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    Published on: September 16, 2021

    There's a new cohort out there, getting on social media and looking to persuade folks to adapt their approaches to life, fitness, health and relationships.  They're called "grand-influencers," and KC suggests that sometimes it makes sense to have an old arrow in a new quiver.

    Published on: September 16, 2021

    While the US Congress and federal regulators have seem inclined to aggressively regulate big tech companies such as Amazon, a dozen former national security officials are asking for a pause in those efforts.

    Axios writes that the officials are arguing that "antitrust legislation to break up U.S. tech giants — without targeting Chinese companies like Huawei, Tencent and Alibaba — could impede innovation 'critical to maintaining America’s technological edge'."

    The group of officials is bipartisan in nature;  among them are former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

    In a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California), the former officials suggest that "in its quest to 'undermine U.S. influence' and become 'the world's leading innovator,' the Chinese government employs policies designed to 'create and support 'national champion' technology companies."

    Axios notes that this is precisely the argument that a number of US tech companies have been making, but to no avail.  The story also points out that "since leaving public service, several of the letter's signatories have joined the boards of organizations that receive funding or do work for tech firms like Google and Amazon."

    Proponents of more stringent regulation and even breaking up of the tech companies take the position that innovation is spurred by competition, and that the major technology companies are anti-competitive … and, by extension, actually are limiting innovation.

    KC's View:

    The feeling until now seems to have been that some sort of increased regulation of big tech companies - including  Amazon - was inevitable, and maybe even forced breakup of one or more of them.  (Though, to be sure, court challenges could delay any actions for some time.)

    I have to wonder if the innovation vs. competition conversation will take place in any sort of meaningful way.  The initial reaction from lawmakers seen as hostile to these companies wasn't open-minded, and, to be honest, I'm not sure how to resolve the question.

    Published on: September 16, 2021

    The BBC reports that Tesco plans to test a reusable packaging program in 10 stores in the East of England, hoping that the "zero waste shopping service" will meet the "demand for less single-use plastic packaging."

    According to the story, "Customers will be able to buy common household goods in reusable packaging that can be returned to the store to be used again … Tesco says that if customers at the 10 stores were to switch just three products in their weekly shop, such as tomato ketchup, a bottle of soft drink and washing-up liquid, the packaging would be used and reused more than two-and-a-half million times a year."

    The BBC goes on:  "Shoppers will be able to opt to purchase 88 popular products with reusable and durable packaging, including Persil washing up powder, Fever-Tree drinks and mixers, Carex handwash, Tetley Tea and BrewDog beers.

    "The reusable packaging and zero-waste shopping experience is provided through Tesco's partnership with reusable packaging platform Loop.

    "But regular versions of these products using single-use packaging, including plastic, cardboard, glass and Tetra Paks, will still continue to be available at the stores."

    The BBC also notes that "This is different from the zero-waste shop movement run by small, independent businesses.  That traditionally encourages shoppers to bring their own containers or make use of paper bags or existing containers, such as glass jars, Tupperware boxes or old metal biscuit tins, that have been donated by the local community for people to use.

    "Rival supermarket chain Waitrose began trialling zero-waste shopping in 2019, offering large dispensers for foodstuffs and encouraging shoppers to bring their own packaging, similar to the zero-waste entrepreneurs."

    KC's View:

    The only way that these kinds of initiatives will get any traction will be if they are marketed to consumers with the same vigor as soap and beer. It remains to be seen if that's going to happen.

    Published on: September 16, 2021

    The Wall Street Journal reports that new research from data analytics firm suggests that the summer brought a reprieve for the troubled shopping mall industry.

    "In July," the story says, "mall foot traffic surpassed 2019 levels for the first time since the pandemic started, according to data analytics firm Mall visits overall were up 0.7% from July 2019, led by trips to outdoor malls, which were up 2.1%.

    The reason:  After 18 months of being essentially locked down because of Covid-19, people were itching to get out … ands then go inside a mall, apparently.

    Some context from the Journal story:

    "The increase in visits lifted retail sales, helping drive up the share prices of the country’s biggest publicly traded mall owners. Some, such as Macerich Co. and Simon Property Group Inc., are up more than 50% year-to-date, easily surpassing the S&P 500 index’s roughly 19% return for the year.

    "The rise in foot traffic is also good news for mall investors who in the early months of the pandemic feared a battering. Justin Kennedy, managing partner of the property lender and investor 3650 REIT, said his firm’s investments in mall-mortgage-backed securities fared better than he initially feared.  The company is now looking for more malls to invest in, he said.

    "Still, the sector faces fresh challenges in the months ahead. Colder weather often weighs on outdoor shopping centers, while the rise in Covid-19 infections could make more shoppers hesitant to visit indoor malls, analysts said."

    KC's View:

    The thing about this report is that, to be fair, malls weren't exactly in a great place in 2019.  

    It was in 2018 that MNBN took note of an Axios story about how former JC Penney CEO Mike Ullman disputed projections from some quarters that roughly 25 percent of the nation’s 1,200 malls will close because of online competition and shifting consumer shopping habits.  It will, Ullman said, be much worse.

    According to the story, “Ullman reversed the numbers, estimating that only about 300 malls will make it. The rest will close over the next five years, becoming victims of decades-long changes in consumer taste, including the recent impact of Amazonization … Ullman said malls must have adequate cash or access to financing to make the transition to a new style of retail, in addition to a location catering to the top income quartile.”

    That sounded reasonable to me then, and it sounds reasonable now … especially now that so many malls had to suffer through the hellscape that was the pandemic.

    Published on: September 16, 2021

    Bloomberg reports on new climate change prognostications by the Stockholm Environment Institute suggesting that "production of key crops including sugar and coffee could drop by as much as 59% in the long-term due to climate change" and that "corn production in the U.S. alone could plunge almost half in the long-term (2070-2099) due to warmer temperatures, according to the institute, putting countries that buy the crop at risk."

    Climate changes could mean that corn "output in Russia and Canada may rise by 13% and 17%, respectively, but not enough to offset shortfalls elsewhere," the study says.

    Changes in the climate could also mean that "wheat production could rise 14%," but "this may require costly moving of production to Europe and parts of South America and Asia. Russia and Canada could boost output of corn, soy and rice, however, growing areas would likely have to relocate within those countries, the authors said during a briefing."

    Published on: September 16, 2021

    The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating - and disturbing piece - about how Facebook's own research identified the degree to which its Instagram platform is creating significant mental health issues for teens, and then has played down the issue in public and refused to make the research available to legislators who have asked for it.

    The reason:  Money.

    "Expanding its base of young users is vital to the company’s more than $100 billion in annual revenue, and it doesn’t want to jeopardize their engagement with the platform," the Journal writes.  "More than 40% of Instagram’s users are 22 years old and younger, and about 22 million teens log onto Instagram in the U.S. each day, compared with five million teens logging onto Facebook, where young users have been shrinking for a decade, the materials show."

    The Facebook deep-dive into the impact of the Instagram platform on green mental health showed that  "some of the problems were specific to Instagram, and not social media more broadly," the Journal writes.  "That is especially true concerning so-called social comparison, which is when people assess their own value in relation to the attractiveness, wealth and success of others."  The result of such comparisons can be eating disorders, depression, or worse.

    You can read the story here.

    KC's View:

    I know this isn't strictly a retailing story, but I find this so appalling that I needed to share it.  Everybody should read it, and especially parents who have to help their teens deal with this crap.

    Published on: September 16, 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, there now have been a total of 42,479,780 cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 685,023 deaths and 32,271,084 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 227,268,290 total coronavirus cases, with 4,673,652 resultant fatalities and 203,970,323 reported recoveries. (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 74.1 percent of the US population age 12 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 63.3 percent being fully vaccinated.

    Published on: September 16, 2021

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Online bulk retailer Boxed announced that it is working with Asian retailer myAEON2go to use the Boxed online platform in Malaysia.

    According to the story, "AEON will use Boxed’s proprietary e-commerce technology to power myAEON2go at over 40 locations for both in-store pick-up or on-demand grocery delivery. The solution includes an e-commerce storefront website and mobile app, as well as proprietary inventory-picking software, allowing AEON customers the flexibility to shop for AEON products however they choose, whether picked up in-store, or delivered directly to their doorstep. In addition, the Boxed e-commerce technology will be deployed to the tenants of all AEON’s malls to power their e-commerce operations."

    This seems to be typical of the current Boxed strategy - find international partners that want to use its technology, and work to deploy it quickly as a way of gaining momentum and attract yet more retail partners.  It's different from what appeared to be the original business model, but sometimes you have to make adjustments in the interest of survival.

    Published on: September 16, 2021

    •  CNBC reports that "Walmart is expanding its self-driving vehicle program to include Ford Motor and Argo AI, an autonomous car start-up backed by the automaker.

    "The companies said Wednesday that the collaboration will use Ford Escape hybrids with Argo AI technology for Walmart deliveries in Miami, the District of Columbia and Austin, Texas.

    "The program will allow Walmart customers to place orders of groceries and other items online for door-to-door autonomous delivery."

    The story notes that "the new collaboration is the first multi-city service regarding autonomous vehicles for Walmart."

    Published on: September 16, 2021

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  OregonLive reports that coffee chain Dutch Bros. "hopes to raise up to $484 million in its initial public offering … which would make it the largest IPO in Oregon history — and the first to raise more than $100 million in 14 years."

    According to the story, "The IPO would also mint a new Oregon billionaire, with Dutch Bros chairman and co-founder Travis Boersma holding a stake worth as much as $1.43 billion, according to details disclosed for the first time in Tuesday’s filing.

    "Additionally, Boersma would control nearly three-quarters of all the voting shares in the company through a multi-tiered stock structure. Dutch Bros said Tuesday that its charter will contain provisions that will make it difficult for an outside investor to mount a hostile takeover of the business."

    Published on: September 16, 2021

    Some reactions to yesterday's FaceTime video in which I talked about little kids observing that "Amazon is going to take over the world" … and not in a good way.

    MNB reader Rich Heiland wrote:


    I agree Amazon should pay attention to this, but not sure what it means.

    First, will these young kids grow up and say “wow, I can get it tomorrow” and all if forgotten?

    Second, being old I can remember when a strip center was built on the edge of my hometown town and everyone, including me, thought it would be the end of downtown. It didn’t help. Then, Walmart came to town and everyone said that would be the end of downtown. Today downtown has given over to law offices, social services, antique stores etc. It’s not the downtown of my youth, but it’s more than twice as big as it was then.

    So, maybe the constant truth is that things change and whether it is for the worse depends on who you are, where you are, at what point in life you are. This old man who feared and mourned the death of downtown just got a notice that his Prime package has arrived. So....

    And, from another reader:

    Kids say the darndest things.. remember when Art Linkletter used that frame of reference?

    Kids see life through as little filter as possible. I love the honesty of their view on life. Sounds like good parenting.