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    Published on: August 27, 2020

    Amazon said that it is opening its first Amazon Fresh supermarket today, in the Los Angeles suburb of Woodland Hills, saying that it will offer "consistently low prices for all, and free, same day delivery and pickup for Prime members," as well as Amazon Dash Cart technology that "enables customers to skip the checkout line," and Alexa-based features "to help customers manage their shopping lists and better navigate our aisles."

    The Amazon Fresh store will not, however, feature the Amazon Go checkout-free technology used in its c-store-style units in cities that include Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago and New York.

    The Alexa-based features will provide directions to shoppers as well as meal recommendations.

    Above you can see a video provided by Amazon that gives a look at the shopping experience.

    The Woodland Hills store was scheduled to open months ago, but the debut was delayed as Amazon used the store as an e-commerce fulfillment center for four regional Whole Foods stores.  As it opens today, it will only be available to local residents who have received invitations;  the soft opening will transition to a broader public opening, probably in a few weeks.

    In its announcement, Amazon says that "customers will find a wide assortment of national brands and high-quality produce, meat and seafood; plus our culinary team offers customers a range of delicious prepared foods made fresh in store every day—from fresh-baked bread and made-to-order pizzas, to rotisserie chickens and hot sandwiches."

    The store also reportedly will feature a new Amazon Fresh private label line.

    Because we are living in an age of pandemic, Amazon puts an emphasis on safety features, saying that it has learned much from how Whole Foods has managed coronavirus-related issues:  "We’ve taken learnings from them and applied the same safety measures in Amazon Fresh, such as requiring daily temperature checks for all employees; requiring face coverings for all employees and customers entering the store; offering free, disposable masks for any customer who wants one; and operating the store at 50% capacity."

    In its coverage, CNBC writes that "Amazon has three other Fresh store locations, including in Irvine and Northridge, California, as well as Chicago’s Naperville neighborhood, all of which are being used for online order fulfillment. The company declined to say when they’ll open to the public."

    The story goes on:  "Amazon is aiming to crack open a new segment of the U.S. grocery industry with the launch of its Fresh store, bringing the e-commerce giant into more direct competition with chains like Kroger and Albertsons. The new format incorporates a blend of in-store and online shopping, while offering consumers a variety of products at lower price points than Whole Foods. Whole Foods, acquired by Amazon for $13.7 billion in 2017, is known for its focus on organic goods and doesn’t sell products with artificial ingredients."

    Amazon thinks of Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh as formats that complement "one another and serving different needs,” Jeff Helbling, vice president of Amazon Fresh stores, tells CNBC. “Whole Foods is a longstanding pioneer and leader in natural, organic and clean foods. Amazon’s Fresh selection is fairly different. We see them operating next to one another and we’re excited to offer customers the choice between the two.”

    Here are some pictures provided by Amazon:

    KC's View:

    I think I'm most intrigued by the ways in which Amazon seems to have blended pickup fulfillment functionality with a more traditional shopping experience, and then given the whole thing a layer of technology that seems distinctly Amazonian.

    Not being in Woodland Hills, I cannot quite tell how antiseptic it is or isn't.  The one thing that Amazon has to avoid is making it seem like a clone of the 365 by Whole Foods format, which just didn't work.  But if Amazon has a core competency (and it has many), it is learning from things that do not work.

    If this plays for consumers - and I suspect that it will, even as it undergoes various kinds of tweaking - there is a lot of real estate out there that Amazon can take advantage of as it looks to roll this thing out nationally.  And right now, it is a buyers' market - there are a lot of landlords sitting with empty space and hoping someone, anyone, will be open to their pleas of "let's make a deal."

    In terms of the competition, I'm pretty sure that the really great and innovative food-centric retailers - think Dorothy Lane Market, Wegmans, Stew Leonard's, Bristol Farms, H-E-B/Central Market - don't have much to worry about from Amazon Fresh.  Value-driven retailers like, say, WinCo, also have a differential advantage that will work in their favor.  (Not that any of these folks shouldn't pay attention … they should … but they are singing a different song from a different hymnal.)  But if you're in the middle, having just enjoyed a couple of good quarters because of the pandemic but not really having a distinct and differentiated value proposition … well, I'd get busy sharpening my message and offering.  Or planning retirement.

    One other thing.  If there indeed is a broad move of consumers from urban markets to the suburbs, but they're looking for shopping experiences and e-commerce functionality that seems in line with what they've been used to back in the city, Amazon may be well-positioned with this format to deliver it.

    Published on: August 27, 2020

    What do Ray Bradbury and Stew Leonard have in common?  They're both cited in this FaceTime by KC, who talks about the importance of using an entire organization to generate new ideas that can transform a business.

    Published on: August 27, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    This is my favorite kind of Eye-Opener … one that is grown organically by the MNB community.

    A couple of days ago, we had a story about how food trucks - traditionally an urban phenomenon, now often lost in cities that have seen their populations and workforces diminished by the pandemic - have begun moving into the suburbs.  They've had to change up their business models a bit, focusing on preorders rather than walk-ups, but these food trucks are going where the people are.

    The story prompted MNB reader Jeff Weiner to write:

    Food trucks were the one thing that I truly missed about my job when it was in downtown Minneapolis (as opposed to our home office now), so I started inviting them out for dinner.  It gives the neighborhood a break from the monotony of things and gives the trucks a much needed shot in the arm of business. 

    Jeff sent some pictures:

    And, Jeff added:

    On the plus side, everyone here now knows what an empanada and a New Zealand pie is now!

    I will admit, though that I was curious.  How, exactly, does one invite a food truck for dinner?

    Jeff responded:

    Find them on Twitter or their websites and ask nicely.  I could tell that the first one was a little desperate, so I started there and then used them as a reference.  It went from “well, I guess we’ll try it” to “we heard about your neighborhood and we’d like to come out” in less than 24 hours.

    Wow.

    Now that's an Eye-Opener.

    Published on: August 27, 2020

    H-E-B this week opened a new food hall inside one of its Austin, Texas, stores, saying that its offerings are designed as "sure to please every palate."

    The Main Streat Food Hall & Bar includes Roots Chicken Shak by Chef Tiffany Derry, True Texas BBQ, Calle Taqueria, Yumai Japanese Grill, The Meltery, and Bar at Mueller.

    According to H-E-B, "The food hall is available for takeout, limited capacity dining on the outdoor patio and inside, and free delivery from FAVOR. The Bar at Mueller will also offer beer, wine and cocktails for in-person to-go orders."

    “At H-E-B, feeding Texans and their families is at the heart of what we do. We worked hard to create this space and develop tasty menu items, and we’re thrilled to open Main Streat to the entire Austin community,” said Kristin Irvin, Director – Made to Order Restaurants at H-E-B.

    KC's View:

    While there are certain built-in limitations to a food hall offering during a time of pandemic, this is a strategic move by H-E-B, not tactical … and therefore a long-term investment, not a short-term play.

    And it reinforces something about which I feel strongly - if you're going to be in the food business, be in the freakin' food business.  

    Not just in the logistics business or the fulfillment business or the business of selling boxes and bags and jars.  Sure, those things are important - critical, even - but dammit, if food is supposed to be your core competency, you have to be more than competent at it.  Make it look great and smell great and taste great.  When people walk in the door, make them hungry!

    Otherwise, they may as well be in a CVS.

    Published on: August 27, 2020

     From CNBC this morning:

    "The number of Americans who filed for unemployment benefits for the first time came in above 1 million for a second consecutive week as the economy tries to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, the Labor Department said Thursday.

    "Initial U.S. jobless claims totaled just over 1 million for the week ending Aug. 22, down from 1.104 million in the previous week. Economists polled by Dow Jones expected initial jobless claims expected claims to come in right at 1 million.

    "Last week marked the 22nd time in 23 weeks that initial claims were above 1 million."

    Published on: August 27, 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, we've crossed a line:  there now have been more than six million confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus.  The exact number is 6,001,103, resulting in 183,677 deaths and 3,314,664 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 24,359,548 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 830,197 fatalities and 16,893,457 reported recoveries.


    •  From the Los Angeles Times:

    "The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday authorized the first rapid coronavirus test that doesn’t need any special computer equipment to get results.

    "The 15-minute test from Abbott Laboratories will sell for $5, giving it a competitive edge over similar tests that need to be popped into a small machine. The size of a credit card, the self-contained test is based on the same technology used to test for the flu, strep throat and other infections.

    "It’s the latest cheaper, simpler test to hit the U.S. market, providing new options to expand testing as schools and businesses struggle to reopen and flu season approaches. The FDA also recently greenlighted a saliva test from Yale University that bypasses some of the supplies that have led to testing bottlenecks.

    "Both tests have limitations and neither can be done at home. Several companies are developing rapid, at-home tests, but none have yet won approval.


    •  From the Washington Post:

    "College students are driving a growing number of North Carolina’s coronavirus cases, health officials said, as universities across the country grapple with the repercussions of bringing students back to campus.

    "On Wednesday, North Carolina State University announced the closure of residence halls and ordered most students to leave campus by Sept. 6. 'We hoped and strived to keep residence halls open and safe to best serve our students,' chancellor Randy Woodson wrote in a message to the campus community. 'However, the rapid spread and increasing rate of positive cases have made our current situation untenable'."


    •  Also from the Post:

    "Even some colleges that opted to hold classes fully or mostly online are witnessing a surge in cases driven by student gatherings. The University of Southern California warned Monday that an 'alarming increase' in cases had been reported in off-campus student housing during the first week of the fall semester, and more than 100 students had been placed in quarantine due to potential exposure.

    "At Miami University in Ohio, at least 125 new cases have been reported since virtual classes began on Aug. 17 … Students were supposed to return to dorms in mid-September, but the rise in new cases - described by officials as a 'noticeable increase' - is casting doubts on those plans."


    •  The Los Angeles Times reports that county officials have "reported the first cases of COVID-19 among newborns.

    "Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer reported that 1,200 pregnant women and girls between the ages of 14 and 52 have tested positive for the virus and two have died of complications. Of the 193 babies who were tested at birth, eight were positive … About 79% of pregnant women who tested positive for the coronavirus were symptomatic.

    "According to Ferrer, 25% tested positive during the first trimester of pregnancy, 35% during the second, 29% during the third and 11% while in labor."

    Published on: August 27, 2020

    •  Bloomberg reports that three people with their roots in the technology business have established a new benchmark for personal wealth.

    According to the story, "The net worth of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos eclipsed $200 billion on Wednesday as shares of the e-commerce giant climbed to a record. The move simultaneously pushed his ex-wife MacKenzie Scott, 50, to the brink of becoming the world’s richest woman, just behind L’Oreal SA heiress Francoise Bettencourt Meyers.

    "Elon Musk, meanwhile, extended an extraordinary stretch of wealth gains to become a centibillionaire. Tesla shares rallied Wednesday, pushing his net worth to $101 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a listing of the world’s 500 richest people."

    Bloomberg writes that "the gains by Bezos, 56, and Musk represent just the latest high water mark for wealth accumulation in a topsy-turvy year defined by both surging markets and catastrophic human and economic loss. The world’s 500 richest people have gained $809 billion so far this year, a 14% increase since January, even as a global pandemic caused a record drop in gross domestic product and millions of lost jobs."

    Published on: August 27, 2020

    •  Bizwomen reports that "Walmart is holding an online wellness event featuring experts in nutrition, cardiac care and mental health, a pandemic-driven substitute for the chain’s in-person wellness clinics … The forum will offer healthcare and disease prevention tips and encourage viewers to seek in-person medical care and screening as needed."

    According to the story, "The online forum is the big-box retailer’s latest effort to up its health care game to better compete with rivals Amazon, CVS and Walgreens."


    •  Bizwomen reports that "Walmart has sold its online intimate wear brand Bare Necessities to an Israeli company for an undisclosed sum.

    "Delta Galil Industries, Ltd., is a global manufacturer and marketer of branded and private label apparel products for men, women and children. The transaction is expected to close in the next few weeks, the company said … Walmart bought New York City-based Bare Necessities in October 2018, one of several online brands the giant retailer has acquired to strengthen its e-tailing business and better compete with Amazon."

    Published on: August 27, 2020

    •  USA Today reports that "Bed Bath & Beyond is eliminating 2,800 corporate and retail jobs 'effective immediately' as the company seeks to recover from pandemic-induced financial struggles. 

    "The American chain known for selling bedding, home decor and appliances said Tuesday that the job cuts are part of an 'organizational realignment' that will enable the company to cut costs as it focuses on its digital retail offerings."  Bed Bath & Beyond says that it wants to "better serve customers in a digital-first shopping environment," and also wants to find ways to fund new "customer-inspired" owned brands in 2021.

    Published on: August 27, 2020

    •  Kroger has named Dan Moore, who has been with the company since 1986 and most recently has been serving as the company's Regional Merchandising Plan Manager, to be Division Leader at its Ruler Foods chain.

    Published on: August 27, 2020

    Michael Sansolo had a column yesterday about people who include in their online signatures notations like "he, his, him" or "she, hers, her" or "they, them" - designed to tell the reader how they identify in terms of gender.  At a time when a number of people do not identify with the gender that they were assigned at birth, perhaps being in transition or nonbinary, this can be helpful in terms of conversation.

    Michael wrote:

    For cisgender people (those for whom their gender is in alignment with the gender they were assigned at birth), these are easy statements.  But for others, they may not be.  For them, the world is harder to navigate.

    For customer-facing businesses out there, I know this is one more complexity in a world that seems loaded with complexities and near endless ways to offend.  Sensitivity to pronouns seems like such a small thing, but to a specific group of people, it means everything. And perhaps to a larger group, it demonstrates caring.

    Yes, it is an amazingly complex world with near endless demands on your time and attention. The necessity to be aware of so many issues can be draining, but it’s endlessly important that we all pay attention to such things so that we can make informed decisions on when to act or not act.

    Prompting, perhaps inevitably, one MNB reader to write:

    The pandering to every imaginable perceived feeling is leading us into a tyranny – the choice to adhere to an idea or philosophy is being removed. Imposition is the new normal.

    The days of treating everyone respectfully and equally are over, it is no longer acceptable or enough, now one must adhere to the protocol dictated and imposed by specific groups/movement otherwise one is a racist, bigot, homophobic, white supremacist individual who deserve to be eviscerated.

    These have so much love that they will beat the s…t out of you until you are able to love as much as they do.

    Wow.

    Who are you hanging out with that whenever you express these feelings, they're threatening to beat you up?

    I think you are talking about two different things here and, for some reason, conflating them.

    It is my experience that often, when a person is accused of being a "racist, bigot, homophobic, white supremacist," it is because they have said something or done something that makes people think that they are racist or bigoted or homophobic or a white supremacist.

    As for the tyranny to which you refer … I must respectfully disagree with you.  I'll only speak for myself here.  I don't feel imposed upon when people ask me to be sensitive to who and what they are.  I don't feel like I am pandering when I do so.  I'm just trying to be a decent human being, do the right thing, and be respectful of their feelings and identities.

    While you say that "the days of treating everyone respectfully and equally are over," I would suggest that for some people, those days never began.

    We also got another email about Michael's column:

    I think you could have better served your purpose of educating your audience about pronouns and gender diversity without the false dilemma device of bucketing us into only two polar opposite groups.  We are not all only either completely clueless (unlike Kevin and your wife) or reactionary (“what is this politically correct crap”) , any more than we all fit into only two traditional gender groups.

    I asked Michael about this, and he agreed that the column oversimplified the situation by bifurcating the group.  So, point taken.


    Responding to our continuing coverage of DoorDash's shift from delivery service provider to retailer competing with its own clients, MNB reader Mike Gaumond wrote:

    You mention DoorDash stealing these retailers customers, but they’re also letting them steal their customers shopping habits first by delivering for them. More information they can use when tailoring their own stores. 

    Exactly.


    Reacting to something we used to illustrate the ethical housecleaning that McDonald's clearly needs to do at its headquarters, one MNB reader wrote:

    Wow!  That was an uplifting Mc D’s commercial straight from my childhood.   Couldn’t help but notice there were no women and no teenagers in the clip.  Looks so odd now…

    And from an other reader:

    Thanks for sharing the Iconic McDonald’s “Deserve A Break Today” ad.  I watched it on You Tube and many others that they ran in the 70’s. Makes you think abut the cleanliness upfront again too, not such a bad idea in these times…

    On another subject - now consumer confidence is dropping while CEOs seem more sanguine about economic prospects, MNB reader Mark Heckman wrote:

    It is amazing to me that Consumer Confidence numbers seem to have developed an inverse relationship with retail sales..at least in Food, Drug, Mass, and On-line across all channels.  I didn’t see that coming. 

    But understandably, with the reality that COVID-19 is now COVID-20 and is not likely to leave the planet without a vaccine, it is not surprising that with all the negative news --consumers are feeling less confident, especially if you are in state where unemployment due to lockdowns is still double digits and you are one of those digits.  

    However, as you have noted and written, the pandemic has provided many retailers THE reason to finally put an end to their indecisions about making consumer-driven changes to their business model. Fueled by  the 25% year over year sales growth many are enjoying, they have smartly monetarily rewarded their brave associates and are beginning to make investments in technology and process to better compete in a post-Covid marketplace.

    So maybe every cloud does have a silver lining…or at least in this case -- the cloud has provided a solid kick in the rump to make long overdue changes …focused on the shopper. 

    From another reader:

    Probably what one should suspect with the level of unemployment and schools starting back and so much worry about the short term.  Expect it to get better, especially if Congress can get off their behinds and get a package out there.

    Big "if."

    Published on: August 27, 2020

    The sports world came to a virtual stop yesterday when the Milwaukee Bucks decided to boycott Game 5 of their first-round NBA playoff series against the Orlando Magic, saying they wanted to draw attention to racial injustice and, specifically, the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

    While team management was not in on the initial decision - the Bucks simply stayed in their locker room when the game was supposed to begin - Alex Lasry, the team's senior vice president, later tweeted, "Some things are bigger than basketball. The stand taken today by the players and org shows that we’re fed up. Enough is enough. Change needs to happen. I’m incredibly proud of our guys and we stand 100% behind our players ready to assist and bring about real change."

    The decision resulted in all of yesterday's NBA playoff games being postponed, as the players - all in the Florida "bubble" because of the pandemic - kept meeting;  on the table, according to some reports, is a possible cancellation of the rest of the playoffs and season.

    Axios Sports writes that while NBA players  are familiar with activism, this is unprecedented:  "They've gone off script. And in doing so, they've taken the conversation about sports' role in society to a place it's never quite been before."

    And, there was a domino effect:  in baseball, "the Milwaukee Brewers were the first team to pull the plug on their game. Later, the Seattle Mariners and L.A. Dodgers did the same. While the NBA and WNBA are no strangers to political activism, this type of stance is new in baseball."

    In soccer, "though the night's first game between Orlando and Nashville was played as scheduled, the remaining five games were postponed as the players collectively decided not to take the field."

    And in tennis, "after Naomi Osaka withdrew from the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open (scheduled for today), tournament organizers suspended all Thursday matches."

    Published on: August 27, 2020

    I'm happy to announce that on Friday, August 28, at 6 pm EDT / 3 pm PDT, we're going to do it again … an MNB Virtual Happy Hour.

    The folks at GMDC/Retail Tomorrow have once again agreed to sponsor and host it.  Hopefully, you can put it on your calendar … choose a libation for Happy Hour … and then prop up your laptop or warm up your computer on Friday, August 28, for a conversation and a drink.  (You don't have to let me know you're coming, but it would be nice to know.)

    To join us, click here.