The Retail Relevance Report

Another week, another Friday. Take a load off and read the rebranded Retail Relevance Report.

Walmart associates set to go the extra mile for you

Walmart facade in Mountain View

And you thought airborne drones were the latest in e-commerce delivery. Turns out, that’s not it at all. In fact it’s the guy or woman who just got called for a clean up on aisle 12 at the local Walmart.

The behemoth of Bentonville is testing out a plan that calls for Walmart employees to drop stuff off at customers’ homes on their way home from work, the Associated Press reports. (“Be a dear, would you, and drive that Instapot over to Mrs. Bertalucci’s. It’s practically on your way.”

The idea is not as loopy as it sounds. Apparently, employees will have to opt in to the delivery duty and presumably by doing so they would make more money than they otherwise would.

There are some concerns, though, by those who look out for workers and their rights. The head of Making Change at Walmart (not a fan, by the way) told the AP that given the low wages Walmart workers make, employees will feel as though they have to join the program to make some extra money.

Walmart, of course, looks at things differently. Marc Lore, the guy who is now the CEO of Walmart’s e-commerce operation talked about the logic of it all on the company website.

He explained that Walmart has 4,700 stores and more than a million associates. The company already has trucks tooling around shipping products from warehouses to stores, where customers come to pick them up. Why not haul some stuff slated for delivery, too, and let a store associate move it the so-called last mile (or 10)?

Lore says 90 percent of the country lives within 10 miles of a Walmart. So, why not have associates grab some stuff from the backroom, load up their trunks and go on their merry way?

Retail has lost icon Jack O’Neill


Jack O’Neill was best known, of course, as a surfer dude, a Northern California man who helped propel the sport into the mainstream by inventing a suit that would allow enthusiasts to hang ten without freezing their tuchuses off.

But O’Neill, who died on Friday, was also a key figure in the history of retail. See, he designed the cold weather wet suit, but he also needed to sell it. And so, he opened a surf shop in a garage — all of which eventually grew into O’Neill’s, the popular seller of surf gear and beach-appropriate clothing.

You can read a little about O’Neill’s retail connection and see a memorial to him on the retailer’s website.

But if you’re interested in learning more, check out the masterful story by Mercury News sports writer Elliott Almond, who knew O’Neill.

Read it. Then slip on an aloha shirt and board shorts and have a cool one in memory of Jack O’Neill.

Nice of Amazon to drop in

Amazon box

So who wants to take bets on when the first drone-delivered Amazon package conks a Walmart working making deliveries?

It seems the day could be coming. GeekWire reports that Amazon has filed a patent for a combo shipping label-parachute. Yep, parachuting packages

GW says the invention was though-up by a Prime Air senior technical program manager and it notes that Amazon has been racking up patents that would make air delivery more likely.

Specifically, Amazon has filed plans for a shock absorber system to soften the landing of all those same-day delivery goodies that will be dropping into your yard. They worked on systems to eject packages from drones in mid-air. And you no doubt recall the talk about Amazon delivering directly for flying warehouses. Really.

It all makes it sound like Amazon is leading the way for drone delivery the way it leads the way for so many other ways in which digitally retailers do business. But that’s not the case.

In fact, Vox reports, JD, a gigantic online retailer in China, is already delivering thousands of packages by drone.  In fact, they’ve been at it since last year and they recently got approval to fly drones capable of carrying one ton of cargo, Vox says.

The online pub also noted that JD’s system is different from that, that Amazon has envisioned. The Chinese retailer doesn’t fly drones directly to customers’ homes to make deliveries. Instead, Vox says, the drones fly a bunch of items to be delivered to a central hub in a town and JD workers take the stuff from there.

No matter, the system is efficient. JD says the vast majority of its orders arrive on the day they were ordered or the next day.

Walmart workers: Keep your heads down.

Michael Kors is pulling the plug on a lot of stores

Michael Kors store front

Michael Kors becomes the latest retailer to announce the closing of a significant number of brick-and-mortar stores.

Citing a press release from the retailer, Retail Dive said MK will shut down between 125 and 200 stores over the next two years. In the release, CEO John D. Idol acknowledged that the stores were boring.

Well, he didn’t say boring. What he said was that the retail environment is a tough one, adding, “In addition, our product and store experience did not sufficiently engage and excite consumers.”

In other words: boring.

But it’s no secret that retailers need to focus on customer experience, whether online or in-store. It’s something we’ve talked about endlessly. But you don’t mind, right? Kasey Lobaugh, as we’ve noted, has said that the survivors in the current tough environment are going to be the retailers that offer a differentiated experience or differentiated products or both.

Michael Kors stores apparently weren’t doing enough of any of it.

Michael Kors has company

Mary Meeker’s trend report, a piece of writing that the world awaits the way it once waited for the next Harry Potter novel, is out. And what does it say?

Retail is screwed.

OK, more specifically, brick-and-mortar is in for a rough year. Meeker says store closures this year could break a 20-year record, according to Retail Dive. What does that mean, exactly?

Well, how about 7,000 store closings? Youch.

It kind of makes the Kors closings seem like nothing.

Quote of the week

“It was like going home…just to be there and have the first commercial in the place where I felt like I started.” — Michael Strahan to AdAge, regarding shooting a JC Penney commercial at MetLife Stadium.

Photo of Walmart by Mike Cassidy. Photo of surfer by João Trindade and Michael Kors store byMike Mozart published under Creative Commons license

Mike Cassidy knows his retail S. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy



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