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    Published on: November 10, 2022

    I was just reading a piece in Business Insider about how some companies have created the role of Chief Purpose Officer in their c-suites, with that executive charged with connecting "a company and its employees to a purpose at work."  The idea is to address the problem of burnout, and I think it is conceptually smart but only part of the equation and one approach to creating a North Star for employees and a culture of caring that is both good for workers and business.

    Published on: November 10, 2022

    by Kevin Coupe

    I love stories.  I love it when retailers tell stories … because a clear narrative connected to retailer's brand equity and value proposition creates an enormous opportunity for differentiation.

    It was just a week or so ago that I drew your attention to an email from Wegmans in which it identified the different kinds of needs that shoppers have going into the Thanksgiving holiday, and explaining the ways in which it could satisfy those needs. 

    Yesterday, Wegmans did it again.

    I got an email from company CEO Coleen Wegmans.  (Not a personal note, alas … I'm pretty sure everybody in the system got one.  But … there is real power in personalizing communications, as opposed to having the email just come from a company.)

    The email explained that Wegmans has made a change in suppliers for its rotisserie chickens, and why the retailer has chosen to partner with Bell & Evans Farm, which offers "the best-tasting chicken on the market, raised humanely on family farms and without antibiotics."

    Wegmans also provided a link to the bigger story.

    Here's the deal.  Wegmans could've changed chicken vendors without mentioning it.  It could've chosen a vendor based on lower costs and kept charging the same amount, which would've given it better margins.  But instead, it decided to use the moment to make a point, to tell a story, and to do so in a way that actually sends a broader message about Wegmans' priorities, and how it wants to serve as an agent for the customer.

    I love stories.  I love it when retailers tell stories … because a clear narrative connected to retailer's brand equity and value proposition creates an enormous opportunity for differentiation.  Which is the Eye-Opening thing that Wegmans has done.

    Published on: November 10, 2022

    Bloomberg reports that " Inc. is the world’s first public company to lose a trillion dollars in market value as a combination of rising inflation, tightening monetary policies and disappointing earnings updates triggered a historic selloff in the stock this year.

    "Shares in the e-commerce and cloud company fell 4.3% on Wednesday, pushing its market value to about $879 billion from a record close at $1.88 trillion on July 2021. Amazon and Microsoft Corp. were neck-and-neck in the race to breach the unwelcome milestone, with the Windows software maker close behind after having lost $889 billion from a November 2021 peak."

    The story goes on:

    "The world’s largest online retailer has spent this year adjusting to a sharp slowdown in e-commerce growth as shoppers resumed pre-pandemic habits. Its shares have fallen almost 50% amid slowing sales, soaring costs and a jump in interest rates. Since the start of the year, co-founder Jeff Bezos has seen his fortune dwindle by about $83 billion to $109 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

    "Last month, Amazon projected the slowest revenue growth for a holiday quarter in the company’s history as shoppers reduce their spending in the face of economic uncertainty. That sent its market value below $1 trillion for the first time since the pandemic-fueled rally in tech stocks more than two years ago."

    KC's View:

    What do you think?  Should we start organizing a GoFundMe page for Jeff Bezos?

    In all seriousness … Amazon may be facing nine miles of bad road, but I have a lot of confidence in the soundness of the core businesses and the ability of the company to rebound even as it looks for places in which it can jump-start growth.

    One of those places is grocery … and I continue to believe that food will be one of the tools that Amazon will employ to pave over the roughest part of the road.  I would look for Amazon to continue investing in the reinvention the food shopping experience.  I also continue to believe that Amazon isn't that far away from a transformative move in food - one great executive with passion and vision, and the ability to fuse the company's virtual and physical businesses in a way that makes sense to shoppers, would make all the difference.

    Published on: November 10, 2022

    The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal reports that Target "is launching a new internship program for students at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

    "The Target Scholars Sophomore Internship Program offers work experience to second-year students in the Minneapolis-based retailer's stores, supply chain facilities, technology, merchandising, product development and other areas. The eight-to-10-week program will take up to 100 participants in each class, giving them a chance to work on projects across the business."

    The new initiative is described as being "the latest expansion of the Target Scholars program, launched in 2021 to provide $5,000 scholarships to 1,000 first-year HBCU students studying technology, design and leadership, plus mentoring, internship opportunities, networking and other support throughout their college career."  The Target Scholars program is itself "part of the company's Racial Equity Action and Change (REACH) commitment, formed in 2020 to accelerate diversity, equity and inclusion goals within Target and to provide support to Black communities."

    Published on: November 10, 2022

    Interesting piece in the New York Times the other day about so-called "fast furniture" - bought during the pandemic lockdowns, and now about to be tossed into the trash.

    Here's how the Times frames the story:

    "Americans bought piles of furniture during the pandemic, with sales on desks, chairs and patio equipment jumping by more than $4 billion from 2019 to 2021, according to a market data company. And a lot of it won’t survive the decade.

    "Fast furniture, which is mass-produced and relatively inexpensive, is easy to obtain and then abandon. Like fast fashion, in which retailers like Shein and Zara produce loads of cheap, trendy clothing that’s made to be discarded after only a few wears, fast furniture is for those looking to hook up but not settle down. It’s the one-season fling of furnishings.

    "Many of the Ikea beds and Wayfair desks bought during the Covid-19 lockdown were designed to last about five years, said Deana McDonagh, a professor of industrial design at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. 'I relate to fast furniture like I do to fast food,' Ms. McDonagh said. 'It’s empty of culture, and it’s not carrying any history with it'."

    The Times suggests that there are different motivations at play in how people choose their furniture.  Sometimes, especially during the pandemic, people just needed stuff fast in order to adapt to changed life and work circumstances.  Sometimes fast furniture "offers millions of homeowners the opportunity to live in a stylish home at an affordable price point. As young people contend with skyrocketing housing prices and economic anxiety, even those who would prefer to browse antique markets or shop for custom pieces simply don’t have the resources to do so."

    Still, the Times notes, there is an environmental cost:  "Each year, Americans throw out more than 12 million tons of furniture, creating mountains of solid waste that have grown 450 percent since 1960, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Bits of tossed furniture can be recycled, but the vast majority ends up in landfills."

    KC's View:

    To me, it is an interesting parallel … because food retailers are sort of facing the same positioning issues.  Food can be non-differentiated, non-nutritious, non-sustaining … or it can be aspirational, inspirational, and fulfilling in all sorts of different ways.  Food retailers can, of course, split the difference and offer food that fits in both camps.

    But I think it is important for retailers to think about not just the disposable nature of the products they sell, but also whether the relationships they are creating with their shoppers are being treated as disposable.  There is something to be said for creating sustainable connections, in the same way that a good chair and a well-made desk (not necessarily wildly expensive chairs and desks) is a greater pleasure to work at than a folding chair and card table.  (Trust me on this - I've worked at the latter far more than the former.)

    Published on: November 10, 2022

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Axios reports that "the Consumer Price Index cooled more than expected in October: it rose 7.7% from a year earlier, down from 8.2% the prior month, the Labor Department said on Thursday … Inflation still remains painfully high, but a bigger-than-expected easing in price pressures for items like used cars and apparel helped pull the overall index down."

    •  Southeastern Grocers Inc. (SEG) announced yesterday that "now through Nov. 22, all Winn-Dixie stores are offering a Thanks-Winning holiday meal for under $30 with everything customers need to cook a traditional Thanksgiving feast at home for their families and friends. The $30 Thanksgiving meal includes a 12-pound or less frozen Butterball Turkey and SE Grocers sides, including Turkey Stuffing Mix, Yams Cut Sweet Potatoes, Canned Sweet Peas, Jellied Cranberry Sauce and Canned Green Beans, as well as a 12-pack of Dinner Rolls and an 8-inch Pumpkin Pie from the bakery."

    Companies like Aldi, Walmart and now Winn-Dixie are using the Thanksgiving holiday - which may be challenging for a lot of shoppers - as an opportunity to draw the line on prices and cast themselves as being there for the consumer.  Carpe diem, baby.

    •  Ahold Delhaize said that its Q3 US sales were up 8.8 percent to $14.75 billion, compared to the same period a year ago, on same-store sales that were up 8.6 percent.  Online sales for the period were up 20.8 percent to $1.08 billion.

    Global sales for Ahold Delhaize in Q3 were $22.28 billion, up 20.8 percent from the same period a year ago, with global online sales up 20.2 percent.

    Published on: November 10, 2022

    •  Grocery Outlet announced that its president,  R.J. Sheedy, will take on the role of president-CEO as of January 1, as the current CEO, Eric Lindberg, transitions to the role of chairman of the board.

    Published on: November 10, 2022

    More comments in our "what's wrong with America" conversation…

    One MNB reader wrote:

    A big thank you for the Morning News Beat, it is a great addition to my mornings and no doubt to many others mornings. 

    It’s not common for me to speak up, but I felt it important to add a different kind of comment to your take on the problem with America. 

    The comments that you shared with us, and your own commentary as well, all expressed the same thing, that too many Americans have stopped caring. Multiple comments reinforcing the existence of the issue, but beyond calling it out there were not any calls to action. In the industries that we represent we have the privilege of touching the lives of practically every person in this country. Surely we can do more. More to model the correct behavior, to teach it, to encourage it. 

    How do we help others do better, at home, at the workplace, in little interactions in our daily lives? I won’t pretend like I have the answers, and I’m not demanding any either. But I’m willing to bet there are people out there with more to offer in that regard. We all just need the courage to speak up, to call it out, and then to go further. 

    Got the following email from MNB reader John Lacaria: 

    Wow, Kevin! I watched your rant about what’s wrong with America and agreed that entitlement is a real problem. However, I was disappointed to see the “Your Views” letters you decided to give air to today.

    From the “l can tell if a person is disabled by looking at them” to the “I’m a big man so I call people out, but I don’t want my (weak, fragile???) wife doing it” comments, I think you might be peddling in dangerous territory. After reading some of these comments I found myself questioning who is acting entitled. What happened to assuming best intentions?

    I’d argue people who make assumptions about others are more likely to exhibit behaviors that are discriminatory. Besides, many cities allow delivery vehicles to use no parking zones for the purpose of making deliveries. Was your SUV driver just some poor gig worker trying to complete enough deliveries to put food on the table? Keep up the great work with Morning News Beat. You regularly show your strong sense of character and I’m sure you’ll take this opportunity to let your readers know you don’t condone discriminatory behavior.

    Of course I don't condone discriminatory behavior.  But…

    To be honest, I read your email and had to go back to see if somehow I'd let something get through in the letters that I had not intended.

    Maybe I just read it differently than you did, but the reader who wrote … 

    I get irritated when people who are physically able don’t put away shopping carts, drop their trash wherever they want, and the most irritating, people who park in handicapped spots and no parking spots like the large white SUV in the background of your video.  I regularly call people out who do these things (I don’t want my wife doing it) but I am a larger man and rarely has anyone wanted to physically challenge me.  What happened to common courtesies and looking out for your fellow human? 

    … didn't strike me the same way it did you.  To me, he was just suggesting that there are people out there who park in handicapped spaces, or park their SUVs in spaces reserved for fuel-efficient vehicles, or men who park in spaces reserved for pregnant people, ignoring rules and/or social niceties.  I don't think he's wrong on that.  As for his being protective of his wife … maybe you could accuse him of being a tad gender-regressive, but I thought it was kind of sweet.  (Maybe I'm old-fashioned.)

    As for the SUV in my video…the guy parked there, and went into Starbucks.  Then 4-5 passengers (family members, it appeared) jumped out and went into Starbucks.  And they were in there for at least 15 minutes.  This was just thoughtlessness, pure and simple.  (Keep in mind … all he had to do was pull up maybe 15 feet into an empty parking space, and we're not even having this conversation.)

    MNB reader Steve Anvik took the conversation in a different direction:

    Using Your ‘pulpit’ to call out perceived “rule breaking” is admirable .. Unless .. you’re Elon Musk, who is Really putting His money where His mouth is; by taking on his perception of rule breaking (“slanted content at Twitter”) to call that out. Not for thee, but ok for me? That is the progressive playbook chapter 1. So while I agree with You 100%, I also see Musk’s point 100%. We can both disagree on details of the way forward, but the starting points are closer than you think.

    My quibble with Musk has nothing to do with any rule breaking he may be doing.  I have no problem with that … I think it is important to kill off some sacred cows from time to time and challenge conventional ways of doing business.

    I do have a problem with his cavalier treatment of employees.  I do have a problem with what appears to be a knee-jerk approach to running Twitter.  And I have a real problem with the lack of moderation (in both senses of that word) that allows for - and I think sometimes even encourages - hate speech, racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism.  That's not rule-breaking … that's just plain irresponsible, in my view.

    Just to be clear … Musk owns Twitter, so he can do what he wants.  He paid for the privilege.  (Way, way, way overpaid for it, in fact.)  But companies don't have to advertise on it, and people don't have to use it, if they find his ownership and approach to be offensive.  This isn't cancel culture.  It just means he isn't the only one with rights.

    Responding to Michael Sansolo's column about backlash against self-service options at retail, one MNB reader wrote:

    Yes, self-serve checkouts are here to stay (unfortunately for me, too).  Look at the basket sizes for the people that use these lanes.  I would like to see some type of info on the comparison.  My guess, and this is a personal assumption, they are much smaller than staffed registers.  If that is a true observation, what then is the real impact of self-serve?  From a community standpoint.  Bad indicator.  Keep your head down.  Don’t interact with anyone and get the heck out of the store.  From a business standpoint, less revenue going out the door.  Look at club stores.  They too have self-checkout, and the majority of those users have small orders too.  All the larger orders go through the staffed registers.  And yes, the shrink aspect is real.  How many people especially in the current economy don’t ring up items? 

    So, the question becomes, what is the real savings to the business?  Less labor but more shrink, where is the tipping point?  How does a retailer provide service and become a point of differentiation?  I still say, staff the checkouts.  Create the atmosphere for interaction.  At slower times get the staff in the aisles.  Create as much opportunity to engage your customer.  Maybe, just maybe, those head downer, get out the store quick shoppers, will linger longer, enjoy a smile, and GFB… buy more goods. 

    And from another MNB reader:

    I agree with him. I don't like bagging, don't mind scanning so much BUT when I purchase certain items someone has to come over and okay the purchase anyway. Didn't save me anytime because now I can't move forward until I am approved to check out. AND when my local Walmart remodeled they got rid of most of the self checkouts that had conveyors, so I am trying to check out, bag, load my cart and not miss anything in the process. I end up frustrated. So I am being a cranky old lady and standing in line for the one cashier. If I am going to waste my time I would rather have someone else bag my groceries.