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    Published on: December 15, 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 we consider the changes that have been forced on businesses by pandemic-era realities, and how new stories, appropriate to the moment, have had to be crafted by retailers and technology vendors for both internal and external audiences.

    Our guest is Jeff Ketner, founder and CEO of Austin, Texas-based Ketner Group, which specializes in retail technology, and where Jeff works with key clients on business and marketing strategy and execution.  Sterling and Kevin talk with Jeff about how different kinds of retailers - some of which were devastated by the pandemic, and some that were having the best quarters of their lives - had to redefine best practices and reorder their priorities.

    You can listen to the podcast here…

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

    Published on: December 15, 2020

    Business Insider reports that Walmart is expanding on its existing relationship with Gatik, the autonomous truck company.

    According to the story, "Beginning in 2021, Gatik's 'autonomous box trucks' will begin fulfilling customer orders without safety drivers, driving products between a dark store and a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Bentonville, Arkansas."

    BI cites Walmart a saying that an initial two-year pilot "logged 70,000 miles" while in autonomous driving mode.

    "This achievement marks a new milestone that signifies the first ever driverless operation carried out on the supply chain middle mile for both Gatik and Walmart," Tom Ward, Walmart's senior vice president of customer product, said in a statement.

    KC's View:

    The distance between the dark store and the Neighborhood Market reportedly is just two miles, but those could be two very important miles in terms of the evolution of this technology.  There is a lot of conversation about the so-called "last mile," but the middle miles that exist between distribution centers and stores are equally important.  It isn't a matter of if this technology works … it is a matter of when, and what the implications will be.

    Published on: December 15, 2020

    Axios reports that "Amazon-backed Zoox unveiled on Monday its version of the future of transportation: an autonomous electric vehicle with no steering wheel that might one day be summoned with a ride-hailing app … : It's an important milestone for Zoox, which has ambitious plans to launch an urban robotaxi service using purpose-built vehicles designed and built in-house. Those efforts received a boost in June when Amazon acquired the six-year-old startup for a reported $1.2 billion."

    Some details about the vehicle:  "At 12 feet long, the compact vehicle features carriage-style seating, with up to four passengers facing each other on two benches.

    "It can travel in either direction, with motors at each end and four-wheel steering to enable maneuvering in tight spaces.  The 133 kWh battery is among the largest in the industry, capable of operating 16 hours between charges.

    "For safety, it features innovative airbags that envelope passengers to keep them separated in a crash."

    Zoox L5 Fully Autonomous, All-electric Robotaxi at Coit Tower San Francsico
    Zoox L5 Fully Autonomous, All-electric Robotaxi Interior
    Zoox Fully Autonomous, All-electric Robotaxi

    KC's View:

    Just a stopgap measure for Amazon while its folks in a hidden Seattle laboratory develop a real-life version of the Star Trek transporter.  Trust me on this.

    Published on: December 15, 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 latest figures show that there now have been 16,942,980 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 308,091 deaths and 9,871,915 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 73,270,606 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 1,630,029 resultant fatalities and 51,413,632 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  From the New York Times:

    "The first shots were given in the American mass vaccination campaign on Monday, opening a new chapter in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more people in the United States — over 300,000 — than in any other country and has taken a particularly devastating toll on people of color.

    "Shortly after 9 a.m., the new Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was administered in Queens, the first known inoculation since the vaccine was authorized by the Food and Drug Administration late last week. It was a hopeful step for New York State, which the virus has scarred profoundly, leaving more than 35,000 people dead and severely weakening the economy.

    "While the first dose of the vaccine was administered in New York, people across the nation began receiving it on Monday as well. There was plenty of applause and some tears as news cameras captured the mundane rituals of an injection, underscoring the pent-up hope that this was the first step in getting past the pandemic."

    •  From the Associated Press:

    " Hundreds more U.S. hospitals will begin vaccinating their workers Tuesday as federal health officials review a second COVID-19 shot needed to boost the nation’s largest vaccination campaign.

    "Packed in dry ice to stay at ultra-frozen temperatures, shipments of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine are set to arrive at 400 additional hospitals and other distribution sites, one day after the nation’s death toll surpassed a staggering 300,000. The first 3 million shots are being strictly rationed to front-line health workers and elder-care patients, with hundreds of millions more shots needed over the coming months to protect most Americans."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "a second Covid-19 vaccine is likely to gain emergency-use authorization later this week, a process kicking off with the release of data Tuesday on the effectiveness of the shot developed by Moderna Inc.

