retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: October 20, 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.

    Nancy Giordano, one of the country's foremost strategic futurists, join Sterling and Kevin for a conversation about the difference between "leadership" and "leadering" (hint: one is a noun and one is a verb), how the transition from one to the other has been accelerated by the pandemic, and how there is no playbook for what effective companies need to do going forward as they move to what Nancy calls the "better next."

    You can listen to the podcast here…

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

    Published on: October 20, 2020

    Several stories have popped up recently about Ikea that reflect ways in which the company is working to be more relevant and resonant to its shoppers.  KC has some thoughts.

    Published on: October 20, 2020

    Albertsons yesterday introduced Albertsons Pay , described as "a new zero-touch checkout experience available through its updated just for U loyalty app. Albertsons Pay provides shoppers with a safe, secure, and contact-free way to pay, use discounts, and earn rewards all at the same time … After setup, customers simply show the QR code in their just for U app at checkout to apply their discounts, earn rewards, and securely pay for their groceries."

    The company said that "the new technology is available in all Albertsons Cos. stores, including Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s, Star-Market, Acme, Tom Thumb, Randalls, United Supermarkets, and Carrs."

    Albertsons also announced that it "is piloting PickUp lockers in select Chicago Jewel-Osco and Bay Area Safeway stores as the newest easy fulfillment option for e-Commerce orders made through the company’s websites and apps …  the lockers are modular, temperature-controlled, and suitable for both indoor and outdoor environments. Individual columns in the modular setup can be adjusted dynamically to ensure specific temperatures required to meet the wide needs of a variety of customers’ online orders are maintained."

    According to the announcement, "Customers who live in neighborhoods with stores that feature the lockers will notice a new 'PickUp' option when they shop on the store’s website or app.  Customers who select the PickUp option will be asked to select a time window to pick up their groceries. Once customers complete their purchase, they receive a unique code that they will use to quickly pick up their order from the self-serve lockers."

    KC's View:

    I have to say that one of the things I am hearing from various folks in and around Albertsons is that the company is making a lot of smart moves when it comes to leveraging technology.

    Chris Rupp, EVP and Chief Customer & Digital Officer, puts it this way:  "Our strategy to leverage technology and innovation to continue to grow our digital business is focused on creating products customers love that truly make their lives easier."

    Still early days, but watch this space.

    Published on: October 20, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal reports on how Travis Kalanick, the former Uber CEO, " has been quietly assembling a mini real-estate empire over the past two years, acquiring closed restaurants, auto-body shops and warehouses for use in his new ghost kitchen venture."

    Entities tied to his Cloud Kitchens company, "a startup that rents out space to businesses that prepare food for delivery, have bought more than 40 properties in nearly two dozen cities for more than $130 million … The acquisitions are a big bet on the fast-growing food-delivery business. CloudKitchens and its rivals rent out delivery-only kitchens under flexible terms. Food vendors can save time and money if they pick a prebuilt kitchen over a big restaurant space, these startups say."

    The Journal points out that Cloud Kitchens is being counter-intuitive in its approach:  "Other ghost-kitchen companies and firms with vaguely similar business models, such as co-working or co-living companies, rarely acquire real estate. Instead, they typically lease space or sign revenue-sharing deals with landlords. Companies can expand more quickly without shelling out cash or borrowing heavily to acquire buildings.

    "But Mr. Kalanick’s firm has loaded up on properties and needs to spend more converting them to delivery kitchens. It is a strategy that takes market risk but could pay off if property values rise."

    One of the interesting things about Kalanick's strategy is that he seems to want to stay below the radar - while the entities making the acquisitions are tied to his Cloud Kitchens company, the ghost kitchen mothership is not mentioned in the paperwork.

    KC's View:

    I think this is a good bet … even when people return to restaurants to the degree that they patronized them pre-Covid, there still will be a need for sophisticated ghost kitchens that can help businesses do a better job catering to the take-home market.

    I keep wondering if there is a way to combine the ghost kitchen format with the dark store concept … and if there is the possibility that a company like Cloud Kitchens could make a deal with a retailer to operate one inside a store, mimicking the deal made by Kroger with Cluster Truck.

    Published on: October 20, 2020

    Bloomberg reports that "Southeastern Grocers Inc., the owner of the Winn-Dixie and Fresco supermarket chains that emerged from bankruptcy two years ago, has filed for an initial public offering.

    "The Jacksonville, Florida-based grocer in its filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission listed an offer size of $100 million, a placeholder that will likely change."

