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    Published on: May 30, 2019

    This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either ... they are similar, but not exactly the same. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

    Hi, Kevin Coupe here and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    This morning’s FaceTime commentary was recorded at the Ikea Planning Studio, a roughly 17,000 square foot space on Manhattan’;s East Side - far smaller and more convenient than the monstrous Ikea stores in New Jersey and Connecticut that may be 15 times the size.

    Essentially, the NYC Ikea is designed to be a place where people can see small, urban spaces laid out for inspiration, and then access both the talents of the room planners and computer terminals to design rooms and order products. You can also pick up orders there, if you wish. You can make appointments, or just come in and browse … but the idea is that Ikea is expanding its usefulness to shoppers, especially those living in places like New York City.

    Expanding its usefulness … and also its resonance and relevance.

    You can see more about it here.

    That’s a good idea, on all sorts of levels. I think it was Tina Fey who once said that Ikea is where marriages to go to die. And this approach is right in line with other things that Ikea has been doing, like providing not just delivery, but also construction services that will build the furniture for customers. (Good idea, I think - because if shopping at Ikea isn’t enough to kill a relationship, building its furniture almost certainly will.)

    And, as Reuters reports this week, “Ikea is launching a new app to allow customers to shop remotely for products they can visualize in the context of their own homes, lessening the need for them to travel to its vast network of self-service, out-of-town stores … It will allow users to visualize how their homes could be furnished with Ikea products by inputting room dimensions and choosing from different tastes and life stages. They can then order those products through the app.”

    Like I said, expanding its usefulness, resonance and relevance.

    This is, I believe, an important and evolving approach to retail on Ikea’s part - understanding that it cannot just be a big source of product, but most become a more accessible resource for shoppers.

    And it is a lesson that more retailers should learn, as they look to become more to shoppers than they have been in the past. It is the next generation of stores, developed to appeal to the next generation of consumers that increasingly is becoming more urban.

    That’s what is on my mind this morning, and as always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 30, 2019

    by Kevin Coupe

    Procter & Gamble-owned Gillette, which has had its competitive challenges of late because of disruptive companies nibbling away at its longtime brand advantages, has been trying to reinvent itself lately by evolving its “the best a man can be” slogan into a more socially relevant suggestion that men can be better, can be more than they’ve been.

    Earlier this year, the company ran an ad targeting toxic masculinity, attitudes that attitudes often fuel fighting, bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination. (MNB wrote about it here.)

    Now, Gillette is out with a new ad, which you can see here, that features a father teaching his transgender son how to shave for the first time … using the tag line, ““Whenever, wherever, however it happens —your first shave is special.”

    I’m sure that this commercial will create as much controversy as the earlier work. The Washington Post notes that protections for transgender people are being rolled back by the federal government, moves that are being applauded by some.

    In a statement, Gillette says that it believes that brands “have a responsibility to use their voice to champion issues of great relevance … As a company that holds respect and inclusivity as an important value, we have a responsibility to make sure we are embracing and promoting inclusive portrayals of gender.”

    Not everyone will agree - not necessarily because of their feelings about the transgender community, or the notion of cultural inclusiveness in general, but simply because they think a shaving company ought to stick to making better razors and blades, and not get involved in issues like this one.

    I don’t agree, at least not all the time. There are times when such moves are gratuitous and, to say the least, stretch credibility. But this isn’t one of those times, at least not in my view. I was touched by the sentiments being expressed in the commercial … by the degree of personal confidence that the transgender person expressed, but also by the unconditional love being exhibited by the dad. I found myself thinking that I hope that I’m that kind of father … and I can’t be upset at a company that produces a commercial that actually makes me think.

    Taking sides can be risky, but taking sides also can create a distinct image, and a differential advantage.

    As I said the last time around, I’m totally cool with the suggestion that men can be better, that men can do better. Good for Gillette - taking a position in a way that strikes me as compelling, to an audience and with an approach that strike me as relevant to the brand.

    It is an Eye-Opener.

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 30, 2019

    The Los Angeles Times reports that Amazon “is updating its Alexa voice software to let users delete recordings of their voice using a spoken command, a move that follows criticism of the company’s privacy practices related to its digital assistant … Amazon’s move also comes as other technology giants make a point of touting their own efforts to safeguard user data. Facebook Inc., under fire after a string of privacy scandals, has started emphasizing privacy features. Alphabet Inc.’s Google highlighted its own work on the topic at its developer conference earlier this month, and Apple Inc. has made privacy a cornerstone of recent marketing campaigns.”

    The update comes after Amazon came in for significant criticism after it was reported that teams of employees are listening selectively to people using its Alexa-powered systems as a way to improve voice recognition capabilities; while Amazon said that this was only being done as a way of helping Alexa to get “smarter,” it concerned privacy experts that Alexa, essentially, always has access to users’ homes and offices.

    The story got even more traction when it was revealed that after people used the Alexa app to remove any recordings from the system, a text record remained on Amazon’s servers. Amazon said it was working on an update that would remove those records as well.

    The Times writes that Amazon also has given “its Alexa privacy website a face lift, adding a bit more explanation to how the software works. The company’s Echo Show 5, a new version of the screen-bearing smart speaker line, announced on Wednesday, comes with a shutter that lets customers cover the built-in camera.”

    Of course, Amazon also is protecting itself.

    Gizmodo has a story about how the “terms of use” agreement for its Alexa-based system severely limits its users’ options.

    “When you downloaded and agreed to the Alexa app’s Terms of Use—which you did when you started using your Echo—you agreed to waive your right to take Amazon to court,” Gizmodo writes. “Instead, you have to settle any dispute you have with the company behind closed doors and out of the public eye.

    “Perhaps more troubling: If Amazon ever screws over Alexa users on a large scale, bringing a class-action lawsuit against the company is all but impossible, legal experts say.”
    KC's View:

    The Gizmodo analysis correctly points out that “Amazon continues to seep into our daily lives through its ever-expanding reach, and forced arbitration affords the tech giant (and many other massive companies like it) the ability to evade a system of power created to hold them accountable … The widespread use of binding arbitration further illuminates the discrepancy of power between colossal corporations and the consumers that have come to rely on them.”

    I do think that Amazon has to be careful here.

    At the bottom of every press release, it has the following descriptor: Amazon is guided by four principles: customer obsession rather than competitor focus, passion for invention, commitment to operational excellence, and long-term thinking.

    In the case of some of these privacy issues, the customer obsession strikes me as a little grudging, and the long-term thinking a little short-sighted. I say this, however, as someone who is an enthusiastic user of Alexa-powered devices, who looks forward to it getting smarter and more intuitive … but am wondering whether I’m selling my soul a little bit in the process.

    Published on: May 30, 2019

    The Cincinnati Business Courier reports that Kroger, just weeks after moving into the 1819 Innovation Hub located on the campus of the University of Cincinnati, already is “benefiting from the space.”

    Here’s how:

    “Kroger hosted a group of five UC interns throughout the spring semester, locating them in open Innovation Hub spaces until Kroger’s space opened. Chris Daniels, Kroger’s manager in residence for the Innovation Hub space, worked with those students on a variety of research and innovation projects.

    “Kroger had the group of interns do market research and help it figure out how the Internet of Things that brings connectivity to common items. Kroger’s intern group at the Innovation Hub built a prototype of a smart refrigerator that could make it easier for customers to reorder Kroger products as they were running out, Hjelm said. They also worked on security technology and lighting improvements.

    “Kroger will typically have students work on projects at the Innovation Hub. The nature of those projects will vary depending on the students and their areas of study.”
    KC's View:
    First of all, the 1819 Innovation Hub looks impressive. You can check it out here.

    I love it when business and academia get together in this way … I think it really has the potential to move the ball forward. That’s been my experience at Portland State University (PSU), where I’m on the adjunct faculty… and I’m thrilled that later this year, my two worlds will collide in a special Retail Tomorrow conference that will take place at PSU. More to come … but I hope that you’ll be part of it.

    Published on: May 30, 2019

    CNN has a story about how a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association says that while “energy drinks may promise a boost … experts are increasingly concerned that their cocktails of ingredients could have unintended health risks … caffeinated energy drinks altered the heart's electrical activity and raised blood pressure.”

    While for most people the changes may be mild and virtually undetectable,
    the study suggests that “people who take certain medications or have a specific type of heart condition could be at increased risk of a fatal arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat” if they’re also consuming energy drinks.

    The story notes that “the American Beverage Association stands by the safety of energy drinks, indicating that many of their ingredients are also found in common foods and have been rigorously studied for safety.”
    KC's View:
    I think if you went back in the MNB archives, you’d find that I’ve always been an energy drink skeptic … I’ve always thought they are a disaster waiting to happen, and so I’m not surprised by studies like these.

    Published on: May 30, 2019

    The Charlotte Business Journal reports that Kroger-owned Harris Teeter has signed a contract with OurHealth, an Indianapolis-based independent care provider, “to provide its local employees and their dependents with primary medical care.” The contract applies to about 2500 Charlotte, North Carolina-based employees.

    “Being an incredible place to work and shop starts with having associates who feel their best and provide world-class service to our shoppers,” said Danna Robinson, communication manager for Harris Teeter, in a prepared statement. “Being healthy is a big part of that equation, and we’re thrilled to be able to offer our valued associates primary care through OurHealth.”

    This move comes as Kroger seems to be taking a health-centric approach to both customer and employee relationships. It recently announced that it will expand its use of in-store higi smart health kiosks, offering free digital health screening services, to all of the stores in its Roundy’s division.

    Earlier this year, MNB took note of a Bloomberg reports that Kroger “is talking to potential partners in the health-care industry about developing a new line of business.” CEO Rodney McMullen said that Kroger is looking to “identify an area of health care that it could enter and benefit customers -- and perhaps lower their medical costs. Such a venture would also represent a fresh revenue stream for Kroger and complement the advertising and personal-finance businesses that it’s counting on to help generate $400 million in additional operating profit by next year.”
    KC's View:
    All very smart.

    Published on: May 30, 2019

    …with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    • The Associated Press has been covering the Strange Brew Festival in Reno, Nevada, and says that the event has been living up to its name, with “a lot of brewers looking for ways to differentiate themselves by introducing strange new flavors.”

    Among them: Steak and onion Kolsch. Macaroni and cheese pale ale. Peanut butter and pickle pilsner. Tamale lager. Smoked carrot stout. And Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout, “made with roasted barley, seven different grains and grilled buffalo or bull testicles.”

    First of all, I want to know how come they didn’t call this last one “Great Balls Of Fire Stout.” Second, while I’ve long agreed with the great Robert B. Parker, who said that “the worst beer I ever had was wonderful,” I’m not sure that I’m ready to line up for a taste of peanut butter and pickle pilsner. I love adventure, but this one pushes the envelope a little bit, even for me … it seems more like an attention grab than anything else.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 30, 2019

    One MNB reader had an opinion about speculated-about plans at Amazon to essentially force smaller suppliers to its Marketplace, and not buy bulk amounts of products from them, as reported yesterday by Bloomberg:

    There are two issues related to the Bloomberg article and your comments that were missed here:

    Amazon has countless small accounts, particularly 3rd party sellers, doing business via FBA and Vendor Central.  Shipping costs are really at the heart of this—if large accounts remain via Vendor Central with Amazon management and all others take care of their own shipping (as some do already through Seller Central), Amazon reduces their manpower and shipping costs and that burden returns to those vendors.

    There is a political component to this as well.  With Trump’s focus on both Alibaba and Amazon selling counterfeit goods, Amazon is vulnerable to potential legal liability for all the small businesses who are resellers of large and small brands that are out of code, inferior or just plain counterfeits of the actual branded product.  This has been an ongoing and growing nightmare for Amazon.

    MNB reader Dan Jones had some thoughts about our story regarding JC Penney’s ongoing problems:

    JC Penney’s retail problem is really a product problem.  What is unique at JC Penney that you cannot get elsewhere? – nothing.
    Ron Johnson made the Apple store shopping experience different, and it was possible because the Apple products are unique.  Unfortunately Johnson brought the Apple retail approach to JCP  - without the unique products.  JCP either needs a unique shopping experience or unique products.  Right now they are 0 for 2.

    The other day we reported:

    Kroger has announced what it calls “an exclusive grocery retail partnership agreement” with Loop, described as “the revolutionary circular e-commerce platform developed by TerraCycle” that advances “Kroger's zero-waste vision by reducing single-use plastics in the environment.”

    According to the announcement, “Kroger and Loop will pilot the new reusable packaging system, enabling customers in select markets to purchase more than 100 products from leading consumer brands that have been redesigned with durable containers … Products available on the Loop platform are packaged in reusable glass or metal containers and shipped directly to consumers in a specially designed tote. Once used, products are retrieved through free at-home pickup, then cleaned, refilled and reused – creating a first-of-its-kind circular packaging system.”

    Which prompted MNB reader John Rand to write:

    Oh my ghod, they reinvented milk bottles. LOL.

    Mic drop.

    And finally, a note about editorial priorities from another MNB reader:

    I too am a NFL fan, but you are forgetting the playoff season sport updates?

    See below.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 30, 2019

    Last night, in game two the NHL Stanley Cup Finals, the St. Louis Blues defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2, evening the best-of-seven series at one game apiece.
    KC's View:
    Happy to include Stanley Cup scores, though I must admit that the NHL is barely on my radar. Thanks for taking an interest.

    Published on: May 30, 2019

    In this new edition of the Retail Tomorrow Podcast, we discuss the unique partnership between Kroger and Microsoft, developing cutting edge innovations that will take each of them to the next level when it comes to things like digital shelving, video analytics, sensor networks, temperature tags … and beyond. And here’s the thing - the innovations that emerge are not proprietary, but will be available to any retailer looking to leap into the future.

    This podcast was recorded at GMDC’s recent Retail Tomorrow Immersion conference in Los Angeles.

    Our guests:

    • Kevin Fessenden, Senior Product Manager at Sunrise Technology, which is a Kroger company.

    • Chris Dieringer, Senior Director of Industry Solutions for the Retail and CPG Industry at Microsoft.

    The host: Kevin Coupe, MorningNewsBeat’s “Content Guy.”

    You can listen to the podcast here, or on iTunes and Google Play.

    Pictured, from left to right:

    Kevin Coupe, Chris Dieringer, Kevin Fessenden.

    KC's View: