retail news in context, analysis with attitude

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…

•  The United States now has had a total of 11,876,240 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 256,311 deaths and 7,168,482 reported recoveries.

Globally, there have been 56,674,523 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 1,356,824 fatalities, and 39,470,929 reported recoveries. (Source.)


•  On MSNBC yesterday, Assistant Secretary of Health at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Dr. Brett Giroir said, “Right now, we are in an absolutely dangerous situation that we have to take with the utmost seriousness … This is not crying wolf. This is the worst rate of rise in cases that we’ve seen in the pandemic in the United States and right now there’s no sign of flattening.”

At the same time, a report from the White House coronavirus task force said that the nation is facing “aggressive, unrelenting, expanding broad community spread … reaching most counties, without evidence of improvement but rather, further deterioration.”


•  The Wall Street Journal reports that pandemic-related hospitalizations "hit another record, their ninth in a row, with 79,410 people hospitalized because of the disease as of Wednesday, according to the Covid Tracking Project. The number of people in intensive care also hit a record high of 15,350."

The Journal goes on:

"As the latest surge in the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the U.S., states have been implementing a patchwork of new restrictions to combat its spread. Kentucky, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois on Wednesday announced various measures including extended mask mandates, bar and restaurant closures and limits on private gatherings.

"The rise in deaths, while still climbing, hasn’t been as sharp as in previous surges. Epidemiologists and public-health leaders say many factors have contributed to a lower mortality rate than in previous months, including earlier detection due to increased testing availability, more younger people becoming infected, and better treatments and therapeutics to combat the virus."

And, the story says, "New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday that schools in the nation’s largest school district would temporarily close Thursday, at least through the end of the month."


•  From the Los Angeles Times this morning:

"The COVID-19 pandemic is hurtling toward crisis levels in Los Angeles County, with officials saying hospitals are in danger of being overwhelmed and significant new restrictions are possible.

"The dire picture painted Wednesday illustrates the ferocity with which COVID-19 has roared back to life over the past few weeks, and underscores the grim consequences facing the county if that trend continues … At top of mind for many is how the significant spike in cases will strike the county’s healthcare system."


•  Also from the Wall Street Journal this morning:

"Around 50 million Americans are expected to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday next week. Public-health officials are begging them to stay home.

"As the pandemic enters its ninth month in the U.S., many families are grappling with whether to meet up with friends or family for traditional celebrations. But the holiday comes at a particularly precarious time in the current virus surge, and doctors and government officials say even gathering with one other household is too much of a risk … The warning has taken on a more urgent tone in recent weeks, shifting from officials discouraging travel and large gatherings to outright pleading with the public to stay put and stay away from others."

The story points out that "last year, around 55 million Americans traveled for Thanksgiving. AAA forecast a 10% decline in holiday travel this year, to 50.6 million. Air travel is expected to drop by half - but that still means about 2.4 million people making their way through airports."

And:

"Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance saying any Thanksgiving celebrations including people outside of the household should be small and outdoors. The agency also recommended people stay home, saying travel increases the chance of getting and spreading Covid-19.

"Enforcing mask wearing, social distancing and other guidelines for small, celebratory gatherings has been a challenge for public-health directors—especially as the pandemic wears on."


•  From the New York Times this morning:

"With coronavirus cases rising across the country, retailers are preparing for another rush from shoppers worried about new lockdowns and pandemic shortages.

"But many retail workers, heralded as heroes during the first wave of the pandemic, are not being provided with the same level of bonuses and raises this time, even as the health risks for them increase. Even as some companies have announced new hazard pay in recent days, some industry observers say many retailers are not sharing enough of the profits they have earned during the pandemic with their workers, but are instead benefiting shareholders through stock buybacks."

Cited in the story are Amazon, which said that no new hazard pay is planned … Walmart, which "has not raised wages broadly as a way to reward workers during the pandemic" … and Kroger, which "offered raises at the start of the pandemic and bonuses through mid-June, but those have ended. Employees nationwide have staged protests outside stores asking Kroger to reinstate the pay, especially given its booming business — sales are soaring, and it recently said its 2021 business results 'will be higher than we would have expected prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.' This week, the company told workers that they would receive discounts at its fuel centers and a $100 store credit as a 'holiday appreciation'."

To paraphrase Forrest Gump, Essential is as essential does.  If things get hairy during the long winter of the pandemic, stores are going to need people who they may be at risk of disenfranchising (though, to be fair, an increased unemployment rate may give retailers a stronger bargaining position).   Still, I'd be thinking hard about how to keep my employees engaged and invested.  You reap what you sow.


•  The Iowa Capital Dispatch  reports that "a wrongful death lawsuit tied to COVID-19 infections in a Waterloo pork processing plant alleges that during the initial stages the pandemic, Tyson Foods ordered employees to report for work while supervisors privately wagered money on the number of workers who would be sickened by the deadly virus … The lawsuit alleges that despite the uncontrolled spread of the virus at the plant, Tyson required its employees to work long hours in cramped conditions without providing the appropriate personal protective equipment and without ensuring workplace-safety measures were followed."

Tyson has said it "vigorously disputes" the allegations.

The story, if accurate, is appalling.  You can read it here.


•  Wonder Woman's Lasso of Truth apparently has encountered an undeniable fact - Covid-19 is stronger than it is.

Variety reports that the much-anticipated Wonder Woman 1984, a sequel that was expected to be a major blockbuster when it was supposed to open earlier this year, now is going directly to at-home streaming.

"Warner Bros. announced that the superhero sequel will debut on the streaming service HBO Max on Dec. 25, the same day it will open in U.S. movie theaters," the story says.

“As we navigate these unprecedented times, we’ve had to be innovative in keeping our businesses moving forward while continuing to super-serve our fans,” said Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group, which includes Warner Bros. Pictures. “This is an amazing film that really comes to life on the big screen and, working with our partners in the exhibition community, we will provide that option to consumers in the U.S. where theaters are open. We realize that a lot of consumers can’t go back to the movies due to the pandemic, so we also want to give them the option to see Wonder Woman 1984 via our HBO Max platform.”

At a cost of $200 million to produce and almost as much to market, Wonder Woman will have to generate a lot of new HBO Max subscriptions in order to come close to recouping its cost.  But the studios, like a lot of business, are facing the very real possibility that their traditional business model no longer is viable, and they have to find new ways to approach the business … not t mention compete with the likes of Amazon Prime Video and Netflix for eyeballs.


•  Willamette Week has the story of how one Portland, Oregon, business is trying to attract customers during the statewide freeze that has been instituted.

According to the story, "Shine Distillery and Grill will open a 'drag-thru': While customers wait for their takeout orders, they can watch drag performances from their cars … Drag queens Bolivia Carmichaels and Lulu Luscious will perform from Shine's garage-style doors. Shine already had a sound system, and has installed a makeshift, greenhouse tunnel along North Williams Avenue, where customers can idle in their cars while they watch the show and wait for their to-go orders. Since Shine operates more like a brewpub than a bar, it can remain open for takeout during the freeze, offering pub food, cocktail kits and bottles of housemade booze."

Whatever works.