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    Published on: April 25, 2023

    We talk a lot here on MNB about how important it is for retailers to have a distinct voice that tells their story.  That's something that Lunds & Byerlys always has done - spinning a narrative about food and service with a voice that is unique and differentiated.  But in the company's White Bear Lake store, it has taken the notion one step further.  Jordan Michael is a young man with autism who works as a bagger - but he also has an amazing voice.  And so, he entertains customers at the store on a regular basis, crooning classics and oldies, developing a fan club and turning the store into even more of a destination than it usually is.

    Published on: April 25, 2023

    by Kevin Coupe

    This isn't strictly a business-of-retail story, but it is about the people who shop and work at retail.  Therefore, it matters.  And is an Eye-Opener.

    The Harvard Institute of Politics is out with a new poll with some troubling revelations about people age 30 and younger:

    "Overall, nearly half (48%) of young Americans indicate that they have felt unsafe in the past month, including 16% in a shopping mall, 15% on public transportation, 13% in their neighborhood -- and 21% somewhere else in their city or town. Twenty-one percent (21%) of college students felt unsafe at their school.

    "Forty percent (40%) of young Americans are concerned about being a victim of gun violence or a mass shooting. One-in-three (33%) are concerned about someone close to them being a victim of gun violence or a mass shooting (31%). 

    "Roughly half of female college students are concerned that they, or someone close to them, could be a victim of a mass shooting (53%) or sexual assault (49%)."

    Clearly, these concerns are having an impact:

    "The mental health of young Americans remains a significant concern. Nearly half (47%) of young adults under 30 report 'feeling down, depressed, or hopeless,' and 24% have had thoughts that they would be 'better off dead,' or of hurting themselves in some way at least several days in the last two week.

    "For the first time in this survey, we also asked about loneliness. We found 44% have been bothered by loneliness at least several days in the last few weeks. Additionally, 46% reported 'little interest or pleasure in doing things,' and 55% 'feeling nervous, anxious or on edge'."

    In addition, "Nearly three-fourths (73%) of young Americans believe homelessness can happen to anyone. Nearly one-third of all 18-to-29- year-olds (32%), including 43% of Hispanic and 39% of Black Americans, are concerned that they could personally become homeless one day."

    In other words, a generation of Americans is feeling an enormous amount of stress.  And, like I said, there are retail's customers and employees.

    Attention must be paid.

    Published on: April 25, 2023

    CNBC reports that "Amazon delivery drivers at one of the company’s California facilities joined the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the union said Monday, in a win for labor organizers that have long sought to gain a foothold at the e-retailer.

    "A group of 84 workers at Amazon’s warehouse in Palmdale, California, won voluntary recognition by Battle-Tested Strategies, a third-party delivery contractor, to be represented by the Teamsters. That allows the workers and the Teamsters to sidestep the union election process, which can be challenging and last for many months."

    The story says that "Battle-Tested Strategies is one of the legions of third-party delivery firms contracted by Amazon to shuttle packages to shoppers’ doorsteps."  The company and the Teamsters have reportedly reached a tentative agreement on a new contract that "includes immediate wage increases and substantial hourly raises, along with provisions that address concerns around health and safety standards."  The unionized employees are scheduled to vote on the contract in coming weeks.

    CNBC notes that while there has been a lot of unionization talk around Amazon, "so far, only one Amazon warehouse in the U.S. has voted to join a union. Workers at the JFK8 site on New York’s Staten Island voted last April to be represented by the Amazon Labor Union, a grassroots group of current and former employees. But the union has yet to reach a contract with Amazon, as the company continues to challenge the election results in court."

    Amazon has not yet commented on the Teamsters deal.

    KC's View:

    What's the over-under on how long it will take Amazon to decide to terminate its contract with Battle-Tested Strategies and replace it with another, non-unionized company?

    If it is legally possible, the bet here is that Amazon will try to send a message to Battle-Tested Strategies and all the delivery firms it contracts with that unionization is to be opposed at all costs, not accepted.

    At Amazon, that seems to be the battle-tested strategy.

    Published on: April 25, 2023

    Walmart announced a new Mother's Day promotion, offering free one-year Walmart+ memberships, which usually costs $80 apiece, to as many as 20,000 new moms who give birth in hospitals during the month of May.

    The company says that the campaign, dubbed the “Mother of All Savings Memberships," "showcases how Walmart+ is the ultimate mom hack, saving families time + money + so much more in their daily lives, all without sacrifice … The membership giveaway is in conjunction with Pampers Hospital Gift Program, which provides a gift bag for patients who have recently delivered a baby. This May, each gift bag will include a reusable fabric bag that moms love, coupons, a Pampers Sensitive Wipes six-count sample, informative newborn literature and, while supplies last, a free one-year Walmart+ membership."

    KC's View:

    I think this is kind of brilliant.  The customers being targeted are in need, and the message is timely and appropriate.  Kudos to Walmart for identifying an opening and taking advantage of it.  And, since Walmart would like to make its "+" program competitive with Amazon Prime, this would seem like a smart way to jump start growth.

    Published on: April 25, 2023

    Business Insider reports that in a note published this week by analysts at Bernstein, "the firm suggested Amazon could buy some or all of the divested stores from the planned Kroger and Albertsons merger. The combined companies are expected to divest at least 500 stores."

    The story notes that Amazon CEO Andy Jassy has conceded that the company has not yet found a bricks-and-mortar grocery format that it is ready to grow into a significant presence, but that it remains committed to doing so.  If the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) allows a merger of Kroger and Albertsons, but makes it contingent on a number of store divestments, "that presents an opportunity for Amazon, Bernstein analysts wrote.

    "The authors described several scenarios for the company, such as quickly rebranding stores or focusing on stores in particular regions. A deal could help Amazon build physical scale and reach in the grocery sector more quickly, the authors added … The stores likely to be sold are mostly in areas that would be attractive to Amazon. And there's finite real estate available in those regions, the analysts also noted.

    "The selling price of these divested assets is likely to be very attractive, at about three to four times earnings, before interest tax, depreciation and amortization … The authors cautioned that these scenarios were hypothetical and added that if Amazon got involved that might create new antitrust concerns. Although they said that was unlikely."

    KC's View:

    "Hypothetical" is the operative word here.

    If I had a million dollars for every time that an analyst suggested that Amazon should buy and operate retail stores that were becoming available, I'd have a lot of money.  Radio Shack and Sears are just two of the retailers that people suggested Amazon should buy and then convert the property to its own format.  It also inevitably will happen with bed Bath & Beyond.

    I'm not saying it can't happen in this case.  But Amazon's biggest problem is knowing what kind of stores it wants to operate and what its differential advantage will be.  To this point, it seems to me, the stores have existed to serve the technologies it uses.  But Amazon will only be successful, will only find a singular voice and a compelling narrative, when it realizes that the technology has to serve the vision.

    The technology can't be the vision.  Not in bricks-and-mortar.

    Published on: April 25, 2023

    ResumeBuilder is out with a new study today, concluding that "74 percent of managers and business leaders say Gen Z is more difficult to work with compared to other generations. Among the respondents surveyed, 11 percent say it is difficult to work with Gen Z 'all of the time,’ 39 percent say ‘most of the time,’ 16 percent say ‘a lot of the time, and 20 percent say ‘some of the time.’

    "Additionally, respondents cited top reasons why they believe Gen Zers are challenging to work with. Thirty-nine percent say Gen Zers ‘lack technological skills,’ 37 percent say they ‘lack effort,’ 37 percent say they ‘lack motivation,’ and 37 percent say they ‘lack productivity.’ Furthermore, respondents also say Gen Zers are ‘easily distracted,’ ‘easily offended,’ and ‘dishonest.’"

    And, "among managers who find Gen Zers difficult to work with, 59 percent say they have fired a Gen Zer. Sixty-five percent say it is ‘much more common’ or ‘somewhat more common’ to let go of Gen Z workers. In fact, 20 percent say they have had to fire a Gen Z employee within a week of their start date, while 27 percent say within a month. According to respondents, the top reasons for firing Gen Z workers is because they lack motivation and effort, and are too easily offended."

    The survey says that "among respondents who say Gen Z is the most difficult generation to work with, 34 percent say they prefer to work with Millennials, 30 percent say Gen Xers, and 4 percent say Baby Boomers. Respondents who prefer working with Millennials say this group has the highest productivity and technological skills. Likewise, respondents who prefer working with Gen Xers say this group is the most honest and productive."

    KC's View:

    I find this survey to be problematic.

    They lack technological skills?  Really?  Because this is a digitally native generation.  I'm surprised by this.

    I also wonder how many of the managers and leaders just don't like or trust Gen Z because they are different from them, they don't understand them, and they don't really want to make the effort to appreciate divergent priorities and values.

    Let's be clear. No generation is perfect.   And Gen Z may have taken as much of a hit from pandemic-related circumstances as anyone, so they may be dealing with other issues.  (I'd refer you to this morning's Eye-Opener about the stresses being felt by people 30 and younger.)

    My bet is that you can find as many Gen Xers, Millennials and Baby Boomers who are hard to manage as Gen Zers.

    Published on: April 25, 2023

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    " Inc.’s satellite-powered internet business is closer to getting off the ground. 

    "The company recently unveiled the antennas that future subscribers of its Project Kuiper internet service would need to communicate with the satellites it plans to start mass producing this year. It isn’t clear when the first of those satellites will be blasted into orbit, but Amazon has said it expects to begin delivering broadband connections for some customers by the end of 2024."

    According to the story, "Four years after unveiling Project Kuiper, Amazon has laid the groundwork to get its fleet of satellites into orbit. The company has reserved flights on a launch vehicle from rocket company United Launch Alliance, or ULA, that is already in use. Amazon also made a splash last year when it purchased more than 80 missions over a five-year period on new rockets from ULA and two other providers. Eventually, the company plans to operate more than 3,200 satellites."

    Published on: April 25, 2023

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The Spoon reports that "Starbucks is trialing Amazon’s biometric payment system, Amazon One, in the Seattle market. The system, which allows customers to pay in-store with the scan of a palm, was spotted in a Starbucks north of the company’s Seattle headquarters in Edmonds, Washington.

    "To sign up to use the system, users can pre-enroll at the Amazon One website or inside Starbucks at the Amazon One kiosk … While Starbucks has trialed Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology in the past with Starbucks/Just Walk Out combination concept stores in the New York City market, we were told this is the first time Amazon One has been trialed in an existing Starbucks location."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that Anheuser Busch InBev announced that Daniel Blake, the group vice president in charge of marketing for the company's mainstream brands, has taken a leave of absence as a result of the public relations kerfuffle that followed when the company decided to build acceptance for Bud Light in the transgender community, infuriating its more traditional customer base.

    This is in addition to Alissa Heinerscheid, Bud Light’s vice president of marketing, who also took a leave of absence.

    While the company said the two execs "decided" to take the leaves, sources tell the Journal that it was not voluntary.

    So A-B lied about that.  What a surprise.  More about this in "Your Views."

    •  From Politico:

    "A major shakeup to U.K. competition law is coming — and Big Tech’s not happy.

    "The British government will on Tuesday unveil a wide-ranging Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill that’s been subject to frantic behind-the-scenes lobbying by major tech players. They already appear to have lost the opening battle.

    "The legislation aims to rein in Big Tech’s dominance of digital markets, giving regulators powers to impose a new code of conduct on the largest firms. A newly-created Digital Markets Unit will be able to fine tech companies up to 10 percent of global turnover and disqualify directors who don’t comply with the rules."

    The code of conduct, the story says, "aims to prevent firms from use their 'market power and strategic position to distort or undermine competition' between users of their services."

    Published on: April 25, 2023

    From Variety this morning:

    "Singer, actor, producer and activist Harry Belafonte, who spawned a calypso craze in the U.S. with his music and blazed new trails for African-American performers, has died at his Manhattan home."

    He was 96.

    "An award-winning Broadway performer and a versatile recording and concert star of the ’50s, the lithe, handsome Belafonte became one of the first black leading men in Hollywood," Variety reports.  "He later branched into production work on theatrical films and telepics.

    "As his career stretched into the new millennium, his commitment to social causes never took a back seat to his professional work.

    "An intimate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he was an important voice in the ’60s civil rights movement, and he later embarked on charitable activities on behalf of underdeveloped African nations. He was an outspoken opponent of South Africa’s apartheid policies."

    Published on: April 25, 2023

    Yesterday I went on a bit of a rant about the announcement that Alissa Heinerscheid, the Bud Light marketing VP who took a lot of heat for her attempt to broaden the brand's appeal, has taken a leave of absence.

    I commented, in part:

    I want to get past the debate about whether Bud Light was right or wrong.  It is a fair argument that since Bud Light is a brand in decline, the company needed to reach beyond its traditional demographic base.  It also is fair to say that maybe they should've calculated possible blowback from reaching out to a demographic so different from its traditional base.  And, I think it is fair to say that some of the people who were the most vehement and virulent in their negative responses are transphobic cretins.  (Too far?  Too soon?)

    My response to Heinerscheid's "leave of absence" is that it proves one thing - that the powers that be at Bud Light are gutless invertebrates.

    Reality check:  Heinerscheid didn't make the decision to widen the customer base on her own.  There were meetings.  Lots of meetings.  The leadership at Bud Light, Anheuser Busch and their outside marketing consultants pondered this ad nauseam, trying to figure out how to reverse the brand's decline.

    Debate all you want about the wisdom of the strategic marketing initiative.  This was a company decision, and Heinerscheid's "leave of absence" is all about using her as a scapegoat.  This is utter B.S., especially after Anheuser Busch CEO Brendan Whitworth posted a letter that was so mush-mouthed and non-specific about the controversy that it was hard to know what he was talking about.  (If Heinerscheid was the actual author of that letter, I'm happy to reconsider my opinion.)

    I think ineffective leaders who turn their people into fall guys are detestable.  

    One MNB reader responded:

    I am surprised by your atypical harsh reaction to the Bud Light situation, since you know well that in business,  a major perceived failure always needs a scapegoat. Sometimes it is public, often it is not and usually it is not fair. 

    The day the entire 26 man roster of the Angels gets fired, instead of (most recently) manager Joe Maddon, for failures on the field, then maybe things will be different. 

    Every corporation has its own politics, internal relationships and dynamics. In this case of Anheuser-Busch they felt a high profile sacrificial executive was required to placate investors. We do not know the history between the executives and you cannot blame  the uncontrollable consumer variable for a poorly received marketing direction. As always, bosses will never fire themselves.

    Looking at Alissa Heinerscheid's education and employment history, it is certain that she is brilliant and talented. She is sure to recover nicely from this controversy and will continue to be much better off than Joe Maddon.

    Actually, I think my reaction was pretty typical for me.

    I'd put the baseball analogy aside.  I just don't think it works - you can't fire the whole team, if if you should.

    My point is that I'm not sure that in the Bud Light case, anyone should be fired.  I don't like scapegoats.  I don't like bullies.  And I think the CEO of A-B should've had a backbone.

    From another MNB reader:

    I have to totally agree with your opinion on this. I’m sure the people at the top had to ok this before he happened. These companies have to learn that when they take political positions they automatically lose 50% of your potential customer base no matter if you are democrat republican or other. They should do what they were hired to do. Run the company.

    I would only quibble with one thing in your email.  Trying to expand Bud Light's appeal by sending a swag bag to an influencer who is transgender doesn't strike me as a political statement.  It seems to me that it probably was one of a number of marketing moves being made to reverse the downward trend of a brand.  Now, the argument can be made that someone in the room should've observed that it might be seen as a political statement by some folks, but I don't think it started out that way.

    What happened afterwards, however, is all about cultural politics.

    Responding to my piece last week about Price Chopper's Neil Golub's commitment to development in Schenectady, NY, one MNB reader wrote:

    I worked with Neil at Price Chopper for 16 years and had the privilege of being involved in some of early years of his effort with Schenectady 2000 and later Metroplex. His commitment and passion were and are undeniable. This past summer my wife and I returned to visit Neil and had the tour as well. The change is extraordinary. And so is Neil.

    On another subject, one MNB reader wrote:

    When I read your article on Netflix eliminating its DVD rental service it brought me back to the days of Blockbuster et all and how my girlfriend (wife now) and I looked forward to the release of much anticipated box office hits.    We would rush to those video rental stores (including the grocery store video dept we both met at) when they opened in hopes of renting them on the first day. 

    Although I admit the convenience now of being able to stream them is enjoyable it was nice to reminisce of those times in the 90's.   Glad you posted the article.

    And finally, from another reader:

    Happy that you concur that baseball’s changes to speed up the game make baseball more enjoyable and relevant. Average game in 1981 was 2 hours 33 minutes. Average game in 2022 was 3 hours 7 minutes. This season, time of game is down 33 minutes and batting average up 16 points. Not only are the games much faster, but rule changes have changed team’s strategy to include bunting, hit and run and base stealing. Love the rule that starts a runner at 2nd base in extra innings. Makes games more exciting and saves pitching staff’s arms with less pitches. Baseball was in danger of major decline unless these changes were made. Now if they can offer lower ticket prices and less expensive food and and parking… 

    Published on: April 25, 2023

    You've all read about the fact that Tucker Carlson is out from Fox News, and that Don Lemon  was dismissed by CNN.  And I just want you to know that it doesn't matter how much money Fox News and CNN may offer me - I'm not leaving MorningNewsBeat or you.

    I just want to be clear about that.