OPERATIONS

Judge rejects class-action claim against Wal-Mart

BY Dan Berthiaume

Bentonville, Ark. — Judge Charles R. Breyer of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has ruled against a request by plaintiffs in a gender discrimination suit against Wal-Mart who were seeking certification of a class-action suit against the mass merchandise giant. Referring to a 2012 Supreme Court decision about limitations on class-action suits, Breyer ruled that the individual situations of the plaintiffs are too different to be grouped into a single class-action suit.

“Plaintiffs’ proposed class suffers from the same problems identified by the Supreme Court, but on a somewhat smaller scale,” Breyer wrote in his decision. “Indeed, it is revealing that there is no particular logic to the precise scope of the class Plaintiffs now propose. They picked three corporate regions covering a smaller area than the rejected national class, but nothing in Plaintiffs’ evidence shows that those three regions are actually different from any other Wal-Mart regions along any relevant dimension. Rather than identify an employment practice and define a class around it, Plaintiffs continue to challenge the discretionary decisions of hundreds of decision makers, while arbitrarily confining their proposed class to corporate regions that include stores in California, among other states.”

This decision is the latest blow against female employees who have been trying to file a gender discrimination suit against Wal-Mart since a compliant was initially filed in 2001. That complaint was later classified as a class-action suit for more than 1 million Wal-Mart employees across the country but was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2011. Plaintiffs have attempted to refile the suit as class-action litigation at state level in several states, with a rejection in Texas in October 2011.

“Walmart has had a strong policy against discrimination in place for many years and we continue to be a great place for women to work and advance,” the retailer said in a press release. “The allegations from these five plaintiffs are not representative of the positive experiences that hundreds of thousands of women have had working at Walmart.”

Attorneys for the plaintiffs have not yet commented publicly.

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Facebook Video Ads: Boon or Bane for Retailers and Consumers?

BY Dan Berthiaume

Facebook is taking another step toward monetizing its vast audience of plugged-in consumers with the planned introduction of paid video ads. As reported in numerous media outlets, Facebook intends to launch 15-second video ads that will play in a user’s newsfeed three times per day for as much $2.5 million per spot.

That approaches the $4 million cost of a 30-second TV ad during the Super Bowl earlier this year, although as other observers have pointed out Facebook’s global membership of 1.15 billion favorably compares with the billion viewers around the world regularly claimed (and sometimes disputed) for the Super Bowl.

So will Facebook video ads prove to be a boon or a bane for retailers and their customers? The answer may not be so clear cut.

Boon
As I wrote about in last week’s column, video is rapidly evolving into a separate channel for consumer engagement. Video is a natural fit in an ultra visual medium such as the Internet and has proven extremely popular with the public. Video ads offer retailers a natural way to bridge online and TV advertising campaigns. The price is expensive, but Facebook’s high user totals and engagement levels are undeniable.

Bane
Video ads will reportedly play silently until (and unless) users click on them and will not play more than three times a day. There is no compelling evidence that click-through rates on video ads will surpass generally anemic click-through rates on other types of online ads, although as always careful targeting can play an important role. Social media and the Internet are replacing TV to varying degrees for many consumers (especially advertiser-coveted Millennials), so the wisdom of blurring the line between Facebook and TV may be questionable.

And the verdict is…

No clear verdict here. Based on reported cost, obviously only larger retailers with deeper pockets will experiment with Facebook video ads, so to some extent if you can afford it, you can probably afford the risk. Moving beyond cost, it seems that Facebook video ads may prove most valuable for two dissimilar types of retailers – mass merchandisers and purveyors of specialized products that already heavily use social media marketing. Let me explain why.

Mass merchandisers have an audience that skews older and broader than most other retail niches and thus will likely be receptive to advertising that reminds them of promotions they receive in the traditional TV medium. Their customer base is also less likely to use social media for its “cool” capabilities and more likely to use it as one more way of obtaining information.

The other type of retailer I mentioned, let’s call them “hipster” retailers for lack of a better term, probably already knows a great deal about their Facebook fans and how to effectively target them. As a result, hipster retailers will be uniquely positioned to craft the right video content and send it to the right Facebook consumers at the right time.

Given the company’s overall track record, video ads will likely become a permanent part of the Facebook landscape once they are launched. But they may prove less effective than hoped and evolve into something very different than what they started as. Unless you are a retailer with a very large marketing budget or a tradition of social media innovation, you may want to let a few pioneers establish the proving ground for video ads on Facebook.


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Small businesses gain social, mobile ground

BY CSA STAFF

CHANTILLY, Va. — Small businesses are increasingly embracing mobile and social platform to improve their operational efficiency and promotion, according to the latest findings from local media consulting company BIA/Kelsey’s “Local Commerce Monitor” tracking survey.

Mobile payments, particularly, are gaining significant traction with small businesses. Of those surveyed, 40% confirmed that they now accept payments at the point of sale with a mobile credit card reader attached to a smartphone or tablet (PayPal Here, Square), and another 16% said they plan on adding the capability within the next 12 months.

Small businesses are also turning to mobile to get customers in the door. Of those surveyed, 32% stated that they are using some form of mobile advertising to promote their businesses, up from 28% in 2012.

"Mobile continues to make impressive inroads into the small business market, as both a marketing vehicle and as an element of the business infrastructure," said Steve Marshall, director of research, BIA/Kelsey. "A closer look at the data shows adoption of mobile and social varies across small business industry sectors. The LCM data reveals professional and home and trade services are embracing mobile in a big way, with service providers essentially becoming walking point-of-sale terminals."

Nearly three-quarters of SMBs surveyed — 72% — indicated that they are using social media to promote their businesses. In addition, 52% of SMBs surveyed have a Facebook page for their business and 25% have a Google+ Local page.

"Together, mobile and social tools are transforming the way SMBs acquire and retain customers." added Marshall. "With the heavy use of social media, small business marketing is quickly becoming a two-way engagement rather than a one-way promotion."

Many small businesses gave themselves high marks on their level of social engagement. When asked how "engaged" their businesses are with their customers on social media (e.g., responding to online comments, regular blogging or tweeting, regular updating of their Facebook page, offering a loyalty program), 66% stated they are "extremely engaged" or "very engaged."

BIA/Kelsey will present these findings at its upcoming Leading in Local: SMB Digital Marketing conference, which takes place Sept. 11-13, in Austin. The latest developments and opportunities around mobile and social solutions for small businesses will be woven throughout the conference, and in particular during keynote addresses and panel sessions featuring:

Matt Baker, head of small business partnerships, Facebook (Keynote)

Russ Laraway, senior director, small business, Twitter (Keynote)

Vikas Jain, head of business development, Google/Wildfire (Keynote)

Seth Priebatsch, CEO, LevelUp (Keynote)

Zorik Gordon, CEO, ReachLocal (Keynote)

Raj Kapoor, senior director, local and mobile advertising, Microsoft

Surojit Chatterjee, head of global mobile search, Google

James Price, VP, digital, Dex Media

Local Commerce Monitor is BIA/Kelsey’s ongoing tracking survey of small and medium-size businesses conducted online with research partner Ipsos. The survey measures where small businesses are spending their advertising and promotional budgets and how their media usage and spending habits are evolving. For this study, a small business is defined as a business having from 1 to 99 employees. Local Commerce Monitor draws its sample of business respondents from a mix of nationally scoped metropolitan statistical areas, which include first- and second-tier markets. Local Commerce Monitor Wave 17 was conducted in July 2013 via an online survey of 568 SMBs.

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