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    Published on: October 16, 2020

    That's right.  KC has frequently - and sometimes, to some readers, nauseatingly - been critical of Instacart.  Or, at least, of retailers who do business with Instacart.  But today, he wants to say something nice about the company by talking about something it is doing right.

    The only question he would ask retailers is, why aren't you doing this yourself?

    Published on: October 16, 2020

    Amazon said yesterday that third-party sellers on its Marketplace generated more than $3.5 billion in sales, saying that this represented "an increase of nearly 60% compared with last year and a record for the small and midsize businesses that make up the marketplace," CNBC reports.

    The company did not provide figures for total 2020 Prime Day sales, though inevitably there shortly will be estimates from a variety of organizations and sources.  

    DigitalCommerce 360, for example, estimates that "Amazon’s sales on Prime Day hit $10.40 billion globally over the two-day period spanning Oct. 13 and Oct. 14, up from $7.16 billion during the 48-hour event in July 2019."

    CNBC writes, "Third-party sellers are of growing importance to Amazon, accounting for about 58% of the company’s total merchandise sold. At that percentage, Amazon stands to have generated at least $7 billion in sales during this year’s Prime Day. Previously, JPMorgan forecast this year’s event could bring in revenue of $7.5 billion, while eMarketer targeted sales of close to $10 billion."

    CNN reported that Amazon went to great pains to emphasize "how small businesses benefited from Prime Day instead. The change comes as Amazon faces intense scrutiny from lawmakers about its power over independent merchants that sell goods through its website and other tactics that critics argue stifle competition.

    "Amazon said in a press release Thursday that Prime Day, a two-day event that took place earlier this week marked the 'two biggest days ever' for small and medium-sized businesses. Prime Day usually takes place in July but was rescheduled this year due to the coronavirus."

    KC's View:

    I think that the other day I suggested that I'd bet the over when guessing about how much business Amazon would do during the Prime Day promotion this year.  Probably got that right.  (It wasn't a hard bet.)

    I have to admit, though, that the Prime Day stories that I found the most interesting were ones like the piece by Michelle Singletary in the Washington Post that argued it is important to remember one thing - no matter how much money Amazon or any other retailer tell you they are saving you, the fact is that "you never save when you spend … A sale is just a retailer’s ploy to get you to think you’re saving money on your purchase."

    Which is why I nosed around Amazon a little bit this week, out of curiosity, but didn't spend money on anything I wouldn't have bought anyway.

    There also was a piece in The New Republic that took a moral position against Amazon and Prime Day.  Here's an excerpt:

    "This year, in the lead-up to Amazon Prime Day, Forbes reported that Jeff Bezos and his ex-wife Mackenzie Scott had respectively gotten $8.8 billion and $3 billion richer over the course of a week, thanks to a rebound in Amazon share prices. Because Bezos’s fortune has grown so astronomically throughout the pandemic—that is, during the same cataclysmic event that destroyed the economy and put as many as 40 million people out of work—updates on his snowballing wealth are at this point hardly shocking (if no less nauseating). But this year, the same annual shopping event that lines his already overstuffed pockets could potentially be a matter of life and death for those lower down on the company ladder.

    "According to at least one estimate, Amazon is expected to rake in close to $10 billion in sales from this year’s Prime Day, which usually takes place in July but was rescheduled this summer because of the pandemic. (How thoughtful!) Its workers, of course, won’t be sharing in that bounty unless you count some mandatory overtime. This year, Prime Day also comes right on the heels of a new disclosure by the company—following pressure from workers and labor unions—that nearly 20,000 of its employees had tested positive for Covid-19 to date. As CNN reported, Amazon workers scheduled for Prime Day shifts said they were worried about crowded warehouses and the strain of extra work; one union in the U.K. warned that the increased staffing required by the event could lead to further Covid-19 outbreaks. (Amazon, for its part, dismissed this rather feasible scenario as 'scaremongering.')"

    Such stories remind us that it is not just about dollars.