    The story notes that Southeastern has been undergoing a streamlining process this year, having "agreed to sell more than 120 BI-LO and Harveys stores to buyers including Food Lion LLC, as well as pharmacy prescription files for 58 of its in-store pharmacies to CVS Health Corp. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. Winn-Dixie stores will account for about 87% of its remaining portfolio, according to its filing."

    KC's View:

    The financing is important, sure.  But to my mind, what is more important is how SEG positions its stores to be 21st century competitive.  That's where the rubber meets the road…

    Published on: October 20, 2020

    Fox Business reports that "Target announced Monday that hundreds of thousands of its employees will receive another round of bonuses this fall 'for their extraordinary performance during unprecedented times.'

    "More than 350,000 frontline workers will receive a one-time bonus of $200 by early November, the retailer said … Target's latest bonus marks the fourth time the company has given the extra cash to frontline team members or leaders throughout 2020 for their efforts during the pandemic. In total, the company has invested more than $70 million in its team ahead of the holidays, the company said."

    KC's View:

    Nothing like continued appreciation for the folks on the front lines.

    Published on: October 20, 2020

    Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic and how businesses and various business sectors are trying to recover from it, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  In the United States, there now have been 8,459,041 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 225,241 deaths and 5,504,464 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 40,680,717 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 1,123,481 fatalities and 30,373,960 reported recoveries.


    •  Fast Company has a story about how "North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Wisconsin have all reached troubling new case rates: over 300 cases per 100,000 people. But the general upward trend extends beyond those states. In total, 45 states are seeing increased cases numbers.

    "Meanwhile, Europe is facing a new spate of shutdowns. The World Health Organization noted in a press briefing last week that Europe’s case numbers grew by a million in the short span of 10 days, bringing the total number of reported cases to 7 million.

    "Even though the organization anticipates more cases and more burden to hospitals during this spike than in April, there was a bright spot in the report.

    "'Although we record two to three times more cases per day compared to the April peak, we still observe five times fewer deaths,' said, Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. He cuffs the higher infection to more testing capacity, especially among young people, and higher transmission among young people. That also explains the lower death rate.  'These figures say that the epidemiological curve rebound is so far higher, but the slope is lower and less fatal for now,' he said. 'But it has the realistic potential to worsen drastically if the disease spreads back into older age cohorts after more indoor social contacts across generations'."

    It seems clear that the hospitalization and death rates are also likely to spike as we move into the winter unless we remain vigilant - wearing masks, physically distancing, and washing hands frequently.  Businesses are going to be on the front lines of this ongoing battle against the coronavirus.  It won't be easy or universally accepted, but business - especially retail - can and should be leading the charge and keeping employees and customers alert to the ongoing challenge by doing everything they can to maintain people's safety.


    •  CNBC reports that "the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday issued a 'strong recommendation' that all passengers and employees on airplanes, trains, subways, buses, taxis and ride-share vehicles should wear masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19.  The interim guidance also calls for facial coverings at transportation hubs like airports and train stations."

    The story notes that "airlines, Amtrak and most public transit systems and U.S. airports already require all passengers and workers to wear facial coverings, as do most airports, and ride-sharing firms Uber and Lyft."

    I guess that CDC can't actually mandate the wearing of masks in such places;  the "strong recommendation" is as far as it can go.  But frankly, it ought to be a mandate, and it ought to stay in place until we actually have control of this thing.


    •  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has a piece about how Wisconsin is being overwhelmed by the pandemic.

    The piece looks at "Aspirus Wausau Hospital, one of the many health Wisconsin that have been overwhelmed by the state's coronavirus surge.

    "As of Friday, a record 1,101 people were hospitalized with the coronavirus in Wisconsin, including 274 people in intensive care units.

    "At the beginning of the pandemic, Aspirus, which has 10 hospitals in its system, planned for up to 25 beds for coronavirus patients."

    The Journal Sentinel says that hospitals in the system have had to move people around in order to make sure there are enough beds, but - so far - have not had to move people to a field hospital set up at State Fair Park.  The piece notes that "the spike in cases is straining capacity and taking a toll on hospital workers — 215 members of the Aspirus staff were in isolation Thursday due to COVID-19, coronavirus symptoms or exposure to someone who has tested positive in the community."


    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "After starting school virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic, some districts are opening doors and allowing students back for the first time.

    Public schools that opened for in-person learning this month, or plan to, range from suburban districts in North Carolina’s Wake County to city systems such as Indianapolis; Des Moines, Iowa; and Miami-Dade in Florida. Schools in Houston plan to welcome students inside starting Monday.

    "New daily cases of Covid-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, have been trending up nationwide since mid-September, but relatively few have been found in K-12 schools that have been open already. School leaders are finding they can successfully enforce measures such as mask wearing, social distancing and cleaning routines."

    The story goes on:

    "Since reopening for the fall, some districts have reported scattered classroom quarantines or temporary building closures—including New York City and the Cherokee County district in suburban Atlanta—when the new virus surged in the area or was found among staff or students.

    "But generally, the risk of getting the virus at school appears to be low, said Emily Oster, a Brown University economist collecting nationwide data. She is working with data scientists and educators’ associations to create the Covid-19 School Response Dashboard.  It showed an overall rate of about 1.5 infections among 1,000 students in districts with in-person classes during two weeks in late September. It found 2.5 infections among 1,000 employees."


    •  From the Financial Times:

    "Ireland has intensified coronavirus restrictions, closing all 'non-essential' retailers and curtailing the hospitality sector in a new lockdown that is expected to put 150,000 people out of work within days.  Although prime minister Micheál Martin acknowledged that the country already has 'what is probably Europe’s strictest regime', he said such measures on their own were not sufficient as he imposed new controls that will apply for six weeks from midnight on Wednesday.

    "'The government has decided that the evidence of a potentially grave situation arising in the weeks ahead is now too strong,' Mr Martin said in a televised speech on Monday night. 'If we pull together over the next six weeks we will have the opportunity to celebrate Christmas in a meaningful way'."


    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "While a surge in coronavirus infections is forcing U.S. states and European countries to shut down bars, open field hospitals, and limit social gatherings to small groups of people, such measures are becoming distant memories in much of Asia.

    "For months now, life across Asia, where the virus first emerged, has mostly returned to normal. With infections at low levels, bars and restaurants are bustling, subway trains are packed and live concerts and spectator sports have resumed.

    "While China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong, combined, have been recording fewer than 1,000 cases a day since September, the U.S. alone was reporting more than 56,000 cases a day on average as of Monday, the highest number since early August … Roughly a third of the world’s population resides in East Asia and Southeast Asia, but the densely populated region accounts for less than a fifth of the world’s 1.1 million Covid-19 deaths. Europe and the U.S. account for nearly half of that."

    The Journal continues:

    " While Asian countries, which moved swiftly to contain their outbreaks early on, persisted in their fight against the virus, growing pandemic fatigue in the U.S. and Europe has led to relaxed attitudes about social distancing that are complicating efforts to control a resurgence. As cases rise, Western governments are struggling with testing shortages and contact tracing is becoming ineffective. Many in the West are pinning their hopes on a vaccine for life to return to normal.

    "Asia, on the other hand, has managed to suppress the virus largely without the nationwide lockdowns that crippled Western economies in the spring. Governments there have put in place aggressive contact-tracing efforts, quarantine programs to isolate those infected and strict international-travel requirements. Cultural differences, consistent messaging and experience with outbreaks of SARS and MERS have led to more widespread acceptance of practices such as wearing face masks and, in some places, more intrusive government intervention."


    •  The New York Times reports that "more than a million people passed through airport checkpoints on Sunday, the first time the Transportation Security Administration has screened that many people since mid-March.

    "While that represents a symbolic milestone for the travel industry, U.S. airlines are still losing billions of dollars a month as they brace for much weaker demand for tickets this winter. The number of people screened by the T.S.A. on Sunday was down about 60 percent compared with the same day a year ago."

    Published on: October 20, 2020

    •  Axios reports that "if you rely on last-minute holiday shopping, 2020 won't be your year," because "America's biggest shipping companies are out of excess capacity, and that's before the holiday rush."

    Among the indications of what is being termed "Shipageddon":  "FedEx moved to seven-day-a-week pickup … High volume retailers will be charged bigger fees … Stores are pushing customers to buy online and pick up in stores … USPS will change its priority to holiday shipping after the election rush."


    •  San Francisco-based pure play online grocery Farmstead is on track to launch its first service expansion outside the Bay Area - in Charlotte, North Carolina.

    The company announced that it has opened the waitlist for its Charlotte service launch, with waitlist signups limited to the first 1,000 customers.

    I did an MNB Interview with Farmstead co-founder and CEO Pradeep Elankumaran not long ago … you can check it out here.


    •  From Yahoo Finance:

    "Some of the largest physical retailers experienced year-over-year foot traffic losses during this year's Amazon.com, Inc. Prime Day sales event that took place on Oct. 13 and 14, according to the latest report from location data analytics company Placer.ai."

    According to the story, "Amazon's grocery store arm Whole Foods saw its traffic fall 32.1%, while Walmart Inc traffic was down 19.1% and Target Corporation traffic was lower by 15.1%."  Best Buy's foot traffic was down 11.6 percent.


