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    Published on: August 20, 2020

    Walmart says that its new Walmart+ program - designed to compete with Amazon Prime - has a goal of strengthening relationships with customers."  And yet, at the same time, Walmart is making a deal with Instacart, which is preternaturally designed to disintermediate retailers from their customers, whether retailers realize it or not.  KC wonders:  What the hell is going on here?

    Published on: August 20, 2020

    And now, the conclusion of the MNB interview with Yesway chief marketing officer Derek Gaskins, in which we talk about the impact of Amazon on the c-store channel, the importance of retail branding, and analyze DoorDash's new DashMart dark-c-store offering.

    Published on: August 20, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    A friend of mine sent me the video above, and it immediately intrigued me as technology uniquely suited to the moment.

    It is a high-tech sanitization station, created by a company called MetroClick.  It apparently is currently being used in Europe in places like airport terminals and railroad stations, and has the ability to not just dispense hand sanitizer, but also to take a person's temperature.

    That's no small thing, especially these days.

    And the display screens can communicate all sorts of messages, from information about staying safe and healthy during a pandemic to, if one chose, promotional and marketing announcements.

    When I see it, though, I see even more possibilities (which the company says are technologically possible).   For example, the kiosk also could be programmed to detect whether the person is wearing a mask or not … and if not, suggest to the person that if he or she wants to shop, they should stop by the service desk and pick one up.  This would be a wonderful way to avoid confrontations between employees and customers, I think.

    I also think it is possible that retailers might be able to get brands such as Procter & Gamble's Purell or Clorox to sponsor these kiosks - it certainly would be on brand for either company.  (Though I'm not necessarily sure that this is the best way to go.)

    The kiosk in the video is a basic model - MetroClick's website has some models that look like they are right out of Minority Report - and I think this is the Eye-Opening way in which retailers ought to be thinking as they try to own the moments in and around the pandemic.

    Embrace the possibilities.  

    Published on: August 20, 2020

    Breaking news from the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "Filings for jobless benefits rose to 1.1 million last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, suggesting an uptick in layoffs as the economy slowly recovers from the pandemic’s effects.

    "New applications for unemployment benefits have eased in recent weeks but remain at historically high levels, indicating that the labor market is healing but still far from recovered from the economic shock caused by the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

    "Weekly initial claims for jobless benefits eased in recent weeks but have remained above the highest level recorded before this year. Similarly, the number receiving unemployment payments had edged down further but also remained well above any level recorded before 2020."

    Published on: August 20, 2020

    Fascinating piece in Axios about what is called "the 15-minute city," which "centers around the idea that residents can meet most of their daily needs by walking or bicycling a short distance - i.e., 15 to 20 minutes - from their homes."

    The premise goes like this:  "Strategically clustering food outlets, doctors' offices, schools, pharmacies, banks, smaller-scale offices and places for recreation in a close proximity to the people who need them can shrink the 'deserts' of essential services in distressed neighborhoods.

    And making more services reachable by foot or bike will help address climate change."

    It is not an entirely new concept.  The story says that "Milan, Italy plans to guarantee essential services within walking distance for all residents, and the city is working with businesses to encourage telework."  And Paris, France, "is embracing the 15-minute city concept by adding offices and 'coworking hubs' and encouraging remote work. The city is finding new uses for existing structures — using nightclubs as gyms during the day, and turning schools into parks and play spaces on weekends."

    The dramatic shifts that have taken place because of the pandemic - like working from home or in remote locations as opposed to in a crowded central office - are seen as having the potential for making the concept of a "15-minute city" a lot more relevant "as companies also looking into smaller, more dispersed branch offices closer to where clusters of employees live.

    "And with a massive reshuffling of retail, restaurant and office space underway, re-zoning for more flexible land use could be important for cities trying to recoup lost tax revenue."

    KC's View:

    I've been thinking a lot about this kind of stuff lately, since the pandemic seems to have created a change in the broader urbanization that was taking place in the country.  In just a matter of months, as people found cities to be constricting, making them more vulnerable to infection, they yearned for places with more sun and a little grass, and where, if they were going to be working from home, there was at least a little more space.  (To work, to play, and, to be frank, take refuge to they won't kill each other.)