    Published on: October 16, 2020

    The National Retail Federation (NRF) Foundation yesterday began offering programs designed to help retail employees enforce rules that create a workplace that is as safe as possible in an age of pandemic.

    The programs consist of "two new credentials in its RISE Up program in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The credentials focus on Retail Operations and Customer Conflict Prevention."

    According to the announcement, "The NRF Foundation partnered with the Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI), a global leader in verbal de-escalation trainings, to create the COVID-19 Customer Conflict Prevention credential. Developed specifically for customer-facing retail workers and job seekers, the program focuses on how to help avoid and de-escalate conflict. This training is specific to retail’s unique challenges, including mask requirements for customers, customer-to-customer conflicts and line management. It will help equip employees with the skills they need to better manage and resolve customer conflicts, especially during the busy holiday season."

    KC's View:

    Wouldn't it be nice if we lived in a world where retail employees did not have to worry about such things?  I'm not talking about a world without pandemic (though that would be nice, too), but rather a world in which people take seriously their responsibilities to each other, in which people understand that wearing a mask is not an act of capitulation but rather an act of patriotism and basic humanity.

    To be fair, NRF's commentary about the new offerings is not as cynical as mine; it says that while there is no data about in-store confrontations, it believe sit is responding to consumers' desire for clarity about rules and enforcement from retailers.

    Published on: October 16, 2020

    Walmart CEO Doug McMillon weighed in yesterday, via a USA Today op-ed piece, on the role that businesses need to play in addressing social justice issues in the US, speaking specifically in his role as chairman of the Business Roundtable.

    An excerpt:

    "As anybody who’s had to move something of significant weight knows, sheer force won’t do the job. The great achievements of ancient societies were built using levers and fulcrums. That’s how great weights were moved and used to build and create.

    "The business community has worked over the years to help move the weight of racism that presses on people of color and their communities; we’ve tried to help shift the balance and build something new.

    "But it’s clear we need to do more. It's also clear that we, alone, can’t accomplish what has to be done. It will take broad cooperation of leaders from every sector of society working together to create a force sufficient enough to bring about the necessary change. So that’s what we’re doing."

    McMillon went on:

    "Although racial inequities cut across socioeconomic groups, we’ve concentrated our efforts as large employers on six areas to close the economic opportunity gap. In addition to justice and health, we will endorse increased federal investments in early childhood education and in measures to address the digital divide.

    "Roundtable members are working to increase funding for community lenders and to expand access to low-cost financial products to help those who are not served or are underserved by banks. We’re also taking action to increase funding and mentorship for Black and Latino small business owners.

    "In the area of employment, we’re calling on companies to report annually on their progress to increase diversity in senior management and on their boards. We’re also launching an initiative to make sure that companies are open to hiring anyone who has the right skills, even if they don’t have a college degree … We’ve endorsed federal legislation to address barriers to successful reentry for formerly incarcerated individuals and to help prepare them to reenter the workforce, which is key to curbing recidivism. 

    "Finally, because housing has a direct relationship to wellbeing, opportunity and upward mobility, our members are setting a goal of producing and preserving 200,000 affordable housing units."

    McMillon concluded:  "This moment in time is the fulcrum — the pivot point on which the weight of past and future are balanced. With the force of hope, the power of unyielding commitment and the spirit of good, I believe we can move the great weight that not only exerts a relentless downward pressure on Black people but also becomes more unbearable for all of us.

    "Once out from under that weight, we can all stand up, together; find strength, together; and build opportunity for all, together."

    KC's View:

    McMillon also is right about something else - that while these "initiatives are significant," as written, "they carry no more weight than the paper they’re printed on. Any power they have will come from the energy, resources and sustained commitment we put behind them — it will take the full weight of business, in cooperation with other leaders, to drive change. But we must act, and we must act now."

    Like my mom used to say:  Actions speak louder than words.  *(She usually said that when my actions did not measure up.)

    Published on: October 16, 2020

    Forbes reports on how, "over the last decade, the wine world has slowly been shifting to embrace technology, particularly e-commerce. But with restaurants and tasting rooms closed and drinkers stuck at home, 2020 pushed wineries and retailers to get digital—even if they did not want to … At the start of the pandemic, home drinkers started buying wine in a frenzy. Nielsen data researchers noted off-premise wine sales in the U.S. are up 27.6% across the board in the week ending on March 14 relative to the same week a year ago."

    The story goes on:

    "Outside retail, wineries are being pushed online—even brands that stayed adamantly analogue over the last decade have been forced to set up online shops with tasting rooms revenue gone. Wineries of all sizes are creating online pseudo-visiting experiences, wooing drinkers with the promise of virtual tastings and doorstep delivery … The rise of e-commerce also poses the question—how do wineries replace the experience of sitting down for a glass in a vineyard and hearing the story behind the wines from the grower himself? While pandemic has seen the advent of virtual happy hours, few, if none at all, have been able to replicate the immersive experience of visiting a vineyard and connecting a consumer and a wine on an intimate level."

    KC's View:

    I actually think that while some level of intimacy has been lost because wine drinkers can experience terroir firsthand, the levels of accessibility and innovation that have been achieved have more than compensated.  These businesses were forced to innovate so quickly that they didn't think of it as innovation - they just thought about it as survival.

    The challenge will be to find new ways to connect to consumers going forward, when pandemic pressures lessen.  That'll be the real test.

    Published on: October 16, 2020

    The New York Times reports that in the UK, "three major retailers — the grocery chains Morrisons and Waitrose and the department store company John Lewis — have announced that they will not use glitter in their in-house brand, single-use Christmas products this year. That means no glittery snowflakes on Christmas cards, no sparkling snowmen on stickers, and no twinkling stars on wrapping paper."

    The reason, according to Morrisons:  "Glitter is made from tiny particles of plastic and is an ecological hazard if it becomes dispersed on land, rivers and oceans — where it takes hundreds of years to degrade."

    The Times notes that "it appears that no similar glitter reckoning is underway in the United States. Major retailers including Walmart, Target, Walgreens, CVS and Costco did not immediately respond to questions about whether they were making efforts to ban or limit glitter. The Environmental Protection Agency did not respond to questions about whether regulators or companies were taking steps to ban glitter in the United States, or how glitter bans could affect the environment."

    KC's View:

    Seems like a small price to pay to do something positive for the environment … just get rid of the damned stuff.  It isn't that important, and certainly not as important as nurturing a fragile planet.

    In "The Merchant of Venice," which is where the "all that glisters is not gold" line comes from ("glisters" being an early word for "glitters"), a line that follows goes, "Had you been as wise as bold, Young in limbs, in judgment old."  Which seems appropriate.  In such things, it would be nice if we were as wise as bold, and show judgement beyond our years.

    Published on: October 16, 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 8,219,123 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 222,754 deaths and 5,320,386 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 39,229,001 confirmed coronavirus cases, 1,103,719 fatalities and 29,409,329 reported recoveries.

    •  The Wall Street Journal points out that "new coronavirus cases hit their highest level since mid-August on Wednesday, a sign of a fall surge predicted by public-health officials.  For the eighth time since October began, newly reported cases nationally ticked above 50,000, fueled by simmering outbreaks in every region of the country."

    But here's the problem, according to the Journal:  "Hospitalizations also have swelled across the U.S. in recent weeks, though deaths haven’t yet surged. Deaths often lag behind new cases and hospitalizations, given the duration of the disease. The seven-day average of daily deaths attributed to Covid-19 has been hovering around 700 for about three weeks, down from around 1,000 two months ago."

    Now, it isn't all bad news, the Journal says, since while "the U.S. has more fatalities than any other country in the world—more than 217,600 since the pandemic began," it also is true that the US "doesn’t have the highest percentage of cases that are fatal. About 2.7% of reported cases in the U.S. have been fatal, according to data from Johns Hopkins. That figure has declined in recent months as treatments have improved and testing has expanded, allowing more mild and asymptomatic cases to be detected."

    The Journal notes that there are a variety of reasons cited for the burgeoning number of coronavirus cases:  "The virus has spread to more rural counties and other communities, exposing vulnerable populations that hadn’t yet experienced it significantly and who are now reacting instead of taking steps to prevent the virus, public-health researchers said.

    "Some people have grown tired of restrictions on their movements and might be taking more risks than they did in the spring, they said. Mixed and inconsistent messaging from federal and local officials over preventive measures has sowed confusion and complacency. Some local governments have eased restrictions on businesses and requirements to wear masks. Meanwhile, college students returned to campuses, leading to some spreading of the virus, and the onset of cooler weather has led many Americans indoors, where the virus is more transmittable, the public-health researchers said."

    One fact remains:  "Without a vaccine or a therapeutic breakthrough, prevention tools are the best approach for controlling the spread. Precautions like wearing masks and maintaining distance help lower risk of transmission but don’t entirely eliminate it, especially without full compliance, according to health officials."

    •  From Axios:

    "The U.S. is headed solidly in the wrong direction — and at a dangerous time, as experts say the fall and winter will likely make the pandemic worse. They had hoped we could get cases under control before then, but that seems unrealistic … The number of new infections rose in 38 states, spanning every region of the country.

    "Three states — Montana, New Mexico and South Dakota — saw their case counts rise by over 50%.

    "The pace of new infections slowed down in only one state: Texas."

    And, Axios goes on:  "Experts say the fall and winter will likely make things worse, as colder weather causes people to move their socializing indoors, where the virus can spread more easily. If those assumptions bear out, those increases will come on top of a caseload that's already too high."

    •  From the New York Times:

    "Remdesivir, the only antiviral drug authorized for treatment of Covid-19 in the United States, fails to prevent deaths among patients, according to a study of more than 11,000 people in 30 countries sponsored by the World Health Organization.

    "The data, which were posted online on Thursday, have not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal."

    •  From the Seattle Times:

    "The Seattle-area nursing home resident first tested positive for the novel coronavirus in early March. He spent more than 40 days in the hospital with fever, pneumonia and difficulty breathing before testing negative multiple times and being discharged.

    "Then, nearly five months later, he got sick again with COVID-19.

    "Now, genetic testing by a team of Seattle physicians and scientists has revealed that sexagenarian’s second bout of the illness caused by the coronavirus in July wasn’t a relapse but a new infection with a slightly different variant of the virus.

    "The patient is only the third person in the United States — and one of about 20 worldwide — confirmed to have experienced such a double whammy."

    •  The Washington Post reports that "Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala D. Harris canceled her travel through this coming weekend after two people who were around her tested positive for the coronavirus Wednesday night."

    Harris, the junior US Senator from California, "tested negative for the virus Wednesday and Thursday, the campaign said.  Harris has not been in close contact recently with either communications director Liz Allen or the other person around her who tested positive, a flight attendant who is not a campaign staff member, an aide said.

    "Hours later, the campaign said another person--one who flew on the same plane as former vice president Joe Biden this week--had also tested positive. Biden was never within 50 feet of this person, the campaign said, and the candidate’s doctor concluded there was no need for him to quarantine."

    •  The Boston Globe reports that "as the pandemic stretches on, and more Boston-area restaurant operators stare down the long, cold winter months ahead, some are now taking cues from nature and going into hibernation. The choice to temporarily shut down is not a simple one, but for many, it has the benefit of at least being something concrete."

    •  The Specialty Food Association (SFA) announced that the Winter Fancy Food Show, scheduled to take place in San Francisco from January 17-19, 2021, has been cancelled because of the pandemic and resulting travel restrictions and public health policy issues.

