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    Published on: October 22, 2021

    Starbucks and Netflix are teaming up to start a book club with an unusual twist that they hope will create greater customer engagement.  KC thinks it is ripe for the stealing.  Or imitating.  Or mimicking.  (Whatever works.)

    Published on: October 22, 2021

    The Verge reports that "Amazon has announced a tool that will give sellers access to information about what shoppers are currently looking for and help make it easier to choose which products to create next. Amazon calls it the Product Opportunity Explorer and says that it’ll give sellers access to data and trends that will help them 'identify opportunities to launch new, high-potential products to serve unmet customer demand.'

    "With Amazon’s track record of copying popular products and selling them under its Amazon Basics brand, an obvious concern with this tool is where the data is coming from and how granular it is. While Amazon quotes a seller saying that they’re excited to get 'recommendations specifically relevant' to their business, it’s easy to imagine other sellers being nervous that Amazon’s suggestions could direct businesses to rip off existing products."

    The story goes on:  "The tool will also give broader category and subcategory metrics, such as what people are searching for, pricing trends, and the like. In its press release, Amazon says that the tool gives sellers 'rich insights into what customers are searching for, clicking on, and buying, as well as not buying,' along with 'detailed data on search volume and growth, sales history, and pricing trends'."

    KC's View:

    One of the things that the story correctly points out is that there may be some apprehension about this data being available - not because third party sellers will have access to it, but because Amazon does.  The company already is under fire for using third party seller data when making decisions about private label development, and while it may view this as evening the playing field, I'm not sure that this is fair - after all, Amazon has superior analytics and speed.  Third party sellers may have info, but will have significantly less capacity to use it.

    Published on: October 22, 2021

    Harvard Business Review has an interesting piece by Bill Taylor (former editor of Fast Company) in which he argues that one of the most important chapters in any business success story often is facing "at least one 'near-death experience' during the course of its long-term success. I don’t mean a few quarters of sluggish growth or a one-time product flop, but a radical shift in its market, a major technology disruption, or a disastrous strategic bet that threatened the company’s very existence."

    This fact, Taylor suggests, is because it is "hard for companies and leaders to embrace change and break with the past without a near-death experience … too many companies and leaders, and often the best companies and the most successful leaders, struggle with the frustrating reality that the more deeply immersed you are in a market, a product category, or a technology, the harder it becomes to open your mind to new business models that may reshape that market or exciting ways to leapfrog that technology. Past results may not be the enemy of subsequent breakthroughs, but they can constrain your capacity to grasp the future."

    Provocative piece, and you can read it here.

    Published on: October 22, 2021

    Fast Company has an interview with Natalie Berg, founder of NBK Retail consultancy and coauthor of "Amazon: How the World’s Most Relentless Retailer Will Continue to Revolutionize Commerce."

    Berg argues that "Amazon has embedded itself in our lives and in our homes, unlike any other retailer before; Alexa seamlessly funnels purchases through to Amazon’s platform. You don’t need a store or screen to go shopping, because you can be in your kitchen, asking Alexa to add things to your list. In the future, consumers will be able to completely opt out of the transaction. We’ll never have to think about buying bleach and toilet paper and toothpaste - all the non-emotive boring things that we need but don’t really want to think about buying."

    One of the things that Prime did, Berg says, "was to remove the need to consolidate orders. You could just choose that random thing that you needed straightaway, and it would turn up the next day - and you’d feel no guilt about it."

    But now, she says,  "That’s starting to shift. There’s an opportunity now to retrain consumers to expect slower delivery."

    KC's View:

    Wouldn't it be pretty to think so?

    I agree with her observations about the value of taking customers out of the transaction and removing any friction that might exist - that's been one of Amazon's great contributions to the e-commerce experience.  But I'm not quite as confident that consumers will be willing to accept slower delivery;  we've all been trained to expect faster (hence, the moves by a number of grocers lately to promote 30-minute deliveries on orders).

    Maybe a narrative can be created that will make slower a virtue.  But I'm skeptical.

    Published on: October 22, 2021

    Bloomberg writes that "people across the U.S. have been advised to throw away all unlabeled red, white and yellow onions after a mass salmonella outbreak sickened hundreds of people across 37 states.

    "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said one source of infections had been traced to onions imported from Chihuahua, Mexico, and distributed by ProSource Inc.

    "So far 652 people have been reported sick, with 129 hospitalized. No deaths have been reported. The CDC said the actual number of people made ill was likely to be much higher, with most going unreported. Infections were recorded between May 31 and Sept. 30 … The CDC advises people not to buy any onions imported from Chihuahua, to throw away all onions that don’t have a sticker or packaging and to wash all surfaces and container that may have touched the onions using hot soapy water or a dishwasher. Symptoms of salmonella include diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps that start six hours to six days after eating contaminated food."

    KC's View:

    There will be a lot of onions not from Chihuahua that will get thrown out, which is why we need superior and nuanced tracking technologies that can easily, clearly and quickly differentiate between the onions that are perilous and those that are not.

    Published on: October 22, 2021

    The New York Times reports that more than 1,700 hourly Amazon workers at its Staten Island, New York distribution center have signed commitments authorizing "the Amazon Labor Union to represent me for the purpose of collective bargaining."

    According to the Times, "The commitments are the results of six months of organizing at Amazon’s only fulfillment center in New York City. The organizers expect to have several hundred more by Monday, when they plan to file for a union election.

    "If the National Labor Relations Board validates their request, it could bring the second unionization vote at an Amazon warehouse in less than a year. In April, Amazon defeated a union election at its warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., in what was the gravest union threat the company had faced in its history. The workers’ effort attracted national attention, including visits from Senator Bernie Sanders and a tacit nod of support from President Biden.

    "Unlike the Alabama drive, which was run by a national retail workers union, the one in Staten Island is being organized by current and former Amazon workers aiming to form a new independent union, called the Amazon Labor Union. The drive is led by Christian Smalls, a former employee at the warehouse who became the face of worker unrest at the company last year."

    The Times notes that "the unionization push reflects the growing labor challenges that Amazon and other large employers face as the pandemic has given workers across the economic spectrum an upper hand for the first time in decades. Unleashed by the pandemic’s shock to their daily lives, workers have gone out on strike at John Deere and at plants that make Oreos and other Nabisco snacks as well as Kellogg cereals like Frosted Flakes, and nearly walked off sets in Hollywood. And workers at some Starbucks locations have filed to form a union."

    KC's View:

    Not sure why, but it feels to me like Amazon may lose this one … and the dominos may begin to fall.

    Published on: October 22, 2021

    Supply chain issues, it seems, are hitting everybody.

     The New York Times has a piece about the resurgence of vinyl records, pointing out that "in the first six months of this year, 17 million vinyl records were sold in the United States, generating $467 million in retail revenue, nearly double the amount from the same period in 2020, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Sixteen million CDs were also sold in the first half of 2021, worth just $205 million. Physical recordings are now just a sliver of the overall music business — streaming is 84 percent of domestic revenue — but they can be a strong indication of fan loyalty, and stars like Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo make vinyl an important part of their marketing."

    Here's the problem:  "There are worrying signs that the vinyl bonanza has exceeded the industrial capacity needed to sustain it. Production logjams and a reliance on balky, decades-old pressing machines have led to what executives say are unprecedented delays. A couple of years ago, a new record could be turned around in a few months; now it can take up to a year, wreaking havoc on artists’ release plans."

    According to the story, "Music and manufacturing experts cite a variety of factors behind the holdup. The pandemic shut down many plants for a time, and problems in the global supply chain have slowed the movement of everything from cardboard and polyvinyl chloride — the 'vinyl' that records (and plumbing pipes) are made from — to finished albums. In early 2020, a fire destroyed one of only two plants in the world that made lacquer discs, an essential part of the record-making process."

    And, the Times writes, "Not even the biggest stars are immune. In an interview this month with BBC Radio, Adele, whose album '30' is due Nov. 19 — and is sure to be a blockbuster on LP — said her release date had been set six months ago to get vinyl and CDs made in time.

    Published on: October 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…

    •  Here are the US Covid-19 coronavirus numbers:  46,174,547 total cases … 753,747 deaths … and 35,898,041 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  243,397,606 total cases … 4,947,807 fatalities … and 220,558,314 reported recoveries.  (Source.)



    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 77.4 percent of the US population age 12 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 66.9 percent of that group being fully vaccinated.

    The CDC also says that 15.7 percent of the US population age 65 and older age 65 and older has received a vaccine booster shot.



    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky recommended Covid-19 booster shots from Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson and backed mixing vaccines with a different booster dose.

    "With Dr. Walensky’s greenlight Thursday, the vaccine doses can now become available at doctor’s offices, pharmacies and vaccination sites on Friday, a CDC spokeswoman said. It follows unanimous recommendations from a panel of experts advising the CDC … The moves follow the Food and Drug Administration’s authorization Wednesday of Moderna’s and Johnson & Johnson’s booster shots. The FDA also said people can get an extra dose that is different from the vaccine they received for their primary series."



    •  The Washington Post reports that "the number of Americans getting coronavirus vaccine boosters is outpacing the number of those getting their first vaccine shots, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For the week ending Tuesday, a daily average of roughly 340,000 people received booster shots. Meanwhile, an average of 157,605 people each day received their first vaccine shot during the comparable period of time, government data shows.

    "The numbers represent the vaccination gap among Americans. As additional vaccines are authorized by federal regulators as boosters, more people who had already been immunized will get further protection. At the same time, a large number of people nationwide remain unvaccinated, underscoring the challenge of improving protection against the coronavirus for the general population."

    Published on: October 22, 2021

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  From CNBC, more evidence that consumer addiction of speedy deliveries is being encouraged:

    "From the Upper East Side to Williamsburg, delivery company names are plastered on subway turnstiles, bike docks, bus shelters and backpacks of cycling couriers zooming by. They promise to get milk, frozen pizza, diapers and other online purchases to customers’ doors almost instantly.

    "The explosion of ultrafast delivery services has turned New York City into a testing ground. Gopuff, a pioneer in the “instant needs” category, launched Wednesday in New York City. International players, including Russia-born Buyk and Berlin-based Gorillas, have launched in the city over the past few months. And more are coming, including Turkey’s Getir.

    "All are making a similar bet: consumers want their goods faster and without leaving home."  The story notes that "the wave of companies operate differently from third-party delivery services like Instacart, DoorDash and UberEats — and act more like retailers.

    "Across the city, they have opened “dark stores.” They resemble mini warehouses with central locations for quick deliveries to different parts of town. The stores are closed to customers, but have aisles of fruits and vegetables, coolers filled with yogurt and milk, and shelves stuffed with snacks."

    There is, of course, one common problem:  "They still have to prove they can stand out in a crowded field and turn a profit."



    •  Fast Company has a story suggesting that any move by Facebook to change its name - a report to this effect made the founds this week, though Facebook itself is not commenting on it - is akin to how, "two decades ago, tobacco behemoth Philip Morris announced its intention to change its name to the Altria Group."

    They company said that "altria" It comes from the Latin word altus, meaning “high,” and "according to company execs at the time was meant to suggest high performance."  But the real reason that the company wanted to reduce the visibility of the Philip Morris name, the story suggests, is that everybody knew it was a tobacco company.  Calling it Altria, it hoped, would reduce the intensity of the tobacco stains on its reputation.

    Facebook can "rebrand the company with a new name, to signal its ambition to be known for more than social media," Fast Company says, but… "A rebrand is a lot of things, but it can’t fix the body-image issues of one in three teen girls on Instagram or obviate the blame teens apportion the platform for increased anxiety and depression.

    "Nor will it erase whistleblower Frances Haugen’s appearance on 60 Minutes and before a Congressional committee, testifying that Facebook always chooses what’s best for its bottom line over public health and safety. What Facebook needs, at minimum, is real, difficult, foundational change. But that’s hard compared to a transparent, superficial PR move."

    I wish I'd thought of this comparison when first reporting the possibility that Facebook would change its name - it seems apt.  Facebook seems to be having a big tobacco moment, and some of its executives seem as tone-deaf and unethical as those tobacco executives were (and are).  I've been saying for years that there will be a special circle in hell reserved for tobacco executives, but that may have to enlarge that circle to accommodate the executives who think it is just fine to use social media to enrage and scare people and encourage suicidal thoughts in vulnerable teens.

    Published on: October 22, 2021

    •  USA Today reports that Walmart "announced Thursday that it is 'delivering added convenience' with extended store delivery hours, more delivery windows and increased selection for same-day and next-day orders coming from local stores.

    "'We are extending our delivery hours by two hours meaning drivers will be making deliveries from stores to doors until 10 p.m. local time,' Tom Ward, Walmart U.S. senior vice president of last mile, said in a blog post Thursday. 'This allows customers to place orders up to 6 p.m. for same day or next day deliveries'."

    Published on: October 22, 2021

    •  From the Associated Press:

    "The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to a new low point since the pandemic erupted, evidence that layoffs are declining as companies hold onto workers.

    "Unemployment claims dropped 6,000 to 290,000 last week, the third straight drop, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s the fewest people to apply for benefits since March 14, 2020, when the pandemic intensified. Applications for jobless aid, which generally track the pace of layoffs, have fallen steadily from about 900,000 in January."



    Kroger announced that its retail media business, Kroger Precision Marketing (KPM) powered by 84.51°, is launching what id described as "a new private programmatic advertising marketplace. The Kroger Private Marketplace allows agencies and brands to reach consumers by applying Kroger audience data to programmatic campaigns within their preferred ad-buying platform … The Kroger Private Marketplace makes buying easier while providing advertisers unmatched flexibility, speed, and control of their campaigns. For the first time, brands can now reach the most relevant consumers across the web, using their own DSP of choice, and then optimize performance against actual retail sales.

    "Advertisers tailor their audiences to match campaign objectives using targeting science exclusively available through Kroger Precision Marketing. The platform pre-optimizes audiences to achieve business outcomes. For example, when aiming for conversions, the targeting science will enable brands to reach relevant households that will deliver the strongest sales impact. These activations have resulted in household penetration gains from new and lapsed households – with at least 3x more sales than the average consumer (84.51° internal 2021)."



    •  Newsday reports that The NPD Group, a prominent market research firm, has been acquired by San Francisco-based private equity group Hellman & Friedman.

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    The story notes that NPD "uses point-of-sale data and consumer surveys to underpin research on apparel, appliances, automotive, food, electronics, retail, sports, video games and other consumer segments."



    •  Bloomberg reports that "consumers around the world are about to get socked with even higher prices on everyday items, companies from food giant Unilever Plc to lubricant maker WD-40 Co. warned this week as they grapple with supply difficulties … Companies are facing a dire mix of supply-chain challenges, as well as higher costs for energy, raw materials, packaging and shipping. While most consumer-goods makers reporting results this week expressed confidence that they’ll be able to limit the long-term hit to profitability, that means the pain passes to consumers, upping the squeeze on pockets as Christmas approaches."

    In the case of Unilever, the story says, "The maker of Dove soap and Magnum ice-cream bars jacked up prices by more than 4% on average last quarter, the biggest jump since 2012, and signaled elevated pricing will continue into next year. A similar refrain came from Nestle SA, Procter & Gamble Co. and Danone SA, whose products dominate supermarket aisles and kitchen cupboards.  'We’re in for at least another 12 months of inflationary pressures,' Unilever CEO Alan Jope said in a Bloomberg Television interview. 'We are in a once-in-two-decades inflationary environment'."

    Published on: October 22, 2021

    In the National League Championship Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers kept their World Series hopes alive with an 11-2 defeat of the Atlanta Braves.  The Braves still hold a 3-2 game lead in the best-of-seven series.



    In Thursday Night Football, the Cleveland Browns defeated the Denver Broncos 17-14.

    Published on: October 22, 2021

    Content Guy's Note:  Gregory Galloway is out with a new novel, "Just Thieves," which is one of my favorite books of the past year - a terrific piece of noir fiction that starts out with a compelling, unforgettable image and proceeds by creating a universe where existential dread is like the air that the characters breathe.  I loved it.  "Just Thieves" struck me as wholly original while being respectful of its noir forebears - no small trick, and Galloway totally pulls it off.

    I wanted to know more about the author and his approach to fiction, as well as wanting to recommend "Just Thieves" to the MNB audience.  So I caught up with Gregory Galloway via Zoom for a conversation that I hope you find to be as enjoyable as I did.

    You can buy "Just Thieves," at Amazon, Bookshop.org, at the iconic independent  bookseller Powell's, or wherever books are sold.