    But I do think that this won't mean that the things that people liked about cities - convenience, accessibility to products and services and culture, with a strong technological backbone and infrastructure - suddenly will be irrelevant.  Far from it.  In many cases, the communities that can create semi-urban (which is different, I think, from suburban) centers that can provide this to residents will have themselves a real differential advantage.

    It is a moving target, I'm guessing, because events seem to be unfolding at a pace hard to calculate or predict.  But I'll be interested in seeing how these trends unfold, and how retailers embrace them with new formats and services keyed to the future, not the past.

    Published on: August 20, 2020

    Target announced that it has stablished an internal Racial Equity Action and Change (REACH) committee designed to focus on "advancing social justice and racial equity for Black individuals … at a very critical moment in time. This group of senior leaders from across Target have job responsibilities that reflect key areas of focus and represent a diverse range of perspectives and expertise. They work hand-in-hand with our Leadership Team to drive this important work forward."

    According to the announcement, "REACH’s work is uniquely focused on advancing racial equity for our Black team members and guests across all areas of Target’s business and communities. To create the most impact across our business, REACH is aligned around four key areas of focus: Team, Guests, Communities and Civic Engagement and Public Policy … The REACH committee is steadfast in its mission to create lasting change and meaningful impact for our Black team members, guests and the communities we serve. With the support and guidance from the entire leadership team, REACH will set specific, measurable goals to define success across this work and regularly report on our progress."

    KC's View:

    These are the kinds of initiatives that every retailer must embrace to some degree, because these are the kind of issues have an impact on employees and customers … and retailers cannot afford to be on the wrong side of history.

    Published on: August 20, 2020

    The New York Times reports that chef Dan Barber's two Blue Hill restaurants in New York - in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., and in Greenwich Village - will not reopen next year, having been closed by the pandemic, but instead will shift to a rotating chef-in-residence format that will last at least a year.

    According to the story, "The pivot to the chef-in-residence program had been in the works before Covid-19 changed New York’s restaurant landscape, but the pandemic put those plans on the fast track."  Barber tells the Times, "This came about because we have been reflecting on this moment in time and where a restaurant belongs in our culture.  The staff has been pushing some of the issues."

    Barber said "it would be an opportunity to 'shine a light on a chef who has not had a space like this.'  Chefs who have lost their kitchens because of the pandemic or are between jobs are prime candidates … with diversity in terms of color and gender in mind."

    KC's View:

    This is fascinating - a restaurant that is legendary in its approach to farm-to-table cuisine, largely built on the reputation of its owner-chef, deciding to throw all the sticks into the air and reassemble them in a different way when they land.  It may be a risk, but it also can be an adventure that will bring the company new insights and show it new directions.

    Published on: August 20, 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 5,701,285 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 176,364 deaths and 3,063,213 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 22,602,281 confirmed coronavirus cases, resulting in 791,424 fatalities and 15,319,627 reported recoveries.

    •  The Wall Street Journal writes that "the number of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. climbed but remained below 50,000 for the fourth day in a row, as some universities and schools moved classes online to avoid campus outbreaks … Johns Hopkins’s data showed California had more than 8,000 new cases, Texas had more than 7,000 and Florida had over 3,000, Georgia had more than 2,000, while Alabama, Illinois, North Carolina and Tennessee all exceeded 1,000.

    "In all of those states, except for California and Illinois, the seven-day average of new cases is lower than the 14-day average, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Johns Hopkins data, suggesting cases are falling. Across the country, different states have enacted various restrictions to stop the virus from spreading."

    •  The Washington Post quotes Moncef Slaoui, who is co-directing the government's vaccine development response, as saying that "late-stage clinical trials of vaccine candidates from biotechnology companies Moderna and Pfizer are going 'very well' and that "a vaccine for the novel coronavirus should be widely available next spring."

    According to the story, "Slaoui said he was 'pretty confident' that people would be able to get a vaccine next April, May or June," that "70 million or 80 million high-risk people would be immunized before then," and that "the United States should be able to return to normal life in the second half of next year if enough people take the vaccine."

    "If enough people take the vaccine."  Ay, there’s the rub!

    The polling suggests that only about a third of Americans say they'd be willing to get a vaccine once one becomes both approved and available … and experts worry that it will be hard for the country to really recover at those levels.  (It also reflects an appalling lack of confidence in science and public health experts who have dedicated their lives to keeping the country safe.)   What really makes this problematic is that there seem to be multiple disinformation efforts, some of them promoted by nutcase fringe groups, designed to create doubt about both the seriousness of the pandemic and the importance of a vaccination.

