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    Published on: November 23, 2020

    KC reflects on a recent Wall Street Journal story about how a lot of employees are reaching their breaking point, with the holidays and increased coronavirus numbers only adding to their stress.  The moment may be right, he suggests, for retailers to give a gift that can keep on giving.

    In addition, KC has some MNB housekeeping details to which he attends...

    Published on: November 23, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    Nothing like a powerful brand.

    In-N-Out, the iconic burger chain, opened its first restaurants in Colorado on Friday … and the result was, at one point, a two-mile-long line and a 14 hour wait.  (That's according to the Aurora, Colorado, police department.)

    Until now, In-N-Out only operated in  California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Texas, and Oregon.

    I saw a picture of the line over the weekend, and until I read the caption, thought it was the line of people waiting for Covid-19 testing at Dodger Stadium.

    I was wrong.

    I love In-N-Out, but I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't wait 14 hours for a Double-Double, Animal-style.

    But this certainly illustrates the Eye-Opening power of a promise … which, at the end of the day, is all a brand really is.  It has to deliver on the promise, but at its core, a great brand is a great idea.

    Published on: November 23, 2020

    Some numbers from a new Oracle Grocery Retail survey:

    •  "53% of respondents in the U.S. have shopped online for groceries during the pandemic, with 37% stocking up more frequently online than in-store. And few people plan to reverse course – 93% of those surveyed said they plan to shop online for groceries post-pandemic, with 74% noting they will order groceries the same amount or more as they are doing currently."

    •  "When it comes to online grocery ordering, the vast majority of consumers opt for home delivery:  72% - have groceries delivered to their home … 13% - pick them up inside the store … 15% - collect their groceries curbside."

    •  "With grocery shortages during the pandemic, 86% of shoppers explored store owned brands and private label alternatives, with some having no plans of returning to their old favorites … 32% - intend to stick with the store brands … 34% - will shop a mix of new finds and preferred brands … 20% - will go back to preferred brands."

    •  "A significant percentage of all age groups surveyed have ordered groceries online during the pandemic, with Generation X leading the way:  72% - Gen X (40-54) … 61% - Gen Z (18-24) … 60% - Millennials (25-39) … 30% - Boomers (55+)."

    •  "With more shoppers eating at home and looking for inspiration, meal subscription increased:  22% already had a food or meal subscription they continued … 10% already enjoyed one food or meal subscription service and added another … 4% started a new food or meal subscription for the first time."

    KC's View:

    Pretty much from the early days of the pandemic, the sense here was that it would be a transformative event in terms of consumer behavior and confidence, and that retailers needed to start putting together small teams to consider how they would be fundamentally different coming out of the pandemic than they were going in.   Retailers that did not perform this exercise and act on their conclusions would be likely to find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.  (Though it probably is fair to say that the best retailers perform this exercise all the time, and that bad and mediocre retailers revel in their own ignorance until it is too late, at which point they look around to see who or what they can blame for their tribulations.)

    And so, I refer you to the Oracle conclusions above and ask … have you changed enough to capture these changing customer preferences and satisfy these evolving customer needs?  (I'm actually not sure there is such a thing as enough … but you get my point.)

    Published on: November 23, 2020

    TechCrunch reports that Walmart has acquired "select assets - including talent, technology platform and IP" of JoyRun, described as a "peer-to-peer food and drink delivery service" that "has amassed a network of 540 third-party merchant partners and north of 30,000 people who have delivered goods with the service since its launch half-a-decade ago."

    The story describes the JoyRun app as letting people "find out who, nearby, is already heading out to a restaurant that they like, then tack on an order of their own.”

    KC's View:

    On the one hand, it could be a little problematic to build a last-mile solution out of technology that essentially enables me to say to a neighbor, "Hey, if you're going to Walmart, would you mind picking something up for me?"

    Then again, the neighbor I know may be more trustworthy than the Uber or Instacart driver I don't.

    And, let's face it. Walmart is the company that had the idea that another last mile solution could be crafted out of using its store personnel to drop stuff off to customers on their way home from work.  So clearly it is willing to try lots of different - and even unorthodox - solutions as it addresses the delivery challenge.