    "The data that the Food and Drug Administration is releasing will include Moderna’s 30,000-person clinical study of its vaccine, along with the FDA’s own analysis. The data will then be reviewed Thursday by an outside panel of medical and scientific advisers.

    "Moderna’s vaccine will be the first of several that are expected to augment U.S. vaccine supplies after rollout of the first coronavirus shot, from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, to Americans this week."

    •  Axios reports that "the share of Americans who say they'll get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it's available has doubled since September … This increased comfort is being driven by people 65 and older. But it's happening across both parties, and all ages and racial groups.

    "Trust in pharmaceutical companies rose to 43%, up from 35% in September."

    •  The New York Times also writes:

    "The surge in deaths reflects how much faster Americans have spread the virus to one another since late September, when the number of cases identified daily had fallen to below 40,000. A range of factors — including financial pressure to return to workplaces, the politicization of mask-wearing and a collective surrender to the desire for social contact — has since driven new cases to more than 200,000 per day. Preventable deaths on a staggering scale, many experts said, were sure to follow … Three hundred thousand is more than the number of Americans who died fighting in World War II. It is roughly half the number of total cancer deaths expected this year. It is the population of Pittsburgh.

    "But the worst is yet to come.  The first 100,000 U.S. deaths were confirmed by May 27; it then took four months for the nation to log another 100,000 deaths. The latest 100,000 deaths occurred over a span of about three months. The next 100,000 Americans to die, many public health experts believe, may do so in closer to one month."

    •  One central challenge in the vaccine program, the New York Times reports, is persuading older Americans , who "are pivotal to the success of the vaccination campaign now rolling out across the United States … In some states, nearly 40 percent of deaths from Covid-19 have occurred among residents of nursing homes. That’s why an advisory committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine be given first to the nearly three million residents of long-term-care homes."

    •   The Boston Globe reports that "mayors in some of the region’s biggest cities — including Boston, Brockton, Lynn, Newton, and Somerville — have agreed to close down gyms, museums, movie theaters, and other aspects of their battered economies as rising infection rates force officials to roll back their tentative steps toward normalcy.

    "In the coming days, more cities and towns are expected to join the effort to put in place a modified version of Phase 2, Step 2 of the state’s reopening plan, a three-week pause that will begin in some communities as soon as Wednesday. The move made it clear that some municipal leaders do not think the state is doing enough to control the spread of COVID-19 … The businesses that will be required to close for at least three weeks in the cities include indoor fitness centers and health clubs, movie theaters, museums, aquariums, sightseeing and other organized tours, indoor historical spaces and sites, and arcades, among other places. While mayors have generally agreed to return to Phase 2, exact details and timing are still being worked out city by city."

    •  The Washington Post reports that Dr. Anthony Fauci,  director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a designated medical advisor to the incoming Biden administration, "expects to be vaccinated publicly as early as this week. It's not just because the country's top infectious-disease doctor is still seeing patients: He believes his on-camera inoculation could help boost Americans' confidence that the vaccine is safe to take.

    "When I am vaccinated, that will be public so people can see that I'm vaccinating myself, and I encourage others to get vaccinated," Fauci tells the Post.

    He's right.  I've always said that this is the sign I'm looking for - if Fauci trusts the vaccine, I trust the vaccine.

    Published on: December 15, 2020

    Alignable is out with a new study saying that "5% of U.S. small businesses couldn’t pay their rent this month, up 3% from 32% in November. 

    "Several B2C industries are devastated – 61% of restaurants can’t pay their rent this month. That’s up 19% from 42% in November.

    "Beauty salons (46%) and travel/hospitality businesses (43%) round out the Top 3 most-affected businesses, but many others are in trouble. "

    The study also says that "minority-owned businesses are suffering the most, as 49% of them reported that they could not afford their rent in December. That figure is 5% higher than it was in November.

    "Women-owned businesses are also struggling (38% of those have not paid their rent, up 3% from 35% last month). "'

    KC's View:

    An important reminder of the economic headwinds we're facing, and how the world may be significantly different when we emerge from the pandemic.

    Published on: December 15, 2020

    The Los Angeles Times this morning reports that the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued "sweeping" orders to Amazon, Facebook and Google-owned YouTube "to hand over information about how they collect and use information from users," saying that that "their use of consumer data is 'shrouded in secrecy' … The agency is also asking about the companies’ advertising and user engagement practices, and how their practices affect children and teens."

    "Policymakers and the public are in the dark about what social media and video streaming services do to capture and sell users’ data and attention," three FTC commissioners said in a statement. "It is alarming that we still know so little about companies that know so much about us."

    According to the Times, "The move intensifies the U.S. government’s scrutiny of the tech industry’s business practices. The FTC last week sued Facebook for alleged violations of antitrust laws, a case that came on the heels of a Justice Department complaint against Google. The FTC is also reviewing past acquisitions of start-ups by tech giants."

    The Times also reports that similar orders are "being sent to ByteDance Ltd., which operates the popular short-video service TikTok, Discord Inc., Reddit Inc., Snap Inc., Twitter Inc. and Facebook’s WhatsApp. The companies have 45 days from the date they receive the order to respond.

    KC's View:

    Some of this almost certainly will get political, though putting the screws to big tech seems to be one area on which there is general agreement between many Democrats and Republicans.

    Me, I think the scrutiny, as long as it is nuanced and intelligent, is entirely warranted.  I've mentioned it here before, but I cannot get the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, which probes these issues to extraordinary effect, out of my mind.   (Tom Furphy and I will be talking about the movie and the issues in tomorrow's Innovation Conversation).

    Published on: December 15, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  From Reuters:

    "California Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Monday petitioned a court to force Inc to comply with outstanding subpoenas over a state investigation into its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

    "The petition, filed with the Sacramento County Superior Court, accused Amazon of failing to adequately follow the state’s information requests as part of an investigation into the company’s coronavirus protocols and status of COVID-19 cases at its California facilities … The subpoenas seek information about Amazon’s sick-leave policies, sanitation measures and data about the spread of the virus at the company’s California warehouses."

    “Amazon has delayed responding adequately to our investigative requests long enough,” Becerra, said in the petition.

    Amazon said that it has been cooperating and is "puzzled by the attorney general’s sudden rush to court. ... Their claims of noncompliance with their demands don’t line up with the facts."

    One reason for the rush b might be that Becerra could be leaving his AG post - he's been nominated by President-elect Joe Biden to be the next Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).

    •  GeekWire reports that "Amazon plans to open its seventh Amazon Go store location in Seattle, expanding its brick-and-mortar grocery footprint despite the ongoing pandemic.

    "An Amazon spokesperson confirmed the new convenience store, located at 1423 4th Ave. in the heart of downtown Seattle. It’s unclear when the store will open but signage has gone up. The 1,475 square-foot location previously housed an Office Depot retail location that closed in 2016."

    The original Amazon Go opened almost three years ago about 1.5 miles away from the new one.  The story notes that "Amazon now has more than 25 Amazon Go locations across Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle. Most remain open but a few are temporarily closed."

    •  From the Washington Post:

    "A host of Alphabet services were knocked offline Monday in a worldwide outage spanning the tech giant’s major platforms - including YouTube, Google Drive and Gmail - suspending work and school accounts for tens of millions of users … Google blamed an 'internal storage quota issue' for the outage."

    The outage began at 6:55 am EST yesterday and lasted less than 45 minutes.

    I've occasionally run out of hard drive space, but I never expected it to happen to Google.  Must be all that customer data that it has been hiding behind a shroud of secrecy…

    Published on: December 15, 2020

    •  The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) "has approved genetically engineered pigs for use in food and medical products," The Verge reports.  "The pigs, developed by medical company Revivicor, could be used in the production of drugs, to provide organs and tissues for transplants, and to produce meat that’s safe to eat for people with meat allergies."

    According to the story, "The pigs are called GalSafe pigs because they lack a molecule called alpha-gal sugar, which can trigger allergic reactions. Alpha-gal sugar is found in many mammals, but not usually in humans. Alpha-gal syndrome (AGS), which causes a serious meat allergy, can happen after a bite from a lone star or deer tick. Though it hasn’t been tested specifically for people with AGS yet, the FDA has determined GalSafe pork products are safe for the general population to eat."

    •  CNBC reports that "Bed Bath & Beyond said Monday that it will sell Cost Plus World Market as it aims to stabilize sales and focus on its core business.

    "The home-goods retailer announced that it’s struck an agreement with Los Angeles-based private equity firm, Kingswood Capital Management, which will buy Cost Plus World Market. The sale includes the brand’s 243 brick-and-mortar locations, digital business, two distribution facilities and corporate office."

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    •  A new study from Digital.comm has some predictions and observations about the upcoming holiday season:  "Consumers are planning to spend $1,298 on gifts for the holidays this year. The median spending amount is $500 … 72.86% of consumers prefer to shop locally to support small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic … 82.19% are either avoiding shopping locally in-person completely or are doing so less than they’d like to because of COVID-19 … 90.22% of consumers plan on making an effort to shop locally once a vaccine is widely available to support small businesses impacted by COVID-19 … (and) 64.43% of consumers are willing to spend more for a product from a local store instead of online."

    •  Reuters reports that "Murphy USA Inc said on Monday it would buy family-owned peer QuickChek Corp for $645 million in cash, as the gas station and convenience store operator plans to expand its presence in the New Jersey and New York area."

    The deal is expected to close during Q1 2021.

    Published on: December 15, 2020

    Got the following email about yesterday's FaceTime about my consciousness-raising encounter with a checkout person named Wesley in which he defined and exemplified some fundamental retail truths:

    Boom! Wesley nailed it! The what is that every grocery retailer basically sells the same stuff; the who is the front line people who represent your company. Treat them as assets, and not liabilities, and it will show, as is clearly the case with Wesley.

    A couple of folks I know expressed an interest in hiring Wesley.  But I know Stew Leonard's realizes that it has a winner there.

    Last week, MNB reader Charles P. Moore concluded an email - in which he discussed restricting the kinds of foods bought via government programs to healthy products - by saying:

    Unfortunately, these governmental decisions have been previously made largely influenced by the processed food lobbying community rather than by the health community. However, if we shift our policy emphasis to chronic disease reduction we can much more rationally increase the resources available such that families in these situations have ample, healthy food, all the time.

    Prompting another MNB reader to write:

    Charles P. Moore is a wise man.  I know out here in the west, health care provider Kaiser Permanente was not well thought of by its members who were usually only given KP as a health care option by their employers.  When people would tell you they had Kaiser, most people including me would say, “Oh that’s too bad.”  Then a few years ago they changed their health care model.

    It went from come to us when you are sick to taking a totally proactive approach.  They give you reminders about getting a physical every year, eye exams, etc.  They even have eye care, health care, and pharmacies all located together in some of their newer facilities.  I have a friend who takes one day each year to get a physical, eye exam, and pick-up any prescriptions he needs on site.  If he gets referred to a specialist, chances are they are in the same building and the paperwork follows electronically.  Did KP do this to be altruistic? Maybe, but I suspect they found they dramatically lowered their health care costs by being proactive and catching something in its infancy when it could be treated, have a better outcome, and possibly prevent surgery and hospitalizations if left untreated. 

    You can't please all the people all the time … witness this email from MNB reader Bob Hanson:

    Kevin, I appreciate your daily writings, but get annoyed when I get to the end and find "your views....will return".  It reminds me of the grocery retailer who is OOS on milk, which is located at rear of store.

    Please remember, we're interested in what you have to say, as well as what your readers have to contribute or gripe about.

    Bob, thanks for your comment … and I agree that MNB readers' views are an important part of the site experience.  Often, it is not a matter of being out-of-stock.  Rather, there's just one fellow working in the store (me!) and I haven't had time to get to that section.  Which is more an explanation than an excuse - my inability to deliver isn't your problem.

    But I'll try to do better.

    Finally, my favorite kind of email, from MNB reader Larry Owens:

    I really want to thank you for the recommendation of 'Mank' in your post Friday.  Before I watched it on Netflix, I decided to re-watch "Citizen Kane" on HBO+ ( it had been a very long time).   It was a great way to hunker down on a cold, snowy Monday here in Idaho and "Mank" made so much more sense having just watched "Citizen Kane."  Thanks again for the OffBeat recommendation.

    My pleasure.

    Published on: December 15, 2020

    •  The Associated Press reports that while the Cleveland Indians indeed are changing the team's nickname because of its racist overtones, it won't happen right away - the team expects to keep its current name at least through the 2021 season.

    Owner Paul Dolan tells the AP that "it’s time," and that "the name is no longer acceptable in our world."

    Dolan says that "after months of internal discussions and meetings with groups, including Native Americans who have sought to have the team stop using a moniker many deem racist, the American League franchise is dropping the name it has been known by since 1915."  The process of choosing a new name has already begun, he says.  "It’s a difficult and complex process to identify a new name and do all the things you do around activating that name.  We are going to work at as quick a pace as we can while doing it right.

    “But we’re not going to do something just for the sake of doing it. We’re going to take the time we need to do it right.”

    Dolan adds, "There is definitely some pain in this. It’s the end of an era or the beginning of an era. But accompanying that is the recognition and maybe even excitement that we’re going on to do something that is better. It will be better for the community. It will be better for our team. And it will be something hopefully that unites everybody. It’s not anything that we have to feel any kind of reluctance about expressing … It’s going to take some time for everybody to embrace but I think when they do, we’ll all be better off for it."

    •  In Monday Night Football, the Baltimore Ravens defeated the Cleveland Browns 47-42.