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    Published on: May 20, 2021

    Price Chopper/Market 32 has just improved its loyalty reward program with a concept that KC thinks is a really big idea - allowing shoppers to use accrued points to help people retire student debt.  And their kids' student debt.  And their relatives' student debt.  And their friends' kids' student debt.  In fact, it is one of the best ideas in loyalty marketing that KC ever has heard.

    Published on: May 20, 2021

    CNBC has a story about how Walmart "is doubling down on one of its key competitive advantages as more Americans buy new clothes, teeth-whitening kits and other merchandise to go back into the world again."  The focus is on low prices - Walmart U.S. CEO John Furner says that the retailer had about 30 percent more discounts during Q1 than it did a year ago.

    According to the story, "Furner said undercutting rivals on price is especially important as more shoppers feel comfortable going to different stores to compare and get the best bargain. During the peak of the health crisis, consumers tended to limit their shopping trips, buy numerous items at a single store and go to one that’s nearby.

    "That may change as people worry less about their safety and more about their budget while juggling a growing list of expenses again, such as commuting to the office, restaurant meals and hotel stays. 'Value could be more important than convenience' this year, he said.

    KC's View:

    It isn't just traditional retailers - and Amazon - that Walmart wants to create distance from, of course.  It also is the dollar store and limited assortment store segments, which have been growing and are a threat to Walmart's longtime positioning.

    These competitive battles have the potential to affect a lot of other retailers, who could end up being collateral damage if they have no established specific  and consumer-centric differential advantages.

    Published on: May 20, 2021

    Axios reports on the new  Edelman Trust Barometer study, which indicated that as "trust in the government is at an all-time low globally," it is accompanied by an expectation by many people that  corporations and CEOs should "continue addressing the most pressing social and political issues even after the pandemic is over."

    The study concludes that "businesses are now the most trusted institution in the world, a role they assumed mid-way through the pandemic, once people realized governments were ill-equipped to develop and rollout vaccines alone."

    Excerpts from the story:

    •  "Globally, the majority (60%) of people say their country will not be able to overcome its challenges without business’ involvement. Across every issue measured, people say businesses have outperformed government."

    •  "Most people (77%) said their employer has become their most trusted institution, which has put much more pressure on CEOs to prioritize societal and political issues in addition to business outcomes."

    •  "Roughly 80% of employees, on average, expect their company to act on issues such as vaccine hesitancy, climate change, automation, misinformation, and racism."

    Axios observes that "people in developed countries, like the U.S., U.K., France, Japan and Canada, are far less trusting of government compared to people in developing countries, like India, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and the UAE."

    The bottom line:  "While this provides opportunities for some companies to grow, it also puts more pressure on CEOs and business leaders to address more than just shareholder returns."

    KC's View:

    This subject makes a lot of people uncomfortable, largely because it has the potential to alienate a certain percentage of customers - not just those who disagree with the positions taken by a company, but also who disagree with the idea that companies should be getting involved in politics and culture at all.

    But I do think that for many people the notion of values is at least as important as value and convenience, and they choose the companies they patronize and the products they buy based on personal evaluations of how businesses act.

    Which means that business leaders have some decisions to make … though every step of the way they have to make sure they are authentic in the moves they make and the messages they send.

    Published on: May 20, 2021

    The Washington Post reports on how employers around the US, trying to do business at a time when there are 8.2 million fewer workers than before the pandemic, are turning to automation to do the jobs that people used to do, at higher levels of productivity.

    According to the story, "Greater productivity is the rare silver lining to emerge from the crucible of COVID-19. The health crisis forced executives to innovate, often by accelerating the introduction of industrial robots, advanced software, and artificial intelligence that reduced their dependence upon workers who might get sick.

    "Even as millions of Americans remain jobless, retailers, food processors, energy producers, manufacturers, and railroads all are stepping up their use of machines … Greater automation helped US companies navigate the unprecedented disruption of the pandemic. Adjusted for inflation, US productivity has risen by almost 4 percent since the fourth quarter of 2019, nearly twice the increase in output-per-worker over the past five quarters, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics."

