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.

Target Canada doesn't do online sales yet

Posted by: Kavita Kumar under Target Updated: November 10, 2014 - 1:29 PM

Here’s a surprising factoid: Target doesn’t have e-commerce up and running yet in Canada.

Sure, the Minneapolis-based retailer has a website up north. But you can’t buy anything from it – or,  for that matter, find detailed information about all the products it sells in stores.

I asked the folks at Target about it when I was reporting a story last week about the retailer’s troubles to right size its Canadian operations. Eric Hausman, a company spokesman, said a small team is looking at what it would take to have a digital strategy in Canada.

“We know e-commerce needs to be part of our long-term strategy, but right now we need to focus on the basics,” he said.

The retail analysts I spoke with mostly agreed, saying Target Canada needs to work on getting products to its shelves and drawing more traffic to its stores before it should divert its focus to figure out online shopping.

“The worst possible thing you can do is have a website when you have supply chain and inventory issues,” said David Soberman, a marketing professor at the University of Toronto.

But still, some say, the lack of online shopping capabilities shows how unprepared Target was to expand into Canada.

To provide a little context, Canada is apparently a little bit behind the U.S. when it comes to buying stuff behind. But it's starting to catch up.

Canadian retailers have been a little complacent about pursuing online sales because of perceptions that the population is so spread out and that it would be expensive to ship items to them, said Doug Stephens, a Toronto-based retail consultant. But, he added, it is pretty feasible since about 80 percent of the Canadian population lives within 2 hours of the U.S. border.

Now Canadian companies are beginning to wake up to the online opportunity, especially as Amazon has been making a big push into Canada, he said. Wal-Mart also has an active website across the border.

“It’s astonishing” that Target doesn’t have e-commerce in Canada, Stephens said. “It’s such an opportunity for them.”

In the U.S., online sales make up about 2 to 3 percent of Target’s overall sales.

Three pre-Black Friday sales this weekend you won't see advertised

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: November 7, 2014 - 4:37 PM

Plenty of big box retailers such as Wal-Mart are already starting to advertise pre-Black Friday sales. Nothing wrong with getting your shopping done in 40 degree weather and dry roads.

But here are three local small business sales happening this weekend that you probably haven't heard about:

1. Europa European Import sale is back after a three year absence in a new location (53 Woodlynn Ave., Suite A, Little Canada, behind the Marathon Oil station). Save 40 to 60% on high-quality candles from Denmark, candleholders, gourmet food, art glass, feather wreaths and trees, Christmas ornaments, and rustic cabin items. Sale hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday Nov. 8, Nov. 22, and Dec. 6.

2. Gage & Gage warehouse sale (660 Industrial Circle, Shakopee, 962-233-2081).Save 40 to 90% on giftwrap, bows as little as 25 cents, gift boxes 20 cents to $2, gift bags 10 cents to $2, plus ribbon, tissue, wrapping paper, napkins and paper plates. Runs Nov. 12-16, Nov. 21-23 and Dec. 5-7.

3. Dianne's Custom Candles (700 Valley Industrial Circle, Shakopee, 952-746-5530). Save up to 90% on high quality, potent-fragrance designer candles (you won't be disappointed in the designer's names), reed diffusers, soy candles, votives and assorted gifts. The sale runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 8, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 9, as well as Nov. 12-16, 21-23, Dec. 5-7. For more info, search "Dianne's Custom Candles warehouse sale" on Facebook.

The complaint against Total Wine that backfired on the MLBA

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: November 4, 2014 - 2:52 PM

Monday night the Bloomington city council approved Total Wine's liquor license for a store that has sat empty for nearly a year. Proponents from Total Wine and the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association (a lobbying group for 2,100 small liquor stores and bars) re-hashed their arguments for the city council as if the seven council members were hearing them for the first time.

Scores of audience members sat patiently, at first, as they waited for their issue to come up on the agenda--the pavement management program. One by one, two by two, they left in exasperation as the Total Wine/MLBA lawyers and lobbyists sparred from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m..

But shortly before the vote, things got interesting. MLBA president Frank Ball accused Total Wine of selling below cost. And he had proof that Total Wine was commiting infractions even on the day of the city council license vote. He gave an example of a 750 ml. bottle of Kendall Jackson wine purchased Monday morning at the TW in Roseville for $8.99. The wholesale price is $9.60, he said. Ball then showed receipts of the purchase and included two more examples of TW selling below cost (Budweiser 24-pk for $15.24; wholesale $15.95) and Coors Lite.

At the end of Ball's comments, council member Jack Baloga said that he too is a purchaser of Kendall Jackson. "I purchase it for less than $8.99 75 percent of the time," he said. The tables started to turn when Baloga mentioned that he was getting those below-cost prices at liquor stores other than Total Wine. He asked Ball, "So it's not uncommon to sell below cost, even for members of your own association?"

Council member Dwayne Lowman said that he too buys Kendall Jackson for less than $8.99 per bottle in Bloomington liquor stores no less. "If we're going to bring up these below cost price issues, we ought to be enforcing them across all retailers, not just Total Wine," he said.

Council members had a whole year to sort out the reasons for their vote. Most of them referenced the decision by the administrative law judge recommending approval of the license. Both Lowman and Baloga voted for approving Total Wine's liquor license without conditions.

Sam's Club one-ups Costco with freebies on new membership

Posted by: John Ewoldt under Retail Updated: October 29, 2014 - 1:17 PM

Last month it was Costco offering freebies with a new membership for $55 on the daily deal site Living Social. New members could pay $55 for a standard membership and get freebies thrown in such as a Costco $20 gift card, an apple pie, rotisserie chicken, bathroom tissue and identity theft protection.

Now Sam's Club is doing its own version on Living Social in time for holiday purchases for new members. It's actually a better deal in my opinion than Costco's. Here's the offer:

• $45 for a one-year Sam's Plus membership (a $100 value) Note: this is the premium membership
• Complimentary spouse or other household member
• $20 Sam's Club gift card
• Four free fresh food items (a $22.18 value) including rotisserie chicken, spinach artichoke dip, cookies and a baguette.

The Plus membership offers a number of additional perks described in the Living Social offer, including instant savings. And it's more practical than identity theft protection, which Consumer Reports generally recommends skipping.

Why the sudden promotions from warehouse clubs? It's possible that it's tied to the holidays. Financial analyst Philip Van Deusen at Tigress Financial Partners said, "All retail is in an extremely promotional phase after such a horrible winter."

That's good news for consumers, especially those who are not current Sam's Club members. The Living Social promo is good through Nov. 4 unless terminated earlier.

Minorities and millennials will be key this holiday season

Posted by: Kavita Kumar under Retail Updated: October 29, 2014 - 11:55 AM

Listen up, retailers: millennials and minorities may be your salvation this holiday season.

About 17 percent of African Americans and 13 percent of Asian Americans and Latinos said they expect to spend more this holiday season, compared to 10 percent of the overall population, according to a survey of 25,000 households last month by Nielsen. And about 17 percent of millennials said they plan to spend more online this holiday season, a higher percentage than other generations.

“It’s a consumer landscape shift that materializes in multicultural consumers and millennials,” said James Russo, Nielsen’s senior vice president of global consumer insights. “And holiday is just a reflection of the overall consumer mindset.”

While marketers have been acknowledging they need tor each out to people of color for years, the survey’s findings are an important prod for companies as they look for growth in a slow-growth environment, he added.

Nielsen expects holiday spending to rise 1.8 percent this year, which is slightly higher than its forecasts the last two years. But it still signals fairly moderate growth. (The National Retail Federation, by comparison has projected a 4.1 percent increase in retail sales for the holidays.)

While Nielsen sees some signs for optimism with lower gas prices and an improving job market, about 68 percent of consumers in its survey still said they believe we’re in a recession. That percentage has been improving every year, but it still highlights thtat the consumers if feeling pretty stressed out.

“There’s improvement, but there’s hesitation as well,” Russo said. “They are very much focused on their spending."

Amid such a tight landscape, the ultra-practical gift cards are expected to be the top holiday gift this year, followed by tech products and toys, according to Nielsen’s survey.

As for millennials, companies have become more focused on them recently, especially as they are starting families and joining the workforce.

"They're coming into their own," Russo said.

But while retailers will try to entice consumers to spend early in the season, millennials and multiculatural households will procrastinate a bit, waiting longer than the rest of the population to start their shopping.

For one, Russo noted that they know that retailers are aggressive with promotions early in the season, but also in the last two weeks before Christmas.

"So there is some benefit to waiting as well," he said.

Some retailers pull back on last-minute shipping guarantees

Posted by: Kavita Kumar under Retail, Lions Updated: October 27, 2014 - 12:20 PM

Retailers will push shoppers to not be such procrastinators this holiday season -- at least when it comes to placing online orders after last year’s shipping snafu.

About 79 percent of retailers will set their standard shipping deadlines for guaranteed Christmas delivery to expire at least a week before the holiday, compared to 74 percent who said they would do so last year, according to a survey conducted for Shop.org, a division of the National Retail Federation.

And about 21 percent will set deadlines to expire Dec. 19 or later, compared to 26.3 percent who said they would do so last year.

The earlier deadlines are a response to last year’s debacle in which the shipping system was overwhelmed by the bevy of last-minute orders that led to millions of holiday gifts that were not delivered in time for the Christmas deadline. Aggressive shipping promotions by retailers up until the very end didn't help, either.

“It’s important to remember that the 2013 holiday season was impacted by a multitude of factors that affected the supply chain in the days leading up to Christmas, including bad weather and a shortened holiday calendar,”  Vicki Cantrell, Shop.org’s executive director, said in a statement. “That said, retailers and their delivery partners this year are proactively planning to make sure they meet customer expectations for delivery and customer service.”

The caution this year also comes at a time when UPS and FedEx are being more proactive in talking to retailers about what is realistic. UPS, for example, has been pushing retailers to hold their biggest sales in mid-December and to banish overnight shipping offers on Dec. 23, according to the Wall Street Journal

Some retailers have -- sort of -- listened. Nordstrom has moved back its guaranteed-to-arrive-by-Christmas deadline by three hours to noon on Dec. 23. But others desperate to bring in as much holiday sales as possible have extended their deadline. JCPenney, for example, is guaranteeing standard shipping orders before midnight on Dec. 20, up three days from last year, the Journal reported.

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