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    Published on: March 24, 2021

    The goal of "The Innovation Conversation" is to explore some facet of the fast-changing, technology-driven retail landscape and how it affects businesses and consumers. It is, we think, fertile territory ... and one that Tom Furphy - a former Amazon executive, the originator of Amazon Fresh, and currently CEO and Managing Director of Consumer Equity Partners (CEP), a venture capital and venture development firm in Seattle, WA, that works with many top retailers and manufacturers - is uniquely positioned to address.

    Coresight Research is out with a projection saying that e-commerce livestreaming market in the US is likely to exceed $25 billion in sales within two years - not bad for a technology that, in the US at least, still is thought of as being in its infancy.  Which probably is why Nordstrom just launched its own Livestream Shopping channel.

    In this edition of The Innovation Conversation, Tom Furphy and Kevin Coupe consider the possibilities and potential of livestream shopping when applied to mainstream retailing, focusing on how businesses can utilize it to entertain and educate shoppers, differentiate themselves, and drive sales.  

    If you're interested in listening to this Innovation Conversation, you can do so here (or can download this file):

    Published on: March 24, 2021

    It was revealed yesterday that of the 10 people killed in Monday's gun massacre at the Boulder, Colorado, King Soopers, four of the victims were people who were working there.

    The Washington Post has brief profiles of these four people.  Here are some excerpts.

    •  Rikki Olds, 25:  "Rikki Olds was a vibrant and strong-willed woman who had shrugged off a covid scare while working at King Soopers, only to be killed in Monday’s shooting. Olds had worked for Kroger grocery stores for about six years, said her uncle, Robert Olds. She was working as a manager Monday.

    "'Rikki was a very strong, independent, bubbly, outgoing person,' Robert Olds said. 'She was a people person who loved life'."

    The Post goes on:  "The pandemic had transformed the grocery store into an uncertain place to work at times, said Carlee Lough, a co-worker. But Olds had always lightened the mood with a joke, her infectious laugh or what everyone called her 'gorilla dance.'

    "Olds would walk around, throwing her arms, making funny sounds as pop music played over the store’s speakers, Lough recalled with a laugh. 'She was a fun-loving spirit. … She would do anything to make you smile'."

    •  Denny Strong, 20:  "Denny Stong was training to become a professional pilot. He had worked long hours stocking shelves at King Soopers since late 2018 to earn money for airplane fuel, said Laura Spicer, the mother of Stong’s close friend.

    When the coronavirus pandemic began last March, Stong added a border to his Facebook picture that read: 'I can’t stay home, I am a grocery store worker' - an homage to essential workers who have risked their health throughout the crisis … Stong was gregarious, generous, confident and loyal. He was drawn to anything fast, including old muscle cars, motorcycles, dirt bikes and airplanes."

    •  Teri Leiker, 51:  "Teri Leiker was a longtime King Soopers employee who enjoyed attending sporting events and singing songs from the movie Frozen, according to friends who mourned her on social media … Leiker had worked at King Soopers for around 30 years and loved the job, a third friend, Alexis Knutson, wrote on Instagram, adding that she had met the older woman through the Best Buddies program in 2017."

    More from the Post:  "'I am absolutely heartbroken to share the loss of my friend Teri Leiker,' wrote Katie Rinderknecht, a recent graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder. She said she met Leiker through the university’s chapter of Best Buddies, which connects students with members of the community with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  'All she knew was how to love and support those that meant a lot to her,' wrote Rinderknecht."

    •  Neven Stanisic, 23:  "Neven Stanisic’s family fled war-torn Bosnia in the 1990s, said Iva Petrovic, the wife of the pastor at their Denver-area church. They left 'everything' behind, she said, Serbian refugees seeking a safe life in the United States. Monday’s shooting brought a whole new world of loss … Twenty-three-year-old Stanisic started working as a teenager, helping to support his family, she said. On Monday he was fixing the coffee machines inside King Soopers, Petrovic said. He was just leaving in his truck when the violence unfolded. Stanisic’s family knew he had a job at King Soopers. They tried to find him - but they couldn’t get anywhere near the scene of the shooting, Petrovic said. Everything was blocked. They called Petrovic and her husband about 3 a.m., crying, to share the terrible news, she said: Neven was dead."

    No motive has yet been determined for the shootings.

    KC's View:

    Heartbreaking stories about all the victims, and kudos to the Post for its excellent coverage.

