News

Jones Group keeps the lights on

BY Dan Berthiaume

Chicago — A lot of IT practitioners talk about “keeping the lights on,” or executing simple but essential tasks such as making sure an e-commerce site is actually up and running. For Michael Hines, VP of e-commerce technology at The Jones Group, keeping the lights on involves a lot more than flipping a switch.

As he told the audience of an afternoon session of the Internet Retailer Conference in Chicago, The Jones Group follows an established performance practice that includes uptime monitoring, periodic review and analysis, a strong partnership with its e-commerce platform provider Demandware, and local site testing to ensure scalability.

“For a performance practice, you need to make time, make a person and make a map,” stated Hines. “There needs to be regularly scheduled time every month. If it doesn’t get scheduled, it doesn’t get done. A person needs to have the responsibility for performance as part of their job. And there needs to be a map that measures changes in performance and applies thought analysis.”

Hines said website performance degrades slowly over time and retailers will not notice until it is too late without regular monitoring and analysis. In addition, individual portions of a retailer’s homepage might drop in performance faster than others, causing problems that won’t necessarily show up through measurements of broad overall site performance. The Jones Group uses the AlertSite solution from SmartBear for automated notifications of outages and other site performance issues.

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OPERATIONS

Penney’s chief technology officer out

BY Marianne Wilson

Plano, Texas — Another executive hired by former J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson has apparently left the chain. Kristen Blum, executive VP and chief technology officer, is no longer with Penney, according to various reports that cited a note to investors by Citi analyst Deborah Weinswig. Penney has yet to officially announce her departure, which was also reported by Women’s Wear Daily.

Blum joined Penney in January 2012, from PepsiCo., where she was CIO of the company’s Enterprise Transformation unit. From 2006 to 2010, she was senior VP, chief information officer at Abercrombie & Fitch. Prior to that, Blum spent four years at Apple, as director of supply chain solutions and international retail.

Blum, who is on the National Retail Federation’s CIO Council, leaves Penney at a crucial time: The chain has embarked on an extensive IT overhaul, adopting a full suite of systems from Oracle.

Wienswig’s report noted that Penney has struggled to drive Web traffic, citing flat web traffic in April and three consecutive months of declining growth, according to comScore data. In a conference call last month, new CEO Ullman said that fixing Penney’s online storefront was a top priority.

Weinswig described Penney’s IT overhaul as a “heart transplant” for the company.

“While CEO Mike Ullman continues to put the old band back together again, we would be encouraged to see him consider external Silicon Valley talent to quickly fill the position

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FINANCE

Wal-Mart holds annual meeting; announces $15 billion more in stock buybacks

BY Marianne Wilson

Bentonville, Ark. — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced a $15 billion share buyback program at its annual shareholder meeting on Friday. It also said it expects to generate $10 billion in global e-commerce sales by the end of the fiscal year.

The new buyback program replaces the previous $15 billion plan, which had about $712 million remaining under the 2011 authorization.

“Our strong cash flow enabled the company to invest in growth and repurchase over $14 billion of our stock during the last two years,” said Charles Holley, Walmart executive VP and CFO.

The annual meeting, held at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville’s Bud Walton Arena, included the usual mix of celebrities and entertainment. Hugh Jackman, star of "X-Men" and "Les Miserables," served as the host, and there were performances by singers John Legend and Kelly Clarkson.

The meeting also had a serious side as the chain faces ongoing scrutiny from investors over how it has handled the allegations of bribery regarding its Mexican operations, and some displeasure over its response to the factory building collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,100 garment workers.

The New York City Pension Funds had been vocal about what it called the board’s poor oversight of compliance and lack of overall independence. It said it would vote its more than 5.1 million shares against nine of Wal-Mart’s 14 board nominees — including chairman S. Robson Walton and CEO Mike Duke. However, the vote is largely symbolic as members of the Walton family collectively own just over half of Wal-Mart’s shares.

There were also protests by OUR Walmart, a union-backed group that hopes to get the attention of the Walton family and other shareholders who attend the meeting. The group wants the chain to publicly commit to providing full-time work with a minimum wage of $25,000 a year.

In remarks at meeting, Duke credited associates for the retailer’s financial strength and personally welcomed on stage several dozen associates who he said represented the significant range and number of job and career opportunities offered by Wal-Mart, which is the world’s largest private employer.

"No company provides more opportunity to more people to go from where they are to where they want to be than Walmart," said Duke. "Associates join Walmart for so many different reasons. When it comes to our careers, what we all have in common is that we started somewhere. What matters most is that we get the chance to go as far as hard work and talent will take us."

Duke also highlighted the company’s strong financial results, net sales growth at its operating segments, and management’s confidence in its long-term business strategies.

In his address to shareholders, Robson Walton defended the company’s integrity and the independence of its board.

"We have the finest board of any company," said Walton. "As board members, integrity, transparency and openness guide our decisions."

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