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    Published on: July 23, 2020

    One MNB reader responded to Michael Sansolo's comment about vaccinations yesterday by saying, "What difference does it make if everybody doesn't get vaccinated as long as you get vaccinated?"  This is just the kind of thing that sets KC off ... 

    Published on: July 23, 2020

    Apple is out with a followup to its delightful "The Underdogs" long-form commercial - a new episode, entitled "The Whole Working-From-Home Thing."

    In just seven or so minutes, the commercial offers a timely, funny - and sometimes darkly humorous - look at all the various challenges of working from home.  Apple products, of course, are at the heart of making it all work, but that's the point - Apple is saying that its products are more than just hardware and software, but uniquely creative solutions to the problems we all are facing.

    That is, by the way, something more retailers should do - position their products and services not as products and services, but as their unique and innovative solutions that contribute to the betterment of customers' lives.

    You can watch it here:

    And if you want to watch the first episode, "The Underdogs," you can watch it here:

    Published on: July 23, 2020

    BuzzFeed News has a story about how "the personal information of what could be hundreds of thousands of Instacart customers is being sold on the dark web. This data includes names, the last four digits of credit card numbers, and order histories, and appears to have affected customers who used the grocery delivery service as recently as yesterday.

    "As of Wednesday, sellers in two dark web stores were offering information from what appeared to be 278,531 accounts, although some of those may be duplicates or not genuine."

    According to the story, "The account information was being sold for around $2 per customer. According to one of the websites where the information was being sold, the personal data of people using Instacart accounts had been added throughout June and July, with the most recent upload being July 22."

    “'It’s looking recent and totally legit,' Nick Espinosa, the head of cybersecurity firm Security Fanatics, told BuzzFeed News after reviewing the accounts being sold."

    Instacart denied that there has been any sort of data breach.

    "We are not aware of any data breach at this time. We take data protection and privacy very seriously," an Instacart spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. "Outside of the Instacart platform, attackers may target individuals using phishing or credential stuffing techniques. In instances where we believe a customer’s account may have been compromised through an external phishing scam outside of the Instacart platform or other action, we proactively communicate to our customers to auto-force them to update their password."

    KC's View:

    You cannot outsource trust.

    If this ends up to be true - and if so, it will get a lot more attention than just a BuzzFeed News story - Instacart is going to have a lot of questions to answer.

    Every business is a potential target of a data breach, but the question that is going to be asked is whether Instacart has been doing everything possible to protect its retail clients' customers, and if its actions/inactions are eroding shoppers' trust.

    That's not unique to Instacart.  But, retailers that have thrown in with the company and placed their entire e-commerce future in its hands, will have to start asking questions about risks and rewards.

    Published on: July 23, 2020

    From Axios this morning:

    "More than 31 million Americans are collecting unemployment benefits of some form, while roughly 2.3 million filed new applications to receive them last week, the Labor Department said Thursday."

    According to the story, "There were 1.4 million Americans who applied for traditional unemployment benefits — the first time the figure has risen from the prior week after consistently declining for 15 straight weeks.  Another 975,000 were first-time applicants to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which was established to provide unemployment benefits to gig workers and the self-employed."

    Exacerbating the nation's economic problems is new data showing that permanent business closures now outnumber temporary ones, the Washington Post reports.

    According to the story, "a new report from the online review site Yelp shows that, as the healthiest businesses have reopened and the ranks of permanent casualties have swelled, it’s now more likely than not that a closed business is gone for good.

    "As of mid-July, 55 percent of the 132,500 pandemic-era closures on Yelp are now permanent. The online review site’s database includes hundreds of consumer-facing industries, from ax throwing and wine tasting to cabinetry and boat dealers, and only counts closures that have been confirmed by Yelp’s user operations team or reported directly by the business’ owner."

    Indeed, the Post writes, "The nascent recovery has entered a crucial period. Over the coming months, expiring leases will force many more businesses to make existential decisions, said Harvard University postdoctoral researcher Michael Stepner, who has extensively tracked business performance in the coronavirus era."

    KC's View:

    If businesses fail, they cannot hire and rehire.  It seems to me that this is the larger, existential challenge facing the US economy.  And I have no idea how to solve that problem when opening the economy seems to be the best way to spread the coronavirus and sustain the pandemic.

