retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: April 29, 2021

    Bloomberg reports that Walmart plans to roll out a service - called InHome - that it first started testing in the autumn of 2019 - having its employees deliver groceries not just to homes, but into people's kitchens and refrigerators.

    "After debuting in Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Vero Beach, Florida, Walmart recently brought InHome to its home turf of Northwest Arkansas, expanded in Southeast Florida and in July will add Atlanta," Bloomberg writes.  "A successful rollout could help solidify it as the biggest player in the $1.8 trillion U.S. grocery market, a position under attack from the likes of Aldi and Amazon. Grocers gained millions of online customers last year, and now the challenge is keeping them. While Walmart’s low prices usually give it an edge, convenience and speed are crucial on the web."

    The story goes on:  "While Americans are venturing out more as vaccinations increase, there’s still a big question of whether they want someone nosing through their refrigerator. To put customers at ease, Walmart uses its own long-tenured employees, who meet customers (and sometimes their pets) before the first order and get trained on things like how to neatly stock a fridge. Delivery staff wear masks, gloves, booties and body cams, which live stream and record the delivery, and they enter homes (or garages) with one-time access to smart locks. Pets must be kept out of the way, although Walmart is testing letting them roam free in one market. The service costs $19.95 a month with a 30-day free trial."

    “Grocery delivery was niche, and now it’s very mainstream,” Whitney Pegden, a Walmart vice president and the general manager for InHome, tells Bloomberg.  “Now we have a large group of consumers used to it, and they’re starting to return to normal life and running into the issue of having to be home during deliveries. So the timing is really ripe for our service.”

    KC's View:

    We can see where this is going.  Just the other day, Amazon said it would ramp up its in-garage delivery program.  Now Walmart is building out its in-home deliveries. 

    Which one will be the first to offer to come in and cook my food for me?

    Not that I'd want them to.  As I've said here before, I don't even like it when Mrs. Content Guy rearranges the refrigerator.  Pretty sure I really would hate someone from Walmart or Amazon doing it.

    Published on: April 29, 2021

    MarketWatch reports that Amazon said yesterday that "it will raise the wages of more than 500,000 of its fulfillment-center workers between 50 cents and $3 an hour starting next month … Darcie Henry, a vice president of human resources at Amazon, said in a blog post Wednesday that the pay increases amount to 'an investment of over $1 billion in incremental pay for these employees. This is on top of our already industry-leading starting wage of at least $15 an hour and the more than $2.5 billion that we invested last year in additional bonuses and incentives for front-line teams'."

    The story notes that Amazon "ramped up hiring and reached 1 million workers last year as it was inundated with online orders during widespread lockdowns. Now, experts expect consumers’ e-commerce habits to continue. As the giant online retailer hires tens of thousands more workers, it moved up its fall pay review and is increasing wages for those who are already doing customer fulfillment, delivery, package sorting and specialty fulfillment."

    The Verge writes that "Amazon previously recognized its warehouse and delivery workers with a $2 pay bump last March as the company worked to meet increased demand during the pandemic, but that was a temporary raise that disappeared in May 2020, shortly after the United States had reached 100,000 deaths; the coronavirus pandemic has killed over 400,000 additional people in the United States since then. The company confirmed to The Verge that the pay bumps announced Wednesday are permanent, however, and new hires will be eligible for them as well."

    KC's View:

    One step on what Jeff Bezos recently called the need for "a better vision for how we create value for employees?"

    Maybe.  But just a first step.

    Published on: April 29, 2021

    Good news on the economic front…

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that "jobless claims fell again to the lowest level since the pandemic took hold more than a year ago, another sign the labor market is rebounding this spring.

    "Initial unemployment claims, a proxy for layoffs, fell by 13,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 553,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The previous week’s figure was revised up to 566,000. The latest reading marked the third straight week jobless claims were below 600,000, their lowest levels since early 2020 … New claims this month are well below the millions of claims filed weekly a year ago, but still more than double the roughly 200,000 weekly applications submitted in the months before the pandemic began."

    At the same time, the Journal writes, "U.S. gross domestic product rose at a 6.4% annual rate in the first quarter, expanding a consumer-led rebound from the pandemic.  The U.S. economy appears to have expanded rapidly in the first quarter, extending what economists project will be a robust, consumer-led recovery from the pandemic this year."

    Published on: April 29, 2021

    CNBC reports on comments made by Target CEO Brian Cornell at an event hosted by the Economic Club of Chicago, in which he talked about being "shaken" by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who subsequently was found guilty of the murder on three counts.

    “That could have been one of my Target team members,” Cornell said he remembers thinking.

    Cornell noted that he was raised as the child of a single mother in a diverse neighborhood of Queens - the borough of New York City often described as the most ethnically diverse urban area of the world - but the Floyd murder prompted him to do more within his company.

    “I recognize that it’s time to take it to another level, and that as CEOs, we have to be the company’s head of diversity and inclusion,” he said. “We have to be the role models that drive change and our voice is important. And we’ve got to make sure that we represent our company principles, our values, our company purpose on the issues that are important to our teams.”

    CNBC writes that "last May, in the days that immediately followed, Cornell said Target put together a special committee to look at steps the company could take to make its workforce, C-suite and business practices better reflect the country’s diversity. He said Target considered how it could support and provide advancement opportunities for Black employees, play a role in communities and 'use our voice on a national level, as we impact civic discussions and policy.'

    "Target is one of many companies that have pledged to do more to advance racial equity after Floyd’s murder prompted protests in major cities and across the globe. Among its commitments, the big-box retailer said it would increase representation of Black employees across its workforce by 20% over the next year. The company created a new program to help Black entrepreneurs develop, test and scale products to sell at mass retailers like Target. And it promised to spend more than $2 billion with Black-owned businesses by 2025, from construction companies that build or remodel stores to advertising firms that market its brand.

    "Cornell touted the diversity of Target’s workforce of more than 350,000 employees, including its board and leadership team. Over half of its approximately 1,900 stores are led by female store directors and over a third are led by people of color, Cornell said."

    Last week's guilty verdict in the case was seen as "a sign of progress, a sign of accountability," Cornell said, but with it came "a recognition that the work is just starting."

    KC's View:

    There are a lot of issues that business leaders probably should be careful about addressing, but this isn't one of them.

    This is a matter of creating a workforce that looks and thinks like its shoppers, but also have an understanding of the unique cultural challenges facing one component of the workforce and customer base.  I cannot imagine what it would be like to have to have "the talk" with my children, in the way that Black parents must … and yet, I think that CEOs must not just imagine it, but act as leaders to address issues that the people on whom their success depends.

    Published on: April 29, 2021

    The New Haven Register has a piece looking at how Amazon is expanding its offerings and footprint across the state of Connecticut, in which it quotes Burt Flickinger, managing director of New York City based Strategic Resource Group, as saying that "the supermarket industry is approaching a crossroads. Sales grew during COVID-19; but now, as more people are getting vaccinated, the amount of groceries being purchased for cooking at home has started to decline, he said.

    “I expect there will still be some consumer trepidation about going into stores (in the short term),” Flickinger said. “You’ll probably see between 20 and 30 percent of consumers still order their groceries online.”

    The story goes on:

    "Taking a longer view, he said that online grocery shopping will continue to grow because of generational shifts.  'For people 30-years-old and older, they will continue to do in-store grocery shopping,' Flickinger said. 'But for much younger people, those who are 18-to-29, so much of their experience is online that I expect to see them buy at least half their groceries there … My expectation is that they will continue to order non-perishable items online, even as they return to stores for some of their food items'."

    KC's View:

    It seems to me that in some ways the most important thing that Flickinger is saying - and he should feel free to correct me on this - is that it is the supermarket industry that is at a cross roads.

    Not consumers.

    It is up to retailers to adjust their sights - and, for that matter, their sites - and cater to the evolving and sometimes fickle needs and desires of shoppers., who will simply evolve and choose the shopping experiences that meet the moment.

    Shoppers are not at any sort of crossroads.  They've learned new behaviors over the past year or so, and gotten a sense of what is possible and available to them.

    The smart retailers will adapt to the moment, developing customer-centric strategies and tactics that will morph with the consumer as opposed to dictating to the customer.  They will be clear-eyed about what they are and, just as important, what they are not.

    This has less to do with size, and more to do with ambition.

    Published on: April 29, 2021

    The New York Times writes this morning that consumers should expect prices to go up in coming months, as a receding pandemic makes it more palatable for manufacturers to raise their prices because of rising commodity costs, and retailers feel empowered to pass those increases on to shoppers as opposed to absorbing them.

    According to the Times, the price hikes "reflect what some economists are calling a major shift in the way companies have responded to demand during the pandemic.

    "Before the virus hit, retailers often absorbed the cost when suppliers raised prices on goods, because stiff competition forced retailers to keep prices stable. The pandemic changed that.  It created chaos and confusion in global shipping markets, leading to shortages and price increases that have cascaded from factories to ports to stores to consumers. When the pandemic hit, Americans’ shopping habits shifted rapidly — with people spending money on treadmills and office furniture instead of going out to eat in restaurants and seeing movies at theaters."

    In addition, the Times writes, most retailers were loathe to raise prices because "the government was watching for price gouging, and customers were wary of being taken advantage of."

    The Times goes on:  "Price increases for necessities like toilet paper and diapers will affect low-income Americans most profoundly, placing an additional burden on those already hard hit by the pandemic.

    "Whether the increased prices will stick, or eventually come down, is a topic of debate among economists. Some predict that prices will normalize within one to two years, as the economy continues to gain steam, the job market improves and those who lost jobs during the pandemic increasingly return to work."

    KC's View:

    The guess here is that retailers will pass along the increases until a retailer a) decides to absorb the hikes and b) make a marketing and differentiating point out of the fact that its prices are lower.  Then others will do the same, and then they'll start pressuring suppliers for lower prices.

    Which seems to be how the game always is played.

    Published on: April 29, 2021

    The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) said yesterday that after a one-year all-digital conference in 2021, introduced because of the pandemic, next year will mark a return to Las Vegas and its usual all-live format.

    According to the announcement, "CTA will convene the tech industry in-person and digitally, giving a global audience access to major brands and startups, as well as the world's most-influential leaders and industry advocates. CES heads back to Las Vegas Jan. 5-8, 2022, with Media Days taking place Jan. 3-4, 2022.

    However, there will be remnants of the online experiment:  "Digital audiences will also experience the spirit of the live event in Las Vegas. The CES anchor desk, which debuted at CES 2021, will travel to Las Vegas and connect the digital audience with exhibitors, conference sessions, keynotes and product announcements from the live event."

    KC's View:

    I think we're going to start seeing a lot of this - organizations and companies scheduling live events, catering to audiences that are hungry for actual in-person human interaction.  And, where possible, they'll use the lessons learned during the pandemic to create greater outreach.

    A lot of this depends on the nation continuing to make progress in combatting the coronavirus, but I can tell you that there seems to be an emerging optimism at the moment.  I'm starting to field inquiries about potential speaking engagements for the second half of this year and the beginning of 2022, and I did something yesterday I haven't done since early 2020:  I booked a flight for a business trip.  Yippee.

    Published on: April 29, 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 US:  32,983,695 total cases … 588,337 deaths … and 25,584,747 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  150,356,672 total cases … 3,167,010 fatalities … and 127,885,774 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  Axios writes this morning that "New COVID infections fell by roughly 16% over the past week in the U.S. — a big improvement after weeks of stasis … The U.S. averaged about 55,000 new cases per day over the past week, down from about 66,000 per day the week before.

    "The number of new infections declined in 26 states and rose in only four … New York and Michigan saw the biggest improvements: New cases were down about 30% in each state."

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 54.5 percent of US adults 18 years of age or older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 37.8 percent have been fully vaccinated.

    •  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "Vaccines appear to be starting to curb new Covid-19 infections in the U.S., a breakthrough that could help people return to more normal activities as infection worries fade, public-health officials say … With the U.S. recently averaging at least 50,000 new daily cases, the pandemic is far from over. But the U.S. is nearing a nationwide benchmark of having 40% of adults fully vaccinated, which many public-health experts call an important threshold where vaccinations gain an upper hand over the coronavirus, based on the experience from further-along nations such as Israel."

    •  Axios also reports this morning that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced "that New York City plans to 'fully reopen' on July 1, with no restrictions on restaurants, retail, or any other business … It will be a major milestone for America's most populous city, which was once the global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic."

    The story goes on:  "While cautioning that he wants people to remain 'smart' about public health, De Blasio said that that 'we now have the confidence that we can pull all of these pieces together and get life back, really, in many ways, to where it was.

    "'We said a month or so ago, it was the variants versus the vaccination, what was going to win, which one was going to win the race. Vaccination is winning this race ... 6.3 million vaccinations, COVID is plummeting … This is going to be the summer of New York City. You're going to see amazing activities, cultural activities coming back. I think people are going to flock to New York City, because they want to live again'."

    •  The New York Times writes this morning that "more than 100 colleges across the country have said they will require students to receive coronavirus vaccines in order to attend in-person classes in the fall, according to a New York Times survey.

    "Those requirements come as Covid-19 cases have continued to climb steadily this spring at colleges and universities across the United States. More than 660,000 cases have been linked to the institutions since the start of the pandemic, with one-third of those since Jan. 1."

    Published on: April 29, 2021

    •  The Seattle Times reports this morning that "Amazon.com’s search and recommendation algorithms channel customers into consuming increasingly extremist misinformation, according to a new report.

    "The report, by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, adds to a growing body of research on how digital platforms - including Facebook, YouTube and Amazon - can inadvertently inflame conspiracy theories. Previous reports have highlighted how algorithms surface misinformation in search results and news feeds. Recommendation algorithms, such as Facebook’s suggestions for 'Groups you might be interested in,' can help propel the spread of ideologies like white supremacism and vaccine denialism, studies have found.

    "In a statement, Amazon said its search and recommendation algorithms are agnostic to the viewpoints presented in its results.  'We take concerns from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue seriously and are committed to providing a positive experience for our customers,' Amazon spokesperson Stephany Rochon said in a statement. 'Similar to other stores that sell books, we provide our customers with access to a variety of viewpoints and our shopping and discovery tools are not designed to generate results oriented to a specific point of view'."

    Published on: April 29, 2021

    •  The Washington Post this morning reports that "a federal agency has just been sued for urging Americans to go big on milk, cheese and other dairy.

    "Three doctors filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for its guidance in December suggesting that Americans consume three servings of dairy each day. The doctors allege in the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California that the dietary guidelines contradict current scientific and medical knowledge, harming the quarter of Americans who are lactose-intolerant. They also suggest that the USDA is looking out for the interests of the meat and dairy industries rather than the health of Americans."

    The Post writes that "a spokesman for the USDA said the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has sued the USDA after the release of the past two dietary guidelines, called the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are issued every five years, and that the lawsuits have been dismissed."


    •  The degree to which Sephora will be building boutiques inside Kohl's department stores became clear yesterday in a Forbes story about how Sephora at Kohl's "announced its assortment of over 125 prestige beauty brands, with 75% of them exclusive to Sephora U.S. and Sephora at Kohl’s locations."

    According to the announcement, "The assortment will be available in 200 Kohl’s stores beginning in August and the plans are to expand into at least 850 stores by 2023.

    "Artemis Patrick, Sephora’s executive vice-president and global chief merchandising officer, said, 'All customers who enter Sephora at Kohl’s can expect the same experience, and will find the most highly sought-after brands that Sephora clients have come to know and love at our freestanding Sephora locations and sephora.com'."

    Published on: April 29, 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 afternoon 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 29, 2021

    Michael Collins, who was part of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon - with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin - but orbited the moon in the command module while his crew mates walked on the lunar surface, has passed away from cancer.  He was 90.

    A couple of years ago The Atlantic had a piece about Collins, which it reposted yesterday.  It revealed a man at peace with himself and his role in history, a man with a sense of humor, one not particularly interested in answering ceaseless questions about what it was like to be the third man, the guy who did not walk on the moon.

    "Collins wishes people would ask him something else about his trip to the moon, something that he’s heard is one of the most common questions for astronauts these days. 'I’ve never had it before - I’m not sure why - but how do you go potty in space?' Collins says. 'I’ve been waiting for it, because the answer is: carefully.'

    "It is understandable that no one has inquired; surely you can’t bother someone who went to the moon with such a silly question. Apollo 11 isn’t remembered for its bathroom breaks. But Collins might be glad you asked."

    Published on: April 29, 2021

    Got the following email from an MNB reader regarding our story about how Amazon is protected to pass Walmart in terms fo retails sales in 2025:

    I'm not surprised that Amazon may surpass WM in sales in the next few years.  In my mind they have a better operation than WM.

    Some background here.  I just came back to MNB as it is relatively recently I've come back to the supermarket business.  Starting late 2019 I started making supermarket store calls again.  I know, great timing just as a pandemic was starting.  I witnessed first hand the panic buying, usually well stocked stores looking like third world markets.  I was constantly on the lookout for friends, family and neighbors grocery needs, (mostly toilet paper) as I was in 4-6 stores daily.  I would generally do whatever shopping I needed at my last stop for the day.

    However, once I got home, I stayed there until time for work the next morning.  I avoided contracting Covid for over a year, I thought I just might miss that bullet.  I got it in January 2021.  I was lucky, I didn't have to go to the hospital, though one night it was close, and I came out ok.  Still, I don't wish it on anyone, not even my worst enemy, well, maybe my absolute worst, I do have a few ex bosses I'd like to see suffer.

    It was during that time in quarantine I did online grocery shopping for the first time, with home delivery.  I used WM and Amazon.  I learned the little things make a difference.  

    Amazon delivered and placed my purchases on my porch, out of the weather and where I could easily get them.

    Now, remember, I was really pretty sick, and very weak, think the Flu on steroids.

    The two deliveries WM made were left right in front of my door, where the door had to shove them out of the way when I opened it.  It was fairly heavy too, half gallons of milk and OJ, and a large bottle of grape juice, plus other assorted things.

    Amazon's web site was easy to use, WM wasn't as user friendly, but then I've been buying various things from Amazon for years.

    In stores everywhere, I see shoppers filling orders people have placed online for pickup or delivery.  All the stores seem to have good systems in place to insure you get what you ordered.  But I've seen WM do some things that baffle the mind, and show maybe their employees are not so well trained.  Things like the aforementioned placement of delivered orders right in front of my door.  My brother and sister in law were experimenting with various delivery services.  They got an order from WM, and she had ordered a hair coloring kit, which they sent, but it had been removed from it's package and the components of it were shipped loose in the box with everything else.  They have settled on Super Target for their home delivery grocery shopping.

    The thing is, the pandemic, as horrid as it has been has taught us some new ways of doing things.  If not for my forced quarantine I would never have tried online grocery ordering with home delivery.

    The only hiccup was, my Dr. called in a prescription for me to help with some of my symptoms.  Stores don't deliver prescriptions, you still have to pick them up.  I had to get my brother to go through their drive through and leave it on my porch.  If Amazon had an online pharmacy my Dr. could transmit the script to electronically, and they could deliver it that day, they would really be onto something.

    I still prefer to do my own grocery shopping, and not have someone else pick my groceries for me.  I also see new things I may want to try.  Last Thursday I checked the reduced priced meats in my last stop and got a perfectly nice rib eye steak for about $2.50 on mark down, took that thing home and grilled it, made a nice dinner with a baked potato.  I wouldn't have found that online.