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    Published on: April 6, 2021

    The great Frieda Caplan had an almost incalculable impact on how Americans understand and eat fresh produce, and it seems that more than a year after her passing, she's not done educating us.  KC has a look at a new children's book that celebrates her willingness to try anything, and makes new and interesting foods accessible to young people (and their parents).  And, he considers the potential impact of a new Netflix TV series that has undertaken the same mission.

    Published on: April 6, 2021

    by Michael Sansolo

    Successful businesses need to make difficult decisions all the time. The path to profitability is a field of land mines affecting everything from site selection to staffing to technology, marketing and, frankly, you name it.

    But to quote a favorite line from A League of Their Own, if it weren't hard, everyone would do it.  In other words, success comes from making those tough decisions and making them correctly.

    That’s why we need to spend a few minutes today considering a mind-numbing decision at The Loft, the clothing store started as the lower price alternative to Ann Taylor. A few weeks back, Loft quietly announced a change that left a large portion of loyal shoppers furious and might likely lead to lasting damage for the chain.

    Loft announced a sharp cutback in apparel offerings for plus-sized women. As (a magazine that I have never encountered before) reported, the chain blamed problems with supply chains and reduced sales for the decision. Hardly seems radical there.

    Frankly, some of the decision makes sense. It’s easy to understand why apparel stores are struggling at the moment after 13 months of everyone wearing casual clothes thanks to covid lockdowns. And certainly, Loft is wise to make decisions based on what is and is not selling. 

    But that’s where the logic ends and where the lesson begins. First off, Loft could have (and should have, according to Fashionista) learned a valuable lesson from the past year. Women apparently look to Loft and Ann Taylor for office wear, so the company took a huge hit during covid. However, instead of seeing this as clear guidance to expand the brand into casual wear, Loft decided to cut.

    Fashion writers also blamed Loft for doing a poor job of marketing its plus-sized offerings, so it failed to build a market.

    But here’s what made me pause because honestly, plus sized clothing didn’t need a lot of help in building a market. According to these fashion magazines, two-thirds of American women buy plus-sized products. So it sounds like Loft is running away from what appears to be a really important market segment.

    The lesson, I’d argue, is that numbers tell us a lot about how we performed yesterday. Leadership is about understanding what we have to do tomorrow.

    You’d think that someone at Loft would have said that demographics and lifestyle changes are making both casual wear and plus sizes more important than ever. So let’s figure out how to grab a piece of that market. And certainly space is limited in stores to offer absolutely everything, but in the world of omni-marketing, retailers need have create new strategies to determine how to offer slow moving items through their websites. (Remember the long-tail strategy anyone? It revolves about using the limitless space of the internet.)

    Lastly, how could any company look at two-thirds of the potential customer base and think they want to go in the opposite direction?

    If there’s any logic to this at all is comes from a simple fact: a financial firm, which apparently is sorely lacking in marketing skills, owns the Loft and Ann Taylor. 

    The issue of plus-sized clothing is hardly one to keep a supermarket operator up at night, but the notion of misreading market potential, clinging to a dated model or leaving too many decisions up to financial analysis is certainly a recipe bound to sound familiar to far too many.

    So far, the Loft is mainly suffering the slings and arrows of fashion reviews and on-line commentary. It won’t be long until the pain is felt in those same financials. And if the Loft goes into quick decline the company shouldn’t blame it on the competition. I’m no coroner, but this seems a simple case of suicide.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at

    His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

    And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.

    Published on: April 6, 2021

    The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled that Amazon behaved illegally when it fired two of its most vocal employee-critics, who had "publicly pushed the company to reduce its impact on climate change and address concerns about its warehouse workers … The two women were among dozens of Amazon workers who in the last year told the labor board about company retaliations, but in most other cases the workers had complained about pandemic safety … Claims of unfair labor practices at Amazon have been common enough that the labor agency may turn them into a national investigation, the agency told NBC News. The agency typically handles investigations in its regional offices."

