business news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday we took note of a Fast Company story about Stitch Fix, which has built a $1.7 billion business with 4.1 million active users out of a styling service model that uses "a combination of data and human stylists to send customers boxes of personalized products from dozens of brands."

Now, the story says, Stitch Fix is launching "a new platform called Freestyle that creates a customized store for every shopper. It’s designed to mimic the discovery process of a traditional department store, where brands and styles are showcased together, rather than a typical e-commerce site, where you have to search for exactly what you want. This new approach to shopping has the potential to grow Stitch Fix’s business beyond its subscription model - and also transform the way we shop online."

MNB reader Kathleen Ottaviano responded:

I tried Stitch Fix several years ago, pre-pandemic.  While I did buy a few items, overall I wasn't impressed with the clothes they suggested for me.  I feel that it's more data driven than really using a 'human' stylist and as such, I didn't fit neatly into an algorithm. 

For me, an appointment with a Nordstrom stylist is the way to go.  You actually work with an actual human being who listens to what you're looking for and what budget you want to work with.  You walk into a fitting room with all these options to try on.   Something doesn't fit?  She'll get the size for me on the spot.  No returning items and waiting.   I end up buying items I never would have tried on if not for the suggestion of the stylist.  

Nordstrom also offers a subscription-like service, Truck Club, that friends rave about.  

No other on-line or b&m retailer beats Nordstrom in this arena.  

I have a stylist, too.  His name is LL Bean.  

We had a piece the other day about how the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled that Kroger-owned Fred Meyer and QFC stores violated federal labor law last fall when they barred employees from wearing Black Lives Matter buttons at work.

One MNB reader responded, in part:

Are people OK with this Soviet/Cuban style law? WOW we are rotting from inside out like all great empires have done.

I pointed out:

I'm guessing that the Soviet and Cuban authorities would be more likely to tell people not to wear such buttons as opposed to saying that people should be allowed to wear them.

MNB reader Jeff Gartner agreed:

Kevin, I don't understand one reader's comments on the NLRB's ruling. The government is NOT saying which political related pins or apparel a person can wear or not wear. Instead, they're saying your employer cannot stipulate this as well. It seems that the NLRB ruled in favor of freedom of speech, not against it as the  commenter misperceived.

I'm not sure employee free speech was exactly the issue the reader was really concerned about.

Regarding the robotic coffee kiosk at San Francisco International that I showed yesterday on video, one MNB reader wrote:

While we all need to get used to more automation in many segments of our lives, part of the appeal of coffee shops has been the interaction with the barista, the whirring and aroma from the grinding equipment, the customization of various beverages, and the general theater of the espresso beverage creation. I was additionally surprised to see Intelligentsia Coffee as the product being served, as Intelligentsia, since its inception, has prided themselves on the in-store experience, barista interaction, open viewing of their espresso tamping and beverage production, and became one of the early benchmarks for this experience. They are now served by a nameless robotic arm at SFO.  Shame!      

MNB focused yesterday on a Los Angeles Times story about how California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed into law legislation that "gives Amazon and other warehouse workers new power to fight quotas, which critics say have fostered dangerous conditions by pressuring workers to skip bathroom breaks and skirt safety measures."

One MNB reader replied:

I realize this is primarily aimed at Amazon/Door Dash etc., but technically affects all CA Grocery and Foodservice warehouses too.  There may be a good reason in certain circumstances to address grievances - which the NLRB, Dept of Labor & OHSA, is staffed and equipped to handle.  However this strikes me as broadly anti-business, and generally divisive to labor/management working relations - at a time when staffing is stretched thin, which does affect products getting to retail stores.  The net effect may be lower in-stock conditions, and consumers moving to On-line - thus more pressure on Amazon & others (ironically) to deliver more with their reduced capacity.  I say let's have another law, and agency - to fix these unintended consequences.

We reported yesterday that the Specialty Food Association (SFA) announced that it is relocating its 2022 Winter Fancy Food Show from Moscone Center in San Francisco to the Las Vegas Convention Center, on February 6-8.

I commented:

It is possible that San Francisco - even though California's current Covid numbers are low - simply was not equipped to handle the show in 2022, though having just spend a few days in Vegas, I'm dubious that the city's safety protocols will be sufficient.

One MNB reader wrote:

Have you been to San Francisco lately?

And from another reader:

Just maybe the SFA decision to depart San Francisco had more to do with the (literally) fetid and lawless conditions of this once great city.  It’s not ALL about Covid KC …


I'll get to that in a second.

First, a comment from MNB reader Stewart Sundholm:

Really - Vegas? The whole joy of attending the show in SF (and NYC) is being able to visit the myriad of specialty retailers in each city devoted to curating unique and "Special" offerings.

No offense to Sin City - but I don't recall a robust indie/specialty food retailing scene last time I was there.

What's next - Summer Fancy Food show in Atlantic City?

I think it is entirely fair to observe that San Francisco, like a lot of cities, has been suffering from a lot of issues that are the result of the pandemic that created upheaval throughout the country and the world.

But San Francisco remains one of the great cities in the country and the world.  Dealing with some tough issues now (true - not all of them created by the pandemic), but at its core a place of great sophistication, a terrific baseball team, not to mention fantastic food and wine - which is what made it such a great location for the Fancy Food Show.

I hope that Las Vegas is just a temporary solution, and that when San Francisco has had a chance to catch its collective breath and get past some of its current troubles, the show will return there.

Finally…The Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA) announced this week that its annual trade show, originally scheduled for November 14-16, 2021, now will take place January 30-February 1, 2022.  The location is the same - the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Chicago.

I commented:

I admire PLMA's optimism about the new year, though it seems a little overly so considering that pandemic numbers generally get worse during the winter months, not better.  And it isn't like PLMA will be able to have outside events - it will be late January in Chicago.  In fact, weather could end up being a bigger problem than Covid.

One MNB reader responded, in one of my favorite emails of the year:

Obviously, the decision to move the dates to January/February in Chicago was made at a bar in Miami.