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    Published on: July 7, 2022

    Before I went away, I needed to set up my iPhone for international usage.  The experience with AT&T was a lesson in ineffective - and then, effective - customer communication.  

    Published on: July 7, 2022

    Walmart announced yesterday that it is folding its InHome Delivery service, which allows employees to deliver groceries directly into shoppers' home refrigerators, into its Walmart+ program as an optional add-on.

    " What were previously two standalone memberships are joining forces to bring all delivery capabilities into a single, streamlined experience, allowing new and existing members to choose the membership plan that appeals the most to them based on the type of delivery service they want," the company said.

    "Members of Walmart+’s $12.95 a month/$98 a year program can now add unlimited fee-free and tip-free InHome delivery for an extra $7 a month or $40 per year. That is $138 annually for both, $10 less than previous annual pricing when Walmart+ and InHome were separate memberships. New customers who sign up for both services also get to enjoy the lower rate of the combined programs."

    Walmart said that it also is "launching InHome in several new markets including Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Dallas, Austin, San Jose and San Francisco, nearly doubling the footprint where this service is available. As that added layer of convenience, InHome delivery enables customers to pick and choose where their groceries are delivered – anywhere from their doorstep to directly into the refrigerator."

    The announcement notes that "Walmart’s eCommerce sales grew by 38% over the last two years, and Walmart continues to invest in the delivery space to create a seamless, flexible experience for customers. Additionally, the retailer is ramping up delivery slot capacity by 35% this year to meet growing demand and continues to expand to new markets."

    KC's View:

    I've always been a little skeptical about the InHome service … I don't even like it when Mrs. Content Guy reorganizes the refrigerator, and so the idea of some stranger coming into the house and doing it strikes me as a little distasteful.

    So I have to wonder if this comment from Whitney Pegden, Vice President and General Manager, InHome at Walmart, is a little bit of hyperbole…

    “We know how much InHome members love this service – they see the same familiar faces and build real relationships with our associates, who help them get through their busy weeks.  InHome has one of the highest customer experience ratings in the business, and now we’ve made it even easier to access in even more locations as we grow to reach over 30 million households by the end of the year.”

    Maybe I'm just getting old and cranky.  Maybe people around the country really are forming relationships with people who come in and stock their fridges.  But I confess that I remain skeptical, I would like to see the demographics on this, and would love to have an MNB reader who has used inHome to tell me about the experience and explain to me why I am wrong.

    Published on: July 7, 2022

    Bloomberg writes this morning that "the recession calls are getting louder on Wall Street, but for many of the households and businesses who make up the world economy the downturn is already here."  To many, the story says, "the technical definitions of a recession - traditionally two quarters of contraction - are irrelevant."

    Bloomberg goes on:

    "Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economists put the risk of such a slump in the US in the next year at 30%. A Bloomberg Economics model sees a 38% chance in the same period, with the risks building beyond that time frame. But for many it already feels like it’s here. More than one-third of Americans believe the economy is now in a recession, according to a poll last month by CivicScience.

    "The worries among small business owners, consumers and others are illustrated by so-called Misery Indexes, which blend unemployment and inflation rates. The gauge for the US is already 12.2%, similar to levels witnessed at the start of the pandemic and in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, according to Bloomberg Economics … The reason? Prices are soaring worldwide, particularly for essential foods and fuels, eroding the spending power of families. Central banks are responding to the inflation surge, but as they push up interest rates that turns the screw on those with debts.  Workers are complaining their wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of living, a frustration that’s already led to strikes in some countries.

    "Quite simply, people’s money is disappearing fast, and they’re worried it could get a lot worse."

    KC's View:

    This reflects something I am hearing frequently from retailers - that their numbers suggest that a recessionary mindset - if not an actually, economist-certified recession - has taken hold among shoppers.

    One of the problems is that while an actual recession may be short and shallow, the mindset may last a lot longer and be a lot deeper.

    Published on: July 7, 2022

    The New York Times reports that "the Food and Drug Administration has decided to allow Juul Labs’ vaping products to stay on the market temporarily, citing 'scientific issues' that warrant a review of the agency’s ruling last month to ban the company’s e-cigarettes.

    "The agency’s decision to conduct an internal review effectively moves the dispute out of the public eye in appellate court, where Juul had initially received a temporary reprieve, and returns it to the agency’s private administrative process. But the F.D.A. cautioned that its latest move, first announced in a tweet on Tuesday night, should not be misconstrued as a decision rescinding the original order."

    The Times goes on:

    "The F.D.A.’s decision is a twist in Juul’s journey toward seeking official authorization under rules that required it and other companies to prove their products provide more benefit to public health than harm. It was blamed for the teenage vaping crisis more than four years ago, drawing widespread anger from parents, schools and local policymakers as well as Congress.

    "On June 23, the F.D.A. took many by surprise when it issued an order telling Juul to stop selling its e-cigarette products in the United States. In a statement, the agency said that Juul’s applications to remain on the market 'lacked evidence' to prove they would benefit public health and included 'insufficient and conflicting data' about 'potentially harmful chemicals leaching' from its e-liquid pods."

    KC's View:

    I'm not fan of Juul or any of the vaping companies, but I must admit that I'm a little skeptical of the notion that these folks are being held to a standard that they must be doing more good than harm.  I even find "less harm" to be laughable, but to suggest that these things actually are doing some good?  Really?

    Published on: July 7, 2022

    Taste has an interview with Ana Yoo, the purchasing director at pricy specialty food retailer Erewhon, in which she lays out the company's process for finding and acquiring new foods for its seven Los Angeles-area stores that have things like "$25 bottles of 'hand-purified, hyper-oxygenated' water and chewy coconut jerky."

    You can read it here.

    Here's an excerpt:

    "The vendor submits product info through our website, and we ask them to send samples to go through our tasting process. Every two weeks, we taste through the products, and because each brand will send multiple flavors or products, it definitely numbers in the hundreds. We approve less than 10 percent of them. Then we go through the tasting process: whether we like the ingredients, the taste profile, the labeling. Nice packaging matters a lot at Erewhon, because I think a lot of people are shopping for the cover sometimes … When we come to our product review, we don’t necessarily look at the pricing. What I’m essentially looking to do in the review process is curate the best product, and the best ingredients, for our customers, so they can trust what they see on the shelf. Price is not what triggers us. It’s more about the ingredients, the look, and all that. Pricing tends to be considered at the later stage [in our process] than for some other grocery stores."

    KC's View:

    Perhaps the least surprising part of this story is the revelation that price is not a major determining factor in Erewhon's product selection process.  I love a good specialty food store, but for me, Erewhon exists in rarefied air that I find hard to breathe.  I appreciate what they're doing, but I find it a little inaccessible.  But clearly a lot of people find it to be the answer to their prayers … even if many of those people didn't even know precisely what they were praying for.

    That's an enormous achievement - providing solutions for problems that people don't know they have, creating answers for questions that people haven't yet asked.

    I do like the idea of being so public about the acquisition process … transparency, and the lowering of walls that can separate stores and shoppers, is a very good thing.

    Published on: July 7, 2022

    People writes that this week, the Subway fast food sandwich chain has announced a menu revamp with 12 new sandwiches, all of which "have unique names and numbers, which can make ordering faster and easier."

    Called the Subway Series, "The new items all fall under four categories, starting with cheesesteaks, which includes the Philly, the outlaw and the monster. Another flavor umbrella, dubbed the Italianos, includes three sandwiches: supreme meats, bella mozza and the boss. Of course, chicken gets its own category with sandwiches named the MexiCali, the great garlic and the champ. Rounding out the list are the clubs, which showcase the all-American club, the Subway club and the turkey Cali club."

    As a way of promoting the revamped menu, People writes, "Subway is also offering a special deal. On July 12, the sandwich chain is giving out up to one million free 6-inch Subway Series subs. Simply stop in from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at participating restaurants to grab a free sandwich."

    The Subway Series selections are not designed to be customized, the story says, though patrons can still order customized sandwiches from the menu.

    KC's View:

    Bring a cynic, I have to wonder if Subway is actually using real meats in these sandwiches, as opposed to the fake tuna that some have accused it of using in the past.

    Actually, it is interesting - best I can tell, tuna is not one of the ingredients in any of the new sandwiches.  Coincidence?  I think not.

    The fact is, Subway needs to reverse a troubling trend.  The New York Post this morning reports that Subway "shuttered 1,043 more outlets across the US than it opened in 2021, according to public filings this week.  The dip — which shrank Subway’s total footprint by nearly five percent to 21,147 locations — wasn’t as steep the net loss of 1,609 US restaurants Subway suffered in 2020. But it was worse than the 999 it lost in 2019 before the coronavirus hit, according to federal disclosures filed by the company."

    At the same time, while the company's sales did improve last year, analysts suggested it was largely because of price increases, not the sale of more sandwiches.  Which means, I suppose, that Subway's numbers are about as real as its tuna.

    If it seems like I am harping on the tuna thing, I am … but mostly it is because I am offended by food businesses (any business, really), that tries to pass a thing off as something that it is not.

    Published on: July 7, 2022

    •  Abasto reports that Walmart Puerto Rico will sell its 11 Amigo stores there to the Supermercados Pueblo chain, which operates 22 stores on the island.

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed.  Supermercados Pueblo reportedly will keep using the Amigos banner and plans to retain its employees.

    According to Abastos, "The Amigo Supermarkets chain was founded in 1966. In early 2002, when Amigo had 35 stores and 4,500 employees across the island, it was acquired by Walmart Puerto Rico, which at the time operated nine stores, one Walmart Supercenter, and seven Sam’s Clubs on the island."  Walmart currently has 25 stores and clubs in Puerto Rico, all of which are slated to be renovated using a $57 million investment.

    Published on: July 7, 2022

    •  From the Associated Press:

    "Britain's competition watchdog is investigating whether Amazon is harming competition and hurting consumers by giving an unfair advantage to merchants that pay for extra services.

    "The Competition and Markets Authority's formal investigation said Wednesday that it will look into concerns that the ecommerce giant is abusing its dominance to undermine rivals, echoing similar investigations carried out by the European Union's executive Commission and Germany's antitrust agency.

    "Amazon said it will work closely with the CMA during the investigation.

    "'We believe we’ve always worked hard to help small businesses selling on Amazon to succeed, which is in both their and our best interests,' the company said. 'We remain proud of the continued support we provide to businesses of all sizes across the U.K'."

    Published on: July 7, 2022

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  From Retail & Leisure International:

    "Gap Inc. has opened four stores in a row at its newly remodelled, 544,813sq ft global hub on Folsom Street in San Francisco.

    "Described as 'laboratory' stores, the new Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta outposts are designed to enable the brands to test product and technology innovations.  Together, the spaces add nearly 18,000sq ft of fashion retail to the city’s buzzy East Cut neighbourhood.

    "The new stores are part of Gap’s two-year renovation of its headquarters, which now boasts 15 floors of creative office space, a rooftop cafeteria and outdoor dining terrace overlooking the Bay, a coffee bar and lounge in the lobby. In addition, the ground floor features a 'co-lab' workspace, or 'maker studio' where visitors can watch Gap creative teams at work."

    I love the idea that this company actually is inviting consumers in to see the development process … it has the potential of creating a level of accessibility and engagement that can only be positive for the company's relationship with its customers.

    •  USA Today reports that "Target announced Wednesday a variety of events for the back to school season the retailer said will provide up to 20% in discounts for college students and up to 15% for teachers … Among the deals, Target is offering a bigger discount to college students using its Target Circle rewards program. Students can get 20% off a one-time purchase any time between July 3 and Sept. 3. Last year, Target offered a 15% discount.

    "The retailer is also hosting an extended teacher prep event providing teachers discounts on supplies through Target Circle. The event will run July 17 through Sept. 10, and provide savings of 15% on supplies. All teachers with valid identifications are eligible for the event."