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    Published on: October 7, 2021

    Beset by media attention, Senate subcommittee hearings and a whistleblower bearing damaging internal studies, Facebook reportedly is pausing many of its initiatives to conduct "reputational reviews."  KC thinks this is a good thing, as long as it is not just about optics.  But he also asks whether a "reputational review" is the same thing as nurturing one's value and brand proposition, and therefore ought to be part of the daily conduct of business.

    Published on: October 7, 2021

    Steven Burd, who served as Safeway's CEO between 1993 and 2013, testified yesterday in the criminal trial of Elizabeth Holmes, founder and former CEO of Theranos, saying that a financial commitment by the company of $85 million to the startup was predicated on false information provided by Holmes.

    CNN reports that Burd "aid he was drawn to Theranos for its promise of being able to conduct blood tests faster, cheaper and without the need of a full laboratory. Burd said he saw the potential for customers to get their blood tests done while shopping and to use that service to bring more customers into Safeway stores."

    According to the story, "Holmes and Theranos touted the promise of using their proprietary device to test for a conditions like cancer and diabetes with just a few drops of blood taken by a finger stick. Holmes catapulted her startup to a $9 billion valuation and secured key retail partnerships with both Safeway and Walgreens … Safeway invested hundreds of millions of dollars into building out clinics in 800 of its supermarkets to eventually offer Theranos blood tests, but reportedly dissolved its relationship with the company before it ever offered its services."

    Holmes, CNN writes, is "accused of knowingly misleading investors, patients, and doctors about the capabilities of her company in order to take their money. Holmes faces up to 20 years in prison. She has pleaded not guilty."

    KC's View:

    Steve Burd often seemed to be defined by his commitment to figuring out new ways to approach health care issues, both for employees and customers.  And so it somehow is not surprising that he would've been susceptible to the Theranos' pitch, no matter how outlandish those claims may have seemed to some people, who thought that the startup was defying laws of physics.

    Burd is a smart guy, but even he couldn't see that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

    Published on: October 7, 2021

    The Los Angeles Times reports that the Los Angeles City Council has approved a new ordinance that would require customers to provide proof of vaccination before  entering virtually any indoor venue, including shopping centers, restaurants, bars, coffee shops and movie theaters.

    The Hill reports that "the new ordinance does not apply to grocery stores and pharmacies."

    The ordinance, signed into law by Mayor Eric Garcetti, takes effect on November 4.

    “These new rules will encourage more people to get the shot, and make businesses safer for workers and customers — so that we can save more lives, better protect the vulnerable, and make our communities even safer as we fight this pandemic,” Garcetti said in a statement.

    The Times writes:  "The L.A. rules allow customers to submit written exemptions for religious or medical reasons, but businesses must require those customers to use outdoor facilities, or to show evidence of a recent negative COVID-19 test to come inside if no outdoor facilities are available. Customers who have no proof of vaccination or exemption can still enter briefly to use the restroom or pick up a takeout order, according to the ordinance.

    "Businesses that violate the rules can face escalating penalties under the ordinance, starting with a warning for a first violation, then a $1,000 fine for a second violation, eventually reaching a $5,000 penalty for a fourth or subsequent violation. The fines would begin to be enforced starting Nov. 29, according to the ordinance."

    KC's View:

    I am about as pro-vaccine as one can be, and I've stated here that employee vaccine mandates for businesses make a lot of sense - since public health officials have been very clear that broad vaccination of a significant majority of the population is the best way to arrest the pandemic, I do think that extraordinary steps need to be taken.

    But … I think this ordinance actually puts a lot of businesses in a very tough position, placing employees at the door to check vaccine cards and then double-check that they match customer IDs.  Who exactly are these employees going to be, and are they prepared and/or qualified to deal with recalcitrant customers?

    (While the ordinance seems not to apply to supermarkets, I know there are a number of food retailers out there who are very concerned that this is only a temporary exemption.)

    I'm okay with mask mandates at entertainment venues or on airplanes where you are packing in a lot of people close together, but this piece of legislation is a bridge too far that has the potential of creating real problems for businesses.

    If the goal is to get people all moving in the same direction together, this has the potential of driving an even greater wedge in between people.

    Published on: October 7, 2021

    Reuters reports that a proposed class action suit has been filed in Colorado federal court, accusing Amazon of "failing to pay warehouse workers for time spent undergoing COVID-19 screenings before clocking in at work" and "claiming the company made workers wait in long lines to answer questions and have their temperatures checked."

    According to the story, "The proposed class includes more than 10,000 people at five Colorado warehouses … The complaint says that beginning in March 2020 Amazon required employees at Colorado warehouses to arrive early, wait in lines outside the facilities, and then answer questions and check their temperature once they were inside. The process generally took 20 to 60 minutes, according to the lawsuit.

    "That time is compensable under Colorado law, which says workers must be paid when they are required to be on their employer's premises or on duty, according to the suit."

    While Amazon has not responded to this specific suit, the company "has argued in a similar lawsuit in California federal court that because the screenings primarily benefit workers, they do not amount to compensable time under federal wage law.

    "Walmart has raised the same defense in a proposed class action in Arizona federal court claiming the retail giant's failure to pay employees for time spent in COVID screenings violated state law."

    KC's View:

    Wait a minute.

    Covid screenings before working in a warehouse primarily benefit workers?

    Really?  Because it seems to me that if an infected person goes to work in a warehouse and infects a lot of other people, decimating the workforce, it could have a pretty profound impact on the retailers' ability to deliver on their promises to customers.

    Sure, workers benefit from being tested.  But let's not labor under the delusion that these tests were offered as some sort of selfless act on the part of the warehouse.

    We write here often about the difference between treating employees like a cost and treating them like an asset.  Seems to me that this is a prime example of how tell employees that they are simply commodities that can be replaced.

    Published on: October 7, 2021

    Variety reports that Meredith, publisher of print magazine titles that are familiar to anyone who has been to a supermarket front end - such as People, EW, Better Homes & Gardens and InStyle - "will become part of Dotdash, the digital publishing division of Barry Diller’s IAC holding company, under a proposed takeover deal. The terms give the deal an enterprise value of about $2.7 billion.

    "Under the deal, Dotdash will acquire Meredith in an all-cash transaction at a purchase price of $42.18 per share. The transaction is expected to close by the end of 2021. The proposed deal does not include Meredith’s local TV business, which the company agreed to sell to Gray Television for $2.7 billion earlier this year.

    "The combined company is to be called Dotdash Meredith and led by Dotdash CEO Neil Vogel."

    The story notes that "on its own, Dotdash currently reaches approximately 100 million online consumers monthly. The combined company would reach 175 million online consumers monthly, including 95% of U.S. women, according to the companies."

    KC's View:

    This is an interesting move that I think may be worth additional consideration here down the road.

    I often find myself siding with the print-is-dead cohort, but this move suggests that there are some big money players out there who continue to bet on print, or at least some unique combination of print and digital.  This is important to retailers who are selling these titles, and who depend on the level of engagement that they offer to shoppers.

    Published on: October 7, 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 44,918,565 total Covid-19 coronavirus cases, resulting in 727,710 deaths and 34,392,326 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 237,189,242 total cases, with 4,842,913 resultant fatalities and 214,330,355 reported recoveries.  (Source.)



    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (*CDC) says that 76.1 percent of the US population age 12 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 65.7 percent being fully vaccinated.  

    The CDC says that 8.9 percent of the US population age 65 and older has received a vaccine booster shot.



    •  From Axios:

    "COVID-19 cases have been falling across the U.S. for weeks — and now deaths are finally on the decline, too … The Delta wave may truly be behind us, and though unvaccinated people in heavily unvaccinated areas will always remain at risk, getting the virus under control would allow the country as a whole to breathe a little easier this fall."

    The story notes that the daily new case rate has dropped by 22 percent in the last two weeks, and "deaths are also falling, by a nationwide average of about 13%. The virus is now killing roughly 1,800 Americans per day.

    "Deaths had been rising for the past few weeks even as infections declined. That’s to be expected — deaths are the last number to go up when a new wave sets in, and the last to go down when that wave ebbs."

    To put that in context, Axios writes, "A year ago, when no one was vaccinated and the worst wave of the pandemic was just getting started, experts were sounding the alarm because cases had crept up above 50,000.

    "To be sitting above 100,000 daily cases now, even after millions of Americans have been vaccinated or have some level of immunity from a previous infection, is a sign of just how transmissible the Delta variant is and how poorly the U.S. has contained it."



    •  The Washington Post reports that "the White House announced Wednesday that it will buy $1 billion worth of rapid, at-home coronavirus tests to address ongoing shortages, a plan hailed by public health experts who called the move long overdue.

    "The actions will quadruple the number of tests available to Americans by December, according to Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator. The news follows Monday’s decision by the Food and Drug Administration to allow the sale of an antigen test from U.S.-based Acon Laboratories.

    "The White House expects that decision and the purchase of the additional tests will increase the number of at-home tests to 200 million per month by December."



    •  Bloomberg reports that Justin Trudeau unveiled a vaccine mandate for federally regulated industries in Canada, following through on an election pledge he made during his successful bid for a third term.

    "The prime minister and his deputy, Chrystia Freeland, announced new rules Wednesday requiring passengers age 12 or older on planes, trains and cruise ships within the country to be fully vaccinated as of Oct. 30. Individuals who are in the process of being inoculated will be able to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test to travel during a transition period, which will end of Nov. 30."



    •  And, in something of a change of pace, there's a vaccine story that has nothing to do with Covid-19.

    The New York Times reports that the World Health Organization (WHO) has approved  a malaria vaccine which it says could save tens of thousands of lives in Africa each year.

    Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general, said that it is "recommending the broad use of the world’s first malaria vaccine. This recommendation is based on results from an ongoing pilot program in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that has reached more than 800,000 children since 2019. This long-awaited malaria vaccine is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control. Using this vaccine, in addition to existing tools to prevent malaria, could save tens of thousands of young lives each year."

    According to the story, "Malaria is rare in the developed world. There are just 2,000 cases in the United States each year, mostly among travelers returning from countries in which the disease is endemic … In clinical trials, the vaccine had an efficacy of about 50 percent against severe malaria in the first year, but the figure dropped close to zero by the fourth year."

    Based on the Covid experience, I think we're pretty lucky that we don't have a lot of malaria in the US, and so don't really have a need for this vaccine.  Because even if we did, there no doubt would be people questioning whether malaria is even a thing, whether the media is hyping the mortality rates, and whether vaccine mandates to keep people from dying of malaria and promote broad public health is an abridgment of their individual rights.

    Published on: October 7, 2021

    •  Bloomberg reports that "New York City agreed not to enforce against DoorDash Inc. a new law requiring food-delivery services to share customer information with restaurants while a legal challenge by the company plays out in court … the city said in a filing in Manhattan federal court that it would put the law on hold against DoorDash until the suit the company filed last month is resolved. DoorDash said it was withdrawing its request for an order blocking enforcement of the law, which is still set to go into effect against other food-delivery apps on Dec. 27. 

    "DoorDash claims the law, which requires delivery companies to share with requesting restaurants the names, phone numbers and email addresses of customers who’ve ordered their food, violates its customers’ privacy."



    •  Bloomberg reports that Twitch, the video game streaming platform owned by Amazon, has been hacked.

    The story says that the hacker claims "to have exposed sensitive source code and detail on payouts to content creators, according to multiple media reports. Twitch confirmed the breach and said it will provide updates when it has more information … The leak also exposed Amazon’s development of a digital gaming distribution platform, a potential challenger to Valve Corp.’s dominant Steam storefront."

