in their day-to-day decisions, but ethics watchdogs say their participation alone is important."

    KC's View:

    Put me down as being on the side of any group that pushes for legislation requiring any lobbying group to make public the name of every person and entity that contributes $100 or more to their organization.  No exception - and the listing would have to be posted online - clearly and unambiguously - as quickly as it takes the check to clear.

    It is both eminently possible and in my view, an utter prerequisite for a free society in which we all deserve better than the best government money can buy.

    This ought to be easy legislation to write - though, I'm sure, much harder to pass … since politicians on both sides of the aisle would resist such transparency.  But if I were running for office, I'd make this a central plank in my platform.

    Published on: June 15, 2020

    •  From The Street:

    "As consumers sheltered at home, ecommerce spending surged 78% in May and exceeded holiday levels of online spending. 

    "That's according to Adobe Analytics, who put a dollar figure on just how much ecommerce has growth in the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic led to $52 billion in extra online spending, based on actual spend versus prior projections. May generated $82.5 billion in total online spending, with ecommerce shopping levels tracking above the heavy spending period of November and December 2019."

    According to the story, "All signs point to a huge second quarter for ecommerce firms like Amazon … Amazon will benefit from 'exceptionally strong' ecommerce demand in the second quarter, wrote Wells Fargo analysts in a note this week. And Amazon's recent investments in its core fulfillment infrastructure will reap rewards later in the year, particularly during the holidays."

    The numbers are similar to those just released by FMI -The Food Industry Association, which is saying in its annual U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends report that "in early 2020, 14.5% of grocery spending was online, a significant increase over the previous year. However, COVID-19 greatly accelerated the move to online grocery shopping with online spending doubling to 27.9% of all grocery spending during March and April. Many shoppers are new to online grocery shopping and have been willing to break previous barriers, including 12% reporting purchasing fresh produce online for the first time."

    Published on: June 15, 2020

    •  From Fox Business:

    "A Walmart in Fayetteville, Arkansas is reimagining the shopping experience during the coronavirus pandemic by using self-checkout counters only, in lieu of traditional cashier lanes.

    "A spokesperson for the company told FOX Business that Walmart Supercenter Store #359 is removing its conveyor belt lanes and replacing them with self-checkout counters. The goal is to see if the increased use of self-checkout will speed up purchases while providing a safer experience for shoppers through less interaction … If the test run is successful, the new design could be rolled out to stores across the country, but the timing will depend on customer and employee feedback, according to the company."

    Published on: June 15, 2020

    •  Fox Business reports that "drugstore chain CVS Health Corp joined Walmart Inc in announcing it will stop keeping beauty and personal care products designed for people of color in locked display cases, after the practice drew criticism online."

    The story goes on:  "In the wake of nationwide protests in the U.S. against police brutality and racial inequality following the killing of George Floyd last month, companies have issued statements in support of the black community and set up funds to fight systemic racism.

    "The change in policy at both companies comes after a Walmart customer complained the practice of locking up items that cater to people of color was discriminatory."

    •  From CNN:

    "A New Jersey company is recalling nearly 43,000 pounds of raw ground beef products because they may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the US Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced Saturday.

    "The raw ground beef products produced by Lakeside Refrigerated Services, a company in Swedesboro, New Jersey, were shipped to retail locations nationwide, according to FSIS. The recalled products were produced on June 1 and have the establishment number "EST. 46841" inside the USDA mark of inspection."

    •  In Canada, the Guardian reports that "the Stellarton company that owns Sobeys Inc. is expanding its FreshCo brand further into Western Canada.  Empire Co. Ltd.'s expansion plans involves FreshCo grocery stores moving into six locations, including two in Alberta for the first time … The expansions will give the company a total of 28 FreshCo stores in Western Canada, in British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and now Alberta."

    Published on: June 15, 2020

    Last week, when writing about Starbucks and the Black Lives Matter movement, I wrote:

    Since the death of George Floyd in police custody on May 25, public opinion on race, criminal justice and the Black Lives Matter movement has leaped leftward.

    This prompted one MNB reader to write:

    It sure was a lucky break for Black Lives Matter that the victim of this egregious filmed exhibit of police-brutality was Black when you realize that nearly twice as many Whites than Blacks are killed by cops.  They seized ownership of the entire issue and are running crazy with it, just like Jews have declared a monopoly on genocide.

    This email strikes me as the height of cynicism on so many levels.

    You really think that this was a "lucky break" for Black Lives Matter and the people it represents?

    You really think Jews have declared a monopoly on genocide, and that they are "running crazy" with it?

    I considered not running this email.  But then I decided, better not to pretend that these kinds of attitudes don't exist.  (That's a double-negative, but it somehow seems appropriate for such a cynical email.)

    One MNB reader wrote in about last week's piece about Patagonia:

    Your quote from Fast Company is an accurate quote, but theirs is inaccurate.  There is a huge difference between free trade and fair trade.  Patagonia has a Fair Trade program. 

    Free trade is “open to all.” Fair Trade establishes standards which protect farmers/workers for conditions and payscale.  Fair Trade certification means there’s a system that ensures those standards are being met. As someone who was misquoted on this many times, I’d guess that Patagonia will ask them to make a correction.

    Responding to last week's Anthony Bourdain-Goes-To-Waffle House video, one MNB reader wrote:

    Thank you for sharing this.  This reminds me of why I am still a fan of Anthony Bourdain.

    Published on: June 15, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal reports that labor relations between Major League Baseball players and owners have gotten ugly, and are likely to get uglier.

    According to the story, "The Major League Baseball Players Association on Saturday said it would no longer discuss a restart plan after rejecting a proposal that called for them making no more than 37% of their salaries for 44% of a typical season. The players have said they would only return to play if their salaries are prorated based on the number of games played, as called for in a deal the union struck with the league in March."

    That deal also allows MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to unilaterally impose a solution on the two sides, but if he takes the owners' side instead of the players, it is likely to create enmity that will carry into future labor negotiations, which are not that far in the future - as the Journal writes, "The current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 campaign. The relationship between the two sides has sunk to such depths that it is hard to imagine anything but acrimony defining the national pastime for the foreseeable future. After the strike that resulted in the cancellation of the 1994 World Series, it took a dozen years for attendance to return to previous levels."

    KC's View:

    This is a tough one.

    While I know the owners are taking an enormous hit, there are limits to my sympathies - these are, for the most part, fabulously wealthy people and companies that are not feeling anything near the pain being felt by small businesses all over the country.  I'm more worried about the sports bars that may go out of business than I am about the sports, which will survive.

    I also recognize that this is a matter of richer people (players) arguing with richer people (owners).  There is a part of me that thinks, a pox on all their houses.

    But … If the owners originally agreed to prorate the players salaries based on the number of games played, I'm not sure why they get to renegotiate now and argue that they should only pay a percentage of those prorated salaries.  And also, let's face it - the players are the ones who will be putting themselves and, potentially, their families at risk of illness and even death.  Is it possible that some player will get a respiratory disease that could be career-ending?  Absolutely.

    In fact, I tend to think that no matter what happens in terms of player-owner relations, in the end this won't go very far - either during the training period or the beginning of the season, it seems likely that there will be a breakout of the coronavirus, and they'll have to shut the thing down.

    I say all this … but I have to say that I am hungry to watch baseball.   So I hope I'm wrong.