OPERATIONS

IBM survey: Spending expected to be up over Memorial Day weekend

BY Katherine Boccaccio

Armonk, N.Y. — Survey results released Thursday by IBM said that Americans are increasingly upbeat about their plans for the Memorial Day weekend, with a huge increase this year in the amount of people talking about traveling and spending compared to last year.

According to the IBM Social Sentiment Index, the "Desire Ratio" – the proportion of positive versus negative comments about shopping – increased by a factor of five for this Memorial Day compared with last year.

The IBM Social Sentiment Index, which measures social media communications, showed a 46% increase in the amount of conversations about Memorial Day travel compared with 2011. This signal suggests travel providers and transportation officials could see a boost in demand and traffic during the holiday weekend, according to IBM.

The Index also showed a large increase in social chatter about flying, with mentions jumping 65% compared with last year, while references to driving increased 13%.

Surprisingly, sentiment on the topic of gas prices, which have only recently gone down from their highest prices of the year, is considerably more positive than last year, with a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative mentions in 2012 compared to a 1 to 1 ratio in 2011.

IBM said these combined trends may indicate that people are feeling better this year about their finances going into the Memorial Day holiday.

Retailers also could see a jump in consumer spending over the holiday. The Index, which looked at online conversations from Jan. 1 to May 16 in 2012 and 2011, reveals an upward trend in positive sentiment toward Memorial Day spending. The ratio of positive to negative comments about shopping and Memorial Day travel – which IBM calls the Desire Ratio — is 6.5 to 1 this year compared to a ratio of 1.3 to 1 in 2011. During the same period, negative sentiment around the topic of budgets decreased by 50% year over year.

"When analytics are applied to social media conversations, it identifies more than what people are talking about. This is valuable insight into people’s preferences and attitudes about a product or a service and helps us understand why people do what they do," said Marty Salfen, IBM general manager, travel & transportation.

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OPERATIONS

CNBC to air documentary on Mickey Drexler

BY Marianne Wilson

New York — J. Crew CEO Milliard “Mickey” Drexler is the subject of a CNBC documentary that will premier Thursday, May 24 at 10 p.m., ET, with a re-air at 1 a.m., ET.

Entitled “J Crew & The Man Who Dressed America,” the hour-long program follows Drexler at work and at home, from his house in the Hamptons to a tour of the J. Crew store in Westfield Garden State Plaza, Paramus, N.J., to fabric mills in Italy. It highlights the legendary retailer’s intense involvement in the company on everything from the big picture (opening stores overseas) to such small details as the type of buttons that should be on a men’s shirt.

The show charts the upward trajectory of Drexer’s life and career, from his childhood in the Bronx (he grew up in a one-bedroom apartment) to his rise in retail, starting with Ann Taylor and moving on to Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, and eventually Gap Inc.

As to Drexler’s success at J. Crew, the numbers tell the story: Since he took the helm as CEO in 2003, the company’s revenues have risen 170% to near $1.9 billion in 2011.

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Carrefour’s incoming CEO to take helm early

BY Katherine Boccaccio

Paris — The world’s second largest retailer behind Wal-Mart said Thursday that its leadership will change hands earlier than planned. France’s Carrefour said that current CEO Lars Olofsson had retired at a board meeting on Wednesday, and that incoming chief Georges Plassat will take over as chief executive immediately.

Plassat joined Carrefour last month as COO. He was supposed to make his CEO transition effective June 18. He will take charge of an aggressive turnaround effort intended to reverse years of underperformance.

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