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    Published on: October 1, 2020

    Portland, Oregon, has had a tough year.  Pandemic.  Civil unrest.  Wildfires.  A lot of businesses - including a lot of its wonderful restaurants - have closed.  But the area's high level of culinary excellence is about to get a little positive attention.

    Published on: October 1, 2020

    Walmart said yesterday that it has begun the process of giving its stores a makeover that will mean "reimagining ways to create seamless omni-shopping experiences that save our customers time and inspire them whether in-store, online or via mobile."

    Janey Whiteside, EVP and Chief Customer Officer, said in a prepared statement that, "developed through a customer-centric lens, the design creates an elevated experience that appeals to shoppers through a sleek design aesthetic, a layout that spotlights products and an end-to-end digital navigation that guides customers throughout their journeys."

    Some elements of the new design as described by Whiteside:

    "We’ve updated the Walmart signage on the exterior and interior of stores to reflect the Walmart app icon, creating an instant omni-shopping experience in the customer’s mind. As customers enter the store, they are greeted with clean, colorful iconography and a store directory that encourages them to download and use the Walmart app while they shop … By creating a system that acknowledges our app navigation from beginning to end, we create an optimized omni experience for both customers and associates."

    "Stores will include self-checkout kiosks as well as contactless payment solutions, including Walmart Pay, to limit contact between associates and customers. Select locations will also have Scan & Go to help customers manage their checkout directly."

    "We were inspired by airport wayfinding systems as best-in-class examples of how to direct large groups of people. We developed simple yet thoughtful designs to replicate these navigation efficiencies, which will help us move customers through the store more quickly.  We also optimized product layout, bringing greater visibility to key items throughout the store, including dedicated in-store sections for electronics, toys, baby products and more."

    Whiteside says, "We’ve tested the new concept in select stores and are excited by the initial feedback from customers and associates. We’ll be rolling it out to more stores this fall and will continue to get customer and associate feedback and evolve the design accordingly. By the end of this fiscal year, the experience will be in nearly 200 Supercenters as well as in select Health Centers and Neighborhood Markets, reaching close to 1,000 stores by next fiscal year. 

    KC's View:

    The premise that the digital and the physical ought to be better integrated strikes me as inarguable, and it sounds like Walmart is trying to do that.  But I'm not sure they have gone far enough.

    I will be interested to see how these redesigned stores reflect the Walmart+ program.  Special registers?  Maybe a section only open to them?  Special pricing that reinforces the value of the program (like at Whole Foods)?  A only-to-Walmart+ customers display that promotes subscription/automatic replenishment services?

    So far, as I've said here, the Walmart+ online offering strikes me as underwhelming.  This is an opportunity to really drive value and build awareness.  Walmart would be foolish to ignore it if it is really committed to the program.

    Published on: October 1, 2020

    From the St. Louis Post Dispatch:

    "Aisle-roaming robots are coming to an additional 46 Schnuck Market stores to help with tasks such as looking for out-of-stock items and verifying prices.

    "Each 30-pound robot named Tally is equipped with sensors to help it navigate the store’s layout and avoid bumping into customers’ carts. When it detects areas that aren’t fully stocked, the data is shared with store management.

    "The added robots means a Tally will be in 62 stores — more than half of the chain, Schnucks said Wednesday."

    The expansion, Schnucks says, means that the robots will be scanning more than four million items a day.

    Schnuck Markets began testing the system, manufactured by Simbe Robotics, more than three years ago.

    Here's a promotional video produced by Simbe:

    KC's View:

    The union has been sort of agnostic about the robots, concerned about the effect on employees but understand that retailers have to strike a balance and cannot ignore the opportunities that technology can offer.

    As I watch the video, though, I find myself wondering how much better it would be if there were people stocking shelves who could actually engage with shoppers, answering questions about products and even indulging in a little bit of salesmanship.  Would that create a better store experience than what essentially is a large calculator?

    Published on: October 1, 2020

    Save Mart announced that its flagship store in Modesto, California, has launched a new contactless delivery service that uses a robot to deliver up to 20 pounds of groceries to locations as far as two miles away from the store.

    The robots, the announcement says, "provide a safe, low-cost and contactless delivery alternative for Save Mart shoppers."

    The robots are designed by Starship Technologies, which describes the technology this way:

    "Its robots have completed over 500,000 autonomous deliveries and crossed more than five million streets. The robots move at pedestrian speed and use a combination of sophisticated machine learning, artificial intelligence and sensors to travel on sidewalks and navigate around obstacles. The computer vision-based navigation helps the robots to map their environment to the nearest inch. The robots can cross streets, climb curbs, travel at night and operate in both rain and snow. A team of humans can also monitor their progress remotely and can take control at a moment’s notice."

    Here is a promotional video provided by Starship Technologies and Save Mart:

    KC's View:

    I think this is fascinating, but will be really impressed when Save Mart expands this to more of the 200+ stores that it operates under various banners.

    Published on: October 1, 2020

    From TechCrunch:

    "Amazon today is launching a new service called Amazon Explore that allows customers to book live, virtual experiences led by local experts. The experiences may be focused on creativity, learning DIY skills, taking virtual tours of far-off places or cultural landmarks or, in some cases, shopping local boutiques from around the world.

    "For example, you could book a virtual wine tasting experience in Argentina, learn how to make smoked fish tacos in Mexico, take a virtual tour of Kyoto’s Temple, tour a 500-year-old mansion in Peru, learn about coffee creation in Costa Rica, learn how to make sushi from a home kitchen in Tokyo and more … The virtual experiences themselves will be guided by local experts who are trained and supported by Amazon, the company says … it’s a one-on-one session between the host and the viewer, enabled by one-way video and two-way audio for real-time communication. This is meant to give the viewer more of the feeling of really 'being there,' compared with experiences where you more passively watch the video on the screen."

    The story says that Amazon Explore currently is being offered only on an invitation-only basis.

    KC's View:

    Next step:  Amazon Holodeck.  (There have to be some folks in Seattle working on this.)

    Published on: October 1, 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, there now have been 7,447,693 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, 211,752 deaths and 4,700,746 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 34,185,646 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 1,019,165 fatalities and 25,446,745 reported recoveries.

    •  From Axios:

    "New coronavirus infections rose over the past week in half the country … The number of new daily infections rose in 25 states, spanning every region of the country. New Mexico recorded the biggest spike, at over 50%.

    "That broad, nationwide increase was offset by continued progress in pockets of the southern U.S. Only eight states saw their new infections decline over the past week, but that group includes the populous states of Arizona, Florida, Texas and Virginia."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Coronavirus infection rates in the U.S. remain elevated, and now that states are reopening schools and businesses, there is high demand for tests to monitor the pandemic’s spread … Public health experts say that frequent, comprehensive testing will be critical to containing the pandemic, especially as states reopen schools and businesses and cooler weather increases the likelihood of indoor interactions that could hasten the virus’s spread."

    The Journal goes on:

    "In New York City, restaurants were preparing for the resumption of indoor dining, even as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio warned of worrying clusters of new infections in parts of Brooklyn and the northern suburbs.

    "Florida resumed indoor dining without limitations on seating last week, and banned penalties for failing to wear masks, even as the state averages more than 2,300 new cases of Covid-19 per day.

    "In North Carolina, the daily average of new confirmed cases rose to more than 1,900 over the past week. Nevertheless, Gov. Roy Cooper said the state would move to Phase 3 of its reopening plan on Friday, allowing bars to open outdoor seating and movie theaters, amusement parks and meeting areas to reopen, all at reduced capacities.

    "Rates of Covid-19 have increased across Wisconsin, including in rural areas, said Laura D. Cassidy, professor and director of epidemiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Rates were particularly high among young adults at the end of summer, she said.  Wisconsin reported more than 2,000 new cases for Tuesday and the seven-day average stood at 2,255 cases, according to the state’s Department of Health Services."

    •  The New York Times reports that "New York City is reopening all its public schools on Thursday in a milestone for the city’s recovery from its position as the global epicenter of the pandemic and a hopeful sign for the country’s unsteady effort to return children to classrooms.

    "Middle and high school students are being welcomed to school buildings, following elementary school children who had started earlier this week.

    "About half a million students, from 3-year-olds in pre-K programs to high school seniors, have now returned to school for the first time since March.

    "Roughly another 480,000 children have opted to start the school year remote-only, an indication of how wary many New Yorkers are of sending their children back to classrooms in a city that still fears a second wave of the virus."

    •  The Boston Globe reports that Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh is saying that "positive COVID-19 cases have recently ticked up, and that officials are working to avoid having to 'shut down' the city again.

    "Speaking during his regular briefing at City Hall, Walsh said the seven-day average for positive tests in Boston for the week ending Sept. 26 was 3.5 percent, up from 2.2 percent the week before … That means, Walsh said, that indoor performance venues in Boston will remain closed and outdoor venues will maintain a 25 percent capacity limit. Businesses such as trampoline parks, roller rinks, laser tag, and fitting rooms at retail outlets remain closed."

    •  Also from Axios:

    "An increasing number of COVID-19 cases among school-aged children across the U.S. throughout September may be linked to school reopenings and other community activities resuming … The American Academy of Pediatrics reported this week that children of all ages make up 10% of U.S cases, up from 2% in April, per AP. As of Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counted more than 435,000 cases among children ages 0–17, and 93 deaths."

    •  Two different views of the potential for a coronavirus vaccine expressed in two different stories.

    The Financial Times has a story about how Moderna, one of the companies developing a vaccine, has said that it will not be able to apply for approvals until well after Election Day this year.

    According to the story, CEO "Stephane Bancel told the Financial Times on Wednesday that Moderna would not be ready to seek emergency use authorisation from the Food and Drug Administration before November 25 at the earliest. He added that he did not expect to have full approval to distribute the drug to all sections of the population until next spring."

    Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that Pfizer CEO Dr. Albert Bourla is saying that he predicts that the company will have "an answer" by the end of October.

    The Times writes that "by repeating a date that flies in the face of most scientific predictions, Dr. Bourla is making a high-stakes gamble. If Pfizer puts out a vaccine before it has been thoroughly tested - something the company has pledged it will not do - it could pose a major threat to public safety."

    A company spokesperson does walk back the prediction to some extent:  "Pfizer will not be anywhere near completion of its clinical trial by the end of October, according to a company spokeswoman. When Dr. Bourla referred to a 'conclusive readout' next month, she said, he meant that it’s possible the outside board of experts monitoring the trial would have by that date found promising signs that the vaccine works."

    There's also another interesting passage from the Times story:  "Unlike Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, which have said they will not profit from their products during the pandemic, Pfizer has made no such promises.

    "It also has not taken federal money to develop its vaccine, instead signing a $1.95 billion deal to sell the first 100 million doses of its vaccine to the U.S. government. Dr. Bourla has said that the company didn’t accept federal investment in its research and development so that the government wouldn’t be able to control the price of the vaccine later on."

    •  The Daily Mail reports on a new Axios-Ipsos poll saying that more Americans say that they'll trust a vaccine recommended by health experts than by politicians.

    Fewer than one out of five people say they'll take a coronavirus vaccine first recommended by the White House, but more than twice as many say they'd take the vaccine if it is recommended by the US Food and Drug Administration.  Three times as many say they'd take a vaccine recommended by their doctor.

    I am reassured that we live in a world where more people trust scientists than politicians.

    •  From the Los Angeles Times:

    "A state agency responsible for protecting the health and safety of workers hit five grocery stores in Los Angeles and Culver City with coronavirus-related citations, it announced Wednesday.

    "California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, known as Cal/OSHA, found that a Ralphs in Culver City as well as one in Sherman Oaks each failed to report a worker’s death from COVID-19. A Food 4 Less store allowed too many customers inside, preventing workers from maintaining a recommended six feet of physical distance and putting them at risk for serious illness, the agency said.

    "In total, four Ralphs stores and one Food 4 Less received citations Sept. 24 for failing to protect workers from exposure to the coronavirus because they did not update their workplace safety plans to properly address hazards, according to a statement by California’s Department of Industrial Relations.

    "A Ralphs in Studio City did not install plexiglass barriers between employees and customers in the cheese department. A West Hollywood Ralphs failed to install similar barriers at eight registers. Several locations failed to provide training for their employees on how the virus spreads, how to identify signs and symptoms, and measures to avoid infection."

    All the stores cited are owned by Kroger, which has said that the charges reflect a "misrepresentation of the facts."  Kroger says it will appeal the citations, which could cost it more than $100,000 in fines.

    •  The National Football League has decided to postpone Sunday's Tennessee Titans-Pittsburgh Steelers game on Sunday until Monday or Tuesday, after another Titans player tested positive for Covid-19.

    Eight members of the Titans organization now have tested positive.  Both the Titans and the Minnesota Vikings - who played the Titans last weekend - have suspended all in-person activities for the time being.  Nobody on the Vikings has yet tested positive and for time being, the Vikings-Houston Texans game is still to be played on Sunday as scheduled.

    •  Axios reports on how "scientists are racing to learn more about the damage the novel coronavirus can do to the heart, lungs and brain … It’s becoming increasingly clear that some patients struggle with its health consequences — and costs — far longer than a few weeks … The virus can have a severe impact on the lungs, as you might expect. Pneumonia associated with the disease can damage air sacs in the lungs, and the resulting scar tissue can cause long-term breathing problems.

    "But researchers conducting autopsies have also found evidence of the virus in parts of the brain, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract and in the cells that line blood vessels … One of the most attention-grabbing effects of the virus is its link to myocarditis, particularly because of concerns about the dangers the heart disease poses to athletes."

    •  Axios reports on one impact from the pandemic:  "Americans reported drinking alcohol more frequently and in higher quantities since last year, according to a study published in JAMA."

    According to the story, " The greatest changes were among women and people 30 to 59 years old.  On average, alcohol was consumed one day more per month by three of four adults.

    "Frequency of alcohol consumption for women increased by 17%. Heavy drinking among women — four or more drinks within a few hours — spiked 41% since 2019.

    "Adults aged 30 to 59 years increased their drinking by 19% since last year."

    The problem:  "Excessive alcohol consumption may cause or worsen mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression. Experts have also warned the stress of the pandemic has fomented alcohol and drug abuse."

    Published on: October 1, 2020

    Forbes has s story about how Minnesota's Mall of America has developed a new, rent-free section called Community Commons that is designed to "be populated by local, Minneapolis-based boutiques, restaurant and art galleries that were shuttered in the spring."

    Seventeen business have gotten through the application and will share a space formerly occupied by a beauty chain that went out of business.

    Some context from Forbes:

    "Besides being a generous and community-minded gesture, the addition of small, entrepreneurial retailers to MOA is a draw to consumers who want to contribute to the sustainability of these hard hit retailers, many of whom existed on the margins of retailing.

    "Additionally, with the failure of so many national specialty retailers due to bankruptcies, mall of all sizes need to be creative in finding or even creating new 'retail life.'  Once more, the notion of 'shop small' and keeping it local, often seen as antithetic to major regional malls, is exactly what consumers are looking for right now."

    KC's View:

    Think of this as mutual assistance … since malls have no other choice but find new and potentially differentiating tenants, lest they be turned into community colleges, health care centers, and/or  senior citizen housing.

    Published on: October 1, 2020

    •  The BBC reports that for the first time since 1996, when an outbreak of Mad Cow Disease led to a ban on British beef in the US, some UK beef will now be sold in the US - an expansion that could be worth more the equivalent of more than $80 million to the industry over the next five years.

    •  Hy-Vee announced that "it is now offering childhood vaccinations through its more than 270 pharmacy locations in eight states.

    "Immunizations typically given at well-child visits by a physician can now be administered by a Hy-Vee pharmacist without a prescription or an appointment. Medicaid and most insurance plans cover immunizations at no charge. The news comes at a time when many families are making plans to get their annual flu shot – of which Hy-Vee has plenty of supply … Also, customers are now able to complete and submit their Vaccine Consent Form as well as book an appointment for vaccinations or flu shots in advance online."

    •  ShopRite yesterday announced that "its popular ShopRite Deli & More app has become ShopRite Order Express, providing an even easier way for customers to order their favorite fresh deli meats, cheeses, meals-to-go, catering, appetizers, special occasion cakes and more from different ShopRite departments … Using the refreshed app, customers can order platters and catering with just the touch of a button. Options on the catering side include choices such as cakes and desserts, sandwich platters, appetizers, entrees, fruits and veggies, salads, sides, seafood, sushi, even floral arrangements and balloons.

    "In addition, the new ShopRite Order Express app offers timesaving features such as a custom cake builder where shoppers can design their own special occasion cake online. Personalization options for cake design include flavors, filling, frosting colors and messages."

    Published on: October 1, 2020

    Yesterday's FaceTime video was about what I thought was a really good customer service experience I had with Netflix when I changed from a DVD-and-streaming subscription to just streaming.  (I found an old DVD that had been rented years before, which is what got me thinking about it.  Netflix didn't charge me for two that were lost.)

    One MNB reader responded:

    Great video clip on NetFlix’s customer service.

    I certainly wish more companies would empower their customer service agents to make the call as described in your experience with NetFlix – that is the way it should be.

    I’ve been a Direct TV customer for years and for the last several years, I’ve found their customer service becoming worse and worse.

    Calling their customer service is very painful… to actually get to an agent takes forever.  And I get calls all the time throughout the day and night from AT&T/Direct TV trying to sell me a phone plan, or security service or enroll me in Showtime, etc. and when I say no thank you, the agent just hangs up!

    Of the last dozen unsolicited calls I’ve received from AT&T, only one time did the agent say thanks for being a customer before hanging up – all other calls the agent hangs up.

    I’ve thought hard about buying 1 share of AT&T stock just to attend a shareholder meeting to ask the CEO “why does he allow his employees to hang up on their customers?”

    From another reader:

    Wow, that is exceptional customer service.  Hope similar things happen to me in the future.  But then I wondered, would the right thing to do on my end be to pay the $15 for the lost DVD.  That would be holding up my end of the “contract”.

    Maybe.  But if they're not going to charge me because I'm a good customer, I'm going to be gracious enough to accept the offer.

    And from another reader:

    Interesting to hear your Netflix interaction.  I had a different reason for calling and a much different outcome.

    I was just going through my AmEx statement (even though I still get print bills, this is something I rarely do and even then only scan through it).  This time something caught my eye – I saw a Netflix charge, on the 21st, then when I was shuffling the paper back to the front (it was a big bill, one reason I was going through it), I saw another Netflix charge, and then another one.  Needless to say, to my knowledge, I only have one account that I began in 2017 (not nearly as long as your 2002 start).  Intrigued and perhaps a bit miffed, I went online to look at AmEx charges for Netflix and found 3 charges/month going back to November 2019 (the farthest back I could search on AmEx).

    I logged onto my Netflix account and found a Live Chat feature.  After what seems like a lot of back and forth about my situation, I was told by the CR that the 2 accounts were linked to “gibberish” email accounts but were effectively fraudulent.  Netflix would provide a single refund of $15.99 and put a lock on my account so that the accounts could not be restarted, but that I would need to report it to my credit card.  Their policy is they can only refund one month of overcharges and would do nothing about the additional $285 of extra charges seen on AmEx.  Following this Live Chat, after another long interaction with AmEx, AmEx said they would refund 10 ½ months of the overcharging ($335) as part of their fraud investigation and would send me bills going back to 2015 to see if I found more charges that I would have to report to AmEx with proof (highlighted charges on my bills).  Needless to say, I looked those up myself and found the charges started in June 2018.  A total of $875 has been charged on my AmEx for the 2 fraudulent accounts.

    While I understand that I did not notice the overcharges for 2 ½ years and it is my responsibility to review my own bills, I was surprised that it was being dropped back into my lap, first by Netflix with their one monthly charge refund rule and then by AmEx who would need to receive 17 monthly bills with highlighted charges to provide any additional restitution.  Netflix could clearly see that the accounts were linked to “gibberish” emails and were presumably fraudulent, but had never reached out and let me know about the accounts, or inquire if I was using them.  They were just happy to have 2 extra payments from one customer.  Interesting too, that AmEx has not sent me any additional bills so that I may recover more of my loss.

    And from yet another reader:

    This happened about a year or so ago … I got an email from Netflix that my password and email address was changed and asked me if I authorized it. I did not! After double checking the email to make sure it was legit, I called Netflix and informed them I did not change anything on my account. They informed me; my primary language had also changed from English to Spanish. I am not sure how they broke into my account because I did not have a simple password or one that could be easily guest and have not had any other account compromised at the time or since.

    After they verified, I was the account holder, they reset all devices that had my Netflix account on, sent me an email to reset my password and kept English as my primary language. This all happens in about an hour or so, from the time they hijack my account to me finding out from Netflix, Netflix resetting my account and getting the email from them to reset my password.

    When I got home, I had to log on to Netflix for each device I wanted to use it on. It was nice to see they had my back covered and the fraud didn't last long. It's a reason to stay a customer of Netflix.  

    MNB reader Adam Dill wrote:

    The real question…what were the 2 DVDs you found?  

    The Bridge on the River Kwai.  And Angels & Demons.

    And another MNB reader wrote:

    Ha Ha!! We still get those red Netflix envelopes!


    Well, if you want to watch The Bridge on the River Kwai or Angels & Demons, there are a couple of DVDs back in the system.

    Responding to a story about shoppers working for online delivery services are making the store experience problematic, one MNB reader wrote:

    I rarely reply to your posts but had to! This one is so important - and full disclosure I worked for Whole Foods for 10 years and the shopping experience was one of our differentiators.

    I  am a person that likes (liked?) to shop for my food. Some of the older WFM stores are especially harder to shop in, like mine in Silver Spring, MD which was an old Fresh Fields location. It is small, like a Trader Joe’s. So to navigate around the Amazon Prime Shoppers is nearly impossible. And because they don’t know the store, they are often handing their phone over to the butcher or other Team Members trying to get help, but need to rush because time is money. I  support the gig economy and know these workers need to make ends meet like all of us, but like you note, there are two types of stores now. 

    With so many retailers/restaurants closing, I’m curious if the dark hubs (logistics-centric) stores will take their place. Probably not ideal for communities that want store-fronts but I  don't know what else will fill these vacancies. 

    Published on: October 1, 2020

    The best-of-three Major League Baseball Wild Card Series continued last night…

    In the American League:

    •  The New York Yankees defeated the Cleveland Indians 10-9, winning their series two-games-to-none and moving on now to the American League Divisional Series.

    •  The Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 8-2, sweeping their series two-games-to-none and moving on now to the American League Divisional Series.

    The Yankees will play the Rays in the ALDS, which begins on Monday, October 5 at Petco Park in San Diego.

    •  The Houston Astros defeated the Minnesota Twins 3-1, winning their series two-games-to-none and moving on now to the American League Divisional Series.

    •  And the Oakland Athletics beat the Chicago White Sox 5-3, tying their series at one game apiece.

    The Astros will play the winner of the Athletics-White Sox series in the ALDS, also beginning on October 5 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

    In the National League:

    •  The Atlanta Braves beat the Cincinnati Reds 1-0 to take a 1-0 game lead.

    •  The Miami Marlins defeated the Chicago Cubs 5-1, taking a 1-0 game lead.

    •  The St. Louis Cardinals beat the San Diego Padres 7-4 to take a 1-0 game lead.

    •  And the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Milwaukee Brewers 4-2 to take a 1-0 game lead.