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    Published on: January 19, 2022

    Content Guy's Note:  Some of the most provocative and illuminating trips I’ve taken over the past few years have been to the various Retail Tomorrow conferences around the country … from the first one in Silicon Valley to subsequent get-togethers in places that included New York, Los Angeles and Boston, we were always exposed to fascinating people from a variety of disciplines, all of whom opened our eyes to what is possible, what is probable, and what may be improbable but likely will happen anyway.  Retail Tomorrow was an initiative created by the Global Market Development Center - GMDC - which, as you may know, is shutting down its operations, a victim of the sweeping economic and behavioral changes created by the pandemic.

    But Retail Tomorrow isn't going anywhere, and will in fact be around for a lot more tomorrows.  Patrick Spear, who - no pun intended - spearheaded the Retail Tomorrow initiative as GMDC’s CEO, will continue to run the initiative as a separate entity, producing not just its own events when the time is right, but also produce Retail Tomorrow programming at other events, whether for trade associations or private companies.  The most immediate example - at the National Grocers Association (NGA) convention in Las Vegas next month, Sunday afternoon’s educational program will feature a Retail Tomorrow block of general and breakout sessions.

    And, I’m happy to say, Retail Tomorrow also is going to have a regular presence here on MorningNewsBeat, as we bring on some of the kinds of guests who have enlivened and will continue to enliven Retail Tomorrow events.  I’m thrilled about this, because Retail Tomorrow and MNB have always shared a common goal - to paraphrase Shakespeare, it is to help retailers "be as great in act as they are in thought."

    Today is a great example … joining Patrick Spear and me today is Vic Gatto, the co-founder of Jumpstart Health Investors, who has a unique and, I think, provocative vision for the future of healthcare and how retail is going to play a key role in its infrastructure and delivery.  It is all about "uncommon partnerships."

    I hope you enjoy our conversation.


    To listen to this Retail Tomorrow segment as an audio podcast, click/download below.

    Published on: January 19, 2022

    by Kevin Coupe

    The New York Times reports this morning that "Europeans bought more electric cars than diesels in December, a stunning illustration of the growing popularity of battery power and the decline of diesel, which was once the most popular engine option in Europe.

    "More than 20 percent of new cars sold in Europe and Britain in December were powered solely by electricity, according to data compiled by Matthias Schmidt, an analyst in Berlin who tracks electric vehicles sales. Sales of diesel vehicles, which as recently as 2015 accounted for more than half of the new cars in the European Union, slipped below 19 percent.

    "The December figures illustrate how electric vehicles are fast becoming mainstream … Gasoline vehicles are still more popular, accounting for 40 percent of new cars, but are also in long-term decline."

    A shift, I think, that qualifies as an Eye-Opener.

    Published on: January 19, 2022

    The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and US Department of Justice have begun the process of rewriting merger guidelines in a way that will toughen the antitrust standards governing large mergers.

    CNBC reports that the two agencies are seeking public comment about where the regulations need to be revised, and the story suggests that the approach is likely to mean "additional scrutiny for large deals in the future, especially big tech deals, which have already been the target of increased scrutiny over the past few years. Microsoft’s $68.7 billion deal to buy video game-maker Activision, announced earlier Tuesday, could be just one example of the type of transaction that will gain a closer look given its scope and industry."

    This approach reflects an opinion that is gaining traction among "antitrust scholars, including progressive FTC Chair Lina Khan … that enforcing antitrust laws in digital markets requires a different lens than what’s traditionally applied to deals and competitive conduct. That’s in part, they argue, because such businesses may be able to use data and network effects to concentrate their power and bar competition, even if prices for consumers appear low or even free in return."

    The National Grocers Association (NGA) was quick to respond to the new approach of the Justice Department and FTC, saying in a statement that “NGA is pleased to see both federal antitrust enforcement agencies reconsider their decades-long permissive approach towards mergers and anticompetitive vertical conduct. We believe that antitrust enforcement should preserve marketplace efficiencies that benefit consumers while deterring dominant firms from abusing their market power. This move to coordinate responses across agencies is a step in the right direction."

    KC's View:

    Experts in the area seem to feel that in addition to refusing to approve some future mergers, toughened standards will dissuade some companies from even trying.

    I'm no legal expert, but I've felt for a long time that some of the standards being used to make judgements about competitive markets are antiquated.  That means not just refusing to approve certain mergers, but also granting approval to some that have not.  The one that immediately comes to mind is the proposed Staples-Office Depot deal, which probably would've created a company better able to compete with Amazon and more likely to result in competitive pricing for consumers.

    Published on: January 19, 2022

    Business Insider reports that Brian Cornell, CEO of Target, told an audience at the National Retail Federation (NRF) show in New York City this week that he expects that Americans will drive less, make fewer shopping trips, opt for more private label items and eat more at home during 2022.

    "We're going to learn a lot about how the consumer reacts in the next 60, 90, 120 days to rising prices," Cornell said, noting that his predictions are rooted in historical precedent.

    KC's View:

    I also think that the "less driving" trend will lead to more e-commerce, since people don't actually think of it as driving if someone else is doing it.

    Published on: January 19, 2022

    The Denver Gazette reports that "a judge on Tuesday granted Kroger's request for a temporary restraining order against striking King Soopers workers after the company said picketers were harassing store customers and workers who crossed the picket line.

    Kroger, the parent company of Colorado's King Soopers and City Market stores, filed the request in Denver District Court.

    "About 8,400 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 walked out of 77 metro Denver area King Soopers and City Market stores Jan. 12. They are striking over what they say are unfair labor practices on the part of the Cincinnati-based supermarket giant.

    "The sides returned to the bargaining table Friday and have been meeting daily since then. Little progress has been made in terms of negotiations, according to both sides."

    “UFCW Local 7 strongly disagrees with the unfounded allegations by King Soopers. There are over 8,000 workers, as well as members of the public on our picket lines, and we continue to call on everyone involved not to allow these baseless allegations and bullying tactics to distract us from what is important,” the union said in a prepared statement.

    KC's View:

    I wrote when this started a week ago that I thought this would be over quickly because it wouldn't serve anybody to have an extended labor action..

    Got that one wrong.

    Published on: January 19, 2022

    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 United States, there now have been a total of 68,767,004 total cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 877,240 deaths and 43,528,110 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 335,626,229 total cases, with 5,575,431 resultant fatalities, and 271,418342 reported recoveries.   (Source.)



    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 75.1 percent of the total US population and 79.9 percent of the population age five and older have received at least one dose of vaccine, while 63 percent of the total population and 67 percent of the five-and-older group are fully vaccinated.

    The CDC also says that 38.7 percent of the total US population has received a vaccine booster dose.



    •  The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the US Postal Service (USPS) yesterday did a soft launch of a new website that allows every American household to request four free at-home Covid-19 rapid tests.

    The launch came about 24 hours earlier than expected, and from all reports, everything was working smoothly.

    You can access the site here.

    It was kind of amazing how fast emails and texts were being passed around yesterday advising folks about how the site was up and working.  We got several notes from friends and family members, and then immediately passed along the news to other folks.  The reports seemed accurate - it took me about 20 seconds to place our order for the four at-home test kits, which are expected to be delivered by the end of the month.



    •  From NBC News:

    "The Biden administration will make 400 million N95 masks available for free at thousands of locations across the country, a White House official said Wednesday, as health experts stress the importance of high-quality face coverings to protect against the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

    "The plan consists of working with pharmacies and community health centers to distribute the nonsurgical masks, which will come from the Strategic National Stockpile. The administration will begin shipments this week and hopes to have the program fully operational by early February, the White House official said."



    •  Axios reports that "the Omicron wave is likely beginning to recede in the U.S., experts say … Omicron is still wreaking havoc in parts of the country, but infectious disease experts are optimistic that relief is around the corner."

    The story goes on:  "In South Africa and in the U.K., which experienced their Omicron waves before the U.S., cases spiked dramatically and then fell almost as quickly.

    "That appears to be happening now in parts of the U.S. that got hit with the variant early, including Boston, New York and Washington, D.C.

    "'The trajectory was incredibly steep and rising to, of course, a new height in infections. That does appear now, in aggregate, to be starting to decline,' Chris Beyrer, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Axios."

    However, experts also warn that while the numbers seem to be coming down in some parts of the US, there are other regions that have not yet hit their Omicron peak.



    •  The Washington Post reports on clothing brand Carharrt, which communicated to its employees this week that the Supreme Court decision rejecting a federal mandate for vaccinate-or-test policies at all businesses with 100 or more employees would not affect its own internal policy requiring employees be vaccinated.

    "“We, and the medical community, continue to believe vaccines are necessary to ensure a safe working environment for every associate and even perhaps their households," the company said in an internal email, adding, "An unvaccinated workforce is both a people and business risk that our company is unwilling to take."

    The position was made public on social media, and now, the Post writes, "While the email has been celebrated by Carharrt fans supportive of its health and safety measures, some conservatives and anti-vaccine pundits have targeted the company on social media in what appears to be the latest attempt to shame and boycott a company over its mandatory coronavirus vaccination policy for employees. The company has also faced protests from employees opposed to the vaccination policy in recent months."

    Kind of makes me want to shop at Carharrt.  Their position seems entirely responsible to me.  Also kind of interesting how some folks who disagree with federal regulation of business because they think businesses ought to be able to make their own decisions then have trouble with businesses that actually make their own decisions.



    •  It is worth reading a piece in the Boston Globe that suggests it may be time for a reset in how we deal with children during the pandemic.

    An excerpt:

    "Sometimes you can feel an inflection point.

    "We’re seeing it in waste water, where, in the Boston area, evidence of COVID-19 has been plummeting for about a week.

    "That already seems to be reflected in moderating case numbers. And, soon, we may start to witness a radical shift in how we think about COVID and school.

    "Such a shift would impact a core part of society, one that has been a lightning rod for the last two years. And it may set the stage for a new chapter in the pandemic.

    " David Rubin, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia — one of the largest children’s hospitals in the country — insists: Not only do we need to keep schools open, but our entire approach to kids has to change … Rubin, who runs his hospital’s PolicyLab and serves as a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, has worked with colleagues on what might feel like fairly radical new guidelines.

    "Among other things, they argue that we should stop regularly testing asymptomatic kids, and we should allow teachers and students with in-school exposure to stay in school if they’re asymptomatic (they call it 'mask to stay')."

    You can read the entire piece here.

    Published on: January 19, 2022

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  "Conventional grocers reported a 6.8% drop in online grocery sales on a same-store basis during the 12 weeks ending September 28, 2021, versus the prior year,"  according to the Brick Meets Click eGrocery Performance Benchmarking 2021 Wave. "A 3.1% decrease in orders combined with a 3.9% decline in the average order value contributed to the drop in sales on a year-over-year basis."

    Be interesting to see the next report, which will cover the period of time when Omicron took hold.  It may be a very different story.  But a small decline from a time when Covid was still having a profound impact on consumer behavior seems entirely logical.



    •  Interesting piece in Quartz about the real motivations behind Amazon's announced decision to stop accepting UK-issued Visa cards there because of a dispute over Visa's fee structure.  The ban was supposed to take effect today, but Amazon backed off the threat yesterday … and Quartz suggests that it was all part of a broader plan as Amazon looks to recast the the online payments business.

    First of all, when Amazon announced the ban, it was able to track a considerable amount of data:  How many people complained?  How many didn't?  Did many people cancel their Prime memberships?  How many people applied for Amazon credit cards?  How many people simply switched the primary credit card in their accounts?

    The information it gathered on consumer behavior, the story says, will put it in a much better position in future negotiations with Visa and other credit card companies.  Plus, the move inevitably will ramp up the pressure put on the credit card companies by other retailers, which will want to same deals that Amazon gets.

    It is fun to watch Amazon stir the pot, and to see it bet that Visa needs Amazon more than Amazon needs Visa.



    •  CNBC reports that Microsoft plans to acquire video game giant Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion in cash.

    The deal, if it approved by antitrust regulators, would be Microsoft's largest acquisition ever;  previously, it was the company's purchase of LinkedIn in 2016 for $26.2 billion.

    According to the CNBC story, "Activision, which is known for popular games such as Call of Duty and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, has been mired in controversy for the last several months after reports of sexual misconduct and harassment among the company’s executives. On Monday, Activision said it fired dozens of executives following an investigation.

    "Under the deal, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick, who has faced calls to resign over the cultural problems within his company, will remain CEO during the transition. Microsoft said Activision as a company will report to Microsoft’s Xbox boss Phil Spencer after the deal closes, implying Kotick could depart after the transition."

    Most importantly, CNBC writes, the deal reflects "a long-term vision for Microsoft as it competes with Meta (formerly Facebook) to build technologies to create a virtual world called the metaverse."

    Published on: January 19, 2022

    The New York Times, in part as a response to Microsoft's proposed acquisition of video game giant Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion in cash - which isn seen as being part of a metaverse strategy, answers the question this morning:

    "The metaverse is the convergence of two ideas that have been around for many years: virtual reality and a digital second life.

    "For decades, technologists have dreamed of an era when our virtual lives play as important a role as our physical realities. In theory, we would spend lots of time interacting with our friends and colleagues in virtual space. As a result, we would spend money there, too, on outfits and objects for our digital avatars.

    "In what techies … call the metaverse, virtual reality serves as a computing platform for living a second life online. In virtual reality, you wear a headset that immerses you in a 3-D environment. You carry motion-sensing controllers to interact with virtual objects and use a microphone to communicate with others.

    "Matthew Ball, a venture capitalist who has written extensively about the topic, said the metaverse represented the fourth wave to computers, following mainframe computing, personal computing and mobile computing.

    "'It’s moving into what people call ambient computing,' he said about the metaverse.  'It’s about being within the computer rather than accessing the computer. It’s about being always online rather than always having access to an online world.'

    "That’s it? It’s you and your avatar interacting with others in a digital environment?

    "To put it simply, yes."

    KC's View:

    Forgive me … and maybe this is just me showing my age … but it sounds awful.  

    Published on: January 19, 2022

    •  The Indianapolis Business Journal reports that the five-store Safeway chain there has converted to an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), "establishing a trust that will distribute yearly profit-related bonuses to more than 150 employees."

    According to the story, Scott Weaver, owner of SAW Capital, Safeway’s parent company, said, "I felt the time was right.  I wanted to figure out a way to reward my employees who helped me achieve my success."

    The 75-year-old retailer was founded "by Michael DeFabis Sr., who operated the stores with his three brothers (Phil, Julio, Ernest) for more than 40 years," the Journal notes.

    The story also points out that "ESOPs are not all that common. According to the National Center for Employee Ownership, just 6,482 U.S. firms were ESOPs as of 2019, including 174 in Indiana."



    •  CTV News reports that, even as two Starbucks stores in the US have voted to unionize and three more are scheduled to vote on unionization, "Employees at a Starbucks in Calgary have applied for certification with the United Steelworkers — which is the first step toward unionizing.

    "The Alberta Labour Board will now hold a hearing Jan. 28 so the employer can present any objections, then the 17 employees at a Starbucks in Chinook Centre will be able to vote whether they want to join.

    "It needs a simple majority to pass, said United Steelworkers spokesperson Brett Barden, meaning at least nine of the 17 must be in favour."

    Published on: January 19, 2022

    •  Raley’s announced the hiring of Jennifer (Jen) Warner to the organization’s Executive Leadership Team in the role of Chief Administrative Officer.  Prior to joining Raley’s, Warner served as Vice President of Legal at Columbia Sportswear Company, Chief Developmental Officer at AsheWorks Inc., and Global Chief Compliance Officer and General Counsel, Americas at XPO Logistics. 

    Published on: January 19, 2022

    Yesterday we posted an email from an MNB reader suggesting that the Supreme Court's decision not to allow - for the moment, anyway - the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) to establish vaccinate-or-test mandates for businesses with 100 or more employees was misguided.

    After all, he said, OSHA is allowed to regulate the use of forklifts in the workplace (forklift accidents kill fewer than 100 people a year), and the pandemic has killed well more than 800,000 people.

    Today, another MNB reader responds:

    In regards to the OSHA rules and the beeping on a forklift. This was in a way brought up by one of the Supreme Court justices but not in the way the reader was framing it. The reader was stating it as a positive argument however the justice saw this as a negative. One of the justices asked if there are current OSHA rules that follow a person home (I am paraphrasing). The argument was that a vaccine not only affects you at work but also affects you in every aspect of your life. Once you have taken the vaccine there is no undoing it while off work. Whereas the forklift stays at work and does not come home with you and isn't a part of your home life. The lawyer for OSHA could not think of any current rules or regulations that follow you from work to home. For further clarification the justice did not mention forklifts specifically but is basically the same argument. Also not saying I am for or against this argumentation just thought it was worth mentioning. 

    To me, that is a specious argument, since irresponsible behavior in the workplace can lead to a spread of the disease in a way that can cripple the business and even the broader economy.

    But since one of the associate justices reportedly refuses to wear a mask in the SCOTUS weekly in-person conferences - putting another high-risk associate justice in the position of having to meet remotely - I'm not really surprised by the decision.



    MNB reader Rich Heiland weighed in on yesterday's FaceTime about the importance of frictionless shopping experiences, especially as facilitated by checkout-free technologies:

    Totally agree with your frictionless comments. I remain neutral on whether self-checkout is a good thing. Now that I have white hair I am amazed at how many times an attendant jumps in on me and starts helping, assuming since I'm old I will mess it up. However, I also notice a lot of people struggle with it, particularly if an item is missing a bar code or they can't tell what kind of pepper it is. The hangups often defeat the purpose. 

    But, in terms of tolls, I have to wonder....if Sonny Corleone had used EZ Pass..... it was a memorable scene....

    First of all, extra credit for The Godfather reference.  (The Onion had a funny piece about this years ago.)

    Second, self-checkout is a very different animal from checkout-free.  I've pointed out here before that self-checkout hasn't evolved very much in the decades since it started to show up in supermarkets.  Checkout-free actually leap-frogs all the problems that are inherent in self-checkout.

    Third, studies have shown, ironically enough, that self-checkout isn't really faster than traditional checkout.  What it does create is a feeling on the part of the shopper that he or she is in control.  Which is an important factor that retailers ought to think about when designing stores.

    MNB reader Bob Thomas asked:

    Would the checkout-eliminating technologies reduce the usage of plastic bags?

    I hadn't thought about that, but the answer, I imagine would be yes … anytime I've ever used checkout-free technology, I've either brought my own bag or gotten a reusable bag while in the store.

    Good point.



    Got the following email from an MNB reader about how Kroger-owned Harris Teeter informed customers enrolled in its e-VIC program - which provides them with personalized weekly specials and digital coupons - that because of supply chain issues, the company would not be offering any coupons last week.

    HT is a good operator all the way around.  They do their best to create an experience for the shopper that keeps people coming back.  Even though they are not the most competitive on price, they are always stocked and staffed. As a shopper, the last 2 are far more important then the first.



    Finally…

    Yesterday we posted a reader's recommendation for a great martini recipe:

    2 parts gin (London dry) … 1 part vodka … 1 part vermouth … 2 dashes orange bitters.

    Stir over ½ shaker of ice for about 30 seconds. Pour into your favorite chilled (Kevin) coupe glass. Garnish with olive.

    This prompted an email from another reader:

    Kevin, we are experimenters here at home and this sounds good, so any idea if this is Dry Vermouth or Sweet Vermouth in this concoction the reader sent you?

    I checked.  Dry vermouth.

    I fully expect folks to report back on this critical issue.