    The Times puts the case of Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa in context:

    "Ms. Costa and Ms. Cunningham, who worked as designers at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, began criticizing the company publicly in 2018. They were part of a small group of employees who wanted the company to do more to address its climate impact. The group, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, got more than 8,700 colleagues to support its efforts.

    "Over time, Ms. Cunningham and Ms. Costa broadened their protests. After Amazon told them that they had violated its external communications policy by speaking publicly about the business, their group organized 400 employees to also speak out, purposely violating the policy to make a point.

    "They also began raising concerns about safety in Amazon’s warehouses at the start of the pandemic. Amazon fired Ms. Costa and Ms. Cunningham last April, not long after their group had announced an internal event for warehouse workers to speak to tech employees about their workplace conditions."

    Amazon responded to the NLRB ruling by saying, "“We support every employee’s right to criticize their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against our internal policies, all of which are lawful.  We terminated these employees not for talking publicly about working conditions, safety or sustainability but, rather, for repeatedly violating internal policies.”

    The Times reports that the NLRB plans to "accuse Amazon of unfair labor practices if the company did not settle the case … The case would then go before an administrative law judge."

    KC's View:

    Seems to me that Amazon is playing a lot of defense these days.  Not only is the NLRB taking it to task for past behavior, but Amazon even had to apologize the other day for denying that some of its delivery people had to urinate in bottles in order to keep to their schedules, and also apologize for the tweet that communicated its displeasure of even being accused of such a thing.

    Amazon's defense that its denial concerned only its staff drivers, not contract drivers.  Yeah, right.

    This is all happening as the NLRB supervises the counting of votes at Amazon's Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse, where workers have cast ballots on the matter of unionization.

    And, as the Seattle Times writes, "Amazon is gearing up to defend itself against a mushrooming battle over the company’s alleged anticompetitive business practices, in arenas spanning Congress, federal agencies and state government.

    "The commerce giant is expanding its legal team, hiring former federal prosecutors and regulators to fill roles that include defending the company against allegations that it unfairly dominates markets. The company has tweaked its public messaging to downplay its role as the world’s largest online retailer."

    Mrs. Content Guy and I took Spenser for a long walk yesterday, and we found ourselves chatting about Amazon's current situation.  (I think I asked her to let me know if she saw a result in the Alabama vote count.)  And she asked me a really good question:  "Wouldn't it be easier for Amazon, instead of spending so much time defending itself and trying to change the conversation, to simply do things right?"

    "Right," of course, is relative.  It isn't as easy as suggesting that Amazon is 100 percent wrong and labor is 100 percent right.  I don't believe that for a second.

    But I do think that Amazon has positioned itself to be thought of as the very model of a 21st century company, and therefore is expected to behave in a more enlightened way than it has in certain circumstances.

    Published on: April 6, 2021

    The Los Angeles Times reports that the decision by Kroger to close a Ralphs store in the Pico-Robertson  neighborhood has drawn the ire of the area's large Jewish community, which says that the closure will have a negative impact because of its traditionally strong selection of Kosher products.

    The story makes the point that the community is caught in the crosshairs of a political battle between Kroger and local lawmakers over mandated hazard pay for store employees.  City officials say that the high risks endured by grocery store employees and the higher-than-usual profits enjoyed by supermarket chains justify a $5 per hour pay boost while pandemic conditions persist;  Kroger says that this store - as well as several others in the market - were on the bubble before the hazard pay mandate, and now simply are not viable.

    KC's View:

    Kroger really wasn't given a choice by the lawmakers - closing stores was pretty much the only card it had to play when it wanted to protest the mandates.

    I feel bad for these communities.  In the end, though, local folks also have to ask some serious questions of their elected officials, who pushed retailers into a corner.

    Published on: April 6, 2021

    New Seasons Market and New Leaf Community Markets announced today they will be no longer sell single-use bottles of water from all stores.  The change in policy is effective April 22, 2021 - Earth Day.

    According to the announcement, the move "marks the latest effort from both brands over decades of work to reduce waste in local communities. The initiative will discontinue the sale of still water, in capacities of one liter or less, bottled in single-use plastic, fiber, aluminum or glass containers," though "both grocers will continue to offer larger sizes of water in the Grocery department, as well as single-serving bottles of sparkling and flavored water that are not available from the tap. To help customers transition their habits, stores will continue to offer one refillable single-serve bottle of still water from Pathwater."

