business 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: September 22, 2021

    The goal of "The Innovation Conversation" is to explore some facet of the fast-changing, technology-driven retail landscape and how it affects businesses and consumers. It is, we think, fertile territory ... and one that Tom Furphy - a former Amazon executive, the originator of Amazon Fresh, and currently CEO and Managing Director of Consumer Equity Partners (CEP), a venture capital and venture development firm in Seattle, WA, that works with many top retailers and manufacturers - is uniquely positioned to address.

    Tom and KC consider the degree to which the National Grocers Association (NGA) Show and the Groceryshop technology conference, occurring this week simultaneously in Las Vegas, in some ways seem to be taking place on different planets.  Which is not to say one is better or more valuable than the other, just that the priorities and resources available to the people attending each seem to be so disparate.  The question is, which view of the world is more representative of what shoppers see as essential?  

    If you're interested in listening to an audio version this Innovation Conversation, you can do so here (or can download this file):

    Published on: September 22, 2021

    by Kevin Coupe

    This isn't really about business, though it certainly could have workplace applications.

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple "is working on technology to help diagnose depression and cognitive decline, aiming for tools that could expand the scope of its burgeoning health portfolio … Using an array of sensor data that includes mobility, physical activity, sleep patterns, typing behavior and more, researchers hope they can tease out digital signals associated with the target conditions so that algorithms can be created to detect them reliably, the people said."

    The story goes on to note that "Much of Apple’s past health work has focused on features for its smartwatch. The mental-health and cognitive-decline research leverages more-sensitive iPhone data and shows Apple’s health unit is now looking at features for the company’s flagship product, according to people familiar with the plans.

    "The research projects are still at early stages, and may never lead to new device features, the people said. While prior academic studies have shown some evidence that people with certain mental-health conditions use their digital devices differently than others, it remains to be seen if reliable algorithms can be created to detect the conditions, according to researchers."

    I have to admit, as someone who has lost relatives to cognitive decline, that I find this to be a fascinating possibility, though certainly there will have to be privacy issues with which Apple will have to grapple.  For example, it will have tio assure that this information will not be passed on to employers and/or insurers.

    But … in a compassionate society, knowledge like this could be extremely valuable to the person suffering from the cognitive decline.  In many ways, an Eye-Opener.

    Published on: September 22, 2021

    In Minnesota, the Star Tribune has an interview with retiring Target CIO Mike McNamara, who makes the point that one of the most important things that has happened in his six years with the company has been the move away from outsourcing its technology needs.

    "If you believe that technology is really important, then you don't give it to someone else to do," he says.  "If you think it's a strategic priority for the business, then you are going to do it yourself. That's driven a lot of what we have done over the last few years. We had to build a team internally and had to replace all of the outsource operations that we had, and then we had to really, really focus on creating just a great technology platform for Target's future."

    McNamara tells the paper that "Target's technology team of more than 4,500 employees is on stable footing. Less than 7% of work is now outsourced, compared with 70% before he took the helm."

    KC's View:

    To be fair, Target has the resources to make that shift.  Many retailers do not.

    But there also is something attitudinal here - an understanding that as much as possible, a retailer needs to own the customer experience (in-store and online), defining and differentiating it whenever and however possible.  It is about thinking strategically, not just tactically.

    And, it means not depending on an outside vendor to execute an increasingly important part of the business model, lest one lose that business to an increasingly rapacious vendor.

    Published on: September 22, 2021

    Walmart has announced that it "will spotlight particularly healthy or sustainable products with a new 'Built for Better' tag on its website, an attempt to entice shoppers who want to vote for better nutrition and environmental stewardship with their wallets," according to a Bloomberg story.

    "The initiative will start with almost 2,000 items, the world’s biggest retailer said Tuesday, and the number is set to grow. The goods will be grouped into two areas, those considered better for the customer’s health and those deemed good for the planet."

    The tags will read “Built for Better -- For You” and  “Built for Better -- For the Planet” depending on which set of criteria they fulfill, as the company works to put "human and environmental well-being at the center of the company’s business practices."

    “Customers have always trusted us for our low prices, but today they also want to know that the products they buy are good for their families, the people that made them and the planet,” Jane Ewing, Walmart’s senior vice president of sustainability, said in a blog post. “For many of our customers, living better means shopping intentionally and prioritizing brands and products that align with the things that matter to them.”

    KC's View:

    A word of advice: Make sure the reality matches the tags.  Because if they don't, the loss will be that of credibility.  (That's probably an understatement.)

    Published on: September 22, 2021

    From American Banker:

    "Big technology firms are racing to build financial super apps, and two of them — Amazon and Square — recently have made big moves to more directly connect the point of sale and nonpayment products such as loans.

    "Amazon is reportedly working on a new point-of-sale project to compete with payment processing firms such as PayPal, Square and traditional bank technology firms, and last week it deployed contactless, checkout-free technology at a non-Amazon merchant for the first time."

    Square, the story says, "has launched Cash App Pay, which allows consumers to make payments at merchants with their Cash App account; it is the latest in a series of add-ons for the popular peer-to-peer payment service Cash App."

    KC's View:

    They want to dominate and control as much of the financial services supply chain as they can, which makes a lot of sense from the business perspective, even if I, as a consumer, think that (as much as I feel a certain amount of antipathy toward traditional banks) this is not exactly where I want to do business.

    Published on: September 22, 2021

    MarketWatch reports that Albertsons announced that it is partnering with "shoppertainment" company Firework "to create shoppable livestreams and short videos."

    According to the story, "Albertsons will use Firework for short video content and cooking shows during the first phase of the partnership and move on to additional content in 2022. Livestreams are popular in China and have gained traction in the U.S. during the pandemic, when people couldn't or were hesitant to head to stores."

    Chris Rupp, chief customer and digital officer at Albertsons, said in a prepared statement that "this is about bringing delight and inspiration to digital shopping to make online experiences as fun as discovering new products in our stores."

    Published on: September 22, 2021

    Business Insider reports that Amazon, having installed AI cameras in more than half its delivery vehicles, says that the result has been a reduction in accidents and "other safety violations" now that it can keep an eye on its drivers.

    However, the story also says that "Amazon drivers say they are being punished for some driving habits that are considered safe and others that are beyond their control."  the drivers say that "the AI-powered cameras in Amazon's delivery vans unfairly penalized them for things such as looking at side mirrors, adjusting the radio, and even getting cut off in traffic by someone else."

    The story notes that "when the cameras spot possible unsafe driving 'events,' these instances factor into workers' performance scores and can, in turn, hurt their chances of getting bonuses, extra pay, and prizes. They can also affect the income of the Amazon delivery service partner itself."

    Which explains why the drivers are upset. The drivers think it is about money, not safety.

    Published on: September 22, 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 43,242,203 total Covid-19 coronavirus cases, resulting in 696,867 deaths and 32,830,025 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 230,318,726 total coronavirus cases, with 4,722,782 resultant deaths, and 207,030,233 reported recoveries. (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 74.8 percent of the US population age 12 and older has received at least one dose of vaccines with 64.1 percent being fully vaccinated.

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "Johnson & Johnson said a booster dose of its Covid-19 vaccine administered two months after the first shot increased protection against symptomatic illness in trial participants, as federal regulators evaluate data for the country’s strategy for rolling out boosters.

    "Data released Tuesday from a late-stage clinical trial showed that study participants in 10 countries including the U.S. who received a second dose of the company’s vaccine two months after the first had 75% protection against symptomatic Covid-19.

    "Participants in the U.S. had 94% protection against the illness. J&J didn’t explain the reason for the difference in efficacy rates."

    Published on: September 22, 2021

    •  Seeking Alpha  reports that Albertsons will pilot the DoorDash's DoubleDash delivery service, which "allows customers to add items from nearby stores to their initial delivery without an additional delivery fee or order minimum.

    "The feature is currently available at 7-Eleven, Walgreens, Wawa, QuickChek, The Ice Cream Shop and DashMart, a DoorDash-exclusive store, but the expansion of a partnership that has existed since June with Albertsons will mark the first time DoubleDash is used at a large-scale grocer."

    Published on: September 22, 2021

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  From the Seattle Times:

    "Fred Meyer and QFC stores violated federal labor law last fall when they barred employees from wearing Black Lives Matter buttons at work, according to the National Labor Relations Board.

    "Last week’s finding by the NLRB comes just over a year after Kroger, parent company of Fred Meyer and QFC, sparked a local controversy by ordering workers at Puget Sound-area stores not to wear BLM buttons to protest police violence against Black people.

    The buttons had been provided by the workers union, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 21, which then filed unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB … UFCW claimed the button ban violated federal law because it blocked workers from taking collective action and hadn’t been negotiated in advance."

    According to the story, "The NLRB will now try to negotiate a settlement between the union and Kroger that might involve changing company policy or other remedies. If a settlement isn’t reached, the NLRB can issue a formal complaint that might result in a trial."

    “We look forward to reviewing the proposed settlement agreement,” a Kroger spokesperson said in a statement. “Our company is unequivocal in standing with our black associates, deeply listening and taking action to advance more diverse, inclusive and equitable communities.”

    •  CNBC reports that "McDonald’s is pledging to offer sustainable Happy Meal toys made with dramatically less plastic by the end of 2025.

    "The fast-food giant said that it has already slashed use of virgin fossil fuel-based plastic in its toys by 30% worldwide since 2018 after starting the process in markets like France, the United Kingdom and Ireland. If it achieves the target it announced Tuesday, the company will have cut 90% of the amount of virgin fossil fuel-based plastic it used in the toys in 2018."

    •  The Chicago Sun Times reports that Guinness plans to open its second US brewery in Chicago:  "Guinness Chicago Taproom is expected to open in Fulton Market in 2023, with renovations expected to start this fall, the iconic Irish brewer announced Tuesday … The new pub and brewery will offer rotating menus of food and beer — including some brews available only in Chicago and others imported from various Guinness locations. However, Guinness also will continue to import stout from its original brewing location in Dublin."

    The first Guinness brewery in the US opened near Baltimore in 2018.

    Sounds to me like another good reason to go to Chicago.  Au Cheval is just a few blocks away, so I can imagine spending a bit of time in that neighborhood.

    Published on: September 22, 2021

    Got the following email from MNB reader Tom Murphy, i=on the subject of the choices independent retailers have to make:

    Throughout my 28 years as a grocery/retail industry executive and management consultant, I have seen countless situations where the business management team just could not get their heads around how technology could help them with efficiency and effectiveness.  I can’t tell you how many executives said, “give me a spare dollar and I will spend it on a new store”.  Now, back before Amazon, and to some degree, Walmart…total number of stores as well as locations (location, location, location) was the Holy Grail.  Along comes Walmart, upsetting the efficiency cart, and retailers slowly started making efficiency investments, as in ECR.  With Amazon, the digital age was launched which is typically “front of the store” or “consumer facing”.  This is where retail executives figured you added a few more poorly paid resources (always managing labor-costs over quality) vs. some unknown capability from those “mysterious IT folks”.

    For the smaller, e.g., mid-sized to very small independent grocers, the inside talent to understand and leverage digital has been a major problem.  Why?  These senior folks were raised as merchandisers or store operators…if they couldn’t actually touch it, it didn’t exist.  So now, here we are.  We need more grocery executives to seek help from those that understand technology and how it can help both with efficiency and effectiveness.  And for the most part, that knowledge will have to come extra-organization.  CART (Center for Advancing Retail & Technology) is an awesome source of information and talent that can be a start, but even that needs to be translated into hard dollars for grocery executives to bite.

    Maybe we just need a few more “tech weenies” at the executive level or in the board rooms to help with the awareness, knowledge, and value propositions to determine the investment needs and possible outcomes.  It will be a survival decision for many of those attending NGA!

    Responding to our story the other day about Amazon cluttering up search results with paid ads, MNB reader Jack Flanagan wrote:

    Long time Amazon user, fan and stockholder….and recovering retailer here.

    I found your comment resonating with me based on some other indicators.

    Used to always preorder the many books I read each year on Amazon. Release day prices were always great. For quite some time now many new releases are priced at only 10% off and that price is maintained for several weeks before a meaningful discount is offered.

    I’ve also noticed recently that many orders are received in packages that are grossly oversized for the contents. Doesn’t mean much for an order or two. However, how many millions of packages does Amazon ship daily ? If my experience is in any way representative, tens of thousands of packages daily are packed in excessive-cube boxes. Bad for waste stream, bad for cost of packaging cost and - depending on how Amazon pays for transportation - bad for outbound freight cost.

    Finally, I’ve had way too many orders miss promised delivery windows - in some cases by several days - even as the website promises delivery tomorrow for Prime orders - which these are.

    Yesterday MNB took note of a CNBC report that "CVS Health said on Monday it would fill as many as 25,000 clinical and retail jobs ahead of the flu season and as the United States prepares to administer booster Covid-19 vaccine shots.

    MNB reader Bill Spoehr responded:

    Where is CVS going to find the applicants to fill these positions?   Do they know something everyone else doesn’t?    A friend of mine says that we’ve entered a perpetual state of “shortage” – people, goods, and services.   A bit pessimistic, but accurate.  

    On another subject, from an MNB reader:

    Kevin - found the juxtaposition of the article on non-alcoholic beverages (which ended sadly!) and the following Door Dash alcohol delivery service story to be  interesting. 

    For those trying to cut down or eliminate alcohol in their lives and households, the Door Dash delivery ability is a dangerous option. 

    I completely understand the allure of getting drinks with dinner, but wonder about “over serving” and temptations. 

    And, on yet another subject, from MNB reader Brian Jobin

    Ever since I became a Category Manager I have followed you and your MorningNewsBeat articles. Love them. 

    Finally got to see you at yesterday’s kick off to the NGA and in my notes that I wrote,  the one word I wrote to take back is Possibilities. 

    There really are just so many possibilities out there. Whether you are a single store owner or 1,000 store owner. The possibilities are endless and we all just need to keep taking one step after another and eventually our growth and change will be exponential. 

    Thanks for yesterday. 

    My pleasure.  And thanks for the kind words.