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    Published on: February 1, 2022

    by Michael Sansolo

    We’ve long argued here at MNB that there are business lessons to be found everywhere -  even in a child’s game, as Kevin explained in Monday’s FaceTime video. It turns out that adult games might also have even more to teach us.

    The odds are quite good that you have heard of the latest game craze sweeping the Internet: Wordle. The game is relatively simple and yet, very complex.  (Also, as it ends up. profitable - at least to Josh Wardle, the Brooklyn, New York, software engineer who invented the game - and just yesterday sold it to The New York Times Co. for “an undisclosed price in the low-seven figures.”)

    Essentially you need guess the mystery five-letter word through creativity and a process of elimination similar to Mastermind, a game that’s been around a long time. However, Wordle has some subtle differences that should attract our attention.

    In part, Wordle is so much fun in part because of what it does not do. 

    Unlike so many Internet games, Wordle limits your play to one time each day. So no endless hours on Farmville or Candy Crush. It’s just one and done.  And the game is totally achievable as the hunt is only for a five-letter word. It’s hard to calculate how much more fun that is than chasing down a nine- or ten-letter word, which would make Wordle a task instead of a diversion.

    But let’s consider those lessons, starting with the benefit of limited play, which seems to contradictory to our current lifestyle of endless choices and endless diversions. I’m hardly the first to point this out, but less can be better than more.

    In so many ways these days, we are overloaded with choices, options and decisions that clutter our minds and weigh down our feelings. As the wonderful book  “The Paradox of Choice” laid out years back, too much choice can overwhelm rather than delight. In the retail industry this might help explain why Trader Joe’s, Costco and Aldi, all with limited assortments, seems to build customer delight.

    (Of course, simply changing to a limited assortment format is no guarantee of success either. Just re-read the story about Bed, Bath and Beyond from Monday’s MNB.)

    It may be that the benefit shoppers get from endless choices of extra virgin olive oil are less than the burden they face in making those selections. Limits aren’t always fun as current supply chain issues are demonstrating, but limitless is no guarantee of happiness either.

    The relative simplicity of Wordle’s five-letter solutions also has implications. Life is complex enough and anything that provides simplicity - either in games or recipes - is welcome.

    And lastly, consider the point Kevin made on Monday, that games remind us that different people have different skills and the best leaders find ways to utilize and applaud those differences.  In my house, I have yet to best my wife at Wordle (she reminds me of this daily) but it speaks to a skill she has better than I. 

    Then again, I clobber her in trivia competitions. Put our differences together and we get a stronger team. You can probably do the same with your team or family.

    It really isn’t just all fun and games. It’s all insights.


    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com.

    His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

    And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.

    Published on: February 1, 2022


    The air fryer business continues to grow - sales over the past year were up 20 percent to more than $1 billion, and more than a third of US households has one.  KC thinks this suggests an untapped opportunity for food retailers.

    Published on: February 1, 2022

    Walmart and Angi (the services placement company formerly known as Angie's List) announced that they are teaming up to make Angi's "highly-rated pros" available through "nearly 4,000 Walmart stores across all 50 states and nationwide online. This service offering includes over 150 common home projects including flooring, painting, plumbing, electrical, tv mounting, installation and assembly services for furniture and more."

    According to the announcement, "Prices start at just $49 for furniture assembly and $79 for TV mounting, all backed by the Angi Happiness Guarantee, which covers projects up to their full purchase price. Walmart will be Angi’s first limited-time exclusive retailer to offer these services."

    Here's how it will work:

    "Services can be purchased online or in-store alongside any eligible item or from the Angi dedicated landing page at any time on Walmart.com. It’s as easy as purchasing any other item at Walmart. Once the item is purchased, Angi will reach out to coordinate your booking and ensure the service is completed to delight the customer.

    "For larger projects such as painting and flooring, after a Walmart customer requests a quote, a dedicated project advisor provides a custom quote, finds a pro and handles all the work, walking alongside the customer the whole way to help make the project a success."

    KC's View:

    It is almost as if Walmart has been paying attention to a guiding retail principle that MNB has been promoting for years:

    It is important for retailers to be more than a source of product.  They also need to be a resource for the consumer.

    That means being a resource for both information and services, which evolves into being a repository for shopper trust.

    Products, for the most part, can be bought anywhere - including at a retailer's closest competitors.  There are, of course, exceptions, as when retailers develop proprietary items that cannot be replicated.

    But services and information are not as ubiquitous, and can provide retailers with a differential advantage in a cutthroat marketplace.

    (To be clear, I'm not really suggesting that Walmart is taking MNB's advice.  I'm just happy when the actions of a retailer like Walmart - or any retailer, for that matter - suggest that maybe I'm actually on to something.)

    Published on: February 1, 2022

    The University of Michigan is out with its regular assessment of consumer confidence, and the news is not particularly good.

    The Wall Street Journal writes that "consumer perception of current economic conditions in December was almost even with April 2020 levels, when sentiment bottomed out following the first major restrictions to control the coronavirus pandemic.

    "While Americans’ feelings about their personal finances slid through much of 2021, concerns about buying conditions - amid continuing worries about inflation - fell drastically for much of the year.

    "Household income has declined from spikes that occurred as the government distributed pandemic-related stimulus. Still, many Americans have seen wages and benefits increase, as the economy rebounded from earlier disruptions from the pandemic.

    "At the same time, decades-high levels of inflation have tempered enthusiasm for spending.

    "The University of Michigan has seen less enthusiasm for large purchases during the pandemic, with 41% of consumers citing high prices as a reason not to buy in December. Uncertainty and a lack of affordability were the leading causes for hesitance throughout much of 2020."

    KC's View:

    I'm going to try to say something profound here, the kind of thing that futurists and economic gurus would say.  (I'm neither.  I claim only that I'm just a decent guesser.)

    Here goes…

    The numbers could go up.  Or they could go down.  Or some of the numbers could go up while others go down.

    Which will mean that consumers will feel better.  Or worse.  Or that some will feel better while others feel worse, while some will find their feelings swinging from better to worse depending on the hour and the day.

    Unemployment, currently down, will go up.  Inflation, currently up, will go down.

    But again, let me be clear.

    I'm just guessing.

    Published on: February 1, 2022

    Ahold Delhaize-owned, Carlisle, Pennsylvania-based The Giant Company yesterday announced "the launch of Ship2MeT by GIANT and Ship2MeT by MARTIN’S, giving customers access to an expanded assortment beyond traditional grocery categories and all delivered directly to one’s home … Ship2Me complements the online grocery services offered through GIANT Direct and MARTIN’S Direct. In addition to ordering staple grocery and household products for pickup or delivery via GIANT Direct or MARTIN’S Direct, Ship2Me gives more choices in categories including health and beauty, home décor, and other household items. Instead of picking up Ship2Me items at the store or having them delivered at a scheduled date and time, these items ship directly to customers from Ship2Me sellers.

    "All Ship2Me items have the option of free standard shipping, which takes between four and nine days. Ship2Me sellers may offer other shipping options such as Express or Next Day Delivery for an additional fee, but shipping options and fees vary by seller and product. Return shipping is always free. There is no minimum order required for Ship2Me."

    "Ship2Me by GIANT is a natural extension of our current grocery delivery options,” said John Ruane, senior vice president, omnichannel merchandising, The GIANT Company. “By offering access to complementary products not traditionally found in store, we are adding endless aisle shopping options for today’s busy families, all with the convenience of being delivered right to your door."

    KC's View:

    I admire the impulse, but what I've never resolved in my own mind - and I am open to guidance here - is whether a food retailer, which by definition should be what used to be called a category-killer in the food category,is well-served by a long-tail approach that embraces categories not connected to what should be a core expertise.

    Would food retailers be better served by culinary investments that strengthen their core value proposition?

    I do think that related categories are fair game - cookware, for example.  Small appliances.  Cookbooks.  (All things available through Ship2Me.  But bedding?  Shower heads?  (Also available through Ship2Me.)

    I'm just not sure.  Guidance welcome.

    Published on: February 1, 2022

    RTE reports that "Tesco has said it would no longer operate stores under the low-cost 'Jack's' brand in the UK, less than five years after it established the format amid much fanfare.

    "The group launched Jack's, named after Tesco's founder Jack Cohen, in 2018 at a store in Chatteris in England, as part of its centenary celebrations.

    "Taking on German-owned discounters Aldi and Lidl, the store focused on simplicity and own-brands to keep costs and prices down. But expansion of the format has been slow.

    Tesco said of the 13 Jack's stores, six will be converted to Tesco superstores, with the remaining seven earmarked for closure in the coming months."

    KC's View:

    Wow.  The Jack's concept didn't even last as long as Tesco's disastrous US experiment, Fresh & Easy, which managed to take up space for eight years.

    Published on: February 1, 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…

    •  Here are the US Covid-19 coronavirus numbers:  76,222,215 total cases … 910,104 deaths … and 46,242,222 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  379,459,164 total cases … 5,693,849 fatalities … and 299,451,329 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 75.3 percent of the total US population has received at least one dose of vaccine … 63.8 percent is fully vaccinated … and 41.5 percent has received a vaccine booster dose.

    •  The New York Times this morning reports that "Pfizer and its partner BioNTech are expected as soon as Tuesday to ask the Food and Drug Administration to authorize a coronavirus vaccine for children under 5 years old as a two-dose regimen while they continue to research how well three doses work.

    "Federal regulators are eager to review the data in hopes of authorizing shots for young children on an emergency basis as early as the end of February, according to multiple people familiar with the discussions, who were not authorized to speak publicly. If Pfizer waited for data on a three-dose regimen, the data would not be submitted until late March and the vaccine might not be authorized for that age group until late spring.

    "Federal officials and Pfizer executives had been suggesting for days that an application for emergency authorization of a vaccine for children as young as 6 months was in the works. Every age group above that is eligible for shots, and the highly contagious Omicron variant has led to a sharp rise in infections among all ages, including children. There are more than 19 million Americans under 5 years old."

    •  There is an extraordinary piece in the Wall Street Journal worth reading this morning entitled "One Million Deaths: The Hole the Pandemic Made in U.S. Society," in which the paper looks to chronicle, to some degree, the losses that the culture has suffered as a result of the pandemic;  some of these deaths were directly because of Covid, and some were "from derivative causes, like disruptions in their healthcare and a spike in overdoses."

    But that does not make the losses any less significant.

    The Journal writes:

    "Unlike the 1918 flu pandemic or major wars, which hit younger people, Covid-19 has been particularly hard on vulnerable seniors. It has also killed thousands of front-line workers and disproportionately affected minority populations.

    "It robbed society of grandparents, parents, spouses, sons and daughters, best friends, mentors, loyal employees and bosses. Those lost include a 55-year-old Rhode Island correctional officer; a 46-year-old Texas dental-office receptionist who helped care for her granddaughter; a 30-year-old Iowan who fatally overdosed; and an active 72-year-old and grandmother of 15 who was Nashville’s first female city bus driver … It could take years to fully realize the lasting social changes the pandemic and its human toll will yield. Major wars can redraw maps, shift the balance of global power and leave memorials in the nation’s capital. The pandemic is a reminder our biggest enemies are often too small to see."

    You can read the entire piece here.  I really recommend it.

    "Too small to see."  But certainly not, I think, too small to feel.

    •  The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday gave full approval to the Moderna mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, moving it beyond the emergency use authorization stage.  The vaccine now will be marketed as Spikevax.

    Axios writes that "the rise of the Omicron variant forced vaccine makers to reevaluate the effectiveness of their vaccines, which were developed based on earlier forms of the virus.

    "Studies show that Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccines still overwhelmingly prevent severe disease and hospitalizations, especially when the first two doses are reinforced with a booster shot."

    To be clear (and I think this has been pretty obvious), I am totally pro-vaccine.  But I imagine I am not alone in hoping that when, inevitably, there are television commercials for SpikeVax ("ask your doctor and pharmacist"), they don't come with the usual caveats:  "In some cases, SpikeVax could make your hair turn green, shrink your genitals, make you depressed, make you artificially cheerful, make you taller, make you shorter, cause you to binge-eat, or leave you without an appetite."

    I'd probably still take it, though.  But I'd be checking the color of my hair.  Frequently.

    Published on: February 1, 2022

    •  SpartanNash yesterday announced that its company owned chains - including banners Family Fare, VG’s Grocery, Dan’s Supermarket, D&W Fresh Market and Forest Hills Foods - are offering " free delivery on all online Fast Lane orders exceeding $35 beginning Feb. 1."

    Fast Lane, the company notes, allows customers to "order from any grocery department, including beer, wine and liquor where permitted by law, for the same prices that are available in-store. Orders are fulfilled by SpartanNash personal shoppers who focus on selecting fresh, high-quality items and who communicate directly with guests via text messaging to determine preferences such as ripeness of fruit or thickness of steak. SpartanNash personal shoppers always communicate substitutions and out-of-stocks and ask guests if they want to add any last-minute products to their order. They are trained to select items with the latest expiration date and to diligently inspect all products for integrity.

    "The free home delivery promotion will be available for a limited time in February, with the discount included automatically at checkout."

    Published on: February 1, 2022

    •  Walmart and Quest Diagnostics yesterday announced that they are teaming up to "offer consumer-initiated laboratory testing … The new solution allows people to take control of their health care and purchase the same high quality laboratory tests ordered by healthcare providers through a consumer-friendly website. This collaboration builds upon a long-standing relationship between Walmart and Quest Diagnostics to broaden access to high quality health services.

    "With this new testing solution, an individual can purchase (online) among more than 50 different tests, including general health, digestive health, allergy, heart health, women's health, and infectious disease."

    Published on: February 1, 2022

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The Dallas Morning News reports that "Dollar General is bringing its latest concept to Texas called Popshelf.

    "After blanketing mostly rural Texas with more than 1,625 Dollar General stores since the 1970s, the Tennessee-based retailer says this concept was created to go after higher-income households in the suburbs of larger cities.

    "The first Popshelf in Texas will open this spring in McKinney’s Eldorado Plaza shopping center in space that formerly housed a Pier 1 Imports. One more has been announced in the Thousand Oaks area of San Antonio, and more Texas Popshelf stores are in the works, according to the retailer."

    The story notes that "Popshelf stores are about 9,000 square feet, slightly larger than the average Dollar General. About 50 are open so far in the Southeast … Dollar General plans too open 100 Popshelf stores this year and reach 1,000 stores in the U.S. by the end of 2025, the company said."



    •  National Public Radio (NPR) reports that the unionization movement at Starbucks, successfully launched at a single store in Buffalo, New York, is growing:  "Employees at 54 stores in 19 states are pursuing union elections, according to organizers. Fifteen of those stores joined the union drive on Monday, petitioning the federal labor officials to set a vote. The filing coincides with the start of contract negotiations between Starbucks and unionized workers in Buffalo."

    The story goes on:  "As the union push spreads, labor experts say it will be harder for Starbucks to fight each one individually. They also say the high profile of Starbucks helps raise union awareness among regular Americans at a time when union membership has matched historic lows.

    "In the coming weeks, another potentially groundbreaking union push will proceed at Amazon, where thousands of Alabama warehouse workers will re-vote on unionization and their colleagues on Staten Island may hold their own union election."



    •  Associated Wholesale Grocers (AWG) announced yesterday that it is partnering with IRI "to launch AWG Partner Gateway, a portal to enable integrated and seamless collaboration between AWG members and their vendor partners using IRI Liquid Data® technology … By automating and connecting the key forms that vendors use to communicate and sell to AWG, and automating reporting to AWG vendor partners, the AWG Partner Gateway will drive organizational and operational productivity, reduce overall collaborative costs to serve, and provide standardized reports, analytics, forecasts, and automated processes based on AWG’s 'one source of truth' database."

    “Our members represent more than $23 billion in retail sales, making the collective cooperative the sixth largest supermarket group in the United States,” said David Smith, AWG’s president and CEO. “Our mission is to provide our member-retailers all of the products, tools, and services they need to compete favorably in all markets served. With IRI’s expertise, data access and advanced technology, AWG is empowering our members and vendor partners to leverage data and analytics as strategic differentiators for improved growth and profitability and to further achieve our mission.” 

    Full disclosure: AWG is a valued and longtime MNB sponsor.

    Published on: February 1, 2022

    Got the following email from MNB reader Matt Nitzberg, responding to yesterday's piece about Bed Bath & Beyond's troubles:

    While BB&B faced the additional challenge of pandemic-era supply chain shortfalls and shifting demand, their overall approach to modifying assortment and reducing inventory has many precedents in retail. Every few years, and always with the aim of improving efficiency, profitability, and shopability, another large retailer falls into the mud of making product-centric changes in a customer-centric world. Rather than asking "Who are our most important customers (current and prospective), what products and attributes are most important to them, and how can we use that knowledge to grow our business and improve the customer experience?,'' the process all too often starts and ends with "How do we declutter, reduce inventory, and grow productivity?" Those last questions are important, but organizations routinely fail when they don't start with - and stick with - a customer-centric lens.

    Totally agree.  For too many companies, the drive to be more efficient eclipses the importance of being more effective.



    Reacting to yesterday's piece about how in New York City, cutthroat competition among food delivery startups, underwritten by venture capitalists, is mostly generating big losses among the players, MNB reader Thomas Parkinson wrote:

    Kozmo all over again.

    Boom!

    For those with short memories, Kozmo was a dot-com delivery startup that during the late nineties went through $280 million in investment capital before crashing and burning.

    Regarding that same story, MNB reader Rich Heiland wrote:

    Your piece on New York city deliveries got me thinking. My son recently got us a $100 gift certificate for DoorDash. We never had used the service. I decided early on not to use it for the “fine dining” restaurants. To me, a part of their price is the ambiance of being there. So, decision-made, we ordered from what’s considered one of the top pizza places in our town. It was a good experience. I could track the order and it’s delivery so I could meet the driver as he arrived outside our key-fob controlled apartment entrance. I had done some research on how the drivers are paid and learned the tip is not always a tip, but can fold into base compensation. So, I put $7 on the card and handed him three bucks as off-the-books cash, ending in a 25 percent tip.

    Was it worth it? Yeh, it was a freezing night, the pizza place is a few miles away, so yeh. But then I got a promo from DoorDash for “30 percent off” for pick-up. I scratched my head. Why not just call the restaurant then go pick it up? Because, DoorDash said, I would have to “wait in line.” Really? If I am going to go to the restaurant in the first place, what’s a few more minutes? Why not just give the restaurant all the bucks? On a cold, wet night I may use DoorDash for pizza and “non-experience” food. But otherwise, not sure I am a fan.

    It does seem like mixed messaging.



    And finally, a note about yesterday's FaceTime video, from MNB reader Dale Tillotson:

    I was much too entertained by watching the dog to get anything out of your story about a game for 5 year olds … Nice doggy, need to see more of him/her.

    That's Zazu … she's my daughter's dog … a terrific dog who was so comfortable sitting on the couch in front of the fire that I hated to interrupt her.  And then, of course, she went and upstaged me.  Good dog.