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    Published on: December 1, 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.

    How do you manage the risk of contagious diseases - including but not limited to the Covid-19 coronavirus - so that your workplace is safe for both employees and customers.  The events of the past nine months have placed this question front and center for every business, and today's guest is Mark Capper, founder of Charis Health, who tells co-hosts Sterling and Kevin about how his company is working to help retailers manage disease outbreaks.

    You can listen to the podcast here…

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

    Published on: December 1, 2020

    Retailer-owned cooperative Wakefern Food Corp. announced a new member - Madison Foods, a third-generation family grocery business, has joined the Wakefern cooperative with plans to convert three Save A Lot stores to Price Rite Marketplace stores in Massachusetts.

    According to the story, the Slawsby family "will begin converting their Save A Lot stores to Price Rite Marketplace – a registered trademark and banner of Wakefern Food Corp. -- in the coming weeks."

    The three stores being rebranded are in Roslindale, Roxbury, and Brockton.  The family also plans to open a new Price Rite Marketplace in Dorchester next month.

    There currently are more than 60 value-driven Price Rite Marketplace stores in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Maryland.

    KC's View:

    I think most folks would agree that this is a step up for Madison Foods, and that the Price Rite format is superior to most versions of the Save-A-Lot formula, which usually seems to be a pale imitation of the like of Aldi.  And you can't get a much better partner as an independent than Wakefern.

    Published on: December 1, 2020

    The National Retail Federation (NRF)n yesterday published its prediction that "holiday sales during November and December will increase between 3.6 percent and 5.2 percent over 2019 to a total between $755.3 billion and $766.7 billion. The numbers, which exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants, compare with a 4 percent increase to $729.1 billion last year and an average holiday sales increase of 3.5 percent over the past five years."

    “We know this holiday season will be unlike any other, and retailers have planned ahead by investing billions of dollars to ensure the health and safety of their employees and customers,” NRF president-CEO Matthew Shay said in a prepared statement.  “Consumers have shown they are excited about the holidays and are willing to spend on gifts that lift the spirits of family and friends after such a challenging year."

    NRF also "expects that online and other non-store sales, which are included in the total, will increase between 20 percent and 30 percent to between $202.5 billion and $218.4 billion, up from $168.7 billion last year."

    KC's View:

    There are a couple of possibilities here.

    One is that NRF believes that it makes sense of paint a rosy picture of the possibilities, hopes that its optimism will help raise consumer spending levels, but figures if it is wrong, it can always blame both the pandemic and recessionary thinking.

    The other is that NRF actually believes that people are in a position and a mindset to spend more this year than last year … in which case people may want a hit of whatever it is that Matthew Shay is smoking.

    Maybe I'm just too pessimistic.  But I cannot even imagine that with all the uncertainty with which so many people are living, they'll be inclined to spend more this year.

    But if they do, and the vast majority of it is spent online, isn't that yet another nail in the coffin of traditional bricks-and-mortar retail … because it will indicate that they are even more irrelevant than believed?

    Published on: December 1, 2020

    Reuters reports this morning that estimates from Adobe Analytics suggest that yesterday, colloquially known as Cyber Monday, may have generated as much as $11.4 billion in sales "as the coronavirus pandemic prompts consumers to stay at home and turn to the internet for their holiday shopping needs."

    These estimates, according to the story, "showed this year’s conclusion to Thanksgiving weekend promotions would come in between $10.8 billion and $11.4 billion.

    "While that was down from an earlier estimate of as much as $12.7 billion, it still easily surpasses this year’s Black Friday figure of $9 billion, which was the strongest Black Friday online sales result to date, as well as last year’s Cyber Monday total of $9.4 billion."

    Published on: December 1, 2020

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

    •  In the US, there now have been a total of 13,920,038 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 274,332 deaths and 8,223,391 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 63,685,519 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 1,476,246 resulting fatalities and 44,077,182 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  From the New York Times:

    "Each week, good news about vaccines or antibody treatments surfaces, offering hope that an end to the pandemic is at hand.

    "And yet this holiday season presents a grim reckoning. The United States has reached an appalling milestone: more than one million new coronavirus cases every week. Hospitals in some states are full to bursting. The number of deaths is rising and seems on track to easily surpass the 2,200-a-day average in the spring, when the pandemic was concentrated in the New York metropolitan area.

    "Our failure to protect ourselves has caught up to us.

    "The nation now must endure a critical period of transition, one that threatens to last far too long, as we set aside justifiable optimism about next spring and confront the dark winter ahead. Some epidemiologists predict that the death toll by March could be close to twice the 250,000 figure that the nation surpassed only last week.

    ''The next three months are going to be just horrible,' said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health."

    You can read the entire piece, by the always excellent Times science reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr., here.

    •  There are reports this morning that the Covid-19 coronavirus actually was present in the United States as early as mid-December - "weeks before it was officially identified in China and about a month earlier than public health authorities found the first U.S. case."

    The Wall Street Journal writes that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "found evidence of infection in 106 of 7,389 blood donations collected by the American Red Cross from residents in nine states across the US … The findings significantly strengthen evidence suggesting the virus was spreading around the world well before public health authorities and researchers became aware, upending initial thinking about how early and quickly it emerged."

    •  The New York Times has a piece about a recent Harvard meeting at which CEOs from companies like Walmart, CVS and Kohl's discussed the impact of the pandemic on business and their concerns going forward.

    The Times writes:

    "Vaccine announcements are welcome, of course, but they raise questions: How should executives interpret data about effectiveness? How will delivery logistics play out? What if employees don’t take the shots? (A recent Gallup poll found that around 40 percent of Americans wouldn’t agree to get the vaccine if it were approved today.) C.E.O.s are grappling with how to verify a person’s health when they enter a business."

    At the same time, "executives ranked corporate culture as their top concern, a worry that grows as employees continue to work from home … executives are increasingly focused on getting employees back to the office safely, whether by investing in air quality improvements or reconfiguring work spaces. But these adjustments are costly, and they affect budgets from facilities to technology, H.R. and elsewhere."

    •  From Axios:

    "The TSA screened 1,176,091 people at checkpoints in the U.S. on Sunday, the highest number since mid-March, according to a spokesperson."

    The number shouldn't be too much of a surprise, the story says, since "in a Harris Poll survey conducted from Nov. 19 to Nov. 21 … 25%-30% of Americans said they were likely to ignore health officials' warnings about the risks of gathering with family for Thanksgiving."

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "advised Americans on Nov. 19 not to travel for Thanksgiving, warning that doing so may increase their chances of contracting and spreading COVID-19. More than 93,000 people are currently hospitalized with the coronavirus, with many hospital systems on the brink of disaster."

    •  The New York Times reports this morning that it will take time - weeks, not days -  before we know the impact that all the Thanksgiving travel had on coronavirus infection rates around the country.

    "It takes time for infections to take hold, time for tests to detect them, and time for results to be reported," the Times writes.

    "In interviews, four experts agreed that there probably will be an upward bump in cases linked to the holiday, similar to the rises that were seen after Memorial Day and July 4. But they had different estimates for when it would emerge.

    "Part of the uncertainty stems from the virus itself. Its incubation period — the time after a person catches it but before symptoms appear — can range from two days to two weeks or longer, though five days seems to be typical."

    •  CNN  reports that "as the crush of incoming Covid-19 patients continues to strain hospitals across the US, officials across several states are worried their hospitals will be overwhelmed as the holiday season approaches … California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday told reporters that the intensive care unit bed capacity in the state might reach 112% by Christmas Eve, if the trend of surging coronavirus cases continues … At the current rate of new infections, hospitalizations could double or triple within the next month if there are no major changes, Newsom told reporters.

    "The number of patients needing intensive care will surpass capacity by mid-December, he said. Total hospitalizations statewide could reach 78% by Christmas Eve."

    At the same time, the story says, "In Rhode Island, officials prepared to use field hospitals after telling residents their systems were already at capacity.

    "In New York, where some hospitals saw room capacity taxed in March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this time medical systems need to take steps to move patients to the other facilities that have space."  And "in West Virginia, state officials told hospitals to prepare to delay elective surgeries as the Covid-19 numbers surge."

    •  The Boston Globe reports that "Rhode Island is opening two field hospitals and public health officials are pleading with residents to stay home as a sharp spike in COVID-19 cases pushed hospitalizations to near-record levels.

    "A 335-bed field hospital run by Care New England opened Monday in Cranston, while a 594-bed facility at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence will begin receiving COVID patients Tuesday. Fewer than a dozen patients were expected to be admitted in Cranston on Monday, while the Providence site anticipates about two dozen on its first day.

    "The field units are functioning as a relief valve so hospitals can continue treating other ailments, according to Dr. James V. McDonald, a medical director at the Rhode Island Department of Health."

    The story goes on to say that "as case counts climb throughout the region, Vermont is building field hospitals. The Massachusetts National Guard on Monday began constructing a 250-bed field hospital at the DCU Center, to be staffed by UMass Memorial Health Care when it opens this Sunday."

    •  CNN reports that "Sunday marked the busiest US air travel day since the coronavirus pandemic began. And that means countless travelers could be carrying the virus home and infecting others unknowingly."

     White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx tells CBS that ""if your family traveled, you have to assume that you were exposed and you became infected."

    •  While the number of people of traveling on Thanksgiving was far more than the CDC wanted, the fact is that it was far below the numbers of past years, and Fast Company has a piece about how "the decline in holiday travel is especially dispiriting for the myriad of businesses that line airport terminals: duty-free shops, restaurants, bars, newsstands, local boutiques, souvenir peddlers, and salons."

    In some cases, the story says, "the passengers might not even be near the open businesses, as airports close down entire concourses and shift airlines to different gates to consolidate. Certain concessionaires have closed down temporarily, while others have had to cut the number of employees due to social-distancing rules.

    "For those who have decided to risk flying, there is also the question of whether to venture into the smaller space of a store, where social distancing may be difficult, if not impossible."

    Fast Company notes that while airport businesses traditionally have had "the benefit of a captive audience, they’re also spending more to operate: rent and insurance costs are sky-high, as are the fees paid to suppliers who must comply with stringent security measures."  That investment has been rendered problematic by the pandemic, forcing these airport businesses to consider when or if or how  they'll be able to return.

    •  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "U.S. employees started heading back to the office in greater numbers after Labor Day but that pace is stalling now, delivering another blow to economic-recovery hopes in many cities.

    "The recent surge in Covid-19 cases across the country has led to an uptick in Americans resuming work at home after some momentum had been building for returning to the workplace, property analysts said. Floor after floor of empty office space is a source of great frustration for landlords and companies, which have invested millions of dollars in adapting building plans and developing new health protocols to make employees comfortable with a shared location."

    According to the story, "About a quarter of employees had returned to work as of Nov. 18, according to Kastle Systems, a security firm that monitors access-card swipes in more than 2,500 office buildings in 10 of the largest U.S. cities.  That rate is up sharply from an April low of less than 15%, which largely consisted of building-maintenance and essential workers. The office return rate climbed steadily during the summer and early fall, but it has flattened out after reaching a high point of 27% in mid-October."

    Published on: December 1, 2020

    The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) is out with an audit concluding - in what the Washington Post described as "unsparing" terms - that "he nation’s weekly unemployment statistics have been plagued by backlogs, fraud and inconsistent data reporting state by state, making them a seriously flawed measurement that has likely overstated the number of individuals claiming unemployment during the pandemic."

    Some context from the Post story:

    "The Labor Department doesn’t actually count each person who is claiming jobless benefits every week. Instead, the agency uses a tally of ongoing state claims as a stand-in for the total number of people receiving unemployment benefits at any given time across the country, which it calls continuing claims … Before the pandemic, this was an acceptable approximation. But due to the massive level of backlogs, as well as the ability for some workers to file claims retroactively, this has resulted in a significant number of extra claims during the pandemic, the GAO said."

    The reason this is a problem?  "Unemployment claims have served as a weekly indicator for analysts and policymakers about the health of the labor market and broader economy as a whole."

    KC's View:

    So what the GAO is saying is that things have not been quite as bad as the government has led us to believe.  Which I guess is good news, except that it is a little disconcerting that in 2020 the systems can be so dysfunctional.

    Is the glass half-full?  Or half-empty?  I'm not sure, except that I think I need a drink.

    Published on: December 1, 2020

    •  From Bloomberg:

    "At Chili’s and Maggiano’s, the buzz is about their booming new side hustle—It’s Just Wings. Same at Applebee’s, where its startup, Neighborhood Wings, is doing a brisk business.

    "Both are online-only ventures that the chains quickly set up in hundreds of their kitchens—fresh takes on a business that the industry likes to call digital restaurants. The push into this model was tepid for years, but the pandemic created an urgent scramble to find new customers and put idle kitchen staffs back to work in a bid revive a sector among the hardest hit by months of social-distancing and rolling lockdowns."

    According to the story, "Early indications are that the businesses are doing well. While there's little publicly-available data on sales and profits, executives at some of these chains have already seen enough promise to pledge further investments in these new businesses. Chili’s and Maggiano’s, both owned by Brinker International Inc., launched It’s Just Wings out of 1,000 locations in June. It’s already on pace to hit $150 million in sales in its first year, which would account for about 5% of annual revenue."

    •  Zoom Video Communications - which has become a go-to technology with both personal and business applications, making meetings possible in a pandemic era - "reported sales of $777.2 million in the latest quarter, up from $166.6 million a year earlier, as it posted a profit of $198.4 million," the Wall Street Journal writes.

    The story notes that "Zoom has been providing some of its services free to users, including to now more than 125,000 K-12 schools that began the new academic year largely teaching remotely. That weighed on its profitability, Zoom said Monday. Gross margin for the quarter fell to 67%, down from 71% in the prior three-month period, as the company spent heavily on cloud-computing service to facilitate all its users."

    Published on: December 1, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  MLive reports that "Meijer customers picking up groceries at their local stores were surprised when they got them for free this holiday season.

    "The company announced that it gave more than 200 customers free groceries when they came to pick up their orders last weekend ahead of Thanksgiving … Team members shared the good news about the Meijer Pickup surprise when customers arrived for their groceries. They were wished a Happy Thanksgiving and given $50 coupons towards their next order."

    The company said that the initiative was its way "of showing its pickup customers “how much they’re appreciated especially during a pandemic when the company has seen an unprecedented increase in the use of the program."

    •  CNN reports on how "Rite Aid is betting that new stores that put pharmacists at the front instead of the back will help it draw customers at a time when competition from online shopping is surging."

    The story says that Rite Aid recently opened such a store in Moscow, Pennsylvania, "the third store of its kind for the chain, and Rite Aid (RAD)has plans to open two more next year."  It is described as including "lower shelves to improve visibility and more natural light, with signs and display fixtures moved away from windows. In addition to a new location for the pharmacist that makes the person more accessible to customers, the store has a 'wellness room' where customers can schedule a visit with a licensed clinician."

    CNN notes that "its opening comes at a time when drugstore chains are facing growing competition from online retailers like Amazon as well as big box stores like Walmart and Target that are drawing more customers in the pandemic. That makes it more critical for Rite Aid to make its stores more of a destination."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that DoorDash "plans to sell 33 million shares in an initial public offering that could give the food-delivery company a valuation of as much as $32 billion.  The San Francisco company said it expects an offering price of between $75 and $85 a share, adding that a pricing at the $80 midpoint of that range would yield net proceeds of about $2.54 billion."

    The story says that "in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, DoorDash said co-founders Tony Xu, Andy Fang and Stanley Tang will still hold 69% of the company’s voting power after the IPO.

    "DoorDash said it would use proceeds from the offering for general purposes, including working capital, operating expenses and capital spending."

    Including, I would guess, the development of retailing businesses like DashMart that will compete directly against DoorDash's  retail clients.

    •  From the New York Times:

    "Arcadia Group, the British retail company owned by Philip Green that includes the Topshop clothing chain, has gone into administration, a form of bankruptcy, the company said Monday. It is one of the biggest retail collapses in Britain since the start of the pandemic.

    "Deloitte has been appointed as the administrator. Arcadia, which has 444 stores in Britain, 22 overseas and about 13,000 employees, said it would keep operating during administration … No layoffs were announced Monday, but it remained unclear how many jobs could be saved as the administrator deals with the group’s finances."

    Published on: December 1, 2020

    •  Walmart announced that it has hired Dr. Cheryl Pegus as Walmart’s Executive Vice President, Health & Wellness.  

    Pegus joins Walmart from Cambia Health Solutions, where she was President of Consumer Health Solutions and Chief Medical Officer, responsible for clinical and consumer strategy to increase access to affordable, equitable care.

    •  Customer data science pioneer dunnhumby announced the appointment of Grant Steadman to President of North America.

    The announcement notes that Steadman has held a number of leadership roles since joining dunnhumby, most recently as Senior Vice President, Head of Client Services for North America.  Before that, he was President and CEO of dunnhumby Norway.

    Steadman succeeds  Jose Gomes, who leaves dunnhumby to join Google Cloud as Managing Director of U.S. Retail Industry Sales.

    Published on: December 1, 2020

    I suggested yesterday that the government ought to talk to Amazon and Jeff Bezos about vaccine distribution, prompting one MNB reader to write:

    In the wake of airlines losing millions of dollars, United Airlines has been awarded some of the dispersal funding to help in the distribution of vaccines. Great use of unused planes and pilots.

    Why would you advocate for Amazon, who isn't losing millions to get a piece of the action? Unless of course you are advocating for their management help in handling such a large project?

    It was a suggestion that had everything to do with logistics - Amazon seems to be as good as anyone at getting things where they need to be faster than seems possible.

    Regarding a food conversation that took place here yesterday, MNB reader Craig Espelien wrote:

    Kevin - per a few chefs I know, your guidance on how to put rub on a tenderloin may have a couple of things reversed.

    You suggest putting oil on first and the n the rub. It should actually rub and then oil (at room temp of course). When the meat hits the grill, the pores open - if you do as you suggest, the oil fills the pores first preventing the rub from getting deeper into the meat. I was taught that with rub first, when the pores open up, the oil added after helps get the flavors deeper into whatever you are cooking.

    That is what multiple chefs have advised me to do.

    I am but a humble student … I am happy to learn from anyone willing to teach me.

    Thanks for the advice.

    Finally, I wrote yesterday that "the sports person of the weekend has to be Sarah Fuller,  the starting goalkeeper for Vanderbilt’s women’s soccer team, who found herself on Saturday kicking off for Vanderbilt's men's football team ."

    Prompting one MNB reader to write:

    It seems strange you failed to mention that kickoff went all the way to the 35-yard-line.

    The story was that she played … not the specifics of the one kick Fuller got to make.

    The tenor of your remark suggests that you are not impressed with Fuller's effort.

    Which is fine.  You are entitled.  (Which, as I write it, seems to have a double meaning, which also is fine.)

    But for the record, Fuller's kick reportedly was exactly what her coach, Derek Mason, told her to do.

    Now, you can debate the wisdom of the order all you wish.  And since Mason, who coached Vanderbilt to an 0-8 record so far this season, was fired after the game, that seems like a debate worth having.

    I still admire Fuller.  She did something special.  She set a terrific example.  She promoted the "Play Like A Girl" movement.  And she kicked the ball a helluva lot further and more accurately than I could.

    Good for her.  

    Published on: December 1, 2020

    •  In Monday Night Football, the Seattle Seahawks defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 23-17.

    •  And, because of a continued problem with a coronavirus outbreak in the Baltimore Ravens locker room, the team's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers has been postponed a third time.  It first was supposed to be played on Thanksgiving night, then was pushed to Sunday, then to tonight, and now is slated to be played tomorrow night.