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: August 18, 2020

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

    This week, in the first of a two-part podcast, Sterling and KC engage in a conversation with Steve Dennis, the author of “Remarkable Retail:  How To Win & Keep Customers in the Age of Digital Disruption.”  Published just as the pandemic hit, “Remarkable Retail” focuses on trends and behaviors - both in business and among consumers - that were accelerated by the coronavirus.  The discussion focuses on the “eight essentials” of a remarkable retail experience - factors that cut across format and concept, building relevance and helping retailers avoid a descent into becoming "museums of disappointment."

    You can listen to the podcast here…

    …or on The Retail Tomorrow website, iTunes or Google Play.

    Published on: August 18, 2020

    The US Postal Service is very much in the news these days … to the point when MNB ran a clip yesterday from a 1997 episode of "Seinfeld" that satirized the Post Office, some folks thought it was too soon.  (More on that below in "Your Views.")

    But … it all has given KC an idea about how bricks-and-mortar stores actually can use the moment (depending on local laws, of course) to prove a new level of relevance to their shoppers.

    Note:  This suggestions is a) not political, and b) has been vetted with several retail executives to see if it makes sense.

    Published on: August 18, 2020

    The new TABS Analytics Annual Food and Beverage Consumables Study is out, saying that "despite more interest in online shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic, eCommerce grocery saw only a slight uptick in sales from new users this year … Overall, online grocery transactions increased 15% year-over-year, as existing buyers made more frequent purchases, and smaller eCommerce retailers saw massive surges in new buyers. Walmart was one of the beneficiaries of the shift to online, as it overtook Amazon in share of transactions for the first time."

    Among the conclusions:

    "Companies, like Fresh Direct, NetGrocer and Peapod, saw a 140% increase in transactions year-over-year. Walmart remained stable at around a 30% share of transactions, while Amazon dropped to more than five points to 27% and Target declined to 11%. The significant drop by Amazon points to potential supply chain issues as they contended with the demand during the pandemic."

    "Traditional stores are still reporting strong sales, indicating that they are not sacrificing sales to online channels. While most brick and mortar channels remained consistent year-over-year, value grocery chains, like Aldi, experienced a significant uptick in regular shoppers, while dollar stores and Costco experienced declines."

    "Even though average transactions per buyer grew, regular purchasing dropped to 29% from 35%. Stated loyalty also saw a double-digit decline to 53%."

     Dr. Kurt Jetta, executive chairman and founder of TABS Analytics, issued the following statement:  "Since eCommerce grocery has not succeeded in expanding the pool of buyers at a time when demand is expected to be greatest, it has become even clearer that this channel will never have the scale necessary to be profitable with the current business model. New, creative approaches are needed to address pricing and streamline the supply chain."

    KC's View:

    I'll be honest.  I have no idea what to make of this study.  

    I know they interviewed a whopping 1,000 people, and examined 15 categories.   Maybe they were the wrong thousand people, or the wrong categories.  Or maybe I just don't understand analytical studies.  (Or all of the above.)

    But this seems at odds with everything else I've heard anecdotally … and it certainly seems like hyperbole to say that e-grocery will never have the scale necessary to be profitable.

    Published on: August 18, 2020

    Amazon this morning announced that it plans to expand technology hubs in six cities - Dallas, Detroit, Denver, New York (Manhattan), Phoenix, and San Diego - and create a total of 3,500 corporate and technology jobs in those locations.

    The company says it "will invest more than $1.4 billion in these new offices, which will host teams supporting businesses across the company … Teams in these cities will support various businesses across Amazon, including AWS, Alexa, Amazon Advertising, Amazon Fashion, OpsTech and Amazon Fresh, among others. The company expects to hire for a variety of roles, from cloud infrastructure architects and software engineers to data scientists, product managers, and user experience designers."

