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    Published on: June 29, 2016

    Content Guy's Note: The goal of "The Innovation Conversation" is to explore some facet of the fast-changing, technology-driven retail landscape and how it affects businesses and consumers. It is, we think, fertile territory ... and one that Tom Furphy - a former Amazon executive, the originator of Amazon Fresh, and currently CEO and Managing Director of Consumer Equity Partners (CEP), a venture capital and venture development firm in Seattle, WA, that works with many top retailers and manufacturers - is uniquely positioned to address.

    This week's change-of-pace topic: Road-ready technology.

    And now, the Conversation continues...

    KC: So this is going to be our last "Innovation Conversation" for a while, since we're going to put IC on hiatus until September.  (Unless, of course, something happens that prompts us to bring it back during July or August.)  So I thought maybe it would make sense to do something a little different, something summer-appropriate … and talk about the innovative gadgets and technologies that people bring with them when they travel, whether on business or vacation.  (This is particularly on my mind since I packed lots of stuff - probably too much - to bring with me to Portland for the summer.)

    I know that I always bring my MacBook pro with me, but I also bring an iPad … I just got a new iPad Pro that I totally love.  (It was time to replace my old one, which was one of the originals and couldn't even run a bunch of apps.)  How about you?  What kind of computer power do you bring with you on the road?

    Tom Furphy:
    When I travel for business, I try to run as lean as possible. I find that when logging hours in the air, schlepping through airports and checking into hotels, the less weighed down I am, the better I feel and the better I perform. Everything has to fit easily in my Tumi T-Pass bag, which is a pretty lean ballistic nylon bag. Although I love my OLD iPad (which also struggles to run new apps) I tend to leave it at home. I travel with an Acer Aspire S7 touchscreen laptop. It’s a decent machine. Super lightweight and small, plenty of horsepower and a decent keyboard for working. Unless I’m in the air, I always use a wireless mouse for better performance and less fatigue than the laptop mouse.

    When traveling personally with the family, I will usually add my Kindle and/or iPad to the bag, depending on where we are going.

    KC: I think we have the same Tumi bag ... though mine probably is a lot more loaded down that yours. For example, for my summer in Portland I also brought with me a 3 terabyte external hard drive that has everything important from my laptop backed up. Just in case ... there are MNB-related pieces, not to mention notes for a couple of books and speeches I'm working on. I'm paranoid about being stuck without them easily accessible. (And yes, I know I could store all the same stuff in the cloud. Like I said, I'm paranoid.

    I've also found that I'm totally addicted to a piece of equipment that you introduced me to - the Jabra 510 Wireless Bluetooth Speaker, which turns my iPhone into a really effective speakerphone.  It seems like it might be a little overkill, but I find it is worth carrying if only so I can do phone calls while working on MNB or some other project.  I gather you're addicted to it, too.

    I feel like that little guy has changed my life. It’s about the size of Krispy Kreme donut, so it fits easily in the bag but did have to find a designated spot in there. When working from hotels, I find it’s important to create as productive a workspace as possible. Setting up shop in a hotel room feels almost as good as being in the office thanks largely to that speaker. The built-in speakerphone functionality on phones is usually not very good and wearing a headset all the time is more fatiguing than I realized. The connectivity to my phone is fantastic. Call quality is amazing. Plus, music sounds pretty good over it as well. I connect multiple devices to it while I’m working. That’s a lot of utility in one device.

    KC: We totally agree on this. For MNB readers who may want to see what we're talking about, click here.

    Any other equipment that you find to be absolutely necessary when you're traveling for business or pleasure?  What kind of headphones do you use?  Have you thought about bringing some sort of voice-activated tech with you, like the Amazon Echo Dot (when it becomes available)?

    Headphones are key to reducing the stress caused by airplane noise. I’m on my second pair of Bose Quiet Comfort headphones. I’ve replaced the ear pads at least once on this set. They are so reliable and the case fits very neatly in the bag. I’ve been intrigued to try something new. But it has to be the right combination of quality and portability. I also really like my Logitech USB clicker. I use it for keynote speeches as well as conference room presentations and meetings. I love to be able to get out from behind the laptop and engage more directly with folks. That allows me to do it and it runs like clockwork.

    If the Echo Dot had a great speaker and could connect to my phone, I might consider it. But I’m not sure it will make the cut into the bag. With all of the work that Google and Apple are putting into this area, most Android and Apple devices will have good voice assistance capabilities before too long. So the redundant equipment may be overkill.

    KC: I know what you mean. As much as I love my Jabra, I do occasionally wonder why Amazon couldn't have built that kind of speakerphone functionality into the Echo. I also have a confession to make: I'm so addicted to the Echo, after just a few weeks, that I brought it with me to Portland. The good news is I was driving, and I'm going to be here for almost two months, so it seemed like a good idea.

    Finally, I'm curious how you manage to deal with all the cords … because no matter what I do, I cannot seem to eliminate the vast number of cords that I end up carrying with me.  Have you managed to solve that, and how?

    The cords can certainly be a challenge. My Tumi bag came with a small nylon case, maybe 8”x3”x2”. I can get all of my cords, mouse and wireless clicker in there pretty easily. But it still comes down to keeping it lean, but also keeping it consistent so it never requires any thought. I carryall essentials in that same case – laptop cord, car charger, extra Samsung phone battery & charger, USB cable with an AC adapter, an iPad charger (so I don’t have to remember to pack it in the case I’m bringing my iPad) and earbuds for the gym. Every cord has to have a purpose and require no thought as to whether I have it packed or not. Everything is there when I need it.

    KC: Again, you have me beat ... I have the same Tumi nylon case, but I need two of them to cram everything into. I guess I'll have to focus during the summer on trying to cut back, or at least being more efficient.

    The Innovation Conversation will continue ... on Wednesday, September 7.

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 29, 2016

    by Kevin Coupe

    The beer may be light, but the attitude certainly has some weight.

    In the latest commercial for Bud Light featuring Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen - part of an ongoing series of ads - the comic duo gets into a discussion not about the taste of the beer, but about the gender pay gap. While maintaining that women have to pay more for things like dry cleaning and shampoo, Schumer does point out that "Bud Light costs the same no matter if you're a dude or a lady."

    The willingness to take on serious topics within the framework of a humorous ad for beer seems to be a hallmark of the new campaign. The last commercial featuring Rogen and Schumer celebrated gay marriage.

    Now, I have no idea if the campaigns were conceived before Schumer and Rogen were hired ... or whether the cost of getting two highly popular young stars to sign on for the campaign was to be willing to support such causes. Either way, it doesn't matter because the result is the same.

    While things like gender pay gaps and gay marriage can be seen as controversial by some, some would argue - and I would be one of those people - that 10, 15 and 20 years from now, people will wonder what all the fuss was all about. That would seem to be the audience that Bud Light is targeting, and the consumer to whom the brand wants to be relevant.

    They have to do something. The mainstream beer business has been suffering of late, with craft beers gaining greater popularity. (To be honest, as I worked on this story last night, I wasn't drinking a Bud Light. I was sipping on a Full Sail Amber. Which is part of the problem.)

    But, I think Bud is doing what it has to do, and the work is an Eye-Opener.

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 29, 2016

    Even as Walmart hosts its annual U.S. Manufacturing Summit, designed to open its doors to hundreds of entrepreneurs hoping to sell the retailer their made-in-America products, a watchdog group is charging that "the world's biggest retailer is ... still making deceptive Made in the USA claims over a year after it promised to clean up its act." released a statement yesterday charging that "a new sampling of more than 100 Made in the USA misrepresentations found on the retail giant continues to deceive consumers. Products on the Walmart website, ranging from markers to baseball caps to diapers, are listed as Made in the USA though they are actually either wholly manufactured in places such as Korea and China or Made in the U.S. with imported parts — a composition that, according to the FTC standard, cannot be advertised with an unqualified 'Made in the USA' claim. Other items have conflicting U.S.-origin information on the same webpage."

    The watchdog group says that when Walmart was confronted with such issues in the past, "the company initially characterized the misrepresentations as 'coding errors' and then blamed suppliers for providing outdated information."

    The group says that it "has alerted the FTC and Walmart to its latest findings."

