Monthly Archives: August 2019

A new Amazon Grocery Chain?

CREDIT: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/28/technology/whole-foods-amazon-grocery.html

This recent NYT article points out that the August, 2017 acquisition by Amazon of Whole Foods “…is the beginning, not the end.”

Are they designing a new grocery store? Apparently. 

The article reports that Amazon envisions a store designed from the ground up – centered around pick-up and delivery, not in store purchase. 

This paradigm-breaking idea is right in Amazon’s wheelhouse. 

The core idea is to focus the in-store experience on perishables, a lesson learned from their decade of testing AmazonFresh. Non-perishables would be available, but out of sight on a separate floor. 

The article puts forth a vision that the store might eventually be a 2,500 grocery store chain.  Not comparable to WalMart’s 5000 storm, but every bit as big as all the other chains, such as Publix. 

A few key passages: 

“The mixed results are reflected in prices at Whole Foods today. A standard basket of goods has fallen about 2.5 percent since the acquisition, according to Gordon Haskett Research Advisors.”

“Amazon has said its Prime members, who get charged $119 for an annual subscription, have saved hundreds of millions of dollars in discounts at Whole Foods.”

“Within six months, Amazon began making two-hour deliveries from Whole Foods in four cities for Prime members. Six months later, that had expanded to more than two dozen cities. It’s now available in 90.”

Some things not mentioned in the article:

Amazon is not reporting delivery sales as part of Whole Foods. They account for those in on-line deliveries. So Whole Foods reports a 5% growth in 2018, but it doesn’t include deliveries. Clever. 

AmazonFresh is national. So they have a big head start. Perishables were, and are, a challenge, but the entire concept is now national. 

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Amazon wants to Rule the Grocery Aisles and Not Just at Whole Foods

By Karen Weise

  • July 28, 2019

SEATTLE — In early 2017, a memo circulated inside Amazon that imagined an ambitious new grocery chain. The document was written like a news release, a common practice for ideas being weighed inside the company, with the title “Grocery Shopping for Everyone.”

The new stores, the document envisioned, would have robust sections for produce, fresh food and prepared meals. Nonperishable products, like paper towels or canned beans, would be stored on a separate floor, away from customers. Shoppers could order those items with an app, and while they shopped for fresh food, the other products would be brought down in time for check out. There would also be an area to pick up groceries ordered online and to manage packages for delivery drivers.

The faux news release, which has not previously been reported, cited a fictional grocery expert named Hal Apenyo, as in the chili pepper, declaring success in just six months. “The conversion from offline grocery shopping to mixed format shopping has been massive,” the character was quoted as saying.

A few months later, in June 2017, Amazon barged into the grocery business in a different way, by announcing a blockbuster deal to buy Whole Foods for $13.4 billion. The purchase catapulted Amazon near the top of the $700 billion grocery industry, and sank stocks of traditional grocers on fears that they would be outmaneuvered into oblivion. The memo and other big grocery proposals stopped circulating inside Amazon, as Whole Foods demanded everyone’s attention.

But two years later, instead of Whole Foods being the answer to Amazon’s grocery ambitions, it seems to have only whetted executives’ appetites.

The marriage has made clear the difficulties of selling fresh food inexpensively, either in a physical store or through delivery. Bananas are not the same as books.

But the combination has also shown glimmers of success, particularly in delivery. And that has provided some fuel to Amazon executives pushing to add another food-selling option — one built from the ground up that would change how people buy groceries.

The company is now quietly exploring an ambitious new chain, probably separate from Whole Foods, that is not far removed from the one outlined in the old memo. It would be built for in-store shopping as well as pickup and delivery. As the discussions heated up this year, employees passed around a slightly updated version of the memo.

The details of Amazon’s challenges and ambitions in the grocery business are based on interviews with more than 15 people who have worked at or with the company. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity because they have nondisclosure agreements or were not authorized to speak publicly.

“People really need to understand — Whole Foods is the beginning, it’s not the end,” said Brittain Ladd, who worked on Amazon’s grocery operations until 2017. “It’s not everything.”

An Amazon spokeswoman, Rachel Hass, said the company “doesn’t comment on rumors or speculation.”

Before it bought Whole Foods, Amazon was an afterthought as a grocer, well behind chains like Publix and ShopRite. The food it sold was limited to mostly canned and dry goods, and its decade-long effort to sell perishables through a pickup and delivery program called AmazonFresh never caught on.

Whole Foods had struggles of its own. The company was fending off activist investors and had stopped expanding. While its base remained loyal, grocers like Kroger and Walmart had started selling many of the products that once set Whole Foods apart, like organic kale or kombucha.

“Whole Foods was broken — we shouldn’t forget that, which is why they could buy it,” said Phil Lempert, a food marketing analyst.

It was clear from the start that the two companies differed culturally. John Mackey, Whole Foods’ co-founder and longtime chief executive, had written a best seller about how companies should have a social conscience and consider all stakeholders in their decisions. Amazon corporate principles say good leaders “do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion.” But Amazon pushed ahead with some changes that were once held up as points of pride for the grocer.

In an effort to shed Whole Foods’ “whole paycheck” reputation, Amazon bought more from national food distributors and cut back on the local farms. United Natural Foods, a leading organic distributor, has increased its sales to Whole Foods by 38 percent over the past two years. And inside stores, employees stopped making signs on chalkboards by hand. Now, Whole Foods prints signs with black ink on paper in a font that resembles handwriting but requires less labor.

Other price-cutting efforts failed. The former head of a major produce company said Amazon told him it wanted to sell marquee fresh items at low prices every day. The executive said he had to explain that certain products, like berries or lettuce, may be available all year thanks to global supply chains, but that they cost more in the off-season. Forcing flat, low prices would put too much risk on growers.

Amazon executives, the person said, were caught off guard by the response. It didn’t seem as if they had fully appreciated how seasonality made predictable pricing far harder than selling cereal or paper towels.

The mixed results are reflected in prices at Whole Foods today. A standard basket of goods has fallen about 2.5 percent since the acquisition, according to Gordon Haskett Research Advisors. Amazon has said its Prime members, who get charged $119 for an annual subscription, have saved hundreds of millions of dollars in discounts at Whole Foods. But over all, Whole Foods is still more expensive than other major grocers, particularly for items like meat.

Amazon has also run into some trouble integrating Whole Foods into its delivery machine. Amazon never saw delivering cold milk and fragile fruit to doorsteps as something for the masses, according to former employees. Instead, executives thought of it as an option for people who wanted high-quality foods and could afford a premium price to have fragile and fresh items arrive at their doorstep.

In theory, that was a good fit for Whole Foods and its affluent shoppers. Within six months, Amazon began making two-hour deliveries from Whole Foods in four cities for Prime members. Six months later, that had expanded to more than two dozen cities. It’s now available in 90.

But Whole Foods stores are not like Amazon’s 

delivery warehouses. Because Whole Foods sells so many fresh items, its stores have smaller back-of-house areas than a standard supermarket. That means employees who pick products for online orders must gather more items from the same shelves as shoppers. They roam aisles with scanners in hand, asking associates on the floor when they can’t find something.

In addition, items in grocery stores are grouped together. Walk into a Whole Foods, and a picker for an online order might be standing there trying to see if the identical tubs of Parmesan she’s grabbed are grated or shaved. In a warehouse, similar items are kept far apart to avoid confusion.

Still, deliveries have shown big potential, making up almost all of Whole Foods’ growth.

The promise of serving customers, but doing so more efficiently, has Amazon thinking again about aggressive investment in groceries.

Rather than dramatically substantially expand Whole Foods, several former employees said, Amazon is considering designing stores specifically with pickup and delivery in mind, and with a smaller area dedicated to fresh shopping — as the old memo imagined.

While it is unclear what hybrid design Amazon has in the works, a recent job posting for a store designer on “an exciting new team” was looking for someone interested in “creating multiple customer experiences under one roof.”

And Amazon has been looking for spaces close to Whole Foods locations, indicating a hub-and-spoke approach where one store serves as the warehouse and commissary for others. Experts say it could take more than a decade to build a new chain from the ground up.

To be a major grocery player, Amazon would need a little more than 2,000 stores, the old memo estimated. That’s far fewer than the 5,000 run by Walmart, the country’s top grocery seller, but more than the roughly 1,200 operated by Publix. Whole Foods got Amazon about a quarter of the way there.

A store designed with different shopping options, “Mr. Apenyo” predicted in the old memo, would be “highly scalable.”

Charisma

CREDIT: www.nytimes.com/2019/08/15/smarter-living/what-makes-people-charismatic-and-how-you-can-be-too

What Makes People Charismatic

Ask people to name someone they find charming and the answers are often predictable. There’s James Bond, the fictional spy with a penchant for shaken martinis. Maybe they’ll mention Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton or a historical figure, like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi. Now ask the same people to describe, in just a few seconds, what makes these charmers so likable.

It’s here, in defining what exactly charisma is, that most hit a wall. Instinctually, we know that we’re drawn to certain people more than others. Quantifying why we like them is an entirely different exercise.

The ancient Greeks described charisma as a “gift of grace,” an apt descriptor if you believe likability is a God-given trait that comes naturally to some but not others. The truth is that charisma is a learned behavior, a skill to be developed in much the same way that we learned to walk or practice vocabulary when studying a new language. Other desirable traits, like wealth or appearance, are undoubtedly linked to likability, but being born without either doesn’t preclude you from being charismatic.

Quantifying charisma

For all the work put into quantifying charisma — and it’s been studied by experts through the ages, including Plato and those we talked to for this piece — there are still a lot of unknowns. There are, however, two undisputed truths.

The first is that we are almost supernaturally drawn to some people, particularly those we like. Though this is not always the case; we can just as easily be drawn in by a charismatic villain.

The second truth is that we are terrible at putting a finger on what it is that makes these people so captivating. Beyond surface-level observations — a nice smile, or the ability to tell a good story — few of us can quantify, in an instant, what makes charismatic people so magnetic.

Perhaps it’s evolutionary. As a species, innate instinctual feelings lead to things we often describe as gut feelings. These feelings are actually a subconscious response to dozens, or possibly hundreds, of verbal and nonverbal cues that we unknowingly process in every interaction with others. It’s a necessary skill, one that allows all mammals to gauge the intention of others by taking continuous inventory of things like body language, speech pacing and subtle movements that may allude to a threat.

John Antonakis, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, notes that charisma, at its most basic, is merely information signaling. “Basically put, charisma is all about signaling information in a symbolic, emotional and value-based manner,” he said. “Thus, charisma signaling is all about using verbal — what you say — and nonverbal techniques.”

For comparison’s sake, what Dr. Antonakis described is essentially a simpler version of the fight-or-flight response. Instead of fighting or fleeing, however, we’re making constant micro-decisions about whether the person demanding our attention is deserving of it. 

The three pillars of charisma, and how to practice each

Olivia Fox Cabane, a charisma coach and the author of the book “The Charisma Myth,” says we can boil charismatic behavior down to three pillars.

The first pillar: PRESENCE

The first pillar, presence, involves residing in the moment. When you find your attention slipping while speaking to someone, refocus by centering yourself. Pay attention to the sounds in the environment, your breath and the subtle sensations in your body — the tingles that start in your toes and radiate throughout your frame.

The second pillar: POWER

Power, the second pillar, involves breaking down self-imposed barriers rather than achieving higher status. It’s about lifting the stigma that comes with the success you’ve already earned. Impostor syndrome, as it’s known, is the prevalent fear that you’re not worthy of the position you’re in. The higher up the ladder you climb, the more prevalent the feeling becomes.

The key to this pillar is to remove self-doubt, assuring yourself that you belong and that your skills and passions are valuable and interesting to others. It’s easier said than done.

The third pillar: WARMTH

The third pillar, warmth, is a little harder to fake. This one requires you to radiate a certain kind of vibe that signals kindness and acceptance. It’s the sort of feeling you might get from a close relative or a dear friend. It’s tricky, considering those who excel here are people who invoke this feeling in others, even when they’ve just met.

To master this pillar, Ms. Cabane suggests imagining a person you feel great warmth and affection for, and then focusing on what you enjoy most about your shared interactions. You can do this before interactions, or in shorter spurts while listening to someone else speak. This, she says, can change body chemistry in seconds, making even the most introverted among us exude the type of warmth linked to high-charisma people.

Scratching the surface

All of our experts agreed that charisma isn’t a one-size-fits-all descriptor; it’s more of a hierarchy. Some people exude charm through warmth and generosity, while others are likable in a sort of evolutionary sense — the alpha types who radiate confidence and success.

Going back to the three pillars, the most charismatic people you know on a personal level have generally achieved a high level of success in only one, or perhaps two, of these traits. A rare few, though, show a mastery of all three.

Dr. King, for example, displayed signs of mastery in each of these pillars, leading to the rare classification that Ms. Cabane calls “visionary charisma.”

If that’s the top of the hierarchy, the next three examples would reside somewhere in the middle.

Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, exhibited mastery in power and achieved high marks for presence. However, according to his daughter Lisa Brennan-Jobs, in her 2018 memoir “Small Fry,” he lacked warmth. Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, also arguably lacks warmth. He’s a classic introvert who makes up for his lack of people skills with mastery in presence and above-average levels of power.

Mr. Jobs, according to Ms. Cabane, is best classified as having “authority charisma,” while Mr. Musk has “focus charisma.”

Then there are those like Emilia Clarke, who starred on HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Clarke’s exuberance earns her high marks in “kindness charisma,” a classification for those who excel at the warmth pillar, while maintaining a high presence but low power.

This is just scratching the surface, of course. But the important takeaway here is that charisma isn’t a singular thing. Instead, it’s often best to think of it in the same way you would consider intelligence. Earning high marks in math and science is a signal of intelligence, but so is mastery in art or music. Trying to compare one intelligent person to another just leads to more confusion.The same can be said for charisma.

Charisma training: Low-hanging-fruit edition

If you’re looking for a good starting point to be more likable, Dr. Antonakis suggests storytelling. The most charismatic people in a room, he says, are those who speak metaphorically, providing substance to a conversation through exemplary use of anecdotes and comparisons. They aren’t recounting events but paraphrasing action while using facial gestures, energetic body language and vocal inflections to frame key points. They’re experts at using moral conviction and reflections of group sentiment, as well as employing questions, even rhetorical ones, that keep people engaged. In short, they just tell a good story.

In fact, a theme emerged while speaking to experts on charisma, one that becomes instantly recognizable to anyone who has taken a public-speaking course or sat in on a Toastmasters meeting: The most charismatic people are often the most effective public speakers.

Charisma goes beyond being a refined and engaging speaker, however. Charismatic people are well liked not just because they can tell a good story, but also because of how they make others feel. Aside from being humorous and engaging, charismatic people are able to block out distractions, leaving those who interact with them feeling as if time had stopped and they were all that mattered. They make people feel better about themselves, which leads them to return for future interactions, or to extend existing ones, if only to savor such moments.

The quickest way to be more likable is to get out and practice being more likable. It starts at home, by removing your own self-doubt and focusing instead on being an active participant in conversations and interactions with others.

From there, it requires little more than saying yes to more social invitations, joining a public speaking class (or a local group like Toastmasters) and continuing to look for ways to show off your strengths while leveling up your weaknesses. Each interaction offers a chance to practice, to study and to employ new strategies.

Much like learning any other skill, sometimes it will go well and often it won’t, especially at first. But if you think of charisma as a skill tree, each practice session is merely a way to brush up on the many ways to climb it.

Bryan Clark is a journalist from San Diego who lives at the intersection between technology and culture. 

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