    The question is whether the whole thing is FUBAR.

    Published on: July 23, 2020

    Forbes reports that "Walmart disclosed plans Wednesday to open more 'Walmart Health' centers in the lucrative Florida market beginning next year as the retail giant looks to expand low cost healthcare services to tens of thousands of its customers."

    The story says that "more details will be disclosed later on specific locations, but the Jacksonville market will be the first in the state to see a Walmart Health center, the company said. A Walmart spokeswoman said the new centers 'will build on the features and services' of the three facilities in Georgia and fourth in Arkansas 'as well as future locations in Illinois,' that Walmart CEO Doug McMillon mentioned in Chicago a month ago."

    KC's View:

    Florida would seem to be an ideal market for this concept.   In fact, 2020 would seem to be an idea market for this concept … which is why Walmart, Amazon, CVS and even Walgreens are spending a lot of time and money trying to reinvent a health care system that will be accessible, affordable and a competitive advantage.

    Published on: July 23, 2020

    Excellent piece in Bloomberg Businessweek about how Unilever-owned Ben & Jerry's approaches the political activism that is deep in its DNA, and that has continued to flourish since its move from a small Vermont business founded by two aging hippies into a piece of a global conglomerate.  The story uses Ben & Jerry's recent activism around the Black Lives Matter movement, fueled by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, as the case study.

    A 704-word text issued by the company, entitled "We Must Dismantle White Supremacy: Silence Is NOT An Option,” served to link "Floyd and other recent victims of fatal persecution, such as Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, with historical ones like Martin Luther King Jr. It supported the creation of 'a national task force that would draft bipartisan legislation aimed at ending racial violence and increasing police accountability.'  It advocated for the U.S. Department of Justice to reinvigorate its Civil Rights Division and reinstate policies rolled back by the Trump administration, such as consent decrees to curb police abuses. It called on the president to 'disavow white supremacists and nationalist groups that overtly support him' instead of 'using his Twitter feed to promote and normalize their ideas and agendas.' And it said Congress should create a commission to study the effects of slavery and discrimination dating back to 1619, the year the first Africans arrived in Virginia in shackles."

    It was an approach, Bloomberg Businessweek writes, that contrasted with those taken by "other, more somnambulant businesses" that suddenly "found themselves on the defensive."

    It is a fascinating case study, and you can read it  here.

    Published on: July 23, 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, we now have had 4,101,308 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 146,192 deaths and 1,943,503 reported recoveries.

    The global tally:  15,400,761 confirmed coronavirus cases, 630,781 fatalities, and 9,377,142 reported recoveries.

    •  Fox News reports that California has passed New York to become the state with the greatest number of confirmed coronavirus cases.  Florida is third.

    The Fox News story points out that "New York, however, still leads the nation in coronavirus-related deaths, with more than 32,500, while neighboring New Jersey still ranks No. 2, with more than 15,700 deaths despite being No. 11 in population.

    "California, with a population of about 39.5 million people, ranks No. 4 in deaths with just under 7,900, according to Johns Hopkins."

    One other note:  "Coronavirus cases in California appear to defy a widely held assumption about the outbreak: While many people view the pandemic as affecting mostly elderly people, nearly 70 percent of the cases in California affect people under age 49."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "Texas reported 197 additional deaths Wednesday, a single-day record, bringing its total to 4,348 dead, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services."

    •  The Washington Post reports that "despite mounting anecdotal evidence, doctors remain unsure whether it’s possible to get the coronavirus twice."

    •  The Washington Post reports that "roughly two-thirds of U.S. states require face coverings to be worn in public, with Ohio, Indiana and Minnesota the latest to introduce statewide mask mandates."

    •  From Bloomberg:

    "Walmart Inc. has some advice for employees who have the unenviable task of reminding shoppers to wear masks: Stay calm, listen intently and show understanding. But if customers insist on walking in without one, staffers should just get out of the way.

    "That’s the message from a short training video for Walmart’s new 'Health Ambassador' role. The two-minute guide, which was obtained by Bloomberg News, teaches employees how to deal with customers who are not wearing masks -- an issue that has divided the nation as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread.

