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    Published on: August 6, 2021

    The new federal target of having 50 percent of all new car sales by 2030 be of electric vehicles - which has the support of major US car companies and the United Auto Workers (UAW) union - also creates a target for retailers that may have had fuel sales as part of their business model.  Or retailers that have customers driving to their stores in cars.  Which is to say, almost everybody.  KC explains.

    Published on: August 6, 2021

    CNBC reports that Amazon has announced the creation of a new program connected to its Fulfillment by Amazon business that is designed to reduce the amount of wasted inventory that is going into landfills.

    According to the story, the program, "known as 'FBA Grade and Resell,' will allow third-party businesses on Amazon to resell returned items as 'used' products, Amazon said.  Under the program, returns are automatically routed to Amazon for evaluation. Once the product is received, Amazon decides if it is: 'Used - Like New, Used - Very Good, Used - Good, or Used – Acceptable.'  Sellers then set the price for the item based on its condition."

    The program is currently being rolled out in the UK, with plans to bring it to the US before the end of the year, and then to Germany, France, Italy and Spain early next year.

    CNBC writes that the program is being introduced "less than two months after British broadcaster ITV reported that Amazon is destroying millions of items of unsold stock at one of its 24 U.K. warehouses every year, including smart TVs, laptops, drones and hairdryers."

    “Customer returns are a fact of life for all retailers, and what to do with those products is an industry-wide challenge,” Libby Johnson McKee, a director at Amazon, said in a statement. “These new programs are examples of the steps we’re taking to ensure that products sold on Amazon — whether by us or our small business partners — go to good use and don’t become waste.”

    KC's View:

    This is a good way to recirculate products into the economy - it is good for vendors and for people who may not have the wherewithal to spend more money on new items.  I'd also like to see ways to get the products that are not being sold as used sent to people in real need or schools with limited resources.  It'd be a great adjunct to this new program, with a strong public interest component - there's no reason to be destroying smart TVs, laptops, drones and hairdryers.

    Published on: August 6, 2021

    E-commerce platform Shopify "has officially opened its first multi-purpose space," in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood, "designed to support existing and budding entrepreneurs," Hypebeast reports.

    According to the story, "The two-story, 8,000 square-foot space brings to life the platform’s thriving community of merchants and local business owners. Upon entering, visitors are met with a rotating pop-up shop of selections from several local merchants, currently showcasing two Brooklyn-based companies: Nguyen Coffee Supply and indoor plant retailer Greenery Unlimited.

    "In the center of the open floor plan sits the Cha Ching Café, operated by merchant Birch Coffee, and on the left side of the cafe are casual workstations, where business founders and their employees can meet with Shopify support experts in person for free 30-minute one-on-one sessions."

    “Much of NYC’s heart and soul comes from its entrepreneurs,” said Shopify President Harley Finkelstein. “To keep NYC as one of the most entrepreneurial cities in the world, we’re giving New Yorkers the resources and tools they need to build successful businesses.”

    KC's View:

    If you're trying to help retailers compete against Amazon, it is critical to have a strong consultative component to your offering … and that seems to be the clear message from Shopify here.

    Published on: August 6, 2021

    The Puget Sound Business Journal reports that Amazon has "signed a deal with the e-commerce platform BigCommerce that could dissolve the main difference between Amazon and Shopify Inc."

    Here's the difference between the two companies:  "Amazon has operated as an online marketplace, while Shopify has been an e-commerce platform — the former shows brands on its website that fit search terms and the latter shows websites for individual brands."

    Now, however, "the deal with BigCommerce will allow Amazon's multi-channel fulfillment (MCF) to expand to companies that don't sell on Amazon. MCF has been used by Amazon's growing number of third-party sellers to fulfill orders on their own websites.

    Amazon is effectively looking to generate revenue through e-commerce outside of its famous marketplace … It was Amazon's clearest move to rebuff Shopify's rapid growth in the e-commerce market. While Amazon faces a dwindling of its market share growth due to obvious competitors like Walmart and Target, some analysts believe Shopify is the next company that could mine some of Amazon's 40.4% share of the e-commerce market."

    KC's View:

    A sign, I guess, that Amazon is taking the Shopify threat seriously.  But maybe also a new business that could be eyed by legislators and regulators who look askance at Amazon's growing power.

    Published on: August 6, 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 up-to-date Covid-19 coronavirus numbers for the US:  36,301,744 total cases … 631,879 deaths … and 29,805,593 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  201,817,159 total cases … 4,283,757 fatalities … and 181,562,463 reported recoveries.   (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 70.4 percent of the US population age 18 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 60.8 percent being fully vaccinated.  The CDC also says that 68.1 percent of the population age 12 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, while 58.4 percent has been fully vaccinated.

