May 2021: National News

Retail Sales Posted Double-Digit Gains in March

U.S. retail sales grew by double-digits in March.  According to Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment, U.S. retail sales excluding automotive and gasoline increased 26.3% year-over-year in March, and online sales grew 56.8% compared to 2020. Interestingly, the first half of the month had a slow start but in the last half retail sales rose 46.9% year-over-year making March a blockbuster.


Dunnhumby Study: Consumer Confidence Rebounding

Americans, for the first time since the pandemic began, are feeling more comfortable regarding personal finances and are now prioritizing value over speed when they shop. That’s according to the seventh wave of the dunnhumby Pulse Survey, a year-long worldwide study of the impact of COVID-19 on customer attitudes and behavior across 22 countries.

Specifically, 58% of U.S. consumers reported that the U.S. economy to be improving, as compared to last March when 75% said the economy was weak. In addition, 39% of consumers reported that their finances were poor, as compared to November when 54% reported their finances were poor. Americans are now at the lowest level of worry about the virus (23%) since the crisis began and have dropped nine percentage points since November on the dunnhumby Worry Index.

All and still, consumers are still concerned with the cost of food, many purports they pay more than they did prior to the pandemic.  This may be reflected in consumers’ focus upon value. 

Among the key findings from the study:

  • Value-seeking consumers (70%) far outstrip quality-seeking consumers (13%) in the U.S.
  • Consumers are utilizing multiple shopping tactics to seek value in the face of rising prices. Many shop at stores perceived to offer value.
  • Online is now a fully adopted behavior.
  • The number of online shopping trips is also increasing.
  • Consumer satisfaction with shopping online has been ahead of, or equal to shopping in-store.
  • The pandemic-driven changes in shopping behavior are stabilizing
  • Walmart continues to dominate all stores when it comes to value followed by Kroger and Amazon

For this study, dunnhumby surveyed 48,449 respondents online in 22 countries across Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the U.S.


Consumer confidence jumps to highest level in a year

Consumer confidence surged in March as Americans grew more optimistic about the economy and labor market.  The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index rose in March to its highest reading in a year, after a modest increase in February. The Index now stands at 109.7, up from 90.4 in February. The Present Situation Index—based on consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions—climbed from 89.6 to 110.0. The Expectations Index—based on consumers’ short-term outlook for income, business, and labor market conditions—also improved, from 90.9 last month to 109.6 in March.

Chain Store Age

Prices: Going Up

Consumer prices rose 0.6% in March, according to the Labor Department — the sharpest increase in nearly nine years. Higher gasoline prices account for nearly half the increase, but prices for other commodities, and services were also higher.

Over the last 12 months, the department’s consumer price index has risen 2.6%. Excluding volatile food and energy prices, inflation was 0.3% in March and 1.6% over the last year.  The March price increase is somewhat exaggerated by the point of comparison. Prices fell a year ago, when the pandemic first took hold in the United States, dropping 0.4% in March 2020 and another 0.8% in April.  The jump in prices is coming at a time when businesses are still struggling to keep pace with unexpectedly strong demand.

Shoppers are likely spending more freely as pandemic restrictions ease, helped by $1,400 relief payments passed by Congress last month, as well as accumulated savings from a year of reduced travel and entertainment.

NPR News

Leading the Country’s Vaccination Push

Retail pharmacies are playing a significant role in the administration of COVID-19 vaccines, leveraging their extensive experience in offering vaccinations against other diseases, as well as their strong relationships with their local communities.  Challenges remain, including a limited amount of vaccines. 

The Federal Retail Pharmacy Partnership program kicked off on Feb. 11, with 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine distributed to 6,500 pharmacies across the country. That supplemented previous distribution of vaccine doses that had been conducted at the state level.  Both chain and independent pharmacies across the U.S. have participated in the vaccine program. 


Walmart’s Ramps up COVID-19 Vaccination

Walmart is ramping up its efforts to vaccinate folks in vulnerable communities. The retail giant currently is administering vaccines in more than 3,800 stores and Sam’s clubs across 48 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. More than 80% of the shots administered through Walmart pharmacies and its 60-plus dedicated community events were in what the Health Resources & Services Administration designates as the most medically underserved areas of the country.


Walmart; Mostly Full Timers

By the end of the current fiscal year two-thirds of Walmart U.S. hourly store roles will be full-time with consistent schedules from week to week.  Walmart believes full-time schedules complement the other ways they are preparing for the future of retail.  In a statement, Walmart said, “We’re uniquely positioned to offer a combination of stability and room for growth that few others can match. We are prioritizing consistent schedules, skills training and new pathways for growth, so all jobs at Walmart can lead to careers. We know offering more full-time opportunities along with skills, training and equipping associates with tools to make work easier will help us continue to attract and retain top talent.”

Walmart Newsroom

Jeff Bezos Commits Amazon to be Earth’s Best Employer

Jeff Bezos wants Amazon to be as obsessed with its employees as it is with customers.  In his final letter to shareholders, prior to passing his CEO role to Andy Jassy, Bezos indicated he wanted to be not only customer centric, but employee centric as well.  This after a failed unionization attempt in Alabama and some poor media coverage regarding working conditions.  Bezos assured investors, in the letter, that Amazon could be both.

Chain Store Age

Covid-19 Vaccinations, Tests Boost Kroger’s Health Ambitions

Kroger’s COVID-19 vaccination and testing programs has led to a better relationships with its customers.  As the biggest supermarket chain in the country, it helped vaccinate people in large event spaces and within its stores.  This, and stay at home orders during the pandemic’s worst days, led to record sales of $132.5 billion in the year ended January 30th

Moving forward Kroger is betting that its in-store pharmacies and clinics help maintain customer loyalty even as the pandemic recedes. 


Shoppers Start to See Effect of Higher Commodity Costs

Manufactures are seeing higher commodity prices and those higher prices are starting to be passed along to consumers.  Higher raw material costs are being reflected in cereals, paper products, and so forth.  In addition, higher transportation costs are adding to the problems for consumers as well as supply chain interruptions including the Texas freeze and Suez Canal blockage.  According to Jerome Powell, the U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman, inflation may move higher following a sharp dip from last year.


Walgreens Grows Financial Services With InComm Payments

Walgreens is working with InComm Payments to offer a banking solution that will establish a MetaBank account with a Mastercard debit card and online banking for shoppers.  Walgreens’ newest effort will help make banking accessible to its shoppers and make earning myWalgreens rewards easier. In partnership with InComm Payments, the retailer is rolling out a bank account offering, establishing customers’ accounts at MetaBank and offering a Mastercard debit card that will allow shoppers to earn myWalgreens Cash rewards on all purchases as part of the new myWalgreens loyalty program. 


Walmart Working Designer Brandon Maxwell

Walmart is working with fashion designer Brandon Maxwell on its Free Assembly and Scoop fashion brands.  The move is a first for Walmart and its private brand business. 

Known as one of the industry’s leading American fashion designers, Maxwell will act as Creative Director for Free Assembly and Scoop, driving the design of seasonal collections for men’s, women’s, children’s and accessories. In his role, he will be responsible for collection design and providing input into material selection, sourcing and production. He will also be involved in brand marketing initiatives and campaigns for both elevated brands.


Best Buy: Nationwide COVID-19 Testing Program for Employees

Best Buy is adding free COVID-19 test kits to its employee screening process.

Best Buy, which launched a mandatory health screening protocol for all employees who do not usually work from home in March 2020, now provides them with the opportunity to request a free COVID-19 test kit if they are experiencing any symptoms or have learned of recent exposure. The retailer will continue to pay employees while they quarantine and await the results.

All Best Buy employees not working from home are required to complete a mobile health screening questionnaire no more than three hours before reporting to work. The screening asks questions related to potential COVID-19 symptoms and exposure.   If an employee fails the screening, they are instructed to quarantine at home, and with the rollout of Best Buy’s new program, can request a free COVID-19 test. While the employee waits for the test kit and results, they will receive a week’s pay based on their average hours worked from the previous six weeks.  If the results from this test come back negative, the employee is immediately eligible to return to work. If the test results come back positive, the employee will isolate and recover at home. They will receive an additional average week’s pay. 

In addition to the COVID-19 testing program, Best Buy is also providing paid time off to any employee who gets fully vaccinated. Part-time hourly employees will get four hours of personal time off to use how they wish, and full-time employees will receive eight hours.


J.C. Penny Closing 18 Stores in May

J.C. Penney is closing more stores.  The retailer, which exited bankruptcy in December after being acquired by Simon Property Group and Brookfield Management, said in May 2020, that it planned to shutter about 242 locations in its then 845-store portfolio. Since then, it has closed some 156 stores. In a report by USA Today, Penney said it will close 18 stores on May 16. “Our go-forward store count is 672,” the retailer said in a statement to USA Today. “There are no additional store closures planned at this time.”

The Penney stores that will close on May 16 are located at:

Enterprise Shopping Center, Enterprise, Alabama;
Kingman Square Shopping Center, Kingman, Arizona; 
Silverlake Mall; Coeur d’Alene, Idaho;
Cross County Mall, Matoon, Illinois;
Garden City Plaza, Garden City, Kansas;
Black Gold Mall, Hazard, Kentucky;
Chestnut Hills Mall; Chestnut Hill, Kentucky;
Sturbridge Plaza, Sturbridge, Massachusetts;
Canton, Michigan;
Southern Hills Center, West Hills, Missouri;
Windsor Square, Matthews, North Carolina;
Fontaine Plaza; Bellefontaine, Ohio;
Clarion Mall, Clarion, Pennsylvania;
Sumter Mall, Sumter, South Carolina;
Colonial/Temple Mall, Temple, Texas;
Green Mountain Mall, Saint Johnsbury, Vermont;
Virginia Center Commons Mall, Glen Allan, Virginia; and 
Sequim Village Shopping Center, Sequim, Washington.

Chain Store Age

Amazon Expects U.S. Employees to be Back in Offices by Early fall

Amazon is looking ahead to the return of its “office-centric” culture.  The company expects employees will return to the office on a gradual basis that will vary by country, based on infection and vaccination rates. In the United States, some employees will start returning to the office during the summer, with most back by early fall.  By contrast, in some countries in Europe, Amazon expects in-person working to take longer due to recent setbacks.  In a statement Amazon said, “Our plan is to return to an office-centric culture as our baseline,” the company said in a memo to employees. “We believe it enables us to invent, collaborate, and learn together most effectively.”  Amazon emphasized that it continue to maintain strong safety protocols, such as temperature screenings upon entry, physical distancing guidelines, face covering requirements, office occupancy limits and enhanced cleaning in all offices. 

Chain Store Age

Walgreens Profit Rises but Weak Cold and Flu Season a Challenge

Walgreens Boots Alliance reported second-quarter sales that missed Street expectations amid a weak cold and flu season in the U.S. and reduced foot traffic in the U.K.  Net income totaled $1.03 billion, or $1.19 per share, in the quarter ended Feb. 29, up from $946.0 million, or $1.07 per share in the year-ago period. Adjusted EPS of $1.40 beat the FactSet consensus for $1.10 per share.   Sales rose 4.6% to $32.78, missing estimates of   $36.59 billion. Walgreens said its digitally-initiated retail sales increased 78% in the quarter. 

Chain Store Age

Home Depot and Lowe’s to Grab Market Share in $33 Billion Outdoor Living Market

While stuck at home, consumers spent $84 million on home improvements and repairs.  Outdoor living areas, kitchen, and home office were amongst the highest areas of investment.  Many consumers have indicated they plan to continue to upgrade their homes due to stimulus checks and its coincidence with the home improvement season.   Some expect the demand to be even greater as consumers involve contractors into their plans, more people get vaccinated, and limits on store capacities expire.  Both Home Depot and Lowe’s continue to market outdoor living via online and through store promotions.

Chain Store Age

Target Commits to Black-owned Businesses

Target Corp. announced a commitment to spend more than $2 billion with Black-owned businesses by the end of 2025. Target is pledging to add products across its multi-category assortment from more than 500 Black-owned businesses and engage more Black-owned companies to enhance its retail operations and shopping experience. In addition to spending more with Black-owned companies, Target is introducing new resources to help its Black-owned vendors grow and successfully scale their businesses

Target Corp

Walmart, Kroger and Amazon Are Tops for Value

According to a new study, consumers are turning to particular retailers.  This according to a new study by Dunnhumby, a consultancy.  Thirty-three percent of respondents to the seventh Wave of the dunnhumby Pulse Survey mentioned Walmart first when asked which stores provide the best value, followed by The Kroger Co. at 10%, and then by Amazon, at 6%.

Progressive Grocer

Best Buy Pilots Annual Membership Program

Best Buy Beta, the new program, costs $199.99 per year or $179.00 for holders of the Best Buy credit card. Currently available at select stores in Iowa, Oklahoma and eastern Pennsylvania. Soon it will expand to stores in Minnesota, North Carolina and Tennessee. The pilot will be available in about 60 stores by the end of the month.  Membership benefits include unlimited Geek Squad technical support on all technology in the member’s home — whether the devices were purchased at Best Buy or not — along free shipping with no minimum, exclusive pricing on a wide range of products and free installation on most products and appliances. Other benefits include up to two years of protection on most product purchases and an extended return window of 60-days.

Best Buy Corporate

Alabama Amazon Workers Vote Against Union

Workers at Amazon’s Alabama location voted overwhelmingly against forming a union.  Amazon, in blog post, said:

“Thank you to employees at our BHM1 fulfillment center in Alabama for participating in the election. There’s been a lot of noise over the past few months, and we’re glad that your collective voices were finally heard. In the end, less than 16% of the employees at BHM1 voted to join the RWDSU union.

It’s easy to predict the union will say that Amazon won this election because we intimidated employees, but that’s not true. Our employees heard far more anti-Amazon messages from the union, policymakers, and media outlets than they heard from us. And Amazon didn’t win—our employees made the choice to vote against joining a union. Our employees are the heart and soul of Amazon, and we’ve always worked hard to listen to them, take their feedback, make continuous improvements, and invest heavily to offer great pay and benefits in a safe and inclusive workplace. We’re not perfect, but we’re proud of our team and what we offer, and will keep working to get better every day.

We hope that with this election now over, there’s an opportunity to move from talk to action across the country. While our team is more than a million people around the world and we’ve created 500,000 new jobs since COVID-19 began, we’re still a tiny fraction of the workforce. There are 40 million Americans who make less than the starting wage at Amazon, and many more who don’t get health care through their employers, and we think that should be fixed. We welcome the opportunity to sit down and share ideas with any policymaker who wants to pass laws ensuring that all workers in the U.S. are guaranteed at least $15 an hour, health care from day one, and other strong benefits. Our employees have seen tremendous benefit from what we offer and we think every American family deserves the same. We believe that we can work better together instead of against each other to pass those important laws, and we hope that’s what will happen in the months and years ahead.”

Amazon Corporate

Target & Amazon Rank High for Online Shopping

With an increased number of consumers shopping online, it’s critical for retailers to provide the best online shopping experience. New York-based global consumer research firm Kantar has revealed the top online retailers.

According to data from Kantar’s “Commerce Snapshot” report, ranked highest in overall online performance among consumers, with 78% having a positive experience on the website. Target’s top ranking was due to its strong performance in quality (82%), delivery speed (79%) and low friction (77%) Amazon was second, at 71%.

Progressive Grocer

Toilet Paper Aplenty

TP sales have fallen to pre-pandemic levels as consumers work through their stockpiles.  This after people have felt comfortable to use their stockpiles.  Bath tissue sales declined more than four % from the same period last year.  As the start of the pandemic use increased due to home demand as commercial use fell.  Home supplies and that found in commercial applications such as restaurants, stores, and offices come from different factories.  The country’s papermaking mills, which were operating at 100% capacity for much of last year, are now running around 90% to 95% capacity, which is a more normal level. 


Walgreens’ COVID-19 vaccination efforts reach 49 states, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Walgreens has been busy administering COVID-19 vaccines at a majority of its stores across 49 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.  Currently, nearly 60,000 immunizers are administering COVID-19 vaccinations at more than 7,000 stores and via off-site clinics, with a count of 11 million vaccine doses administered to date. The company also said that it has nearly completed its long-term care facility vaccination efforts. 

The company began immunizing long-term care patients in late December, adding store distribution for states and federal distribution plans alongside the Federal Retail Pharmacy Partnership that began in February. 

Walgreens noted that it as conducted nearly 500 COVID-19 vaccine clinics in underserved areas of the country, including in California, Illinois, Georgia and Mississippi, with plans for hundreds more in partnership with community organizations, Uber, and such national partners as the 100 Black Men of America and the National Coalition of Black Women. 

Drug Store News

Amazon expands own-brand grocery lineup with Aplenty

Amazon has added a new food line called Aplenty to its private-brand grocery roster.  Sold online and in-store via Amazon Fresh supermarkets, Aplenty at launch includes such items as pita chips, potato chips, crackers, cookies and mustard, Seattle-based Amazon said Monday. Plans call for hundreds more Aplenty products to roll out over the next year, covering such categories as confections, salty snacks, cookies, crackers, frozen food, condiments, sauces, seasonings, baking mixes and pantry staples.

Industry observers say Amazon has steadily built a strong private label grocery portfolio and is grabbing market share. Brands include Happy Belly (dairy, eggs, beverages, cooking and baking products, deli items, produce, snack foods and jams, jellies and spreads), Solimo (food, beverages, household, personal/beauty care, pet care), Wag (pet food), Sugarly Sweet (sweeteners), Santa Ninfa (pasta, oil, vinegar), Wickedly Prime (food, grocery), Presto! (household) and AmazonBasics (household and home essentials), Cinque Terre (pasta), Kalista (olive oil), Le French Pantry (seasonings), Mix-A-Licious (candy), Nature’s Instincts (dietary supplements), Powers & Powers (seasonings), Roast Ridge Coffee Roasters (coffee), Simply Sweet (cookies), Super Organics (coffee and tea) and Zesty Bee (honey).

Supermarket News