The Brand Move Roundup – July 24, 2020

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

Four months ago, when the gravity of the situation became clear, we started daily reporting on how brands were dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. What’s now becoming clear is that the current climate is one of near-perpetual disruption. So we made the decision to keep on telling the stories of inspiring brand leadership and strategy amid the latest crises in an anxious world. Our goal remains the same: to provide an up-to-the-minute source of information, inspiration and insight on brand moves as they happen.

Walmart will open at least six additional Walmart Health clinics in the greater Atlanta area by the end of 2020. The news comes on the heels of its announcement this week that it will enter the Florida market with Walmart Health next year, starting with the Jacksonville area. And it said in June it will open two clinics in the Chicago area by the end of the year. It already has four Walmart Health clinics: three in Georgia and one in Springdale, Arkansas, close to Walmart’s Bentonville headquarters.  That would bring its total number of Walmart Health clinics to at least 13 by the end of 2021. Walmart is already the largest private-sector employer and the largest grocer in the U.S., but it’s looking to become a major health-care player, too. The clinics, which offer expansive services including primary care, dental exams, X-rays, hearing services and mental health counseling, began opening last fall. Walmart already has pharmacies and optical centers at many of its stores.

Twitter is exploring additional ways to make money from its users, including a subscription model; it has suffered a sharp decline in its core advertising business as many advertisers pull back due to the pandemic. Twitter has just reported second-quarter ad revenues of $562 million, a 23% decrease compared to the same quarter a year ago. The company has also been hit by advertisers participating in an ad boycott of social media, linked to the nationwide racial justice protests. “You will likely see some tests this year” of various approaches, founder Jack Dorsey said, confirming that the company is seeking to diversify its sources of revenue in what are “very, very early phases of exploring.” Like its rival social networks, Twitter has focused on offering a free service, making money by allowing brands to target ads to its millions of users.

Fox Sports will debut “virtual fans” in its live MLB broadcasts during the shortened 2020 season. Baseball is about to kick off, with the Washington Nationals taking on the New York Yankees on ESPN. But Fox will air dozens of games this season, and they’ll replace empty seats and quiet stadiums with CGI fans and fake crowd noise. The move is the latest effort to bring back fans – and advertisers – to baseball during the Covid-19 pandemic, after the league announced that spectators would not be allowed to attend games in person. These fans will look and move like real people and can be customized for each game. “If it’s an 8-1 game, the crowd can be thinned out,” said Brad Zager, executive producer and executive vice-president for Fox Sports. The league has announced that each team will play only 60 games this season, compared to the standard 162. Fewer players and personnel will be allowed in dugouts to maintain social distancing. But, so far, networks have been selling advertising space at an even faster rate than usual. Fox Sports has sold more than 90% of its ad inventory for the regular season, while a Disney ad sales spokesperson said that ESPN “sold out of inventory for the opening week and the rest of the regular season.”

India is experiencing a boom in bicycle sales caused by the virus. Indians want to get back to work but travelling on public transport is a huge fear. A survey in April and May by Deloitte showed that 77% of consumers want to limit the use of public transport and 70% plan to avoid ride-hailing options. 79% want a car to remain isolated while travelling, but not many can afford one so the next best option is a bicycle. In June, when the lockdown was lifted, sales went up by 25% compared with the same month last year, says the All India Cycle Manufacturers’ Association. At Bike Studio in Bhopal, owner Varun Awasthi is almost out of stock. Sales are up by 30% and he expects them to rise to 50% once he gets more bicycles. “It’s a craze. I’ve never seen anything like it. People come in saying cycling is the best way to avoid crowded public transport and maintain a social distance. They don’t want to risk car-hailing apps either – 90% are first timers who haven’t ridden a bike since they were five or six,” says Awasthi. While it has taken a global pandemic to make many Indians realize the value of cycling, it is unlikely to become as commonplace as in Europe. The car is still the ultimate status symbol, and India has gone from having 89m cars in 2006 to 253m in 2017. In Delhi, however, two app-based bicycle companies are expanding their services in the capital. Electric bike rental start-up Yulu already provides bikes at 250 metro stations and plans to expand. SmartBike is setting up bike stations in 130 neighborhoods this year.

Meanwhile, Uber-backed scooter startup Lime and European competitors Tier and Dott have won Paris’ competitive e-scooter tender, meaning they will be able to operate 5,000 scooters in the French capital. The three companies – which were assessed on their environmental responsibility, safety and maintenance skills – beat out 13 others including big US company Bird to win the licence. The victory will come as a particular relief to Lime because Paris is one of its biggest markets, with more than 22m trips under its belt since launching there in 2018. Lime, which operates in 120 markets around the world, has previously struggled to win over French city authorities such as Bordeaux and Marseille. It is also a big win for two European companies. Berlin-based Tier, which launched in 2018, already operates in over 60 cities across nine countries and has more than 40,000 scooters deployed. Dott, founded by two Frenchmen, currently operates over 20,000 e-scooters in 14 cities in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Poland. Dott said that over the next two years it would expand its fleet in the city to 5,000, saying Paris was “widely considered the most attractive e-scooter market worldwide”.

Scout, Amazon’s autonomous six-wheeled delivery robot, is expanding its routes to “select customers” in Atlanta and Franklin, Tenn. Amazon is “starting with a small number” of the devices in each city, and they will deliver during daylight hours Monday to Friday. In January 2019, Amazon had six Scouts in Snohomish County, Wash. Amazon declined to comment on how many devices it operates now. Like earlier field tests, Scout will initially be chaperoned by “an Amazon Scout Ambassador” in its new neighborhoods. Amazon says Scout is “the size of a small cooler,” but a spokesperson declined to comment on precisely how much each device can carry. It does not appear customers can select delivery specifically via Scout – Amazon says customers in eligible delivery zones place orders as usual and their packages are delivered by either a carrier or Scout. Sean Scott, vice president of Amazon Scout, said the new locations expose Scout to “varied neighborhoods with different climates” although he noted Amazon also has “a significant presence in these areas through our corporate offices and logistics facilities.” In December 2018, on-demand delivery company Postmates debuted a self-driving robot named Serve to deliver food, packages and other smaller items in cities. A month later, PepsiCo announced its fleet of self-driving Snackbots was bringing snacks and drinks to the nearly 5,000 students at the University of the Pacific’s Stockton, Calif., campus. And, a month after that, logistics company FedEx debuted its SameDay Bot, which it said would deliver small shipments from retail partners like AutoZone, Lowe’s, Pizza Hut, Target, Walgreens and Walmart. Amazon says Scout moves at a walking pace and has learned to navigate around pets and pedestrians, as well as objects such as surfboards, luggage, refrigerators and Christmas trees.

Life under lockdown has seen a surge in amateur musicians and podcasters, says the UK’s biggest online retailer of instruments and sound equipment. In the April-to-June period, Gear4music saw the value of UK sales rise 80% on the same time last year to £21.2m. Among the big sellers were electric and acoustic guitar starter bundles, which contain all the accessories required for a budding player to get picking. Digital pianos also sold particularly well, said chief executive Andrew Wass. Mr Wass said home studio equipment, including microphones and recording software, was popular as well. “It seems everybody wants to be a podcaster and they’re buying into really professional set-ups at home,” he added. Founded in 2003 and based in York, Gear4music employs 460 people and exports all over the world. Including international sales, its quarterly figures were up 68% year-on-year to £37.3m. Mr Wass said that sales rises had come “across the range of what we do”. The only items that have not been so popular during lockdown have been PA systems and speakers for gigs – “anything to do with live performance in a venue,” he said.

Amazon has finally addressed this year’s Prime Day postponement. Alongside its announcement of Prime Day in India (August 6-7th), Amazon addressed the elephant in the room – the status of Prime Day in the US. “This year we’ll be holding Prime Day later than usual, while ensuring the safety of our employees and supporting our customers and selling partners,” an Amazon spokesperson said. The announcement corroborates with recent reports that the event will be pushed back to October. The exact date of Prime Day in the US still remains a mystery. It’s likely that Amazon Prime membership holders may have to wait a few months more for the best deals. That said, Amazon is also making good on its vow to open more warehouses in the US. The company said that it plans open its first El Paso, Texas-based fulfillment center next year. “We’re excited to be growing our operations in West Texas and look forward to building out our network in El Paso,” Alicia Boler Davis, Amazon’s vice president of global customer fulfillment, said. The forthcoming state-of-the-art 625,000 square-foot warehouse is where Amazon employees will work with robotics to pick, pack, and ship smaller items like books, electronics, and toys. The new fulfillment center is expected to be up and running in 2021.

Shake Shack’s latest community outreach effort, a virtual summer Shack Camp, was created for both kids and kids at heart and born out of the challenges the company’s employees are facing in balancing work and family during the pandemic, particularly now that school’s out and summer camps across the country have been canceled. To participate in Shack Camp, families received a box that included all the supplies they would need for six weeks’ worth of activities, from arts and crafts to coming up with original scary stories to tell around a proverbial campfire. The campaign also helps support The Fresh Air Fund’s virtual summer program, which provides activities for children between ages 7 and 13 in the city, as part of Shake Shack’s mission to “Stand for Something Good.”

The Washington D.C.-based Washington Redskins will be known simply as the Washington Football Team for the 2020 season. Sports fans and activists alike have been breathlessly anticipating the new name of the franchise ever since it announced in July that it would drop the controversial name. On Thursday, the team finally made its move – at least temporarily – and rebranded everything from its social media handles to its uniforms. The change was reflected in a social media redesign and a reveal of new uniforms, which keep the burgundy and gold color scheme. The team logo no longer features a Native American head, replacing it on each player’s jersey with their number. However, the NBA’s LeBron James mocked the team’s “thorough” and “intense” review of potential names as leading to one of the blandest letdowns in sports history. The team plans to use its temporary name through the 2020 season. In the meantime, it will “be seeking the feedback of players, alumni, fans, sponsors and the community for the new team name it will use at some point in the future.”

Google has announced that it will be taking steps to bring more sellers and products onto its shopping site by waiving sales commissions and allowing retailers to use popular third-party payment and order management services like Shopify instead of the company’s own systems. Currently, commissions on Google Shopping range from 5 percent to 15 percent depending on the products. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to grip America, the push to create an online shopping marketplace to compete with Amazon has taken on new urgency as consumers are avoiding stores and turning to the internet to fill more of their shopping needs. Google is usually the starting point for finding information on the internet, but that is often not the case when consumers are searching for a product to buy. More consumers in the United States are turning first to Amazon to find products that they plan to purchase. This has allowed Amazon to build a rapidly growing advertising business, which is a threat to Google’s main financial engine. Google announced in April that it would allow anyone to list products for free on its shopping site, reversing its previous policy of requiring sellers to buy an ad for products to appear. The company also announced that those free listings would appear on its search results. By eliminating the cost of listing and selling products, Google aims to make it more appealing for retailers to put products in front of the search engine’s enormous user base. The changes are expected to start immediately in the United States before rolling out to other countries this year. Google also said sellers that had an inventory of products listed on Amazon could move them over to Google without changing the data format.