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    Published on: September 22, 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.

    It was management guru Peter Drucker who once said, "Learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change, and the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn."  Today's RT podcast guest is Terry Hawkins (no relation to co-host Sterling Hawkins), who for more than three decades has challenged organizations to be better at learning and teaching the people on their front lines, by designing, creating and implementing results-producing education systems.  This is particularly timely since we are living in a time when the pandemic has disrupted so many businesses that it seems impossible to make internal training and education a high priority.

    You can listen to the podcast here…

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

    Published on: September 22, 2020

    Last week, MNB featured an interview with food activist/podcaster Errol Schweizer … and as has become his habit, KC asked him after the conversation who the best leaders were that he'd worked for or been exposed to in his career.

    This is what he said…

    Errol Schweizer's new podcast, "The Checkout," has as its goal bringing "forward diverse voices and stories from the frontlines of our food system," focusing on farm, retail and wholesale sector analyses as well as on public policy, labor organizing and community struggles.   It can be heard here, or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.  

    Published on: September 22, 2020

    The tentative deal that would have Oracle and Walmart acquiring Chinese app company TikTok apparently is more tentative than expected as involved parties disagreed about supposedly agreed-upon terms.

    The Trump administration said it would ban TikTok from operating in the US because of national security concerns about how China might use data gleaned from TikTok users.  Then only way to avoid an outright ban would be to sell US operations.

    Microsoft and Walmart then submitted a bid to acquire the company, competing with Oracle.

    Oracle won, and then Walmart got on board, looking to take advantage of TikTik's young user base to generate third-party marketplace sales and ad dollars.

    This is where things got confusing.  Oracle was going to take a 12.5 percent stake, Walmart a 7.5 percent stake, and TikTok's parent company,  ByteDance, said it would retain the balance of ownership until a planned IPO.  However, it argued that because ByteDance is majority-owned by US investors, the deal would meet US requirements.

    After first saying that it would bless the deal, and that the parties involved had agreed to put $5 billion into a US government-administered education fund of some sort (an agreement that ByteDance said was not true), the Trump administration now is saying that it will not allow the deal to go forward if there is any Chinese ownership.

    The New York Times reports that "Oracle said on Monday that as soon as the new company, TikTok Global, was created, ByteDance would lose its ownership stake in the service."  Which also was at odds with what ByteDance said was its understanding of the deal.

    And, the Times adds, "China could also scuttle the deal, which has become the latest front in a larger battle over whether the United States or China will control the internet."

    KC's View:


    You wouldn't think that it would be so hard to come to a deal understanding, or to write things down so that everybody is working from the same draft.  Unless what we have here is more political posturing and less business negotiation.

    To be honest, I'm still having trouble understanding why TikTok is more of a national security threat than hundreds of other apps and e-commerce sites from all over the world that accumulate data.

    Published on: September 22, 2020

    The Financial Times has a story about how it is at least possible that the UK has reached "peak Aldi."

    Here's the rationale:

    "The German discount grocer and its rival, Lidl, which only sell through stores, have missed out during the pandemic as more sales moved online. They are now hoping to claw back business as the economic downturn is expected to prompt shoppers to seek out lower prices. But industry experts said their recent rapid growth and competition from traditional supermarkets would make it harder for the discounters to take more business from rivals in this recession than in the last."

    FT notes that "Aldi has instigated a partnership with Deliveroo and launched a click-and-collect service. But these are small-scale trial initiatives. The company said it was 'listening closely to customer feedback' on both but that whatever it did online 'needs to fit with our low-cost operating model'. Lidl has come to broadly similar conclusions. Both companies are still aiming to grow by opening stores and winning over more shoppers as wages are squeezed and unemployment rises."

    KC's View:

    This is a question that a lot of retailers are wrestling with right now - to what extent has the acceleration of e-grocery that occurred during the pandemic created an entrenched consumer trend?

    Though, now that I write it, I actually think that it probably makes sense to avoid the word "entrenched" as much as possible.  If we've learned nothing else from the past six months, it should be that almost nothing is entrenched.

