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Dark stores and coercive diplomacy

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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.

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ICYMI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우에 대비해서

Reading Time: 4 minutes

China’s inward-facing ‘dual circulation’ strategy leaves many wondering where domestic demand will come from | South China Morning Post – dual circulation faces an uphill struggle. some structural issues. Finances in China are designed to benefit the state and the uber rich. China’s Gini co-efficient shows an astonishing gap between rich and poor. COVID-19 has meant that Chinese consumers have even less money to spend. This means that the domestic demand aspect of the dual circulation strategy won’t work as desired. More on China here.

Forget TikTok. China’s Powerhouse App Is WeChat. – The New York TimesIt has even extended Beijing’s reach beyond its borders. When secret police issue threats abroad, they often do so on WeChat. When military researchers working undercover in the United States needed to talk to China’s embassies, they used WeChat, according to court documents. The party coordinates via WeChat with members studying overseas – I loved the descriptor of WeChat as a super filter bubble. I am continually surprised by how nationalistic Chinese friends have become over my nine years using WeChat

Jaron Lanier Thinks Things May Have Gotten Better, or Facebook ‘Might Have Won Already’ – Slashdot – interesting takeouts from an interview with GQ. This wouldn’t have made GQ five years ago, which goes to show how online privacy has become more important to the general public

The True Story of Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore | Palladium Magazine

The User Always Loses | Hacker News – fascinating Silicon Valley discussion on user-hostile companies

How Did the Internet Get So Bad? | The Nation“Search strings used to be phrased like ingredients: ‘revolution AND french OR russian NOT american,’” McNeil writes. But in the past two decades, the language and tone of our search queries have become more baroque and confessional. “When I search for information now, I feel like I should add ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to every request. There is no way around it, talking to the Google search bar like a human generates more relevant results.” This feels anecdotally true; I’ve certainly gotten into the habit of phrasing my searches, as McNeil notes, along the lines of “‘how do i download a printer driver for mac’ rather than ‘download printer driver mac.’” – one of my biggest frustrations is the lack of depth that ‘human language’ search allows versus the previous use of boolean terms

‘Is PR structurally ageist? Sadly, I think it is’ – PR leaders respond to Mark Read’s comments on age | PR Weekwhen the realisation you’re old hits you in PR, you have six options. You can set up your own shop (if you haven’t already). You can go in-house for breadth. You can run an agency (or help someone run theirs). You can become a functional ‘guru’ (a strategist, for example). You can fully embrace freelance consulting. Or you can go full side hustle and open a gin still

Apple Watch Podcasts App Found to Falsely Inflate Listener Numbers – MacRumors – interesting, I wonder if this will change as we go ‘post-smartphone’?

TikTok ads have pushed scams about apps, diet pills, other products, report says – CNET – to be fair most of Facebook and Instagram ads sourced from Chinese merchants and drop-shippers are just as bad. Given the continued export focus of China’s dual circulation strategy I can’t see TikTok changing this at all

SoftBank unmasked as ‘Nasdaq whale’ that stoked tech rally | Financial Times – this almost sounds like a desperate gambler

The Big Tesla Hack: A hacker gained control over the entire fleet, but fortunately he’s a good guy – Electrek – but what happens if its the GRU, the MSS or North Korea who find the next hack?

‘The Man in the White Suit’: What Will We Do When We’ve Nothing to Make? — Jim Carroll’s BlogShould science pursue innovation that improves people’s lives regardless of the impact it may have on industry and employment? How do we deal with the concentration of capital that results from such disruptive change? How do we accommodate the workers who have lost their jobs? What will we do when we’ve nothing to make?

WePresent | Mong Tong are an ambient psychedelic group from Taipei – Taiwanese krautrock?

Harrods’s bold new bet: Suburbia | Vogue Business – in Essex and Milton Keynes. Surprised at this, I would have thought branches in Singapore and Berlin would make more sense?

Dive action hero: meet the new Rolex Submariner | Financial Times – still the cleanest design of dive watch. The 70-hour power reserve is impressive

Hong Kong cardinal warns priests to ‘watch your language’ in homilies – Catholic HeraldThe priest, who asked not to be named because of concerns he could be prosecuted under the National Security Law, told CNA on Tuesday that many local Catholics were dismayed by Cardinal Tong’s actions. “The youth of the Church is for democracy, they simply are,” he told CNA. “They are looking for leadership, and I doubt you would find any Catholic under 35 here who is not angry and does not see the chancery as siding with the people tear-gassing them in the streets.”

A TALE OF TWO NIKE ADS: MARKETING’S UNHEALTHY OBSESSION WITH “INSPIRATION” – BBH LabsGenerally speaking, ordinary folks are just much more chilled out than marketers. They are far less preoccupied with their careers, their personal fitness, keeping up with technology and looking at social media. They look for good deals and use coupons and loyalty programs but they are less likely to consult “expert opinion” before a purchase. They are much more interested in books and literature than they are in business. They are unashamed about their love of television. In fact they just love to be entertained.

‘We May Be Losing The Race’ For AI With China: Bob Work – US defence establishment think that they may be losing the race for AI with China.

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Things that caught my eye this week

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Nike Japan: Create with Air Max by AKQA. Japan seems to be particularly open to an augmented reality AR campaign in general. This AR campaign taps into the challenges that COVID-19 lockdown represented to creators and the wearing sneakers. The purpose of the AR campaign was three fold:

  • Reinforce the cultural aspect of the Air Max
  • Emphasise innovation in the Nike brand through the AR campaign functionality
  • Encourage customisation

More Nike related content here.

It isn’t usual to be proud of your government’s IT department. COVID Tracker Ireland on the App Store – had the highest uptake of tracker applications in a country’s population. It was based on Apple and Google’s APIs. Ireland has shared its code as an open source project – Ireland donates its COVID Tracker app to Linux Foundation. Singapore did something similar early on the year. Northern Ireland is said to be adopting Ireland’s code base for their own tracking app – Coronavirus: Northern Ireland rejects UK’s COVID-19 contact-tracing app | UK News | Sky News

Beatboxing and digital sampling technology meets meditation in this video by Yogetsu Akasaka, a Japanese Zen Buddhist monk ‘Heart Sutra’ vocal live looping remix.

How Taiwan’s Unlikely Digital Minister Hacked the Pandemic | WIRED – Audrey Tang has been doing some interesting press briefings on how the Taiwan government deals with disinformation. A lot of creativity is used; inspired by behavioural science. More on this podcast as well.

The Korean Tourism Organisation collaborates with Netflix to promote Korea as a travel destination. The ad spot highlights locations drawn from food travelogues to Korean dramas on the platform. Korean drama already has an international following, previously it has been on specialist sites and DVD boxsets. Netflix has made the potential reach for Korean dramas even larger. At least some of the Netflix audience won’t have heard of ‘hallyu’, or K-pop. Netflix had helped improve access to international dramas in general. That’s the audience that the KTO is trying to tap into with this ad creative.