retail news in context, analysis with attitude

With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

•  The Wall Street Journal reports that bed Bath & Beyond has put into place $375 million in new financing that it hopes will give it some breathing room as it embraces a new strategy that will include closing some 150 stores, cutting its workforce by about 20 percent, cutting its capital investments by about 40 percent, and bringing back national brands that it had replaced with private label items.

Good luck.  My question is whether Bed Bath & Beyond is simply a format for which there is no compelling need - it has, best I can tell, absolutely no differential advantage.  Before they get to spend any of that new money, management ought to be required to answer some simple questions:  What do you do that nobody else does?  What do you offer that is unique to you?  What is your plan for growing your differential advantages, making you even more distinct from the competition?

•  From the Associated Press this morning, a story about a small robot called the TX SCARA that is "filling a needed role in Japan’s 'conbini,' as the ubiquitous tiny stores selling snacks, drinks and knick-knacks are called.

"Most such stores are open 24-seven, filled with 3,000 kinds of products, but have relatively few workers. The beverage shelves in the back are farthest from the cash register, keeping workers running back and forth. And the beverage space is refrigerated, uncomfortably cold for people to stay there too many hours.

"TX SCARA, which goes at an undisclosed price, can restock up to 1,000 bottles and cans a day. Its artificial intelligence, called 'GORDON,' knows when and where products need to be placed on shelves, according to Tokyo-based Telexistence, which created TX SCARA."

Here;'s a video released by the company:

•  In the UK, the BBC reports that supermarket chains John Lewis and Waitrose "are offering staff free food from October to January to help with the cost of living.  The meals, during work hours, are for permanent staff, known as partners, as well as temporary and agency workers … A spokesman for the John Lewis Partnership told the BBC someone working a four-hour shift could choose one meal - breakfast, lunch or dinner - depending on the time of day.

"A partner working an eight-hour shift could choose two meals, he said. The food will be delivered in different ways depending on the workplace, he said.  Staff at larger stores, head offices and distribution centres will have their meals in canteens, while long distance lorry drivers would pre-order packed lunches, he said."

The BBC notes that "soaring food costs have pushed UK inflation to 10.1% with prices continuing to rise at their fastest rate for more than 40 years."