    “'If a customer tells you they can’t for one of these reasons, listen and tell them you understand,' says the video, which is dated July 13, just two days before Walmart decided to require that all customers wear masks regardless of local mandates. 'And thank them for shopping at Walmart … Never engage with a customer physically,' the video says. 'Do not block their entrance or attempt to stop them. Never ask a customer to explain their health condition, religious reason or any other reason they give for not wearing a face mask'."

    •  The Los Angeles Times reports that "there’s now mounting evidence that silent spreaders are responsible for the majority of transmission of the coronavirus - making universal masking essential to slow the spread of the highly contagious virus, experts say.

    "This makes the coronavirus different from the seasonal flu. With seasonal flu, peak infectiousness occurs about one day after the onset of symptoms. But with the coronavirus, even among people who do end up becoming visibly sick, peak infectiousness can occur before they show symptoms.

    "In fact, experts say, significant amounts of virus can start coming out of people’s noses and mouths even when they feel well.

    "This is a key reason, they say, why tactics to deal with the coronavirus must be markedly different than with the seasonal flu. And the universal wearing of masks is key."

    •  The Washington Post also reports that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its self-isolation rules, and is advising "most people with active cases of covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, to isolate for 10 days after symptoms begin and 24 hours after their fever has broken.

    "For those who have a positive test but are asymptomatic, the public health agency as of Friday recommended isolating 10 days from the testing date. The CDC had previously recommended people isolate until two negative swabs for the coronavirus — but that turned out to be impractical given the shortage of tests."

    •  The Reno Gazette Journal reports that the impact of the pandemic - lost tourism and conventions - has caused the Las Vegas Sands company to lose $985 million during the second quarter, "down 97.1% from last year.  The company recorded a net income of $1.11 billion in the second quarter of 2019."

    President and COO Rob Goldstein said yesterday that "the pandemic has essentially transformed Las Vegas from a global destination to a regional gambling hub dependent on 'drive-in' business.'"  Las Vegas, he said, "cannot make money with limited hotel occupancy … We're in a world of hurt here in terms of Las Vegas.  I've never felt more gloomy than I do today about what's happening in Las Vegas."

    •  From NBC News:

    "The Food and Drug Administration has expanded the list of hand sanitizers - some sold at Walmart, Costco and other national chains - being recalled to at least 75 recently, saying toxic levels of wood alcohol in them can cause injury or death.

    "The FDA said that there has been an increase in hand sanitizers that are labeled to contain ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, but have tested positive for methanol, or wood alcohol. If methanol is absorbed through the skin, it can cause blindness and hospitalizations, or death if ingested."

    •  The Los Angeles Times reports on yet another result of the pandemic:  "Downtown Los Angeles skyscraper U.S. Bank Tower will be sold at a discount to the developer of the rebuilt World Trade Center in New York as the pandemic drives down office leasing across the country and raises questions about the future appeal of high-rise office buildings."

    The sale will enable Singapore-based OUE, which is selling the property,  “to streamline its asset ownership in a period when the longer term outlook of the U.S. property market may not be favorable,” the company said in a statement.

    Published on: July 23, 2020

    •  The New York Times has a story about Tim Bray, the former Amazon vice president and engineer who created waves when he resigned from the company earlier this year and accused the company's culture of containing "a vein of toxicity."  Now, the story says, Bray is making the argument that Amazon needs to be broken up - an argument that is gaining currency as the company's founder-CEO, Jeff Bezos, prepares for testimony next week before a US House of Representatives panel looking into antitrust issues.

    Bray says that Amazon is a symptom of concentrated capitalism. “We don’t really have an Amazon problem.  What we have is a deep, societal problem with an unacceptable imbalance of power and wealth.”  Bray argues that the reflection of this imbalance can be seen in the company's treatment of warehouse employees.

    Amazon, of course, says that "it has spent billions of dollars to make its warehouses safe and that its workers are paid at least $15 an hour, plus benefits."

    The Times quotes Bray as saying that "it's not obvious to me why the retail company, the manufacturing company, the voice recognition company, the cloud computing company and the Prime video company should be the same company.  They’re not particularly related to each other, and I think it’s actively distorting and harmful."

    The Times goes on:

    "The 'goodness' Amazon espouses for customers - low prices, endless selection, quick delivery - isn’t free,' he said. 'Right now, the downside of all this goodness is overwhelmingly being experienced by the warehouse workers'."

    Published on: July 23, 2020

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that Walmart "is selling its Indian stores to Flipkart, the e-commerce startup it controls, consolidating its operations in the world’s second-most-populous country as it works to fend off … In 2018 Walmart bought a roughly 77% stake in Flipkart for $16 billion - the U.S. giant’s largest-ever acquisition. Last week Walmart said it led another investment round in the startup for $1.2 billion, raising Flipkart’s valuation to $24.9 billion."

    The Journal notes that "Walmart operates 28 warehouse-club-style stores in India that are only open to members. Branded as Best Price Modern Wholesale, the stores serve independent retailers and other small businesses. Indian regulations prohibit Walmart from operating supercenters or selling its own inventory directly to consumers through its websites."

    Published on: July 23, 2020

    •  Wegmans appears to be getting back to business - the company reportedly has moved up the opening of its new Harrison, New York, store from the fall to August 5.

    Originally scheduled to open in the spring, the store's debut was delayed because of the pandemic.  But now, as the infection numbers have leveled off in New York State and nearby Connecticut, the climate for a new store opening seems to have become more friendly.

    •  In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports that "Target has teamed up with Walmart, CVS and other retailers to reinvent the standard retail plastic bag … Target Corp. announced it joined the Beyond the Bag Initiative, which aims to identify, test and implement viable alternatives to the traditional plastic retail bag.

    "Led by New York-based investment firm Closed Loop Partners, the newly formed Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag consists of partners Target, CVS Health, Walmart, Kroger and Walgreens, and they have collectively committed more than $15 million to launch the initiative … As part of the three-year project, designs will be solicited from around the world through the group’s Innovation Challenge, which will have an initial focus on implementation in the United States.

    Winning ideas will be eligible to receive a portion of $1 million in funding and some ideas will be eligible to participate in an accelerator program to develop potential pilots."

    •  From CNBC:

    "Best Buy said Tuesday that it’s brought back about half of its furloughed employees as sales rebound.

    "The retailer said in a news release its second-quarter sales are up about 2.5% through July 18, compared with the same period a year prior. That includes sales growth of 2% in the U.S. and about 8% internationally, the company said.

    "Online sales have jumped by 255% so far in the second quarter, compared with a year ago. It said customers’ purchases of computers, appliances and tablets are driving those sales."

    Published on: July 23, 2020

    •  Kroger announced that it has named Milen Mahadevan, COO of its 84.51° subsidiary, to take the additional role of president.  He succeeds Stuart Aiken, recently named Kroger's chief merchant and marketing officer.

    Published on: July 23, 2020

    I am fond of quoting the great Robert B. Parker on the subject of baseball:  "It is the most important thing that doesn't matter."

    MNB reader Mark Burr reminded me of this in an email yesterday, recalling that he took issue with this statement in an exchange here more than seven years ago, and continues to. 

    Sure we disagree, yet at heart likely agree. 

    This week marks a milestone in the exceptional times we find ourselves living in today. We navigate through it all simply because that's what we do. 

    Baseball returns this week. Once again, as the famous quote from Field of Dreams says, it will mark the times. While it won't necessarily give us a return to normal as we knew it, it will give us a return. 

    It will have its controversies. Will 60 games matter? It will. Will taking a knee be more important than the game? It will depend on point of view. A knee can't take place without the game. 

    The sound of a bat crack might be clearer. With only 60 games, each win will have a sweetness more so than it had in 162 games. It will all be different, yet the same. It will mark the time and remind us all of what once was good as the first homer flies over the fence for the home team. Different? Yes, we just might be rooting for the game as much as the teams that play it. 

    This is what I shared nearly 7 years ago and thought I'd bounce it back. It is a good thing this week. It is important. It does matter. 

    I would agree that baseball takes on new meaning in the current environment.   Dr. Parker made his comments in a simpler time.

    I remain deeply skeptical about the wisdom of playing the games and about the likelihood that even a shortened season can be played to its completion because of the coronavirus.  But I'll be watching, and taking enormous pleasure in it.

    Dr. Anthony Fauci will throw out the first pitch this afternoon, as the Washington Nationals begin their defense of the 2019 World Championship with a game against the New York Yankees.  And so it will begin.

    And, because Mark mentioned it, the Field of Dreams moment that defines the game and its unrivaled place in our cultural and popular consciousness: