How Amazon hid its safety crisis – REVEAL

Let’s get the negative Amazon content out of the way right off the bat. A new cache of company records obtained by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting – including internal safety reports and weekly injury numbers from its nationwide network of fulfillment centers – shows that company officials have profoundly misled the public and lawmakers about its record on worker safety. 

Safety issues are especially prevalent at robotic centers during Prime week and the holiday peak but it would seem injuries are not isolated. The weekly data reflects workplace incidents at over 150 Amazon warehouses from 2016 through 2019.

More problematic still are the great lengths the company has gone to to conceal warehouse injuries from the public record. In 2019, Amazon recorded 14,000 serious injuries. In this case, the term serious specifically refers to one which results in required time off or restricted activity.

Amazon, FedEx Help Boost U.S. Warehouse Jobs Amid Online Boom – BLOOMBERG

Much of the rest of what is trending has to do with the peak season, the  subsequent surge in order volume and the implications of that volume on the economy and the future of online retail.

First and foremost – warehousing seems to be a bright spot for a labor market that faces mounting challenges. All across the US, warehouse operators are hustling to hire workers to handle a boom in online sales. 

While national unemployment is nearly double pre-pandemic levels, the warehousing and storage industry is one of the few sectors continually taking on new workers: 1.25 million people were on payrolls in September, about 46,000 more than in February. 

Still, the boom in both warehousing is a good sign that the economy will rebound, even from the depths of a pandemic induced recession, thanks in large part to consumer spending online. Online sales are expected to jump as much as 35% to about $196 billion in the coming November-January period compared with a year earlier, according to Deloitte

Of course that is just one take and it is not universal. There are some who are still skeptical of all the glowing economic forecasting, pointing to the mounting potential anxieties of many Americans regarding both the health of their bodies and their wallets. The lack of confidence could be caused by a variety of factors, though they are really contingencies – things:

Vaccine efforts fail

  • Pfizer and 12 other vaccine front runners have emerged in the race for a vaccine that is ready for use in some fashion by the end of the year, or early next.
  •  Five of these developers are currently able to project when first supply could be ready, though GlaxoSmithKline has offered a window of half a year – and only three, including Pfizer, can reasonably suggest a vaccine ready for public supply before the end of 2020. 
    • It is important to  note that these projections assume clinical development succeeds and progresses on time, in addition to a seamless manufacturing process, and scaled distribution – none of which are certain to happen.

School closures create child-care bind

  • Public and independent schools remain operating according to various addendums to the conventional school day. This goes for districts, dioceses, and networks where learners are fully remote, as well as those which have instituted some sort of hybrid remote & in-person model.
  • Another sweeping government mandated lockdown of the public facing businesses and institutions. 
    • OR a scenario where schools close down and businesses stay open, forcing parents around the country to take leave in order to care for their children. 

No Stimulus

  • This – coupled with the expiration of unemployment benefits, the term length of the relief issued as a part of the initial CARES act, and a standoff in government over additional, 
  • economic stimulus

Two major mall owners file for bankruptcy – CNN BUSINESS

More sad news for brick n’ mortar retailers as two major mall groups file chapter 11.

Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust and CBL & Associates Properties Inc. sought protection from creditors Sunday, citing pandemic-induced pressures on their tenants and, in turn, themselves. Together the two REITs account for some 87 million square feet of real estate across the U.S., according to court papers.

In previous issues, we’ve discussed the retail land grab among DTC companies like All Birds and Bonobos, but the fact of the matter is, not all brick n’ mortar retail is created equal. 

“There’s too much retail real estate in the U.S.,” said Lindsay Dutch, a REIT equity analyst. “Retailers continue to reduce their store footprints, and while brick and mortar is here to stay, the focus is on high-quality locations.”

The two real-estate investment trusts account for ownership of roughly 200 mall locations throughout the country, which is A LOT of Wetzel Pretzels.

Staples To Pilot A Drop-Off Program For Easier E-Commerce Returns – FORBES

And just as mall locations are taking an L, the winning brick n’ mortar stores are just reaffirming why they are built to last. Office supply chain Staples is following the lead of companies like Kohls with plans to use stores as drop-off locations for returns processing – not just of their own goods but for other, online brands as well. 

To do so, the office supply chain is partnering with reverse logistics company Optoro. Customers will be able to make returns at over 1000 Staples stores throughout the country using QR codes. 

The Staples partnership reflects the growing realization by retailers that while Americans love buying online, they greatly prefer making returns in stores, especially if they don’t have to box up, and label the return themselves.

Walmart Adding ‘Pop-Up’ Centers for Online Holiday Sales – WSJ

In another interesting mesh point for online and physical retail, Walmart is placing “pop-up” e-commerce fulfillment centers inside dozens of its regional distribution facilities. Walmart operators believe the pop-up sites will increase the company’s ability to manage peak season volume by up to 30%. This will allow the retailer to move online orders to stores before handing them off for last-mile, as opposed to shipping parcels from its big fulfillment centers through UPS and FedEx.

“It is a seamless merge of stores and e-commerce, so our buildings can do either one,” said Srini Venkatesan, an executive vice president at Walmart Global Technology who oversees supply-chain technology.

As part of the initiative, Walmart developed a few new technologies: first, a software to synchronize logistics systems for the stores with e-commerce systems and to integrate with the third-party carriers, as well as a warehouse management app that employees can use on their  smartphones.  

Walmart still plans to expand its physical fulfillment capacity, but the company says the technology will help it get ready for the coming holidays faster.

“It’s faster and more cost-effective to build code than it is to build and permit a building,” Mr. Jariwala said.

Why Retailers Are Boarding Up Stores for Election Week, by the Numbers – MARKER

Also on the brick n’ mortar front, and in case anyone is living under a rock: there was an election this month. Election season is an exciting and contentious time for sure, and in the current political climate, it’s also a bit frightening for retailers. 

That’s why many were planning to spend upwards of $30 thousand dollars per store front on barricades, cameras, and other security assurances in preparation for potential civil unrest and election related turmoil. In some cases, retail managers were boarding up stores completely. This decision could not have been made lightly when you consider that November is traditionally the busiest shopping stretch of the year. 

But with the expectation of violent protests around the 2020 election, and having already endured an estimated $1 billion in retail losses this year from the nationwide unrest following the killing of George Floyd, merchants were not messing around. 

In California, the city of Beverly Hills closed down access to Rodeo Drive for super tuesday and the day following.  Similarly, in Chicago, Reuters reported, Gucci and Louis Vuitton had covered holiday window decor with wood panels — and private security firm Pinkerton said its hiring is up by 50%. The owner of a company called Riot Glass told the news service that his firm is scrambling to install reinforced windows for “hundreds” of clients: “Everybody wants something done before the election.”

In New York, the business district appeared subdued on election day as store owners began their own doomsday prepping. Countless stores were covered in plywood, particularly in the Times Square area and the 34th Street shopping district, including at Macy’s flagship store.

The New York Police Department deployed hundreds of officers at polling sites around New York City. It also stationed additional officers outside Trump Tower on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.

People still went about their business, but with a certain unease.

“It’s fear of the unknown,” said Michael Hall, 52 years old, as he walked through Times Square en route to home in Chelsea.

At least 85 people have been attested in the city’s protests since Election Day in the big apple. In Washington DC, there was a similar response, as pro and anti Trump protesters faced off in a conflict that left one person stabbed and 20 arrested. 

Violent clashes between Trump supporters and counter protesters that were caught on tape by The Washington Post showed members from both sides lunging at one another. Objects can be seen being thrown through the air, and people can be seen punching one another. 

A separate set of footage from Stone show counter protesters clashing with the president’s supporters outside the White House when someone set off fireworks. The same video shows officers in masks pushing back a crowd trying to confront Trump supporters. 

Nestlé acquires healthy meal startup Freshly for up to $1.5B – TECH CRUNCH

In unrelated startup news, Nestlé  USA just announced that it has acquired Freshly for $1.5 billion — $950 million plus potential earnouts of up to $550 million based on future growth.

Founded in 2015, Freshly  is a New York City-based startup that offers healthy meals delivered to your home in weekly orders, which can then be prepared in a few minutes in your microwave or oven. With so many Americans spending time at home these days and avoiding restaurants and grocery stores all together, Freshly and similar meal kit companies, even those that offer ingredients and directions that then require cooking, are more popular than ever. 

“Consumers are embracing eCommerce and eating at home like never before,” said Nestlé USA Chairman and CEO Steve Presley in a statement. “It’s an evolution brought on by the pandemic but taking hold for the long term. Freshly is an innovative, fast-growing, food-tech startup, and adding them to the portfolio accelerates our ability to capitalize on the new realities in the U.S. food market and further positions Nestlé to win in the future.”