    •  Fast Company has a story about how Amazon is using AI/machine learning in warehouses to "analyze the combination of items that are shipping and choose the size and type of packaging—or whether a box is needed at all—as part of the company’s ongoing quest to shrink its giant packaging footprint … AI tells warehouse workers—or, in some cases, machines that are packing orders automatically—when a padded mailer can be used instead of a box, pulling in data from customer complaints and returns to understand when a particular product should have had more packaging, or when it was overpackaged, as in a shipment where a single small item is inexplicably delivered in a giant box."

    According to the story, "The company won’t share how much cardboard it uses in a year, though as the world’s largest online retailer, the number is huge. One recent analyst estimate suggests that Amazon shipped 415 million packages in the month of July, for example. But the company says that over the last five years, it has managed to reduce the amount of packaging used per shipment by roughly a third, eliminating 915,000 tons of packaging material, or the equivalent of 1.6 billion boxes that it would have otherwise used. In the last two years, its software has allowed the company to avoid shipping more than 500,000 tons of waste."

    Amazon may be using machine learning to improve its efficiency when it comes to packaging, but I think it is fair to suggest that this will be a continuing education - sometimes it seems like Amazon has gotten it right, and sometimes it seems incredibly wasteful.


    •  From Bloomberg:

    "Fake reviews on Amazon.com Inc. during the pandemic have reached levels typically seen during the holiday shopping season.

    "About 42% of 720 million Amazon reviews assessed by the monitoring service Fakespot Inc. from March through September were unreliable, up from about 36% for the same period last year. The rise in fake reviews corresponded with the stampede online of millions of virus-avoiding shoppers.

    Published on: October 20, 2020

    •  National Public Radio's Marketplace has a piece about the return this weekend of "Supermarket Sweep," the fourth iteration of a game show that first aired in 1965.

    Former "Saturday Night Live" comedian Leslie Jones hosts the reboot, which Marketplace describes as "essentially, product placement on steroids. The entire premise revolves around a grocery store, where contestants are surrounded by the items that million-dollar companies are itching for you, the consumer, to buy."

    And, the story notes, that unlike many game shows in which contestants try to win cars and boats and vacations, "Supermarket Sweep" allows people to win the very products that they may have been trying to stockpile during the early days of the pandemic - which may give the show new relevance even as the coronavirus continues to surge.


    •  CBS News reports that New York State's ban on single use plastic grocery bags now will be enforced.  The story notes that the ban was passed last year, but enforcement was delayed because of a court challenge.

    The only exception - "prepared food taken to go can still be placed in so-called single-use plastic bags. However, groceries and other products on the store shelves cannot, and under the law must go in paper bags … Supporters say the law will reduce waste that creates litter and threatens the environment, including marine life."

    Published on: October 20, 2020

    •  Fox Business reports that Ken Sullivan, president/CEO of Smithfield Foods (which is owned by China's WH Group), will retire early next year and be replaced by Dennis Organ, Smithfield's current COO of U.S. operations.

    Published on: October 20, 2020

    Got several reactions to my conversation about the state of affairs in Portland, Oregon, with Portland State University's Tom Gillpatrick and branding guru Craig Ostbo

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Great Portland conversation guys!    You repped the town well!

    My own frustration is Portland is being used by both sides of the political spectrum with depiction that aren’t accurate from either.  You all know my leanings,  but I think like everything else right now the polar extreme in which the issue is being worked isn’t helpful.

    Conservative media and politicians are the farthest off, depicting the city as “burning down” and making antifa out to be something it isn’t.   But the liberal defense of “supporting protesters” is not accurate either……those causing the trouble are rabble rousers and the damage they are doing is not advancing any cause at this point.

    The Homeless is a very complex issue, but local politicians seem paralyzed, with not much innovation being brought to the issue.  I think it is inevitable that practical dormitory type housing has to be created,  there had to be “carrot and stick” applied to get the homeless to utilize that housing,  and the problem that will have to be sorted out is who and how it gets paid for…..but there is a cost being incurred today in lost business,  damaged reputation,  and falling property values.    How do you capture that cost and reframe it as an investment in improvement?

    Maybe people like you charged with finding a nuanced and appropriate solution?  That's who I'd trust.

    From another reader:

    Wow, you knocked this segment about PDX out of the ballpark with your two guests.

    I would hope that you will have more interviews like this one from other industry notables from the food industry. Correction about the population of Portland, it is approximately 660,000 and the metro area population is about 2.4MM. Secondly, if PSU students are looking for jobs, I have noticed signs in Fred Meyer, Albertsons, Safeway, Winco, etc. who all have signs posted in their stores looking for employment opportunities.