    In an online posting, the hacker said that the action was taken to “foster more disruption and competition in the online video streaming space,” which the hacker called a “disgusting toxic cesspool."

    Published on: October 7, 2021

    •  "The September 2021 update to foot traffic analytics firm Placer.ai’s Mall Index shows that after breaching pre-pandemic foot traffic levels in July, U.S. shopping malls are seeing visitor counts decline heading into the fall. In July, visits to indoor malls had been up 1% over July 2019, and up 1.8% at outdoor malls. But as of September, visits were down 6.5% at indoor malls and 5.2% at outdoor malls compared to the same month in 2019. What happened? A rise in COVID cases was part of it, along with an early Labor Day weekend, among other factors."

    However, Placer.ai says there are reasons for malls to have some level of optimism:  "The report notes that certain factors, like retail seasonality, may benefit malls in the coming months. Weekly data already showed some improvement, with visits during the week of September 20 increasing 1.7% at indoor malls and 2.5% at outdoor malls over the week of September 13 … But looking further out, it’s the holiday season that may deliver big increases in foot traffic."

    Published on: October 7, 2021

    Eddie Robinson, described by the Washington Post as "the oldest living former major league baseball player, who spent 65 years in the sport as a player, scout and executive and was the last surviving member of the 1948 World Series champion Cleveland Indians," has passed away.  He was 100.

    Some excerpts from the Post obituary:

    •  "A strapping first baseman who played his first professional game in 1939, Mr. Robinson was a four-time all-star and played with seven of the eight franchises then in the American League, including the old Washington Senators, before retiring in 1957.

    He made his major league debut with the Indians in 1942, served in the Navy during World War II, then became a cornerstone of a powerful 1948 Indians team that included six players later enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame: Bob Feller, Paige, Lou Boudreau, Larry Doby, Joe Gordon and Bob Lemon.  The Indians beat the Boston Red Sox in a playoff game to win the American League pennant, then faced the Boston Braves in the World Series … In the sixth and final game, played in Boston, Mr. Robinson drove in what proved to be the winning run, with an eighth-inning single off Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn to give Cleveland a 4-1 lead. The Indians shut down a Boston rally, then held on to win, 4-3, and claim the World Series title."

    •  "He was a left-handed hitter who drove in at least 100 runs three times — twice with the White Sox in 1951 and 1952 and again in 1953, his only season with the Philadelphia Athletics.  He was the American League’s starting first baseman in the 1949 and 1952 all-star games and drove in Yankee superstar DiMaggio with a hit in the 1949 game."

    •  Ted Williams once called Mr. Robinson “the most underrated and best clutch hitter I ever played against.”

    KC's View:

    Here's my favorite passage from the Post obit…

    Mr. Robinson helped Babe Ruth onto a baseball field for the last time, was a teammate of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and onetime Negro Leagues phenomenon Satchel Paige, and played alongside Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams in all-star games. Still employed in baseball in the 21st century, he was honored at the 2016 World Series in Cleveland, when he was 95, and continued to follow the game closely until his death, including a podcast that he began this year.

    Wait a minute.  The guy is 100 years old and he started a podcast?

    Published on: October 7, 2021

    Yesterday we posted an email from MNB reader Steve Burbridge in which he expressed a certain dissatisfaction with the Walmart online experience, prompting another MNB reader to write:

    I read with interest Steve Burbridge’s experience with Walmart.com  . . . all I can say is “Welcome to Walmart”.  The app definitely has some challenges they need to get worked out sooner than later.  They definitely have not figured out the customer experience aspect as of yet.  One of the senior executives of old always said, “taking the money should be a fast and pleasurable experience as that is the last thing the customer is going to remember.”  Seems like the philosophy is struggling with .com.   One other thing I saw is Walmart is hoping to get to 1 hour delivery.  I just don’t see it happening as today, I was the only person waiting for an online grocery order at a store here in Rogers, AR and it took 20 minutes to get to me. 

    It is going to be interesting to see how they develop the app and improve the customer experience. 

    And Steve Burbridge also got back to me:

    I wanted to close the loop on the email I sent you yesterday about my order from Walmart.com.  The item arrived yesterday in the packaging in the picture below.  I was stunned.  A Walmart.com item is being fulfilled by Amazon?  I can't get my head around this, but someone at Walmart needs to do some due diligence on how their 3rd party market vendors are shipping goods from a Walmart.com order.



    Yesterday, MNB took note of a Bloomberg report that Walmart "has demoted the chief operating officer of its core U.S. business and installed a finance expert in the role, shuffling its senior leadership team just before the key holiday period.

    "Dacona Smith, one of the retailer’s highest-ranking Black executives, will shift to become executive vice president and chief operations officer of Walmart’s U.S. stores … Chris Nicholas, previously finance chief of the U.S. unit, will take over the COO role."

    Prompting one MNB reader to write:

    So it is ok to highlight Dacona’s ethnicity???  Why?  Does this have any barring on why this occurred?  Why not just report on the change?  Black, White, Asian, Native American, etc.   Who cares.  If we want to have everyone equal, then stop the ethnic tag remark. 

    I think this is a fair observation.

    As an explanation - not an excuse - I'd point out that the reference was by Bloomberg, not me … though I'll own it, since I quoted it.

    I think that Bloomberg would argue that because diversity is such a prized and much-talked-about priority in many companies, that made the reference appropriate.

    But in retrospect, I think I agree with you, and I should've edited out the specific language.



    MNB reader Gregory Gheen expressed some skepticism about the smart fridge that Amazon is said to be developing:

    If I only buy 1 item (not 5 and when I am down to 1 it notifies me), that lasts for 3 weeks, how does it know when the item is getting low or about to be finished? And what about expiring items? Will you have to scan the item into the fridge for it to read the expiration date? And how does the Smart Fridge see through products that do not have clear containers? Will it be scanning them via StarTrek technology to see if the container is half full (or half empty)?

    This sounds like its getting down to the lowest form of laziness to me. First its "I cant get off the couch to go shopping, order online and please deliver to my house". Now it's "I cant get off the couch to see what's in my fridge?"

    That's one way to characterize it.

    Then again, there are a lot of conveniences I have in my life right now that I never thought I'd need or want, and now I cannot imagine life without them.



    Regarding the Home Depot online experience, one MNB reader wrote:

    I think if you start ordering hardware needs online, you give up man points.  Part of the joy of hands-on building and repair is looking in person.  Which BTW, is a much more pleasant experience at Lowes.

    Y'know, it is possible to be a man and have no interest in or talent for hands-on building and repair.  Right?  And so, "man-points" gathered that way are meaningless.

    Just sayin.



    Finally, yesterday we posted an email from an MNB reader who was responding to all the stated plans by retailers to hire tens of thousands of people at a time when there is a labor shortage, saying that "baby boomers retiring by the thousands daily isn't helping this situation either."

    I commented:

    Wait a minute.  Baby boomers are retiring?  How come I didn't get the memo?

    MNB reader Deborah Faragher responded:

    Kevin—You buried the memo on retiring!  You love what you do too much to hang it up.  That is, until Mrs. Content Guy retires and you two go off into the Northwest sunset!!  

    FYI … Mrs. Content Guy is retired.

    Published on: October 7, 2021

    In a nail-biter of a National League Wild Card game, the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 3-1 on a bottom-of-the-ninth walk-off two-run home run by Chris Taylor.

    The Dodgers now go to San Francisco, where they will meet the NL western division champion Giants in the best-of-five NL Divisional Series, beginning Friday night.

    KC's View:

    I don't know about you, but two games into the postseason and I'm already exhausted.