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: July 17, 2020

    The list of companies that have announced policies requiring customers to wear face masks when coming into their stores continues to grow and gain momentum…

    USA Today reports that yesterday Albertsons, Target and CVS all announced that all their US stores would require the wearing of masks by customers entering their stores.

    The Miami Herald reports that "Publix will soon be requiring all customers across its chain of grocery stores to wear a face covering while shopping due to the continued spread of the novel coronavirus.

    "Starting July 21, all customers will have to be wearing a face covering in order to enter the store, except young children and those with medical conditions who are not able to wear a face covering. For those not able to wear a mask, Publix encourages them to use Publix delivery or curbside pickup.  Signs will be put up at store entrances and in-store announcements will be made in the coming days to announce the new store policy."

    KMOV-TV News reports that "St. Louis' Schnucks and Dierbergs stores will require customers to wear a face mask or covering while shopping in its stores starting next week.  The requirement will begin on Monday, July 20, at all Schnucks stores and all 25 Dierbergs locations … Schnucks and Dierbergs will provide complimentary masks, one per customer, for a limited time and while supplies last."

    The USA Today story notes that "shoppers have been required to wear masks to enter Costco and Apple stores across the nation since early May. Starbucks kicked off the new mask announcements last week and started requiring masks Wednesday along with Best Buy and Panera Bread locations nationwide."

    Just this week, Walmart and Kroger announced mask mandates, and the National Retail Federation (NRF) urged retailers nationwide to adopt a face mask requirement.

    USA Today also writes that "nearly 40 states now require masks in public places with Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado adding mandates and Ohio requiring masks in a dozen counties. One state went in the opposite direction this week when Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp suspended all local government mask orders Wednesday." Kemp also filed a lawsuit against the city of Atlanta yesterday, "challenging Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’  July 10 decision to revert to 'phase one' guidelines that push restaurants to close dining rooms and urge residents to leave home only for essential trips. It also casts the city’s new mask requirements as 'void and unenforceable'."

    KC's View:

    I am glad to see this.

    To be fair, it was pointed out to me yesterday via email that not every retailer waited until mid-July to require customers to wear masks - Nugget Market, Wildberries Marketplace, and Costco all have had the mandate for months.

    By the way, I get that I'm being a bit of a pain in the neck about this issue.  One reader accused me yesterday of being "sanctimonious."

    MNB reader Tom Hahn wrote:

    There’s a name for what you’re shamelessly doing here: it’s called Monday Morning Quarterbacking. How easy it is for you to sit back and criticize Doug McMillon and Rodney McMullen for not taking action earlier; in March and April they were at Ground Zero dealing with a chaotic and confusing situation and getting mixed messages and mis-information about the virus. I seem to recall important voices – the CDC, Dr. Fauci – telling us early on that masks weren’t all that effective and not essential to flatten the curve; now those same voices tell us that masks are the end all, be all! A little sanctimonious of you to be critical, don’t you think?

    I responded directly to Tom yesterday, arguing that I wasn't really being a Monday morning quarterback because I'd actually taken this position in a FaceTime video back on April 7:

    Tom responded:

    So because you were calling for it on April 7, Doug and Rodney should have been also? Is that your point?

    It seems you think there is no room for debate as to the effectiveness of masks; because you’ve believed in their effectiveness since early on, the rest of us should fall in line?

    That’s not how America works Kevin. Debate is healthy.

    Of course I believe there is room for debate.  If I didn't think so, I wouldn't run emails from people who think I'm wrong.

    But … I actually think the facts and the science are on my side in this one.  While Dr. Fauci and the CDC were not making the case for masks in February, I think they were doing so by early April.

    And I'll repeat the University of Washington modeling projections that were reported earlier this week - scientists there are saying that if things continue the way they are, we could have well over 200,000 fatalities in the US by early November - but 40,000 or more fewer deaths if 95 percent of the country were to wear masks.

    How much are those lives worth?  How many lives have been lost since the beginning of April?

    I understand why it was hard for most (though clearly, not all) retailers to adopt mask mandates on April 7.  It was easy for me to say it, but much harder to do it.  But, even as the death toll mounted, few companies adopted mandates on May 7.  Or on June 7.  Or even on July 7.

    I also agree that it would have been far easier if companies could just say they were imposing mandates because they were required to do so by the government, and I know that without a legal requirement, it put retailers in the position where their employees had to deal with some confrontational customers.  None of this is easy.

    Retailers have to sell the mandate.  But y'know something?  Retailers are really good at that.  They know how to sell new products and services.  They know how to establish value.  I have lots of confidence that retailers are able to sell the vast majority of shoppers on the notion that wearing masks helps to protect employees and fellow customers, and can save lives.  Sell it, dammit.

    My perspective may be shaped by the fact that I live in a part of the country that had to deal with the pandemic early.  But I wish the lessons of New York, New Jersey and New England had been learned elsewhere, because lives might've been saved.

    Am I being sanctimonious?  I hope not.  That is not my intention, nor my goal.  Passionate, though?  Absolutely.

    But I am being argumentative, I am trying to provoke, and I do think I am right.  And part of my job here is when I feel that way, to make the case … even if it puts me at odds with positions taken by big companies and powerful executives.   They can take it … and may not even care what I say or how I say it.

    But that doesn't strike me as a very good reason to stop making the case on my small soapbox in my tiny little corner of the Internet.

    Published on: July 17, 2020

    Bloomberg reports that Instacart is suing Uber Technologies, charging that its Cornershop unit "stole intellectual property, including listings of inventory at grocery stores."

    Uber bought Chile-based Cornershop last year and was plotting an US rollout this year that would focus on grocery delivery.

    According to the story, "Instacart claimed Cornershop stole copyrighted images and modified the file names in order to conceal the alleged theft. Instacart also said Cornershop posted job listings for software engineers with 'advanced scraping' and other skills indicating that taking and reusing content is part of a company-mandated effort, according to the complaint."

    In a statement, Uber replied:  "Instacart is facing a new challenge in the U.S. from a Chilean upstart, and it’s unfortunate that their first move is litigation instead of competition.  Cornershop will be responding to this complaint but won’t be deterred in bringing grocery delivery to more customers in the U.S.”

    Bloomberg points out that Uber, having seen a precipitous decline in its ride-hailing business because of the pandemic, is focusing more on delivery.  Just last week, Uber said it would acquire delivery company Postmates for $2.65 billion, having failed to acquire Grubhub earlier this year.

    KC's View:

    The stakes are ever-higher in a segment that has been accelerated beyond expectations by the pandemic, so we're going to see a flurry of achieved and attempted acquisitions and mergers, not to mention, I would guess, attempts at new business models that will look to break a few eggs.

    And lawsuits.  There always will be lawsuits.

    Published on: July 17, 2020

    CNBC reports that "DoorDash announced a partnership Thursday with Walgreens Boots Alliance to deliver over-the-counter medication and other products from the drugstore chain.

    "The service is launching in the Chicago, Atlanta and Denver areas, with plans to expand to other markets throughout the summer, according to a news release. More than 2,300 products from the store are available for delivery."

    The story notes that "DoorDash and CVS Health teamed up for a similar collaboration last month as the on-demand delivery start-up continues to widen its offerings outside of restaurants."

    KC's View:

    What I said above about seeing "a flurry of achieved and attempted acquisitions and mergers?"  Expect also to see a lot of new partnerships and alliances, as companies that used to just deliver one sort of thing decide that wheels are wheels and can be used to deliver pretty much anything.

    Published on: July 17, 2020

    Engadget reports that video conferencing company Zoom - which because of the pandemic and extensive shelter-at-home orders has seen its user base go from 10 million in 2019 to more than 300 million just a few months ago - is making a move into the hardware business.

    According to the story, Zoom is "announcing a new category of products called 'Zoom for Home,' which consists of both a software interface as well as a line of hardware devices made specifically for the work-from-home crowd. And, while it’s designed mostly for business professionals, there’s no reason why everyday consumers can’t use it as well."

    Zoom isn't making the equipment, but rather is partnering with various third party companies.

    "The very first Zoom for Home product is the result of a collaboration with DTEN, a company that typically makes products for conference rooms. It’s called the Zoom for Home DTEN ME and, at 27-inches wide, it really does seem like a scaled-down version of the typical video conference hardware you often find in offices. The all-in-one device comes with three built-in wide-angle cameras, an 8-microphone array and a touch screen display that you can use for presentations, whiteboarding and annotation. Think of it as a smart display, but in a more professional setting."  And, Engadget says, it is all designed to be easy to set up and use.

    KC's View:

    One of the disadvantages of the Zoom for Home display is that all it does is videoconferencing, as opposed to being able to be used in a  variety of ways as a multi-purpose monitor.

    That said, I can see a lot of appeal here - enough so that I have to wonder if we'll see other companies creating video-conferencing hardware that will cater to the work-at-home class, which also is using the monitors for virtual cocktail parties, exercise classes, cooking lessons, and heaven knows what else.

    Published on: July 17, 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 US, there now have been 3,6987,318 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 141,143 deaths and 1,680,424 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 13,977,396 coronavirus cases, 593,438 fatalities, and 8,304,305 reported recoveries.

    •  From the New York Times:

    "As clashes over face-covering mandates and school reopening plans intensified throughout the United States, the country shattered its single-day record for new cases on Thursday — more than 75,600, according to a New York Times database.

    "This was the 11th time in the past month that the record had been broken. The previous single-day record, 68,241 cases, was announced last Friday. The number of daily cases has more than doubled since June 24, when the country registered 37,014 cases after a lull in the outbreak had kept the previous record, 36,738, standing for two months.

    "Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease specialist, warned senators in June that cases could reach 100,000 a day in the United States if outbreaks at the time were not contained.

    "It’s not just cases that are breaking records, so are deaths. Florida on Thursday reported 156 new fatalities, its highest number. It was one of 10 states to reach a record for deaths in a single day this week, joining Alabama, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas and Utah."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that even as "across the U.S., governors and other public officials are ordering citizens to cover their faces to help stem the spread of the coronavirus that has infected more than 3.5 million people and killed more than 138,000 nationwide … in many of those same communities, law-enforcement officers are refusing to enforce the rules."

    The Journal writes that "some of the defiance is driven by political opposition and even disbelief of public-health officials’ advice that masks help prevent the spread of the virus.  But many police departments say going after people who don’t wear masks simply isn’t a priority."

    I can relate.  Someone broke into my Mustang the other night - it was parked in my driveway - and the officer who came to take my statement had a mask, but it wasn't over his mouth … and he basically dismissed mask requirements as so much conspiracy nonsense.  (I didn't get sanctimonious with him, BTW.)

    I don't think mask violations should be a revenue-generating opportunity for communities.  I think the police are better off giving warnings rather than tickets.  But then again, if there are speed limit laws, and laws about littering, and laws about wearing clothes while walking through town, and all those are worth enforcing, then why not a law requiring masks?  

    •  The National Grocers Association (NGA) announced that it "sent a letter yesterday to congressional leadership outlining the top priorities of independent grocers in the upcoming coronavirus relief economic stimulus package: rewarding essential frontline workers, limiting liability exposure of essential businesses and expanding nutritional access for hungry Americans."

    NGA urged the following actions:

    - "The AG CHAIN Act (H.R. 6841), introduced by Reps. Thompson (R-PA) and Evans (D-PA), a bill that provides an exclusion from gross income taxes and temporary payroll tax relief to essential food and agriculture workers."

    - "The Get America Back to Work Act (H.R. 7528), a bipartisan bill introduced by Reps. Cuellar (D-TX) and Graves (R-LA), which would help ensure grocers are protected if they made their best efforts to comply with federal, state and local guidance."

    - "Inclusion of the Expanding SNAP Option Acts (H.R. 7535 / S. 4202) in the relief package, to expand consumer access to online SNAP by providing grocers with technical assistance to help in implementing an online program and deferring expensive startup costs for retailers that lack capacity and resources necessary to get online."

    Additionally, NGA urged Congress "to consider modifying the unemployment insurance (UI) program if additional benefits are extended beyond their July 31 expiration. A cap on total unemployment benefits at a certain percentage of the applicant’s previous compensation level should be considered as an alternative to the current policy of offering additional benefits that have shown to be a disincentive to continuing or returning to work."

    •  From the New York Times:

    "The pandemic has devastated many of the country’s small-business owners; nearly a quarter of companies closed either temporarily or permanently in March and April, according to a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. But for firms that have been part of their communities for 100 years or more, there’s more at stake than livelihood — there’s legacy and, in some cases, generations of family ties.

    "Since March, the pandemic has claimed at least a half-dozen businesses in or near the century club. For example, the Boston Hotel Buckminster, which opened in 1897, closed its doors; Ritz Barbecue, which opened in a small shed in Allentown, Pa., in 1927, served its last ribs and ice cream last month; Hickory Grove Greenhouses, just north of Allentown, decided to close after 103 years; and Michigan Maple Block Company, a wood products company in northern Michigan, is shuttering its manufacturing plant and laying off 56 workers after 139 years."

    Sad story.  

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that American Airlines CEO Doug Parker looked at the moment and decided he had a choice.

    "Hunker down" and wait for the pandemic crisis to pass.  Or "spend scarce cash to get back in the air."

    Parker chose the latter.

    “Let’s go fly, for God’s sake,” he tells the Journal. “If it doesn’t work, we’ll pull it back.”

    Of course, the story points out, it will be the "coronavirus’s trajectory" that "will determine whether American’s approach will turn out to be judicious or reckless. All U.S. airlines have said they must shrink to match demand that is likely to remain diminished for years. The question is how much, for how long."

    If an airline wants to be aggressive about building back its business, that's fine, but I think a certain amount of judiciousness is required in terms of assuring people's safety.

    Here's the passage from the Journal story that bothers me:  "Taking a big swing in a crisis is comfortable, even enjoyable, said Mr. Parker, 58, who twice pulled off mergers with larger airlines going through bankruptcy. His deal-making culminated in the combination of US Airways Group Inc. with American into the world’s largest airline. He said he hoped the pandemic could be a reset for American, leveling the playing field with competitors."

    He might find this to be comfortable and even enjoyable.  But people's health and lives are at stake here.  There is a thin line, I think, between ambition and arrogance.

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Cruise lines won’t be able to sail in U.S. waters until as late as October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said as it extended its no-sail order amid a resurgence in Covid-19 cases in several states.

    "The CDC extended the ban to Sept. 30 from July 24 but said the order could be lifted earlier if the secretary of health and human services declares that Covid-19 is no longer a public health emergency, or if the CDC director modifies the order based on public health considerations.

    "Several major cruise lines have agreed to voluntarily suspend sailings to U.S. ports through mid-September.

    "The CDC on Thursday said it extended the no-sail order to ensure that sailings resume with proper preparations."

    Los Angeles Magazine reports that "the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association has announced today that there will be no Rose Parade in 2021. This will be the first time that the parade has been canceled since World War II, and only the fourth skipped parade since the tradition began in 1891 … The Rose Bowl college football game itself is expected to still take place, though that’s subject to change."

    That's the understatement of the year.

    Published on: July 17, 2020

    Netflix said yesterday that during its most recent quarter, between April and June, it gained 10.1 million new subscribers worldwide as people turned to streaming for entertainment during the pandemic.  The US represented 2.9 million of those new customers.

    The Washington Post writes that "Netflix now has more than 190 million subscribers worldwide. Its biggest competitor in the U.S., Disney Plus, has fewer than a third of that.

    "But the company has to fend off increased competition. Disney Plus has grown faster than many analysts predicted. May saw the start of HBO Max. And this week brought the launch of Peacock’s, NBC Universal’s own service that is available as both a paid and ad-free versions."

    Some other Netflix news:

    The company said that it is grappling with product shutdowns around the world, which inevitably will slow the pipeline of new product that will be available on the service.

    Netflix CEO Reed Hastings announced that Ted Sarandos, the company's chief content officer, has been promoted to co-CEO.

    And, Netflix announced the top 10 original movies that have streamed on its service:  Extraction, Bird Box, Spenser: Confidential, 6 Underground, Murder Mystery, The Irishman, Triple Frontier, The Wrong Missy, The Platform, and The Perfect Date.

    KC's View:

    What's interesting about this list is how diverse - in terms of content - the movies are.  I've seen four of them … have heard of three more … but three of them weren't even on my radar.

    I am conflicted about Spenser: Confidential making the list, though.  I love the novels and the character, but the Netflix version was execrable.

    Published on: July 17, 2020

    •  From Advertising Age:

    "Amazon swept past Comcast Corp. to become top U.S. spender in the Ad Age Leading National Advertisers report and ranking, released this week—and the omnipotent, omnipresent retailer could displace Procter & Gamble Co. as top global spender when Ad Age ranks the World’s Largest Advertisers later this year.

    "Amazon rocketed its worldwide spending on advertising and other promotional costs 34 percent to $11 billion in 2019, giving P&G a run for the money."

    Published on: July 17, 2020

    •  From CNBC:

    "J.C. Penney announced Wednesday it plans to lay off about 1,000 employees.

