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    Published on: December 8, 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.

    Today, a look at one possible retail future, though the eyes of a 22-year-old woman who helped inspire one AI-powered business solution and now has co-founded another new business with potential implications for how consumers will interact with each other and the stores they patronize.

    Our guest:  Rushika Raman, co-founder of Havanote, who tells co-hosts Sterling Hawkins and Kevin Coupe about her mobile app startup that allows users to take a highly personal approach to making recommendations - about retailers and restaurants and about products and services, in ways that can have a real impact on the conduct of business.  And, she offers a young person's assessment of what works and doesn't work for her in the broader world of retailing.

    You can listen to the podcast here…

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

    Published on: December 8, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    Welcome to the 21st century.

    Ikea has announced that it is ending production of its famous catalog after 70 years.

    While, as as National Public Radio (NPR) reports, the catalog "has given people around the world a chance to reimagine their surroundings, featuring everything from new shelves and chairs to an entirely revamped kitchen," the fact is that the company found it to be less inspirational than in the past.

    Here's how NPR frames the story:

    "The Ikea catalog grew from 285,000 copies in its first year to 200 million copies in 2016, its biggest year. At its height, Ikea produced nearly 70 versions of the catalog, in 32 different languages. 2020's edition ran 200 pages long.

    "But last year, Ikea says, its online sales rose by 45% worldwide, with shoppers making more than 4 billion visits to its website,"

    It was, the company said, "an emotional but rational decision" to end production of the catalog and instead "meet customers wherever they are."

    Which is what Ikea also has been doing with its creation of smaller urban stores and its offering of furniture building services - things that go beyond its traditional big box store/DIY business model.

    It is an Eye-Opening lesson to which many retailers should pay attention.

    Published on: December 8, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal reports that "the Federal Communications Commission dedicated $9.2 billion to fund construction of rural broadband networks over the next decade, in what the agency’s leader called the biggest-ever U.S. step to extend high-speed internet service."

    According to the story, "The providers have 10 years to build the networks, with incentives to do so sooner rather than later. The FCC said the auction covered more than five million homes and businesses in 49 states. In about 85% of locations, the providers promised ultrafast “gigabit” speed, the agency said. Most of the remaining locations would see download speeds of at least 100 megabits a second, capable of large downloads … Among states receiving funding, California topped the list with $695 million, followed by Mississippi at $495 million."

    KC's View:

    When we talk about the growth of e-commerce here, one of the points often made by readers is that there are folks in this country who simply do not have access to broadband, which puts a ceiling on how much it can grow.

    Projects like these, as well as the launch of satellites than can provide high-speed internet to remote areas, will be critical to creating the kind of digital infrastructure that will allow people to do far more than just order stuff online - it gives the country the ability to compete as we move quickly toward the mid-21st century.

    I can remember working for a different website something like 25 years ago and a colleague of mine, Gregory Grudzinski, wrote a column entitled "Broadband Changes Everything."  He was right then, he's right now, and it is almost governmental malpractice that these changes have not yet found their way to rural and remote regions of the country.

    Published on: December 8, 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, the number of confirmed Covid-19 coronavirus cases stands at 15,370,339, resulting in the deaths of 290,474 people an d 8,983,641 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 68,033,211 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 1,552,770 fatalities and 47,128,355 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  Breaking news this morning as the Wall Street Journal reports:

    "The Food and Drug Administration concluded in a detailed analysis that the first Covid-19 vaccine being considered for U.S. distribution “met the prescribed success criteria” in a clinical study, suggesting the agency will soon green-light the historic product.

    "The agency Tuesday released two separate analyses, one from its own staff scientists and one from the vaccine’s manufacturers, Pfizer Inc. and German partner BioNTech SE.

    "The FDA analysis highlighted various 'known benefits' from the vaccine. These included 'reduction in the risk of confirmed Covid-19 occurring at least seven days after Dose 2.' The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses for full protection.  In addition, the FDA said another benefit was reduction in the risk of confirmed Covid-19 after the first dose and before the second dose. Another clear benefit, the agency said, was 'reduction in the risk of confirmed severe Covid-19 any time after dose 1.'

    "The reference to reduction in confirmed severe disease was important, as early critics of some of the vaccine trials were concerned that only mild to moderate disease was prevented."

    The FDA says that "the vaccine carried certain side effects in greater numbers than with patients taking a placebo. The most common were injection site reactions, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain and fever.  The most common were injection site reactions, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain and fever. Severe 'adverse reactions' were rare, most frequent after the second dose, and generally less frequent in older adults greater than 55 years of age.

    Sign me up.

    Then, create an international protocol so that we're able to know who has been vaccinated and who has not.   Do that, and suddenly getting on planes and going to conferences and sitting in bars and restaurants and seeing and hugging our family members and friends becomes far less problematic.

    •  Good news this morning as "Britain’s National Health Service delivered its first shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday, opening a mass vaccination campaign with little precedent in modern medicine and making Britons the first people in the world to receive a clinically authorized, fully tested vaccine," the New York Times reports.

    The first person to get the now-authorized vaccine was 90-year-old Margaret Keenan, who said, "If I can do it, so can you."

    Keenan added, "It means I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the new year after being on my own for most of the year.”

    She may be getting a little ahead of herself on that last bit - I'm not sure that once you get a vaccine you can immediately venture back into the world.  Among other things, she has to get another dose in 21 days.  But good for her, because the only way we can achieve any sort of normality is by having enough people get vaccinated.  And I must say I love her no-nonsense approach to the issue - take the shot, trust the science, stop whining, and let us all get on with our lives.  Sort of reminds me of my mom.

    •  The New York Times this morning reports that there may be fewer doses of one vaccine available in the US than widely expected, since the federal government last summer chose not to lock in supplies beyond the 100 million doses that Pfizer originally contracted to sell the US.  The government was given the option to guarantee a supply of 500 million doses but declined to do so.

    The story notes that "the vaccine being produced by Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, is a two-dose treatment, meaning that 100 million doses is enough to vaccinate only 50 million Americans. The vaccine is expected to receive authorization for emergency use in the U.S. as soon as this weekend, with another vaccine, developed by Moderna, also likely to be approved for emergency use soon."

    The Times notes that "the bulk of the global supply of vaccines has already been claimed by wealthy countries like the United States, Canada, Britain and countries in Europe, leading to criticism that people in low- and middle-income countries will be left behind."

    In a statement, Pfizer said that “any additional doses beyond the 100 million are subject to a separate and mutually acceptable agreement,” and that “the company is not able to comment on any confidential discussions that may be taking place with the U.S. government.”

    •  From the New York Times:

    '"The United States has recorded its most coronavirus-related deaths over a weeklong period, as a brutal surge gathers speed across the country.

    "With a seven-day average of 2,249 deaths, the country broke the previous mark of 2,232 set on April 17 in the early weeks of the pandemic. Seven-day averages can provide a more accurate picture of the virus’s progression than daily death counts, which can fluctuate and disguise the broader trend line."

    The Times goes on:

    "Much has changed since the previous peak in April. The coronavirus is no longer concentrated in big urban areas like New York City and now envelops much of the country, including rural areas that had avoided it for several months.

    "Many of the hardest-hit counties on a per person basis are now in the Midwest. North Dakota, where one in every 10 residents has contracted the virus, has the highest total reported cases by population, followed closely by South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

    "The latest wave to hit the United States has hospitalized record numbers. Each day since Dec. 2, more than 100,000 Covid-19 patients were in hospitals. That far surpasses the number of people hospitalized during the peaks spring and summer, which at their worst had nearly 60,000 Americans in the hospital daily."

    •  The Seattle Times reports that "with coronavirus infections growing exponentially across Washington and people under the age of 40 accounting for nearly 60% of new cases, health officials are trying new tactics to reach the crucial youth demographic. They’re abandoning the formality of traditional public health messages and enlisting young people as advisers and emissaries to others of their own age."

    The story says that "the need to communicate more effectively with young people is reflected in the statistics.

    "Infection rates in people aged 10 to 29 more than tripled in King County between early October and early November. For the week of Nov. 17, the rate of new infections in adults under 30 was 441 per 100,000 — nearly twice as high as any other age group."

    •  In San Bernardino, California, The Sun reports that Stater Bros. Markets has decided to reinstate a $2 per hour wage increase for all hourly workers during the next three weeks.  It is the fifth time that the company has boosted pay on a temporary basis, with CEO Pete Van Helden saying in a statement that it "is but a small token of our company’s appreciation of their efforts."

    I like it when appreciation is expressed.  My only question - and I've been asking this from the beginning - is whether temporary wage increases designed to tell workers how essential they are end up communicating the fact that these employees are somehow less essential when then increase is taken away.  The bigger question is this - do retailers have to find ways to communicate and reward essential-ness on a more consistent basis?

    It is all about mindset.  In the same way that I think retailers have to think more in terms of lifetime customer value and less about transactions, should they be applying the same philosophy to their workforces?

    •  Fox Business reports that "CVS is looking to rapidly hire thousands of employees to help administer COVID-19 vaccines once the Food and Drug Administration green lights a candidate for distribution.

    "The company alerted customers over email that it's trying to up its workforce "urgently" in order to be ready for the surge in patients waiting to get vaccinated."

    •  They're calling it "the Fauci effect."

    National Public Radio (NPR) reports that there is a record number of applicants to medical schools this year - up 18 percent over a year ago, with experts saying that the increase seems to be "driven by the example of medical workers and public health figures such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases."

    NPR says that "Stanford University School of Medicine reports a 50% jump in the number of applications, or 11,000 applications for 90 seats. Boston University School of Medicine says applications are up 27%, to 12,024 for about 110 seats."

    Experts say the only comparison in terms of increased applications is what happened after 9-11.

    NPR writes, "Fauci said he sees the flood of medical school applicants as a sign that people are thinking about social justice — 'that you have responsibility not only to yourself, but as an integral part of society.'

    "He said he hopes the trend will counterbalance and 'maybe would even overcome the other side of the coin, which is the really somewhat stunning and disturbing fact that people have no regard at all for society, only just focusing very selfishly on themselves'."

    Can I get an "amen"?

    Published on: December 8, 2020

    JC Penney has emerged from bankruptcy with the completion of its sale to Simon Property Group and Brookfield Asset Management.

    Fox Business reports that "as part of the deal, the property holding companies will own 160 of JCPenney's real estate assets and all of its owned distribution centers as part of a separate property holding company … The company plans to permanently close nearly a third of its 846 stores as part of its restructuring over the next two years, which would leave it with just over 600 locations."

    This is all about a couple of mall owners throwing a Hail Mary pass, hoping that they can keep a company that has been a major tenant breathing, it will slow the slow death that has been experienced by many of their properties.

    KC's View:

    Anyone who thinks that JC Penney is capable of reversing a death march ought to double down and put their faith in Sears.  And maybe Montgomery Ward.  And, if there is any money left over, they could revive EJ Korvette.

    Though, to be honest, if there were a mall that opened tomorrow with those four anchor tenants, I'd want to visit it.  I wouldn't worry about contracting coronavirus, because I'd be the only one there.

    Published on: December 8, 2020

    •  The Dallas Morning News reports that Texas' first Eataly is scheduled to open tomorrow, "one of the largest places dedicated to gourmet food and drink that Dallas has ever seen. At 46,000 square feet, Eataly at NorthPark Center in Dallas has three restaurants and a cooking school inside the expansive Italian grocery emporium."

    According to the story, "What they’ve built is a shop that will feel familiar to anyone who’s visited U.S. Eataly locations in New York, Boston, Beverly Hills, Chicago or Las Vegas - but with a few Texas touches.

    "In Dallas, the butcher counter will sell raw briskets sourced from local ranches, including A Bar N in Celina."

    According to the Morning News, the store "will be kept at less than 50% capacity, and a dedicated 'safety task force' will make sure guests are complying with the company’s COVID-19 protocols … The cooking school isn’t doing in-person classes yet because of concerns about COVID-19 and will start with virtual classes at first."

    •  New Jersey-based Village Super Market reports that its Q1 online sales increased a whopping 172 percent compared to the same period a year ago.

    Total sales were $490.136 million for the quarter, up 20.3 percent … net income was $3.4 million compared to $2.6 million a year earlier … and same-store sales were up 6.6 percent.

    The company noted that the pandemic meant that "demand remains high in most stores, however sales at Fairway and Gourmet Garage locations in Manhattan have been significantly negatively impacted due primarily to residential population migration out of the city and less commuter and tourist traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic."

    Village Super Market operates a chain of 35 supermarkets in New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania under the ShopRite and Fairway banners and three Gourmet Garage specialty markets in New York City.

    •   JM Smucker announced that it is selling its Natural Balance premium pet food business to Nexus Capital Management for $50 million, as Smucker continues it move to focus on core brands and "strategy to direct investments and resources toward areas of the business that will generate the greatest growth and profitability."

    •  From CNBC:  

    "Petco Health and Wellness has filed an S-1 for an initial public offering as consumer spending on pets rises during the coronavirus pandemic.

    "The retailer has not yet shared the number of shares available or the pricing for its IPO. It plans to be listed on the Nasdaq with the ticker 'WOOF.'

    "The company noted in its filing that the number of households with pets is expected to increase by 4% this year alone, driven by the pandemic. The jump in owners creates $4 billion in new demand for pet care products."

    Published on: December 8, 2020

    Chuck Yeager, the legendary US Air Force pilot who flew missions during World War II and Vietnam and as a test pilot was the first person ever to break the sound barrier, and who was memorably described in "The Right Stuff," by Tom Wolfe, as being "the most righteous of all the possessors of the right stuff," has passed away.  He was 97.

    KC's View:

    Many of us got to know more about Yeager's exploits through Sam Shepard's terrific portrayal in the movie version of The Right Stuff, which is one of my all-time favorite movies.  Here's a clip:

    Published on: December 8, 2020

    In Monday Night Football action, Washington defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 23-17, while the Buffalo Bills beat the San Francisco 49ers 34-24.