    Published on: October 16, 2020

    •  Walmart CEO Doug McMillon told CNBC yesterday that his company wants to take a 7.5 percent stake in video app TikTok's US operations - in partnership with Oracle - because it "sees social media as a huge business opportunity and a powerful way to reach customers."

    TikTok, McMillon said, can be a “discovery opportunity” for consumers to find merchandise they want to buy.

    "If you’re watching a TikTok video and somebody’s got a piece of apparel or an item on it that you really like, what if you could just quickly purchase that item?” he said. “That’s what we’re seeing happen in countries around the world. And it’s intriguing to us, and we would like to be part of it.”

    Published on: October 16, 2020

    •  Bloomberg reports that "FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Service Inc. are girding for their biggest test yet in the ecommerce era, with 'Christmas Creep' pushing the holiday shopping season ever earlier and stretching the limits of shipping networks already strained by the COVID-19 pandemic."

    The stress test is seen as beginning this week, as Amazon, Walmart and Target - as well as myriad smaller competitors - launched major online promotions that inevitably would lead to strains on their various distribution mechanisms.  In addition, "With legions of consumers staying away from stores this year, the parcel carriers are already handling record deliveries and bumping against capacity constraints."

    Published on: October 16, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Coca-Cola is ending the manufacturer and distribution of Tab, its early-days diet soft drink that, despite doing just 0.1% of $22 billion in global diet cola sales last year, remained a sentimental favorite for a few stalwarts.  However, Coke is in the process of winnowing out old, tired and non-core brands.

    The Journal writes:  "Coca-Cola said last month that it planned to slash its 500 brands by more than half, accelerating an ongoing culling effort in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The project is part of a restructuring that includes layoffs and a revamped marketing strategy. Already this year, the company has closed its Odwalla juice and smoothie business and has begun winding down its Zico coconut water.

    "Now, it is completing a list of additional products to be taken offline this year, including Diet Coke Feisty Cherry; Sprite Lymonade; and Coke Life, a lower-calorie version of Coke sweetened with stevia that the company began rolling out in 2013. Coca-Cola is also retiring small regional brands such as Northern Neck Ginger Ale, Delaware Punch and Mendota Springs seltzer."

    I haven't had a Tab in more than 30 years - but I must admit that just hearing the name made me smile.  Here's my bet - Coke takes Tab off the market for a few years, and then will bring it back as a limited edition, and will get lots of press coverage and decent sales.

    •  Ahold Delhaize-owned, Carlisle, Pennsylvania-based The Giant Company announced that "beginning Oct. 16, customers can start earning rewards points toward a free turkey certificate every time they shop in-store or online using their Giant or Martin's card. Customers enrolled in Choice Rewards can also earn free side dishes, desserts and more using the Giant or Martin's app when they shop."

    This is not an original observation, but this announcement prompts me to make it:  Late November is the only time stores can actually sell turkeys, so why do they choose that time of year to give the damned things away?

    Published on: October 16, 2020

    •  The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) announced that Nancy Tucker, the organization's Vice President, Global Business Development , is retiring at the end of the year.  Tucker joined PMA in 1980 and has worked in areas that include marketing, communications, membership, training and consumer education programs.

    •  Raley's announced that Michael Schutt, the chain's senior category manager of produce and floral, has been promoted to director of produce and floral.

    Published on: October 16, 2020

    Got the following email from MNB reader (and, I am happy to say, recent Portland State University graduate) Justin Booth:

    I know this subject has been approached before, but I feel that going into the fall season, it may be more relevant than ever.

    In my last few trips to Whole Foods, I couldn't help but notice the increase in workers shopping for online orders. It seemed that they outnumbered the employees working registers, stocking, etc... I have to admit that my shopping experience was not enjoyable. I felt like I was fighting for position to examine vegetables, make a decision about which pasta sauce to buy, etc.... With the quick turnaround promised by Amazon, the online shoppers are in a hurry and are basically barging in front to fulfill their orders.

    I feel that with fall and winter coming along, more people will be staying home to cook, thus going to grocery stores more often or doing more online shopping, adding to the amount of people in the store. Also add-in the potential increase in Covid cases coupled with flu season, it is more imperative to keep socially distanced. 

    I think it is time for Whole Foods to create dark stores for their online shopping. If they want to stay in the neighborhoods where their stores are at, there are plenty of larger spaces that have been vacated due to the pandemic. This way they could still serve the locals and others who cannot drive too far to get their groceries.

    Whole Foods did that during the early days of the pandemic, and not only do I agree with you, but I think this is precisely the direction that Amazon-Whole Foods is likely to take.

    Yesterday I did a FaceTime rant about holiday catalogs that are starting to crowd our mailbox … it just seemed so 20th century.

    Some folks agreed with me, some didn't.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Kevin, all I can say in response to your latest “Pile of Christmas Crap” is WOW. Not everyone sits in front of a computer (or phone) 24/7 ordering gifts, food, pet supplies, and clothing.  How narrow minded. Maybe if you took a few minutes and looked at these catalogues, something would peak your interest. You might discover a new company with products that do “talk to you”.  If you like something you see, you can then go directly to the website for more information or even order something. And that’s their point!  Amazon is no fool – that catalogue idea will reach children as well as parents or grandparents or some of us who would like to purchase a gift for a child. It’s a great idea and don’t see why you are so negative. FSIs and catalogues have their place in marketing. In fact, FSIs and catalogues often stimulate new business.  I am surprised at your attitude.

    MNB reader Mark Thorngren wrote:

    Hi Kevin.  I have 2 10 year old grandsons and they like nothing more than going thru catalogs and picking their wishlist for Christmas.  Just need to insure that we have a lot of lead in the pencil as they circle a lot.

    Pencil?  What's a pencil?

    (Just kidding.)

    MNB reader Jackie Lembke wrote:

    I understand what you are saying but would actually prefer the catalogues over the political ads I am getting almost daily. They don't even make it in the house, straight to my dumpster. You might enjoy the Fat Brain catalogue if you like puzzles and such. My husband likes looking at catalogues so we receive them, he looks at them. I trash them. Enjoy the season.

    Well, if you're going to compare them to political ads…

    I specifically pointed to an Amazon toy catalog as being counter-intuitive for a company such as Amazon.  One MNB reader responded:

    Yes! Very effective**. My 5 year old son grabbed this thing and wanted to show me all the things he wants. Paged through it like it was his coloring book.

    ** Effective for who? Not old dad that thinks we have too much plastic junk already!! Jerks!

    MNB reader Diana Roberge wrote:

    Dead on!  Great post as always.  I too received the Amazon Toy Catalogue…I doubt my 23 year old wants to sit down and make a list from this catalogue.  The “Christmas Crap” is starting to replace the “Election Crap” that I get daily.  Better targeted marketing would be the way to go and be less of a negative impact on our environment.

    It is the targeting - or rather, lack of targeting - that happens with catalogs that I really object to.

    So many of the catalogs that we got were unsolicited and completely irrelevant to our lives.  In other words, a waste of money … they went right into the dumpster.

    It just strikes me as such a waste.

    Published on: October 16, 2020

    In the American League Championship Series, the Houston Astros defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 4-3.  The Rays still lead the best-of-seven series 3-2.

    In the National League Championship Series, the Atlanta Braves beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 10-2 to take a 3-1 game lead in the best-of-seven series.

    Published on: October 16, 2020

    In another of his series of MNB author interviews, KC connects with Christopher Rosow, a first-time novelist whose debut novel, "False Assurances," is reminiscent of Black Sunday … a cinematic page-turner that belies the fact that until recently, Rosow owned his own construction-design company and started writing as a "distraction."

    In addition to talking about the story behind "False Assurances," Rosow also talks about the story of how he marketed it as an independent author on Amazon … a move that turned out to be savvy and enormously successful.

    That's it for this week.  I'll see you Monday.

    Have a great weekend … stay safe … be healthy.