    Count me among the people who think that retailers need to not be one-trick ponies.  That they need to have a variety of weapons in their competitive arsenals that allow them to make fast pivots when the moment calls for it, and yet have a clear sense of self-definition and identity so that ever move reflects the integrity and value proposition of the brand.

    Trader Joe's is an example of this.  The folks there clearly have made the determination that e-commerce, click-and-collect and delivery have no place in the brand's ecosystem.  I have no problem with that - though it will limit my shopping at Trader Joe's for the foreseeable future, and, I suspect, other people's.  There is such a thing as the intelligent loss of business, and that's the best Trader Joe's is making, even if it limits growth.  (Short-term growth?  Long-term growth?  We'll see.)

    As for Aldi … this seems to be what it is trying to do, though the FT story seems to be suggesting that however many toes it dips into the e-commerce waters, it plans to stay resolutely on the path of discount stores that appeal to value-minded customers.

    Published on: September 22, 2020

    Uber Eats is out with a new commercial, and while I'm not sure this will attract any new users, it'll certainly resonate for anyone who has fantasized about a Star Trek - Star Wars crossover.

    May the force within you live long and prosper.

    Published on: September 22, 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've now had 7,046,216 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 204,506 deaths and 4,299,525 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there now have been 31,505,247 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 969,771 fatalities and 23,132,404 reported recoveries.

    •  From the New York Times:

    "As the pandemic wears on and school begins across the country, women working in retail say they are being forced to choose between keeping their jobs and making sure their children can keep up with remote learning.

    "Women in all types of jobs are feeling this squeeze. According to a study last month by the Census Bureau, women were three times more likely than men to have left their job because of child-care issues during the pandemic. But the inflexibility of retail work schedules - where shifts can vary widely week-to-week and employees have little choice but to take the hours they are given - makes the pressure on those employees particularly acute and likely to lead to more women dropping out of the work force."

    The Times goes on:

    "The retail industry, the second-biggest private-sector employer in the United States after health care, has been roiled by the pandemic, with millions of people out of work. Women made up nearly half of the 15.7 million workers in retail before the pandemic, but they accounted for 65 percent of the industry’s job losses between February and June, according to a report from the center.

    "Those who have kept their jobs were heralded as heroes and rewarded with bonuses and temporary raises during the early months of the pandemic. However, many of these same retail workers find themselves struggling to fulfill endless parenting obligations while hanging onto jobs that seem increasingly precarious in a weak economy."

    •  The Washington Post reports on continued efforts by the World Health Organization (WHO) to warn that "young people are becoming primary spreaders of the virus in many countries. Several American studies published over the summer suggested that those under 18, with their high rate of infection and viral loads, play a much larger role in community spread of covid-19 than researchers previously believed. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently said that the long-term effects of covid-19 in young people - residual symptoms such as a high rate of cardiovascular abnormalities - are 'really troublesome'."

    The story goes on:  "Reports of Americans under 18 dying from coronavirus have become more regular in recent months, whether it’s a 17-year-old in Florida or a 2-month-old in Michigan. 'We are seeing young people who are dying from this virus,' said Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the WHO’s emerging disease and zoonosis unit, at a news conference last month."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has "pulled new guidelines acknowledging the new coronavirus could be transmitted by tiny particles that linger in the air, saying a draft version of proposed changes was posted in error on the agency’s website.

    "For months, the CDC said the new coronavirus is primarily transmitted between people in close contact through droplets that can land in the mouths or noses of people nearby. On Friday, however, it added that Covid-19 can also be spread by 'droplets or small particles, such as those in aerosols' that can be inhaled and cause infection.  Then abruptly on Monday, the CDC reversed course and removed the additions."

    More from the Journal:  "The CDC is still working on updating its recommendations regarding airborne transmission of the coronavirus, the spokesman said … The CDC wants to convey that aerosol transmission is possible, but not the primary method coronavirus spreads, according to a person familiar with the matter.

    "Another person familiar with the matter said that an internal push among some people within the agency to better communicate information about aerosol transmission led to the Friday change, but that the new guidelines didn’t go through appropriate vetting. The agency is reviewing how that happened, the person said."

    The argument seems to be over whether the virus can be transmitted primarily through droplets that are transmitted at close quarters, vs. aerosol that lingers in the air longer and further.  I get that … though it seems to me that at the moment, as we are still learning about Covid-19, it would make sense to simply say so, and then suggest that people are better off being safe by wearing masks more often, not less, and assuming the worst.

    That would be the responsible thing to do.  That would be the patriotic thing to do.  It is not necessarily the easiest thing to do, but the unwillingness in some quarters to take this seriously is galling and almost inexplicable.  But only almost.

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports on the limit advantages that so-called herd immunity would offer in terms of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

    "For the pandemic to stop, the coronavirus has to run out of susceptible hosts to infect," the Journal writes.  "Herd immunity occurs when enough people in a population develop an immune response, either through previous infection or vaccination, so that the virus can’t spread easily and even those who aren’t immune have protection.

    "By some estimates, 60% to 70% of people would have to be infected and develop immunity to the coronavirus before herd immunity would protect the rest of the population. Based on antibody tests, even Covid-19 hot spots like New York and Mumbai haven't reached these levels."

    Indeed, most infectious-disease experts "adamantly warn against the notion of trying to reach herd immunity to the coronavirus without a vaccine, as the costs on human life would be staggering and it likely wouldn’t happen soon, if at all."

    •  The Wall Street Journal also reports that "experts and medical groups increasingly say temperature checks, one of the most common initial screenings for the infection, aren’t a good gauge of Covid-19. Many infected children and adults don’t get fevers, and variability in individual temperatures, as well as questions about the accuracy of body-temperature scanners and infrared contact-free thermometers put such checks at risk of error."

    •  The Financial Times reports that because of a resurgence of the coronavirus in the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson "will on Tuesday abandon attempts to persuade Britons to return to the office, insisting that people should work from home 'if possible' as part of sweeping measures to control coronavirus. Mr Johnson will set out new Covid-19 restrictions in the House of Commons at lunchtime and in a televised address at 8pm will argue that the measures will help to stop the virus spread in social settings and work.

    "The prime minister will confirm plans to close all pubs, restaurants and bars at 10pm … in a move that has alarmed the hospitality sector, which is already struggling. But Mr Johnson will deliver another blow to the economy, particularly city centres, by abandoning his efforts earlier this month to persuade workers to have 'the confidence' to return to their offices."

    •  Fox Business reports that "7-Eleven is seeking to hire an additional 20,000 employees nationwide as it looks to meet continued demand for its products amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

    "The new hires, which will fill positions across more than 9,000 U.S. stores, will also help with orders through the company's 7NOW delivery app, which has seen an uptick in orders since the pandemic hit the country earlier this month, the company announced Monday."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that Sizzler USA has filed for bankruptcy because of a significant drop-off in sales because of the pandemic.

    Sizzler USA says that it hopes its 14 company-owned stores and more than 90 franchised units can remain open while it uses the bankruptcy filing to renegotiate leases.

    •  The Associated Press reports that "an eighth death has been linked to a coronavirus outbreak stemming from a wedding and reception in the northern part of Maine … The wedding and reception in the Millinocket area on Aug. 7 is linked to more than 270 cases of COVID-19, including in an outbreak at a nursing home in Madison and a jail."

    None of the eight people who have died were at the wedding.

    Published on: September 22, 2020

    •  It has been some three years since MNB looked at the early days of Farmstead, the San Francisco-based pure play online grocer that claimed to have figured out how to offer free delivery of a limited selection of fresh and packaged groceries using AI and microhubs.

    It seemed like a good time to check back in with co-founder and CEO Pradeep Elankumaran to see how the pandemic has affected growth, and learn more about how it is planing to license out its Grocery OS technology to other retailers around the country…

    Published on: September 22, 2020

    •  CNBC reports that "Walmart is doubling down on its expansion into fashion with a new casual clothing line for men and women called Free Assembly.

    "The brand will debut this week online and in 250 stores, hoping to appeal to shoppers who want style and value."