    Published on: November 23, 2020

    From AdWeek:

    "Pharmacy chain Walgreens is introducing a more robust loyalty program called myWalgreens today, part of a thorough overhaul including a fully redesigned mobile app, the company announced … It’s a fitting—and necessary—time for Walgreens to bulk up its digital and ecommerce capabilities. Not only has the pandemic accelerated consumer adoption of digital payments and shopping, but online behemoths are making new investments in healthcare and pharmacy."

    Walgreens CMO CMO Pat McLean describes the move as "a redesigned mobile app experience that is a gateway to all things Walgreens … The real benefit here, it’s an app and a mobile-first experience."

    AdWeek writes that "the app itself features a number of health and wellness services for customers, including a 24/7 pharmacy chat and the ability to book appointments, personalized health and wellness advice, and real-time flu alerts. Walgreens noted that the previous version of the app had been downloaded more than 65 million times."

    The story also says that "Walgreens will transition the 100 million members (a number where it has CVS beat—its loyalty program has 62 million members) of its Balance Rewards program from a points-based system to a cash-based system … MyWalgreens also personalizes coupons and other offers based on the customer’s past shopping behavior, while the app allows members to connect their health and fitness devices, to which Walgreens is attaching additional benefits to incentivize healthier living."

    KC's View:

    Probably a coincidence that this announcement came at the end of a week in which Amazon announced new pharmacy initiatives.  But …

    I was having a conversation with a friend of mine the other day, someone with long and varied retail experience, and we agreed that to a great extent, chain drug stores such as CVS and Walgreens - category killers in their segment - have largely given away much of their competitive advantages.

    Walk into any of these stores, and for the most part you see lots of stuff that has very little to do with health and wellness.  Pharmacies, which should be a differential advantages, are at the back of the store.  And while these chains are trying different approaches to establishing their credentials in health care - like CVS getting into the insurance business via Aetna - they may have left themselves open to attack from players like Amazon because they did not focus and innovate in the area where they could have been and should have been special.

    Published on: November 23, 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 12,590,220 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 262,711 deaths and 7,453,115 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 59,076,121 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 1,395,296 fatalities and 40,833,503 reported recoveries.  (Source.)


    •  And then there were three…

    The Financial Times reports this morning that "the coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford university and AstraZeneca has exceeded regulatory requirements for effectiveness in phase 3 trials, giving another boost to hopes that the disease can be defeated.

    "The vaccine will be submitted for approval “immediately” after Oxford and AstraZeneca said two different dosing regimens showed different levels of effectiveness in trials in the UK and Brazil. When the vaccine was given as a half dose, followed by a full one at least one month later, efficacy — a measure of how a vaccine prevents infection or severe disease in trials — was 90 per cent. When the jab was given as two full doses at least one month apart, efficacy was 62 per cent. The average efficacy was 70 per cent."

    More from the FT story:  "The jab is priced at about $3 to $4 a dose, supply deals suggest, a fraction of the price of other vaccines. AstraZeneca has agreed to sell it at cost to developing nations in perpetuity. The vaccine can be stored long-term at normal fridge temperature, between 2C and 8C. Others require a storage temperature as low as -70C. AstraZeneca is targeting the manufacture of up to 3bn doses next year. Depending on regulatory approval, different dosing regimens could mean more doses are available."

    The Wall Street Journal writes, "The results bode well for the near-term availability of a third vaccine to battle Covid-19, after a shot created by Moderna Inc. and one made jointly by Pfizer Inc. and Germany’s BioNTech SE were found to be more than 90% effective in their own late-stage trials. Pfizer and BioNTech last week said they had asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to permit use of their vaccine."


    •  From CNN:

    "Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the head of the government's effort to develop a vaccine against Covid-19, said the first Americans to receive a coronavirus vaccine could get it as soon as Dec. 11.

    "On Friday, Pfizer submitted an application to the US Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization for their Covid-19 vaccine candidate, and an FDA vaccine advisory committee is slated to meet December 10."


    •  From the New York Times:

    "The Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency authorization for the experimental antibody treatment given to President Trump shortly after he was diagnosed with Covid-19, giving doctors another option to treat Covid-19 patients as cases across the country continue to rise.

    "The treatment, made by the biotech company Regeneron, is a cocktail of two powerful antibodies that have shown promise in early studies at keeping the infection in check, reducing medical visits in patients who get the drug early in the course of their disease. A similar treatment, made by Eli Lilly, was given emergency approval earlier this month.

    "The emergency authorization for Regeneron’s drug is limited in scope: It is for people 12 and over who have tested positive for the coronavirus and who are at high risk for developing severe Covid-19. Evidence so far suggests that antibody treatments work best early in the course of the disease, before the virus has gained a foothold in the body. Like Eli Lilly’s treatment, Regeneron’s is not authorized for use in people who are hospitalized or who need oxygen."


    •  The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that "there were 83,870 people hospitalized with the disease as of Sunday, according to the Covid Tracking Project. The U.S. has set records for hospitalizations every day since the number surpassed 60,000 on Nov. 10, according to the project’s data."

    The Journal goes on:  "The U.S. seven-day moving average of new cases, which smooths out day-to-day irregularities in data, continues to climb. As of Sunday it was 170,855, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Johns Hopkins data—higher than the 14-day moving average of 159,809, a sign cases are on the rise.

    "The U.S. reported 921 deaths from Covid-19 on Sunday, bringing its total to 256,782. Deaths are also on the rise, with the seven-day average exceeding the 14-day average since Oct. 19, but they are lower than in the first months of the pandemic, as doctors understand better how to treat the disease."


    •  Axios reports that the "TSA screened 1 million passengers Friday for only the second time since the pandemic began (last time was Sunday, Oct. 18), despite CDC guidance on Thursday advising against Thanksgiving travel."

    However, the story acknowledges, "it was still down from 2.5 million on the same day last year."


    •  Walmart announced last week in an internal memo that its headquarters employees will continue to work from home until July 2021 - a change from the previously announced date of January 31, 2021.  The decision is an acknowledgment that the Covid-19 pandemic continues to be a threat to the nation's health, and that broad-scale distribution of a vaccine probably is at least months away.


    •  The Seattle Times reports on a new six-point plan sent to Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee by a group called Challenge Seattle - made up of some of the state’s top chief executive officers, including among others the leaders of Microsoft, Boeing, Nordstrom, Alaska Airlines, REI, Starbucks, Weyerhaeuser and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center - that is designed to propose a framework for navigating the pandemic.

    Among the proposals are "more resources for coronavirus testing and contacting tracing. More state aid for struggling businesses and workers. Getting young children back into school in January, if the public health metrics show it is safe … more resources to help distribute a vaccine when it becomes available, and better and more public data on coronavirus activity, such as positivity rates in hot spots and more detailed figures on hospitalizations."


    •  At a virtual meeting hosted by Saudi Arabia, "Leaders from the Group of 20 nations urged greater global cooperation Saturday to ensure coronavirus vaccines reach beyond the wealthiest regions as promising U.S. vaccines appear closer to approval," the Washington Post reports.


    •  The New York Times reports that "the French government on Friday declared it was postponing Black Friday, as it moved to quell a nationwide rebellion by shopkeepers who say that Amazon has been stealing business from them during France’s coronavirus lockdown.

    "Black Friday, the U.S. import that has been embraced by European retailers as the quasi-official kickoff to the Christmas shopping season, will be delayed by a week in France, to Dec. 4, after the government wrested an agreement from Amazon and the country’s biggest retailers to delay their discounts.

    "The move is intended to level the playing field for booksellers, clothing shops and 'nonessential' businesses that were forced to close their doors on Oct. 30 after a second national lockdown was imposed, propelling consumers to online sites, including Amazon.  Under the accord, big retailers agreed to put off their Black Friday sales promotions on the condition that the government reauthorizes the reopening of small retailers by then."


    •  Variety reports on another theatrical film that now will go directly to a streaming service because of the impact that the pandemic has had on the movie theater business.  According to the story, Amazon has acquired worldwide rights to Coming 2 America, a sequel to the highly successful 1988 Eddie Murphy comedy, Coming To America, and will make it available for streaming on March 5, 2021.

    Returning cast members include Murphy, Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones and John Amos.

    In a story about this trend, the New York Times writes about how "the end-of-the-year holiday season usually means that theaters are packed with blockbuster crowd pleasers, award hopefuls — and moviegoers.

    "Not this year. With many theaters shut because of the coronavirus and the ones that are open struggling to attract audiences, many studios have either pushed the release dates of major films into 2021 or created a hybrid model in which the theaters still in operation can show new releases while they are also made available through streaming or on-demand services."

    What this means, the Times writes, is that many industry executives are coming to grips with a new reality, that "no longer … would a film’s success be judged solely by the box office revenue it generates in theaters."

    There will be other metrics - like how many subscribers can be attracted to a streaming service by a high profile movie.  Which also is likely to mean the economics of the film industry's supply chain are likely to change.  (It may not be possible to drop $200 million-plus on a superhero film that will be streamed.) 

    This isn't necessarily a bad thing.  I'll trade spectacle for plot and character development any day.  

    But this is a good lesson for every industry that we live in a world where every assumption can be challenged, where every economic model can be undermined, and that consumer preferences may not be what you think they are (or at least c an be subverted by new realities).


    •  The Toronto Raptors of the National Basketball Association (NBA) said that it will begin its 2020-2021 season in Tampa, Florida, after the Canadian government refused to allow the team to host games at home because of concerns that opposing teams would bring the coronavirus with them.

    NBA training camps start up on December 1m with a shortened 72-game schedule set to begin on December 22.


    •  Some good news…

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has gone on the record as saying that Santa Claus has “innate immunity” from the coronavirus, and so the children of the world need not worry that he'll be sidelined this Christmas by the pandemic.

    Published on: November 23, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  From Engadget:

    "Instacart has teamed up with Best Buy to offer same-day delivery. The option is available for almost every Best Buy store across the US via the Instacart app .. As part of the partnership, Instacart has rolled out a feature called Certified Delivery. That will allow you and shoppers to track orders with high-value products, and to confirm delivery and receipt of them. Instacart will enable the feature for other retailers in the coming months."


    •  In the UK, The Sun reports that Aldi "is rolling out its Deliveroo home delivery service to 129 stores in total by the end of the year.  The speedy delivery sees customers order groceries online for same-day delivery - and it could arrive within 30 minutes."

    While Aldi does not do its own deliveries in the UK, it is rolling out a click-and-collect service that is expected to be in some 200 of its stores by the end of the year, the story says.


    •  Amazon this morning announced that it is introducing a number of ways to make the end-of-year holiday shopping easier and "spoiler free" for shoppers. Among them are Amazon Map Tracking, which "lets customers view the progress of their delivery on a map in real-time when the driver is close" … Amazon Share Tracking, which "gives customers the option to send tracking information to friends or family, so they know when to expect their package and bring their delivery indoors" … and Amazon Photo-On-Delivery, which "provides visual delivery confirmation, showing customers that their package was delivered and where it was placed by the driver."

    The Amazon press release, which also touts Amazon Hubs and Lockers as options for people trying to keep their holiday shopping choices a secret, also makes the point that the entire network is "powered by incredible employees coming together to deliver magical experiences for customers."

    Some of this stuff isn't new, but may be seen by consumers as having new relevance at a time when a lot more people are at home all day than ever before.

    I also think there is a broader message here - which is that it isn't enough to just have lots of last mile options, but also to own it as much as possible.  Which clearly is what Amazon is trying to do.  If Amazon takes responsibility for the entire experience and it is able to deliver on the vast majority of its promises - which I think it does - then it also gets the credit and becomes the preferred option for most consumers.  Which is the end game.


    •  The Wall Street Journal spends a day in the life of Deborah Liljegren, who "joined Amazon.com in April as it raced to add warehouse workers to keep up with soaring demand from homebound shoppers."  Now, the story says, she "is a stower at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Kenosha, Wis., where she helps organize items that go into packages. She took the position after being laid off from her accounting job at an advertising firm in March, a shift that has taken her from performing clerical duties in an office to working a fast-paced, physically demanding position inside the one-million-square-foot Amazon facility."

    Her day is exhausting.  In fact, just reading about it is exhausting, and you can do so here.  


    •  From CNBC:

    "Amazon’s glasses that let you talk to Alexa are now available for anyone to purchase.

    "The new Echo Frames cost $249.99 and will ship Dec. 10. Amazon launched the Frames at its annual hardware event last year as part of its lineup of 'Day 1' products, but they were only available to consumers on an invitation-only basis.

    "Amazon introduced improvements to the second-generation Echo Frames based on feedback from invite-only users.

    Among the updates are up to 40% longer battery life, an auto off feature to maximize battery life when the glasses aren’t in use, an upgraded 'VIP Filter,' which now not only lets users prioritize notifications from certain apps and contacts, but also calendar alerts and group messages, as well as an 'Auto Volume' feature that automatically adjusts the device’s volume based on the noise level of a user’s surrounding environment … The lenses are clear but Amazon said customers can get prescription lenses put in at a LensCrafters store."


    •  The Economic Times reports that "Jeff Bezos gave $684 million of Amazon.com Inc. stock to non-profits, days after posting on Instagram that he’d chosen 16 organizations to be the first recipients of money from the Bezos Earth Fund," which is described as "a $10 billion endeavor to combat climate change."

    According to the story, "The world’s richest man donated 220,825 shares of the e-commerce juggernaut, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The Amazon founder has given away stock worth $856 million this year, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, which estimates his fortune at $183.6 billion."

    Published on: November 23, 2020

    •  USA Today reports that Walmart is rolling out a new holiday program that will have it delivering Christmas trees to customers' homes, as well as hanging their Christmas lights for them.

    "Installation is $129 for single-story homes and $199 in two-story homes," USA Today writes.  "But putting them up is only part of the cost. Removal of the lights is $99 for a single-story home and $159 for two-story homes."

    Walmart is using Handy, which describes itself as "the leading platform for connecting individuals looking for household services with top-quality, pre-screened independent service professionals," to handle the light installations and removals.

    The story notes that the delivery of live trees also is being offered by Home Depot, Lowe's and Williams Sonoma.

    Published on: November 23, 2020

    •  Albertsons announced that it has added the option "of online grocery shopping to more customers by accepting SNAP EBT payments for Drive Up & Go orders placed through its websites and apps … The company has rolled out the new payment option at nearly 200 Drive Up & Go locations at select Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Tom Thumb, Randalls, Jewel-Osco, and Carrs locations. There is no fee for Drive Up & Go service."

    According to the announcement, "The extension of SNAP payments to Drive Up & Go orders is part of Albertsons Companies’ strategic and rapid acceleration of digital and eCommerce offerings. The company … is on track to have 1,400 Drive Up & Go locations by the end of its fiscal year."


    •  KCCI-TV News reports that "Hy-Vee announced it will be bringing back special hours for customers who are high-risk as COVID-19 cases rise in Iowa.

    "The company took to Facebook to announce that customers over 60 years old, pregnant mothers and those with underlying health conditions are welcome to shop from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. Monday through Friday."

    Hy-Vee also announced last week that it "is seeking employees to help fill multiple positions in stores across its eight-state region as well as its distribution centers located in Chariton and Cherokee, Iowa."  The openings are said to be for both temporary and permanent positions, "from online personal shoppers and cashiers to food service clerks, stockers and more."


    •  The BBC has a story about how the UK is considering legislation that would ban junk food advertising from online sites, an expansion of the original plan, which only would have banned the ads from appearing online (as well as on television) before 9 pm.

    According to the story, "The proposal, which is still under consultation, could usher in some of the toughest digital marketing restrictions in the world by the end of 2022.  Firms would not be able to promote foods high in fat, salt or sugar in Facebook ads, paid search results on Google, text promotions and posts on platforms such as Twitter and Instagram."  The goal, proponents say, is to address increasing levels of childhood obesity.

    However, the BBC also reports that a letter has been sent to British Prime  Minister Boris Johnson - signed by 800 food and drink manufacturers and 3,000 UK brands - complaining that they "have not been given enough time to submit detailed objections."


    •  Bloomberg reports that, as expected, "Guitar Center Inc., the largest U.S. retailer of music instruments and equipment, filed for bankruptcy after the spreading COVID-19 pandemic kept customers at home and job losses made them less able to afford new gear."

    The filing allows the company to stay in business while it restructures its debt.

    Published on: November 23, 2020

    In Week 11 of National Football League play…

    Philadelphia Eagles  17, Cleveland Browns  22

    Atlanta Falcons 9, New Orleans Saints 24

    Cincinnati Bengals 9, Washington 20

    Detroit Lions 0, Carolina Panthers 20

    Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Jacksonville Jaguars 3

    Tennessee Titans 30, Baltimore Ravens 24

    New England Patriots 20, Houston Texans 27

    Miami Dolphins 13, Denver Broncos 20

    NY Jets 28, LA Chargers 34

    Green Bay Packers 31, Indianapolis Colts 34

    Dallas Cowboys 31, Minnesota Vikings 28

    Kansas City Chiefs 35, Las Vegas Raiders 31