    Published on: March 24, 2021

    Business Insider has a story about a new study done by research company Finbold concluding that Amazon "is adding 3,700 new sellers on a daily basis in 2021. As of Sunday, that totaled out to 295,000 new sellers in 2021, or 155 new merchants every hour. Finbold estimated that Amazon could attract 1.4 million new sellers by the end of 2021. A total of 26% of those new sellers are in the United States, while 10.1% are located in India."

    "With the pandemic escalating the shift to e-commerce, most retailers in severely hit areas like the United States have been turning to popular marketplaces like Amazon to reach more customers," Finbold's report says. "Interestingly, two new sellers joining per minute explain Amazon's position in helping third-party sellers crack the new online market."

    KC's View:

    Which would seem to explain why Walmart is putting such an emphasis on building out its own third-party marketplace service.

    Published on: March 24, 2021

    Fast Company has a good piece about restaurant industry companies that "are doing more than survive the COVID-19 crisis. They’re setting themselves - and the entire industry - up for future success. Chicago-based reservation management platform Tock is helping independent restaurants offer order and delivery services, while Slice does something similar for local pizzerias. Sensor company OneDine has adapted its technology to help restaurants set up new drive-through services, and New York-based architecture firm Rockwell Group allows them to create outdoor spaces quickly and efficiently."

    It is all part of an industry-wide effort to recalibrate the restaurant sector for a post-pandemic world in which where they may be more unknowns than knowns.

    You can read it here.

    Published on: March 24, 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, the total number of Covid-19 coronavirus cases now has reached 30,636,534, resulting in 556,883 deaths and 23,039,585 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 124,905,056 total coronavirus cases, with 2,748,4 35 resultant fatalities and 100,907,719 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Newly reported coronavirus cases in the U.S. rose slightly, while Covid-19 vaccination campaigns continued to ramp up, with more than a quarter of the country having received at least one dose.

    "The U.S. reported more than 51,000 new cases for Tuesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University that was published early Wednesday Eastern time."

    •  The Washington Post writes that "at least 83.9 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S.  This includes more than 43.1 million people who have been fully vaccinated … 164.3 million doses have been distributed."

    •  Also from the Wall Street Journal:

    "Vaccination levels vary by state. In New Mexico, 33.5% of residents have had at least one shot, while 20.3% are fully vaccinated. In Georgia, which along with Texas announced plans to expand vaccine eligibility to all adults, 19.4% of residents have received one vaccine dose and 11% are fully vaccinated."

    •  The World Health Organization (WHO) is cautioning that after a drop in new Covid-19 infections around the world during January and February, there is evidence that they are beginning to increase again.  The Washington Post reports that this likely is a result of "more transmissible variants and the relaxation of restrictions - a phenomenon also observed in the United States. Deaths are now catching up with a 3 percent global rise in fatalities over the past week - Southeast Asia in particular has seen a major increase of 14 percent.

    •  The Wall Street Journal writes that "Moderna Chief Executive Stephane Bancel said the company is developing a vaccine targeting both seasonal flu and Covid-19 that, if successful, would protect recipients from both illnesses. Mr. Bancel said Tuesday that the shot could be ready for use in a couple of years, a timeline dictated by both the company's progress and the regulatory process."

    And, the Journal reports,  "Pfizer said Tuesday that it has begun testing in people an oral Covid-19 drug, which if proven to work safely could provide doctors with another tool to treat patients. Researchers are enrolling 60 healthy subjects to evaluate the safety of different doses of the treatment. If results are positive, Pfizer would see whether the treatment works safely in people infected with Covid-19."

    •  The European Commission "is expected to propose new curbs on coronavirus vaccine exports on Wednesday, in a move that is likely to widen the rift between the E.U. and its former member state Britain," the Washington Post writes, saying that a probable six-week curb would be tied to reciprocity - at the point, the UK has received nine million vaccine doses from plants in the EUY, but has exported none back.

    "Open roads run in both directions. And this is why we need to ensure that there is reciprocity and proportionality,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.  “If the situation does not change, we will have to reflect on how to make exports to vaccine-producing countries dependent on their level of openness.”

    Sounds like that "yelp" you hear is Brexit rising up and biting the UK on the rear end.

    •  The Boston Globe reports that Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser "has barred internal video calls on Fridays and encouraged vacations in an effort to combat workplace malaise brought on by the coronavirus pandemic."

