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    Published on: February 25, 2021

    A note from the Content Guy…

    Today's MNB/In Conversation features Mike Sarraille, a retired US Navy Seal who during his career earned the Silver Star, six Bronze Stars, two Defense Meritorious Service Medals, and a Purple Heart.  These days, however, he is engaged in a different kind of mission - helping companies and business leaders adopt the posture of "everyday warriors," working together  as a tribe toward continual improvement and an impactful life.

    This all sounds very testosterone-driven, which made me (to be honest) a little suspicious … but one of the things that Sarraille stressed to me that this is as much about mind and spirit as physicality, and less about gender than attitude, connection, and commitment.  As I often say, I'm a sucker for a learning experience … and so I very much enjoyed my conversation with Mike Sarraille.

    I hope you do, too.

    You can find out more about Mike Sarraille here.

    Published on: February 25, 2021

    by Kevin Coupe

    Interesting research from Piplsay suggesting that "57% of Americans will be excited to see Amazon Go or similar tech-enabled stores near them" … "59% of Americans think Amazon Go will be a threat to big-box stores like Walmart and Kroger" … and "54% of Americans believe Amazon Go-like stores will be a success despite online retail’s entrenchment."

    That's interesting, since, if I am reading it right,  the same research showed that 52% of those surveyed had not been to an Amazon Go, and 20% hadn't even heard of it.  Only 28% had been to an Amazon Go - which is actually a pretty high number considering there are only 27 of them - in Seattle (7), Chicago (7), San Francisco (5), and New York City (8).

    Look, you won't find many people more enthusiastic about the Amazon Go format than I am.  I've been to most of the store currently open, I think the technology is transformational, and I'm curious to see how it can be adapted to larger format stores in the future, as well as how the technology can be licensed to other retailers.

    But I think that despite speculation that Amazon Go plans to open "thousands" of stores in "coming years," there is absolutely no evidence that we're going to see that kind of expansion (unless you define "coming years" in the broadest possible way).  And I have to wonder about the assertion that so many people are excited about it when so many people haven't been to one or have never heard of it.  

    At my local Whole Foods, I bring my own bag - and it almost always is an orange Amazon Go bag.  And the vast majority of the people who work there have never heard of Amazon Go.  And they work for the same damn company!

    I think the evidence is that Amazon plans to test a lot of different formats and a lot of different technologies - maybe even more so now that Jeff Bezos, as part of his new chairman's job, has said he wants to focus more on grocery.  I continue to believe that Amazon's Go technology could end up being as transformational as scanning.

    But I also think it is important not to assign our own biases to the general public, nor to Amazon's internal development process.

    Even if the numbers seem Eye-Opening.

    Published on: February 25, 2021

    eMarketer is out with projections saying that e-grocery will grow to more than "$100 billion in spending for the first time in 2021, a full year ahead of previous estimates."

    By 2024, eMarketer says, e-grocery sales are expected to almost double again, to $187.7 billion.

    The projections concede that current e-grocery spending levels are ahead of earlier predictions largely because of pandemic conditions that made shopping for groceries online preferable to going to stores in many cases.  But eMarketer suggests, a significant portion of that business will stick and continue to grow - likely dependent on higher purchase frequency and higher transaction amounts rather than new customers.

    KC's View:

    The only conclusion with which I might quibble is the one about new customers.  At least in the long term, there could be a lot of potential e-grocery customers coming into the market as young people - who do everything online - become core grocery shoppers.

    These projections, in the end, could be low.

    Published on: February 25, 2021

    The National Retail Federation (NRF) yesterday "issued its annual forecast, anticipating that retail sales will grow between 6.5 percent and 8.2 percent to more than $4.33 trillion in 2021 as more individuals get vaccinated and the economy reopens."

    "Despite the continuing health and economic challenges COVID-19 presents, we are very optimistic that healthy consumer fundamentals, pent-up demand and widespread distribution of the vaccine will generate increased economic growth, retail sales and consumer spending," NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. "From the outset of the pandemic, retailers have gone above and beyond even the most conservative safety guidelines to protect and serve their associates and consumers alike. Retailers are increasingly engaged in working with federal, state and local health officials to distribute and administer the vaccine. This partnership has been key to our economic health throughout the pandemic and will continue this year."

    Published on: February 25, 2021

    Forbes reports that Walmart is working with BigCommerce - a company that builds "flexible, open" e-commerce platforms - to actively court third-party sellers for his Marketplace.

    One of the places Walmart is seeking out new retailers for its Marketplace - Amazon's Marketplace.

    “Our goal is to bring Walmart shoppers the very best brands online and in store,” Jeff Clemenz, vice president of Walmart marketplace, tells Forbes.  “We’re reaching out to sellers directly and through partnerships such as BigCommerce. Those brands are selling on their own web sites and on other marketplaces, and our customers are demanding those products.”

    Forbes writes that "it’s no surprise that the retailer is pursuing an aggressive strategy for marketplace since Walmart U.S. e-commerce posted a 69% increase in the recent fourth quarter, compared to total sales, which grew 7.3%."

    One of the goals of the partnership is to make the marketplace approval and operating processes less cumbersome.

    According to the story, "Walmart in June announced a similar partnership with Shopify, which it said would bring 1,200 new sellers to the platform. The effort was focused on small and medium-sized businesses that complemented the existing assortment. Clemenz said the BigCommerce sellers represent products across a variety of categories, including apparel, home goods, consumables and hardlines."

    KC's View:

    Since more than half of Amazon's retail sales come from third-party sellers, there's clearly gold in them thar hills. Makes sense for Walmart to start panning for it and try to figure out ways to be a better p[artner than Amazon.

    Published on: February 25, 2021

    In Minnesota, the Star Tribune has a fascinating story about how Best Buy is working with the Wunderman Thompson marketing agency and UnitedHealth Group's Optum unit (which is a pharmacy benefit manager and care services business) to "launch a paid fellowship program with the BrandLab that will train college graduates and help diversify the marketing and advertising industries."

    At the core of the program is a desire on the part of all three businesses "to boost equity, inclusion and diversity within their organizations," and comes at a time "when corporate marketing departments and advertising agencies nationwide have acknowledged that people of color are severely underrepresented in their ranks."

    The program, seeded with $1 million from the three companies, will start by rotating 16 people through the three companies, working in internships designed to give them a broad level of exposure to different disciplines, such as "brand and digital marketing, art direction, design, copywriting and media practices …The end goal is to place all LabFellows graduates in full-time positions."

     The program is being managed by BrandLab, a nonprofit.

    "One of our primary goals at the BrandLab is to create equal opportunities for our college students and alumni by eliminating barriers and building bridges into that first marketing or advertising job," said Thomas Toley, a director at BrandLab.

    KC's View:

    I love the notion of companies finding common ground - the need for greater diversity in their ranks - and then developing a structure that can both build a foundation for greater diversity and bridges among the companies upon which qualified people can travel.

    This stuff doesn't happen on its own.  It takes time, effort and money, applied to the problem by people with good intentions and the ability to implement them.

    Published on: February 25, 2021

    MediaPlayNews reports that "Fry’s Electronics, the big-box consumer electronics chain that for years was known for its large and eclectic Blu-ray Disc and DVD selection, on Feb. 24 announced it is closing all 31 of its stores.

    "The chain, which for at least two years has suffered inventory problems, with store shelves largely empty, made the announcement on its website."

    The closure ends a run that started with a single California store that opened in 1985 "as an outgrowth of the Fry’s Supermarkets chain, which founder Charles Fry had sold in 1972 to Dillons. Years later, his three sons banded together to launch a consumer electronics retail operation, initially focused on computer hardware and software.

    "At its peak, the chain numbered 34 stores and had branched out into a wide range of consumer electronics, including appliances and cameras. In the early 2000s Fry’s became a leading retailer of DVDs and then Blu-ray Discs, going deep into niche categories such as anime that the chain’s buyers believed would appeal to the stores’ core techie shoppers."

    In other retailing news, USA Today reports that "after closing nearly 250 stores in 2020, Victoria’s Secret plans to permanently close between 30 to 50 more U.S. locations this year, its parent company L Brands announced Wednesday."  The story notes that L Brands is going ahead with its plans to spin off Victoria's Secret as a separate company.

    It isn't all bad news for L Brands - it also announced that it "plans to open 49 new Bath & Body Works stores in the U.S. and one in Canada."

    And, Best Life reports that regional department store chain Belk "has officially filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in an effort to secure a future for the nation's largest privately-owned department store … The company's bankruptcy plan, which was filed in a Houston courtroom on Feb. 23, would relieve Belk of $450 million worth of debt and create an infusion of capital for the business, The Charlotte Observer reports. It would also see the current owners, New York City-based private equity firm Sycamore Partners, pass off large stakes of the company to lenders while still retaining control over affairs."

    The story notes that "the bankruptcy filing for the 133-year-old retailer comes about half a decade after the founding Belk family sold the company to its current owners for $3 billion. The years since have seen the Charlotte-based store grapple with all-too-familiar problems faced by others in the industry, as dwindling foot traffic at shopping malls and surging online sales created a cash crunch for the company—all just before the novel coronavirus shuttered stores nationwide."

    Published on: February 25, 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, there now have been 28,974,623 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 518,363 deaths, and 19,340,329 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 113,184,076 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 2,510,700 resultant fatalities, and 88,790,054 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Washington Post reports that "at least 45.2 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S.  This includes more than 20.6 million people who have been fully vaccinated … 88.7 million doses have been distributed."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Newly reported coronavirus cases in the U.S. rose slightly for the second day in a row, as expectations grew that a third vaccine would soon be approved for use in the country."  However, "Hospitalizations in the U.S. have been on the decline for more than 40 consecutive days. As of Wednesday, 54,118 Covid-19 patients required hospitalization, down by more than 51% from a month earlier, according to the Covid Tracking Project. The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive-care units fell to 11,026, the fourth day in a row the figure has been under 12,000."

    •  The New York Times reports that "throughout the pandemic, there has been perhaps nowhere more dangerous than a nursing home. The coronavirus has raced through some 31,000 long-term care facilities in the United States, killing more than 163,000 residents and employees and accounting for more than a third of all virus deaths since the late spring.

    "But for the first time since the American outbreak began roughly a year ago — at a nursing care center in Kirkland, Wash. — the threat inside nursing homes may have finally reached a turning point.

    "Since the arrival of vaccines, which were prioritized to long-term care facilities starting in late December, new cases and deaths in nursing homes, a large subset of long-term care facilities, have fallen steeply, outpacing national declines, according to a New York Times analysis of federal data. The turnaround is an encouraging sign for vaccine effectiveness and offers an early glimpse at what may be in store for the rest of the country, as more and more people get vaccinated."

    •  The New York Times reports that "a new form of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly in New York City, and it carries a worrisome mutation that may weaken the effectiveness of vaccines, two teams of researchers have found.

    "The new variant, called B.1.526, first appeared in samples collected in the city in November. By the middle of this month, it accounted for about one in four viral sequences appearing in a database shared by scientists."

    •  The Washington Post reports that "a coronavirus variant detected in California this winter rapidly became dominant in the state over five months and now makes up more than half of the infections in 44 counties, according to new research from scientists who believe this version of the virus should be declared a 'variant of concern warranting urgent follow-up investigation'."

    According to the story, "The variant contains a mutation that scientists suspect is enhancing the virus’s ability to bind to human receptor cells. If truly more transmissible, as the new study contends, the California variant joins a growing list of virus variants circulating in the United States as the country continues to emerge from the devastating winter wave of infections, hospitalizations and deaths."

    •  The Wall Street Journal writes about how "the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE is equally effective across all age groups, including those over 60, according to a new Israeli study, in a boost of confidence to global vaccine efforts.

    "The Pfizer vaccine provided around 94% protection against developing coronavirus symptoms across all age groups above 16 a week after the second shot of a recommended two-dose regimen, according to a study by researchers from Israel’s Clalit Research Institute and Harvard University. The study also found the vaccine is 92% effective in preventing severe disease."

    The Journal goes on:  "The results are in line with the vaccine maker’s own clinical trial, but the large size of the study, which covered nearly 1.2 million people, provides more precise insight into older age groups that were sparsely covered by the drugmaker’s trial, according to the study’s authors."

    •  The Wall Street Journal  reports that Moderna "said it has made the initial batch of doses of a new Covid-19 vaccine designed to better protect people against a new strain of the coronavirus that has shown some resistance to the company’s original vaccine.

    "The Cambridge, Mass., company on Wednesday said it shipped the new shots to the National Institutes of Health to conduct the first human study of the variant vaccine, which could start within weeks.

    "The new vaccine, code-named mRNA-1273.351, is designed to better match the virus variant that was first identified in South Africa but has since spread elsewhere."

    •  The Associated Press reports that "February is usually the peak of flu season, with doctors’ offices and hospitals packed with suffering patients. But not this year.

    "Flu has virtually disappeared from the U.S., with reports coming in at far lower levels than anything seen in decades.

    "Experts say that measures put in place to fend off the coronavirus — mask wearing, social distancing and virtual schooling — were a big factor in preventing a “twindemic” of flu and COVID-19. A push to get more people vaccinated against flu probably helped, too, as did fewer people traveling, they say."

    •  Axios reports that "United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby believes that people will feel safe traveling again by this time next year, depending on the pace of vaccinations and the government's ongoing response to the pandemic."

    Kirby said, "You know, I have real confidence in the long term that by this time next year we'll be back towards a world where people feel safe traveling again. And while COVID may not be completely in the rearview mirror, that all the safety protocols that we have, mean people are back comfortable flying again … And importantly, we need to reach a final scientific medical conclusion that once you've been vaccinated, it's safe for you to be out and behaving normally."

    Published on: February 25, 2021

    •  Bloomberg has a story about Wildberries, the Russian online retailer, which saw its business boom over the past year because of - go figure - the pandemic.  The surge in interest forced the company to accelerate its plans to expand its item count, signing up local producers and opening up an online marketplace.

    And now, Wildberries is looking to expand geographically:  "Wildberries started selling in Israel, Poland, and Slovakia in 2019 and this year added France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, putting it for the first time into direct competition with Inc., which doesn’t operate in Russia."

    One advantage Wildberries has as it moves west, owner-CEO Tatyana Bakalchuk says, "is close ties with small vendors dating from the 2014 crisis. The marketplace model she put in place then has increased the number of partners from just a few thousand to almost 100,000, with 5 million product listings. That expansion has helped Wildberries add new categories such as electronics, toys, sporting goods, and books, and Bakalchuk says her technology and approach can be easily adapted for new markets. 'Our strength is working with small businesses, and it really doesn’t matter what country you’re in,' she says."

    Published on: February 25, 2021

    •  Bloomberg reports on a niche category that may be gain some traction going forward - "performance beer."

    According to the story, "The idea of alcohol coinciding with an athlete’s regimen might seem counterintuitive. And it certainly shouldn’t replace water. But breweries have been incorporating electrolytes and even buckwheat and bee pollen to ameliorate dehydrating damage to the body. The market is still small—the Brewers Association estimates that performance beer constituted 1% of the craft beer market, which itself was 13% of the total market—but brewers say there are signs of growth. Some appeal to millennials who want to consume fewer calories and might put down their hard seltzer for a light beer with flavor."

    Published on: February 25, 2021

    Later today, Tom Furphy and Kevin Coupe open up their ongoing segment about technology strategies that are changing the world of retail, and build on this week's Innovation Conversation about the "buy or build" debate.  They'll be hosting a room on Thursday afternoon on Clubhouse, the new social networking app that enables real-time  audio conversation between the hosts (Tom and KC) and fellow members.

    Date:  Thursday, February 25

    Time:  4:30 pm EST / 1:30 pm PST


    Come join the Innovation Conversation … and if you're not yet a Clubhouse member, get the app … reserve your username … and request access.  (It'll help if you know someone who already is a member…)

    See you later today!