    As TruthInAdvertising was making its charges, Walmart was out with a press release saying that "the 2016 U.S. Manufacturing Summit and Open Call, with companies attending from more than 40 states and nearly 800 meetings taking place, are part of Walmart’s commitment to investing in American jobs, having pledged in 2013 to purchase an additional $250 billion in U.S. made products by 2023."
    KC's View:
    I have no idea if Walmart is guilty of the new charges that TruthInAdvertising is making. I do know that Walmart was guilty of transgressions in the past, which doesn't exactly sill me with confidence about the present and the future.

    The thing is, there is no excuse for this. And in the end, Walmart can't blow its own horn about its Made in the USA intentions and then blame other entities when it gets things wrong. Walmart is the retailer, Walmart has to take the responsibility for insuring that what is says is so actually is so. Put the systems in place so that mistakes are not made.

    it is that simple.

    Published on: June 29, 2016

    The New York Daily News reports that Kellogg's is planning to open a restaurant in New York City's Times Square next Monday that will serve only cereal, all the time.

    According to the story, "The $7.50 cereal bowls — a few bucks more than a whole box of Corn Flakes — come in a half-dozen flavors, such as Raisin Bran, the circus, toasted peanuts and banana chips. Berry Me in Green Tear jazzes up Rice Krispies with fresh strawberries and green tea powder. Pistachio & lemon mingles Special K Original, Frosted Flakes, pistachios, lemon zest and thyme ... Each bowl comes with a 12-ounce container of milk — and adding yogurt is an extra $2, as is adding soft-serve ice cream."

    The News writes that "Kellogg’s new cafe will also feature sundaes like Froot Loops, lime zest, marshmallows and passion fruit jam — made with Blue Marble ice cream. They cost $9.50." The various concoctions have been created by celebrated pastry chef Christina Tosi.

    Full disclosure: Kellogg's is part of the MNB family of sponsors.
    KC's View:
    While all-cereal concepts have been tried before, and not exactly to stunning success, this isn't as nuts as it may sound. This isn't for New Yorkers. It is for the tourists ... and I think it has been proven that tourists in New York City are up for larger-than-life experiences. (Even larger-than-life Sesame Street characters who swear at you if you don't pay them to have their picture taken with you.)

    I do kind of miss the old days, when Times Square had a little bit of grit. Not that I have a soft spot in my heart for hookers and drug dealers, but it used to be that Times Square was very much a specific and unusual thing. These days, it has been turned into the equivalent of a really big mall.

    That said, there are few things on the planet to compare with walking through the theater district before or after having attended a play, and seeing all those lights and feeling all that energy.

    Published on: June 29, 2016

    The New York Times reports that Pinterest plans "new shopping-focused features that will make it easier for users to buy things they find on the site ... Among the features are buyable 'pins,' or buttons, in browsers that users can click to purchase items on the site, as well as a digital shopping bag that follows users from their desktops to their smartphones or tablets."

    Pinterest also plans to employ "object-detection software, a type of product search and discovery that companies like Amazon have tried. The software analyzes a photo of an object, such as a stuffed animal, recognizes it and highlights the item — or something like it — in a pop-up window. Users can then buy the item through Pinterest."

    The goal, according to the story, is for Pinterest to "distance itself from comparisons to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter," and instead position itself "more as a competitor to Google — a way to search, discover and ultimately buy ... The commerce-focused updates come as Pinterest, six years old and valued at roughly $11 billion, faces pressure to prove it can live up to the high expectations of investors."
    KC's View:
    The Holy Grail for all these companies is the ability to influence shopping behavior and then being able to dip their beaks when a purchase is made. So I'm not surprised when companies like Pinterest actually try to find a road to actual profitability and tangible results.

    Published on: June 29, 2016

    Forbes reports that after almost a year of testing its Shipping Pass program - designed to compete with Amazon Prime - to an invitation-only group of customers, Walmart seems to be ready to roll it out. The company has reduced the guaranteed shipping time from three days to two, cut the annual fee from $50 to $49 (not a big deal...but still a lot cheaper than prime's $99 annual fee), and now is making membership available to anyone who wants it.

    While it seems that Walmart faces an uphill battle against, it appears the big discounter could reap some big benefits – demographically speaking – should ShippingPass become a permanent part of its arsenal." Part of Walmart's problem is that the age of its customers tends to skew older, and "attracting both Gen X and Millennial shoppers via ShippingPass would be a boon to Walmart."
    KC's View:
    The other problem is that Amazon Prime has taken on a kind of cultural importance - so many people have it and use it and talk about it. It is going to take a lot of time and effort and money to get Shipping Pass - a far less compelling name, by the way - to come anywhere close to that kind of ubiquity.

    Published on: June 29, 2016

    Marketing Land reports that a new survey from cross-channel marketing platform Signal says that "about 42 percent of US online shoppers will make their primary holiday gift destination in 2016."

    While "forty percent specifically said Amazon won’t be their main holiday shopping site, while about 16 percent answered 'I don’t know' — that’s almost an additional one-fifth of shoppers that could use above all other e-commerce sites this holiday season."

    The story goes on to report that "Signal says US consumers have three main reasons why they prefer Amazon over other e-commerce sites: 50 percent said shopping at Amazon is easy; 36 percent prefer Amazon because they’re Prime members; and 29 percent said they like Amazon’s product reviews and recommendations. Further down the list were Amazon’s prices and selection."
    KC's View:
    And the ecosystem now seems to be decked with boughs of holly. 'Tis the season for Amazon to be happy.

    Published on: June 29, 2016

    The Washington Post reports that as credit card companies say they are trying to speed up the hardware and software transition that will allow retailers to take chip-enabled credit and debit cards, two companies have made a meaningful policy change.

    According to the Post, " Visa and American Express each said they were taking a step that won’t be particularly visible to shoppers but that appears to be something of an olive branch to retailers. Each of those card companies said it will not ask merchants to cover the cost of counterfeit fraud on purchases that are under $25."

    The move reflects the fact that, "as part of the migration to chip technology, a liability shift took place in which whoever had the more outdated technology — the retailer or the card issuer — would be considered responsible for the costs when counterfeit fraud took place. This meant that retailers would potentially be on the hook for what are known as chargebacks in cases where they hadn’t been before. Now, Visa and American Express say they will not hold merchants responsible for those chargebacks on transactions under $25 until April 2018. They say the decision is aimed at giving merchants some breathing room as they scramble to switch to chip technology."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 29, 2016

    Women's Wear Daily has a piece about a new study done by Bigcommerce concluding that consumer spending online now takes up an average of 36 percent of their shopping dollars, with 96 percent of Americans shopping online, averaging five hours a week engaging in e-commerce.

    Eight out of 10 respondents said they buy online at least once a month, and almost half say they generally spend more than they planned when shopping online.

    • Delivery service Instacart said yesterday that it is expanding into California's Marin County, just north of San Francisco. "As of today, " the company said, "residents in Marin and surrounding areas can order from their favorite retailers like Whole Foods Market, Costco, Mollie Stone's Markets, Andronico's Community Markets, Petco, Smart & Final and Safeway, and have their groceries delivered straight to their doorsteps in as little as one hour."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 29, 2016

    • The New York Times reports that pure play online retailer Thrive, which charges customers $60 a year "to be able to buy organic food at what the company says are lower prices than what traditional grocers like Whole Foods offer," has just raised $111 million " to help the company grow, including creating more of its own branded goods and paying for more media marketing."

    The new round of financing was led by investment firm Invus, with the participation of Greycroft Partners, E-Ventures and Cross Culture Ventures.

    • Southeastern Grocers, parent company and home of Bi-Lo, Harveys and Winn-Dixie, announced that it is pledging 100 percent of its profit generated on the Fourth of July to Hope For The Warriors, described as "a national nonprofit dedicated to restoring a sense of self, family and hope for veterans, service members and military families."

    • Raley's announced that it has decided "to eliminate certain Raley’s private label brand soda to advance their vision of health and wellness. This includes all flavors containing high-fructose corn syrup and artificial colors and flavors, including diet soda varieties ... Raley's has discontinued production of private label soda with high-fructose corn syrup and artificial colors and flavors and will phase-out remaining inventory over the next two-weeks. All Raley’s private label soda with high-fructose corn syrup and artificial colors and flavors will be out of stock by August 1st."

    • An organization called Label Insight is out with a new survey saying that "75% of consumers do not trust the accuracy of food labels." In addition, the study concludes, "81% of consumers have consumed a packaged product that contained an ingredient they didn’t recognize at some point in the past month" ... "38% of consumers are concerned about eating products that contain information on the label they don’t recognize" ... and "35% of consumers reported being confused by what food packaging labels are actually saying."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 29, 2016

    Two major sports figures passed away yesterday...

    • Pat Summitt, whose University of Tennessee women's basketball teams won eight national championships and made her the coach with the most career victories (1,098) of any male or female Division I college basketball coach, died yesterday at the age of 64, the result of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

    • Buddy Ryan, who got two Super Bowl rings, raised two sons (Rex Ryan and Bob Ryan) to become NFL coaches, and was the legendary brains behind the the Super Bowl XX-winning Chicago Bears’ defense, dies yesterday at age 85.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 29, 2016

    On the subject of credit/debit card fees and Kroger's decision to sue Visa, MNB reader Kevin Berkheiser wrote:

    I hate bank fees charged to retailers just as much as anyone else.  But Kroger took it upon themselves to require a PIN instead of a signature.  I went to my local Fred Meyer (a Kroger store) and used a credit only card.  The cashier, supervisor and manager came over to tell me that I had to use a PIN number for that particular bank card.  I informed them that it was only a credit card and I never received a PIN.  They said that was the way their system was set up and there was no way around that.  I could use my debit card or not purchase.  Needless to say I walked out without my $400 worth of merchandise.  Retailers, banks and processors need to get things figured out soon.  The new chip technology is too slow and I hate leaving my card in the machine.  A swipe was so simple and not enough retailers are on board with Apple Pay or similar.

    And MNB reader Diane Westervelt wrote:

    As an aside to the Kroger article, I’m sick of paying for credit card fees with higher prices at the cash register.

    It’s simple.  Let me use a credit card if I want to rack up miles, but ALSO give me the option to use cash and earn an instant discount. The only good option now is to use a credit card.  I’m going to pay the higher prices even if I don’t, so might as well  play the game.  Infuriating.

    Finally, another email on the subject of Brexit, from MNB reader Tom Redwine:

    In response to the Your Views email from the 60-Percenter, yes, John Oliver's take was pouty. He's always a bit pouty when something egregiously dumb rears its big stupid head, but it doesn't mean he didn't have some good points.

    And for a slightly-less pouty take, check out Samantha Bee's "Full Frontal" (also a can't-miss-it show) from Monday, which featured an actual Scot (David Tennant) reading a few hilariously foul Scottish Twitter responses to Trump's take on Brexit.

    All that said, I'm watching less and less of "The Daily Show"… which used to be a can't-miss-it show for me. I think Trevor's a good comic, but he doesn't have the sharp eye nor the bite that was needed to continue Jon Stewart's legacy. Comedy Central missed two golden opportunities when they let Samantha Bee and John Oliver slip through their fingers. I'm still lovin' Larry Wilmore @ "The Nightly Show!"

    How 'bout you, Content Guy - what's your preferred TV politicomic diet include (if you don't mind sharing)?

    Not at all.

    I'm with you on John Oliver and Samantha Bee ... I find their work to be absolutely compelling, hilariously funny, and on-point most of the time, and often most interesting when they attack a subject that people know little about, and demonstrate good old fashioned moral outrage. I just wish they were on more than once a week ... and you are right about Comedy Central having made a major miscalculation.

    I'm with you on 'The Daily Show," too. I really want to like it, because Trevor Noah seems like a good guy. But it's just gotten too lightweight for me, without the sharp elbows that Jon Stewart gave the program. I like Larry Wilmore a lot, but almost never watch him - it is on too late, and for some reason I don't watch the next day.

    I do tend to be a "Morning Joe" guy, even if it often makes me want to throw things at the TV set. Even when they're maddening, though, I like the fact that there tend to be a multiplicity of philosophies around the table, which is unusual for TV. (Though I think they are a tad too self-congratulatory about it.) It becomes the soundtrack many mornings as I'm writing MNB. (Though not so much when I'm on the west coast, and I miss it.)

    And I must confess that when I'm in the car - which I have been a lot, lately - I love listening to the POTUS channel on satellite radio. Don't tell Mrs. Content Guy, but I have a total crush on Julie Mason, who hosts "The Press Pool" every afternoon ... there are few things I find more entertaining than listening to smart journalists talk about what they're seeing and why it matters. I almost always learn something. And Mason seems to hold every politician in such disdain - while simultaneously loving the process - that it forms a combination I find utterly irresistible.
    KC's View: