This week is kind of special to me. On Friday, I'm going to celebrate MorningNewsBeat's 20th anniversary.
I'm going to be honest with you - I never in my wildest dreams thought that MNB would last this long. When I launched it back in 2001, I was coming off a series of bad career experiences. I loved the work I had been doing - in print, on video, and online - but was dissatisfied with the lack of control I felt over my writing and career.
Some (all?) of this, to be honest, was temperamental. Mrs. Content Guy (I have no idea when or why I started referring to my wife this way, but it has stuck), a now-retired elementary school teacher, says it is because I don't play well with others. She'd know that better than most, and from the beginning encouraged me to strike out on my own, even if it was not always the most responsible financial decision.
Go figure - this has ended up, by a factor of six or seven, the longest gig I've ever had. And the best. Easily.
I wanted to do something different to celebrate, so here's what is going to happen…
Over the next week or so, running right up to Thanksgiving, I'm going to feature a series of "MNB / In Conversation" segments with really smart people, talking about innovation, company culture, technology, and a variety of other subjects. (One of the things I'm asking everybody is, "Where were you 20 years ago, and how has your thinking about innovation changed since then?")
Some of the folks are from within the food industry, and some are not - but they all are lively conversationalists who I thought could teach me something. If there's been one through-line in my career, and especially on MNB, it has been my good fortune at being able to hang out with people smarter than I am. They always make me look good.
This being Wednesday, I wanted to start with a familiar face - Tom Furphy, who occupies this spot with me every other Wednesday for The Innovation Conversation. Normally we're reacting to news and trends, but today I wanted to paint on a larger canvas and talk with Tom about innovation past and future.
My hope is to continue this series even after Thanksgiving, with more guests who will share their perspectives and thoughts about a wide variety of subjects.
The continuing 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.
Today, Tom and KC offer a selective look back over the past 20 years of innovation.
If you'd like to listen to The Innovation Conversation as an audio podcast, click below.
Two Eye-Opening signs of the degree to which cryptocurrencies are invading the culture.
First, from the Los Angeles Times:
"Staples Center is getting a new name for Christmas: Crypto.com Arena.
"The downtown Los Angeles venue — home of the Lakers, Clippers, Kings and Sparks — will wear the new name for 20 years under a deal between the Singapore cryptocurrency exchange and AEG, the owner and operator of the arena, both parties announced Tuesday. Crypto.com paid more than $700 million for the naming rights, according to sources familiar with the terms, making it one of the biggest naming deals in sports history.
"The arena’s new logo will debut Dec. 25, when the Lakers host the Brooklyn Nets, and all of Staples Center signage will be replaced with the new name by June 2022."
And the second story, from the Washington Post:
"Cryptocurrency investors are pooling millions of dollars worth of digital tokens in an effort to buy a rare first printing of the U.S. Constitution.
"Sotheby’s, which is auctioning the document on Thursday, has valued it between $15 million and $20 million, though it could go for more. The artifact is one of 13 copies of the founding document that survived from a series of about 500 printed for Constitutional Convention delegates to consider in Philadelphia in 1787, according to the auction house.
"The crypto investors say they want to put the document, the last privately owned copy, on public display and are seeking a partner who can do so. 'The eventual home must have the expertise to properly house, store, and maintain the artifact,' the group writes on its website. 'Additionally, the community has expressed strong preferences for institutions that are free to the public and willing to cover the costs associated with housing the document.'
"The group is organized as a 'decentralized autonomous organization,' a self-governance structure pioneered by crypto users to pursue a project and allow participants to vote on major decisions. "It’s fitting that we use this technology to honor and protect the greatest historical tool for human governance: the U.S. Constitution,' the group writes."
Two stories, I must admit, that I never would've seen coming when I launched MNB 20 years ago.
Walmart CEO Doug McMillon went on CNBC yesterday to say that he believes that current inflation rates are an opportunity for his company because it will allow Walmart to double-down on its longtime low-price approach.
“That’s our purpose,” McMillon said. “We save people money and help them live a better life. Those are the words that came out of [Walmart founder] Sam Walton’s mouth. He loved to fight inflation. So do we.”
McMillon said that Walmart - which yesterday said that it has a high in-stock position - "is absorbing rather than passing on some of the higher costs that have come from fuel, shipping, labor and more - even as that weighs on short-term profitability, he said. Its cost inflation is higher than its retail inflation."
And, McMillon said, “We’re proud to try and hold prices down. Our conversations with suppliers today, tomorrow will be ‘How can you help us roll back prices and swim upstream and be different than everybody else?'"
One of the points that ste story makes is that Walmart is trying to strike a balance between "delivering for shareholders and staying to true to its discounter roots for customers."
The simple truth is that if you deliver for customers, you're going to end up delivering for shareholders. It can be a longer game, but it is the way you win.
Investors who do not understand that retailing is a matter of having a consistent and long-term value proposition that translates into brand equity that supports the extended health of the banner … well, they probably should best in another segment of the economy.
Seeking Alpha reports that Instacart is going to delay an initial public offering, originally planned for late this year, until 2022 or even later, which could "give former Facebook exec Fidji Simo more time to build up services and accelerate the company's growth in the face of delivery competition from the likes of DoorDash and Uber - not to mention start-up GoPuff and also Whole Foods parent Amazon.com."
Building its IPO, and wealth for its founders and investors, on the backs of client retailers. I would expect no less.
UK-based retailer Tesco is out with its fun new Christmas ad, which plays to a post-pandemic mentality with the title "Nothing's Stopping Us," and playing out to music from Queen - "Don't Stop Us Now."
The Guardian, however, notes that the ad has generated some complaints from Brits who believe that one image - Santa Claus showing his vaccination passport so he can get into the country - "is coercive and encourages medical discrimination."
According to the story, "The scene sparked controversy on social media, attracting criticism from those in the anti-vaccination movement. The Advertising Standards Authority, which enforces the UK advertising code, said that it is reviewing the complaints to see if they warrant an investigation for a potential breach of the rules."
Proving, I suppose, that anti-vaxxers aren't just in denial about science, but also about the value of a sense of humor. Because my understanding is that Santa has a firm mask-and-vaccine mandate at the North Pole, believing that the elves have an ethical responsibility both to each other and all the children of the world.
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 up-to-dat US Covid-19 coronavirus numbers: 48,161,377 total cases … 786,268 deaths … and 38,139,928 reported recoveries.
The global numbers: 255,292,222 total cases … 5,133,908 fatalities … and 230,779,146 reported recoveries. (Source.)
• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 79.7 percent of the US population age 12 and older, and 68.6 percent of the total US population, has received at least one dose of vaccine, while 68.9 percent of the 12-and-older population and 58.9 percent of the total population has been fully vaccinated.
The CDC also says that 36.6 percent of the US population age 65 and older, and 15.7 percent of the total population, has received a vaccine booster shot.
• From the New York Times this morning:
"The Food and Drug Administration is aiming to authorize booster doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for all adults as early as Thursday, a move that would expand the number of Americans eligible for additional shots by tens of millions, according to people familiar with the agency’s plans.
"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s independent committee of vaccine experts has scheduled a meeting for Friday to discuss data on the booster dose’s efficacy and safety. If both the F.D.A. and the C.D.C. sign off this week, they will have acted strikingly quickly — a little more than a week after Pfizer asked for authorization of boosters for everyone 18 and older.
"Under that scenario, any adult who received a second dose of the vaccine at least six months earlier would be officially eligible to get a booster as soon as this weekend. The F.D.A. is expected to rule without consulting its own expert panel, which has met frequently during the pandemic to review vaccine data and make a recommendation ahead of a regulatory decision.
"The broad booster authorization has been viewed as something of a fait accompli for weeks. Some state and local officials have begun rolling out similar policies ahead of F.D.A. action — responding to persistent virus case counts, including some breakthrough cases, and the eagerness of many Americans to seek additional protection ahead of holiday gatherings."
• From the Wall Street Journal:
"Pfizer Inc. said it asked U.S. health regulators to authorize its oral Covid-19 drug for use in high-risk patients, which if cleared for use would give people an easy-to-use treatment early in the course of the disease.
"A positive decision by the Food and Drug Administration could come before the end of the year, giving patients a pill that they could take at home and keep them out of the hospital this winter." However, the story points out, "Initial supplies of Pfizer’s pill would be limited. Pfizer projects it will be able to manufacture more than 180,000 courses of treatment this year, and plans to increase production to at least 50 million courses next year."
• And from the Washington Post, a story about how Anthony S. Fauci, the United States’ top infectious-disease expert, said that "covid-19 could be reduced to an endemic illness in the United States by next year — but only if more unvaccinated people get vaccinated and more fully vaccinated people get booster doses.
“'I think it’s conceivable' that could happen by next year, Fauci said in a virtual interview. 'I hope we do, and it might even be likely, if we implement a good vaccination of the unvaccinated and a really good uptake of boosting those who are fully vaccinated.'
"Fauci said reaching endemic level, to him, means the virus may not be eliminated but 'that infection is not dominating your life.' He added: 'People will still get infected. People might still get hospitalized, but the level would be so low that we don’t think about it all the time and it doesn’t influence what we do'."
• Bloomberg reports this morning that "multiple major company websites from Home Depot Inc. to Spotify Technology SA are seeing user reports of outages, according to Downdetector.
"Users have also reported issues on Etsy Inc., Amazon Web Services and Snap Inc. sites."
• CNBC reports today that "Amazon plans to stop accepting payments made via Visa credit cards issued in the U.K. starting next year.
"The e-commerce giant has told some customers that, from Jan. 19 onward, the company will no longer accept Visa credit cards issued in Britain due to high fees charged by the payment processor.
"Visa earlier this year hiked the interchange fees it charges merchants for processing digital transactions in the U.K., following the country’s exit from the European Union. The move followed a similar development from Mastercard, which also increased its fees.
"Amazon customers were told they will still be able to use debit cards — including those issued by Visa — and non-Visa credit cards like Mastercard and American Express. Users are being encouraged to update their default payment method ahead of the changes."
• Consumer Reports has a review of the Key by Amazon In-Garage Delivery technology's which allows online shoppers to set up a system that permit Amazon delivery personnel to have access to their garages four purposes of delivering packages securely and avoiding theft of items left at front doors.
The set-up seems a little complicated (you ca see the entire review here), but once completed, the reviewer seems enthusiastic about the results and the level of customer service.
"If you’re an Amazon Prime member and frequent Amazon shopper, I think Key by Amazon in-garage delivery and the Chamberlain MyQ Smart Garage Control are a no-brainer. The system is easy to set up, works well, and is essentially free to buy. You don’t have to worry about packages being stolen, nor do you have to get a neighbor or relative to collect packages when you’re out of town … The obvious drawback of Key by Amazon is that this system only works for Amazon or Whole Foods deliveries. There’s simply no way to give access to USPS, FedEx, or UPS so they can place deliveries from other retailers in your garage. Would it be great if Amazon opened this system up to those delivery companies? Yep. Is that likely to happen? I doubt it."
• The Houston Chronicle reports that Kroger employees there have again voted to strike, following up on a similar vote a year ago.
According to the story, "Workers voted overwhelmingly to strike last November, though union officials decided to continue negotiating terms of a contract that has yet to solidify. The strike would affect some 14,000 workers in Harris County and several surrounding counties, according to United Food and Commercial Workers Local 455.
"Union officials said they wanted to give workers another opportunity to weigh in before taking the step to strike."
In a statement, Kroger said that it has "offered a contract that respects our associates by significantly investing in their total compensation, industry leading healthcare, and seeks zero concessions."
• In Fairfax County, Virginia, The Patch reports that "one month before a new plastic bag tax takes effect, Wegmans grocery stores in Fairfax County will eliminate plastic bags.
"Wegmans announced it will remove plastic bags from its Fairfax County stores, effective Dec. 1, 2021. In addition, paper bags will be available with a 5-cent surcharge for each. This applies to the stores in Fairfax, Franconia, Tysons, and Chantilly.
"Fairfax County's new plastic bag tax ordinance will take effect on Jan. 1, 2022 at grocery stores, convenience stores, and drug stores after Board of Supervisors approval. The tax was adopted with the intent of discouraging single-use plastic bag use as well as pollution in local waterways."
• Louisiana-based Rouses Markets has named Stacy Wiggins, most recently the vice president of e-commerce operations at Ahold Delhaize-owned Stop & Shop, to be its new regional vice president of operations.
• Ohio-based Buehler's announced that Michael Davidson, the company's executive vice president of sales and marketing, has been promoted to president-CEO, succeeding the retiring Dan Shanahan.
Got the following email from MNB reader Larry Cooper about Michael Sansolo's column yesterday:
Thanks for giving our industry professional truck drivers a voice. They represent the best of the food industry and are dedicated to feeding our customers. They do their job in very difficult conditions. In hurricanes, snow and ice storms they are usually at their best.
Responding to the story this week about how Amazon is pushing its Marketplace sellers to have the lowest prices on its site, actions leading to even greater antitrust scrutiny, one MNB reader wrote:
Prices can be confusing. Amazon is wanting the same costs as others - whether or not the volume equals or exceeds the competitor. There is economy of scale and in some categories Amazon is not that developed (food, despite Whole Foods) and doesn’t necessarily deserve the same cost as another operator. Then there is margin. Retailer A takes 40%, Retailer B in the same category takes 9%. Retailer C in the middle takes 28%. Bottom line is that the manufacturer needs a reasonable profit as does the retailer- and the consumer chooses where to shop and the retailer chooses how competitive their margin will be.
If you're arguing that Amazon is punching above its weight class, I suppose I see your point. Though it is hard for me to envision Amazon as anything but a heavyweight, whatever its share of business.
One of the points of the criticisms is that while the prices on Amazon may be the lowest available, Amazon often dips its beak to the point where vendors are unable to be profitable.
MNB reader Michael Yanez weighed in:
It is more than profitability, in many cases for grocery products the Seller can lose money because of the minimum FBA fees Amazon charges. If a brand is direct with WM and Target, like being direct with Amazon’s Vendor Central platform, the retailer has consumer price control and wants to steal customers away from Amazon with loss leaders and/or aggressive pricing (I assume); combined with the above fact that there are minimum FBA fees, we have seen in many cases it is impossible to match the price of the other retailers without losing money. And although we had tried to point out this logical argument, it falls on deaf ears - a problem of Amazon working in silos.
We took note the other day of a Bloomberg report that Amazon is being sued by drivers who charge that the "algorithms, apps and devices the company uses to manage its sprawling logistics operation" are putting them at risk.
One MNB reader was unsympathetic:
Amazon does a great job at delivering packages. The fact that they are monitoring their drivers, I think is an asset not a liability. I don’t think the technology is putting the people at risk, I think the people themselves are. Where is the risk to their safety when Amazon sees they are falling asleep, backing up, speeding, cornering too fast, seat belt usage, texting, phone calls? Really? It sounds like a whine.
I wouldn't challenge the notion that there are cases where drivers put themselves at risk with irresponsible behavior. But I think it is naïve to suggest that sometimes people make mistakes because of demands put upon them by an employer (or, in this case, an employer's employer.)
Let's give these people some credit. While millions are quitting their jobs, these folks are working. Hard. They just want the demands to be reasonable and safe.
I did a FaceTime video the other day about a local mall that two years ago I thought could end up as an Amazon distribution center:
MNB reader Paulette DeRito responded:
I live near the Norwalk Sono Collection. While you may be right about it being an old mall concept, there are aspects of this mall that are new and appealing. The food options are totally different. There are Poke Bowls, Ramen, a Coffee Bar inside the Nordstrom store (and the coffee is amazing.) and other interesting options. It is a good place to meet someone, walk around, shop a little. The parking system is not great though.
Most importantly, it provides a need. The only other malls are Stamford and Trumbull (really OLD malls with awful food courts). The Westchester is upscale but further away, so this mall provides a fairly affluent area with high end stores that are close by.
In the winter, on a cold dreary day, meeting a friend for coffee at Sono, and doing a few laps around the place, can be fun. While it doesn't make money for the stores, the mall still provides a meeting place.
Paulette, I take your point. You're right that it'll be a good place to walk around in bad weather - which is probably why we saw so many people walking dogs there.
But I must point out that your last sentence - while it doesn't make money for the stores, the mall still provides a meeting place - sort of reinforces my point. Because isn't one of a mall's core reasons for being to make money for its stores?
On another subject, from an MNB reader, a sentiment I totally agree with:
The single worst statement about COVID? "I heard the other day that. . ."
More falsehoods, misrepresentations, and just plain lies have been foisted on a too often gullible public with what's said after those 6 words.
The result has been, in the US alone, close to 800,000 deaths. And counting.
Got some reaction to my airing yesterday of the following Instacart commercial:
As I say, a terrific commercial … except that I would point out that there is no mention of any of Instacart's client retailers. It is just the customer ("your mom") and Instacart … the retailer actually responsible for procuring the ingredients has been completely disintermediated. The identity of the retailer, despite likely decades and millions spent on brand equity and what should be a differentiated value proposition, doesn't matter.
What matters is Instacart. And I guess the question I'd pose to my retailer readers is, does this matter to you?
If the answer is yes, then it should open your eyes about the implications of whatever e-commerce decisions you've made in the past.
And if the answer is no … well, then I'd suggest that this is an ever bigger Eye-Opener.
One MNB reader responded:
Just as you have been predicting for years!! Suddenly - they’re here !! And rendering the retailer to an ancillary role.
MNB reader Dave Parker wrote:
I would not order from a service like Instacart unless I knew which retailer had bought the product. Buying practices vary across the retail spectrum and it behooves the consumer to keep track. Good question…thanks for asking.
The problem is that consumers aren't asking, because Instacart is disintermediating the retailer. Instacart is excellent at what it does, but the problem is that its core goal is not to support the retailer brand/value proposition.
This is not going to end well. Unless I'm wrong. But I don't think I am.