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: August 3, 2021

    by Michael Sansolo

    There are some things that improve with age, such as wine, certain cheeses and, I’m told, wisdom for some people.  Bad news however will never make that list; it never gets better, only more annoying.

    I got a powerful lesson in the importance of communicating even bad news recently. Like many people I am not spending much time on airplanes these days, yet somehow one of the few flights I have taken recently arrived two hours late and, at one point, landed in the wrong airport.

    You never heard about it on the news nor did you see videos of passengers and the crew getting into screaming matches as seems to happen far too often this days. Rather, the crew on my flight was greeted with thanks and applause and it was all due to communication.

    What happened was this. As my flight neared Reagan National Airport just outside Washington, DC, the pilot made a startling announcement. The airport was being pounded by a powerful storm and, as the pilot told us, the winds were beyond the tolerance for our small-sized regional jet. With that said, we began to circle the area for about 30 minutes.

    At that point the pilot announced worse news. The storm was growing and moving toward us. To avoid the winds we were going to head northeast and land at Marshall Baltimore-Washington Airport, 45 miles away from our destination.  It also was not where I'd left my car.

    Off we flew and we landed safely.

    Once on the ground, the crew announced that we would stay until the storm passed National Airport, would take on some fuel, and would fly to our destination, which we finally did.

    It was at that point that all of us starting thanking the crew for ensuring we landed in one piece.

    The story reminded me about the importance of communication. By clearly telling us what was going on the crew kept us informed and made it clear that our delay, while inconvenient, was clearly the prudent course of action. Frankly, I had no complaint as I kind of like landing alive.

    I think the notion of clear and complete communication has never been more important. Like many of you I am absorbing the current news about Covid with a mix of annoyance and dread. It seems apparent that the Delta Variant is a big problem and that means there’s a good chance that all the progress of the fast few months will be fleeting. We may soon be back in masks and even lockdowns.

    And let’s keep in mind that Delta is not the last letter in the Greek alphabet and that the novel coronavirus will continue to mutate until it seems, it exhausts the supply of unvaccinated hosts.

    What’s more there are already inklings that the supply chain is about to experience another shock, with growing reports of Covid-related shutdowns in Southeast Asia, where many common consumer products originate. Ergo, we might be looking at shortages again.

    And that’s why we need communicate. If products are in short supply because of Covid, drought conditions in farm country or the latest round of e-coli related food safety problems, explain what’s happening to your shoppers. They may not be any happier, but at least they might understand why some products are missing or why masks are needed while shopping. It might even convince them that you place high value on their safety.

    Remember, bad news never improves with time.

    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: August 3, 2021

    Starbucks said the other day that the ranks of its 90-day active Starbucks Rewards members in the U.S. grew 48 percent year-over-year to 24.2 million - which KC suggests is a lesson for anyone with a loyalty marketing plan.   Not to mention an even bigger lesson for anyone without one.

    Published on: August 3, 2021

    An official with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is recommending the nullification of the unionization vote at Amazon's Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse in which the tally went against organized labor.  The rationale for the recommendation is that Amazon intimidated employees during the voting process.

    The Wall Street Journal reports that "the recommendation by the NLRB hearing officer is a critical step in a process that could lead to a new vote to supplant the results of the one held in April. The findings will be reviewed by a regional NLRB director overseeing the case, who could make a final decision in a matter of weeks.

    "Both Amazon and the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, which ran the unionization campaign in Bessemer, Ala., may file responses to the recommendation from Kerstin Meyers, the NLRB official who heard testimony from workers during an appeal hearing in May."

    Amazon has said it will appeal any call for nullification, with a spokesperson saying that employees “had a chance to be heard during a noisy time when all types of voices were weighing into the national debate, and at the end of the day, they voted overwhelmingly in favor of a direct connection with their managers and the company.”

    RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said, “The question of whether or not to have a union is supposed to be the workers’ decision and not the employer’s.  Amazon cheated, they got caught, and they are being held accountable."

    More content from the Journal story:

    "Some employees also said in the hearing that they felt uncomfortable about the extent of Amazon’s surveillance during the vote. The company uses cameras and other technology to monitor worker productivity, but employees said they were concerned such practices may have affected voting. The company also sent workers text messages to discourage them from voting for the union. The RWDSU also texted employees and sent them leaflets through the mail.