    The goal is to use the coronavirus - which has closed numerous clothings stores while at the same time sending  fashion trends in new and casual directions because of work-from-home orders - as a way to establish stronger fashion credibility, especially at a time when the country is dealing with an economic downturn.

    •  Walmart-owned Asda announced that it "is trialling a new convenience proposition, to provide customers with greater access to the supermarket’s great products and prices. The new offer branded ‘Asda On the Move’ will initially be trialled at EG Group fuel station forecourts in Ashby, Leamore and Primley in the Midlands.

    "The trial of a new convenience proposition follows the successful launch of Asda’s partnership with Uber Eats in July, which has now been expanded to 25 stores, as the speed and convenience of this service proves increasingly popular with customers."

    Published on: September 22, 2020

    •  CNN reports that Hy-Vee is teaming up with shoe retailer DSW to open 1,200 square foot mini shoe stores inside its supermarkets.

    According to the story, "The first two DSW shops opened this month in Minneapolis. A total of six are expected to launch in the city by the end of September, with plans to roll out dozens more in 2021, DSW owner Designer Brands said Monday … It's the latest example of retailers adding locations in or near grocery stores to reach consumers where they are shopping the most."

    •  The Hill reports that "Foot Locker is partnering with Rock The Vote to provide voter registration services to Americans shopping in any of its stores across the country beginning this week."

    The initiative, timed to coincide with National Voter registration Day (which is today), will "allow customers to register to vote inside Foot Locker stores across the country. The company has also launched a voter registration portal on its website."

    • It ain't pretty … but it is a sign of the times:

    Published on: September 22, 2020

    Donald M. Kendall, who served as CEO of PepsiCo from 1963 to 1986, growing its sales almost 40-fold and turning it into a global beverage and snack behemoth not to mention a company that coined concepts like "the Pepsi Generation" and "the Pepsi challenge," has passed away.  He was 99.

    Published on: September 22, 2020

    Got the following email about the new TikTok deal that has Walmart as a part of it (with Oracle, not Microsoft):

    Need I say “You were right”?….Last week when you predicted that the TikTok deal wasn’t over-til-it’s-over.  

    Having worked with Doug McMillon, I know he’s not one to take “no” for an answer.  I would bet on his tenacity, creativity and negotiating skills any day.  Walmart won big on this one.  Now let’s watch Doug and team turn TikTok into the media and customer marketing juggernaut that it can be for retail and brands.

    I never mind people telling me that I was right.  Doesn't happen every often, but I'll take it where I can get it.

    Also regarding the TikTok deal with Oracle and Walmart, one MNB reader wrote:

    Oracle’s Larry Ellison is a major Trump donor – I’m sure that had nothing to do with this last-minute deal coming together…

    Published on: September 22, 2020

    In Monday Night Football action. the Las Vegas Raiders defeated the New Orleans Saints 34-24.

    Published on: September 22, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    Just a final few thoughts…

    I was reminded this morning that today is the first day of autumn.

    Which means that we've gone through two entire seasons of dealing with the pandemic in our personal and professional lives, with no immediate end in sight.

    It made me curious.  What was I saying back on the first day of spring - March 19, 2020.

    So I looked.

    I got a bunch of things wrong - mostly about the degree to which sports would be able to be played as the coronavirus continued to spread.  I underestimated the ability of the leagues to figure out work-arounds, and to be honest, I'm glad I was wrong about that.

    But I think I got it right when I argued six months ago that this could be a lot worse if we didn't have the internet … it actually was going to allow us to be connected to loved ones and co-workers, to see movies and read books without going to a theater or the library, to get our work done without going to an office or get an education without going to school.  In its own way, that's extraordinary.  Never could have happened that way before in human history.

    Now, I'm not sure that it can be said that every government, company or person has taken advantage of the opportunities that the pandemic has created to reinvent themselves.  Some have.  Some haven't.

    I also think it isn't too late.  We can practice social distancing without being distant.  We also can wear masks without retreating into ourselves.  There remains the potential for us to come out of the pandemic - whenever that happens - better and more connected than before.

    Here's what was on my mind back on March 19,2020 … and as always, I want to hear what is on your mind.