The Brand Move Roundup – September 29, 2020

We’re tracking the notable brand moves & highlighting the companies who are tackling this challenge successfully.

In early March we began reporting daily on how brands were dealing with Covid-19. But it’s become clear that the current climate is one of near-perpetual disruption, so we decided to keep on telling the stories of inspiring brand leadership and strategy amid the latest crises in an anxious world. Our goal is to provide an up-to-the-minute source of information, inspiration and insight on brand moves as they happen.

Amazon is unveiling its own palm recognition technology today that will be used initially to turn your hand into a personal credit card inside the company’s physical retail stores. Amazon One uses the palm of your hand to identify you, using a combination of surface-area details like lines and ridges, alongside vein patterns to create a “palm signature.” At first, this palm signature will be used in Amazon’s own Go stores in Seattle, and the company also plans to add Amazon One to other Amazon stores in the coming months. Usage will eventually extend beyond just palm-based payments. “We believe Amazon One has broad applicability beyond our retail stores, so we also plan to offer the service to third parties like retailers, stadiums, and office buildings so that more people can benefit from this ease and convenience in more places,” said Dilip Kumar, vice president of Amazon’s physical retail business. While many companies have experimented with palm recognition biometrics over the years, Amazon’s strong retail presence could certainly help make palm scanning a reality. Amazon hasn’t confirmed if any other retailers, venues, or businesses will make use of Amazon One, but the company says it’s “in active discussions with several potential customers.” Amazon One will use image scanning hardware that includes proprietary computer vision algorithms to capture and encrypt a palm image. You won’t even need an Amazon account to use the service, just a phone number and a credit card. Amazon One users will apparently be able to delete their biometric data from the company’s online portal if they no longer want to use the service.

DTC air purifier brand Molekule has experienced a 200% growth in repeat customers since launching in 2016, while its consumer model, the Air, has consistently sold out each month. Molekule, whose devices start at $399, recently launched the Air Pro, a professional-grade air purifier aimed at small and medium sized businesses. The company claims the FDA-cleared model can reduce a room’s aerosolized RNA virus MS2 – the proxy virus for SARS-CoV-2 which causes coronavirus – at a 99.99% rate in 25 minutes. The San Francisco-based startup began selling on Amazon earlier this year and at Best Buy starting in July. It’s also experienced a “renewed interest in commercial spaces,” Molekule CEO Jaya Rao said. As the pandemic continues, “consumers are now aware of their health in deeper ways, beyond just food and water,” Rao explained. “And they’re in turn demanding businesses deploy a higher standard of cleanliness.” As businesses began to reopen, Molekule saw interest from the likes of dental offices and restaurants beginning indoor dining at small capacity. The device has also been installed at some hospitals’ waiting areas, Rao confirmed. He also pointed to the West Coast’s ongoing air quality problem as another culprit in customers’ growing environmental safety fears. According to Research and Markets data, the global portable air purifier market is expected to reach $13.75 billion by 2027, up from being a $8.27 billion valued industry in 2019. Molekule closed a $58 million Series C round in February, signaling Silicon Valley’s growing bet on the category.

E-commerce companies are preparing for a huge surge in online orders over the holidays, as people remain hesitant about visiting stores. But while the extra revenue may be welcomed, it could also put a strain on their ability to get products to customers on time. In a recent survey of 63 merchants by CommerceNext, an event series and community for retail marketers, respondents said that their biggest logistics concern leading up to the holidays was that carriers like FedEx and UPS would cap deliveries during peak demand. It’s something that FedEx already had to do in May, when it was experiencing a huge surge in package deliveries during stay at home orders, while rival UPS added a peak surcharge around that time. Now, the fear is that delivery times could be even further delayed, given that November and December are already the busiest times of year for many e-commerce companies. In order to prepare for the surge in e-commerce orders, some consulting firms are advising companies to diversify the number of carriers they work with, as well as to try and encourage customers to buy weeks in advance, instead of on historically busy periods like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. While some delays are inevitable, by getting ahead of the biggest surges in orders, the hope is that they won’t experience as big of delays as some of their competitors. EBay, for example announced that it had struck a deal to provide discounted UPS shipping labels to its sellers by the end of September, in light of recent delays it had experienced with USPS. “There will be failures across every carrier,” said Matthew Hertz, co-founder of consulting firm Second Marathon, which has worked with Away and Great Jones, among other companies, on fulfillment strategy. Carriers are already bracing for the surge in orders by introducing surcharges during peak delivery times. The United States Postal Service is doing that for the first time this year, increasing prices by anywhere from $0.24 to $1.50 per package from October 18 through December 27. FedEx, meanwhile will charge an extra $1 to $15 an order between November 2 and January 17, and UPS is applying a surcharge to customers who ship more than 25,000 packages a week. Recent studies have projected that the share of holiday orders placed online will increase this year. But by exactly how much is unclear. And if companies are off on their projections, it could create a huge headache. Deloitte is projecting for example, that holiday e-commerce sales will be up somewhere between 25% to 35% this year, compared to 14.7% last year.

