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J.C. Penney Q3 loss widens; encouraged by positive signs

BY Marianne Wilson

Plano, Texas — J.C. Penney posted a bigger-than-expected loss for its third quarter. But the struggling retailer pointed to hopeful signs that its business is starting to stabilize as its heads into the holiday season.

Penney reported a loss of $489 million in the three months ended Nov.2, compared with a loss of $123 million in the year ago period.

Sales fell 5.1% to $2.78 billion. Same-store sales were down 4.8%, but the period ended with its first monthly gain since December 2011. And online sales rose 24.5%, to $266 million.

“We are proud of the company’s October sales performance, encouraged by the early weeks of November,” Myron E. Ullman III, the company’s chief executive, said in a statement.

In a statement released Wednesday, Penney CEO Myron Ullman said that he is "encouraged" by sales in the early weeks of November, and the company believes it is “making strides” toward a path to long-term profitable growth

"Our strategies to reconnect with customers are beginning to take hold, and this became increasingly clear as the quarter progressed," Ullman stated.

In an encouraging sign, Penney said that gross profit margin improved to 29.5% in the quarter, compared with 32.5% last year.

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Lowe’s net earnings for third quarter surge

BY CSA STAFF

Thanks to a housing market that continues to flourish, Lowe’s had a solid third quarter, with sizable gains in earnings and sales.

The company’s net earnings jumped 26% to $499 million. Sales for the quarter increased 7.3% to $13 billion, up from $12.1 billion in the year ago quarter. Comparable sales for the quarter increased 6.2%.

"This balanced performance resulted from our improved collaboration and execution within a strengthening home improvement market, combined with our employees’ hard work and continued dedication to serving customers," said Robert Niblock, chairman and CEO.

"The home improvement industry is poised for persisting growth in the fourth quarter and further acceleration in 2014," Niblock added.

Lowe’s sales gains followed by one day the third-quarter report from rival Home Depot, which reported sales gains of 7.4%

The company said it expects to open nine stores in fiscal year 2013, a year in which it expects comparable-store sales to increase about 5%.

Despite the solid numbers posted by Lowe’s, shares of the company dropped on Wall Street over its slightly lower-than-expected earnings per share numbers.

At the end of the quarter, Lowe’s operated 1,831 home improvement and hardware stores in the United States, Canada and Mexico, representing 200.1 million sq. ft. of retail selling space.

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Top 10 Tips for Avoiding Slow Websites and Embarrassing Crashes

BY CSA STAFF

By Sven Hammar, co-founder and CEO, Apica

Recent public and embarrassing website crashes of Amazon, Groupon and even Google accentuates the need to take web and mobile performance more seriously. Unresponsive websites and mobile applications is comparable to a physical shop throwing out its customers and locking its doors. Luckily, there are ways to minimize the risk of slow response times and site crashes.

The website (and mobile application) is nowadays a hugely important and business critical channel for almost every corporation and organization. It simply must not slow down, fail or malfunction. Slow response times are as irritating as long queues and lazy cashiers in a physical shop. Even worse, slow response times affect your Google ranking, something surprisingly many marketing managers and web masters fail to understand. Slow response times leads to a lower ranking. And vice versa. So the first task of your SEO program should always be to speed up the website’s response time.

A slow response time (the time is takes for a website to fully load) is normally due to the website’s content managers not being able to resist the temptation to fill the site with cool (?) images, videos or third party content that they cannot control. It might be cool but it comes at a heavy price.

What can an organization do to optimize the quality and security of the website, speed up its response time, minimize the risk of crashes and facilitate business via the Internet? Here are my top 10 tips for better web performance”

1. Put vanity aside and reduce the amount of high-resolution images and videos on your site in order to minimize response times. If you still want the bulky images, then be sure and invest in systems that can handle short response times despite a high-resolution content. Use a CDN/accelerator service to speed up the delivery of rich content such as images and videos to customers.

2. Cache as much static content as possible in the browser. If the page content does not change, customers will not have to download it again from the network the next time they hit the page. This is a cost-effective way to speed up web traffic and gain performance improvements.

3. Perform load tests to verify the site’s performance during various load levels. Measure performance during normal variations in traffic. Test the site frequently before, during and after peak season to ensure the availability of reliable information about the site’s normal performance.

4. Analyze the site’s performance. Detailed information about what really takes time is necessary to enable a discussion about which functions can be speeded up (alternatively improve conditions for). Commercial considerations may decide if it makes sense to increase the server capacity. Tests and evaluations show if desired results are attained.

5. Periodically test, monitor and optimize your site to ensure a great consumer experience. Web testing companies can test and optimize your site, simulating peak loads by using ‘synthetic traffic’, and then suggesting improvements. These companies often offer complimentary surveillance services. These services are cloud based.

6. Establish where the maximum performance point for the application lies (i.e. the number of users per minute) in a typical scenario. Additional users create a greater need of URL’s/second and will have to wait or, in a worst case scenario, do not get a response at all at peak load. The key question is: how likely is it that you will experience loads larger that the maximum performance point? Do you need to ramp up the system?

7. Instability during untested operative situations is a common cause for downtime. It is difficult to foresee what will happen at heavy loads, components that function flawlessly at regular loads may all of a sudden become bottlenecks. Do a “damage control”, a test of what it takes for the site to crash and how the course of events look like. Secure that the site comes up and running again – even at full load.

8. Use a queuing technique; Do only allow the volume that you have tested the site for, and block all / direct to a wait loop ( other traffic above this volume. (Compare with what is allowed into a “real” store.) Otherwise all users will get poor response times and in a worst case scenario the site ceases to function for all users. It is better to serve the customers who are already in the site and let the others get a polite error message.

9. Verify your Internet capacity and check that your estimated maximum traffic volume does not reach your ordered capacity. If that is the case, do a commercial evaluation: What is it worth to be able to let additional customers into your “store” with a good performance? Make sure than you get what you pay for from your Internet supplier and buy more capacity if you need to.

10. Check that the load sharing is working properly. Load sharing distributes loads from different users onto underlying systems in an even way. However, sometimes there might be errors due to reconfigurations et al. Therefore one must verify that the load sharing really functions properly and that the underlying servers receive an even load.

It should be noted that a website doesn’t have to be poorly designed to slow down or crash. It can also just become too popular. Groupon’s Indian website crashed when too many customers wanted to get their hands on a cut-price deal on onions. Conduct a risk analysis using load testing and external performance measurements of service quality to ensure that your site can handle a massive influx of customers without crashing.

To avoid public and embarrassing crashes, preparation is key. Generic website failures and performance problems can be minimized greatly by simply conducting on-going testing and monitoring of the site and its applications, and having a contingency plan that includes system backup.

Analyzing, testing and optimizing your website and mobile applications is both so easy (with affordable and easy-to-use cloud services) and so valuable that it can be compared to checking your spare tire or fastening your seat belt before a long road trip. You can end up looking really silly if you don’t. If Amazon and even Google can go down, so can your site.

Sven Hammar is co-founder and CEO of Apica, a provider of load testing and performance monitoring for cloud and mobile applications and one of Europe’s fastest growing technology companies. He has decade-long experience and expertise in web performance and web optimization, e-commerce, cloud services, IT entrepreneurship and the Internet.


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