    The last day of the work week, she said, would be designated "Zoom-free Fridays."  In addition, the story says, "Staff at Citi, one of the world’s biggest lenders, are also encouraged to avoid scheduling meetings outside of what were normal working hours before the outbreak of COVID-19 kept most of its workers home."

    "I know, from your feedback and my own experience, the blurring of lines between home and work and the relentlessness of the pandemic workday have taken a toll on our well-being," Fraser wrote in a memo to staff.  "It’s simply not sustainable."

    •  The Associated Press reports that "Regal Cinemas, the second largest movie theater chain in the U.S., will reopen beginning April 2, its parent company, Cineworld Group, announced Tuesday.

    "Regal had been one of most notable holdouts in the gradual reopening of cinemas nationwide. For nearly half a year, its 7,211 screens and 549 theatres in the U.S. have been dark. Doors will open early next month with attendance limited to 25 percent to 50 percent capacity in about 500 locations."

    •  From Variety:

    "As moviegoing slowly begins to rebound in the U.S., it appears Hollywood studios aren’t yet ready to release their biggest blockbuster hopefuls on the big screen.

    "All that is to say Disney has massively overhauled its upcoming slate and amended release plans for Black Widow, Emma Stone’s Cruella, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Pixar’s Luca and several others.

    Notably, Black Widow and Cruella will now premiere on Disney Plus at the same time they open in theaters. Cruella is arriving as scheduled on May 28, while Black Widow has been pushed back two months and will debut on July 9 instead of May 7. Both titles will be offered on Premier Access, which comes with a $30 rental fee.

    It may not matter that theaters are reopening, as streaming becomes a more mainstream option even for tentpole properties.

    •  Published reports say that Staples is now offering to laminate the completed vaccination cards being handed out by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - for free.

    Staples reportedly is making the freebie available until April 3.

    One quick note.  One of the stories that I read about this pointed out that people often get things like their Social Security cards laminated … but, as a public service, I am here to tell you that you are not supposed to do that.  I did - after all, my card was originally issued back in the mid-50s - and when I tried to use it as proof if identity at the DMV to get a "Real ID" driver's license, they rejected it - and I had to go get a new one from Social Security.

    Published on: March 24, 2021

    •  The Irish Examiner reports that "A US court has granted permission to Cork technology company Everseen to file documents under seal in its lawsuit against supermarket giant Walmart that accuses the retail giant of stealing its technology.

    "Headquartered in Blackpool, Everseen develops software and artificial intelligence to monitor self-checkouts in supermarkets, detecting when items are not scanned correctly.

    "The company began working with Walmart in 2005, installing its technology in stores throughout the US and said it had helped the company save significant money by reducing thefts and shrinkage.

    "However, in court documents filed recently, Everseen claims Walmart grew unhappy having to rely on its technology and used trade secrets and confidential information to develop what they say is a Walmart copy of Everseen’s technology."

    Walmart's released a statement responding to the suit:  "We take the intellectual property rights of others seriously. We will respond in court as appropriate."

    Published on: March 24, 2021

    •  Bloomberg reports that "Carrefour SA is buying Walmart Inc.’s former Brazil unit to cement its position as the country’s largest supermarket operator two months after being the target of a failed takeover bid.

    "Advent International and Walmart agreed to sell Grupo BIG Brasil SA for about 1.1 billion euros ($1.3 billion), Carrefour said Wednesday. Brazil is already the French retailer’s second-largest market, and the deal would make that business almost as big as its European operations outside of France."

    Once the deal is approved by authorities, Advent and Walmart will retain a combined 5.6% stake in the company.

    •  CNN reports that "7-Eleven wants to get in on the growing popularity of fast food drive-thrus. So it's opening one for its taco restaurant.

    "The convenience store chain said Tuesday that it is opening a Laredo Taco location with a drive-thru in Dallas. Typically, Laredo Taco locations can be found in 7-Eleven stores themselves. This is the first drive-thru for the taco chain, as well as the first drive-thru at a corporate-owned 7-Eleven store. Customers can order Slurpees in addition to items from the Laredo Taco menu, which include an assortment of tacos, side dishes and aguas frescas."

    •  Eater Washington DC reports that Foxtrot Market, the so-called boutique convenience store format that focuses on foodservice, e-commerce and local brands, has opened its second store in Washington, DC, about a mile east of the White House and a mile north of the US Capitol.

    It is the second store that Foxtrot has opened in DC;  the first, in Georgetown, opened on March 1.

    Foxtrot also operates stores in Chicago and Dallas.

    Published on: March 24, 2021

    •  Amazon announced yesterday that Adam Selipsky, a longtime Amazon executive who left the company in 2016 to become CEO of Tableau Software, is returning to become CEO of Amazon Web Services.

    He succeeds Andy Jassy in the role, as Jassy moves up to succeed Jeff Bezos as CEO of the entire company later this year.

    The Wall Street Journal writes, "In a note to employees announcing the hire, Mr. Jassy called Mr. Selipsky 'customer obsessed,' a phrase often repeated at Amazon and one Mr. Bezos would often put at the center of the company’s ethos. The cloud business, which had $51 billion in annual sales and grew at a rate of nearly 30% in the fourth quarter, is set to continue expanding, Mr. Jassy said."

    The Journal goes on:  "Originally one of the first vice presidents hired in 2005 to work at Amazon Web Services, known as AWS, Mr. Selipsky worked closely with Mr. Jassy in his 11 years at Amazon and was a key executive who helped build out the cloud-computing unit. He ran the team that built the first visual interface for AWS. By the time he left, he was running marketing, sales, support, business development, partner alliances and international expansion, a role akin to a chief operating officer."

    •  Loblaw announced that its president, Sarah Davis, will retire on May 6 and be succeeded by executive Chairman Galen G. Weston, who will become chairman and president in addition to his current role as chairman and CEO at George Weston Ltd. 

    The company also announced that Robert Sawyer, who has served at both Metro and Rona as COO during his 40 years as a retailer, will join Loblaw as Chief Operating Officer.

    And, Richard Dufresne, President/CFO of George Weston Ltd., will expand his responsibilities to include becoming CFO of Loblaw on May 6, 2021.

    Published on: March 24, 2021

    Content Guy’s Note: Stories in this section are, in my estimation, important and relevant to business. However, they are relegated to this slot because some MNB readers have made clear that they prefer a politics-free MNB; I can't do that because sometimes the news calls out for coverage and commentary, but at least I can make it easy for folks to skip it if they so desire.

    •  The Washington Post this morning reports that "nearly 200 businesses are pressing Congress for paid and more expansive family leave, a sign of the shifting political momentum over U.S. labor policy after the overlapping crises of the coronavirus pandemic exposed workers’ vulnerabilities.

    "In a letter sent Tuesday, executives for such brands as Patagonia, Etsy, Levi Strauss and Danone urged congressional leaders to extend comprehensive paid family and medical leave to all working people."

    Annie Sartor, senior director at the advocacy group PL+US (Paid Leave for the United States), said that "to have almost 200 companies come out and go on the record in support of a public policy position like paid leave is really unprecedented."

    According to the Post, "The letter calls for Congress to create a 'permanent paid family and medical leave policy,' but it does not offer specifics. Sartor said that it was intentionally left broad but that the group wanted paid leave to address three key areas: leave for parents surrounding the birth of a child or an adoption, for people taking time to care for a sick family member, and personal sick and medical leave."

    Published on: March 24, 2021

    George Segal, whose film and stage career started in the early 60s but who probably is best known to modern audiences from his performances in sitcoms like "The Goldbergs," has passed away at age 87 from complications related to bypass surgery.

    KC's View:

    Unless you are of a certain age, you don't realize that George Segal for a number of years was a major movie star, with leading roles in films that included A Touch of Class, The Hot Rock, Where's Poppa, and Blume in Love.

    One of his first big films was the movie version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, in which he starred with Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Sandy Dennis;  Segal got a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

    My two personal favorite Segal films are California Split, a 1974 Robert Altman movie that co-starred Elliot Gould, and No Way To Treat A Lady, a 1968 film based on a William Goldman novel, in which he played a cop engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with a serial killer played by Rod Steiger.

    Published on: March 24, 2021

    Yesterday I did a FaceTime video about a special Surprise & Delight program at the Apple Store - polite and well-mannered customers get breaks from employees.

    MNB reader Glenn Cantor wrote:

    Surprise and Delight.  Grocery store managers and key store-level personnel should make it a point to know their best customers when they come into their stores.  They should great these good customers, and give them some kind of tangible benefit or gift from time to time, to express their appreciation.

    We have two really good chain c-stores in my town, Wawa and Quick Chek.  I am in both of their loyalty programs.  Recently, Wawa sent me a cooler basket filled with gift items, including a $25 gift card.  I think it was sent because I responded to their customer survey.  Guess what, I haven’t been back to Quick Chek since getting the Wawa basket.

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    Kerby Lane Café in Austin, TX does this too. A party of mine once got 50% off of a 6 person tab from the server because we were nice and happy one night after ACL when the place was slammed.

    Regarding our coverage of Amazon's labor policies, one MNB reader wrote:

    I like Amazon.  They are definitely my go-to place to shop, but when I read about how they treat their delivery drivers, I want to not shop with them anymore.  The problem is, I like shopping at Amazon!   Every time I get a delivery, I get an email asking me to rate the driver and the delivery.   I think next time I am going to see if there is a place where it lets me ask if the driver had lunch, or a break, or was treated fairly.  

    Yesterday, in the MNB Covid-19 Coronavirus Update, I took note of two different stories that I found concerning.

    One had to do with the fact that, even as more and more people are getting vaccinated, Axios wrote that "it's the unvaccinated in some cases who are returning to activities outside the home at the highest rates … 52% of unvaccinated Americans reported seeing friends and relatives outside the home in the past week, compared with just 41% of those who'd been vaccinated.

    "The share of Americans saying they are 'not at all' likely to take the vaccine remained steady at around one in five."

    And then, there was an Associated Press story about how "more than 1.5 million people streamed through US airport security checkpoints on Sunday, the largest number since the pandemic tightened its grip on the United States more than a year ago. It marked the 11th straight day that the Transportation Security Administration screened more than 1 million people, likely from a combination of spring break travel and more people becoming vaccinated against COVID-19."

    And then, I commented:

    It isn't what Shakespeare was referring to, but "Lord, what fools these mortals be!"

    Which prompted one MNB reader to respond:

    Are you saying we are all fools for traveling? Again - what is the point. You seem to make a lot of bold statements that are baseless. So now you should tell who us who should travel and when.

    They told us that asbestos was safe - and that the food pyramid represented the best nutritional balance (funded by food companies). They told people 500 years ago that the sun revolved around the earth (Science). Please. Its science until it is not.

    I also see that you wrote a follow up that more women have left the work place more then men.. Again  who cares. As long as we have a work force that produces innovative products and services there will be shifts in demographics. Who cares. Maybe we stop counting how many colors we have and we start focusing on if we are doing the right thing. That is the choice we make everyday - not the color of our skin or if we are male or female.. 

    Back to travel. Some people walk backwards through life. Some walk forwards.. and some run. Keep traveling folks. 

    "The greatest indignity placed on an individual is not loss of one's dignity as one might presume - but it is the loss of liberty."  (Source unknown)

    I tried to find the source of that quote, just because I was curious.  But I struck out, too.

    So, let me take your comments one by one.

    First of all, I would not say that anyone who travels is a fool, though I can understand why someone might take that from yesterday's comment.

    But … I do think that people who do not take the pandemic seriously are being foolish, and personally, I'd be careful about non-essential travel until we get to the point where more people are vaccinated and we get that daily case load under 20,000.

    If you want to dismiss the recommendations of the CDC and Dr. Fauci based on geocentrism, which went out of fashion in the 16th century when it was disproven by Galileo - though it took the Catholic Church a little longer to come around - then that's your privilege.

    The food pyramid … well, your very comment suggests that it wasn't the science that was wrong, but the scientists willing to take money from the wrong folks.

    As for the safety of asbestos … the whole point of science is that scientists continue to learn.  Good science is good science, but it isn't stagnant.  Which is why official advice and guidance continues to evolve with time.

    I believe that the end of the pandemic is in sight … but that our ability to get beyond it will be compromised if we behave irresponsibly.  I think the opening up of the country as has been taking place lately runs the risk of being irresponsible.  I hope I'm wrong, and that the numbers won't spike.

    I think liberty carries with it responsibility.

    It also means we get to disagree.

    We also disagree on the subject of what has happened to women in the workplace.

    I care about the things you say you do not.  I think that it is worth paying attention to pushing for diversity in the workplace, because greater diversity inevitably leads to greater innovation.  If the pandemic has caused shifts in the workplace that leads to less diversity, well, that's a problem worth addressing.

    The only people who think it is appropriate for the nation's economy to be a zero-sum game are those who are benefitting from addition, as opposed to suffering from subtraction.

    Can you really call it an economic recovery if only some of the demographic segments hit hard by the pandemic are able to experience as revival in their fortunes?