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    Published on: April 27, 2021

    by Michael Sansolo

    Anecdotal research is rarely a reliable source of information. The mere fact that someone we know sees something occur gives us no evidence to make a broad statement about anything.

    All  anecdotal evidence tells us is that something happened a certain way at a certain time for a certain person. As you have probably noticed, Kevin and I do a lot of this at MNB as we focus in a single experience to find a larger lesson. (For example, watch the video Kevin did Monday about a local pizza parlor.)

    The thing is, at times anecdotes actually tell us quite a bit. This is a discussion I have quite frequently with my 94-year-old father, who constantly sees things in his life that differ from widespread reports he gets on the news or from me.

    My mom and dad (yes, I’m very lucky) stopped off at a bank branch for some reason and were appalled at what they experienced. Thanks to Covid guidelines, the bank was far more Spartan than usual, with all the desks and chairs removed from the floor. Basically, it was the two of them and some tellers behind enough security glass to convince bank robbers to get a new trade.

    I have no idea why they were in the bank, but my dad said their transactions somehow took longer than an hour and by the end he was mighty annoyed. As he told me after, “Couldn’t they see we are two old people who might need to sit down?” But alas they didn’t and thanks to Covid all the chairs were gone.

    After some discussion, we realized my dad actually had a very good point.  The demographic of people actually going into a bank branch is probably older than even the United States Senate. (Which is 62.9 years, just FYI.)  My children (and increasingly, my wife and I) manage to easily avoid bank branches thanks to ATMs, of course, and increasingly thanks to apps that permit us to bank wherever, whenever.

    My dad’s point is that only people going to banks these days are in his age cohort, but nothing is set up for them.  I couldn’t find any opposing argument to make with him. He was right.

    Sure this is anecdotal, but I think it’s also instructive. As always we all need to know exactly who inhabits our customer base and who doesn’t. Sometimes that’s an easy call thanks to the make-up of the local population, dominated perhaps by folks from specific racial or ethnic backgrounds.  But sometimes it can be subtle.

    Today’s retailers can easily serve a vast array of generations ranging from Great Depression era babies like my folks through to Gen Z. For sure there are many services, products and experiences all those groups crave from competitive prices to clean, in-stock stores. 

    But there’s also a lot where they differ. Using my parents as my research model here, I know they vastly prefer personal service to apps, kiosks, self-checkout and more. They want to deal with people and they crave interaction with those people. Oh, and they really appreciate stores that offer places to sit and maybe grab a cup of coffee.

    It’s a small thing but that’s what makes a trip to the supermarket or a bank enjoyable for him.  The lesson isn't just anecdotal..

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com.

    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 27, 2021

    Automatic replenishment at the consumer level makes a lot of business sense, but especially when Amazon has machines (washers, refrigerators, dishwashers) able to order fresh supplies on their own.  KC argues that retailers have to understand the imperative for action.  Now.

    Published on: April 27, 2021

    In Pennsylvania, the Times-Tribune reports on what it calls "the death of the 24-hour store," noting that "it's becoming increasingly difficult to buy a quart of milk or bottle of Tylenol in the wee hours of the morning as many stores once open 24 hours a day are now closing at midnight or earlier. And for those who have a nontraditional work schedule or sick child, the closures are problematic."

    The story quotes Burt Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, as saying that "there are a number of reasons some stores are moving away from 24-hour operations.  He points to a shortage of people willing to work retail because of COVID-19 and public health concerns coupled with those earning extended unemployment benefits as part of the problem.

    "Flickinger also noted there has been a record amount of shoplifting across the country, which has led employees to request daytime hours."

    In addition, he says, "Signs point to the trend of earlier closures continuing in the coming years because of fewer people making in-store purchases."

    KC's View:

    I think this latter comment points to a real opportunity for stores that traditionally have been open 24 hours, but now are not offering consumers that option.

    The vast majority of those stores have cleanup crews working overnight, even if the doors are not open to shoppers.  And, if they're at all relevant in today's marketplace, they also have click-and-collect delivery spaces.

