Enterprise hits and misses – Kohl's, Walmart and Hertz face the COVID-19 business crossroads, while the factory of the future gets traction

Enterprise hits and misses – Kohl’s, Walmart and Hertz face the COVID-19 business crossroads, while the factory of the future gets traction
Jon Reed
Mon, 05/25/2020 – 19:43

This week – retail behemoths get very different financial report cards – and there are lessons-a-plenty. The factory of the future gets momentum, and re-opening the workplace gets a rethink. Your whiffs include buzzwords that readers can’t stand.

Lead story – COVID-19 retail realities – Kohl’s finds the limits of love, Walmart finds the e-commerce groove

MyPOV: The retail sector continues to face hard truths as consumer behavior shifts. Stuart set the tone with When loving the store isn’t enough – Kohl’s omni-channel retail shortcomings exposed by COVID-19 crisis. When your stores are closed, your Amazon return program is a non-starter. As Stuart notes, Kohl’s CEO is keeping the message upbeat, but Stuart’s take is unsparing:

Kohl’s went into the current crisis in an unfit state to ride it out. The crisis may have been  unprecedented in scale and certainly not on the planning radar, but Kohl’s lack of digital preparedness over the years has come back to hurt it when such investments might have provided some form of cushion. What depresses most is the ‘conservative’ thinking that still seems to be prevalent.

Walmart, by contrast, had a deep e-commerce play to turn to. But, as Stuart notes, challenges remain (Walmart e-commerce soars during COVID-19 crisis, but online profitability remains a longer-term challenge). The good news? Walmart’s Q1 numbers were up 74% for three months to the end of April, which includes a good portion of the lockdown to date. On the other hand, Walmart put the kibosh on Jet.com, which cost $3.3 billion not that long ago (2016). And, there’s that nagging issue of profitability. Stuart:

Some big numbers and a strong response to changed consumer needs in a crisis from Walmart. There’s still one lingering issue that hasn’t gone away, and that’s the harsh reality that however impressive the e-commerce operation is, it’s still not profitable.

My takeaway? There are few clearcut retail winners and losers right now. It all depends on who can ride this out, and what they invest in along the way. As Stuart says:

The crisis has triggered an acceleration of underlying existing strategic trends.

More on those trends here:

Diginomica picks – my top stories on diginomica this week

  • The factory of the future full of autonomous robots is being built – BMW, NVIDIA share their progress – pre-COVID-19, I used to mock the so-called “factory of the future” as being too futuristic for the factory itself. But as Kurt documents, the factory of the future is no longer a punchline, but an imperative. As for those manufacturers doing the hunker-down, Kurt warns: “[Don’t allow] a tanking economy to disrupt technology strategies that will be critical to long-term success.”
  • Return to the workplace? Not so fast say employees – A sizeable chunk of the workplace is looking at some type of phased re-opening. But: Den’s got serious questions – and some stats to give employers pause.
  • GE Digital CTO on the future of industrial businesses in a COVID-19 world – Derek picks up the connected manufacturing conversation with an exec who is right in the thick of it. Pull quote: “The long term impact is about needing more productivity, which means these things have got to be smarter. That’s when the AI discussion shows up, the industrial optimisation discussion shows up, the analytics discussion shows up.

Vendor analysis, diginomica style. Here’s my three top choices from our vendor coverage:

Virtual events rolled on, trying to capture some of that live mojo. I was on the Planful beat, putting their continuous planning vision to the real-world test:

ServiceNow’s Knowledge 2020 content kept Derek’s beach walks short agenda full again this week (yes, Derek quarantines at his flat in Margate, UK; it’s ok to hate him a little bit for that):

A few more vendor picks, without the quotables:

Jon’s grab bag – Gary brings equal parts curiosity and skepticism to our robotic work future in UiPath CEO pitches Robotic Process Automation as a worker’s new best friend – do we believe him? Neil Raden brings a similar mix to Will telemedicine finally disrupt the health care industry? Short answer: we won’t know for a while – not until the regulatory environment is sorted and settled.

Finally, Phil “XaaS” Wainewright gets historical with a podcast recap, where he was on the interview hot seat: My learnings from 21+ years of SaaS and cloud.

Best of the rest

Waiter suggesting a bottle of wine to a customer

My top six news or analysis picks this week:   

Debt and Coronavirus Push Hertz Into Bankruptcy Protection – An inevitability perhaps, with an ominous quote: “No business is built for zero revenues.” Lesson time: one analyst is quoted as saying Avis has a better chance of surviving because it cut costs sooner…

SAP Extends Its Digital Access Adoption Program (DAAP) to the End of 2021 – SAP’s decision to extend their digital licensing adoption program was a no-brainer of sorts, but still the right decision. ASUG reports.

Other standouts:


Overworked businessman


So we had a buzzword-bashing festival on Twitter this week:

Readers bemoaned notable absences:

I sympathize with Vijaysankar on that one, I too struggle with the insatiable desire to make incremental ideas sound important art of the possible. Oh, and Hank Barnes is right, “cascading” is brutal:

Meanwhile, stalwart hits/misses reader Clive Boulton alerted me to a self-inflicted PR meltdown by software engineering tool(s?) Triplebyte. Basically, it appears account holders: 

  • must opt-out if they don’t want Triplebyte’s shift from private to public profiles
  • they have only a week to opt-out, and:
  • Triplebyte sent just one email notice that may or may not survive a modern spam filter – I’m guessing not. 

And we’ve got a worst-privacy-practice award nominee folks, congrats.

Is there anything more tedious than watching telecomm vendors dump unverifiable truckloads of media dung automagical absurdity on the 5G hype machine? Well, AT&T finally got a mini-spanking. But they still plan to use their fantastical “5G Evolution” logo

Finally, if you need a pick me up after a long weekend run amok or evaporated, you aren’t alone. Check this dude whose quarantine has been enlivened by three baby owls outside his window monitoring his every move (and watching the telly with him). 

If you find an #ensw piece that qualifies for hits and misses – in a good or bad way – let me know in the comments as Clive (almost) always does. Most Enterprise hits and misses articles are selected from my curated @jonerpnewsfeed. ‘myPOV’ is borrowed with reluctant permission from the ubiquitous Ray Wang.

Image credit – Cheerful Chubby Man © RA Studio, Happy Children © Anna Omelchenko, Waiter Suggesting Bottle © Minerva Studiom, Overworked Businessman © Bloomua, Businessman Choosing Success or Failure Road © Creativa – all from Fotolia.com.

Disclosure – Workday, Planful, ASUG, ServiceNow and Salesforce are diginomica premier partners as of this writing.


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