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The weekly dispatch: Cryptocurrency on the fringe, J.C. Penney embraces beauty

Illustration of a person standing at a laptop, gesturing to a large monitor that shows cryptocurrency logos and cardboard shipping boxes.

Despite all the challenges currently going on in the world, there are some signs that some things are returning to normal. 

With COVID-19 no longer dominating the global conversation, we’re seeing signs that industries from trucking to retail are beginning to return to their usual patterns. While the pandemic has certainly shaken up some social and economic norms, there are other innovations – like digital currencies – that haven’t seen the uptake many would have expected.

We talk about these shifts (and more) in our weekly dispatch:

New beauty concept replacing Sephora at J.C. Penney goes nationwide

Interior of a JC Penney Beauty.

J.C. Penney Beauty, a new concept from its department store namesake, has just announced they’re going nationwide.

The official launch of the new beauty brand was first announced in October 2021, starting with 10 brick and mortar stores and online shopping. After a successful pilot initiative, J.C. Penney Beauty is expanding nationally, rolling out 300 stores by early 2023 and 600 stores by spring of 2024.1

Nearly 100 brands will be showcased at J.C. Penney Beauty, including BIPOC, (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) female-founded, and other indie beauty labels. AI technology will also be incorporated into the online shopping experience to provide more customizable recommendations for skincare and foundation matching.

In addition, J.C. Penney has acquired the beauty e-commerce platform Thirteen Lune. The beauty partner is the first of its kind publicly dedicated to inclusivity, spotlighting beauty brands established by Black people and other people of color. They currently make up 20% of the current J.C. Penney Beauty line-up.

The move by J.C. Penney comes a year after Sephora announced its new partnership with Kohl’s in December of 2020, a move by the beauty giant to expand its network and get in front of new consumer segments who might not visit its stores. Like J.C. Penney Beauty, Sephora has also announced a commitment to support BIPOC and female-founded brands in a bid to target a traditionally underserved market. 

Frontdoor Collective is expanding last-mile delivery options

A delivery person handing a customer their package.

The Frontdoor Collective (FDC), a micro last-mile delivery network, has announced that it plans to launch in 50 domestic delivery markets by 2023, expanding beyond its current presence in Pittsburgh, Boston, Philadelphia, and Houston.2

Frontdoor Collective is targeting small businesses that have gotten frustrated with the inefficiencies of USPS and other major carriers, as well as large retailers that have their own logistics operations. 

This comes as regional parcel carriers gain a stronger foothold in the U.S. market. The merger of LaserShip and OnTrac earlier this year is a clear sign that the duopoly dominated by FedEx and UPS could see a growing challenge by smaller carriers focusing on both short and long-haul delivery routes.  

As the holiday season gets closer, these expansions open up more opportunities for brands to compare carrier rates and seek out the optimum balance of speed and cost for their holiday shipments. With inflation this year making it more difficult for retailers to pass costs onto their customers, keeping shipping costs under control will be crucial to profitability.

The trucking market is on the road to recovery

A semi-truck driving down the highway.

After a volatile three years within the truck loading market, there are signs that things are returning to normal.

Despite the importance of the $830 billion trucking industry to the supply chain, it wasn’t immune to the trifecta of pandemic lockdowns, employee shortages, and an economic slowdown, affecting supply and demand not just nationally, but globally as well.

Although now in the stages of recovery, progress is slow. DAT IQ data analytics services reveal an upward tick in the number of trucks on the network for spot loads this year is 8.1% higher compared to last July, but the month-to-month comparison showed signs of a decrease of 9.3%.3

Seasonality is another factor showing signs of stabilization within trucking rates. With peak season now underway, demand is ramping up at just the right time.

Mark Rourke, CEO of Schneider National told Logistics Management, “We haven’t had seasonality in two or three years,” Schneider’s Rourke explained. “There’s a sense of normalcy. Demand is quite healthy. It feels like 2018 and 2019 again. It’s more normal.”

Other sentiments made by Rourke to Logistics Management, expressed a need for the truckload sector to shift its strategy to work more wisely and economically during this recovery period. Although there are still challenges within the supply chain4, the utilization of machinery and infrastructure currently in place is recommended to improve asset productivity.

Cryptocurrency still a long way from being a mainstream payment option

Coins with cryptocurrency logos on them.

Cryptocurrency was pitched as a major shake-up to how we pay for goods and services – and how we think about money and assets in general. Yet surveys show that the demand for cryptocurrency as a form of payment is still far from mainstream. 

According to a recent study by PYMNTS, just 27% of consumers who own some form of cryptocurrency said that they ‘probably’ or ‘definitely’ want to shop with brands who accept it for online payments. Block, a digital currency launched by Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, has seen a 34% drop in transactions in the last quarter.5

The reasons for the fringe appeal of cryptocurrency in e-commerce are varied. The vast majority of online shoppers don’t own any form of crypto, while the volatility of currencies such as bitcoin has highlighted the wariness that many consumers feel about investing in a less than predictable asset. Thanks to this lack of uptake, mainstream retailers are experiencing limited demand to begin accepting cryptocurrency.

However, there are some sectors of the economy where cryptocurrency is experiencing growth. Online gaming and metaverse spaces are experiencing the highest demand for digital currency and tokens, something that’s only expected to grow as the metaverse expands.

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