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    Published on: January 15, 2021

    Marc Lore, who sold one e-commerce business to Amazon for $545 million and then sold another to Walmart for $3.3 billion, helping to make the world's largest retailer into a legitimate online competitor to Amazon, announced this morning that he is retiring.

    He tells Recode that "his next big entrepreneurial swing will be something far afield from his current expertise: a multi-decade project to build 'a city of the future' supported by 'a reformed version of capitalism … It’s a new model for society we’ll be testing."

    Lore isn't offering much detail about his new venture, except to say, "Imagine a city with the vibrancy, diversity and culture of New York City combined with the efficiency, safety and innovation of Tokyo and the sustainability, governance, and social services of Sweden … This will be our New City"

    “This is going to be a lifelong project,” he says. “It’s the thing I’m most passionate about.”

    Lore's first big e-commerce venture was Quidsi, which was best known for Diapers.comm which he sold to Amazon.  After a period of time working for Amazon and then serving out a non-compete period, he created Jet.comm, which he sold to Walmart, becoming that company's president/CEO of US e-commerce.

    In recent months, Jet's branding has been folded into Walmart's, and speculation was that he would leave the company.

    KC's View:

    No surprise here … except that I would've figured that Lore would just ride out another non-compete clause, create something new, and then sell it to Alibaba or Target for $6 billion.

    I love audacious goals, so I'm dying to see what Lore comes up with.  (He might want to consult with Google, which just wanted to create a neighborhood of the future in Toronto and couldn't make that happen because of political landmines.)

    I once wrote that the difference between Jeff Bezos and Marc Lore was that Jeff Bezos was  Jeff Bezos, and Marc Lore just wanted to be Jeff Bezos.  That may not have been entirely fair, and it occurs to me that while Bezos sees the future in space, Lore may be after something a little closer to home.

    Good for him.  Though it remains possible that he'll create the model of the city of the future and then will sell it to New York or Los Angeles.  Probably for $6 billion.

    Published on: January 15, 2021

    Some retailers sell milk.  But at Dorothy Lane Market, they SELL milk ... and not just milk, but the experience and the quality that can make their milk transformational.  (And they sell some cookies, too.)  KC thinks there is a lesson here.  Brilliant!

    Published on: January 15, 2021

    FMI-The Food Industry Association yesterday proclaimed February 22, 2021 as Supermarket Employee Day, urging its member retailers to "recognize employees at every level for the work they do feeding families and enriching lives," and offering a "free toolkit - messaging, logos and turnkey resources - to help celebrate your supermarket employees."

    The announcement suggests that retailers follow certain themes in their celebration:  "Supermarkets are the backbone of our communities … Supermarket employees have always been frontline heroes during periods of crisis … Supermarket employees are helping us to stay strong during the COVID-19 pandemic … (and) Supermarket employees have earned our gratitude."

    FMI also is pushing retailers to work with their local governments to create greater awareness.

    In addition to the free toolkit, FMI suggests that retailers "order t-shirts, stickers, buttons, banners and more through Custom Ink that help showcase supermarket heroes. Customize your order with your company's logo. Prices go up after Friday, January 29, so order early!"

    KC's View:

    I think this is a smart move, well deserved, though I do have a few observations.  (Naturally.)

    One is that if retailers don't think about their employees this way, then all the help FMI can give them probably isn't going to change their companies' culture.  (That said, some may feel that way and the FMI approach will give them structure, and that's a good thing.)

    I also know that I get enough emails from supermarket employees who feel that they are underpaid - especially by the big chains - to think that there could be some blowback to this campaign.   I'm sure I will get emails that will say, "Save the money on t-shirts and just pay me better."  And I think retailers have to be prepared for that.

    Published on: January 15, 2021

    The Kroger store in Madeira, Ohio, is testing a new smart shopping cart dubbed

    KroGO - manufactured by a company called Caper - that has "a built-in scale and camera, providing an easier shopping experience with less contact and faster checkout."

    Here's how Kroger is promoting the system:

    KC's View:

    If the front end of most supermarkets is seen as one of the least pleasurable parts of the experience (and I'm being generous here) at many stores, then systems like these are going to continue to pop up, providing options (especially these days) that reduce contact between employees and customers.

    I will say, though - and I should note here that I have been an enthusiastic proponent of checkout-free systems like those at Amazon Go - that when you have a great checkout experience (like the one I talked about here), it can raise the shopping trip to another level.

    Let's not forget that.

    Published on: January 15, 2021

    The New York Times reports that "consumer rights groups in Europe and the United States are now urging regulators to take action against Amazon" over a Prime feature that warns people who want to opt out of membership that "cancellation will mean losing 'exclusive benefits'."  The system also offer prompts in case people want to change their minds.

    According to the story, "A Norwegian consumer rights group on Thursday filed a legal complaint with that country’s regulators accusing Amazon of engaging in unfair commercial practices with the Prime cancellation design, the latest move in a broader push to make tech companies more accountable to users … The move was welcomed Thursday by consumer rights advocates in Europe, some of whom said they had filed their own complaints, and in the United States."

    The Times writes that "in the United States, Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer group, said it had written to the Federal Trade Commission asking it to investigate whether the cancellation policy violated the Federal Trade Commission Act … Consumer rights advocates said that the technique employed by Amazon exemplifies the 'dark patterns' used on websites and apps to encourage people to do things they would not otherwise do. Tech companies like Amazon, they said, held immense sway over consumers."

    Amazon has responded to the criticisms by saying it makes "it easy for customers to leave whenever they choose to,” though it does acknowledge that the process “gives a full view of the benefits and services members are canceling."

    KC's View:

    Maybe I'm crazy, but it strikes me as being responsible for Amazon to inform consumers what they'll lose access to if they cancel their Prime membership.

    I went on Amazon yesterday because I was curious how hard it would be to find the "cancel account" button.  It took me about five seconds, and quickly took me to this screen:

    To be honest, I didn't go any farther because I didn't want to run the risk of losing my membership.  But it didn't seem all that hard to me.

    This may just be a matter of Amazon increasingly becoming a target because of its influence and ubiquity.  This does not sound like a big deal to me.

    Published on: January 15, 2021

    The Conference Board is out with a new survey looking at the "the biggest issues that will keep business leaders up at night in the new year."

    In short, "CEOs in the United States are more worried about higher corporate taxes and increased regulation, but less worried about global political instability and disruptions to global trade. And compared to their global peers, U.S. CEOs are more eager to have staff return to the physical workplace. U.S. executives also see the widespread availability of a vaccine as a game changer for their businesses."

    Among the top external worries for US executives:

    •  "U.S. CEOs think vaccine distribution will have an outsized impact on their businesses ,,, They see vaccine availability as a game changer, ranking it 2nd (the highest among CEOs globally)."

    •  "U.S. CEOs are more worried about regulation & taxes, less worried about trade & global turmoil."

    •  "More concern about corporate tax rates: In 2020, it was U.S. CEOs’ 14th top worry; in 2021, it rose to 5th."

    •  "More concern about regulation: In 2020, it was their 9th top worry; in 2021, it rose to 4th."

    •  "U.S. CEOs … rank recession risk as their 3rd top worry for 2021."

    KC's View:

    The US CEOs ranked "accelerate pace of digital transformation" as their top priority, with "improve innovation" ranked at number two.  However, they ranked "lower costs" at number three … which reminds me of something that Tom Furphy pointed out in this week's Innovation Conversation.

    There will be a tendency, especially among public companies, to look to cut costs in 2021 because they'll be concerned about 2021's comps - the pace of pandemic-driven sales in 2020 will be hard to match and/or exceed this year.  

    If they're serious about transforming their companies through innovation, that may not be consistent with a cost-cutting mindset.  For the time being, it may require investment, with a pedal-to-the-floor approach.

    Which actually brings us back to where we started this week - the Feargal Quinn admonition that retailers should never let the accountants win.

    Published on: January 15, 2021

    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…

    •  As the week comes to an end, the pandemic numbers are sobering, as the world has passed two million deaths, with the US rapidly approaching 400,000 fatalities.

    Here are the pandemic numbers in the US:  23,848,410 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus … 397,994 deaths … and 14,112,119 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  93,621,712 confirmed coronavirus cases … 2,004,585 fatalities … and 66,926,497 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    There is a piece in the Wall Street Journal this morning suggesting that the numbers actually are far worse - that perhaps as many as 2.8 million people around the world have died because of the pandemic.  "Public-health experts believe that many, if not most, of the additional deaths were directly linked to the disease, particularly early in the pandemic when testing was sparse," the Journal writes.  "Some of those excess deaths came from indirect fallout, from health-care disruptions, people avoiding the hospital and other issues."


    •  CNN reports that "more than 38,000 Americans have died of Covid-19 in the first two weeks of the new year.

    "Another 92,000 are projected to die from the virus over roughly the next three weeks, according to an ensemble forecast published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    "The numbers are scary and reflect what public health experts have repeatedly warned: While the end is in sight - with the help of ongoing Covid-19 vaccinations - the nation still faces challenging times ahead."


    •  In an op-ed piece written for the Washington Post, Dr. Peter Hotez - professor of pediatrics and molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine and co-director of the Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development - offers this assessment of the vaccination challenges that lie in front of us:

    "We face a daunting task: The nation must vaccinate an estimated three-fourths of Americans to interrupt coronavirus transmission and stop the spread. Reaching this target by Sept. 1 will require us to fully immunize about 240 million Americans over the next eight months, or 1 million people every day from now until then. Because the only two vaccines approved for use in the United States now require two doses to provide high levels of protection, we may have to double that number."

    This can happen, Hotez writes, "only with extensive - and maybe costly - intervention from the federal government, both for logistics and financial support, to immunize on the order of 10,000 to 20,000 people per day in major metro areas. Setting up vaccination hubs won’t require only space; it also means hiring hundreds or thousands of vaccinators and support staff, and paying for security and parking attendants."

    You can - and should - read his entire piece here.


    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Newly reported coronavirus cases in the U.S. remained above 200,000 for the ninth day in a row, while hospitals continued to see large numbers of Covid-19 patients.

    "The U.S. reported more than 224,000 new coronavirus cases for Wednesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The nation’s death toll grew by more than 3,800 Wednesday, lower than the record of more than 4,000 fatalities the previous day, but still higher than daily levels recorded last year … Hospitalizations due to the disease topped 130,000 Wednesday for the second consecutive day, while 23,877 patients required treatment in intensive-care units, according to the Covid Tracking Project."


    •  The New York Times reports that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has chosen Dr. David Kessler, who ran the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) during the Bush and Clinton administrations, "to help lead Operation Warp Speed, the program to accelerate development of Covid-19 vaccines and treatments."

    Kessler - who was prominent during his FDA tenure for taking on the tobacco industry and promoting healthier dietary guidelines, as well as accelerating the approval of drugs that could be used in the treatment of people with AIDS - "will join Operation Warp Speed at a critical time," the Times writes.  "Although the program is widely credited with making possible the development of two highly effective coronavirus vaccines in record time, it has been much less successful at actually delivering the shots to the public — a complex task it shares with numerous federal, state and local authorities."


    •  "Trader Joe's is the latest business to offer an incentive for workers getting the COVID-19 vaccine," USA Today reports.

    "The Monrovia, California-based grocery chain said Thursday it will give employees two hours of pay per dose for getting the vaccine and will also shift around schedules to make sure employees have time to get vaccinated.

    "Online grocery delivery company Instacart also announced Thursday it will begin paying its workers $25 to offset them taking time to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

    "The San Francisco-headquartered company, which has about 500,000 workers that shop to fill and deliver orders from more than 40,000 stores, said it will begin giving the vaccine support stipend Feb. 1 to eligible workers as the vaccination programs roll out across the U.S. and Canada."


    •  The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) has a letter to the Biden Administration transition team, CDC, HHS, NGA, Operation Warp Speed and the U.S. Conference of Mayors offering hotel properties as vaccine administration sites across the country.  

    The letter, from Chip Rogers, President and CEO of AHLA, pointed out that "with more than 50,000 hotels in every properties located in cities, suburbs, and rural communities, hotels have the geographic reach to support a wide distribution of the vaccine … Hotels have private rooms, meeting rooms, conference and ball rooms as well as outside areas, hotels are equipped for 24-hour operations to allow for round-the-clock vaccination administration. This will also ensure there is adequate space to maintain physical distancing, capacity limits and other safety protocols."

    AHLA also pointed out that hotels have the infrastructure - parking, accessibility, and perhaps most importantly, refrigeration - to handle the demands of a vaccination system.

    There's no question that there is an ulterior motive here - unless we eradicate the coronavirus, the hotel industry's future is murky at best.  Still, good for AHLA - everybody with these kinds of capabilities should be pitching in to facilitate a national vaccination program.


    •  Bloomberg writes that "while the surge in the number of unemployed Americans has been a focus of economists throughout the pandemic, another problem in the labor market has been mostly overlooked: The people that do have jobs are calling out sick in record numbers or taking leaves of absence.

    "Unlike the jobless rate, which has declined markedly from the peak in April, the rate of absenteeism has remained stubbornly high. More than 1.9 million people missed work in December because of illness, according to Labor Department data, almost matching the 2 million record set in April and underscoring the impact of a third wave of coronavirus infections.

    "These lost days of work are sapping an economic recovery that’s been progressing in fits and starts for the past several months. Some indicators have improved significantly, but others such as retail sales and personal income have weakened as the pandemic rages and local governments impose fresh restrictions on businesses and travel."


    •  The Wall Street Journal writes that while "Australia has relied on one of the world’s most aggressive quarantine programs to keep the coronavirus at bay," a new outbreak in Brisbane has prompted one leader to propose going further "by housing returned travelers in Outback camps far from cities as new Covid-19 variants threaten the country’s success.

    "The premier of Queensland state wants to repurpose camps designed for resources workers as isolation hubs in remote scrubland where temperatures can top 100 degrees Fahrenheit … The idea of using remote camps illustrates how leaders in places that had crushed the virus are considering more extreme measures to protect people from new variants of the coronavirus, which emerged in the U.K. and South Africa and have since spread to more countries."

    The story goes on: "Underpinning the logic of using workers’ camps to house returned travelers is the potential for health authorities to get on top of outbreaks quickly and limit their spread. Other positives include access to fresh air and exercise for those in isolation, officials say."

    I'm all for being aggressive when dealing with the pandemic, but as legitimate as the motivation behind this proposal may be, the optics just seem … off.

    Published on: January 15, 2021

    •  From CNN:

    "Christopher & Banks is joining the long list of retailers filing for bankruptcy and disappearing from America's malls.

    "The womenswear company filed for Chapter 11 on Thursday, a result of "financial distress resulting from the pandemic and its ongoing impact," it said. Christopher & Banks, which has approximately 400 locations in 44 states, said it will close a 'significant portion' of stores and is in an 'active discussion' to sell its website."

    The reckoning that the company is facing predates the pandemic;  a year ago, Christopher & Banks hired an investment banker to restructure its debt and explore "strategic alternatives."


    •  The Associated Press reports that "Petco, the pet store chain, went public again Thursday, hoping to cash in on people's obsessions with their furry pets … It's the third time Petco has gone public since it was founded in 1965 as a mail-order veterinary supplies business. Both times Petco was bought and taken private, most recently in 2006."

    Published on: January 15, 2021

    Regarding the decision by Costco to shutter all its in-store photo centers, one MNB reader wrote:

    I’m kinda sorry to hear this.  Fortunately, I had all my father’s home videos transferred to DVDs at COSTCO a few years ago.

    Wish we had.


    One MNB reader had a question about the Glassdoor list of best places to work:

    I expected to see a KC’s View on how MNB fared in the Glassdoor list.

    Nope.  I was just licking my wounds from not even a mention.  (On the other hand, nobody said anything bad about me, either.)


    Yesterday we took note of a Los Angeles Times  piece about a business in California that is booming - it makes body bags, which are in demand because of the pandemic.

    One MNB reader reacted:

    Really??  If it’s meant to be funny, too soon.  If it’s meant to be informative, don’t care.  Sooo, what was the purpose?  I think there may be a few more newsworthy stories out there than this one.

    Well, first of all, it wasn't a lead story.  It was the last bulleted item in the sixth story of the day.

    But I'm sorry if you were offended.  It certainly wasn't meant as a joke.  I used it as the tag story in the piece because I thought it provided a punctuation point on the level of death that is the result of the pandemic … you know, for all those folks who think it isn't a big deal.


    And finally, I got this email responding to Monday's FaceTime video, in which I talked about Feargal Quinn while making lamb Bolognese in my kitchen:

    I love it when you're cooking.  Normal guy , as the rest of us learn to cook and..contribute too.

    I know that the meal sounds simple,  but as a novice I would appreciate your recipe.  Sounds delicious!

    It was … and actually pretty simple to make.

    Here are the ingredients:

    2 cups chopped onion

    2 cups chopped carrots

    2 clove sof garlic

    Extra virgin olive oil

    a bit of sea salt

    2 pounds ground lamb

    crushed red pepper

    Italian seasoning

    1/2 cup tomato paste

    1 cup red wine

    32-oz. crushed tomatoes or tomato puree

    Shredded mozarella

    Parmesan cheese

    Instructions:

    • In a large dutch oven or heavy pan, coat the bottom with olive oil.

    • Put in the onions, carrots and garlic.  Let them cook slowly until soft.

    • Add a bit of sea salt.  Maybe a bit of Italian seasoning.  Bit of red pepper.

    • Add the ground lamb and break it up, cooking it until browned.

    • Add a bit more red pepper and Italian seasoning, to taste.

    • Add red wine.

    • Drink some red wine.

    • Add the tomato paste.

    • Add the crushed tomatoes or tomato puree.  (Depends on how chunky you like it.)

    • Add the butter.

    • Drink some more red wine.

    • Stir well.  Bring to a high simmer, then lower the heat to low.

    • Add a sprinkle of mozzarella.  Stir again.

    • Cover.  Cook on low for 1-2 hours.  Sip on red wine.

    • When you are ready, boil water.  Make pasta.  Drain pasta when al dente.

    • Put pasta in big bowl.  Add sauce.  Mix well.  (Or not. Up to you.) Top with parmesan.
    • Serve.

    • Eat.  Drink red wine.

    Enjoy.

    Here's how mine turned out:

    Published on: January 15, 2021

    Ace Atkins, who took up the mantle of Robert B. Parker after his death and now is writing the Spenser novels, - including the just published "Robert B. Parker's Someone To Watch Over Me," and who also writes the Quinn Colson series of novels, sits down with KC via Zoom for a conversation about writing during the pandemic … how his protagonists deal with questions of morality and ethics …  bourbon ... and much more.

    As I note in the video, one of the great pleasures of Ace Atkin's Spenser novels is that he has managed to capture the voice - incredibly important in a series that depends on first person narration - without ever seeming imitative.  That's a lot harder to do that one might think;  one step to the left or the right, and suddenly you're writing a parody.

    "Someone To Watch Over Me" may be one of my favorites of Atkin's Spenser series, in part because it does have a ripped-from-the-headlines quality that works for it.  The book brings back Mattie Sullivan, who was introduced in Atkins' first Spenser book, "Lullaby," and now she's all grown up with a distinct sense of right and wrong and a high level of moral outrage when she sees people being exploited.  (Not unlike her mentor, Spenser.)  Mattie ends up being Spenser's entree into the world of a high finance fat cat who bears a distinct resemblance to Jeffrey Epstein, and there is something viscerally pleasing about watching Spenser and Hawk (one of the best supporting characters ever created for a mystery series) trying to figure out how to take him down.

    As always, the prose is stripped down and punchy … the characters are sharply etched … and everything from the geography (the book ventures from Boston to the Bahamas) to the food and drink (always great fun in the Spenser series) are evocative.  Atkins has done it again … which is why I was so glad to have a chance to talk with him.

    Robert B. Parker's Someone To Watch Over Me" is available on Amazon, from the iconic independent bookstore Powell's, and at your local bookseller.


    I have a couple of wines to recommend to you this week.

    The wine I served with the lamb Bolognese (described in Your Views, above) was a wonderful 2018 Money Wrench Red Wine blend from the Mark Ryan Winery in Washington State - it has just a bit of spice and has plenty of body, standing up well to the lamb and sauce.  Fantastic.

    Also this week, we enjoyed the 2018 Fieldhouse Pinot Noir from California, which is a little bit lighter but also great with grilled chicken.  Go for it.


    That's it for this week.  Have a good weekend … I'll see you Monday.

    Stay safe.  Be healthy.

    Sláinte!