    The Post writes that "three-quarters of companies surveyed by McKinsey Global Institute last fall said they expect investment in new technologies to accelerate through 2024. If that happens, productivity growth in countries such as the United States could rise by a full percentage point, boosting living standards and more than doubling pre-pandemic trends, according to a McKinsey study."

    KC's View:

    I'm sure that there will be an outcry in some circles about how it is somehow immoral to replace people with machines, but it is really tough to make that argument when there are so many available jobs and too few people willing to fill them - whatever the reason.

    Published on: May 20, 2021

    From the Washington Post this morning:

    "Five women, current and former Amazon employees, separately sued the e-commerce giant Wednesday, alleging race and gender discrimination, and accusing their managers of retaliation after they raised complaints.

    "One suit, filed by Diana Cuervo, a former manager in delivery operations at an Amazon facility in Everett, Wash., alleges that her manager used racial epithets, once saying, 'Latins suck.' Cuervo claims the company fired her after she complained about discrimination and harassment.

    "In another suit, Emily Sousa, who works as a shift manager at an Amazon facility in Harleysville, Pa., alleged a manager compared her to an adult-film star and accused her supervisor of asking her to spend time with him outside work. Sousa claims she was demoted after rebuffing his advances."

    According to the story, "Two of the five suits were filed in a Seattle federal court, and the others were filed in Arizona, California and Delaware. The suits were all filed by Wigdor LLP, the same New York law firm that represented Charlotte Newman, a senior manager at Amazon who sued the company in March over race and gender discrimination claims."

    Amazon said in response to the suits:  "We are conducting thorough investigations for each of these unrelated cases, as we do with any reported incidents, and we have found no evidence to support the allegations. Amazon works hard to foster a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture. We do not tolerate discrimination or harassment in any form, and employees are encouraged to raise concerns to any member of management or through an anonymous ethics hotline with no risk of retaliation."

    The law firm representing the women said:  "Amazon can no longer dismiss abusive behavior and retaliation by white managers as mere anecdotes.  These are systemic problems, entrenched deep within the company and perpetuated by a human resources organization that treats employees who raise concerns as a problem."

    Published on: May 20, 2021

    Glossy reports that CVS Health has established a new partnership with Nyma Tang, "a self-described influencer and ‘beauty advocate,’" who will work with the retailer "to enhance diversity in beauty aisles and in marketing. She will also conduct monthly workshops with CVS team members to educate around and further discuss diversity initiatives. Finally, Tang, being a top-tier influencer (she has over 1.5 million followers across YouTube and Instagram) with endless access to products, will also advise CVS on its assortment."

    The move positions Tang "as the retailer’s first-ever Beauty Inclusivity Consultant.  The role puts Tang in a unique position and speaks loudly to the shifts in power that have changed the beauty industry in recent years."

    KC's View:

    Smart move by CVS to identify a way to broaden its appeal and bring in someone who can both make it smarter and communicate that message to shoppers.

    Published on: May 20, 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…

    •  The US Covid 19 coronavirus numbers:  33,802,324 total cases … 601,949 deaths … and 27,299,180 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  165,631,127 total cases … 3,433,605 fatalities … and 144,691,065 reported recoveries.   (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 60.2 percent of the US population age 18 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 47.9 percent being fully vaccinated.

    •  Kroger said yesterday that starting today, "fully vaccinated customers and most fully vaccinated associates no longer need to wear a mask in our facilities, including stores, distribution centers, plants, and offices, unless otherwise required by state or local jurisdiction. If there is a state or local mandate, we will adhere to that requirement and its timeline.

    "Non-vaccinated associates will be required to wear a mask.

    "Associates in our pharmacy and clinic locations will be required to continue wearing a mask due to the CDC’s guidance for healthcare settings.

    "We request that non-vaccinated customers continue to wear a mask.  And we will continue to respect the choice of individuals who prefer to continue to wear a mask … We will continue to implement enhanced cleaning and physical distancing across all facilities as well as offer associates a $100 one-time payment for receiving the recommended doses of the COVID-19 vaccine."

    •  Fox News reports that "Wegmans on Wednesday joined a number of major retailers loosening their coronavirus face mask policies after federal health officials declared that fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to cover their faces while in most indoor settings. 

    "Fully vaccinated customers – which is anyone who is two weeks past their last required vaccine dose —are no longer required to wear a face-covering in any one of Wegman's stores 'except where mandated at the state or local level,' a Wegmans spokesperson said … Customers who are not fully vaccinated, however, will still be asked to continue wearing appropriate face coverings until they are vaccinated."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "While most countries are still cranking up their vaccination drives, some are already making plans to deliver millions of booster shots into arms later this year.

    "Concerns that Covid-19 may morph into a seasonal menace are driving preparations in the U.S., the European Union and the U.K. for a winter vaccine booster program. The plans are precautionary, according to public-health officials, and it isn’t yet certain they will be put into operation or at what scale.

    "Disease experts say the need for a winter vaccine drive will depend on whether vaccine-induced immunity fades over time and if the current crop of vaccines are effective against virus variants.

    "Scientists are still gathering data on both those issues, and the answers they find will shape the design of any booster program, including who would get one and which vaccine they might receive."

    Published on: May 20, 2021

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "the Commerce Department on Tuesday reported that e-commerce sales - from internet retailers such as Amazon.com and traditional retailers such as Walmart - were up 39% from a year earlier in the first quarter. That was the swiftest growth since the second quarter of last year, when sales were up 44%. Before the Covid-19 crisis, e-commerce sales were growing at about a 15% rate."

    However, the Journal writes, "There are signs that people’s zeal for shopping online has begun to fray. In its earnings report Tuesday, Walmart said that its e-commerce sales were up 37% in its fiscal first quarter ended April 30 from a year earlier. That is a big move, but short of the 69% e-commerce growth it registered in the fourth quarter. Also on Tuesday, Home Depot said that its digital sales were up 27% in its fiscal first quarter ended May 2 from a year earlier, which compared with an 83% gain in the fourth quarter.

    "To a degree, those slower growth rates reflect the fact that the comparison periods include April 2020, when the Covid-19 crisis first set off the surge in online shopping. To compensate for this, both Walmart and Home Depot highlighted how much both their e-commerce sales and their overall sales grew over the past two years."

    Published on: May 20, 2021

    •  CNBC reports that "McDonald’s board will likely face tough questions from shareholders on Thursday at its annual meeting about how it handled the firing of former CEO Steve Easterbrook.

    "Easterbrook was ousted in November 2019 for having a relationship with an employee in violation of company policies. McDonald’s fired him without cause, which allowed him to walk away with a severance package currently valued at as much as $56 million.

    "In August, McDonald’s filed suit against Easterbrook to claw back that package, alleging that he lied about having additional relationships with employees. The lawsuit has opened McDonald’s up to questions and criticism of the board’s original investigation into Easterbrook, like why the third-party inquiry was wrapped up in a week and why investigators didn’t check the company’s servers for more evidence."

    Published on: May 20, 2021

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

    •  The Washington Post reports that "a bipartisan group of senators is expected to introduce legislation Wednesday to lift significant financial burdens off the ailing U.S. Postal Service while tightening accountability requirements for mail delivery, a major stride for an agency that has tussled with its balance sheet and reputation for the better part of a year.

    "The bill, identical to a version that has advanced in the House, would repeal $5 billion a year in mandatory retiree health-care expenses and require future postal retirees to enroll in Medicare. Advocates say the measures would save the agency $30 billion over the next decade.

    "The bill would also see the Postal Service develop a public online mail delivery performance dashboard where customers could view the agency’s on-time delivery metrics by Zip code each week.

    "The bill, pushed by Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who lead the Senate Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee, has enough bipartisan co-sponsors to give it a pathway to passage in the bitterly divided chamber, according to people involved in the negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly."