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    Published on: August 5, 2021

    CNBC reports that grocery delivery company and incipient retailer Instacart has hired Carolyn Everson, vice president of the Global Business Group at Facebook, to be its new president.

    CNBC offers the following context:

    "Everson is moving to Instacart mere weeks after Fidji Simo, former head of the Facebook app, took over as CEO.

    "Instacart is the largest of the remaining privately held delivery companies, but faces competition from Uber’s growing delivery business as well as upstarts like GoPuff. It was valued at $39 billion in a March funding round and is widely expected to go public in the next year.

    "Everson will join Instacart on Sept. 7 in the role of president, succeeding current President Nilam Ganenthiran, who will become a strategic advisor to the CEO. Everson will oversee several divisions, including advertising, partnerships, policy and legal, Instacart said."

    KC's View:

    Everson's primary role at Facebook was to be the face of the company to advertisers, and one can expect that she will play much the same role for Instacart.

    What's interesting - and potentially alarming, from a retailer point of view - about this is that Instacart continues to pursue a business strategy that has the potential of disintermediating their retail clients.

    Instacart already has access to its retailers' customer data, which allows it to weaponize that information against former counts (which it has done).  It already is going directly to manufacturers for promotion money that retailers used to guard jealously, allowing it to offer deals to shoppers that are connected to Instacart, not the retailer.  Instacart plans to build automated micro-fulfillment centers that will start out serving retail clients, but will have the ability to bypass those retailers and go direct-to-consumer.

    Facebook is known as a company that finds new and innovative ways to worm its way into people's lives, with far less interest in their privacy than in its own primacy.  Bringing over Facebook execs to run Instacart, I think, tells us a lot about the company's intentions.

    Brilliant for Instacart.  Maybe not so much for its clients.

    Published on: August 5, 2021

    TechCrunch reports that Amazon is expanding "its faster, same-day delivery service to half a dozen more U.S. cities. The service, which the retailer has been working to make same-day delivery even faster over the past year, now offers consumers in a number of markets the ability to shop up to 3 million items on, then receive their orders in only a few hours … Amazon is rolling out same-day delivery to Prime members in Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Tampa, Charlotte and Houston, bringing the total markets served to 12."

    The markets previously served are Philadelphia, Phoenix, Orlando, Dallas, Nashville and Washington, D.C.

    According to the story, "The service continues to be free, with no additional charges on orders over $35 that qualify for same-day delivery. Orders less than $35 have a $2.99 fee for Prime customers, and a $12.99 fee for nonmembers. Prime membership, meanwhile, is $12.99 per month, or $119 per year."  The service is being powered by Amazon's “mini-fulfillment centers," which are designed to be "closer to where customers lived in select U.S. markets."

    KC's View:

    Amazon continues to try to challenge the notion that in a lot of instances, it simply is more convenient to go to the store than to order online.  The fact is, when the store pulls into your driveway, that's pretty convenient … especially if it allows me to do other things than mundane shopping.

    Lesson:  If you want to compete, you can't be mundane.

    One other note.  Just this week, Bloomberg reported 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.  Seems evident that Amazon is testing different approaches in different places, looking to figure out what will m move the needle and also what the traffic will bear.

    Published on: August 5, 2021

    Kroger announced today that its healthcare division, Kroger Health, is partnering with rideshare company Lyft "to provide access to discounted rides to and from COVID-19 vaccine appointments. This partnership is part of Lyft’s Vaccine Access Program and Kroger Health’s continued efforts to vaccinate Americans, especially those with limited access to transportation."

    The announcement says that people can visit the Kroger website "to schedule a vaccine appointment and will receive a Lyft ride code with the appointment confirmation in certain markets. The code will provide $12 per ride, covering travel to and from each scheduled appointment. Patients can then request their ride to a nearby Kroger Family of Pharmacies or The Little Clinic location using the free Lyft app."

    The service is being provided in markets in states that include "Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Washington D.C., Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Wyoming."

    KC's View:

    Here's an idea.

    Since Kroger is engaged in a pure-play e-commerce model in Florida, a state where the coronavirus numbers have been off the charts, maybe it could offer door-to-door vaccinations.  

    The logistics might be a little complicated, but what a great way to create the perception that a company is looking to be an important part of your life.

