Sears Aims to Boost Sales With Christmas Shopping in July

Is it too early to start thinking about Christmas shopping?
Apparently, Sears doesn’t think so.

The retailer and its corporate partners, including KMart, have launched special holiday sections called “Christmas Lane” on their Web sites — sure to become a big hit with those early bird holiday shoppers who start to panic when Labor Day rolls around.

The company also has opened Christmas boutiques at hundreds of its stores, MyFOXNY.com reports , a business move that aims to court holiday customers earlier than ever and get them to take advantage of the company’s layaway offers.

The year-end holidays typically represent a giant chunk — as much as half — of retailers’ annual revenues, and every year, the start of the holiday shopping season seems to creep earlier and earlier.

Retailers suffered through a particularly weak season last year as the United States suffered through the recession. The National Retail Federation reported a dismal 2.8 percent drop in the 2008 holiday season compared to the same period a year earlier.

It remains to be seen whether the concept of Christmas shopping in July will persuade skittish consumers to open their wallets.

But even if they do decide to commit $199 to buying the GE “Energy Smart” spruce tree from KMart.com, they may be disappointed to find that particular product won’t be available until September.

Source: http://www.myfoxatlanta.com

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Carrefour launches new low-cost range of products for the budget-conscious amid recession.

PARIS (AP) — French retailer Carrefour SA said Wednesday it is launching a new low-cost range of products to attract cost-conscious consumers hurt by the recession and to win market share on its home turf.

Gilles Petit, head of the French division, said in a press conference that the ‘Carrefour Discount’ range is designed to compete with deep-discount stores and that “Carrefour wants to improve its image on price.”

The company is the world’s second-largest retailer after Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Consumers are switching to cheaper goods and avoiding non-essential purchases as France’s economy shrinks at its fastest pace in more than 30 years.

Carrefour is responding to “all the people today who are keeping a close eye on their budget, want essential products, and want to eat well cheaply,” Petit said.

New CEO Lars Olofsson has said his priority is to improve performance in France, which accounts for about 40 percent of Carrefour’s sales. It operates over 5,500 stores in France, including hypermarkets, supermarkets, discount stores and convenience shops.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Wednesday it is “probable” that France’s economy will shrink by 2.5 percent this year as the country suffers its worst recession in decades.

Petit said Carrefour will launch the discount range in 1,200 Carrefour supermarkets and hypermarkets in France at the end of May with an initial 200 products.

The range will eventually cover 400 products, 80 percent of which will be foodstuffs such as breakfast cereals, coffee, yogurts, cheese and fruit juice. Household products such as shampoo, tissues and cleaning fluids will also be sold under the brand.

It will also be launched in Belgium, and may be sold in other European stores later if customer sentiment demands, he said.

The range won’t be on offer in its 914 French hard-discount stores Ed, which will continue to be run separately, he said.

Petit’s boss Olofsson was appointed last year to improve performance at Carrefour. In 2008, net profit slid 45 percent to euro1.27 billion ($1.64 billion) from euro2.30 billion a year earlier.

Shares were little changed in Paris trade, up 0.2 percent at euro28.53 at midday.

Wal-Mart CEO doesn’t see a quick end to recession

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The head of Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N), the world’s biggest retailer, said on Wednesday there remained a “lot of stress” in the economy and he did not anticipate a quick end to the recession.

“There’s still a lot of stress,” Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke said on a taped interview on NBC’s “Today Show.”

“It’s not a ‘V’ recession, where we’re just going to bounce out and come back,” he said.

Duke’s comments aired a day after a government report showed that sales at U.S. retailers unexpectedly fell 1.1 percent in March and after Wal-Mart last week reported a lower-than-expected rise in March sales at U.S. stores open at least a year.

Also on Wednesday, Burger King Holdings Inc (BKC.N) said it faced an “unanticipated traffic slowdown” in March across most company-owned hamburger restaurants, while the government said U.S. consumer prices fell unexpectedly last month, recording their first annual drop since 1955, as slumping demand pushed down energy and food costs.

The reports have dimmed hopes that the U.S. recession is close to hitting bottom, and show consumers are keeping a tight grip on their wallets. In early trading, Wal-Mart shares gained 10 cents to $51.22.

Duke said that by the end of the month, just before traditional paydays, customers are left with only a few dollars to spend.

He said the downturn will lead to a “sustained change” in the way that families live. But he added that customers are buying electronics, like flat screen TVs or video game systems, as they cut back on entertainment outside of the home or scrap vacation plans.

Separately, Wal-Mart’s China unit said it will eliminate one management layer of its stores in China to improve efficiency, affecting up to 1,400 people.

The retailer, which has 147 outlets in China and employs more than 50,000, will offer affected employees the option to move to new stores or take other positions with lower salaries.

© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

E-tailing for Success.

WITH the economy performing below normal, many retailers who preferred having a physical presence are looking to go online at minimal costs and keep the cash registers ringing. Compared to a traditional brick and mortar storefront, an e-commerce store is a relatively small, convenient and lowcost startup. The only costs involved in the e-commerce platform include the monthly hosting and ISP bills. With a website, an e-tailer has the capability to gauge the market condition and make alterations accordingly. Taking into account all its benefits, e-commerce can be considered ideal during a recession as it helps retailers to stay globally competitive.

Serving retailers and consumers
Today leading global e-commerce retailers earn more than 10 billion in revenue on every portal they own, and this shows the shifting trend towards e-tailing. Affirming this, Pawan Gadia, VP, Ferns ‘N’ Petals (FnP), says, “We are achieving 60 percent growth year-on-year, thanks to e-commerce. In fact, 10 percent of the total turnover of the FnP Group comes from online sales.”

Videocon is also aiming big on e-biz. “In 2009, our target is to earn online sales of Rs 10 crore, and our current sales are very much in line with our targets,” adds Arindam Bose, VP–IT, E-biz and Exports, Videocon.

Consumers today are more open to the online medium. This trend is further catalysed by various product and price comparison websites that enable users to perform research on products that they intend to purchase. Moreover, increasing fuel costs, large mall crowds and low disposable incomes are motivating buyers to shop online. Mr Gadia says, “Contrary to a physical store that has issues of timeline, visibility, etc, an online store is more flexible. An FnP store closes at 8 pm every day, but the online store runs 24×7, thereby giving us more customers. We serve more than 2000 clients everyday on our online site.”

The e-commerce option caters to customers in the current economy because it offers products at lower costs. “E-biz reduces the logistics cost as the goods go directly to the end consumer. Any business model that removes layers and brings the consumer nearer to the manufacturer benefits all,” agrees Mr Bose.

Choose intelligently
Despite its potential, many people don’t know how to get started with e-commerce and are often confused about the numerous options available. Several solutions allow retailers to sell items online, but it is always advisable to approach retail-specific vendors who can customise solutions according to customers’ business needs. “Each customer has a different requirement. Some want a pure Web shop, while some want integration with CRM or ERP, and yet others seek telephonic booking. Each requirement should be considered individually before offering a solution,” says Manu Agarwal, CEO, ANMsoft and Naaptol.com.

Though most solutions may differ, some are fundamental for every online business enterprise, and these are listed below:

Design customisation solutions: Setting up a business involves considerable time, energy and money. It is necessary to create a brand that customers find familiar. Many ecommerce solutions force retailers into a particular site layout, template or theme, making them just another cookie-cutter, faceless, online store. An e-commerce service provider must understand the objectives of an e-tailer to equip the latter’s website with aesthetic solutions.

Scalability solutions: Retailers do not want solutions that limit the number of products on display or the amount of traffic that the site can generate. Therefore, e-commerce solutions must equip retailers to add dynamic features to his existing site.

Payment solutions: Many e-commerce solutions force customers to register before making a purchase. Forcing customers to leave a site when they are ready to purchase products is not a smart business practice. If a customer finds the payment options in the website too cumbersome, he/she may switch to another shopping site. Therefore, a retailer must ensure that customers are hooked on to the website until they have completed their transaction.

Order processing solutions: These solutions are specifically designed to save operating costs. In the absence of these automated solutions, a retailer has to maintain the inventory and keep a track of orders and process them.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) and Search engine marketing (SEM) solutions:
To drive traffic to the website, a retailer must employ an SEO or SEM. SEO is more popular because of its low costs and better results. However, a retailer must ensure that the SEO uses the right keywords to improve his website’s page rank. The website must contain the right keywords so that when a user searches for a particular product, the retailer’s website appears at the top.
According to Mr Agarwal, “A majority of the people who go online end up buying nothing or may not even visit a particular website. This is because the retailer and the service provider may have not set up means to direct traffic to the site.”
Coupon solutions: In the face of rising prices, consumers have once again begun clipping coupons. Giving away gift coupons serves to increase sales. People are always looking for discounts and freebies, and a site that offers similar incentives often sees repeated visits. E-tailers can send coupons as an SMS with unique promotional codes that shoppers can use on their e-commerce website, and receive discounts on online purchases.

Shopping Cart and Delivery Solutions: A customer should be given a free hand to add products to his/her shopping list, remove products, change their quantity, recalculate the order before processing and even come back to the same after logging out. On the delivery front, most clients prefer websites that offer free home delivery and, therefore, e-retailers must have a user-friendly delivery solution in place.

Innovations to help you save
In lieu of the ongoing recession, retailers have started exploring innovative ways to cut costs. Many e-tailers are outsourcing their retail operations to specialised retail vendors for reducing labour costs. One of the affected areas during this slowdown is advertising, and very few retailers seek to manage advertising costs. Retailers should ideally adopt online advertising tools like e-mailers, newsletters, etc. “Retailers can send e-mailers, promotions, gift coupons to their existing customers at a very low cost, and still enjoy sales benefits,” admits Mr Gadia.

In order to grow in the existing scenario, a retailer should place his merchandise where his potential customers are most likely to be. Going by this, the retailer should view e-tailing as a cost-effective channel to lure sales.

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