From merchandising and advertising to real estate and technology, business reporters offer insight into the latest trends and people that define today’s top retailers.

Geek Squad gives free help at O'Hare this week

Posted by: Kavita Kumar under Best Buy Updated: December 15, 2014 - 1:13 PM

Best Buy is lending out its geeks to harried travelers coming through Chicago's O'Hare Airport this week as the holiday traveling -- and shopping -- season kick into higher gear.

The Geek Squad has set up a first-of-its-kind "airport precinct" in the airport's "H" concourse from which a handful of agents are doling out free advice and tech help to travelers who may be having problems with their smartphones or tablets. The booth also has charging stations and workstations where travelers can surf the web, play games, or, of course, shop for last-minute gifts.

Clad in their trademark white shifts and black ties, the Geek Squad agents will also roam the terminal with backpack charging stations and will bring their advice directly to passengers while they are waiting at their gates.

"There is nothing more frustrating than technology troubles while you are traveling," Chris Askew, president of Geek Squad Services, said in a statement. "That's why we decided to give the gift of Geek Squad to travelers this holiday, and offer free service and advice, along with a well-deserved break."

The booth opened today and will be up and running from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through December 23.

In addition to building goodwill with travelers, the initiative also is a way for the Richfield-based retailer to spread the word about the Geek Squad, a network of more than 20,000 agents that help with repairs and installation of electronics and appliances. The service is one of the ways Best Buy has been trying to differentiate itself from its online competitors.

One of the nation's busiest airports, more than six million travelers are expected to go through O'Hare in the month of December alone.

Aldi grocery drops a couple of gifts in consumers' stockings this week

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: December 15, 2014 - 4:59 PM

Aldi supermarkets dropped a couple of gifts in Twin Cities' stockings for the holidays--coupons and credit cards.

The retailer that used to accept only a select number of debit cards is now accepting all credit cards, including Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express. "Minnesota and a few stores in Syracuse, New York are the two limited test markets in the country," said Matt Lilla, divisional vice-president of Aldi in Faribault, Minn.

The test began in November and customers and cashiers have both welcomed it enthusiastically, Lilla said.

In Sunday's Star Tribune (Dec. 14), Aldi also included a single glossy sheet (shown) with a $5 off coupon off a $30 purchase. The coupon offers are a first for Aldi this year, with a similar one running around Thanksgiving."We're hoping to attract shoppers who may be looking for a new grocery store after Rainbow closed," said Lilla.

The offer comes as somewhat of a surprise considering that Aldi does not accept manufactuers' coupons. Until this season, I never saw sit offer store coupons either.

Best Buy apologizes for Serial tweet

Posted by: Kavita Kumar under Best Buy Updated: December 11, 2014 - 6:21 PM

Best Buy found itself hustling Thursday afternoon to retract a tweet some found insensitive related to a closely-watched murder case.

So, first, let's back up. A Best Buy store in Maryland plays a somewhat prominent role in a murder case that is the subject of a hit podcast series called Serial. The podcast, which has aired 11 episodes thus far, delves into the ins and outs of the murder of Hae Min Lee in 1999 and raises questions about whether the state convicted the right person.

The murder allegedly took place in a Best Buy parking lot. And the accused, Adnan Syed, who insists he is innocent, supposedly called his friend after the murder from a pay phone at the store. One possible hole in the case revolves around this pay phone and whether it ever existed. The intrigue around this question and the case in general has led some avid listeners of the podcast to visit this Best Buy store to look for clues as to whether there may have been a pay phone at that location.

 So then came the controversial tweet from Best Buy this afternoon.

The reaction on Twitter was swift, but mixed.

Best Buy deleted the tweet and put out a statement saying that it was "clearly in poor taste."

But some thought the tweet was kind of funny and the response too harsh.

Faribault Woolen Mill items now discounted at Target.com

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Target Updated: December 8, 2014 - 12:02 PM

Target is continuing its season of aggressive markdowns, from all clothing marked 40% off during a Black Friday promotion, a 20% off Target gift card promo and most recently, a BOGO on its online partnership with Faribault Woolen Mill (buy one at full-price, get one 50% off).

I noticed on Sunday that the entire collection of 10 pieces in 30 variations is discounted (originally priced from $13 to $80). In the past, Target would mark down its limited-edition pieces to its usual markdown cycle--25 or 30% off, then 50%, 70% etc. as it did with designers such as Parul Garung.

I interpreted this to mean that the line might not be selling well, but a Faribault spokesman said otherwise. "Several items have sold out," said Bildsten, "Sales have not been slow. Everything's been consistent with Target's original aggressive sales projections."

I was unable to confirm with Bildsten or Target which items may have sold out. After checking a handful of items, all seemed to be in stock. Bildsten said that Target  intended the collection to be a limited edition with no subsequent orders for popular items.

I will update the post as I hear from Target about whether the discounts are permanent and if any items are sold out.

No-mall option for Black Fri. early birds. Museum at 6 a.m.?

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: November 26, 2014 - 12:05 PM

 Sometimes swimming against the tide is easier than floating along with the crowds. Like the shoppers who head out to malls during Vikings games. Fewer people, shorter lines, relaxing experience.

Some of you won't be caught anywhere near a mall on Thanksgiving evening or Black Friday morning. But if sleeping late isn't your thing, Minneapolis Institute of Arts will be doing its third annual Black Friday alternative from 6 A.M. to 7 A.M. Get a free ticket to  “Italian Style: Fashion Since 1945” with admittance varying between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. Friday. Then get 20 percent off all purchases in the gift shop. including  one-of-kind and vintage Italian clothing, accessories, and objects, from Fendi, Missoni, Prada and other brands. Receive a free gift on purchases of $125 or more all day. Free coffee and treats are also served early in the day.

An MIA rep who answered the phone Wednesday said that crowds have been moderate for the early bird event in past years, although there is usually a line at 6 a.m. when the museum opens.

Here's another example of not following the crowds--going to the grocery store when your fridge is bulging with Thanksgiving leftovers. Lunds/Byerly's offers a one day Black Friday sale with 7 deals worth a visit:

Norwegian salmon fillets for $7/lb (reg. $19/lb),]

Cuties seedless clementines $3/3 lbs (reg. $7)

Deli salad bar $5/lb (reg. $7)

Store brand spring water $1/15 pk (reg $3)

Cottonelle double roll TP $4/12 count (reg. $10.60)

Brew Pub pizza $4/12-inch (reg. $10)

Caribou coffee $5 (reg. $9.80--limit two).

Eyeglass frames for $59 this weekend, regularly $259 and up

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: November 21, 2014 - 10:58 AM

Still got some bucks left in your healthcare flexible spending account? The Spectacle Shoppe (2001 Burnsville Center, Burnsville, 952-892-6666) is selling about 5,000 eyeglass frames for $59 each from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday (Nov. 22-23).

Brands include Morel, Koali, Iyoko Inyake, John Varvatos, J.F. Rey, and Betsey Johnson. SS's other popular brands such as Oliver People's, Judith Lieber and David Yurman are not included in this sale. The $59 frames were originally priced from $259 to $559, said Spectacle Shoppe owner David Ulrich.

Frames buyers are not required to purchase lenses from Spectacle Shoppe, which can be pricey. Ulrich is discounting lenses slightly. Prescription progressive lenses normally priced $300 to $600 will be $100 off, non-glare anti-reflective coating regularly $150 extra will be $99. Single-vision lenses without the progression are $109 during the sale, regularly $159.

Compare the lens prices with your own optician or optometrist. Costco members, for example pay a lot less than SS's lens prices. Progressive, digital lenses are $130 to $200, including the anti-reflective coating. Single-vision lenses are $74 to $110. Costco reserves the right to refuse to supply lenses for a frame not purchased from them. If a frame is accepted, Costco charges an additional $18. Consumer Reports has given high marks to the quality of Costco Optical in the past. The store topped the list of eyeglass retailers for overall satisfaction in Consumer Reports' 2012 survey of nearly 19,500 readers.

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