retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: April 28, 2022

    Today I am visiting the newest Bristol Farms store - christened Bristol Farms Newfound Market - in Irvine, California, which I think is a remarkable example of how a traditional food retailer can redefine its space.  Though a variety of departments - including a series of QSRs, as well as a full-service Italian restaurant (that makes a remarkable pizza, plus a meatball with polenta to kill for) - Bristol Farms has expanded its purview - going beyond being just a grocer, and embracing the larger goal of feeding people.  That's not just a semantic difference, I think;  it is about reshaping the relationship between the store and the shopper in way that can have long-range implications.  Plus, this is just a terrific retailing experience!

    Bonus pics and video below…

    Published on: April 28, 2022

    Rosalind Brewer, CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance and just one of two Black women to lead a Fortune 500 company, told Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies Summit this week that "a key indicator of a company’s ability to innovate is the diversity of its leadership."  And that includes the board of directors.

    “A board is there to do a couple things: govern the company, take care of the shareholder, and develop the CEO," she said.  "And it takes more than one kind of person to do that."

    Brewer noted that "there were five women on the board at Amazon when I was on the board, and the conversations were very rich and in depth because you had cross-sections of people willing to challenge the status quo … "

    KC's View:

    I completely agree with this.  Companies are best served when their leadership reflects the diversity of their customer base and their employee base.  It has been my experience that making this statement often results in some level of resistance, but it usually is coming from old white guys, so I take it with a grain of salt.  Change, after all, can be hard.

    BTW … the story notes that at Walgreens, "Brewer is championing a strategy for the drugstore chain that’s centered on its new Walgreens Health division. The initiative encompasses an ambitious partnership to bring primary care clinics to hundreds of stores and the creation of Walgreens Health Corners—in-store spaces where certain patients can get specialized screenings and additional care."  She's doing this at a time when she's also using her previous experience as COO of Starbucks to find ways to bridge the gap between physical and online experiences, something that she noted that Starbucks did extremely well with its mobile app.

    Fast Company notes that "Starbucks has had a rocky past year, beset by labor issues and criticism that the company’s 'third place' philosophy has fallen by the wayside … The growth of Starbucks’s app is, in some ways, to blame for this loss of culture."

    All of which is fair.  But it makes me wonder if "diversity," at the board or senior advisory levels, ought to extend beyond gender and ethnic definitions, and ought to include people from the front lines.  One of the things being exposed at Starbucks at the moment is the degree to which in-store employees were not being listened to, which made it harder for them to do their jobs;  in my view, this isn't because they hate the company, but because they feel invested in the company and expect it to live up to their expectations.

    Starbucks once-and-current CEO Howard Schultz seems to be taking the opposing view  - that the employees that are speaking up for themselves don't like the company, that they are the enemy, and that only he can fix things.  In my view, that's a flawed calculus.

    Published on: April 28, 2022

    A company called Lucidworks, which describes itself as connecting "experiences throughout the entire user journey to meet customer and employee intent in the moment," making it easier "for customers to capture user signals and create personalized search, browse, and discovery experience" (whatever that all means), is out with a survey of online shoppers in the US and UK, concluding that "nearly 60% of shoppers experience a preferred item frequently or almost always being out-of-stock online."

    In turn, Lucidworks offers three suggestions to keep these shoppers loyal even to the online stores that they find lacking:

    1.  "Make relevant recommendations. Shoppers are open to substitutes for a large portion of their groceries."

    2.  "Alert shoppers when their preferred items are low-in-stock and back in stock. They’re ready to buy."

    3.  "Ensure shoppers can find the items you do have. Smart search and filtering boosts average order value."

    KC's View:

    It was a few months ago, when supply chain issues started getting serious and many stores were suffering from severe out of stocks, that I recommended something here that sounds similar to what these folks are recommending - explain to people why items are not available, and take their names, email addresses and phone numbers so that when the item comes in, they can be notified (and even have a few SKUs put aside for them).

    I was referring to bricks-and-mortar stores, but I think the practice ought to be pout into place whether the store is physical or digital.  Of course, I got a lot of pushback from folks who thought this was a radical idea that demonstrated how little I know about retail.  Now that an actual software company has done an actual survey and recommended something in the same vein - as opposed to me just having the idea out of the clear blue sky - maybe people in the industry will take it seriously.

    Published on: April 28, 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…

    •  The United States now has had a total of 82,888,247 total cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 1,019,774 deaths and 80,585,919 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 511,582,445 total cases, with 6,253,532 resultant fatalities and 465,261,066 reported recoveries.   (Source.)



    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 77.5 percent of the total US population has received at least one dose of vaccine … 66.1 percent are fully vaccinated … and 45.7 percent of fully vaccinated people have received a vaccine booster dose.

    Published on: April 28, 2022

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Bloomberg reports that henceforth, Amazon "will let warehouse workers keep mobile phones with them on the job, abandoning plans to resume a ban temporarily lifted during the pandemic … For years, Amazon prohibited employees from having their phones on warehouse floors and required them to leave them in their vehicles or in lockers near break rooms. After temporarily relaxing the ban during the pandemic, the company announced last year that it planned to reimpose the prohibition. When workers complained, Amazon said it would allow phones 'until further notice'."

    "We recognize the desire for employees to keep their mobile phones inside facilities and the last two years have demonstrated that we can safely do so,” Amazon said in an email to employees. “Therefore, we are making the temporary phone policy permanent, worldwide, in all of our operations facilities.”

    Or, to put it another way, Amazon has enough trouble dealing with unionization issues in some of its warehouses, and saw no need to hand organizers another arrow for their quiver.



    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "after years of resisting DIY repairs, Apple opened a new online store Wednesday where anyone can view repair manuals and order replacement parts and tools for certain recent devices. The new Self Service Repair Store sells screens, batteries, cameras and other parts to fix some issues with iPhone 12 and 13 models and 2022’s updated iPhone SE. Later this year, it will stock parts and tools to fix Macs that have Apple silicon chips.

    "Just don’t expect to save much money doing repairs yourself. Buying parts to fix an iPhone 12 Mini on your own would cost only $3 less than having your out-of-warranty device fixed at an Apple Store, for instance. And you’d still have to pay for tools."



    •  Amazon's Just Walk Out technology, as well as its Amazon One biometric system, now will be available at T-Mobile Park, home of the Seattle Mariners.  The companies say that this is "the first time both frictionless retail technologies will be utilized in a Major League Baseball ballpark. The innovative technologies will be featured at the venue’s new Walk-Off Market, which is designed to eliminate lines and allow fans to enjoy more Mariners baseball.  The Walk-Off Market, which is run by hospitality company Sodexo Live!, is scheduled to open this summer.

    Not sure if this will elevate T-Mobile Park from being my second-favorite among post-1962 ballparks to the number one position … but it couldn't hurt.

    Published on: April 28, 2022

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  CNBC reports that Walmart said yesterday that "it will offer deeper discounts on fuel to nudge more customers to join and renew Walmart+," its answer to Amazon Prime.

    Price cuts on gasoline are seen as being a prime motivator of consumer behavior during this time of significant inflation:  "Starting Wednesday, Walmart+ members will be able to save up to 10 cents per gallon at more than 14,000 gas stations. The retailer already offered a fuel discount, but it has doubled the savings and increased the eligible gas stations more than sixfold through a partnership with Exxon Mobil."

    According to the CNBC story, "Walmart has looked to the subscription service, which launched about 18 months ago, as a way to expand its e-commerce business and encourage customers to boost store and website spending … Walmart+ costs $98 per year, or $12.95 per month. It includes free shipping of online purchases, free grocery deliveries to the home for orders of at least $35, prescription discounts and other benefits.

    "With inflation at a four-decade high, Walmart is flexing its low prices as a competitive advantage. Walmart CEO Doug McMillon told CNBC late last year that the company would use inflation as an opportunity to win customers. Early this month, the company aired a new TV commercial that stressed Walmart as the place to find value at a time when “every day seems to get more and more expensive."



    •  The Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports that Walmart's Canadian stores "are now outfitting some of their workers with a ring-mounted scanner that the company says helps them fill online grocery orders faster … The scanners make it easier and more comfortable for store workers to 'pick' items for orders, the company said, and their lightweight and intuitive design keeps both hands free for picking."

    According to the story, more than 1,500 of the rings have been deployed at some 130 of Walmart's 148 stores in Canada.

    The story goes on to note that "wearable technology, also called wearables, has become widely popular as devices such as smart watches, fitness trackers and medical alert monitors.

    "The hands-free gadgets send and receive data over the internet. They can be worn as accessories, embedded in clothing and implanted or even tattooed on the skin.

    "But they are evolving from consumer accessories to more specialized and practical uses in many industries, including retail."

    I know I'm really dating myself here, but all this wearable technology stuff reminds me of a not-very good 1972 TV series called "Search," which starred Hugh O'Brian, Doug McClure and Tony Franciosa as security agents linked to Burgess Meredith as their boss by a small scanner that could be embedded on a necklace or ring.  Who knew how prescient it was?

    Published on: April 28, 2022

    •  Acosta is out with a new research report, into plant-based eating, concluding that "forty percent of consumers surveyed in March 2022 purchased plant-based meat and/or dairy products within the last six months, with over half of those surveyed (60%) purchasing plant-based products several times a month … Seventy-seven percent of consumers surveyed buy plant-based foods at traditional grocery stores … (and)  Twenty percent of consumers surveyed buy plant-based foods online."

    In addition, the report says, "Sixty-four percent of plant-based buyers purchase within this category at least several times a month … Fifty-seven percent of plant-based buyers say they intend to consume plant-based alternatives throughout their lives … (and) Nearly 20% of plant-based buyers say they follow a fully plant-based lifestyle."

    The survey also says that "about 33% of all U.S. shoppers claim to perceive plant-based foods as a fad, despite growing interest and demand."



    •  The Washington Post reports that "lawmakers on Capitol Hill aggressively questioned the chief executives of the country’s four major beef producers, accusing them of engaging in anti-competitive practices that have financially harmed cattle ranchers and driven up the price of meat.

    "The four multinational corporations — National Beef, JBS, Cargill and Tyson — control 85 percent of the beef industry. Allegations that these meatpackers have abused their position in a highly concentrated market to fix prices has led to $400 million in fines and settlements in recent years. Critics of the companies’ conduct also say industry consolidation has squeezed both ends of the supply chain, with ranchers being paid unsustainable prices for their cattle and consumers overpaying at the grocery store.

    "Defenders of the meatpacking firms say they are being scapegoated for inflation."

    Published on: April 28, 2022

    •  Kroger announced that Dave Richard, vice president of operations for its Fred Meyer subsidiary, has been named president of its QFC business.

    Before joining Kroger in 2019, Richard was with Albertsons for almost 35 years, including a stint as VP-operations for its Seattle division.

    Published on: April 28, 2022

    Yesterday we took note of an Axios Capital analysis concluding that e-commerce can be at least partly blamed for current rates of inflation.  The logic:  

    "We no longer live in a 'Price is Right' world where any given item has a knowable true price that is broadly unchanged from day to day or from store to store. Instead, prices are constantly fluctuating and unpredictable - which makes them much easier to raise."

    I commented:

    I'm not sure that e-commerce is to blame as much as technology in general. But the point is fair - it is far easier to change pricing when all you have to do is touch a button. There's no cash changing hands, so the increases become largely invisible.  Until you get the bill, of course … and the bill always comes due.

    Changing prices may be easier, but that means that it also is easier to upset shoppers and ruin whatever relationship you may have with them.

    One MNB reader observed:

    Don’t go too far with your price increases, it’s also easier to comparison shop.

    From another reader:

    Interesting commentary from Axios Capital, but we might as well just blame “Capitalism”.  I mean seriously, how dare a business raise their prices to cover higher costs. 

    By design, the ROI on many tech solutions are to do things “Faster, Cheaper, Better…etc”.  The fact that any business can react quicker to rising costs should put that company in a position to stay in business longer.  The good news for all of us is that we have choices.  If you don’t like the business model, choose something different.  Trying to blame e-commerce for rising inflation sounds like something from a Youtube conspiracy video…..(wait…could it be…oh no!....)

    I take your point, and agree that retailers can and should be able to raise their prices to cover higher costs.

    But retailers also have to be careful not to alienate the customers on which they depend.  Sometimes that may mean taking lesser margin, and sometimes it may mean being transparent about the reasons for price hikes.  Anything that smells remotely like price gauging - even if that is not a fair assessment - can do serious damage to a retailer's value proposition.

    From another reader:

    We have been having conversations about this issue for months.  There is very little comparison shopping in e-commerce.  Thus, the objective is to get the first purchase when you move in to the particular e-commerce ecosystem.  Then the power of “repeat my order” or “subscribe and save” takes over. 

    A lost sale often becomes a lost consumer!  With (almost) infinite variety an Amazon shop is completed in an average of fifteen minutes.  This certainly supports that convenience trumps value.  Inflation is absolutely real for many, many reasons but I would support the premise that an e-commerce shop will generally be more expensive than a brick and mortar shop, but on the basis of HOW the consumer is conducting the shop.



    MNB reader (and my boss at Portland State University) Tom Gillpatrick wrote:

    Great story about Smorgasburg today.... I totally agree, retailers need to connect!

    This is a market development effort, that builds engagement, about food, experience and could potentially carry to retailer.

    These are the kind of connections that customers value and tell their friends about!



    And, on another subject, from MNB reader Steve Ritchey:

    Shrinkflation is nothing new, it's been around for years.

    The standard size tuna can is called a "quarter can" because it held 1/4 of a pound, or 4 oz.  It's less than 4 oz. now, in an effort years ago to let us think the price hadn't gone up.  Same thing with candy, the size of a regular candy bar shrunk, but the price stayed the same, that was over 20 years ago.  A #10 can used to always be a 1 gallon can, now it tends to be 100 os., the standard canned vegetable can is a 303 can, it used to hold 16 oz. now it's 14.5 oz.



    I got several emails yesterday about Larry Johnston's return to the food business through his purchase of a "major stake" in the Peach Cobbler Factory Franchise Company LLC.  I made mention of the reputation that he earned while CEO of Albertsons, which prompted one MNB reader to write:

    Thanks for letting us know never to go into a Peach Cobbler Factory (wherever and whatever that is). 

    That man is reviled throughout Idaho, much less at the Company.   Legendary a****le and s*****g.

    And, from another reader:

    I was at Shaw’s when Albertsons took over and we were all called down to the cafeteria one morning to meet Larry Johnson, resplendent in his Steve Jobs designer tee shirt and he opens the meeting with “I bet you’re all wondering how tall I am”. We were all wondering how soon the layoffs and downsizing would start. We called him the Toaster Salesman.

    Ah … feels like 2006 all over again.



    And finally, reacting to comments made by both Michael Sansolo and me about the New York Mets' current winning ways, one MNB reader wrote:

    Honestly, while the Mets are doing quite well now, even after 17 games with a 12-5 record, that means they still have 145 games left.  I can't help but believe, going on their past history, they'll find a way to screw it up, it's still a long season.

    But that doesn't mean you can't enjoy it while it lasts.

    Trust me, Michael and I are nothing if not fatalistic about the Mets.  But we're feeling good at the moment, and we're going to enjoy it.

    And from another reader:

    As my father used to say, “talk to me after the All Star break.” Gosh, I miss those conversations with him. No matter how upset he might be with me, or me with him, we could switch the conversation to the Dodgers and the anger would dissipate into why they were winning or losing. Those debates were the glue that held us together.

    Best. Game. Ever. Indeed.

    Published on: April 28, 2022

    I'm traveling to a family wedding this weekend, which happens to coincide with my 39th wedding anniversary on Sunday, May 1.

    (Not sure how it got to be 39 years. The odd thing is that Mrs. Content Guy hasn't changed at all...)

    So, I'm going to be taking a few days off.  MNB won't be posted tomorrow, Friday, nor on Monday … but I'll be back on Tuesday, May 3.

    I hope you have a great weekend.

    Sláinte!