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Some retailers pull back on last-minute shipping guarantees

Posted by: Kavita Kumar 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.

Black Friday might not reign supreme this year

Posted by: Kavita Kumar Updated: October 24, 2014 - 3:57 PM

Will this be the year when Black Friday is finally dethroned from being the biggest shopping day of the year?

Bill Martin thinks so. The founder of ShopperTrak, a Chicago-based firm that measures store traffic, has become a guru of sorts when it comes to predicting and measuring the ebbs and flow of the holiday season.

According to ShopperTrak, Black Friday has reigned as king of the holiday shopping season  – and of the entire year for that matter — every year in the last decade by bringing in the most sales on that day. But its supremacy has begun to wane as more stores have begun opening on Thanksgiving night.

Macy's has already said it will open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving this year. Other major retailers have not yet announced their hours for that day, but Martin expects that more will follow suit.

“Our numbers show over the last three years that Thursday sales are growing at a pretty rapid pace,” he said. “It’s leeching sales from Black Friday.”

Instead, he expects Dec. 20, the last Saturday before Christmas, often referred to as Super Saturday, to be the No. 1 shopping day this year in terms of sales.

Black Friday should still slide in at the No. 2 spot, he said, followed by the day after Christmas, which falls on a Friday when many people should be off from work. His firm, by the way tracks in-store traffic and purchases, and does not include online sales in its forecasts.

He added that the Thanksgiving night openings are not leading to an overall bump in sales. They are just taking away sales from Black Friday.

“Retailers say that consumers are clamoring for them to be open on Thanksgiving, but that’s not the case,” he said. “They’re just attempting to get to the wallet before the money is gone. That’s what this holiday creep is all about.”

Martin was in town this week for the Shopper Marketing Conference & Expo held at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

So how robust will the holiday shopping season be this year? His firm will finalize its forecast in the next week or so, but he said he is expecting it to be in the range of 2.5 to 3.5 percent for in-store sales. That is a bit lower than the National Retail Federation, which has put out a rosy forecast of 4.1 percent increase for holiday sales. Martin added that he thinks the NRF’s number is a little optimistic.

“Growth is slowing a little bit, but growth continues to prevail,” he added.

Also, he said to expect to see retailers being more aggressive in November with promotions. It’s part of a decade-long shift to more holiday sales that month as retailers try to get the shoppers' wallet earlier, he said.

“November continues to grow as December declines,” he said. “That stroke of midnight after Halloween, you’re going to start seeing the Christmas promotions.”

Get ready for it.

FREE financial advice (and puppies) this Saturday

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: October 24, 2014 - 9:25 AM

Everyone can use some free financial advice. Everyone. I'll bet even Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who just pledged to give $100 million to fight Ebola, gets a second opinion now and then.

That's why Saturday's free financial planning seminar put on by the Financial Planning Association of Minnesota is such a good deal. For more details, check out my article in today's paper.

If you can't attend Saturday and you'd like a hand in sorting your finances, you can go to the FPA site to find a certified financial planner. Most consumer finance experts recommend finding a CFP who works on a fee-only basis. Fee-only planners charge you only for their time (after a free initial consultation) rather than a commission on products such as insurance or mutual funds you purchase from them.

No one should feel that he or she doesn't have enough savings to get financial advice. Singles who have an adjusted gross income of $20,000 or less and married couples with a household income of $40,000 or less qualify for free advice from the Financial Planning Association of Minnesota. The FPA makes us dig a bit to find the pro bono info but here is the link. Use this resource later or attend Saturday's sessions, which are open to anyone, regardless of income.

Update: the puppies allotted to the free event at the Wilder Center in St. Paul on Saturday have already found decent homes with new owners who promised to contribute enough to their 401(k) to receive the full employer match. Check the free section on Craigslist for more free puppies as they become available.

Angie's List extends its best deal of the year, the State Fair special

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: October 13, 2014 - 9:38 AM

Here's a Columbus Day special for you: The Minnesota State Fair is long gone, but one vendor, Angie's List, is continuing its State Fair Special through the end of the year. It's a 50 percent savings over regular subscription rates, said Cheryl Reed, director of communications at Angie's List.

You can subscribe for one year for $9.99, two years for $15.99 and three years for $20.97 and never have to wonder where to start looking when you need someone to service an auto transmission, for example. Use discount code FAIR50 to get the discount online or at 1-888-888-5478.

The subscription supported website containing consumers reviews of thousands local businesses is a substitute for a shoutout on social media asking, Anyone know of a good plumber?"

Angie's List subscribers evaluate local service from air duct cleaning to zipper repair. It's most helpful when at least a dozen consumers have rated a company. Fewer than a dozen reviews isn't an adequate sampling. But read the reviews instead of just looking at the letter grade. I have found that the individual reviews provide more helpful information, especially any criticism.

One downside of Angie's List is a lack of useful information on price. To have a consumer evaluate price when he or she may have only contacted one service provider is not helpful in most cases. I have found Twin Cities Consumers' Checkbook more helpful in that regard, but they don't evaluate nearly as many categories of service providers. You can subscribe to Checkbook or view copies free in most public libraries.

She wants lots of Honeycrisp apples for a low price. Where to go?

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: October 8, 2014 - 2:58 PM

Jill Andersen of Minnetonka wanted about 25 Honeycrisp apples to give to out-of-town guests as part of an out-of-towner goodie bag for her wedding.

Economizing as most brides and grooms do, she asked where she could buy Honeycrisp apples for less.My first thought was Aldi, usually the low-price leader. But I doubted the German-based supermarket would have Honeycrisp. Because of its smaller selection, I figured Aldi's stock would be limited to Gala and a few others.

Wrong.

Aldi does carry Honeycrisp and even SweeTango seasonally. Its price for Honeycrisp apples are $3.49 for a 2-lb. bag ($1.74/lb.) or 49 cents each for a 2 3/4-inch apple (pictured). In late September, Aldi's price was 79 cents an apple.

When Andersen bought 24 apples at Aldi in late September, she paid about $19. At Cub, which had Honeycrisp apples so large that Andersen described them as "meal-sized," she would have spent about $80 for the same number albeit much larger apples.

Aldi's apples weren't as pretty as Cub's, but Andersen was happy with the quality and smaller size. For many of us, size doesn't matter, but apples are priced based on size and condition. The top grade apple is called "extra fancy," then fancy, #1 grade, and utility. Sizes can range from 1 1/2-inches and up.

In a price check of Aldi, Costco, Cub, Sam's Club, Target and Wal-Mart, Aldi's prices were the lowest. Other notable Honeycrisp prices were a 3-lb. bag on sale at Target this week for $4.99 ($1.66/lb). Wal-Mart sells a 2-lb. bag for $3.97 ($1.98/lb.)

Costco is the only retailer I checked to offer organic Honeycrisp apples ($15.99 for 5.5 lbs. at $2.90/lb.).

The prices checked are compared per pound, but I did not compare size, taste or quality. Obviously, that will affect price. Growers will tell you that blemishes won't affect taste, but it's consumer preference. I also didn't note where all of the apples were grown. Some indicate USA and other indicate the state (Michigan, for example). Honeycrisp may have originated in Minnesota at the U of M, but that doesn't mean local supermarkets are selling Minnesota-grown Honeycrisps. (Farmers markets and local orchards being a notable exception.)

Total Wine opens in Burnsville; Maple Grove may be next

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: September 11, 2014 - 11:43 AM

Total Wine in Burnsville opened Wednesday evening (Sept. 10) to a robust crowd. Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth Kautz, city council members and Total Wine co-founder and president David Trone welcomed customers and dignitaries as they cut the red ribbon to officially open Minnesota's second Total Wine superstore. A Roseville location opened in March. The new location is the chain's 106th store.

The Maryland-based wine, beer and liquor retailer plans to open its next store in Nov. in Woodbury. The long-delayed decision for the Bloomington location at 494 and France Av. endured another test on Wednesday with a day-long public hearing. "Everyone had their due process," said Sandra Johnson, Bloomington's city attorney. Trone said little about the meeting except that, by request, he changed the ownership of Total Wine to include only him and his brother Robert, eliminating any inclusion of their children as owners in trust.

Bloomington city attorney Sandra Johnson explained that the reason for the ownership change was due to Bloomington city code being stricter than state law. "Minors are not qualified to be owners," she said.

Now Johnson and Total Wine will provide a summary document to the state administrative law judge, who will make a recommendation on granting Total Wine's license. The issue may finally be decided at the city council meeting on Oct. 20.

Burnsville city council person Suzanne Nguyen said that city attorney Joel Jamnik never saw any reason to deny a liquor license to Total Wine. The process in Burnsville, Roseville and Woodbury has gone much more smoothly than in Bloomington.

Total Wine originally talked of having five to eight stores in the Twin Cities. After Roseville, Burnsville, Woodbury and Bloomington, it appears that Maple Grove may be the fifth. After saying that he was interested in northwest metro, Trone confirmed to me that he had indeed visited Maple Grove on Wednesday.

The Total Wine store in Burnsville is slightly larger than the Roseville location. It is filled with more than 8,000 types of wine, 3,000 spirits and 2.500 beers. During the grand opening, festivities include live music and tastings through Saturday, Sept. 13. The store is located in Burnhaven Shopping Center at 820 W. County Rd 42, near Target.

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