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    Published on: April 22, 2021

    Retail Tomorrow on MNB is an ongoing series of conversations about the strategies, technologies and people reshaping the space, co-hosted by Sterling Hawkins, co-founder and co-CEO of CART, the Center for Advancing Retail & Technology.

    Joining us today is Josh Lawler, a partner in the Los Angeles law firm of Zuber Lawler and the leader of its New Technology Group, which 

    focuses on cutting edge projects within the Blockchain (distributed ledger), artificial intelligence, robotics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, virtual/augmented reality, internet of things, cybersecurity, and related technologies spaces.

    Today, Josh gives us a lesson in cryptocurrency … and explain why, inevitably, it is going to matter very much to retailers.  One of those retailers, he suggests, is Walmart, which is positioning itself at the forefront in the field with a crypto experiment that he believes could "shake the foundations of the retail payment process."

    FYI … Josh has written two fascinating articles on the subject for Medium, which you can read here and here.

    If you're interested in listening to an audio version of this edition of Retail Tomorrow, you can do so here (or can download this file):

    You also can listen to it - and past Retail Tomorrow episodes, here.

    Published on: April 22, 2021

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Walmart is going to phase out the "hulking automated pickup towers that were erected in more than 1,500 stores to dispense online orders," believing that hulking orange vending machines inside the stores are inconsistent with the trend toward curbside pickup.

    The company also is stepping back from some automation initiatives, the Journal writes.  " Last year the company stopped using aisle-roving, inventory-tracking robots made by Bossa Nova Robotics Inc., after finding that humans can help get similar results … John Furner, who took over the role of chief executive of Walmart U.S. in late 2019, has moved the retailer away from some of the consumer-facing automation technology added rapidly to stores under his predecessor."

    According to the story, "Over the past year Walmart has started to remove or turn off the 17-foot-tall machines often placed at the front of stores. About 300 machines are being removed from stores, and around 1,300 'hibernated' while Walmart focuses on other services."

    KC's View:

    What Walmart doesn't want you to know was that the robotic towers have been in deep conversations with the UFCW about a possible organization campaign.  Once Walmart management got wind of these efforts, it was only a matter of time before the machines got decommissioned.

    It is sort of nice to know that in some cases, people actually are as efficient and maybe even more adaptable to changing circumstances than machines are.

    Published on: April 22, 2021

    Albertsons has announced its commitment "to the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and will set an emissions reduction target that supports the goals of the United Nations’ Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emissions" and aligns "with standards that are designed to ensure a better future and to prevent the worst impacts of climate change."

    Vivek Sankaran, president-CEO of Albertsons, said that "the SBTi framework will guide us in doing our part to minimize our impact within our own operations and beyond. We look forward to working with our supply chain partners to address this important issue.”

    According to the announcement, Albertsons "will evaluate energy use and procurement, refrigerants, transportation, and its supply chain to submit an emissions reduction goal to SBTi for approval. The Science Based Targets initiative is a partnership between CDP, UN Global Compact, WRI, and WWF that helps companies take meaningful climate action through its science-based framework. The framework requires all emissions reduction goals to support the Paris Agreement’s objective to limit global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels."

    KC's View:

    More evidence that a number of companies and business leaders - attuned to climate and sustainability issues because they understand that they are directly related to long-term costs and profitability - sometimes take this stuff a lot more seriously than some politicians.

    This issue always makes me think of the George Bernard Shaw quote that often was cited by Bobby Kennedy:  "You see things; and you say 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say 'Why not?'"

    There's reality.  And then, there's denial.

    Published on: April 22, 2021

    Amazon reportedly is developing computer vision technology that will be able to detect imperfections in fresh produce, as well as testing for ripeness and sweetness, using AI to conduct "millions of assessments per day at a cost that is far below compared to any other method."

    Business Standard reports that "Amazon plans to develop a conveyor belt based automatic grading and packing machine. It would leverage hardware and machine learning to pack produce into predetermined quality grades such as premium-grade A. The gradient pack machine will reduce grading cost by 78 per cent compared to manual grading."

    The story quotes Rajeev Rastogi, vice president, machine learning, Amazon India, as saying that "quality is one of the key drivers of fruit and vegetable purchasing decisions and a critical factor in achieving customer satisfaction.  Having humans grade the quality of fruits and vegetables by manually examining each individual piece of produce like tomato or onion is not scalable to millions of quality assessments per day.”

    KC's View:

    Interesting - but not entirely surprising - that even as Walmart gets rid of some of its robotic equipment, Amazon is investing in equipment that can, virtually at least, squeeze the melons and appraise the apples.

    It is almost quaint to remember that back in the early days of Amazon Fresh, the company would hire experts in the produce field to make sure that the items being sent out met certain quality standards and were what the customer had requested.  Amazon has abandoned this approach as it has grown … and maybe this new technology is a way of recapturing it, even if only virtually.

    Published on: April 22, 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…

    •  Here are the Covid-19 coronavirus numbers for the United States:  32,602,051 cases, resulting in 583,330 deaths, and 25,177,434 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  144,577,541 total cases … 3,074,975 fatalities … 122,762,677 recoveries. (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 51.5 percent of US adults 18 and older have received at least one vaccination, and 33.8 percent have been fully vaccinated.  

    •  The Washington Post reports that "daily coronavirus vaccinations have slowed significantly for the first time since February, a sign that demand is slipping even though every American adult is now eligible for the shots.

    "About 3 million Americans are getting vaccinated daily, an 11 percent decrease in the seven-day average of daily shots administered over the past week. The unprecedented drop is rivaled only by a brief falloff that occurred in February, when winter storms forced the closure of vaccination sites and delayed shipments nationwide.

    "The downturn hits as half of all eligible Americans have received at least one vaccine dose. And it coincided with the pause last week of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is under review by a panel of experts following a handful of cases of severe blood clotting.

    "Softening demand also appears to be a factor: Scores of counties from Iowa to Texas have begun to decline vaccine shipments, highlighting issues of hesitancy and barriers to health care that may hamper efforts to reach the levels of protection needed to halt the spread of the coronavirus."

    Published on: April 22, 2021

    •  The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) has a story on its website about how, in Sweden, Alimentation Couche-Tard-owned Circle K stores "are now using AI technology that reads license plate numbers of vehicles at pumps on the forecourt and automatically pays for the fill-ups via customers’ linked Circle K Easy Fuel mobile app for a frictionless pump-side payment experience."

    In other words, gas stations are now using the same pay-by-plate technology that often is utilized on toll roads and parking lots.

    •  Amazon is getting into the dinner-and-a-movie business, working with Omaha Steaks to promote its new Prime Video movie, Without Remorse, which comes out on April 30.

    Both on its own site and on the Omaha Steaks site, Amazon is promoting a special surf-and-turf meal kit for four, which it says will be perfect for watching the movie, which stars Michael B. Jordan in an adaptation of the Tom Clancy novel.

    I probably won't have a steak with it, but I'm very excited about this movie.

    Published on: April 22, 2021

    •  Publix Super Markets announced a contribution of "$2 million to remove invasive trees and plants in 1,000 acres of wetland in the Florida Everglades. These trees and plants use more than their share of water, interrupting Florida’s natural water system. The company is funding projects at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and the saline glades in Everglades National Park that will restore the health of these habitats and return an estimated 174 million gallons of water per year to the local environment."

    “A clean water supply is fundamental to the health and wellness of our communities,” Publix CEO Todd Jones said in a prepared statement. “Through these collaborations with the National Audubon Society and the National Park Foundation, we are deepening our commitment to water stewardship by protecting, restoring and conserving an area that supplies nearly 8 million Floridians with fresh water every day and provides a critical natural habitat for endangered native species.”

    Published on: April 22, 2021

    •  Lidl USA announced that its current president-CEO, Johannes Fieber, is stepping down to spend more time with his family, and will be succeeded by Michal Lagunionek, the former president of Lidl Poland, who will become the fourth president of the division since 2013.

    Lidl currently operates more than 130 U.S. stores in nine East Coast states.

    Published on: April 22, 2021

    I've always been intrigued by the ways in which Amazon has utilized its third-party Marketplace to grow its retail footprint, using it to extend its already rather long tail to one of considerably greater scope and depth - to the point where its Marketplace represents more than half its total retail sales.

    Now, with Amazon having provided proof of concept, there are a number of companies in various stages of developing their own Marketplace offerings - Walmart, Kroger, and Albertsons among them.

    This prompts questions.  Does it make sense for other retailers to do the same?  Should size be the determining factor in whether a retailer decides to open and link to a Marketplace on its website?  And what's the ROI on such a strategic move?

    All good questions, I think … which is why I was pleased to be asked to host/moderate an online session next week on the subject of "The Business Case For An Online Marketplace."  Setting the table will be Scott Compton, Senior Analyst, Digital Commerce, with Forrester, who will lay out the challenges and opportunities.

    The session is set for next Thursday, Apr 29, 2021 at 2 pm EDT/ 11 am PDT.

    I hope you'll join us for this complimentary webinar, sponsored by VTEX.  My goal is to make sure the session is both illuminating and entertaining, while asking the questions that you'll want answered.  And if I don't - you'll be able to.

    For information about how to register for this session, click here.

    Published on: April 22, 2021

    I referenced Amazon's Subscribe & Save yesterday, prompting one MNB reader to write:

    I have one issue concerning Amazon's Subscribe and Save. It's a great deal on paper, especially with the extra 15% discount if you use it for 5 or more items. My problem is that I thought the price was locked in.

    I have had the price on more than one occasion jump considerably, and without warning. Now I just buy those items when the price is right. 

    That's interesting … and, I must admit, different from the experience I've had.  When the price goes up more than a certain percent, I get an email offering mer the opportunity to opt out.

    That said, I've always argued that Subscribe & Save is a convenience play, not a price play.

    Regarding the mass shooting at a Long Island, New York, Stop & Shop, where three people were shot and one killed, one MNB reader wrote:

    I live 2 miles from that store. Everything was on lockdown, 4 Helicopters were in the air. 150 police were on the ground for the manhunt. They caught the (suspect) by 3pm. 

    The manager that was shot and killed was our friends cousin! Sickening!! He was a hard working family man that everyone loved. 

    ABC News reports that the 31-year-old man who was arrested by authorities has been charged with one count of 2nd degree murder and four counts of attempted murder.  Police said that he "has a history of mental illness and a violent past."

    We took note yesterday of a Boston Globe story about how Ahold Delhaize-owned Hannaford Supermarkets says that "none of its food is tossed into landfills, which would make it the first large-scale grocer in New England and New York to achieve zero food waste … Hannaford has 183 grocery stores throughout the Northeast, and over the past year, the Scarborough, Maine-based chain has diverted 65 million pounds of unsellable food products to pantries, farms, and anaerobic digestion facilities, where the waste is converted to energy."

    One MNB reader reacted:

    Congrats to Hannaford!  You can have all the Ivory Tower initiatives you want, but it is the commitment of the rank and file that truly make this work.

    This is a perfect example of how powerful and productive a commitment from all levels can be.  Hopefully, this focused example can be applied to other areas that are lacking at store levels.  Customer service, inventory management, employee satisfaction.  Not all but definitely some in my area.