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "the Food and Drug Administration expects to have a strategy on Covid-19 vaccine boosters by early September that would lay out when and which vaccinated individuals should get the follow-up shots, according to people familiar with discussions within the agency.

    "The Biden administration is pushing for the swift release of a booster strategy because some populations—people age 65 or older and people who are immunocompromised, as well as those who got the shots in December or January shortly after they were rolled out—could need boosters as soon as this month, two of the people said.

    "Any booster strategy from the U.S. government will need to address declining protection for certain people at a time when vaccines remain in short supply in the developing world."

    The Journal goes on:  "Recent data from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE shows the efficacy of their shot declines about 6% every two months, which suggests boosters may be needed broadly, one of the people said.

    "Pfizer plans to ask U.S. regulators this month to authorize booster shots of its two-dose vaccine, arguing that a third shot may be needed to protect against the evolving virus.  Moderna Inc. said on Thursday that it expects people who received its two-dose vaccine to need a third shot in the fall to keep strong protection against newer variants of the coronavirus. Moderna Chief Executive Stéphane Bancel said the company expects to ask the FDA to authorize its booster shots in September."

    Just like to say that I'm ready to get a booster as soon as one is available.  No dithering here … I'm all in on trying to stay as healthy as I can.

    •  The New York Times reports that "a bipartisan group of officials from the past five presidential administrations, as well as public health experts, are pressing private sector leaders to adopt a new set of recommendations to maximize coronavirus vaccination among their employees.

    "'You have a key role to play in our national quest to keep Americans safe, while respecting individual liberties,' an open letter from the group says, asking businesses to institute new workplace rules that would complement actions by federal and local governments to increase vaccinations against the surging Delta variant."

    The letter also "recommends steps for companies to take if they choose not to require vaccination for their workforces.

    "Those include an 'infection screening protocol,' which would require twice-a-week screenings through rapid tests. Anyone with proof of vaccination would be allowed to bypass that routine testing. The letter also recommends that companies provide incentives for employees to get vaccinated, including cash payments and paid leave."

    •  The Los Angeles Times reports that "with coronavirus cases continuing to rise, Los Angeles is now considering a proposal to require proof of COVID-19 inoculation as a condition of entry at a host of indoor public spaces in what, if passed, would be the widest-ranging vaccination-verification effort in the city yet … The move comes amid a surge in coronavirus cases fueled by the highly infectious Delta variant, which has both public officials and private businesses scrambling to slow the spread. Some L.A. restaurants have already begun requiring proof of vaccination for customers, saying they hope that action can forestall the more intense restrictions seen earlier in the pandemic that pushed some retailers to their breaking point."

    The story notes that "if the city, county or state imposes such a requirement … it takes the onus off of individual businesses — and eases fears among small businesses about the legal risks of doing so themselves."

    •  The Boston Globe reports that "the Vaccination Credential Initiative (VCI), a consortium of major tech and health care companies including Microsoft, Salesforce, Oracle, and the Mayo Clinic, says it’s come up with a more durable way to show genuine proof of vaccination. It’s the SMART Health Card, a national standard for digital vaccine certificates based on technology from Boston Children’s Hospital. The standard was recently finalized, and is now rolling out across the United States."

    •  Amazon said yesterday that it will "delay corporate employees’ return to offices until next year as conditions around the Covid-19 pandemic evolve," the Wall Street Journal reports.

    “We will continue to follow local government guidance and work closely with leading medical healthcare professionals, gathering their advice and recommendations as we go forward to ensure our work spaces are optimized for the safety of our teams,” Amazon said in a prepared statement.

    •  The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that "United Airlines will require its U.S. employees to be vaccinated this fall, the first major airline to take this step as the Delta variant drives a nationwide increase in Covid-19 infections … In a letter to employees Friday, Chief Executive Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart said they expected that some would disagree with the decision but said the move was necessary to keep workers safe."

    •  Variety reports that CNN "terminated three staffers who came to its offices without being vaccinated and indicated to employees it will push back a scheduled full return to the office by several weeks," from early September to mid-October.

    Published on: August 6, 2021

    •  The Financial Times reports that "DoorDash, the biggest US food delivery group, is preparing to make its first investment in Europe by taking a stake in Gorillas, the fast-growing Berlin-based grocery delivery app.