    Published on: August 5, 2021

    Two stories about how a pair of retailers are trying to get more competitive when it comes to hiring and keeping employees:

    •  CNBC reports that "as retailers fiercely compete for workers, CVS Health said Wednesday it is slashing education requirements for job candidates and giving employees a raise.

    "The drugstore chain said it will boost hourly pay as soon as this month and ultimately hike its minimum wage to $15 an hour as of July 2022. Its current starting wage is $11, but CVS said about two-thirds of employees already make more than $15 an hour.

    "As part of that new wage structure, the company said some roles — such as pharmacy technicians and call-center representatives — will get an increase, too, even though they already have higher starting rates."

    •  Meanwhile, Business Insider reports that "Starbucks will give hourly workers a raise this October, and raise the minimum wage to at least $12 in all stores.

    "Employees hired before July 2021 will receive a 5% raise, with tenured partners getting a 6% raise. Starbucks will also raise the minimum wage in all markets to at least $12, and up to or above $15 in some markets, a Starbucks spokesperson told Insider.

    "Starbucks previously gave US workers raises in December 2020, with an increase of at least 10% for all baristas, supervisors, and cafe attendants … The coffee chain also bumped starting wages by 5% and increased the amount that Starbucks pays over the local minimum wage in all markets. More than half of Starbucks workers already make $15 or more, Starbucks confirmed.

    "The upcoming October raises are accelerated plans originally intended for January 2022. They're part of a plan to reach a minimum wage of $15 for all workers in the next two to three years, the spokesperson said."

    KC's View:

    Everybody is competing for the same workforce, and moves like these are establishing the floor, not the ceiling.

    Published on: August 5, 2021

    Hy-Vee yesterday announced "the launch of Wall to Wall Wine and Spirits, a new division of the company focused on providing a best-in-class wine, spirits, and beer selection in a modern, standalone format that enhances customer experience."

    The company went on:  "Wall to Wall Wine and Spirits stores will feature a large selection of wine and spirits, as well as craft beer. The eclectic wine and spirits selection will feature a price point for all customers, along with specialty grocery items, including cheese, charcuterie, chips and crackers, as well as sodas and seltzers to help customers craft a full food and drink menu for any event or occasion. Additionally, customers can purchase high-end barware and related accessories."

    The first Wall to Wall Wine and Spirits locations are planned for West Des Moines, Iowa;  Papillion, Nebraska;  Omaha, Nebraska;  and Lincoln, Nebraska.  No opening dates have been disclosed.

    KC's View:

    Great idea, though maybe about a year late, considering the degree to which alcohol consumption numbers went up during the pandemic.

    Published on: August 5, 2021

    The Washington Post has a fascinating story about how Wegmans - a company usually begged to come to communities, with attendant positive publicity and long lines of customers - has riled up some residents of Brown Grove, Virginia, a historically Black community just north of Richmond.

    The problem:  Wegmans wants to build a 1.1 million-square-foot, $175 million distribution center there.

    Here's how the Post frames the story:

    "Wegmans says it will add jobs and tax revenue to Hanover County; the folks gathered that day to protest believe the project could destroy Brown Grove. The activists note that the massive center would bring 24-hour floodlights and steady truck traffic to a site marked only by trees and swamps. The facility would sit on the unmarked graves of Brown Grove’s founders, they say, and it would disturb environmentally critical wetlands that help provide well water for many homes and serve as an ecosystem balance to nearby infrastructure like Interstate 95."

    The story notes that while "Wegmans owns more than 100 supermarkets up and down the East Coast, this project would only be the company’s third distribution center."

    You can read the piece here.

    Published on: August 5, 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 US, the total number of Covid-19 coronavirus cases stands at 36,176,471, resulting in 631,299 deaths and 29,787,316 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 201,170,767 total coronavirus cases, with 4,273,832 resultant fatalities and 181,138,712 reported recoveries.   (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 70.2 percent of the US population age 18 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 60.7 percent being fully vaccinated.  In addition, 67.9 percent of the population age 12 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 58.3 percent of that group fully vaccinated.

    •  The PBS NewsHour reports that "after more than a dozen weeks of new COVID vaccinations declining in the United States, public health experts are encouraged to be seeing a small uptick in shots. But with the more transmissible delta variant fueling steep spikes in cases in places where vaccination rates are low, experts also insist more must still be done.

    "Nationwide, there has been a 55-percent increase in the average number of new people getting vaccinated daily," with "some of the hardest hit states are now reporting as much as a doubling in the rate of new vaccinations."

    •  The Washington Post this morning reports that "more unvaccinated adults in the United States view the coronavirus vaccine as a greater risk to their health than the disease caused by the virus itself, a poll found.

    "The Kaiser Family Foundation released a survey Wednesday that found there was a big split between unvaccinated and vaccinated adults in what they perceived as the bigger threat during the pandemic.

    "Just over half of unvaccinated adults (53 percent) said they believed getting vaccinated posed a bigger risk to their health than getting infected with the coronavirus … Unvaccinated adults were also much less worried about the more transmissible delta variant and had less confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines compared with those who got the shots, according to the KFF survey.

    "The majority of unvaccinated adults (57 percent) also said they thought the news media had 'generally exaggerated' the seriousness of the pandemic, compared with 17 percent of vaccinated adults."

    •  Just what we need … a coronavirus Delta-Plus variant.

    The Seattle Times reports that "South Korea’s Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Tuesday that it had recorded at least two cases of the new coronavirus delta-plus variant, which some experts believe to be more transmissible than the original delta variant that was first detected in India and has since thwarted plans for returning to life before the pandemic."  The new variant has been detected in several countries, "including the United Kingdom, the United States and India,": the story says.

    The Times goes on:  "Last month, experts in India labeled the variant one of concern and warned that it appeared to be more transmissible than most. Citing studies, the country’s health ministry said that the variant has the ability to bind more easily to lung cells and could be resistant to therapies used to treat the infection."

    However, the story says, "The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium has since said that the delta-plus variant is unlikely to be more transmissible than the delta variant and trends have yet to emerge, according to Hindustan Times."

    Easy way for every body to deal with this, it seems to me.  Cross your fingers, and then hold out your arm and get the damned vaccine.  And then, if you are so inclined, maybe spend a little time on your knees, and make sure you're wearing a mask over your mouth and nose.

    •  The New York Post reports that the New York International Auto Show, scheduled to begin August 19, has been cancelled for the second straight year, with organizers wanting to make the decision before automobile companies started shipping cars to the Jacob Javits Convention Center.

    "As custodians of the 121-year-old New York Auto Show, we are committed to providing a safe environment for everyone,” show president Mark Schienberg said in a statement.  “Over the past few weeks, especially within the past few days, circumstances have changed, making it more difficult to create an event at the high standard that we and our clients expect.”

    A lot of the food industry events that are scheduled for September and October seem to still be on track, albeit likely with safety precautions.  One has to wonder if at some point more dominoes will begin to fall.

    •  WXXI reports that "Wegmans said that after reviewing the latest guidance from the CDC and state and local officials, they 'strongly encourage' all customers, whether they are vaccinated or not, to wear a mask in their stores … And all Wegmans employees are now required to wear masks in the stores."

    At the same time, the story says, Tops reiterated their earlier guidance that masks are optional for fully vaccinated customers and Tops employees, but the company said it would continue to monitor any new guidance from the CDC or state and local governments."

    The bet here is that Tops will adjust that advice sooner rather than later, to get in line with what the CDC is recommending.

    •  Add Netflix to the list of companies expanding its vaccine mandate, requiring that "all employees who come into its offices be vaccinated for COVID-19," according to Variety.  "Those new rules will also include any visitors to its headquarters."

    The story notes that "in July, Netflix became the first Hollywood studio to have a blanket policy requiring that casts of all of its U.S. productions be vaccinated, as well as the crew members who come in contact with the performers.

    Co-founder-CEO Reed Hastings has been very upfront about the fact that he wants people back in the office; he is not one of those CEOs who has much use for a remote workforce.  If he still feels that way, then he also knows how important it is to get everyone vaccinated.

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Business leaders broadly agree they need to get more workers vaccinated to keep the U.S. economy humming in the face of the fast-spreading Delta variant.

    "But they’re split over how best to do that. Some are dangling bigger bonuses or other incentives to cajole employees into getting the Covid-19 vaccine. Others have started requiring workers get the shot … Both strategies come with risks for employers, their workers and their customers, and both could shape the course of the pandemic.

    "More than a third of American adults have not gotten vaccinated, according to the latest U.S. data. Firms using a lighter touch risk workplace outbreaks. Those mandating shots risk losing workers in a tight job market."

    The story notes that "some companies want to reassure the public it is still safe to shop in their stores or visit their theme parks. Others want to prevent worker illnesses or absences from crippling their operations again. Still others want to end remote work and get staff back into offices. Union rules for a number of companies are complicating matters further."

    •  Good piece in the Wall Street Journal about how ad campaigns from companies that wanted to celebrate a post-pandemic world and so-called return to normal may have gotten a little ahead of themselves.

    Commercials and ads from the likes of Uber ("Go anywhere … Go get it") and Google ("Start again") seemed a little dissonant, the story says, as consumers also were dealing with headlines about the Delta Variant, stories about anti-vaxxers, and pictures showing empty facilities at the Olympics because the pandemic forced organizers to ban spectators.

    "The new rise in cases means marketers should re-evaluate and likely pause the most optimistic campaigns, said Susan Credle, global chief creative officer of ad agency FCB, part of the Interpublic Group of Cos. 'I don’t think anybody made a mistake,' she said. 'I just think the world did not go the direction we thought it would and that requires all of us to be ready to adjust'."

    However, in the cases of Google and Uber, both companies plan to continue their campaigns, believing that optimism is better than pessimism.

    I agree that optimism is better than pessimism.  But it also is important not to seem completely disconnected from the facts on the ground, so companies like these will have to be careful as they walk this particular tightrope. 

    •  The Washington Post reports this morning that "the Biden administration is working on a plan to require nearly all incoming foreign travelers to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus … Officials throughout the government are working on the policy, which would include a phased approach and require foreign nationals from all countries to be fully vaccinated with limited exceptions, 'to be prepared for when the time is right to transition to this new system,' the official said."

    •  And, something else we apparently need … from Amazon, a smart soap dispenser.

    CNBC reports that Amazon now is selling just such a thing, which is designed to "make sure you’re washing your hands right."

    Or, at least long enough.

    According to the story, "The $54.99 soap dispenser has lights on the top that slowly count down 20 seconds, so you know if you’ve washed your hands for the CDC-recommended minimum amount of time. It also works with Amazon Echo devices, which means you can set an Echo speaker to play music, tell you the weather, a joke, or something else every time you wash your hands."

    However, as Amazon notes on its site, the "Amazon Smart Soap Dispenser doesn't have a speaker or microphone, and Alexa isn't built in. For entertainment and other Alexa routines, pair it to a compatible Echo device (sold separately) that's within 30 feet of the dispenser."  It also "only works with liquid hand soap. Do not fill with foaming soap or any alcohol-based product, including hand sanitizer."

    The CNBC story also points out that Amazon may have missed a big opportunity - programming into the dispenser the ability to render soap when it gets low.  Ends up that this smart soap dispenser is an underachiever.  So maybe we really don't need it, after all.

    I have to admit that this is one Amazon device that I find a little underwhelming.  I've gotten used to singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" twice through when I wash my hands.

    Published on: August 5, 2021

    Responding to our piece about Amazon's biometric technologies, one MNB reader wrote:

    Is Amazon becoming “ The Borg?” If you give Amazon your palm print, you will be assimilated into the Amazon Borg. Personally, I see no reason to give anymore of my privacy to Amazon or any other big retailer.

    On an other subject, from MNB reader Patrick Haines:

    It is hard for me to get my mind around the difficulty of eliminating single use bags in the US. I live in Santiago, Chile and three years ago they decided to eliminate them. There were three months of notice, then three months when stores were allowed to provide two bags per customer, then none. Magically people began coming to the store with their reusable bags. Worst case scenario - you load your groceries (unbagged) back into your cart, put them loose in your car and then take them into the house in your reusable bags. Presto!

    I agree.  I almost always have reusable bags, and it hasn't been all that hard to get into the habit.  Just have to have a little bit of commitment.

    And, a kind note from an MNB reader about my rejoinder yesterday to an MNB reader who said he did not want to observe his church's mask mandate because, as someone fully vaccinated, he is happy to live with the low risk (.0032%) of being infected.  My response was that his church was trying not save not just souls, but lives - his wearing. mask is designed to protect other people (kids under 12, the immunocompromised) to whom he could transmit the coronavirus.

    MNB is always good reading and a valuable resource and your response to the .0032% writer was eloquent.

    Thank you.

    No, thank you.

    Usually, I'm just .0032% eloquent.