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Dark stores and coercive diplomacy

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I came across a couple of interesting terms recently: dark stores and coercive diplomacy.

Dark stores

Gartner for Marketing (formerly L2 Inc.) were talking about a new development at Amazon’s Whole Foods subsidiary. It was what Gartner called digital dark stores. The first one has been established in Industry City to serve much of Brooklyn, New York.

Amazon themselves called it a ‘permanent online-only store‘ on their blog.

So whats the difference between dark stores and the ‘last mile’ warehouses that Amazon uses for fulfilment in places like London?

  • Looking at the limited amount of photos available, this doesn’t feel warehouse-like. There wasn’t obvious automation in the pictures. Instead it feels like a supermarket that’s well stocked, but lacking price tags and shopper marketing accoutrements. Gartner describe it as ‘technically a grocery store’, which implies that there might be zoning or planning regulations that they might be working around
  • It is only for the Whole Foods brand; rather than fulfilling Amazon Fresh and Amazon Prime Now items

This isn’t just an Amazon thing. Gartner points out that American supermarket brands Kroger and Giant Eagle have also embraced the order-only store model. More at Gartner for Marketing here.

Coercive diplomacy

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute published a report on September 1, 2020 called The Chinese Communist Party’s coercive diplomacy. It was written by Fergus Hanson, Emilia Currey and Tracy Beattie. Hanson, Currey and Beattie analysed ten years of Chinese government diplomacy. In there words:

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is increasingly deploying coercive diplomacy against foreign governments and companies. Coercive diplomacy isn’t well understood, and countries and companies have struggled to develop an effective toolkit to push back against and resist it.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is increasingly deploying coercive diplomacy against foreign governments and companies. Coercive diplomacy isn’t well understood, and countries and companies have struggled to develop an effective toolkit to push back against and resist it.

This report tracks the CCP’s use of coercive diplomacy over the past 10 years, recording 152 cases of coercive diplomacy affecting 27 countries as well as the European Union. The data shows that there’s been a sharp escalation in these tactics since 2018. The regions and countries that recorded the most instances of coercive diplomacy over the last decade include Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand and East Asia.

There seems to be an escalation of economic and non-economic measures deployed. Economic measures would include:

  • Trade sanctions – such as the recent ban on German pork products. This was rolled out just a few days in advance of a trade negotiation meeting between China and the European Union
  • Investment restrictions in strategic industries such as the ‘agreement‘ that Yahoo!, Softbank and Alibaba had over Alipay (which included what would now be Ant Group). Strategic industries like state security is notoriously (and deliberately) ill-defined in China
  • Tourism bans
  • Popular boycotts such as Korean corporate Lotte being driven out of China and the 2012 anti-Japan protests where the public smashed Japanese stores, attacked factories and burned Japanese cars

Coercive pressure is also applied at below state level on businesses. It may also be applied on individuals, based on the data leak provided from Zhenhua Data seems to imply.

Non economic measures include:

  • Arbitrary detention. The best example of this would be Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor detained as part of China’s dispute with Canada. Another example might be Australian citizen Karm Gilespie. China didn’t admit it had detained him for over six years, until they announced his death sentence in the summer
  • Restrictions on official travel
  • State-issued threats which are usually issued on a regular basis as part of wolf warrior diplomacy. (Wolf Warrior is a set of two films with a Chinese action hero, a la Rambo – but with less humour).

Some of the imputus for coercive diplomacy might come from the Chinese Communist Party’s continued rancour over Qing dynasty-era unequal treaties. More China related content here and more on retailing here.