Industry News & Expert Views

Macy's Cancels Santa's In-Store Appearances

By Sheridan Fifer

Santa has been coming to Macy's stores each Christmas for 159 years. But this year, the department store retailer is calling off the tradition in the interest of safety. Instead of sitting with Santa and telling him everything on their Christmas wish list, kids will get to engage in a virtual experience complete with elves and, at the end, Santa himself.

Though Macy's has called off Santa's in-person appearances, some malls are still giving kids a face-to-face meeting with him, though from behind plexiglass, rather like a "drive-up window."

And this isn't the only retail holiday tradition that the pandemic has altered. 

Macy's isn't getting rid of Santa completely this year. He'll still be a star of the department store's Thanksgiving Day Parade. But even the parade will look different. 

Read the full story at CNN Business. 

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Dollar General Pays Some of the Lowest Wages in the Retail Industry, Report Claims

By Sheridan Fifer

A new report from UBS says that Dollar General pays its employees the lowest wages out of 25 major retailers. The average wage, calculated using self-reported data on Payscale, is $9.68 an hour. Trailing Dollar General on the list are Dollar Tree and Dollar King, which pay $10 and $10.11 an hour respectively. (To compare, Walmart pays associates an average of $13.08 an hour, according to the same report. Target now has a minimum wage of $15 an hour.)

The report was released at a time when dollar stores are thriving. Dollar General saw its net sales rise 27.6% in May as shoppers sought smaller stores with cheap goods. In the meantime, some employees say they risk more than catching the coronavirus: reports from CNN and ProPublica say that dollar stores are frequently the scenes and targets of violent crimes. One Dollar General employee recently sued the dollar store chain after surviving no fewer than three armed robberies in less than a year. 

By comparison, Walmart pays employees $13.08 an hour on average per UBS. Target recently raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Read the full story at Business Insider.

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Walmart Sues the Government for Allegedly Trying to Scapegoat the Retailer for Opioid Crisis

By Sheridan Fifer

Walmart is alleging in a lawsuit filed Thursday that the federal government is trying to make a scapegoat out of the retailer in the nation's opioid crisis. Walmart claims that the Justice Department and Drug Enforcement Administration are trying to partially shift the blame for opioid addictions and deaths to Walmart's pharmacies, when in fact the government's own regulatory and enforcement shortcomings are to blame. The retailer says the government has not accused its pharmacies of filling invalid prescriptions, but rather of filling perfectly valid ones that Walmart pharmacists nevertheless "should have known" were suspicious. For this reason, Walmart is preemptively challenging the federal government's premises and contesting its right to seek financial penalties from the retailer. 

Walmart, which operates more than 5,000 in-store pharmacies in the U.S., said the government’s “threatened action would be unprecedented.” 

Read the full story at MarketWatch.

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Target Introduces New Safety Measures for the Holidays

By Sheridan Fifer

As the coronavirus casts a shadow over the holiday season, Target is implementing new safety measures in stores. The retailer will give customers access to more checkout options, including contactless self-checkout through its app and employee-assisted checkout through MyCheckout devices, which allow shoppers to complete purchases from anywhere in the store. Another safety feature is getting an update: occupancy will be limited, but customers can visit Target's website to see if there is a line to get into the store. They can also reserve a spot in the line and receive a text when it is their turn to enter. 

Target's attention to safety concerns is also good business. PwC recently reported that 65% of surveyed consumers said they were concerned about catching COVID-19.

Read the full story at Retail Dive. 

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Amazon Wants to Pay Shoppers for Their Data

By Sheridan Fifer

Amazon Shopper Panel is the online giant's latest bid to learn more about what shoppers are buying when they aren't buying from Amazon. The retailer is asking participants in the program to send in 10 receipts a month. The receipts can be from other retailers, including grocery stores, drug stores, and department stores, or from places such as entertainment outlets. Of course, Amazon does not want the receipts from its own stores. The reward for participation in the program (currently by invitation only) is money that can be applied to an existing Amazon Balance or sent to a charity. Amazon says it could possibly use the data gathered in this way to improve the product assortment in its stores, as well as the content on Prime Video. 

The program’s launch follows increased scrutiny over Amazon’s anti-competitive business practices in the U.S. and abroad when it comes to using consumers’ purchase data.

Read the full story at TechCrunch. 

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P&G Boosted Ad Spending During a Pandemic – and Reaped the Rewards

By Sheridan Fifer

Procter & Gamble didn't panic when the pandemic hit – not even when shares plummeted in the initial downturn. Instead, it cut spending in a few key areas, and increased it in its biggest key area of all: advertising. Investors quickly realized that the company was emphasizing in-demand products in its marketing, including a great deal of cleaning supplies. Now shares are up 15% year to date. 

Remember that P&G is the world's largest marketer, as it has been for decades. It spent $10.1 billion on marketing in 2018, the most recent year for which information is available, according to Ad Age Datacenter.

Read the full story at Fortune.

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Deloitte Forecasts 7% Drop in Holiday Spending

By Sheridan Fifer

The National Retail Federation has delayed its holiday retail forecast until November, calling the 2020 holiday season a puzzle with many wildcard pieces. Deloitte has forged ahead with its own, surveying 4,000 American consumers to gauge the all-important consumer sentiment. The results were grim for retailers. Though consumers sometimes say one thing and then spend their money as thought they have said quite another, the year 2020 has many feeling wary, as the coronavirus pandemic threatens health and financial stability at one and the same time. Deloitte predicts that holiday retail spending will take a big hit as a result, falling 7%. But it wasn't all bad news.

Even with consumers keeping a tight rein on holiday spending, Deloitte predicts that retail overall should see a 1% to 1.5% bump in revenues. 

Read the full story at Forbes.

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Lowe's Varies Assortment, Rolls Out Early Holiday Deals

By Sheridan Fifer

Lowe's has a plan to compete more effectively this holiday season. It has its eye on arch-rival Home Depot, of course, but also on less traditional competitors such as Best Buy. The home improvement retailer is varying its product assortment, adding items like scooters, trampolines, and even air fryers. It is also offering early holiday deals to compete with those of virtually every other retailer.

The fourth quarter is usually home improvement store chains' slowest; spring is peak season for them. But with the addition of products that are easier to gift than power tools and generators, Lowe's hopes to duplicate the success rival Home Depot has had with such a strategy. 

As detailed by Fortune earlier this year, Home Depot has gradually increased the assortment of merchandise that can be Christmas gifts, such as small tools, batteries as stocking stuffers, and even toys over the years to great effect.

Read the full story at Fortune.

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