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    Published on: November 8, 2021

    Big day for the Content Guy on Saturday - he got his Covid-19 vaccine booster shot, which made him feel like he was contributing to a return to whatever will pass for normal in the not-too-distant future.

    P.S., Forty-eight hours after getting the booster, KC feels fine - he took a long nap on Saturday afternoon, a couple of Tylenol PM tablets before going to bed, and now feels just dandy.  Even a little bulletproof.  (But just a little.)

    Also … KC wasn't the only one going public about his vaccination status:

    Which was a nice way to reassure the "Sesame Street" generation that vaccines are safe, reliable and necessary.

    Published on: November 8, 2021

    by Kevin Coupe

    I know that I've used Stew Leonard's a lot over the past 18 months as an example of how to market and communicate effectively during the pandemic … and this weekend, I got a prime example yet again of how to talk to shoppers at a time of uncertainty and confusion.

    It came in the form of an email to all the company's shoppers … signed by Stew Leonard Jr., and explained about how supply chain issues are affecting availability and supply, and offered suggestions for how customers could save money in the store (while acknowledging that the store's job is to get people to spend more not less).  

    I just think it was a terrific email, and illustrated what I've been talking about here on MNB - while out-of-stocks and inflation are off-putting to customers, they also can be an opportunity for a smart retailer to turn them into an opportunity to create and deepen relationships with those shoppers.

    Here it is … and I think it is an Eye-Opener about what is both possible and optimal.

    Published on: November 8, 2021

    Washington Post columnist Kara L. Miller had a piece over the weekend about how employers held onto workers during "the Great Resignation," writing that "good wages and benefits are a starting point, but I also heard about employers whose practices go beyond the basics in retaining and attracting new talent."

    Among the elements cited by Miller:

    "Trust: Remote-work options, flexible hours and autonomy were not just a public health necessity or a kindness during the coronavirus pandemic. They’re a sign that employers trust employees to manage their personal and professional responsibilities appropriately … Of course, not all jobs can be performed remotely, and allowing workers to set their own hours is not always possible, especially when the job involves hands-on care and service to meet client needs. In that case, employers have other options."

    "Appreciation that goes beyond monetary rewards: While many workers during the pandemic were grateful just to have a job, some employers put extra effort into showing appreciation for their work."

    "Support: In contrast to employers that disregarded protective protocols against the coronavirus and allowed clients to do the same, some employers are making sure to let employees know they have their back."

    KC's View:

    It really all adds up to the same thing, which is an approach that we've long promoted here on MNB - treating and viewing employees as if they are assets to the business, not a cost.  This means investing in people, which, as a result, will have people feeling invested in those businesses.

    This almost certainly won't last forever, but for the time being, we're living in a seller's market, and employers-of-choice are going to have an advantage in hiring, which will give them an additional advantage in terms of customer service.

    We can expect to see a lot of stories along these lines in coming days.  The New York Times, for example, has a story about how "retailers, expecting the holiday shopping season to be bustling once again this year after being upended by the coronavirus in 2020, are scrambling to find enough workers to staff their stores and distribution centers in a tight labor market. It is not proving easy to entice applicants to an industry that has been battered, more than most, by the pandemic’s many challenges, from fights over mask wearing to high rates of infection among employees. Willing retail workers are likely to earn larger paychecks and work fewer hours, while consumers may be greeted by less inventory and understaffed stores."

    Published on: November 8, 2021

    In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports that "Cub Foods is starting its own online pickup and delivery services, a sign they have become integral to the grocery shopping experience.

    "Cub, the market leader in the Twin Cities grocery industry, since 2015 has relied on Instacart, a national leader in online ordering and delivery, to handle its e-commerce customers.

    "The rise in such ordering during the pandemic led Cub executives to accelerate the company's plans to offer such services itself, said Chad Bersie, director of e-commerce at Cub."

    The story notes that "While anyone will be able to shop via Cub's online platform, people who are enrolled in its customer loyalty program, called My Cub Rewards, will be able to get similar benefits shopping online as they would inside its stores.  That includes access to exclusive promotions, preloaded savings and digital coupons, and building up points that can be used for discounts at participating Holiday Stationstores."

    While Instacart customers will still be able to order from Cub, they will not have access to those incentives and rewards.

    According to the story, "Cub in June began offering home delivery from its liquor stores. It will now use the same company, Capstone Logistics of Brooklyn Park, to handle its food deliveries.  Capstone will use 300 independent contractors for deliveries from Cub's 79 grocery stores and 28 Wine & Spirits and Liquor locations throughout Minnesota. Delivery drivers will wear the Cub logo on their uniform for identification purposes."

    KC's View:

    I think we're going to see more of this, as retailers begin to understand that as e-grocery becomes a larger part of their businesses, they need to have some control over that part of the customer experience.

    I was interested last week to see a press release from Farmstead - a tech startup we've written about here on MNB - that has branched out from being an e-commerce company to being a technology provider, providing what it calls an "end-to-end same-day e-commerce operations solution for grocers," helping them to "get a dark-store delivery operation up and running in just two weeks."

    That's always been the challenge for retailers - even if they want to do things on their own, companies like Instacart have had the ability to get them into business quickly.  If Farmstead can live up to its promise, it'll put a dent in that proposition.

    Here's what is going to get interesting:  How does Instacart respond to Cub's move, especially if it sees volume slipping away?  Does it respond as a competitor, and start using a variety of methods to bring back shoppers who have migrated to Cub's platform back to its own?  

    The betting here is that it will … though this could backfire because it would vividly illustrate the degree to which Instacart is more threat than partner.

    Published on: November 8, 2021

    From the Washington Post, an assessment of how big retailers continue to squeeze out smaller competitors through a combination of strategy, tactics, resources and circumstances.  An excerpt:

    "Small retailers and manufacturers, already crushed by large national brands during the pandemic, are being disproportionately walloped by delays, shortages and other supply chain disruptions ahead of the holidays. In many cases, they’re losing out to giants like Walmart and Amazon, which are spending millions to charter their own ships and planes to move merchandise. Independent shop owners, who have no such recourse, say they’re often the last in line for products because manufacturers prioritize larger, more lucrative contracts."

    The story goes on:

    "These challenges follow nearly two years of retrenchment for small retailers: Many were forced to shut down early in the pandemic, driving even more traffic to national chains. Walmart, Target, Costco and Amazon all reported record high sales and profits as Americans clamored for curbside pickup and free shipping … An estimated 800,000 small businesses closed permanently in the first year of the pandemic, roughly 30 percent more than is typical, according to a study by the Federal Reserve. More than three-quarters of small businesses tapped federal emergency assistance last year, according to the National Federation of Independent Businesses. But now, as those funds fade, owners say they’re having trouble keeping up."

    You can read the entire piece here.

    Published on: November 8, 2021

    Reuters reports that Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) have introduced a bill in the US Senate "that seeks to make it harder for Amazon.com and other tech giants to make acquisitions … The bill would make it easier for the government to stop deals it believes break antitrust law by requiring the companies to prove to a judge that the deals are good for competition, and therefore legal."

    The story notes that "traditionally it is up to the government in antitrust enforcement to show a particular transaction would cause prices to rise or is illegal for other reasons."

    In a statement, Klobuchar said, "We're increasingly seeing companies choose to buy their rivals rather than compete.  This bipartisan legislation will put an end to those anticompetitive acquisitions by making it more difficult for dominant digital platforms to eliminate their competitors and enhance the platform's market power."

    Reuters notes that a similar bill "has been approved in the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee and awaits a vote by the full House."

    KC's View:

    Another brick in the wall that is being built that many legislators and regulators believe is necessary to protect consumers and smaller businesses from predatory, anti-competitive practices.  Like it or not, that's the reality with which big tech companies have to contend these days.

    Published on: November 8, 2021

    Bloomberg reports that Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks who largely was responsible for much of its growth until he retired in 2017, traveled to Buffalo last week at the company's behest to try to dissuade employees there from unionizing.

    The story notes that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) last week "issued a ruling allowing store-by-store unionization votes at the three sites … the agency is slated to mail ballots to employees on Wednesday."

    Schultz reported both met with employees - stores closed early in order to allow workers to attend the meeting - and wrote them a letter reiterating points he made in the meeting.

    “I see the changes, commitments and engagement happening," Schultz wrote, adding, "We must remember to earn success and trust each day, taking accountability and correcting when there are missteps … No partner has ever needed to have a representative seek to obtain things we all have as partners at Starbucks.  And I am saddened and concerned to hear anyone thinks that is needed now.”

    KC's View:

    I've long suggested here that Schultz has something of a messiah complex, and so being parachuted in to Buffalo to fight the unionization movement must have appealed to him.

    But in some ways the story confuses me.  Who, exactly, is he disappointed in?  Because it almost sounds as if he is saddened and concerned that the company he molded has let it get to the point where a unionization vote is taking place.  And if that's the case, if the employees vote to unionize, are we looking at a return ope Howard Schultz to Starbucks?

    Published on: November 8, 2021

    Exactly three years ago today, I did a FaceTime commentary about being in a situation where I tried to retrieve my car from valet parking at a Boston hotel, and had top wait a while for them to find someone who could drive my Mustang - because it has a manual transmission.  For me, that served as a metaphor for a decision that a lot of retailers face - at what point does a consumer base get so small that a business no longer needs to worry about serving it, or having the products those customers want? It probably depends on how profitable and regular those customers happen to be … which is yet another argument for having - and using - as much data on customers as you can assemble.

    Here's the original video:


    I  mention this because over the weekend, "Saturday Night Live" devoted a segment to exactly the same subject, which I want to share with you here:

    Published on: November 8, 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:  47,336,577 total cases … 775,218 deaths … and 37,332,949 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  250,727,855 total cases … 5,067,082 fatalities … and 226,957,734 reported recoveries.  (Source.)



    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 78.8 percent of the US population age 12 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 68.3 percent being fully vaccinated.  The CDC also says that 67.4 percent of the total US population has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 58.4 percent b being fully vaccinated.

    According to the CDC, 30.5 percent of the US population age 65 and older has received a vaccine booster shot.

    Pretty sure that now includes me, but probably not Big Bird.



    •  The Associated Press reports that "a federal appeals court on Saturday temporarily halted the Biden administration’s vaccine requirement for businesses with 100 or more workers … the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted an emergency stay of the requirement by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration that those workers be vaccinated by Jan. 4 or face mask requirements and weekly tests."

    However, the federal government plans to appeal the ruling:  "Solicitor of Labor Seema Nanda said the U.S. Department of Labor is 'confident in its legal authority to issue the emergency temporary standard on vaccination and testing.'

    "OSHA has the authority 'to act quickly in an emergency where the agency finds that workers are subjected to a grave danger and a new standard is necessary to protect them,' she said."



    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "some big US employers have dropped workplace mask requirements as Covid-19 cases fall and vaccination rates rise. Staffers at other companies are wondering whether they can ditch masks, too.

    "With Apple announcing plans Friday to drop masking requirements at many U.S. stores and major employers like Amazon.com Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. recently relaxing certain employee mask guidelines, some workers are questioning the need for a pandemic measure long framed as a necessary inconvenience."

    The story notes that "face masks have been shown to significantly reduce transmission of Covid-19. But as companies require vaccinations - both to comply with federal rules and to ease employees’ safety concerns as they return to workplaces - the license to shed masks is a relief, some workers say."



    •  On the other hand … Bloomberg reports that "Europe has again become an epicenter for the coronavirus, calling into question the region’s efforts to recover from the pandemic.

    "Despite an abundance of Covid-19 shots, countries from Germany to Greece have reported record infections in recent days, while Romania and Bulgaria are experiencing horrific levels of fatalities and overwhelmed hospitals.

    "That’s putting fresh urgency into efforts to vaccinate the masses, whether that means getting first doses into the arms of tens of millions of vaccine holdouts or preparing to offer booster shots to hundreds of millions of others.

    "While governments are reluctant to reintroduce lockdowns, countries like Latvia have already concluded there is currently little alternative."

    The lesson seems pretty simply to me - don't spike the ball before you're sure you've scored.  We've made that mistake before, and ended up lapsing back into higher infection numbers.  It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who once wrote, "“When you strike at a king, you must kill him.”  Or, as Omar Little said, "You come at the king, you'd best not miss."  Same goes for a pandemic.

    Published on: November 8, 2021

    •  Fox Business reports that "FedEx CEO Fred Smith said his company is ready for Christmas 2021, predicting 100 million more shipments this holiday season compared to 2019 despite the global supply chain crisis, as long as it can hire the necessary number of employees to handle the volume.

    "Smith appeared on CBS’ "Face the Nation" on Sunday and said FedEx is prepared for the major increase in shipments by leaning on e-commerce and making billions of dollars in investments, including modernizing its air fleet to use less energy and emit less carbon dioxide.



    •  Reuters reports that "Amazon.com is seeking approval from U.S. communications regulators to deploy more than 4,500 additional satellites as part of the company's effort to deliver broadband internet to areas around the world that lack high-speed service.

    "Amazon had said previously it planned to spend at least $10 billion to build 3,236 such satellites through its Project Kuiper program. Late on Thursday it asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for approval to deploy a total of 7,774 satellites for the project … Amazon said in its filing the satellites 'will serve households, hospitals, businesses, government agencies, and other organizations around the world, including in geographic areas where reliable broadband remains lacking.'

    "'Although connectivity has improved on a global basis, only 51% of the global population, and 44% of the population of developing countries, are online,' the company filing said."



    •  From Digital.com, a survey saying that "43% of consumers always search a brick-and-mortar business online before visiting for the first time; 48% sometimes do … 23% of consumers who research businesses online are somewhat or very unlikely to visit a business that doesn’t have an online presence … (and) 3 in 4 shoppers who search businesses online are hunting for price information."

    Published on: November 8, 2021

    •  Bloomberg reports that "we’ve entered a new era in our love-hate relationship with sugar. After decades of trying to make substitutes like Sweet’N Low, Splenda and Stevia work for consumers, the sugar-alternative industry is fielding contenders with a better chance at unseating that ubiquitous substance.

    "The timing seems to be right. According to a recent survey by market research firm Euromonitor, 37% of consumers globally are looking for products with no sugar, no added sugar or low sugar. Overconsumption of sugar has long been connected to disease—it’s cited as a contributing factor to obesity, which has tripled globally since the 1970s, and cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death globally. Obesity is also a factor in Type 2 diabetes, which afflicts hundreds of millions of people around the world."

    The story says that "in most cases, the new crop of sweeteners are derived from natural substances—including traditional sugar itself, otherwise known as sucrose. In a consumer market increasingly focused on healthier eating, that may come in handy."

    Published on: November 8, 2021

    •  In the 50th running of the New York Marathon, Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya won the women's race, while  pulled away in the final meters to win the women’s race, while Albert Korir, also of Kenya, won the men’s race.

    In addition, Marcel Hug of Switzerland, won the men’s wheelchair race for the fourth time, and Madison de Rozario of Australia won her first women’s wheelchair title.

    •  In Week Nine of the National Football League…

    Green Bay Packers 7, Kansas City Chiefs 13

    Cleveland Browns 41, Cincinnati Bengals 16

    Denver Broncos 30, Dallas Cowboys 16

    Houston Texans 9, Miami Dolphins 17

    Atlanta Falcons 27, New Orleans Saints 25

    Las Vegas Raiders 16, New York Giants 23 (not a typo)

    New England Patriots 24, Carolina Panthers 6

    Buffalo Bills 6, Jacksonville Jaguars 9

    Minnesota Vikings 31, Baltimore Ravens 34

    Los Angeles Chargers 27, Philadelphia Eagles 24

    Arizona Cardinals 31, San Francisco 49ers 17

    Tennessee Titans 28, Los Angeles Rams 16