    "A central issue in the appeal was a mailbox near the facility, which Amazon had asked the U.S. Postal Service to install. An employee named Kevin Jackson testified that Amazon security guards had access to the mailbox next to the facility that had been available for ballot submission and that on at least one occasion, he witnessed the guards use keys to open the mailbox.  Amazon has said it asked the postal service to install the collection box as a convenience to employees and that only the Postal Service had access to ballots."

    KC's View:

    Seems pretty likely that a new vote is going to happen, and that there will be considerable attention paid to how Amazon interacts with employees.  The company is going to have to be careful not just about how it behaves, but also how it is perceived.

    Founder-chairman Jeff Bezos has said that he believe sit is within the company's power to be an exceptional employer, which, I assume, means one in which unions can't do any better for employees than management does.  Amazon may want to accelerate efforts in this direction, because if a new Bessemer vote goes the other way, it could light the fuse on similar votes at other company facilities around the country.

    Published on: August 3, 2021

    Excellent piece from Bloomberg about the "mad rush" of delivery companies - new and not-so-new - to provide fast grocery deliveries, in some cases, "in as little as 10 minutes.

    The explosion of companies in the sector has largely been fueled by venture capitalists "on the prowl for businesses that might benefit from a lockdown," but a question remains:  Can any or all of them be profitable?

    Experts say that they can, though the sustainability of profits depends on "a steady growth trajectory. As people return to offices and factories, they may order less online. What’s more, the current level of competition is unsustainable. London alone has a dozen rapid-delivery companies spending heavily on marketing. And the big supermarket chains, whose economies of scale mean they can charge less for groceries, are ginning up their own rival offerings. If they all decide ultrafast delivery is an attractive business, the ensuing price war will rapidly undermine the industry’s prospects."

    You can read the entire piece here.

    KC's View:

    Expect consolidation.  Soon.  

    Published on: August 3, 2021

    Bloomberg reports that in certain US cities, Amazon is essentially taking away free delivery from Whole Foods as a membership perk for Prime members, with plans to test a $9.95 service charge.

    The new policy will go into effect on August 30, and will affect markets that include Boston, Chicago, Providence (Rhode Island), Portland (Maine), and Manchester (New Hampshire).

    “This service fee helps to cover operating costs, so we can continue to offer the same competitive everyday prices in-store and online at Whole Foods Market,” the company said, adding that grocery pickup remains fee - though that only applies to orders larger than $35.

    Bloomberg writes that "a Whole Foods spokesperson described the new delivery fee in some markets as a pilot program, saying the company preferred use the charge to help cover the costs of equipment, technology and delivery rather than raising food prices.

    "Whole Foods delivered more than three times as many orders in in 2020 as in 2019, the spokesperson said, as shoppers avoided stores during the pandemic, and average basket sizes are up since the beginning of the year. The chain struggled during lockdowns with a steep decline in visits for prepared foods, a staple of Whole Foods stores in urban areas."

    KC's View:

    Bloomberg says, accurately, that this move is "an indication that the economics of grocery delivery continue to pose a challenge for even the world’s largest online retailer."  (Which is something that it also addressed in the story we linked to, above.)

    The question I'd have is whether this actually reflects a weakness in the Prime business model.  The premise until now has been that by consistently adding value to Prime membership, Amazon was building up a powerful machine that would infiltrate and compass much of our lives.  But maybe, just maybe, time and experience are proving that this doesn't all add up.

    Published on: August 3, 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 35,895,980 total Covid-19 coronavirus cases, resulting in 629,862 deaths and 29,717,537 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 199,664,419 coronavirus cases, with 4,250,338 resultant fatalities, and 180,141,671 reported recoveries.  (Source.)


    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 70 percent of the US population age 18 and older now has received at least one dose of vaccine, hitting a goal set by the Biden administration, albeit a month later than hoped;  60.6 percent of that group now is fully vaccinates.

    The CDC also says that 67.6 percent of the population age 12 and older has gotten at least one dose of vaccine, with 58.1 percent fully vaccinated.

    Indeed, the CDC says that one bright spot of the resurgence of the virus and the Delta Variant has been that they seem to have resulted in a surge in vaccinations.


    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "on Monday, major retailers and restaurant chains such as Home Depot Inc. and McDonald’s Corp., said they would require workers to wear masks in many of their stores, restaurants and offices regardless of vaccination status.

    "Some municipalities and local officials also said Monday they would start to impose new indoor mask mandates on residents in response to new federal health guidelines and rising U.S. Covid-19 cases.

    "The moves are the clearest signs yet that the coronavirus pandemic continues to be a challenge for U.S. business, and that employers are contending with ramifications of the fast-spreading Delta variant for employees and customers alike … The shift followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation last week that vaccinated people resume wearing masks in some indoor spaces, reversing its earlier guidance. On Friday, the CDC said vaccinated people may spread the Delta variant."

    Giant Eagle also has updated its mask rules, asking all staff and customers to wear them regardless of whether or not they are vaccinated.  


    •  From the New York Times:

    "With the coronavirus spreading across the country and hospitalizations rising again, and public health officials warning that the Delta variant carries new risks even for vaccinated people, big businesses are rethinking their plans.

    "Some are delaying their plans to bring workers back to the office, and others are restoring mask requirements for customers. In the last week, several have also imposed vaccine mandates, after having held off on such a step for months … The decision to require vaccines was endorsed on Sunday by the director of the National Institutes of Health. Speaking on CNN’s 'State of the Union,' Dr. Francis Collins said that asking employees for proof of vaccination or regular testing were steps 'in the right direction'."


    •  The Wall Street Journal writes that "Louisiana and seven San Francisco Bay Area counties will mandate that people wear masks indoors starting this week, while New York City officials are recommending that residents do so to curb rising Covid-19 cases … Once the Bay Area mask orders go into effect, about half of Californians will be required to wear face coverings indoors in public settings."


    •  The Financial Times writes that "scientists are warning that the world has entered a dangerous new phase of the pandemic, as the coronavirus third wave creates fertile breeding grounds for more infectious and potentially vaccine-resistant new variants.

    "The surge of Covid-19 around the globe, with the World Health Organization reporting new cases up 8 per cent and deaths up 21 per cent in just a week, has parallels with the conditions at the height of the pandemic last year when four highly transmissible viral variants originated.

    "Virologists say the Sars-Cov-2 coronavirus that causes Covid-19 may have already developed into more threatening forms that have so far evaded detection because they have not yet infected enough people."


    Reuters reports that the CDC is warning "against travel to Greece, Ireland, Iran, the U.S. Virgin Islands and other destinations because of a rising number of COVID-19 cases in those places.

    "Other locations being raised to the CDC's 'Level 4: Avoid Travel' include Libya, Kazakhstan, Andorra, Saint Barthelemy, Lesotho, Martinique, Malta, the Isle of Man and Curacao, the CDC said … After taking many countries off its highest warning level since June, the United States has been adding more countries back because of rising COVID-19 cases. It currently lists about 90 at the highest warning level."

    Published on: August 3, 2021

    •  The Financial Times reports on Amazon's broadening efforts to become a delivery service for other retailers, writing that "Amazon Multi-Channel Fulfillment (MCF) is a lesser-known subdivision of the company’s highly successful Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA) programme. Where FBA stores, packs and delivers to Amazon customers, sometimes in as little as a day, MCF offers much the same for sales on other websites, such as Walmart, eBay, Etsy, Shopify and several others.

    "Sellers gain the convenience of keeping their stock within one system, while Amazon grabs a slice of its competitors’ business — leveraging the immense capabilities of its delivery network, the capacity of which has more than doubled in the past two years.

    "MCF has existed in some form since 2007, but Amazon is now pricing it more competitively with other logistics providers; entering into new software partnerships to promote and streamline its use; and implementing workarounds designed to circumvent the objections of competitors who would prefer Amazon did not deal with their customers. It means that on top of its approximately 40 per cent market share of US ecommerce, Amazon stands to gain an even greater understanding of the shopping habits of global consumers."


    •  From NBC News:

    "Amazon has revealed for the first time the number of people it employs in the U.S., putting the figure at 950,000 … While the headcount was boosted by an additional 64,000 people hired in the second quarter, it does not include the thousands of contractors such as drivers whom Amazon depends on to run its Amazon Prime delivery operations."

    The company remains in second place as the second-largest employer in the US.  Walmart employee about 1.6 million people here.

    Amazon's global headcount is put at 1.3 million people. 

    Published on: August 3, 2021

    •  Publix Super Markets said that its sales for the three months ended June 26, 2021 were $11.8 billion, a 3.9% increase from $11.4 billion in 2020, with same-store sales up 2.3 percent.  Net earnings for the quarter were $1 billion, compared to $1.4 billion in 2020, a decrease of 26.2%.

    Published on: August 3, 2021

    Got the following email from MNB reader Deb Faragher:

    Couldn’t help but respond to your response about “doing the right thing”.  I hope you saw Danny Meyer on CBS This Morning today but, if not, here’s a link:

    There are so many opportunities to do the right thing and, it seems, these days there is a shortage of those with the courage.  I’ll ignore politics where doing “right thing” is, and has been, sorely lacking.  Your comments on Simone Biles are, to me, so right.  By acknowledging her twisties, she has done what’s right for the team and for herself. The fact that others have had the ability to shine and take home medals may not have been possible otherwise.  And, listening to Danny Meyer, while he may lose customers, his decision is about doing the right thing.  I wish more people had the courage to follow that lead.

    Thanks, as always, for your observations and commentary.  And, by the way, it had been so nice to see your daily column on Covid to be down to almost nothing and now look where it is.  Sad commentary in itself.

    That breaks my heart, too.  I was really enjoying not having to spend so much time and space focusing on Covid stories.

    C'est la vie.


    We had a piece yesterday about how Amazon may be running out of warehouse space, prompting one MNB reader to write:

    Hi Kevin, this is not a new retailing problem. Amazon will need to begin rationalizing their product offerings and move some slow moving items from their own warehouses to making some vendors fulfill their own sales. This will allow them to provide more room for new products. (I would be surprised if they are not doing this now.)


    Regarding Kroger's move into Florida with a pure-play e-commerce model, one MNB reader wrote:

    It could also be one way to crack the Northeast market, where Kroger has no physical presence, as I don't see any large chain that would make sense for them to acquire, but you never know.


    Responding to Target's decision to award new hazard pay to its employees, one MNB reader wrote:

    It would be nice to see Albertsons/Shaw's follow Target's lead, as morale couldn't be lower than it is now. Department heads and store managers are leaving at an alarming rate, with Albertsons putting more and more pressure on them, usually to cut labor. 


    Got a number of emails about yesterday's video about my recent experience in Portland, Oregon.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Thank you for your tour of Portland.. Its nice to see it in daylight..but oh what a road to recovery !

    From another reader:

    Great job on your video today about goings on in downtown PDX. Spot on. I was born and raised in Portland, 70+ years ago. Going downtown to enjoy the amenities and ambience of this wonderful city was once a great experience with the restaurants, parks, brew pubs, etc. a very vibrant feel.   I do not live in PDX today, moved to the burbs a long time ago …  Will our beloved city come back to what it was like, pre riots and protests? Maybe so, but not for some time. Bad behavior was allowed to happen for much too long without paying any consequences . A lot of people I know who live in the PDX area will spend their dollars elsewhere in the PDX burbs, me included. Truly a shame what you saw in your video today, a very interesting perspective. 

    And from another:

    Kevin, that was a great piece. My wife and I lived in Portland for 8 years and thoroughly enjoyed our time there. We regretted the fact we had to relocate. You summed it up perfectly when you said that it was “sad”. I couldn’t agree more. It may come back, but, it may never be the same. 

    When I was taking off from PDX on Sunday, I did have revelation - I still love the Pacific Northwest, still have enormous affection for Portland, and look foirward to returning. It was great fun to return to some old haunts - I did my best, in just a few days, to do things I used to do while living there during my summer adjunctivities. It is true that Portland needs a lot of work and some new vision. But that seems entirely within the realm oif possibility.