    In its analysis, the Wall Street Journal notes that Amazon appears to be making a commitment to "office work even as other companies embrace lasting remote employment."  While Amazon has said that because of the pandemic office employees are not expected to return to the office until January 8, 2021 - a date that could change if the pandemic worsens, of course - it has said that it expects that people eventually will return to the office.

    "The ability to connect with people, the ability for teams to work together in an ad hoc fashion—you can do it virtually, but it isn’t as spontaneous,” says Ardine Williams, Amazon's vice president of Workforce Development.  "We are looking forward to returning to the office."

    KC's View:

    Maybe I'm wrong on this, and maybe I'm just underestimating the tax advantages that were generated in the search, but reading this press release makes me wonder exactly what all the hubbub was about when Amazon was looking for a second headquarters campus, dubbed HQ2.

    On the other hand, it may be that all the intelligence that Amazon was able to gather in its HQ2 search - three of the six cities mentioned in this announcement, after all, were among the finalists - actually gave it the information it needed for this expansion.

    Though … it should be noted that Amazon says it isn't being given any tax or financial incentives for choosing these markets.  Probably a good thing, since the pandemic has created enormous financial stresses on most if not all cities, and they don't have a lot of cash to spare.  In a time when cities have not been getting a lot of good news, the notion that Amazon plans to spend money and create jobs in their markets is a kind of silver lining in what has been a very stormy year.

    Perhaps it was never just about HQ2.  Perhaps it was about gathering all the pieces of a puzzle that even now is just beginning to take shape.

    Published on: August 18, 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 5,613,183 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 173,772 deaths and 2,974,780 reported recoveries.

    In terms of global confirmed coronavirus cases, we've now passed the 22 million mark - the number stands at 22,073,611, with 777,812 fatalities and 14,810,207 reported recoveries.

    •  CNN underlines the impact the pandemic has had:  

    "A virus that didn't even exist a year ago is now killing more Americans than Alzheimer's disease, accidents and diabetes."

    Only heart disease and cancer are killing more people in the US, the story says.

    •  From CNN:

    "The number of tests performed each day in the US dropped by an average of 68,000 compared to the daily rate in late July, according to data from the Covid Tracking Project.

    "Fifteen states conducted fewer tests this past week compared to the previous week: Mississippi, Louisiana, North Carolina, Washington state, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.

    "Yet test positivity rates -- the percentage of tests that are positive -- are still higher than the recommended 5% in more than 30 states, according to data from Johns Hopkins University."

    •  Some hopeful analysis from the New York Times:

    "The pandemic will end only when enough people are protected against the coronavirus, whether by a vaccine or by already having been infected. Reaching this threshold, known as herd immunity, doesn’t mean the virus will disappear. But with fewer hosts to infect, it will make its way through a community much more slowly.

    "In the early days of the crisis, scientists estimated that perhaps 70 percent of the population would need to be immune in this way to be free from large outbreaks. But over the past few weeks, more than a dozen scientists told me they now felt comfortable saying that herd immunity probably lies from 45 percent to 50 percent.

    "If they’re right, then we may be a lot closer to turning back this virus than we initially thought.

    "It may also mean that pockets of New York City, London, Mumbai and other cities may already have reached the threshold, and may be spared a devastating second wave … It’s too early to say with certainty that those communities have reached herd immunity. We don’t know, for example, how long someone who was infected stays protected from the coronavirus. But the data suggests that the virus may move more slowly in those areas the next time around."

    •  From Reuters:

    "The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday it was concerned that the novel coronavirus spread was being driven by people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, many of whom were unaware they were infected, posing a danger to vulnerable groups.

    "WHO officials said this month the proportion of younger people among those infected had risen globally, putting at risk vulnerable sectors of the population worldwide, including the elderly and sick people in densely populated areas with weak health services.

    "'The epidemic is changing,' WHO Western Pacific regional director, Takeshi Kasai, told a virtual briefing. 'People in their 20s, 30s and 40s are increasingly driving the spread. Many are unaware they are infected'."

    •  From the New York Times:

    "In Arizona, where the virus surged earlier this summer, many students started school on Monday. But classes in the J.O. Combs Unified School District, about an hour outside of Phoenix, were canceled through Wednesday after a significant number of teachers and staff members called in sick to protest in-person classes, and it was unclear when and how the school year may start there … And in Cherokee County, Georgia, which by the middle of last week had nearly 1,200 students and educational staff ordered to quarantine, a third high school closed to in-person learning this week after 500 of its students were quarantined and 25 tested positive for the virus."

    The Times writes that "with the planned first day of school in New York City rapidly approaching, Mayor Bill de Blasio is facing mounting pressure from the city’s teachers, principals and even members of his own administration to delay the start of in-person instruction to give educators more time to prepare.

    "Mr. de Blasio has been hoping to reopen the nation’s largest school system on a part-time basis for the city’s 1.1 million schoolchildren on Sept. 10. No other big-city mayor is attempting reopening on such a scale, and many smaller districts that have already reopened have had to change course significantly almost immediately after students returned."

    The Times adds, "If New York is able to reopen schools safely, it would be an extraordinary turnaround for a city that was the global epicenter of the pandemic just a few months ago. Schools are the key to the city’s long path back to normalcy: opening classrooms would help jump-start the struggling economy by allowing more parents to return to work and would provide desperately needed services for tens of thousands of vulnerable students."

    The good news:  "New York City has a virus transmission rate so low that it is closer to that of South Korea than of many other American cities, and there is agreement among many public health experts that the city’s infection rate is low enough to reopen at least some schools."

    •  From USA Today:

    "Walgreens and CVS pharmacists plan to check patient temperatures and wear face shields for the first time when delivering flu vaccines.

    "The nation's two largest drugstore chains are now offering the seasonal influenza vaccine with new precautionary measures.

    "The rollout comes amid swirling concerns about the collision of the COVID-19 pandemic with the flu season, which is expected to strain the health care system."

    CVS says it expects to administer double the number of vaccines this year compared to last year;  Walgreens says it thinks the numbers will go up 30-50 percent.

    •  Axios reports that "while some retailers are still highlighting their backpacks and lunch boxes, forward-thinking competitors are hawking stylish masks, homeschooling supplies, and products to help turn your home into a school — clever tag-lines included."

    Target is saying, "Find everything you need for wherever you college."  And, from Bed Bath & Beyond, "How to design your own 'dorm room' at home."

    •  The Associated Press reports that "UK retailer Marks & Spencer says it plans to eliminate about 7,000 jobs as it streamlines management and store operations after sales plunged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    "London-based Marks & Spencer said Tuesday the job cuts would take place over the next three months in its central offices, regional management and U.K. stores. The reductions represent about 9% of the company’s workforce."

    •  The Financial Times reports that the Carlyle group "has told its employees to avoid public transport on their commute to work because of concerns about coronavirus, as the $221 billion private equity manager prepares to reopen its London office next month.

    "The policy also requires staff who use public transport at weekends to stay away from the office for 14 days. It applies to Carlyle's 31 offices around the world, although many of those remain closed."

    The story notes that "asset managers, banks and accountancy firms based in global finance centres are rewriting their office policies amid growing fears of a second Covid-19 rise. Some companies, such as Schroders, the UK's largest listed fund manager, and PwC, the accountancy group, are making permanent some of the changes they introduced in response to the lockdown."

    Published on: August 18, 2020

    Faced with what they view as an existential threat to their business models in the form of highly restrictive legislation, Uber and Lyft are said to be considering a dramatic shift that will change the way they connect to their drivers.

    The background:  California has a law that forces so-called gig economy companies like Uber and Lyft to provide workers with employment benefits, as opposed to treating them as outside contractors.  Adhering to such legally mandated provisions would, at least in the nation's largest state, put their ability to survive in question;  they argue that they are tech platforms, not transportation businesses.  So far, California officials have disagreed.  And Uber, at least, has said that it could stop operating in California under these circumstances.

    Now, the New York Times writes, both companies "are seriously discussing … licensing their brands to operators of vehicle fleets in California … The change would resemble an independently operated franchise, allowing Uber and Lyft to keep an arms-length association with drivers so that the companies would not need to employ them and pay their benefits."

    Uber apparently operates with this model in Germany and Spain.

    KC's View:

    There is one small problem with the franchise model, the story says - both Uber and Lyft have been so disruptive in California that there aren't a lot of fleets large enough to become effective franchisees.

    That said, they have to figure out something … because they can't just walk away from California.  It seems that they are being forced to do what we always argue every company should try to do - work on ways to disrupt their own existing businesses.  The result may provide lessons and metaphors applicable to other businesses.

    Published on: August 18, 2020

    The Financial Times reports on the new strategy being used by mall owner Simon Property Group, which finds itself challenged by new retailing realities.

    An excerpt:

    "Simon Property Group became one of America's largest shopping mall landlords under Mel and Herb Simon, brothers and co-founders. Under Mel's son, David, it is also becoming a sizeable tenant. Through a series of unconventional deals that show how an unfolding crisis in bricks and mortar retail is transforming old business models, the real estate company is helping to salvage big names in the US clothing sector.

    "A Delaware judge on Friday gave the green light to Simon to become part-owner of Brooks Brothers, the two centuries-old menswear retailer that was tipped into bankruptcy last month by the coronavirus pandemic. Just days earlier, the property group - together with its BlackRock-controlled partner Authentic Brands, a licensing specialist that owns Sports Illustrated magazine - was given the go-ahead to buy Lucky Brand, the California-based jeans retailer, out of Chapter 11.

    "Setting out the rationale last week, David Simon, chairman and chief executive, said: 'There's just nothing out there that says you can't make smart investments outside of your core businesses.'  But with the occupancy rate of Simon properties at its lowest level in a decade, the worry on Wall Street is that keeping retailers afloat with its own cash is a desperate attempt to prevent bigger areas of the malls from lying empty."

    You can read the story here.

    KC's View:

    One of the points that Steve Dennis, retail expert and our guest on the Retail Tomorrow Podcast this week, makes in our conversation is that this may be less about strategy and more about a tactical effort to protect the company from other defections;  he says that a lot of mall contracts allow smaller retailers to end their leases early if an anchor tenant closes.  

    I keep wondering if the current Simon generation of leadership may be making the same mistake as founder Mel Simon, who back in the seventies decided to expand into the movie production business - a move that generally is seen as not very smart, resulting in the overall loss of millions of dollars.  (The movie business is much like the wine business - if you want to make a little money, you have to start with a lot of money…)

    Though, to be fair Mel Simon did help underwrite some titles you may remember, like Porky's, Love At First Bite, Zorro the Gay Blade, and The Stunt Man.  (He also produced Somebody Killed Her Husband, a terrible and little seen move with Jeff Bridges and Farrah Fawcett in her first post-"Charlie's Angels" role.  I know a little about this movie, since it was the film on which I worked as part of Farrah's security detail … allowing me to legitimately say that I once was Farrah Fawcett's bodyguard.  A small credit, but a fun one.)

    Published on: August 18, 2020

    •  Amazon is reported to be under investigation by German antitrust authorities, who are probing allegations that it blocked some third-party marketplace vendors from setting higher-than-usual prices during the pandemic.

    “We are currently investigating whether and how Amazon influences how traders set prices on the market-place,” Andreas Mundt, President of the Federal Cartel Office told local German media, tells Reuters.

    Amazon's response is that its "systems are designed to take action against price gouging."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Lowe’s Cos. is beefing up its logistics network, with plans to add dozens of distribution and shipment-handling sites as part of a $1.7 billion overhaul aimed at speeding orders to customers of the home-improvement retail chain.

    "Lowe’s said Wednesday that it would open four additional e-commerce fulfillment centers over the next 18 months, including a direct fulfillment site in Mira Loma, Calif., set to open in October to enable two-day delivery to nearly 100% of its customers.

    "The Mooresville, N.C.-based company also plans to open seven bulk distribution sites for large products such as appliances and barbecue grills, along with 50 cross-dock terminals where big items can be placed on delivery trucks bound for customers instead of sending them to retail stores."

    Published on: August 18, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The Cincinnati Business Courier reports that Kroger is being sued over its labeling of its Just Fruit brand of jams.  The suit claims that "despite being named Just Fruit, the Kroger-brand jam's No. 1 ingredient was listed as fruit syrup, and the product contained a number of other non-fruit ingredients such as sweeteners, added sugars, apple juice concentrate, pectin and calcium citrate … The lawsuit alleges by being named 'Just Fruit' and labeled as 'spreadable fruit,' Kroger engaged in unfair or deceptive acts caused a likelihood of confusion or misunderstanding as to the source of goods. The lawsuit accuses Kroger of recklessly or knowingly engaging in conduct would cause confusion or misunderstanding."

    •  The Associated Press reports that "NPC International Inc., the largest franchise operator for Plano-based Pizza Hut, announced on Monday that it will close as many as 300 Pizza Huts. The decision was made after the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in July, when shutdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic challenged its businesses."

    Gee.  These guys must be doing something wrong.  (Like making lousy pizza.)  Because it was just yesterday that we reported that pizza demand was so high in the US that some pizzerias were running out of pepperoni.

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Payless ShoeSource Inc. twice filed for bankruptcy protection and last year closed its 2,500 North American stores. Now, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the discount shoe retailer is attempting its third comeback.

    "The company, which emerged from chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January and is now called Payless Worldwide, is relaunching its website on Tuesday and plans to open as many as 400 stores in North America over the next five years, with the first location slated for Miami this fall.

    "It is following other troubled brands that have found new life online or with smaller physical footprints, such as Toys R Us, RadioShack, Dressbarn and Barneys New York."

    I'm a little skeptical.  I think the Payless brand is more than a little tarnished, especially when compared to, say Zappos.

    That said, there is one thing about this story that intrigues me.  In opening those new stores, Payless reportedly would like to negotiate terms with landlords that would have them getting a piece of the action, as opposed to straight rent.  At a time when bricks-and-mortar is, to say the least, challenged, I have to wonder if maybe we'll see more deals like this.  (Especially at a time when Simon, the mall company, is investing in retailers as a way of keeping them operating in their malls.)

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that liquor marketer Diageo has agreed to pay as much as $610 million "to acquire Aviation American Gin, which is partly owned and pitched by actor Ryan Reynolds, and other brands in its latest bet on a celebrity-backed premium liquor.

    The initial payment is $335 million, with the balance to be paid based on performance over the coming decade.  The deal is similar to one Diageo struck with George Clooney, who sold it the upmarket tequila company he co-owned, Casamigos, for $700 million, with another $300 million on the table based on performance.

    The story says that Diageo actually "is buying Davos Brands LLC, a New York-based distributor and producer of Aviation American Gin and other liquors. Mr. Reynolds, who bought an undisclosed stake in Aviation in 2018, will retain a continuing interest in the brand after the deal, the companies said."

    Reynolds is known for being a savvy social media marketer outside his movie career;  he is active in Aviation's marketing, and the brand has doubled its sales in the past year.

    I did love the automatic response that Reynolds put on his email yesterday…which demonstrated that he knows how to get attention for his brand.

    ""Thanks for your email," he wrote.  "I am currently out of the office but will still be very hard at work selling Aviation Gin. For quite a long time, it seems.

    "In related news, I just learned what an ‘earn out’ is... And I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize to everyone I told to go f**k themselves in the last 24 hours. My lawyers just explained how long it takes to achieve an 'earn out'... so... turns out I'm not as George Clooney as I thought. The point is, to those listed below, I'm sorry... and I'll indeed be needing your help in the coming months and years. Thanks in advance!"

    Published on: August 18, 2020

    As mentioned above, yesterday MNB ran a clip from a 1997 episode of "Seinfeld" that satirized the Post Office.

    Some folks thought it was too soon.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    I'm a big fan of "Seinfeld," but I didn't get your joke. Mail-in ballots are being delayed due to budget cuts in an effort to influence the election or at least cast doubt on its legitimacy. It's a threat to free and fair elections. 

    Is your point that the USPS is run by morons delivering catalogs and a "general" who would rather be playing golf? 

    Another MNB reader agreed:

    I usually find your daily FaceTime videos to be enlightening and entertaining. But by posting a lighthearted "Seinfeld" video, I think you’re communicating the wrong message and/or missing the point of the current postal service debate.

    Whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, what our current president is doing to destroy the postal service is about voter suppression and election sabotage. And that’s something that should concern all American citizens.

    I get your point.  I was just trying to lighten the mood a bit.

    MNB reader Deborah Faragher wrote:

    Hi, Kevin.  Thanks so much for this clip.  I especially love that it features Wilford Brimley, who we lost recently.  Very fitting!

    And from another reader:

    Thank you Kevin!  That was perfect after all the weekend news, and even the morning news where I heard the House of Representatives was being called back into Session to deal specifically with the USPS situation.  You provided a great laugh and made my Monday much brighter!

    MNB reader Gene Beaudoin made a serious point:

    Suppose you or any company was told to reserve in the next ten years for 75 years of retiree health benefits? The universal answer would be: "Are you nuts?"   That's what the USPS was forced to do in 2006. So why 75 years now? And, how about a gradual change over to Medicare? Problem solved. 

    This is accurate.  Congress has mandated that the Postal Service must prepay health benefits for its retirees for 10 years in advance, which costs about $5.5 billion a year.

    In my neighborhood, that's what we call "a big nut."

    And from another reader:

    True story.   I live in a large city in East Tennessee with Several post office locations.  About 12 years age, the post office closest to my home installed and automated stamp dispersement machine and scale where you could mail small packages and buy stamps.  It was wonderful.  Never had to stand in line, it was a very quick in and out process.  Then one day I went in and it was gone.  When I finally progressed thru the line to the clerk, I asked  him why they took it out, he said it was in violation of the union contract so there you go.  It’s hard to make a 21st century business work when your processes are still in the 20th truly is a cluster…

    I don't think the argument real is over whether or not the Post Office can be both more efficient and effective.  I think everyone will buy that.  The argument at the moment is whether the changes be made at the moment have anything to do with that.

    I wrote the other day that if Instacart were to announce on Monday that it was being acquired by Walmart, on Tuesday virtually all of its customers would call to cancel their contracts.  But, I asked, what would happen on Wednesday?

    MNB reader Joe Axford got it:

    Wow KC, when you said what happens on Wednesday, it really makes your point!  What would happen is you'd have a lot of angry customers, for starters.  It's a process but they have to go to an in house model, like Hannaford for instance.  Even at 50K a week, minimum, times 52 weeks, times how many stores?  You're probably talking half a billion a year anyway.  That's a lot of money they're not making right now!

    MNB reader Alan Shepherd of Washington State's Rocket Market had a thought about our Green Zebra story:

    Just read your article on Green Zebra, been there many times and I like it a lot. We've been kinda pioneering this concept for 20 years though...we are in the heart of a neighbor on Spokane's south hill, we converted a gas station to a specialty food store and kept the gas pumps, helps to pay the bills. We have a wine club, weekly wine classes, (now are virtual via zoom), chef on staff, baristas, lots of organic produce and everything is as local has we can possibly make it. Local local local is our mantra for all products. During the pandemic we converted our seating area to a bulk foods area and purchased from our local restaurant supplier, never ran out of flour, grains, beans etc...We are installing a new register in that area today to handle our curbside pick up orders, and our online store is about a week away from being released into the wild. There is also a plan to do our own local delivery, not Instacart:)

    Used to do an outdoor concert series in the parking lot 2 nights a week all summer long in the before times....

    If I were there, I'd get in the car and come see you.  When we get to the "after times," I hope I'll be welcome.  I'd love to see what you're up to.

    MNB reader Rich Heiland offered a note:

    This week I am making my first client visit under COVID to an optometry practice. It’s a three-hour drive away, so no airplanes to worry about. To reassure my clients I just got my second COVID test – negative. I will be staying in a Hilton Garden Inn and told them I want a room that has not been occupied the prior 72 hours. And, I will wipe down the TV remote, other high touch areas. 

    At the optometry practice everyone will be masked, we will keep the distance. The day I spend with the two doctors will be in a conference room at the Hilton – designed for 12-15 folks, but holding just the three of us. We did a massive amount of prep work by email and ZOOM conferencing. I am learning I can still do business, just not in the same way.

    We had a story yesterday about how Ahold Delhaize says it is trying to raise its game when it comes to e-commerce, and I commented:

    One of the the company's US businesses is Stop & Shop, which happens to have a lot of stores in my Connecticut backyard.  I'm a member of the company's frequent shopper program, so I'm on their mailing list.  And, I'm someone who is reasonably active in terms of e-commerce.

    And yet … I would be hard-pressed to remember one communication I've ever gotten from the company trying to get me to use its delivery or click-and-collect services.  I get messages from Amazon/Whole Foods and Walmart all the time, but when it comes to Stop & Shop, it is pretty much crickets.

    Maybe I'm wrong about this.  Maybe I've just slipped through the cracks.  But you can't sell what you don't market, and at a time when the pandemic has been ramping up e-commerce usage, they haven't done much to bring me into the fold.

    One MNB reader concurred:

    I agree - I get all sorts of emails from Amazon/Whole Foods, Shop Rite, Wegmans, Fairway.  Nothing from Stop & Shop.  And I have a little card on my keychain from all of these stores.

    And finally, yesterday we took note of a Patch report that "the Connecticut Freedom Alliance has begun legal action against the state Department of Education's requirement that students must wear masks when they return to school this fall … The Ridgefield-based Connecticut Freedom Alliance is requesting the court to order the CSDE to rescind all requirements regarding the use of face coverings."  The organization wants to stop the state from mandating mask be worn by students in school, but it also wants to stop individual school districts from issuing such requirements.

    I commented:

    I'm thinking of starting my own organization - the Alliance For Freedom from Idiots.  We'd have a lot of causes, but in this case, I'd want to point out that these parents actually are teaching their children that their own desires are more important than the needs of the society at large, that selfishness is more important than selflessness, and that science is to be ignored whenever it is deemed inconvenient.  Masks help protect other people … and not only that, but they communicate the broader message that we actually all are in this together, as opposed to just being in it for ourselves.

    One other thing:  Masks help protect teachers.  Without teachers, there is no education.

    Connecticut is ranked fourth in the nation in terms of residents with advanced degrees, behind top-ranked District of Columbia, Massachusetts, and Maryland.  (I'm an underachiever, BTW.  I don't have an advanced degree of any kind.)  But these people in the Connecticut Freedom Alliance suggest that having an advanced degree doesn't necessarily make you intelligent.

    Prompting one MNB reader to write:

    Kevin, you can sign me up for membership in The Alliance For Freedom From Idiots (AFFFI)!  As my father used to say, “You can treat ignorance; but stupidity is just stupidity.”

    You got that right.

    Maybe we could get t-shirts and hats made.

    As a start … I just got the URL: