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    Published on: September 23, 2022

    You may have seen that Major League Baseball has decided on three major changes for the 2023 season - larger bases (to prevent injuries), a pitch clock (to speed up the game), and a ban of the shift (if you don't know what this is, I'll explain it in the video).  While I tend to be a traditionalist on such matters, I'm trying to show some degree of personal growth and not fall back on "that's the way it always has been" thinking.  And so I have some thoughts about these changes … and a business lesson (naturally) for retailers.

    Published on: September 23, 2022

    by Kevin Coupe

    Axios reports on a new poll it conducted revealing that "eighty-two percent of Gen Zers say the idea of doing the minimum required to keep their jobs is pretty or extremely appealing — and 15% of that share are already doing so … 85% of young women find the idea of doing the minimum to get by appealing, and 79% of young men feel the same way.  82% of white respondents, 86% of Black respondents, and 79% of Asian respondents share this view of work, as do 84% of Democrats, 79% of Republicans, and 83% of independents."

    In other words, "the desire to work to live, instead of living to work," cuts across gender, racial and political lines.

    To which I have two reactions.

    First … isn't it nice that there's something about which so many people agree .

    Second … Yikes.

    I think we all should find these numbers alarming.  Companies, countries and cultures cannot make progress when their people do the minimum necessary.

    Lowest common denominator effort and lowest common denominator goals inevitably lead to lowest common denominator results. 

    The Axios story points out that respondents in general "ranked work lower on their list of priorities than family, friends, wellness, and hobbies."  It also posits that "it's good that younger people are forming healthier boundaries around work — and totally understandable they're prioritizing other things, given issues like climate change and social unrest that can make corporate ladder-climbing seem pointless."

    Again, two reactions.

    First, I suspect that leadership at Axios doesn't think it is good when its own employees put in the minimum time and effort in their work.  (Axios was sold to Cox Enterprises for more than a half-billion dollars about a month ago.  Companies don't usually fetch that kind of price as a result of medium effort.)

    Second … and this is the Eye-Opening business lesson … if we accept the basic premise of these survey results, it makes it an even higher priority for business leaders to create organizational cultures that communicate the importance of doing more, not less, in one's work life.  That means creating a culture of caring and acknowledges and addresses this trend, not simply decries it.  That means helping everyone within an organization to understand why their contributions matter, and how their individual roles support the whole, and why what they do is meaningful.

    Maybe I'm old fashioned … and maybe I'm just old … but I'm a believer in aspiration, perspiration and inspiration.  But those things don't just happen.  They occur in companies when business leaders actually lead.

    Published on: September 23, 2022

    Axios reports that "Walmart+ members in some U.S. markets will be able to schedule to have returns picked up from their doorsteps starting the first week in October … 'Return Pickup from Home' is scheduled by app."

    Walmart says that "members won’t need to provide a box or a label – simply hand off the return to one of our delivery drivers."

    At the same time, Axios reports, "Walmart announced a 'holiday guarantee' Thursday that extends returns, starting Oct. 1 and running through Jan. 31.  The window is starting more than a month earlier than in past years, Tom Ward, Walmart U.S. executive vice president, told Axios."

    KC's View:

    This is one step beyond what Amazon has been offering at drop-off locations for returns, where you don't need packaging to make a return - just the item and a QR code generated online.

    Can you imagine if those gray Amazon vans that make deliveries also picked up returns?  It'd be a big deal .. but Walmart got there first.  (I have to wonder if Amazon will quickly move to match this offering.)

    This is all about eliminating friction - wherever and whenever you can.  It takes different forms, depending on the venue and the marketplace and the consumer demographic.  But finding friction points in the customer experience and cutting it out ought to be a high priority.

    Published on: September 23, 2022

    GeekWire reports that Amazon plans to begin using "electrofuel" - described in the story as a diesel substitute that "is made from carbon dioxide captured from an industrial source that is then combined with hydrogen that’s produced from clean energy" - to power its delivery trucks next year.

    The electrofuel is being purchased from a company called Infinium, and will be enough to fuel five million miles of truck travel a year, largely in Amazon tucks that "transport customers’ orders from vendors and its fulfillment centers to facilities used to sort and send items out for delivery."

    While "three years ago, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced The Climate Pledge, a commitment by the company to reach carbon neutrality by 2040," GeekWire points out that regardless, Amazon "has seen steady growth in its carbon footprint, though its emissions intensity — the amount of carbon released relative to how much gross revenue it generated — is decreasing … While it isn’t carbon free, Amazon is happy with the carbon reduction the electrofuel provides and the fact that it can be used in the company’s existing fleet without any changes to the engines."

    KC's View:

    I'd never even heard of electrofuel before reading this story, which points two things out to me.  One is that I don't know as much as I think I know, and the other is that it seems likely that there are a lot of options out there that will help companies - and people - reduce their carbon footprints.  Lots of small moves can add up to big impact, which is worth keeping in mind.

    Published on: September 23, 2022

    Advertising Age reports that Amazon said that its Thursday Night Football game a week ago - the first that was exclusively streamed on Amazon Prime Video - brought in a total of 15.3 million viewers across all platforms, and Nielsen said the game averaged 13 million viewers across the length of the game.

    "Across all platforms" refers to the fact that the Amazon's game coverage was carried on broadcast stations in Los Angeles and Kanas City, the local markets of the teams in the game, the Chargers and Chiefs.

    Amazon has originally predicted a viewership of 12.5 million.

    Amazon previously said that it saw record Prime membership signups during the three hours the game was on - which was the whole point of spending $11 billion for a multi-year rights contract, since it is well-known that Prime members spend significantly more on Amazon than non-Prime members.

    KC's View:

    Streaming services are going to be more of a force in sports programming as they look to find unique, differentiated events to draw in subscribers.  Having sports on traditional broadcast television used to be sacrosanct, since that's where the biggest mainstream audiences were.  But as more people sign up for streaming services, and those services are willing to write big checks, traditional business models are being assailed.  (Which is a business lesson for every traditional business.)

    Note:  If you want to watch Aaron Judge's continued pursuit of Roger Maris's American League single season home run record tonight, you have to do so on Apple TV.

    We saw another example of the shifting winds yesterday when it was announced that Apple Music will sponsor the Super Bowl halftime show next February, a deal that probably cost Apple about $50 million a year for five years.   Pepsi, which sponsored the show for almost a decade, announced that it no longer would do so earlier this year.

    Published on: September 23, 2022

    From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Trucking contractors that worked frequently for Amazon were more than twice as likely as all other similar companies to receive bad unsafe driving scores," a Journal analysis found. "About 39% of the frequent Amazon contractors in the Journal’s analysis received scores at that level.

    "Trucking companies hauling freight for Amazon have been involved in crashes that killed more than 75 people since 2015, according to the Journal’s review.

    "Amazon said its contractors had at a rate of fatalities per vehicle mile about 7% lower than the industry average in 2020. It said it offers condolences to families of people killed in crashes that involve its contractors."

    It is an extraordinary and disturbing story, and you can read it here.

    Published on: September 23, 2022

    •  From Bloomberg:

    "Walmart Canada is making a $1 billion infrastructure investment that will include renovating stores, building a fulfillment centre and new retail locations … Walmart Canada said the 'cornerstone of the investment' is a new high-tech fulfillment centre near Montreal, which will cost over $100 million to build and is set to open in 2024.

    "The delivery hub will be dedicated to fulfilling customer orders in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, the company said."

    Published on: September 23, 2022

    •  From the Associated Press:

    "Walmart and Target plan to begin offering deals and price matching offers earlier this year to keep up with Americans pressed by soaring inflation and looking for ways to ease the potential sting of holiday shopping. The holiday sales strategies, announced Thursday, come amid what is expected to be slower holiday sales growth compared with a year ago.

    "Consulting firm AlixPartners forecasts that holiday sales will be up anywhere from 4 percent to 7 percent, far below last year’s growth of 16 percent. The current inflation rate of 8.3 percent means retailers would see a decrease in real sales."

    •  From CNBC:

    "Target announced Thursday that it plans to hire 100,000 seasonal workers for the holidays and start offering markdowns the first week of October.

    "The company said the new workers will be hired after existing Target workers are given a chance to set their holiday shifts. Target hired the same number of workers for the 2021 shopping season, after hiring 130,000 the previous year. Starting wages range between $15 and $24 an hour."

    The number is significantly higher than the 40,000 seasonal workers that Walmart said it would hire this year.

    •  From Bloomberg:

    "Applications for US unemployment insurance rose for the first time in six weeks but remained historically low, suggesting demand for workers remains healthy despite an increasingly uncertain economic outlook.

    "Initial unemployment claims increased by 5,000 to 213,000 in the week ended Sept. 17, after a downward revision in the prior week, Labor Department data showed Thursday … The four-week moving average, which smooths out volatility from week to week, fell to 216,750.

    "Continuing claims dropped to 1.38 million in the week ended Sept. 10."

    •  Lidl US yesterday said that it "will introduce rotating price cuts on more than 100 items in all of its 170+ stores. Lidl will kick off the price-cutting campaign on September 28, which will continue throughout the Fall, with price drops on more than 100 everyday items rotating throughout the season … Lidl's investment in lowering prices for its customers comes as inflationary pressures have led to sharp increases in food prices for many retailers, especially on staples including meat, grains, milk, frozen prepared foods, and other key household products."

    Published on: September 23, 2022

    Yesterday we noted a New York Times piece about sophisticated political ad targeting on streaming services that suggests - if you read between the lines - the degree to which the technology could be applied to campaigns for retailers and suppliers.

    Prompting MNB reader Bob McGehee to write:

    Xfinity (everybody’s well deserved favorite punching bag) advertises a service named EffecTV.  It alludes to a huge number of consumer categories that advertisers can target to get to their best audience.  Being 71 years old, my commercials are heavy doses of prescription medications (pun intended).   That is a semi-good use of targeted marketing.

    Political ads are unsavory at best and not having full disclosure of who is behind those ads reeks of potential hanky-panky and less than pure motives.   All technology advances come with a cost that sometime isn’t worth it.  Just thinkin out loud.

    Potential hanky-panky?

    We had a reader yesterday who railed about  promotional pricing at a hot price, but in order to get that hot price, you have to buy 3-4-5 of that item … which discriminates against people who don't need that much.  Another MNB reader chimed in:

    Not only do many customers not need 3-4-5 items, my view is that it discriminates against those who cannot afford to purchase multiple quantities, and as many of those persons are minorities it amounts to illegal discrimination.  To the extent that many of these items are purchased using food stamps, the multiple purchase requirement also reduces the amount of food that the impoverished can obtain with their food stamp allotment.  One would think that in the current "woke" environment these retailers would be more sensitive to this consideration.  

    We had an MNB/In Conversation video yesterday with Doug Olson, President & Chief Media Officer of a360media, the media division of accelerate360, in which he talked about how print publications about the life, reign and passing of Queen Elizabeth II demonstrated vitality and resonance in the print media sector.

    MNB reader Glenn Cantor wrote:

    Your conversation about magazine, special issue distribution with Doug Olson brought me back to my days working for Time Inc., Retail Sales and Marketing.  Their assets are now owned and distributed by new companies.

    People magazine was our primary title. 

    When there is a unique event or death of a famous person, this was an “all-hands” on-deck project.  Everyone working for our company would work in stores that week to assist the magazine wholesalers in getting the product off trucks and quickly onto the sales floor.  We would “follow trucks.”  My territory for these projects was Manhattan.  We walked from store to store.  The interesting thing about printed publications is that they are perishable, in the same way as is dairy.  In this case, these special issues will sell only for a few days, when the event is still top of mind.  These magazines are consider collectibles, which creates purchase demand beyond merely reading about the event online.

    Yesterday, we referenced an Axios piece about new Pew Research indicating that "Christians could fall below 50% of the U.S. population by 2070 if recent trends continue."

    Over the last three decades, the story said, increasing numbers of Americans have stopped describing themselves as Christians and instead say they are atheists, agnostic, or "nothing in particular … Depending on whether this trend slows, stops or speeds up, Pew projects the number of Christians of all ages will shrink from 64% to between 54% and 35% of all Americans by 2070 … 'Nones' would rise from the current 30% to 34%-52% of the U.S."

    This is an enormous shift, and I commented:

    To be clear, this shift may be more about identity than belief;  just because a person is unaffiliated with an organized religion does not necessarily mean than they do not believe in a specific deity.  This change could reflect a broader skepticism in the nation's population about all institutions, but it also could be accelerated by the behavior of some religious institutions.  (The Catholic Church, for example, has alienated a percentage of its members through its handling of sexual abuse scandals and the priests who committed them.)

    Businesses that depend on some level of institutional respect in their communities need to be aware of these Eye-Opening statistics, I think - they are reflective of broad and deep cultural shifts in how people think and how people act.  For retailers who depend on those people for their sales and profits, these things matter.

    One MNB reader responded:

    Very interesting article on Christians and religion.  As I move through life and the aging process, I see more and more of a lack of morals and ethics in the younger generations.  Hmmm…could that be because of the decline of Christianity?  

    Your question assumes that people who define themselves as Christian are inherently more moral and ethical than people who define themselves as being part of non-Christian religions, or not part of any organized religion at all.  I would argue that this isn't even close to being true.

    I'd also challenge the notion that younger generations are less moral and ethical.  I think there is plenty of evidence to the contrary, not to mention plenty of evidence that their elders are perfectly capable of acting in immoral, unethical ways.

    Published on: September 23, 2022

    In Thursday Night Football, the Cleveland Browns defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 29-17.

    Published on: September 23, 2022

    …will return.

    In the meantime, have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.