Tesco is to become the first UK retailer to set a sales target for plant-based alternatives to meat. The UK’s largest supermarket will commit to boosting sales of meat alternatives by 300% by 2025. Over the past year, demand for chilled meat-free foods – the most popular line, including burger, sausage and mince substitutes – has increased by almost 50%, the retailer said. As a result, it is expanding into more categories and creating larger “centrepiece” dishes for two people as well as family-sized portions. The target is part of a wider package of sustainability measures developed with its charity partner the World Wide Fund for Nature to try to halve the environmental impact of the average UK shopping basket. Dave Lewis, who steps down as Tesco chief executive on Wednesday, said: “We know from tackling food waste that transparency and ambitious targets are the first steps towards becoming a more sustainable business.” The trend reflects people paying closer attention to their diet during the Covid-19 lockdown and increasingly adopting “flexitarian” diets – cutting down on meat and dairy while eating more plant-based foods. Global demand for plant-based protein – dominated by the US giants Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat – is predicted to be £4.1bn this year, up from £2.9bn in 2015.

Japan Airlines (JAL) will stop using the phrase “ladies and gentlemen” when making English announcements in airports and airplanes. The decision was made “to avoid alienating sexual minority customers,” since the phrase leaves out LGBT people and others who do not identify as male or female. The phrase, based on a company manual, was always used at the beginning of English announcements made during boarding, descent and when onboard services start, both on international and domestic flights used by foreign passengers. It was also used when ground staff announced the boarding time at the boarding gate. JAL decided to implement a “diversity declaration” in 2014, and has been making efforts to create an environment where various staff members – regardless of sex, age, nationality, race, religion, disabilities, sexual orientation, gender identity or other statuses – can actively work. Changes will be made to the phrase as well as the manual as part of its efforts. From October, all flight attendants will start to use “good morning” “good afternoon” or “good evening” followed by “everyone” or say, “attention, all passengers.” Ground staff will use similar phrases.

Delivery firm DHL has launched the UK’s first riverboat parcel delivery service. Packages are loaded from electric vans to the riverboat at a pier near Wandsworth in West London. They are taken along the Thames by boat to Bankside in Central London, before being biked by couriers to their destination. The new route will ease pressure on the capital’s congested roads and improve air quality, said DHL UK’s chief executive Ian Wilson. “With traffic and poor air quality becoming an increasing problem in urban areas like London, we’re committed to finding a better blend of transport,” he said. The boats, run by Thames Clipper Logistics, will operate a package service leaving daily at 7:30am, DHL said. It echoes a similar service run by the German courier in Venice, which relies on the Italian city’s network of canals and waterways to ferry packages around the city. “This project opens up the movement of small parcels as a new and potentially substantial area of river use,” said Robin Mortimer, chief executive of the Port of London Authority. Customers won’t be able to request a river delivery for a parcel, DHL said, explaining it selects parcels bound for the boats based on their size and destination, at no extra cost to the customer. It is considering expanding the route through London and introducing the model to other towns and cities across the UK, a spokesperson said.

Danish toymaker Lego has launched the Braille Bricks concept, a play-based methodology that teaches the Braille touch-based language to children who are blind or have a visual impairment. Each brick in the toolkit retains its iconic form, but unlike a regular Lego brick, the studs are arranged to correspond to numbers and letters in the Braille alphabet. Each brick shows the printed version of the symbol or letter, allowing sighted and blind children to play and learn together on equal terms. The company teamed up with blind associations to develop, test and launch the concept, which will be offered to select institutions, schools and services catering to the education of blind and visually impaired children. Toolkits will be available to professionals associated with or operating schools, institutions, education centers, etc. The project is entirely non-for-profit for all parties involved.