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    Published on: January 19, 2021

    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.

    There's digital retail and physical retail, but for many retailers fusing them together to create a common and brand-centric experience  one that creates broad and sustained customer engagement - remains a challenge.

    This week, Sterling  and KC chat with Matt Walker, director of sales at Stor.AI, which works with retailers and wholesalers of all sizes to eliminate silos to develop immersive and enriching experiences that can cut across all digital touchpoints, inside and outside the store.

    You can listen to the podcast here…

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

    Published on: January 19, 2021

    The Los Angeles Times reports that "a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 27% of Americans are 'vaccine hesitant,' saying they probably or definitely would not get a COVID-19 vaccine even if it were available for free and deemed safe by scientists. Among healthcare workers who are first in line to get vaccinated, that number is even higher: 29%."

    At the same time, the story says, "a survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 69% of Black adults in the state would definitely or probably skip the vaccine, along with 43% of Latinos. (By contrast, 35% of white respondents and 30% of Asian Americans shared that view.)"

    Which creates questions:  "Can they be fired if they refuse to get vaccinated? Should they lose their jobs if they won’t do their part to achieve herd immunity?

    "Questions like these will be asked with increasing frequency as more doses of COVID-19 vaccine become available in the weeks and months to come. And there are no easy answers."

    The legal issues, the Times writes, "are complicated. An employer can establish a mandatory vaccination policy if the need for it is job-related or if remaining unvaccinated would pose a direct threat to other employees, customers or themselves, according to guidance released last month by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

    "For instance, a dentist could make a case that an unvaccinated hygienist would be a danger to others, or a retailer could say a cashier is at risk because of daily exposure to customers."

    But there are exceptions - "employees can object to the vaccine if they think it will exacerbate an established disability or medical condition. They can also turn it down if it goes against their sincerely held religious belief."  And, "the fact that the Food and Drug Administration sanctioned the vaccines through an emergency use authorization procedure instead of its usual approval process may also make a mandate trickier."

    Here's an anecdote from the Times story:

    "Colton Wheeler, a meat cutter at a Vons grocery store in La Crescenta-Montrose, said he plans to get the vaccine when he’s eligible because he wants to protect himself and his family from the virus.

    "'We’re just at the front line,' said Wheeler, who has worked at the supermarket for 14 years. 'We’re ground zero.'

    "He said he and his co-workers in the meat department are working longer hours to fill in for their colleagues who are out sick with COVID-19 or exhibiting symptoms of the disease. He said he’s in favor of a company-wide vaccine mandate to bolster the health and safety of workers.

    "'That’s how it’s been spread — employee to employee,' Wheeler said."

    KC's View:

    I've talked to enough retailers to have a sense that a lot of them are leery about making vaccinations mandatory, but I continue to believe that they need to encourage them, incentivize employees to get them, and use vaccinations as a way to reassure shoppers that their stores are safe.

    I do think there is a larger issue here - the public health apparatus, along with politicians, have to do a better job of communicating with constituents about the vaccine.  The nation's physical and economic health depend on it.

    Published on: January 19, 2021

    From the Wall Street Journal:

    "More than 40 cargo ships with tens of thousands of containers aboard were lined up waiting to get into the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach this week in a new sign of unyielding backlogs that are hampering U.S. importers at the country’s main trade gateways.

    "A surge in shipping volumes that began in late summer and rose during the holiday season has continued into the New Year as retailers and manufacturers try to rebuild inventories that were depleted at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. The neighboring Southern California ports, which together handle more than a third of all containers coming into the U.S., have seen record numbers of boxes even as dockworkers have struggled to cope with the rising coronavirus cases in the state."

    The backlogs, the Journal writes, "have left many retailers waiting weeks for goods stuck on ships at sea or at the port, hitting small and medium-size companies with lean operations particularly hard."

    You can read the story here.

    Published on: January 19, 2021

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that Office Depot has rejected a $2 billion unsolicited takeover offer from Staples, though it did say it is open to "a sale of its retail and consumer-facing e-commerce operations to Staples or a joint venture."

    No word from Staples regarding how it feels about the alternative suggestion, though the Journal does point out that Staples has said "it would pursue a public tender offer" for Office Depot's shares "if the companies don’t reach agreement on a deal."

    Of course, the completion of any deal depends on the approval of federal regulators, which is by no means assured.  As the Journal reports, "Staples’ recent bid marks the third time it has tried to acquire its main bricks-and-mortar rival. Previous efforts, including a $6.3 billion proposal five years ago, were blocked by antitrust enforcers. Staples was taken private by Sycamore Partners in 2017 and is now controlled by a subsidiary of the buyout firm called USR Parent Inc."

    KC's View:

    If Office Depot were to sell off its consumer-facing businesses, that would leave it with its B2B segment … I'm not sure why that makes sense, but what do I know?

    I still think that however the companies slice and dice this, the government should approve the deal.  Far from being bad for competition and consumers, a Staples-Office Depot may be the two companies' best shot at staying in business.

    Published on: January 19, 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…

    •  The US coronavirus numbers as of this morning:  24,626,441 confirmed cases of Covid-19 … 408,623 deaths … and 14,551,686 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  96,086,628 confirmed Covid-19 cases … 2,051,579 fatalities … and 68,756,565 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "Newly reported Covid-19 cases in the U.were deaths and hospitalizations, as the nation ended a three-day weekend.

    "The U.S. reported more than 137,000 new infections for Monday, taking the total to more than 24 million cases, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and made public early Tuesday morning. That represented a decline from the 177,918 cases reported a day earlier and was the third day in a row to register a day-over-day decrease. Monday’s figure was down from a week-earlier 213,304.

    "Daily figures for newly reported cases and deaths tend to be lower toward the beginning of the week, as fewer people are tested over the weekend. The Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday on Monday likely contributed to underreporting … The U.S. reported more than 1,300 Covid-19-related deaths for Monday, according to Johns Hopkins data, a number that was down from a day-earlier 1,749 and week-earlier 2,006."

    •  CBS News  reports that " the incoming director of the Centers for Disease Control said that by the middle of February, officials expect the death toll to be staggering.

    'By the middle of February, we expect half a million deaths in this country,' Dr. Rochelle Walensky said."

    •  The Washington Post reports that "at least 10.6 million people have received one dose of the vaccine in the US.  More than 1.6 million people have been fully vaccinated in states reporting … 31.2 million doses have been distributed."

    •  Fox News reports that California epidemiologist Dr. Erica S. Pan has recommended a pause in the vaccination of state residents from one specific lot of the Moderna vaccine because of concerns about severe allergic reactions.

    According to the story, the suggestion was made out of "an extreme abundance of caution" - fewer than 10 people out of those who received more than 330,000 doses had an allergic reaction that required medic al attention.

    •  From Los Angeles Magazine:

    "A seemingly airtight plan to stage the first major tennis tournament of 2021 without compromising players’ health or the success of Australia’s efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic fell apart over the weekend.

    "By late Sunday, five passengers from three flights chartered by the tournament organizers had tested positive after arriving in Australia, prompting orders for everyone aboard to go into quarantine for two weeks. The planes — which arrived from Los Angeles; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; and Doha, Qatar — carried 72 players, including multiple expected contenders at this year’s Australian Open and former Grand Slam champions."

    The story notes that "tennis officials appealed for less stringent restrictions on players who repeatedly test negative in their first days in Australia, but government officials declined to soften the rules. Craig Tiley, the chief executive of Tennis Australia, said Sunday that players had been warned that coming to Australia involved the risk of a mandatory quarantine for anyone deemed to have been in close contact with a person who had tested positive."

    •  Disney announced that "due to the prevailing conditions in Europe, Disneyland Paris will not reopen on Feb. 13 as initially planned.

    "If conditions permit, we will reopen Disneyland Paris on April 2, 2021 and will welcome reservations from that date forward. Given the current context our plans continue to evolve, but please know that we will make every effort to share with you any updates as soon as it is possible."

    Published on: January 19, 2021

    •  Barron's reports that Deliveroo, a British food delivery company that is backed by Amazon and now operates in 12 countries, now is worth more than $7 billion "after a new funding round" and is preparing for an initial public offering (IPO) that could come as soon as April.

    The story notes that "like its food-delivery peers such as Uber Eats, owned by Uber Technologies, Deliveroo has enjoyed a massive boost in sales from the Covid-19 pandemic, with millions of housebound people ordering in meals."

    Published on: January 19, 2021

    •  The Wall Street Journal has a story about the fried chicken sandwich craze that is sweeping through the US fast food business, with at least 10 chains introducing new varieties - including "a Korean-style iteration at Shake Shack, a McDonald’s version topped with spicy pepper sauce."

    Restaurant operators, "grappling with slowdowns and restrictions brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic," are hoping to rekindle consumers' enthusiasm for the fast food experience with the sandwiches, though the Journal notes that the "sandwich craze also might bring lasting changes to the restaurant business, with owners spending thousands of dollars on new equipment for battering chicken filets to compete for what some franchisees say is the future of eating out."