    “Combined, beverage bottles, caps and lids make up the second most common form of ocean litter. By committing to using reusable bottles, we can remove over a quarter million single-use plastic, aluminum and glass bottles a year,” said Athena Petty, senior sustainability manager at New Seasons Market and New Leaf Community Markets. “We’re starting efforts with still water in containers one liter or less because opting for reusables is an easy individual choice to help lessen our collective environmental impact.”

    Both banners said they "will further support waste reduction efforts with a goal to reduce operational waste from their stores, striving to achieve a 57% landfill diversion rate."

    New Seasons and New Leaf are both owned by Good Food Holdings, a subsidiary of South Korean company E-mart.

    KC's View:

    Consumers in general have a great concern about the environment than ever, and especially so in the markets that New Seasons and New Leaf serve.  It is in character for  the two banners, and on-message for how they position themselves in their communities.

    Published on: April 6, 2021

    An analysis of customer data compiled by Trackr suggests that Amazon's annual revenue, which reached $386 billion in 2020, will grow by another 30 percent this year and exceed $500 billion.

    According to the Trackr analysis, "The projection is based on five fundamental factors, such as the pandemic-inspired online shopping trend, increasing number of new sellers onboarding Amazon, improving delivery and logistics processes, new COVID-19 mutations signaling the extended pandemic effects, and the ongoing Amazon revenue growth during the past 10 years."

    Published on: April 6, 2021

    The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports that Walmart "is bringing its in-home delivery service to Northwest Arkansas starting Wednesday.

    "The subscription service lets Walmart workers deliver groceries directly into customers' refrigerators, either in their kitchens or garages. In Northwest Arkansas, it will operate out of six stores reaching customers in Rogers; Bentonville; Fayetteville; Pineville, Mo.; and parts of Springdale, a Walmart spokeswoman said Thursday."

    The story goes on:  "An outgrowth of Walmart's technology incubator Store No. 8, testing of InHome Delivery started in October 2019 in Kansas City, Mo.; Pittsburgh; and Vero Beach, Fla … Only tenured workers who've received special training are allowed to make these deliveries, Walmart said. To ensure transparency and customer security, a camera worn on the employee's vest livestreams the delivery to the customer's phone, and the door won't unlock until the camera begins streaming.

    "Also, an optional app sends customers delivery notifications and lets customers watch recorded video of the delivery later."

    Published on: April 6, 2021

    Axios reports that a new Morning Consult survey indicates that "1 in 4 workers (26%) plans to look for a job at a different company once the pandemic has subsided … That number is even higher (34%) for millennials, the largest generation in the workforce today."

    The story goes on:  "Of those planning to leave their current job, 80% are concerned about career growth, and nearly 75% say the pandemic made them rethink their skills.  High-performing workers no longer feel geographically tied to local employers in a remote world."

    Axios says that "most workers say they want to work remotely at least part of the time after offices reopen, multiple surveys suggest."  However, close of half of survey respondents said that "they'd be nervous about job security if they stayed remote while colleagues returned."

    KC's View:

    It is entirely reasonable to believe that many people, having dealt with a long and often traumatic year in a variety of ways, actually are reconsidering some of their life and career choices.  (Forget changing jobs.  There have been a lot of stories recently about the increase in divorce rates.)

    I think this actually might be a good time for business leaders to engage in conversations with their best people (no reason to bother with the people you want to leave), and ask what they've learned about themselves, their jobs, and their relationship to the business during the pandemic.  The simple act of listening can be powerful, and the process might create insights that will help making companies better, stronger, and more responsive.

    Published on: April 6, 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 31,496,976 total confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in the deaths of 569,282 people and 24,058,562 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  132,499,396 total coronavirus cases … 2,875,844 resultant fatalities … and 106,831,250 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  CNN reports that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the nation administered more than four million vaccinations last Saturday, and currently is averaging about three million vaccines a day.

    •  From the Washington Post:

    "At least 107.5 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S.

    This includes more than 62.4 million people who have been fully vaccinated … 207.9 million doses have been distributed."

    This means that almost 19 percent of the US population has been fully vaccinated, and almost a third has receive3d at least one dose of the vaccine.

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Newly reported coronavirus cases in the U.S. rose, as several states resumed reporting data after the Easter weekend, while vaccination efforts across the country continued to accelerate.

    "The U.S. reported more than 78,000 new cases for Monday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University that was published early Tuesday … While new cases remain elevated, the pace of vaccinations in the U.S. has been gaining steam, with an average of 3.1 million Covid-19 vaccine doses administered each day over the past week, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data."

    •  From Axios:

    "Just half of U.S. parents plan to get their children vaccinated for COVID-19 as soon as they can, and 48% said they wouldn't."

    •  From Axios:

    "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that while it recommends all staff and travelers aboard cruise ships be vaccinated for COVID-19, cruise companies do not need to mandate vaccines in order to resume travel safely … CDC guidance will still mandate that masks be worn on board by staff and passengers, as well as at 'all U.S. transportation hubs, including seaports and ferry terminals'."

    There aren't enough vaccines in existence to make me want to go on those petrie dishes of disease called cruise ships again … but I felt that way before the pandemic.

    •  From the New York Times:

    "Walgreens has inoculated hundreds of thousands of Americans against Covid-19 this year using the vaccine developed by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. But the pharmacy chain has not been following guidance from federal health officials about the timing of second doses.

    "People are supposed to get two doses, three weeks apart. Walgreens, however, separated them by four weeks because that made it faster and simpler for the company to schedule appointments.

    "There is no evidence that separating the doses by an extra week decreases the vaccine’s effectiveness. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a three-week gap, the agency says it is acceptable to separate the doses by up to six weeks if necessary."

    Now, however, "Walgreens is changing its system. Starting as soon as the end of the week, the pharmacy will automatically schedule people for Pfizer doses three weeks apart."

    Seems like a prototypical example of a retailer putting organizational priorities above the concerns of its shoppers.  Not the best way to succeed, IMNSHO.

    Published on: April 6, 2021

    •  The Dallas Morning News reports that Amazon "has explored opening discount retail stores selling a mix of home goods and electronics, a potentially significant expansion of the company’s growing portfolio of brick-and-mortar locations.

    "The outlets would carry unsold inventory sitting in Amazon’s warehouses at steep discounts, according to two people familiar with the plans. The company has considered opening permanent stores, as well as pop-up locations in malls or parking lots, said the people. The plans were preliminary and under discussion last year, but the pandemic and new Fresh grocery chain forced many employees to focus on day-to-day operations."

    •  Arts and crafts retailer Michael's announced that it is piloting a same-day delivery program with Instacart in 100 stores located in markets that include Chicago, Dallas, and Washington, DC.

    In a prepared statement, Heather Bennett, executive vice president of innovation at Michaels, said, “As the largest one-stop-shop for all things arts and crafts in North America, our partnership with Instacart provides a quick and convenient way for our Makers to purchase ordinary craft supplies so they can create extraordinary projects."

    The pandemic was a major driver of sales at Michael's - its e-commerce sales in 2020 were up more than 300 percent.

    •  The Seattle Times reports that Amazon's plans to beef up its presence in Bellevue, just east of Seattle - reflect its post-pandemic commitment to returning its employees to an office-centric model.

    According to the story, Amazon's plans look "a lot like the tech giant’s dense, walkable South Lake Union campus … The permit application for Bellevue 600, the company’s under-construction double-tower complex near Bellevue City Hall, shows plans for nearly 30,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, two day-care centers, an arts facility and a coffee shop. A lushly landscaped pedestrian breezeway will run between the buildings, connecting the Bellevue Transit Center and future light rail station. Nearly 7,000 employees are expected to work in the 31-story and 43-story towers."

    Published on: April 6, 2021

    •  The Detroit Free Press reports that "Trader Joe's has partnered with a life skills company that aims to help those with autism and other cognitive and intellectual disabilities navigate activities, such as grocery shopping, that may feel challenging or overwhelming.

    "Magnusmode developed the app, MagnusCards, as a guide to help make shopping trips more accessible and comfortable."

    According to the story, Trader Joe's "has five TJ's-related card decks within the MagnusCard app.  There are visual cues and step-by-step instructions with an audio option.  Each card deck has a different focus on the shopping experience such as 'check out your items' and store 'sensory experiences'."

    •  AdWeek reports that Starbucks has "unveiled a new social media campaign to get the message out about the sustainability commitments it made last year, with the aim of cutting its carbon, water and waste footprints in half by 2030.

    "The international coffee chain found 74% of U.S. consumers believe a brand’s commitment to the environment is important in its own 2020 study, which underscores the need for such messaging … As the climate crisis looms ever larger in consumers’ minds, according to surveys conducted in recent years, it is more important than ever for brands to take action and, according to Starbucks, to let those customers both know about and take part in those efforts, from reducing single-use packaging to ordering plant-based menu items."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "supply chain problems are reaching into a far corner of the business universe: Ketchup packets.

    "After enduring a year of closures, employee safety fears and start-stop openings, American restaurants are now facing a nationwide ketchup shortage. Restaurants are trying to secure the tabletop staple after Covid-19 upended the condiment world order. Managers are using generic versions, pouring out bulk ketchup into individual cups and hitting the aisles of Costco for substitutes."

    The Journal notes that "the ketchup conundrum strikes at a cornerstone of American diets. The tomato spread is the most-consumed table sauce at U.S. restaurants, with around 300,000 tons sold to food-service last year, according to research firm Euromonitor. Even more is eaten at home, and the pandemic helped push retail ketchup sales in the U.S. over $1 billion in 2020, around 15% higher than 2019, Euromonitor data showed.

    "Kraft Heinz Co. is ketchup’s king, with the research firm saying Heinz holds nearly 70% of the U.S. retail market for the condiment. But the more than 150-year-old brand wasn’t prepared for the pandemic."

    Published on: April 6, 2021

    •  Publix Super Markets announced that Adrian Bennett has been named its Jacksonville Division Vice President, succeeding the retiring t Scott Brubaker, who has been with the company since 1975 and in his current role since 2005.

    Bennett was named regional director in the Jacksonville Division in 2016.

    Published on: April 6, 2021

    Yesterday  we ran a special edition of MNB - an extended conversation with John Grant, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 770 in Los Angeles, to talk about the issue of mandated hazard pay.

    MNB reader Neil Stern - who, it needs to be pointed out, is the CEO of Good Food Holdings, which certainly has been affected by the mandates - responded:

    Well done!

    I hope you get a good conversation going because he was thoughtful throughout.

    Thoughts and quibbles:

    He began by mentioning retailer inconsistency around masking and testing. It was not the retailer but government policy in an evolving situation. Retailers have consistently gone beyond the local governments in enforcing mandates.

    The issue of trauma for the associate is very true. People are stressed, tired, emotionally and financially impacted. It has been a tough year and certainly retail workers had a different experience than white collar workers.

    Decent explanation on why grocery...but yes, every worker (and maybe even more so, the police) … have had stress. But I will take the point that grocery was "more" essential than most.

    I hate the "profit" discussion. Food retail (even in 2020) is a fundamentally low margin and low profit business. We could go on and on with comparisons but Target made $6.5 billion on $94 billion in revenue in 2020; Home Depot $12.9 billion on $110 billion and Kroger made $2.8 billion on $135 billion in revenue. Better than last year, sure. Better than other types of retailers (or suppliers)?  Not even close!

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    Congratulations on doing a unique format today.  It is a very important issue and it was great to see the discussion between you and John Grant.  I was amazed at how many things you agree on.  Both of you are very respectful of the other’s opinion even when you disagree.  It reminds me of years ago when we spoke to each other and listened, versus the current climate of trying to shout down or minimize people we disagree with.

    I especially like how you wanted to learn more and let John present his case.  One of my favorite quotes from Larry King (paraphrasing) was, “I never learned anything while I was talking.”  I think both you and John learned a lot from your conversation.

    From another MNB reader:

    Pertaining to 34,700 union grocery workers exposed to or having had COVID out of 900,000, well that's a percentage just under 4% and if you look at the percentage of Americans who have HAD COVID it's sitting at around 9%, with 30 million out of 328 million in the United States.  So if you add in "exposure" perhaps it's 20-30%.  

    This is simply another argument "against" hazard pay for supermarket workers who have so far experienced COVID or have been quarantined as a result of exposure is at a minimum of 1/3rd of the rate in the country.  But it may be more likely that it's about 1/5th!  

    From yet another reader:

    At the heart of this is the overall  lack of coordination in response to the pandemic, that in my opinion is nothing short of a national tragedy!! Clearly as a nation we were unprepared and leaving it up to each state to develop their own response hasn’t worked all that well.  Going forward as “one nation” we can and must do better! 

    And, one more:

    Regarding mask mandates here in the Portland, Oregon market, all I can say is at all the major grocery chains, mass merchandiser chains, and all other retailers have 100% mask compliance. It has been a requirement for a long time, and I think this is why we have one of the lowest instances of COVID-19 infections in the country. It ain’t that hard to put on a mask and protect yourself and others. Eventually, we will all look at this issue in the rear view mirror.

    I think this is an important issue and that we'll continue to have an good discussion about it here on MNB.  If you missed yesterday's piece, you can access it here.

    The other day we referenced a Chicago Tribune report that Cleveland Avenue, a venture capital firm launched by Don Thompson, the former McDonald's CEO, has put $15 million behind Dom's Market and Kitchen, a new food hall format that is the brainchild of Bob Mariano, the former Dominick's and Roundy's CEO who launched the Mariano's chain before selling it to Kroger.

    I commented:

    There are two reasons to be excited about the Dom's opening.

    First, it has been my conviction that one result of the pandemic's impact on the restaurant business would be a growth of food hall concepts, especially those driven by people from the traditional restaurant business.  The pandemic laid bare the degree to which they were vulnerable to economic shifts, and a smartly developed food hall has the ability to spread the bets around a little bit.

    Second, it is from Bob Mariano and his team - and their track record is pretty damned strong.  

    MNB reader Julie Anderson chimed in:

    I don’t know Bob or have even met him, but I know Dominick’s. I shopped at their first location, and continued to shop there till I moved.

    I have watched Bob take his creativity and bring it to every entity he has been associated with. I applaud him. He is an innovator in the industry.

    Makes me smile. Wish I lived in Chicago. When I go back home I will make a point to go and visit.

    Finally … thanks to all of you who enjoyed my little April Fool's joke last week:

    New reporting from the Suez Canal indicates that previous stories about why the skyscraper-sized container ship Ever Given blocked the canal were inaccurate - the ship did not run aground because of high winds that forced it off course

    Authorities who boarded the ship - which was going from the Yantian district of China to  Rotterdam in the Netherlands - to inspect its cargo found that it in fact was loaded down  with thousands of grey Amazon Prime delivery vans that the company planned to scatter across the EU in an effort to dominate the continent's delivery infrastructure.  There also were several containers loaded with delivery drones.

    It was fun to write, and I really enjoyed the fact that a few people thought it was true.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Disappointed you did not give the full report. BBC reported that one container on the ship was loaded with archived videos of “Facetime with the Content Guy”, being bootlegged into Europe.  Apparently upon discovery the ship’s captain left his post as he was so enthralled watching them, especially the cooking sessions.

    Not the first time I've been involved in smuggling something into Europe.

    Some day I'll tell you the story about how, in October 1979, I helped smuggle a girl without a passport from Italy into Germany.

    Published on: April 6, 2021

    Last night in the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship game, Baylor defeated Gonzaga 86-70, spoiling the latter's ambition to not just win the championship but also to become ther first undefeated team to do so since Indiana in 1976.

    The win followed the weekend's 54-53 win by Stanford over Arizona in the Women's NCAA Basketball Championship.