    FYI, I attended PSC, Portland State College, in 1964-1966, the tuition was $305 for a full term of 15-16 credit hours, all this while making about $3.00 an hour part time as a box boy at Big C/Bazar Foods. Many of my friends and me, who have since retired from the food industry, honed our skills starting out working in grocery stores, and had very successful careers working for food brokers and CPG companies. 

    And from another reader:

    Really great discussion.  It was also helpful to get a feel for Portland other than portrayed by the media.

    As always….nice job!

    One thing.  I am the media.  At least, I'm part of it … albeit a really, really small part.  

    MNB reader Joe Schwartz wrote:

    KC – I’ve been reading your writing via MNB for a couple of years now and knew that you had a connection to Portland/PSU. Seeing this interview with Tom Gillpatrick was awesome. I took a course from him when I attended PSU about a decade ago and it was great to see him on your page this morning. Thanks for that! Tom looks great. He has lost some weight! Very cool.

    Thanks for everything that you do. I greatly appreciate it and love checking on what you have to say a few times per week since my former boss and mentor Ronnie Cooper (Albertsons guy that said he actually got to meet you and have a beer a while back) showed me the MNB website.

    Good to hear.  Say hi to Ronnie for me.

    MNB reader Craig Espelien weighed in on the "why give away turkeys at Thanksgiving" conversation:

    Why give turkeys away at Thanksgiving? In hopes the consumer buys the remainder of their Thanksgiving basket at the store. Plus, all of the trips needed to get the certificate. This is business 101 - only three levers to pull in grocery:

    #1 - do things that drive top line sales - only two ways to do that: #1A - drive traffic (more trips = more sales); #2A - drive basket (larger basket with each trip = more sales and more profits)

    #2 - do things that drive bottomline profits. Profit is not made on turkeys - profit is made on everything else. Turkeys are often a loss leader - as there is zero market (well, much smaller anyway) after Thanksgiving and turkeys are committed to starting in April/May - as they go into cold storage for the holiday. 

    Did you think all of the burds matured and were slaughtered the week before Thanksgiving?

    #3 - do things that aggressively manage the expense line. No retailer wants to have a boatload of turkeys still in cold storage after Thanksgiving

    Here endeth the lesson.

    Except … now many retailers are giving away all the other stuff, too.

    I loved this email from an MNB reader:

    I can’t speak to the crumb cake but after listening to you rave about Graeter’s for years I treated myself to the Stuck-At-Home pack. BEST ICE CREAM IN MY LIFE! 🙂 Thanks! It will be a rare treat for me going forward!

    I completely agree.  I've been treating myself to a couple of spoonfuls of their Pumpkin ice cream at night.  Wonderful!

    Also got a number of emails about the new Bruce Willis commercial for Die Hard car batteries, which revives his character from Die Hard.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    While watching this commercial my office mates kept coming over to see if I was okay, because I had the volume up as loud as possible.  (Being a huge Bruce Willis fan)  

    The MorningNewsBeat is the only media enterprise where the fans are trying to sift through the news to get to the commercials.   And now back to our regularly scheduled programming... 

    MNB reader Jim Antrup wrote:

    Have to tell you Kevin, I too loved the Die Hard commercial, I just caught the tail end on the television yesterday, but noticing he was driving a classic Chevy Nova, I had to find it online and review again.  Showed it to my wife as well. I am a Chevy Nova fan (I have a very nice “69”), Die Hard fan as well. All in all a great commercial tie in.

    MNB reader Joan Hume-Cohen had one qualm:

    Too violent.

    I get that.

    Tell you a story.  Back in 1989, I rented the original Die Hard (we'd had our first child in 1986, and weren't getting to the movies much) on VHS.  From Blockbuster.  I brought it home to watch on a Saturday night, and Mrs. Content Guy was appalled - she couldn't believe I'd watch a movie like that, and announced her intention to go upstairs and read a book.  Fine, I replied.

    I put the tape in the VCR, and she said she'd watch the first five minutes just to see what it was all about … and a couple of hours later, she was still sitting there.  She loved it, and when Die Hard 2 came out a few years later, she insisted we see it on opening weekend in the theatre.

    And finally, from another reader:

    Kevin, I like this commercial but have you seen the "Liftmaster Garage Door Opener" commercial yet. Very clever as well.

    I had not.  But now I have:

    Published on: October 20, 2020

    In Monday Night Football….

    Kansas City Chiefs 26,  Buffalo Bills 17

    Arizona Cardinals 38,  Dallas Cowboys 10