    The company met a July 8 deadline to submit a business plan to its lenders … The struggling retailer filed for court protection on May 15, with roughly 860 stores and about 90,000 full-time and part-time employees. It has announced plans to close about 170 stores in recent weeks, though negotiations with landlords are ongoing. On Wednesday, it said it expects about 152 closures."

    Published on: July 17, 2020

    …will return next week.

    Published on: July 17, 2020

    It almost seems redundant, or maybe pointless, to say that the live-capture version of "Hamilton," now streaming on Disney+, is brilliant.  But it is.

    I've seen "Hamilton" on stage - and loved it - but I found the streaming version to be revelatory in the sense that it animated parts of the story and some of the characters that perhaps did not seem as important when seen live.  Part of this may be because I saw a replacement cast, and the Disney+ "Hamilton" features the original cast.  But I also think that the ability of the camera to move in and pick up the specifics and subtleties of performance brought different things to life.

    Such is the case of Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr - for whatever reason, the depth of his bitterness and jealousy seemed far more toxic on screen as opposed to on stage.  The same goes for Phillipa Soo as Eliza Hamilton and Renée Elise Goldsberry as her sister, Angelica Schuyler … while Angelica seemed like the far more robust character on stage, it seems far more balanced on screen, and this is good for the play.

    The odd thing is that as strong as Lin-Manuel Miranda is - and should be, since "Hamilton" is his baby - he, oddly, is possibly the least impressive singer on  the stage.  But it doesn't matter - he is so deeply committed not just to the character and story, but the overarching vision that he is using "Hamilton" to communicate, that he dominates every scene that he is in.

    Again, it is almost redundant to point this out, but the casting in 'Hamilton" of people of color in almost every part - the lone exception being Jonathan Groff as King George III, a role that calls for a pudgy, out-of-touch white guy - does drive something important home - that America is a country built by immigrants and outsiders who had a vision of freedom and opportunity that is shared by so many of the immigrants who have come to the country over the past 244 years.  Immigrants, "Hamilton" argues with great persuasiveness and in songs that will remain in your head long after the curtain has fallen, are the  foundation and purest expression of the American dream and its basic value proposition.  To think of them otherwise, the play suggests, is to risk throwing away or shot at a more perfect and vibrant union.

    See "Hamilton."

    Greyhound originally was supposed to be in the movie theaters this summer, but in response to the pandemic Apple TV+ bought the Tom Hanks film and started streaming it last week.  Based on a novel, "The Good Shepherd," by CS Forester, Greyhound is a fictional story based on reality - once America entered World War II, its ships had to bring supplies and soldiers to Europe by going across the Atlantic.  The space in the middle of the ocean that could not be protected by air cover from either coast was called the Black Pit, and was the place where German U-boats were able to prey on Allied craft.

    Hanks stars as Ernest Krause, captain of the escort ship USS Keeling, codenamed Greyhound.  It is Krause's first wartime command, and Hanks effectively communicates the character's combination of dedication and insecurity.  Almost the entire film takes place on the bridge of the Greyhound, and I found it to be relentless and nerve-wracking as the three days unfold.  

    I'm not sure if Greyhound would have played better on the big screen.  Maybe, but I thought it was a perfect Saturday night entertainment at home - a crisp 90 minute movie, written by Hanks (who pretty much owns the World War II movie oeuvre at this point), and a great example of how streaming can bring in a big audience - apparently 30% of its viewers were new to Apple TV+.

    I also loved The Old Guard, the new Charlize Theron movie playing on Netflix.  It is based on a comic book with which I am unfamiliar, but it doesn't play like one - it is a taut action thriller about warriors who have been around for centuries, fighting a wide variety of battles (largely for the good guys).  When a pharmaceutical executive decides to capture them and perform experiments to discover what makes them immortal and with amazing regenerative abilities, it sets up a conflict that plays out from Afghanistan to London … and it is a thrilling, terrifically directed piece of escapist filmmaking (by Gina Prince-Bythewood, apparently the first Black woman to direct a comic book/superhero movie).

    Theron is terrific - but then she always is, in pretty much anything she does.  Just as impressive is KiKi Layne, who plays a Marine who discovers that she has become immortal, but struggles with what this will mean to her future.

    The Old Guard is just a lot of fun, but with enough sense to never seem frivolous.  

    Loved it.

    That's it for this week.  Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    Stay safe.  Stay healthy.