    "Gorillas is seeking to raise hundreds of millions of dollars of funding at a valuation of about $2.5 billion, according to people familiar with its plans, far reduced from its original aspiration of a $6 billion price tag. DoorDash has indicated interest in joining the round, these people said.

    "The deal had not yet been finalised but could close later this month, they added. The size of DoorDash’s stake could not be learned, as talks with investors continued."

    •  From TechCrunch, a story about how DoorDash customers in the U.S. and Canada now will be able to "shop across multiple stores and categories in a single order.  With DoubleDash, as the program is called, customers can now tack onto their order of a pad thai dinner some tampons and ice cream from the local 7-Eleven. In most cases, it’ll all be brought to them by the same delivery person in one bundle, allowing customers to forgo any additional delivery fees. There are, however, service fees for each order.

    "The goal for customers is to increase convenience while preserving price expectations. For local businesses, there’s a possibility that some light prodding of the customer while they’re hungry and uninterested in leaving their homes will lead to more business. And for DoorDash, this move is another step toward making the app the ever-coveted “one-stop-shop” for all things delivery."

    •  Ahold Delhaize-owned The GIANT Company announced yesterday that "Pennsylvania customers who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will now be able to shop online for both grocery pickup and delivery via GIANT Direct and MARTIN’S Direct using their Pennsylvania EBT ACCESS card.

    "“Making sure the communities we serve have access to nutritious food is at the core of who The GIANT Company is and central to our purpose of connecting families for a better future,” Matt Simon, the company's vice president of brand experience, said in a prepared statement. “Now, customers who participate in SNAP can enjoy the convenience of online shopping."

    Published on: August 6, 2021

    •  From the Associated Press:

    "The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell last week by 14,000 to 385,000, more evidence that the economy and the job market are rebounding briskly from the coronavirus recession.

    "The Labor Department reported Thursday that unemployment claims — a proxy for layoffs — dropped last week from a revised 399,000 the week before. The applications have more or less fallen steadily since topping 900,000 in early January. Still, they remain high by historic levels: Before the pandemic slammed the United States in March 2020, they were coming in at around 220,000 a week."

    At the same time, the Labor Department said this morning that "Employers added 943,000 jobs and jobless rate fell to 5.4% in July … signs of a strong labor market ahead of the Delta Variant threat," the Wall Street Journal reports.  The new surveys were conducted "before some local governments reimposed mask mandates and other restrictions, and before many employers announced they would require employees to wear masks, be vaccinated or get regularly tested."

    •  Fox Business reports that "Target is investing $200 million over the next four years to cover the college bills for its U.S. workforce.

    "Starting this fall, more than 340,000 full- and part-time employees will be eligible for 'debt-free assistance for select undergraduate degrees, certificates, certifications, free textbooks and more with no out-of-pocket costs," the Minneapolis-based retailer announced Wednesday. 

    "Target also plans to pay up to $10,000 annually for master’s programs."

    Target says it is working with 250 business-aligned programs at over 40 schools, colleges and universities.

    Target is the second mass retailer to announce new educational benefits for employees in recent days;  in late July, Walmart announced a similar program focusing on employee education.

    •  Starbucks yesterday emailed customers to remind them that it is once again allowing them "to use their clean, personal reusable cups in-stores," and now, until August 16, "at participating stores, each time a customer orders a beverage to be served in a clean personal reusable cup, Starbucks will donate $1 to Ocean Conservancy to support Ocean Conservancy’s work toward solutions for a healthy ocean and the wildlife and communities that depend on it."

    “Starbucks is pleased to bring back personal reusable cups to help reduce single-use cup waste and to support those customers who bring in their own cups by contributing to the pioneering work of Ocean Conservancy,” said Michael, Starbucks chief sustainability officer.

    Published on: August 6, 2021

    Reacting to yesterday's FaceTime commentary, one MNB reader wrote:

    Enjoyed your comments on Medicare, I had the same experience last year when my wife and I made the transition. The people were terrific and made the entire process seamless, the good news is when you are ready for Social Security, you will find the same vibe. The Social Security experience was terrific, the people we dealt with were knowledgeable and responsive. Give credit where credit is due…nice job US GOVT!!!

    Responding to our story about Hy-Vee launching a new liquor store format, MNB reader Pete Makris wrote:

    Wanted to drop a note relative to the perception that total alcohol beverage consumption went up a lot last year during Covid.  Total consumption increased along historical trends (up a percent or two) but what clearly happened was a major shift from on premise to at home consumption.  Retail outlets exploded while hotel/restaurant of course suffered.

    It will be interesting to see how the Hy Vee concept works, I would bet it will be a success.

