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Retail's growing issue of rising wages and IT costs

Citi Research just published its latest update for the retail industry in Australia and New Zealand, emphasising the growing issue of rising wages and IT costs. Citi sees both as crucial ingredients for successful retailing in today’s landscape, and expressed concern that both these cost buckets are starting to accelerate: “Navigating wage and IT costs will separate successful retailers”. We couldn’t agree more – in the past we commented repetitively about the danger of misdirected, excessive spending on IT in retail.

Bitcoin bubble burst

Reuters reported that Bitcoin slumped on Tuesday to its lowest value this year (below U$4,327), tumbling as much as 10% and losing 25% of its value within a week.  It recovered slightly since, but it is worth noting that Bitcoin has plummeted over 75% this year from a peak of U$20,000 touched in December as retail "investors" piled into one of the largest bubbles in history.  We are not the only ones who have warned repetitively that gambling is not an investment.

Lidl US to acquire Best Market

Multiple media outlets reported that the US arm of German discount grocer Lidl will acquire 27 Best Market supermarkets in a deal that extends its market reach into metro New York. Lidl didn’t disclose a timetable for the conversion of the Best Market stores but said it plans to begin the remodeling, reinvestment and rebannering process next year. Lidl US’s expansion into a major market area like New York stands to turn up the competitive pressure that hard discount grocery chains — including fast-growing rival Aldi. It's worth noting that Lidl is owned by the same company as Kaufland, which is ramping up its operations Down Under.    

Baby Bunting gets the last laugh

The AFR reported that baby goods retailer Baby Bunting has tweaked its full-year profit guidance and expects earnings to rise at least 34% and as much as 45% in 2019, buoyed by a rebound in sales and margins following the collapse of four major rivals. The rebound in earnings follows a tough year in 2018, when the collapse of Toys 'R' Us and Babies 'R' Us, Bubs, Baby Savings and Baby Bounce led to massive industry-wide discounting and dented the retailer's gross margins, leading to a 19% fall in EBITDA to $18.6 million. Though, as we predicted in a previous post, Baby Bunting weathered the storm and is now getting the last laugh.

Organised retail crime losses reach all-time high

The NRF reported that organised retail crime (ORC) is continuing to grow, with nearly three-quarters of retailers surveyed reporting an increase in the past year. The report found that 92% of companies surveyed had been a victim of ORC in the past year and that 71% said ORC incidents were increasing. Losses averaged $777,877 per $1 billion in sales, up 7% from last year’s previous record of $726,351. Retailers attributed the increase to the easy online sale of stolen goods, gift card fraud, shortage of staff in stores and demand for certain brand name items or specific products. We've repeatedly commented that a cybercrime-enabled loss preventation function has become essential to retail operations in the Digital Age.

Profit disaster looms at Myer

The AFR reported that Solomon Lew has warned that not even Father Christmas could stem an alarming sales slide at Myer. The department store revealed late on Friday that sales for the first quarter of 2018-19 had plunged by 4.8% as it belatedly responded after a day of high drama when its shares were forced into a trading halt by the ASX's compliance unit. Myer had also claimed online sales growth of 3.6% but later revealed that this figure included self-checkout purchases in stores. If the current sales trend continues through the quarter to 31 January, Myer will take a 55% hit to gross profit compared to 1H18.

Cotton On in the Big Apple

Inside Retail reports that fast-fashion retailer Cotton On is set to open its first store in New York City, located in Empire Outlets – an in-development outlet centre located on Staten Island, NY. The outlet store will feature the brand’s women’s wear, menswear, and accessories, and is expected to open in early 2019. Retail Directions has been a key technology partner for Cotton On globally for over a decade.

Victoria’s Secret faces tough times

Multiple media outlets reported that Victoria’s Secret’s stock has nosedived 72% in the last 3 years as investors continue to jump ship from its parent company, L Brands. Even worse, 43% of that drop happened in 2018 alone. The company's monopoly has all but disappeared amid the rise of new direct-to-consumer underwear brands with a focus on body positivity. Victoria’s Secret cut its apparel and swimwear in 2016, and this year it plans to close 20 stores.

Uber incurs hefty quarterly loss

The AFR reported that Uber incurred a US$1 billion loss in the lastest quarter, despite 6% growth in bookings through the ride-hailing platform. The results are a 20% increase from the previous quarter but are down 27% from a year ago when the company posted its biggest publicly-reported quarterly loss on the heels of the departure of co-founder and CEO  Tavis Kalanick. Uber and the term "disruption" are synonymous, however, its disruptive impact comes not from technology but from bypassing regulations (using technology).

The "new" Wesfarmers eyes growth

The AFR reported that Wesfarmers eyes growth after the Coles demerger was overwhelmingly approved by shareholders yesterday. However, the "new" Wesfarmers will begin trading without its defensive supermarket business at a time when growth stocks are being heavily sold off globally and the housing market downturn is expected to crimp sales growth at its biggest business, Bunnings.

Leaked figures suggest Myer sales collapse

The AFR reported that leaked figures reveal that Myer's sales continue to sink.  Apparently, group's figures for the first quarter of FY19 show sales are down 5.5% year-on-year, and down 8.9% against the same period in 2017. Online sales are up 41% on the same period two years ago but down 5.2% versus last year. FLASH UPDATE: ASX site shows that at 10:30 Myer shares have been placed in trading hold, until 20th November / or Myer's announcement.  At the end of the day Myer updated the market, commenting that the leaked figures were incomplete and that the sales were actually 4.8% down and online sales were 3.6% up on the previous year.  Still not a pretty picture.

Levi Strauss & Co plans IPO

CNBC reported that Levi Strauss & Co. plans to go public (again). The 145-year-old company, credited with creating the first pair of blue jeans, is planning an initial public offering to raise between $600 million and $800 million. The company is targeting the first quarter of 2019 for the offering, sources said. The jeans maker, which had gone public once before in 1971, is aiming to debut with a valuation upwards of $5 billion.