    •  In an interview with an Albany, New York, public radio station, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed regret about one part of the state's response to the coronavirus:  “I should have done masks earlier,” he said. “That would have made a dramatic difference.”

    The Washington Post writes that "according to public health experts, Cuomo is correct: mask mandates save lives. One study estimated that a nationwide mandate at the beginning of April could have prevented nearly 40,000 deaths. The impact would have been especially profound in New York, where nearly 30,000 people have died - far more than in any other state, according to data tracked and analyzed by the Washington Post.

    •  The Washington Post reports that Hawaii, concerned about people from outside the islands bringing the coronavirus there, has officially delayed its reopening to mainland visitors until at least October 1.

    According to the story, "The move replaces a program that was set to allow entry with a negative test on Sept. 1 and comes after a recent surge in coronavirus cases that prompted the state to impose quarantine restrictions on inter-island flights between Kauai, Hawaii Island and Maui.  All residents and non-tourist visitors will continue to be subject to a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine, according to guidelines."

    •  Want to catch the Covid-19 coronavirus?  Head to Kansas City.

    The Washington Post reports that thousands of people from as many as 40 states are expected to attend an indoor wrestling tournament there "despite a rising number of novel coronavirus cases in the area and warnings about indoor events being ideal places for the virus to spread."

    The story notes that the Hy-Vee arena, where the tournament will be held, is placing restrictions on how many people attend and will keep attendance much lower that the facility's capacity.

    Cannot imagine that Hy-Vee is pleased about having its name potentially in so many sentences and headlines that also have the word "coronavirus."

    •  The Washington Post reports that "the NFL is giving preliminary consideration to conducting playoff games in a 'bubble' environment, a top league official said Wednesday, in hopes of bolstering its chances to complete its postseason amid the novel coronavirus pandemic."

    A "bubble" would bring all the playoff teams to a single location so that there would be minimal opportunities for exposure to infected people.

    The big assumption here is that the NFL even makes it to the playoffs without the pandemic having an impact on the teams and their schedules.

    •  The Associated Press reports that "Airbnb is banning house parties worldwide as it tries to clean up its reputation and comply with coronavirus-related limits on gatherings.

    "The San Francisco-based home sharing company said it will limit occupancy in its rental homes to 16 people. It may offer exceptions for boutique hotels or other event venues.  Airbnb said it may pursue legal action against guests and hosts who violate the ban."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Public schools in several states, including Indiana, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Georgia, closed to in-person learning this month after students and staffers tested positive for Covid-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, sending thousands into quarantine and remote learning. Several superintendents working to reopen schools also tested positive, and at least one died.

    "Dr. Thomas Dobbs, with the Mississippi Department of Health, announced that 1,970 students and 328 teachers and staff are under quarantine in the state."

    •  From the Washington Post:

    "The union representing New York City’s public-school teachers said its members would not return to classrooms next month unless the city met their health and safety demands — including testing all students and staff for that coronavirus and ensuring all schools have a nurse.

    "The announcement from the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), which represents 75,000 professionals, comes a week after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that schools would reopen Sept. 10 for in-person classes, saying he believed the city’s low positivity rate would allow for students to return safely. The city, once the nation’s epicenter of the pandemic, has a positive test rate of less than one-quarter of 1 percent, the mayor said Wednesday."

    The betting here is that if there is a teachers strike in one place, there will be strikes in lots of places.

    •  The New York Times writes that "school nurses were already in short supply in the United States, with less than 40 percent of schools employing one full-time before the pandemic. Now those overburdened health care specialists are finding themselves on the front lines of a risky, high-stakes experiment in protecting public health as districts reopen their doors amid spiking caseloads in many parts of the country."

    Probably another reason you might see teachers striking … since in schools without a full-time nurse, they'll be expected to carry much of the load.

    Published on: August 20, 2020

    CNBC reports that since the pandemic has resulted in the shutdown of 41 percent of the 1.1 million Black-owned businesses in the US, Facebook "is updating its Businesses Nearby platform to make it easier for users to discover and support Black-owned businesses in their communities.

    "The company is also allocating $40 million from its $100 million small business grant program to 10,000 Black-owned businesses in the U.S."