    So what if those stores did a calculation on how many overnight sales they used to make or are likely to make going forward, and then kept someone (maybe more than one, depending on expected traffic) on location able to do the shopping for someone who does have emergency needs?

    Stores are always endeavoring to prove they are local at heart, and having a personal shopper working the graveyard shift - there specifically to serve customers in need - might be a compelling offering and selling proposition.

    Published on: April 27, 2021

    Albertsons said yesterday that its 2020 fiscal year digital sales were up 258 percent, with same store sales for the year up 16.9 percent.

    The company said that annual revenue was $69.7 billion, compared to $62.5 billion the previous year.  Net income was $850.2 million, compared to net income of $466.4 million during fiscal 2019.

    The unusually high sales increases seen during the pandemic lead Albertsons' management to predict that same-store sales during the coming year are likely to drop between six and 7.5 percent, though it is anticipated that compared to 2019, they will be up between 9.4 and 10.9 percent.

    CEO Vivek Sankaran tells Yahoo Finance that he is confident in the company's ability to meet consumer needs going forward:  "We know the economy will open. We know that we won't sustain the same levels of sales as we did in 2020, but our challenge and our confidence is that we'll be able to keep a good portion of those sales so that we finished 2020 better than we would have without a pandemic. That is the game … and we're seeing that play out in our first several weeks of this quarter, like we imagined."

    KC's View:

    The expectation here is that Albertsons actually may have a better year in 2021 than they're anticipating … mostly because some of the technology investments the company is making will pay off to a greater extent than is being predicted.

    Here's an interesting passage from the Yahoo Finance story:

    "Last year, Albertsons said it could identify 11 million new customers added last year across its stores.

    "'When you can identify them, you can track what they're buying, you can track how often they're coming and how those patterns are changing. And then we have 25 million customers in what we call our loyalty program, where we can engage with them on different kinds of rewards. That's the magic … harnessing that data so we keep them engaged on categories that matter to them,' Sankaran said … As the grocer continues to add more DriveUp & Go curbside pickup locations to fulfill e-commerce orders, the company is already seeing 20% in more spend from customers that use its e-commerce offerings, according to Sankaran."

    It's magic … but it also is the willingness to invest in technology that can be a game-changer.

    Published on: April 27, 2021

    Amazon announced this morning that "Key by Amazon In-Garage Grocery Delivery is expanding to everywhere grocery delivery from Amazon is available, providing service to more than 5,000 U.S. cities and towns."

    The move follows tests in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and  Seattle.

    “Customers who tried Key In-Garage Grocery Delivery have loved the service, which is why we’re expanding it to everywhere Amazon offers grocery delivery,” said Pete Gerstberger, Head of Key by Amazon, in a prepared statement.  “As customers look for more convenience in their daily lives, we’re excited to deliver another service that not only helps them save time, but provides peace of mind knowing that tonight’s dinner is safe in their garage and out of the weather.”

    Here's how it works:

    "Eligible Prime members can shop online at www.amazon.com/fresh or www.amazon.com/wholefoods and build a cart just like they would for any grocery delivery order. Customers with a compatible garage door opener or myQ Smart Garage Hub can connect the myQ app with Key, then simply select 'Key Delivery' at checkout for no additional cost.

    "Once the order is placed, a trained shopper will fill the order … Grocery orders are securely delivered by a delivery service professional, and customers can easily use the Key by Amazon app or the Amazon mobile shopping app to be notified when their groceries arrive."

    Amazon's Key service is the company's broader initiative designed to allow packages to be delivered to cars, businesses, homes and garages.


    KC's View:

    The company notes that "in a recent survey by Morning Consult commissioned by Amazon, nearly 70% of Americans report that grocery delivery is beneficial when they don’t have time for a trip to the grocery store. Of the 54% of Americans who highlighted convenience as the most important benefit of grocery delivery, 77% reported saving time as a beneficial advantage."

    I'm not quite there, yet, but as a consumer, I'm intrigued by Key, especially when it comes to garage delivery.

    Published on: April 27, 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, we've now had 32,875,045 total Covid-19 coronavirus cases, resulting in 586,611 deaths and 25,475,789 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 148,581,478 total coronavirus cases, with 3.136,635 resultant fatalities and 126,379,546 reported recoveries. (Source.)


    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 53.9 percent of adults 18 years of age or older have received at least one dose of a vaccine, while 37 percent have been fully vaccinated.


    •  The CDC is expected to announce today that it is updating "its guidance for wearing masks outdoors," CNN reports, saying that for vaccinated people who are outdoors, mask wearing no longer is necessary because of low rates of virus transmission in such circumstances.


    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that as US businesses open up in the pandemic's after-times, they again are hiring - though many are requiring employees to be vaccinated.

    "These mandates are in their early stages, making it tough to determine how many U.S. employers now require vaccines," the Journal writes.  "Companies largely have been reluctant to require shots, at first because vaccines were scarce, and more recently because bosses feared blowback from their employees, employment attorneys and human-resources executives say."

    The requirement, when in place, cuts across various industries and jobs, the Journal writes.

    "Companies can legally require vaccines as a condition of employment, though they must accommodate religious beliefs or medical conditions that may keep workers from getting shots, says Kevin Troutman, a partner at Fisher Phillips LLP who leads the firm’s vaccine work group. Employers can request proof of vaccination, though bosses run legal risks if they probe the reasons behind a worker’s hesitancy."


    •  The Associated Press reports that "the U.S. will begin sharing its entire stock of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines with the world once it clears federal safety reviews, the White House said Monday, with as many as 60 million doses expected to be available for export in the coming months … The AstraZeneca vaccine is widely in use around the world but has not yet been authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration."

    The story notes that "the US has "been under mounting pressure in recent weeks to share more of its vaccine supply with the world, as countries like India experience devastating surges of the virus and others struggle to access doses needed to protect their most vulnerable populations."


    •  From the New York Times this morning:

    "After a long year and a lot of anticipation, getting the Covid-19 vaccine can be cause for celebration, which for some might mean pouring a drink and toasting to their new immunity. But can alcohol interfere with your immune response?

    "The short answer is that it depends on how much you drink.

    "There is no evidence that having a drink or two can render any of the current Covid vaccines less effective. Some studies have even found that over the longer term, small or moderate amounts of alcohol might actually benefit the immune system by reducing inflammation.

    "Heavy alcohol consumption, on the other hand, particularly over the long term, can suppress the immune system and potentially interfere with your vaccine response, experts say. Since it can take weeks after a Covid shot for the body to generate protective levels of antibodies against the novel coronavirus, anything that interferes with the immune response would be cause for concern."

    Published on: April 27, 2021

    •  The Associated Press reports that "DoorDash is launching lower-priced delivery options for U.S. restaurants, responding to criticism that the commissions it charges are too high for the beleaguered industry.

    "The San Francisco delivery company said Tuesday it will offer a new basic plan that will charge restaurants 15% per order for delivery, or around half the cost of previous plans. That plan will limit the delivery area and shift more delivery costs to customers - they might pay $4.99 instead of $2.99, for example … DoorDash said local restaurants and chains with less than 75 locations are eligible for the new rates. The company wouldn’t say how many of its partner restaurants meet that criteria."

    The story says that restaurants can opt for other, higher commission plans "if they want a larger delivery area, more visibility in DoorDash’s app or lower customer delivery fees."


    •  From the New York Times:

    "Lyft will sell its unit devoted to developing autonomous vehicles to Woven Planet, a Toyota subsidiary, the companies announced on Monday. Woven Planet will pay $200 million in cash for Level 5, Lyft’s self-driving car initiative, and will follow up with additional payments of $350 million over five years.

    "Lyft is among several tech companies that have stepped back from developing autonomous vehicles over the last year as the technology has proved difficult to master and the pandemic has placed pressure on the company’s bottom lines. In December, Uber essentially paid Aurora, a self-driving truck start-up, to take its autonomous vehicle unit.

    "Some automotive executives have said they overestimated how soon the technology would be ready for the road."

    Published on: April 27, 2021

    •  Bloomberg writes that a new diversity report issued by Walmart says that the company "has increased the ranks of its Black corporate officers in recent months as part of its broader effort to address racial inequities, bringing representation back near where it stood in 2015.

    "The nation’s biggest private employer said employees who identify as Black now account for 8.4% of corporate officers in the U.S., which includes vice presidents and above. That compares with 6.9% in a report released in the middle of last year, representing a sharp rise for such a massive workforce in a short period of time. That figure had previously been as high as 8.7% in 2015, only to dissipate in the back half of the decade."

    The story notes that "the diversity report illustrates Walmart’s progress - and sometimes lack thereof - in addressing the absence of Black faces in senior leadership, especially when more than one in five Walmart staffers are African-American. Over the past decade, women - particularly White women - have made notable progress advancing up Walmart’s corporate ladder, helped by programs designed specifically for them. The share of women officers in the U.S. expanded to 32.8%, up more than two percentage points from the midyear report."

    There are no simple answers to the questions and challenges we all face,” CEO Doug McMillon said in the report.

    Published on: April 27, 2021

    •  In the Los Angeles area, the Press-Telegram reports that the closure of supermarkets by Kroger as a reaction to mandated hazard pay - the company said that the required hourly increases for store employees made the stores financially untenable - is leading to a larger argument about food insecurity in the affected neighborhoods.

    The city of Long Beach, which is where Kroger closed two stores, is being pushed by local elected officials "to create a food security plan to ensure residents impacted by the closures - as well as residents who more generally have poor access to healthy food - as part of its plan for recovering economically from the coronavirus pandemic."

    The city is said to be actively recruiting retailers specializing in healthy food to come to the area - and perhaps even take over one of the locations that Kroger closed (where the lease runs out in 6-12 months).


    •  Seattle-based PCC Community Markets, the largest community-owned food market in the U.S., yesterday reported that "it gave back more than 60% of its profit to its community, including its first-ever member dividend totaling $3.9 million. The co-op’s 2020 grocery sales totaled $383.2 million (growing 26.1% from the prior year), with net income – including one-time impacts from historical tax refunds – of $2.7 million (growing 26.4% from prior year).  In addition to providing its community with more than $700,000 in financial and in-kind support, these results include the impact of the co-op investing more than $4 million during the year in unanticipated COVID-related costs and safety measures across the 15 locations, and in staff appreciation pay."

    According to the announcement, "The co-op’s sales growth was driven by the opening of two new stores in Bellevue and Seattle’s Central District, as well as increased pandemic-related spending driven primarily by its members. In January 2020, PCC introduced a new member benefit program with the opportunity for members, inclusive of staff, to receive an annual dividend."


    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Vaccinated shoppers are heading back to the mall, offering hope that the worst of the pandemic downturn is over for this beleaguered industry.

    "Foot traffic at a representative sample of 50 malls in March was up 86% from the same month last year, according to mobile-device location data from analytics firm Placer.ai.

    "While that foot traffic was 24% lower than in March 2019, mall owners are suggesting that their business has turned a corner. Shoppers are eager to get out again, often armed with cash from the latest round of government stimulus checks. Many aren’t just browsing shops but dining out and returning home with bags full of new purchases."

    Published on: April 27, 2021

    •  SpartanNash announced that Adrienne Chance has been named Vice President, Communications, leading the company's internal and external communications efforts.  Chance, who is the former Senior Director of Corporate Communications for Borden Dairy Company, also will oversee government and corporate affairs responsibilities and serve as Executive Director of the SpartanNash Foundation.

    Published on: April 27, 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.

    •  Politico writes that US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack yesterday put to bed rumors that the federal government wants "to stop Americans from eating burgers and steaks as part of his plans to combat climate change."

    The Vilsack comments were prompted by reports over the weekend that the federal government's "recent pledge to curb greenhouse gas emissions included a proposal to cut red meat consumption by 90 percent and limit Americans to about four pounds per year."

    Vilsack said during a virtual briefing hosted by the North American Agricultural Journalists that "there is no effort designed to limit people’s intake of beef coming out of President Biden’s White House or USDA … Sometimes in the political world, games get played and issues are injected into the conversation knowing full well that there’s no factual basis."

    Published on: April 27, 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 this 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.