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Are You Linkedin?

BY CSA STAFF

If you’re not on Linkedin, you should be. Although this social-networking site for business professionals has been around since 2003, its new facelift—which debuted in late February—has the potential to change the way retail executives network, hire and interact with colleagues.

Linkedin, based in Mountain View, Calif., is growing rapidly and now boasts a user-base of 19 million professionals from around the world, representing 150 industries. The site allows registered users to add contact details of people they know and trust in business to their “connections” list.

But last year, Linkedin started to feel the heat from popular social-networking sites such as Facebook that embraced extensive profile-personalization and digital rich widget applications. Now, nearly a year later, executives can post information on what projects they’re working on, what they are reading and what conferences they are attending. It is then broadcast to all connections in their network and encourages colleagues to write comments, post feedback or give advice.

Similar to Facebook’s news feed, Linkedin shows a list of news updates on a member’s homepage that shares what’s going on in their network, including which of their colleagues have accepted new positions or who has joined Linkedin online community groups such as “Retail Management” and “Retail Industry Experts.”

Although these changes took a bit too long to debut against the backdrop of the ever-changing and growing Web world, the result was worth the wait. The new site features easier navigation, more control of accounts and settings, and an innovative series of personalized widgets and tools that keep members updated on what’s going on in their network. (Widgets are small interactive applications, ranging from games to news alerts, that can be downloaded onto host sites such as Facebook or iGoogle.)

The first application is the Answers module, which showcases what questions their specific network is asking. For example, if a member works in retail construction, a series of questions and answers from these professionals will appear in a box on their homepage. Members can see the questions and begin a dialogue with others through a message board-like platform or through one-on-one messaging. This feature in itself has the ability to bring retailers, vendors and consultants together as never before.

Another widget, The People module, showcases the contacts members can make through their network, similar to the “friend of a friend” concept. This can effectively introduce more people to others in the industry.

The Jobs widget highlights open positions and opportunities in a member’s network.

In addition to introducing the several new features that could truly foster a change in retail networking, the site also worked out some of its basic kinks. In the past, inbox messages moved quickly off the homepage, making it more difficult for members to remember to reply to messages. Now, the site highlights a user’s most recent actions.

Another new feature is the introduction of a mobile version of its Web service, available in six languages. This allows colleagues to stay in touch wirelessly when out on the road or even connect on a conference floor.

Although the revamped Linkedin is vastly improved, it still has some catching up to do to with rivals such as Facebook. But Linkedin is finally learning how to interact like Gen Y, and it could get them—and the retail community—ahead in the long run.

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Wal-Mart to sell earth-friendly CDs

BY CSA STAFF

SANTA MONICA, Calif. As part of Wal-Mart’s “Earth Month” the company is selling more than 20 Universal Music Group titles that come with special earth-friendly inserts. The inserts are made with special seed paper and, according to the companies, can actually bloom into wildflowers.

The inserts, in addition to being good for the environment, also offer consumers three free digital downloads from Universal Music. Universal also said that a number of its new CDs will be packaged in third-party certified, renewable recycled board and recyclable paper.

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ODP urges rejection of Levan nominees

BY CSA STAFF

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. Office Depot is continuing to urge its shareholders to reject dissident nominees and elect the company’s nominees to its board of directors at its annual shareholders meeting this April.

In a proxy statement sent to investors, Office Depot said that Alan Levan’s proposed nominees would do little to help improve shareholder value. According to the statement, Levan’s company, Levitt Corp. has seen its share price fall about 93% over the past three years and that its subsidiary, Levitt and Sons, is in bankruptcy. Office Depot also noted that BankAtlantic, of which Levan is chairman and ceo and one of his nominees, is president of real estate, construction and development, share price has dropped approximately 75% over the past three years.

Office Depot also cited news reports that commented on Levan’s failing business ventures, as well as others that said that his nominees are not qualified to serve on Office Depot’s board of directors.

The company pointed out nominee Mark Begelman’s experience with Mars Music, a company he founded in 1997 that went bankrupt in 2002. According to Office Depot, many news reports attributed this failure to a flawed business strategy.

According to Office Depot, when Levan’s other nominee, Martin Hanaka served as chairman of Sports Authority from 1998 to 2003, the company saw its price fall by about 13%.

Office Depot stressed that its directors best understand the company and are well-suited to help the company grow.

“We strongly believe that removing two of the most experienced retailing executives from our board, including our current ceo who is driving the implementation of our strategic turnaround plan, would be highly disruptive, could delay the implementation of internal and external initiatives and could damage prospects for a successful turnaround,” Office Depot said in the proxy statement.

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