    On another subject, from MNB reader Kathleen Ottaviano:

    My husband and I often laugh at how many pharmaceutical drug ads air during shows we watch, a marker of our age.  But recently we got to thinking about how many drug commercials run a long list of really severe side effects - - - even death!   Doesn't seem to slow their distribution.

    And yet, here we are with a vaccine for COVID proven now to keep you from hospitalization and death and people won't take it.

    I'd like to see the Venn diagram of people who take these drugs and those that think the vaccines are dangerous. 

    And, from MNB reader Eric Carlson:

    I read your response to the 0.0032% person and I don't think anyone has ever explained masks and responsibility that well. You were calm, factual, and you invoked religion in a way that the original commenter will (I hope) recognize as a true attempt to communicate your side of the discussion.


    For those who misses that exchange, there was an MNB reader who said that while his church was requiring masks, he did not feel the need to wear one because, as someone who is fully vaccinated, he believed that he only had a 0.0032% chance of hospitalization.

    I wrote:

    It seems possible that your pastor did not explain that the reason you're being asked to wear a mask is not about you.  It is about protecting your fellow churchgoers.

    The way I understand it, as public health officials learn more about the coronavirus and grapple with the implications of the Delta Variant, they believe that even those of us who have been fully vaccinated can contract Covid-19.  We may be asymptomatic or have mild symptoms, but we can still transmit the disease to others.  Like, in your case, maybe to that nice person next to you in the pew who may be immunocompromised and can't get vaccinated.  Or that child one pew ahead of you, who for the moment is too young to be vaccinated.  You know, those people who could end being among those who currently are filling up emergency room and intensive care units around the country.

    Now, I'm no Biblical scholar, but it seems to me that Matthew 25:40 says,  "'Whatsoever you do to the least of your brothers and sisters, you do unto me,' says the Lord Jesus."   I wonder if that might be applicable here, and a way to think about your church's requirement.

    I know that for many people, mask and vaccine mandates sound like oppression.  But freedom from oppression does not mean freedom from responsibility.

    Sounds to me like your church is not just trying to save a few souls, but maybe even a few lives.  To which I say, Amen.

    I'm glad that a few folks found this to be helpful.

    Published on: August 6, 2021

    I think it has been well established here over the years that I am a big fan of Ace Atkins.  He's one of my favorite novelists working today, both with how he's authoritatively taken over Robert B. Parker's Spenser series while at the same time crafting an impressive series of southern noir novels featuring US Ranger-turned-Sheriff Quinn Colson.

    The great thing about the Colson novels has been how, over the first 10 books, he painted an extraordinarily detailed and seamy portrait of fictional Tibbehah County in Mississippi, as Colson returned from military service and found the community in which he grew up desperately in need of cleaning up.  Colson, who has credibly matured in the books from loner to family man, has always been the series' moral core, along with his deputy, Lillie Virgil.

    That all said, in his newest book, "The Heathens," Atkins has created one of his best characters - 17-year-old TJ Byrd, accused of murdering and dismembering her dissolute mother, on the run with her younger brother and some friends.  As she works to avoid arrest - she is alternately expert and naive as a fugitive - TJ tries to figure out how to prove her innocence to a world in which she has little faith (her life experiences have given her few reasons for belief in the system).  This is the rare case on which Lillie, now a US Marshal, and Colon have diverging views;  Virgil is persuaded of the girl's guilt, but Colson is not convinced by the case against her.

    As the dragnet closes in on TJ, Quinn works the case back home, trying to make sense of conflicting narratives and a panoply of unsavory characters with their own possible motives for killing the mother.

    "The Heathens" may be my favorite book of the Colson series so far (and I've loved them all).  The first 10 books served as a sort of broader portrait of Tibbehah County - a place that could've been found in an Elmore Leonard or William Faulkner novel - and serving as a fascinating comparison of the new and old South.  With "The Heathens," Atkins is beginning a new narrative … I'm not sure where he's going from here, but I know it is going to be enormously entertaining, and I hope he finds a way to include TJ Byrd.

    Published on: August 6, 2021

    Mrs. Content Guy and I have not been away together for any extended period of time since the summer of 2019 … and so I'm taking next week off so we can do just that.

    I promise to be careful about Covid - there will be no mass transit involved, we plan to eat as many meals outside as possible, and we're not going to any parties or indoor gatherings.  And, we're bringing a box of masks with us.

    I'll be back from this break on Monday, August 16.  Between now and my return, the MNB archives will, of course, be open.

    Thanks…I hope you'll also get some time this summer to recharge your batteries.

    And, as always…

    Stay safe.  Be healthy.