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    Published on: February 5, 2021

    The power of language to shape opinion and feelings - to nudge the world a bit - is at the core of News of the World, the new Tom Hanks movie.  Naturally, KC found a business lesson … not to mention a connection between 1870, when the film takes place, and 2021.

    Published on: February 5, 2021

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Walmart is buying technology from a company called Thunder Industries that will allow it to "to launch a self-service tool that helps advertisers make and buy numerous versions of display ads targeting different kinds of consumers on its properties."

    For example, "A skin care company could use the tool to create versions of an ad with models of different ages … then use the technology to determine which performs best."

    "As we continue to grow our media business we need to find ways that we can easily serve all suppliers - be it companies who have been Walmart suppliers for years or brand new marketplace suppliers,” said Janey Whiteside, chief customer officer at Walmart. “The new display self-serve platform and the integration of Thunder’s technology does just that,” she said.

    The Journal writes that "Walmart is purchasing the technology and assets of PaperG Inc., which does business as Thunder Industries, and will bring over most of the company’s employees, according to a person familiar with the matter. It isn’t purchasing Thunder’s existing customer contracts, which will be wound down."

    KC's View:

    Walmart has set a goal of becoming a top-10 US advertising agency by marketing various advertising opportunities in its stores and on its digital platforms.  When you have the kind of depth and breadth that Walmart does, you can essentially cut traditional ad agencies out of the loop … which is what it seems to be doing.

    All this does is push more money to Walmart's bottom line, which it can use to be more competitive at retail, both in-store and online.

    Published on: February 5, 2021

    The Boston Globe reports that Ahold Delhaize-owned Stop & Shop has "launched a walk-up grocery locker program, now available at its 1620 Tremont St. location in Brigham Circle. To use the new service, shoppers can place a pick-up order online, adding items to their cart and selecting a pick-up time. Within 15 minutes of the pick-up time, a code will be sent to the customer via text, which they can then scan or enter at the locker kiosk located at the grocery store’s main entrance."

    The lockers have three zones - room temperature, refrigerated and frozen.  If a customer has placed an order encompassing all three categories, when the code is entered, three different locker doors will swing open.

    The Globe writes that "there is a $2.95 fee charged for every locker pick-up order. New customers are able to receive $10 off on the first order of $60 or more, and can receive free shipping on all orders of $60 or more within 90 days of their first order."

    Stacy Wiggins, vice president of e-commerce operations for Stop & Shop, said in a prepared statement, "The Locker Pick-up program is another way we’re working to accelerate our e-commerce offerings so that our customers can shop for and pick up their groceries at a time that’s most convenient for their schedule. We hope that by eliminating the need to wait in line or go in-store, they’ll get even more time back into their day."

    Presumably, if the program is successful it will be rolled out to more stores in the chain.

    KC's View:

    What I don't understand about this is that Stop & Shop doesn't use all its data to offer this service gratis to best customers.  Sure, charge people who don't spend as much in the store, but give the top 10 percent of customers a break on the fee.

    I love the idea of a locker program, but they need to think more inventively about how to use it.

    Published on: February 5, 2021

    The Washington Post has a story about how "dozens of national chains, including Walmart, Macy’s, Sephora, Neiman Marcus and DSW now allow shoppers to pay for everyday purchases in biweekly increments with the help of such programs as Affirm, Afterpay and Klarna … The explosive growth of such services - as much as 200 percent during the coronavirus pandemic - coincides with two key trends of the public health and economic crises: The shift to online shopping and a growing distrust of credit cards, particularly among younger shoppers.

    However, the Post points out, "consumer protection experts warn that such services are often unregulated and a potential slippery slope for those who make impulse buys."

    Standard operating procedures has consumers providing basic personal information that can be used for a credit check, and then a credit or debit card number.  "Payments are typically deducted every two weeks until a purchase has been paid off. If a user falls behind, some services charge late fees in lieu of interest - at Klarna, for example, it’s $7 - and restrict users from making more purchases until they’ve cleared their balances."

    The Post writes that "shoppers who use pay-later options … tend to spend more and buy more frequently than those who do not … A recent Bank of America analysis predicted that such services could grow as much as fifteen-fold to an annual value of $1 trillion by 2025."

    KC's View:

    Am I right that this seems a little like a shell game?  Young people don't like credit cards (I don't blame them), so they move to a variation on layaway, which doesn't seem all that different.  Or am I missing something?

    Published on: February 5, 2021

    From the Washington Post:

    "A congressional report found many of the products made by the country’s largest commercial baby food manufacturers contain significant levels of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury, which can endanger infant neurological development.

    "The report released Thursday from the House Oversight Committee’s subcommittee on economic and consumer policy found heavy metals in rice cereals, sweet potato puree, juices and sweet snack puffs made by some of the most trusted names in baby food.

    "Gerber, Beech-Nut, HappyBABY (made by Nurture) and Earth’s Best Organic baby foods (made by Hain Celestial Group) complied with the committee’s request to submit internal testing documents.

    "Campbell Soup, which sells Plum Organics baby foods, Walmart (its private brand is Parent’s Choice) and Sprout Foods declined to cooperate, according to members of the subcommittee.

    "The committee said the findings show the need for more stringent regulation of commercial baby food, including FDA standards for heavy metals, as well as mandatory testing for heavy metals."

    KC's View:

    The companies implicated in the report variously responded that they agreed with the concept of constant testing to eliminate unsafe levels of toxic metals, were doing such testing, and will continue to test.

    I do think that if I were the parent of a new baby, I'd be a little concerned about this report … and retailers that sell baby food need to monitor the situation to make sure they can responsibly respond to parental concerns.

    Published on: February 5, 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…

    •  In the United States, here are the coronavirus numbers as of this morning:  27,273,890 confirmed Covid-19 cases … 466,988 deaths … and 17,031,629 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  105,493,752 confirmed coronavirus cases … 2,296,354 fatalities … and 77,193,406 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Newly reported Covid-19 cases in the U.S. were down slightly from a day earlier, but deaths hit their highest daily tally yet … The U.S. reported more than 4,900 deaths for Thursday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The daily tally had been trending generally downward after reaching a peak of 4,466 on Jan. 12.

    "Thursday’s surge in reported deaths includes an extra 1,500 unearthed when Indiana audited its reporting. Without those, the tally is more than 3,400, down from 3,912 reported for Wednesday … Hospitalizations continued their decline, with 88,668 logged for Thursday, according to the Covid Tracking Project. It was the first time the number dipped below 90,000 since Nov. 27."

    •  The Washington Post reports that "at least 28.2 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S.  This includes more than 7.2 million people who have been fully vaccinated … 55.9 million doses have been distributed.

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "Johnson & Johnson asked U.S. regulators on Thursday to authorize the emergency use of its Covid-19 vaccine, setting the stage for a potential third vaccine to become available in the U.S. within weeks.

    "J&J’s move follows last week’s release of results from an international clinical trial showing that a single shot of the vaccine was 66% effective at preventing moderate and severe Covid-19 disease. In the U.S. portion of the trial, the vaccine was 72% effective at preventing disease.

    "The addition of J&J’s vaccine could jump-start a U.S. mass-vaccination campaign that has been choppy since it began in December. There has been a limited supply of the first two vaccines, from Moderna Inc. and Pfizer, with its partner BioNTech SE, and distribution roadblocks have caused a slower-than-expected pace of vaccinations.

    "J&J’s shot wouldn’t only boost the overall supply of Covid-19 vaccine doses, but also could simplify vaccinations for many because it is given in one dose. The vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are administered as two doses, three or four weeks apart. J&J’s vaccine also can be kept at higher refrigerated temperatures for a longer period than the first two vaccines."

    The Washington Post reports that "FDA officials announced that outside experts would discuss the vaccine at a public meeting three weeks from now, on Feb. 26."

    Published on: February 5, 2021

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Reuters reports that " has revealed plans to install AI-powered video cameras in its branded delivery vans, in a move that the world’s largest e-commerce firm says would improve safety of both drivers and the communities in which they deliver … Amazon said the cameras, developed by transportation technology company Netradyne, use artificial intelligence (AI) to provide warnings about speeding and distracted driving among other things."

    The next step should be to sell those cameras on Amazon so they can be installed in cars driven by teenagers.  My guess is it would be a big winner.

    Published on: February 5, 2021

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "U.S. employers added 49,000 jobs last month, returning growth to the labor market after a one month dip, while the unemployment rate fell to 6.3%.

    "The small January gain came after payrolls fell steeply in December, the first decline since the coronavirus pandemic triggered business shutdowns last spring.

    "Jobs grew strongly in business and professional services, the Labor Department said in its January report on U.S. employment. Many sectors, though, lost jobs last month. The leisure and hospitality sector lost 61,000 jobs in January, following a steep decline of 536,000 in December. Retailers, health-care companies and warehouses cut jobs in January.

    "The fall in the unemployment rate in part reflected the Labor Department’s annual update to population estimates used to calculate the unemployment rate and other measures. The new estimates show the civilian labor force was 200,000 lower than previously estimated, employment was 180,000 less, and unemployment 20,000 less."

    •  The US Department of Labor yesterday reported that "the number of workers seeking unemployment benefits fell for the third straight week, a sign that layoffs have started to ease following an increase in early January," the Wall Street Journal reports.

    "Initial weekly unemployment claims declined to 779,000 last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, following a revised 812,000 claims the prior week.

    "The recent easing in weekly jobless claims—a proxy for layoffs—pointed to a stabilization in the number of workers applying for benefits, though the total remained at a higher weekly level than before a winter surge in coronavirus cases.  Claims also remained well above the pre-pandemic peak of 695,000 and are still higher than in any previous recession for records tracing back to 1967."

    •  The Financial Times reports that Luckin Coffee, a China-based coffee company that not so long ago was positioning itself as a global competitor to Starbucks, has filed for Chapter 15 bankruptcy protection in the US.  The news comes after a year in which the company went through an accounting scandal and an SEC investigation into its alternation of bank records and its books as a way of making its business look healthier than it was.

    "Luckin said the company’s outlets remained open for business and the Chapter 15 petition was not expected to affect its day-to-day operations."

    •  Bloomberg reports that "McDonald’s Corp. has quietly begun selling the McPlant burger in Denmark and Sweden, giving the fast-food giant insight into customer interest before more locations roll out the meat alternative … McPlant, which McDonald’s co-developed with Beyond Meat Inc., is made from pea-based protein, according to McDonald’s Danish and Swedish websites, revealing previously undisclosed details of the item’s ingredients. Rice protein is a secondary protein ingredient, McDonald’s said."

    The story says that "the McPlant burger currently for sale is topped with cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup.

    "The item is cooked on the same grill as beef burgers, the company said, presenting a problem for those who are following a vegan diet."

    I think that if you cook anything in burger grease and then top it with cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup, it probably is going to taste pretty good.

    Published on: February 5, 2021

    Tony Trabert, who twice in his career was the n umber one men's professional tennis player, has passed away.  He was 90.

    Trabert won 10 career Grand Slam tournaments overall — five in singles and five in doubles - and actually won five of them (three singles, two doubles) in one year, 1955.   Trabert also played on five Davis Cup teams and later was the captain of five American squads.

    Published on: February 5, 2021

    In our pandemic coverage yesterday, I expressed a certain surprise at how many states are not yet vaccinating their teachers, which the CDC says is largely because the spread of the coronavirus generally is not related to schools.  While this surprised me, I said that if I'm going to say I trust the science, that has to include when it is inconvenient to do so.

    Prompting MNB reader Sarah Hamaker to write:

    As a mom of five, school-age kids living in Fairfax, Va., I have a lot of skin in the game of getting kids back in school. Just this week, Fairfax County Public Schools announced--finally--they would be returning kids to school after a protracted fight with the teachers' association, which first mandated all teachers and staff be vaccinated before a return to school, then moved the goal posts to includes all kids being vaccinated (not having a vaccine approved for kids apparently wasn't considered) and ridiculously low county-wide COVID infection rates. This despite the science, which apparently the teachers' union and school board only paid attention to when it suited their purposes to keep schools closed.

    This school year has been a disaster for so many kids, mine included. My high school senior and junior have struggled with online schooling and they are overall good students who show up to class and do their work. I pulled my two middle school boys out to homeschool this year, as I'd rather teach them (in between my work at home) than monitor their virtual schooling. My preschool foster daughter, in the local school system's preK program for autism, was back in school for most of the fall (wearing her mask and singing about staying in her bubble) without a single incident of COVID. Now she's been virtual schooling since the Christmas, and you can imagine how well that goes. And don't get me started on all the kids who don't show up to class, those for whom virtual schooling is impossible given their disabilities or diagnoses, plus all the kids who are suffering in unsafe environments no one knows about because they're not physically in school.

    So I appreciate your being willing to say you believe/support what the science is saying related to kids/COVID being low risk because I know it's not easy to believe something that goes against what we think we know. But our kids need us to pay attention to the science--not just when it supports our own preconceived notions but when it doesn't. 

    That's a good point - accepting the science is also about modeling smart behavior to our kids.

    It was noted here yesterday that as of the morning, we had 27,027,430 cases of the coronavirus in the US, and that at least 26.8 million people had received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S.

    One MNB reader observed:

    It seems that later today, more people will have received at least one vaccination dose than the total confirmed cases of COVID. That is got to be good news….

    Agreed.  It is a beginning.

    Regarding the debate about government-mandated hazard pay for grocery workers, one MNB reader wrote:

    The Hazard Pay legislation has the right sentiment, but the execution is terrible.  Many municipal boards are agreeing in principle to the raises, then having the local officials write the ordinance.  In Long Beach the ordinance has been written such that only retailers that sell at least 70% of items that are “traditional groceries” are subject to this Hazard Pay increase.  So Walmart, Target, Costco and Amazon are not subject to the Hazard Pay increase, but independent retailers like Superior, Northgate, Stater Brothers and others must bear this cost increase. 

    Every independent knows that compete is a verb – but we expect the opportunity to compete on a fair field. 

    From another reader:

    This is more government overreach.  There is already collective bargaining in place with the UFCW and grocery retailers. The grocery retailers have on their own already supplemented the clerk pay with pandemic supplemental pay.

    And another:

    While there’s certainly a very good argument for additional compensation for grocery store employees, there’s another point that I think it’s the most important one for why retailers are opposed.

    While this wouldn’t be my preference, a like nationwide compensation would be a more equitable way to impose it. If you’re a regional operator, and you are mandated to raise costs to the level of having negative profit (which $4 per hr will do) and your competitor, due to city, county, state lines is not, you are in a difficult spot. You have little choice but to raise prices. The $4 per hr is a much higher number than profits, and there are no other expenses or combinations of that could bring you back to profitability other than charging more. Price is the number one driver for changing market share in our business. And by raising prices in the range of 2% or more would be very noticeable and market changing.

    Trader Joe’s has agreed to pay $4, although they will offset a portion by eliminating a raise AND will discontinue the $4 when their employee base is eligible for vaccination (which is another story... they should be moved up in the line).

    TJ’s is unique, in that they have by far the largest percentage of private label sales in the industry. Their products cannot be accurately compared to like products in the major choices for consumers, and their prices are low to begin with. A 2% jump in price is not as visible when you are selling Tide soap, Coke, and Bounty towels.

    In addition, Seattle as example has one Costco, one Albertsons, and other publicly  traded companies that have less stores in the city than the local stores. 

    It’s the local stores that are going to be hurt most of all. And that’s the problem.

    And this other comment from an MNB reader:

    I know this view will be contrary to many responses, but what is so hazardous about running a register, gathering carts, stocking shelves, receiving at the back door?  You have masks. The customers have masks.  You have shields. You are constantly wiping down everything.  And you can wear gloves.  Absolutely no contact with the general public, is very easy to accomplish.  But hey, I guess in todays society we are very willing and conditioned to getting extra for just showing up.  I just don’t see it. 

    Yesterday we took note of a Woodland Daily Democrat report that supermarket chain Raley's is working with AgStart, which mentors and nurtures agriculture and food-tech startup companies, to create the Raley’s Food Lab at The Lab@AgStart.

    I love this … and one MNB reader concurred:

    I love this too! Raley’s owner Mike Teel is known for his for his idealism and enthusiasm. This is only the latest in a long line of forward-thinking initiatives. One of my favorites was Raley’s Food For Families Urban Farm in West Sacramento. It was a small operation, but demonstrated that food retailers can lead in addressing food insecurity, wellness and sustainable food production.

    Finally … yesterday we got a lot of email responding to the conversation between Michael Sansolo and me about who - in addition to Sam Walton and Jeff Bezos - belongs on a retailing Mount Rushmore.  We continue to go through the responses, are happy to entertain additional nominations, and will be beck with a response next week.

    Thanks for playing!

    Published on: February 5, 2021

    Dave Kindred is best known as one of the country's most accomplished sportswriters - his work for newspapers such as the Washington Post and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution  has earned him the PEN America ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing, the Red Smith Award and the Dan Jenkins Medal for Excellence in Sportswriting.

    His new book, out this week, is something different - a deeply personal memoir entitled "Leave Out The Tragic Parts:  A Grandfather's Search For A Boy Lost To Addiction."  The grandson in question is Jared, who was known as "Goblin" among the tiny subset of society in which he traveled - literally.  These self-styled Road Dogs wandered the country by hopping freight trains and existing on ther fringes of society.  There was a joyous freedom that Jared/Goblin found in that existence, but in many ways it also was the worst possible life for someone who had been struggling with alcoholism since his early teenage years.

    "Leave Out The Tragic Parts" is the story of what Kindred calls "a boy I knew from the week of his birth and a young man I never knew at all," written with the precision and insight of a master journalist and the deep affection and admiration of a loving grandfather.  I heartily recommend it - while there is much in "Leave Out The Tragic Parts" that is ineffably sad, it is not a bummer of a book.  It is a celebration of someone who many of us might not notice - or might avoid - if we ran into him on the street, and yet who would make our lives fuller for the encounter.  Every page is imbued with Kindred's love for Jared, and deep desire to understand Goblin.

    I had the opportunity to chat with Dave Kindred the other day about his book, his grandson, what he learned about addiction, and about his journey to find light in the darkness of Jared's life.

    I hope you read the book, and I hope you enjoy our conversation - it probably comes through that Dave Kindred is someone I very much admire.

    "Leave Out The Tragic Parts:  A Grandfather's Search For A Boy Lost To Addiction" is available on Amazon, from the iconic independent bookstore Powell's, and at your local bookseller.

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

    Stay safe.  Be healthy.