    To qualify for the Businesses Nearby program, the story says, "companies must be majority Black-owned for-profit enterprises with up to 50 employees that have been in business for at least one year. They must have experienced challenges from Covid-19 and plan to use the funds to support their business and community."

    Published on: August 20, 2020

    •  The Verge reports on new uses for the QR code on Instagram.  "Users can now generate QR codes that’ll be scannable from any supporting, third-party camera apps … The idea is that businesses can print their QR code and have customers scan it to open their Instagram account easily. From there, people can see store hours, buy items, or just follow the account."

    One common use at the moment:  "Restaurants have begun leaving QR codes out instead of their physical menus, and other businesses request that people scan a QR code to load their website. While Nametags might have worked for this purpose, QR codes make it easier for people to scan and make them less reliant on taking out the Instagram camera to access information."

    Published on: August 20, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  US Foods announced that it is launching a new ghost kitchen initiative that will provide resources to companies looking to start up facilities that provide delivery-only meals.  The company says that it will offer "exclusive tools, proprietary technology and expert one-on-one support from foodservice-industry leaders."

    I've not heard of this happening, but I wonder if there are wholesalers offering targeted support to retailers looking to open dark stores?  For that matter, I wonder if US Foods has a component of this initiative that would help food retailers create their own ghost kitchens?

    •  A sign of the times…

    The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports that "the owner of four St. Louis-area malls said Wednesday it plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy by Oct. 1.

    "Chattanooga, Tennessee-based CBL & Associates Properties — which owns West County Center, St. Clair Square, Mid Rivers Mall and South County Center — said in a statement that it had negotiated a restructuring support agreement that will result in the elimination of about $900 million in debt, an extension of its debt maturity schedule and a reduction in annual interest expense of more than $20 million."

    It is a familiar scenario, the Post Dispatch writes:  "Malls have been hit hard by the coronavirus, as shoppers have stayed home, retailers quit paying rent and stores shut down, some permanently. Their financial woes, spurred in part by overbuilding and online shopping long before the virus hit, have led some to contemplate a new future, in which malls act less as indoor shopping centers and more as town squares, with, for instance, offices, apartments, restaurants and retail outlets."

    •  The New York Times reports that "Airbnb said on Wednesday that it had confidentially filed to go public, taking a key step toward one of the largest public market debuts in a generation of 'sharing economy' start-ups.

    "A public offering by the company, which lets people rent out their spare rooms or homes to travelers, would cap a volatile year in which its business was devastated by the spread of the coronavirus. Airbnb had been privately valued at $31 billion before this year, and the company must now convince investors that it can thrive and turn a profit in a new era of limited travel."

    •  Gap has announced that it is permanently closing its San Francisco flagship store on Market Street, as well as three other stores there - part of a broader strategy of closing underperforming stores and units where lease obligations were deemed excessive, especially in light of pandemic-induced consumer behavior shifts.

    •  From Forbes:

    "Krispy Kreme, the maker of an iconic glazed donut that’s best enjoyed seconds after it has passed underneath a waterfall of warm glaze, is set to open its Times Square Flagship Shop in New York City on Tuesday, September 15. The opening comes several months after it was originally planned due to the global pandemic, and plans for operation come opening day have been adjusted to keep guests and employees safe.

    "Plans for the flagship, which has been in the works for about three years, already included an exterior walk-up window and an interior grab-and-go counter which, in addition to convenience, now have the added benefit of offering a more socially distanced option for getting your hands on some hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Krispy Kreme’s opening plan includes crowd control initiatives like remote queuing and an online reservation system for guests looking to visit the shop at a specific time."

    Krispy Kreme says that the flagship's 'Hot Light' will be on 24/7, which means that "hot and fresh Original Glazed Doughnuts will be available any time of day."  And, the shop will have two production lines, capable of making 380 dozen - or 4,560 - doughnuts an hour.

    Yikes.  I don't/can't eat many doughnuts any more;  I save the experience for special occasions, because I can't seem to jog enough to work them off if they're consumed on a regular basis.  But this place seems like nirvana.

    Published on: August 20, 2020

    I enjoyed it so much a few weeks ago that I'm going to do it again - take a long weekend.  (It seems pointless to take weeks off at a time since I can't really go anywhere.)

    MNB will take a bit of a hiatus, and I'll be back on Tuesday, August 25 with all-new hand-crafted news and commentary.

    See you then.  Have a great weekend … stay safe … be healthy.