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Sears Chairman makes US$4.6b bid for bankrupt retailer

Reuters reported that Sears Holdings Corp Chairman Eddie Lampert’s ESL Investments Inc has made an offer valued at US$4.6 billion to buy the bankrupt US retailer, one of the only options that would prevent the department store chain from shutting its doors for good. The offer calls for about 500 Sears stores to remain open and would keep 50,000 of the retailer’s workers employed, according to a letter from his hedge fund filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission last week. The 125-year-old company faces a series of deadlines this month to find a buyer that would keep it in business as some of its creditors call for it to shut down. Many US retailers that have filed for bankruptcy in recent years, including toy seller Toys R Us Inc and department store Bon-Ton Stores Inc, have liquidated after no viable offers to keep the companies open were made.  

Costco tightens standards for antibiotics use by meat producers

The Seattle Times reported that Costco, in the midst of developing its own poultry processing plant to go with an already substantial company-owned beef supply operation, has set out new standards and monitoring requirements for antibiotic use in animal agriculture, making it one of the largest food retailers to take on the issue. Antibiotics have been overused in meat production, contributing to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which the World Health Organization warns could cause 10 million deaths a year by 2050. Costco’s enormous size - it sold more than 61 million rotisserie chickens alone in its 2017 fiscal year - gives it a great deal of influence on the supply chain.  

Only 6 years behind

Business Insider reported that Walmart is introducing a new app meant to make it easier for in-store shoppers to place orders online. If shoppers can't find what they're looking for in one of Walmart's stores, employees with the app installed on their in-store touchscreen devices can offer to help the shopper place an order for any item shipped and sold by Walmart online. Customers can choose to have items sent to their home or the store for free pickup. The new app allows for the payment of online sales in cash, which has been something of a holy grail for retailers like Walmart with a large base of low-income consumers. Retail Directions is very proud to set the benchmark in omni-channel retailing, we introduced similar "Endless Aisle" technology for our clients back in 2012.

Laura Ashley up for sale

We noticed in today's AFR that homeware and fashion brand Laura Ashley's Australian business is up for sale, withg administrators seeking urgent expressions of interest. Earlier this week, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the retailer had gone into administration - the second time it has collapsed in two just years.

How wise is it for Aussie retailers to play Amazon at its own game?

The AFR reported that retailers are looking at ways to offer free deliveries for online orders through loyalty schemes or subscription-based programs to match or counter Amazon Prime, which has helped fuel the e-commerce giant's Australian growth. For example, Super Retail Group is working on plans to offer free online deliveries through its Club program. Woolworths and Coles are investing in digital capabilities to create seamless omni-channel shopping experiences. Several other bricks and mortar retailers offer free deliveries for orders over a certain threshold. However, not all Aussie retailers are diving in head first. JB Hi-Fi's CEO said the retailer was keeping a watching brief on the market, "but subscription style services is not a current consideration. Our primary focus is on providing customers with great value, transparent and reliable delivery choices across our products for both JB and The Good Guys."  

Dollar General focuses on food as it eyes expansion

The Wall Street Journal reported that US discount retailer General Dollar plans to open 975 new stores, remodel 1,000 stores and relocate 100 stores as part of its fiscal 2019 plans. With plans to expand in rural and metro areas lacking affordable and healthier food options, the retailer is betting that more food choices, including fresh produce, will boost its revenue and traffic. Dollar General operates 15,227 stores in continental US, and believe that there is an opportunity to add a further 12,000 to 13,000 stores in the future.

Crabtree and Evelyn Canada closing its doors

The Financial Post reported that beauty and home products retailer Crabtree and Evelyn Canada Inc. is closing its stores and has filed for bankruptcy protection. Founded in 1973, the retailer has gone through several acquisitions and filed for bankruptcy before, in the US back in 2009 resulting in the closure of 30 of its 126 American-based stores. The Canadian business currently operates 19 stores. The company says it has experienced “significant losses,” which it attributed to changing consumer demand, the rise of e-commerce and long-term declines in traditional retail traffic.

Clothing is back in fashion for the holidays

CNBC reported that this year's Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping extravaganza indicated that there will be a lot more sweaters and coats under the tree this year. Spending on apparel was up 5.4% over Black Friday weekend, the best growth since 2011, according to consulting firm Customer Growth Partners. Shoppers are turning up at specialty apparel chains such as Lululemon, Abercrombie & Fitch, Old Navy, and Urban Outfitters. But not all retailers will benefit from the trend with department store chains still struggling to keep inventories in check.

Marriott data breach impacts 500m

My Business reported that, in a statement on its website dated 30 November 2018, US-headquartered Marriott International revealed that its Starwood reservation database had been compromised, with as many as 500 million people worldwide affected. Marriott said that its investigations remain ongoing to determine the exact number of hotel guests who may have been impacted by the breach. However, the anticipated scale of affected customers dwarfs that of the 9.4 million passengers exposed by a data breach that hit airline Cathay Pacific in October. This just reaffirms our position that cybersecurity must sit at the core of Loss Prevention in a retail enterprise. Cybersecurity cannot be left to IT, it requires a specialised focus as retail becomes ever more entwined with digital.

Tech giants under EU spotlight

Reuters reported that Google, Amazon, Apple, and other tech giants face one of their biggest challenges this week as a key EU lawmaking committee prepares to take a tough stance on legislation designed to curb their power. In a bid to ensure a level playing field between the tech companies and bricks-and-mortar businesses, the European Commission drafted rules to prevent unfair business practices by app stores, search engines, e-commerce sites, and hotel booking websites. These include forcing search engines to provide information on how they rank products and services in internet search results. The proposal, known as the platform-to-business regulation (P2B), needs to be approved by EU countries and the European Parliament before it can become law.

Laura Ashley in administration for the second time in two years

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that British homeware and fashion brand Laura Ashley's Australian business has gone into administration - the second time it has collapsed in two just years. The company appointed KordaMentha as voluntary administrators on Monday, which has put its 18 stores and the licence to operate the brand locally up for sale, and has started clearing stock. Laura Ashley has operated in Australia since 1971, and had 45 stores at its peak. Laura Ashley is the latest in a string of mid-size retailers to go under, including Roger David, Topshop, Rhodes & Beckett, Payless Shoes, and Maggie T.

Roger David leaves landlords with a $30m headache

The AFR reported that thirteen shopping centre landlords have been left with a combined $30 million problem after the demise of menswear retailer Roger David. The retailer's 57 remaining stores, there were 122 Roger David stores in 2016, were all permanently shut at the end of trading hours on Sunday as the 76-year-old business was consigned to the history books. An initial assessment of the business's future lease obligations amounted to $61 million. And, it's not just major retail closures that are impacting landlords. Increasingly, retail brands are shutting underperforming stores if landlords refuse to renegotiate.