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Key board members lack support of Walmart shareholders

BY CSA STAFF

The entire Walmart board was re-elected last Friday at the company’s shareholders meeting, but a substantial number of negative votes indicate some investors are not happy with long-time board members and key senior leaders.

Walmart said the 14 directors who stood for election at the meeting received affirmative votes from 87.77% of the 91.9% of the outstanding shares represented at the meeting, a figure which excludes abstentions and non-votes by brokers who did not receive voting instructions from shareowners. Dragging down the overall percentage were board members Chris Williams, company chairman Rob Walton, president and CEO Mike Duke and former president and CEO Lee Scott. A little more than 12% of shares voted were negative votes for Williams and Duke with roughly 10% voting against Walton and 8.3% against Scott.

However, these figures tend to understate the level of opposition when accounting for the fact that members of the Walton family control nearly 51%, or 1,675,463,892 of the company’s 3,292,377,090 shares outstanding as of April 1. The Walton family shares presumably were voted in support of the entire slate of directors.

Removing those shares from election calculations reveals a different picture of director support among shareholders whose last name isn’t Walton. The percentage of negative votes among non-Walton shareholders increased to 30.5% for Williams, 30.1% for Duke, 25.2% for Walton and 20.7% for Scott, based on calculations by Retailing Today.

The opposition is noteworthy because Walmart shareholders had a lot to feel good about in 2012. Walmart was one of the best performing Dow components, it boosted its dividend by a large percentage earlier this year and at the shareholders’ meeting the company re-authorized a $15 billion share repurchase program.

Despite the positives, discontent with key board members and Williams in particular, is fueled by the company’s protracted investigation in alleged violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and mounting expenses. Williams heads the Audit Committee overseeing the investigation that was launched in November 2011. He is chairman and CEO of Williams Capital Management and one of the company’s longest serving board members having joined the board in 2004. Only Walton and Scott have served on the board longer.

Last year, Williams was the most highly compensated director, receiving total compensation of $387,976 consisting of a $175,000 stock award and $60,000 retainer given to all board members. In addition, he received $25,000 for his service as chairman of the Audit Committee and an $85,000 bonus because the committee met 15 times last year and performed additional work in connection with the FCPA investigation.

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HSN Breaks Channel Barriers

BY Dan Berthiaume

HSN may have been a pioneer in using TV as a shopping channel, but the retailer is using emerging technology to become a much broader enterprise. As HSN CEO Mindy Grossman detailed during a keynote session at last week’s Internet Retailer conference in Chicago, this is not your mother’s HSN. Not by a long shot.

“We’re engaging consumers away from TV,” said Grossman. “There is a dramatic transformation of the consumer. They are being reshaped by technology, social networks and mobility.”

In response, Grossman said HSN no longer uses the word “channel,” but instead breaks down internal silos to offer consumers a boundary-less experience.

Delivering Customer Experience Across all Screens
“HSN offers a 360-degree network of experiences,” said Grossman. “We bring personalities, brands and products to life and engage the audience in a significant way. The differentiator is experience.”

A crucial part of providing this full experience to consumers is to put them in the center of what Grossman termed a “four-screen world” consisting of TV shopping, digital, mobile and TV entertainment media.

“We bring the story to life,” said Grossman. “We take content and real-time customer interaction and chat to provide the right content at the right moment.”

Grossman said HSN currently measures sales by the minutes on TV and wants to perform the same measurements for its digital sales in order to seamless offer curated, expanded assortments. (HSN’s overall customer base is 84% female and approaches 100% female in some categories.)

A Moveable Shopping Feast
Despite assumptions by some observers that the typical HSN shopper is an older, working class Caucasian who likes to shop via TV, Grossman said the average annual income of HSN customers is $69,000 and they are ethnically diverse, use all channels and are getting younger. For these reasons, HSN is taking a particular focus on mobile sales.

“We develop mobile first,” said Grossman. “More than 10% of our business is currently mobile. We recorded $167 million of mobile sales during 2012 and saw a 78% increase in mobile sales during the first quarter of this year. Mobile consumers are the youngest, most affluent and most diverse consumers.”

That’s Entertainment
Grossman said modern retailers are now longer no just competing with each other but with other entertainment options consumers have, such as video games, movies and TV shows. To stay competitive in this new entertainment-centric environment, HSN attempts to blend the lines between entertainment and retail.

“Events increase engagement,” said Grossman. “We will run a 24-hour food event or jewelry event. It creates an emotional trigger inside the consumer’s head. Social sales significantly increase during events, as do digital traffic and engagement.”

For example, HSN sells CDs while music artists such as Rod Stewart perform live from HSN studios. A new feature called HSN Lounge offers special live streaming of these musical events.

“Rod Stewart took live photos in the HSN Lounge and uploaded them to Instagram and Facebook,” said Grossman. “He also performed an extra song that was only available on Facebook and digitally. We sold 30,000 CDs in one hour.”

Grossman said HSN also uses Pinterest to curate products that tie into films and runs interactive “mega events” that sell promotional and themed goods in conjunction with the release of a new movie that include live appearances by Hollywood stars.

Games are Serious Business
HSN’s efforts to provide a complete entertainment experience also extend to games.
“Gamification is not just playing games,” cautioned Grossman. “Women age 30-45 are the largest users of casual games. Game play and shopping are actually very similar. There is the thrill of the hunt, achievement and reward sharing.”

HSN offers the HSN Arcade, which Grossman said is the first retail gaming platform. Consumers can play casual games while they watch live TV and engage with other omni-channel content.

HSN Arcade also lets customers take quizzes that help reveal their personal style preferences and see how their votes compare to the votes of other customers. In addition to providing engagement and reward, the quizzes provide HSN with a wealth of data they can use to refine and personalize assortments and promotions.

“HSN Arcade has had 128 million plays,” said Grossman. “Users visit the site twice as often and spend twice as much money. There are 700,000 regular users.”

HSN is not standing still with these transformational efforts. Grossman concluded her presentation by saying the retailer is trying to build an enterprise view of the customer where it can use analytics to anticipate exactly what a customer will want. HSN has been undergoing a systems transformation with IBM for the past three years and will launch the first phase of its enterprise view program this summer.

“Be as personal as you can,” advised Grossman. “Create passionate evangelists.”


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Retailers steel themselves for Superman reboot

BY CSA STAFF

Retailers are poised to benefit from the June 14 release of The Man of Steel and the extensive licensing activity connected to the latest Superman reboot. Warner Bros. Consumer Products has launched a broad, multi-category licensing program with a variety of global licensees to support the highly anticipated film.

Global toy licensee Mattel has unveiled a toy line which includes action figures, vehicles, play sets and collectible figures, highlighted by the fan-favorite and much-anticipated Movie Masters line, which features action figures that are supposed to bear a remarkable likeness to the film’s characters. Mattel will also introduce Man of Steel QuickShots, which the company states incorporates elements of flight and strength into the toy.

Global licensees such as Lego, with construction sets inspired by scenes from the film, and Rubie’s Costume Co., with a new line of Man of Steel-inspired costumes and accessories for both kid and adult fans, are also supporting the film.

“With a superhero as iconic and beloved as Superman, it is no surprise that fans worldwide are excited for Zack Snyder’s new vision of this classic story,” said Brad Globe, president, Warner Bros. Consumer Products. “We are thrilled to be a part of the phenomenon as we work closely with our licensees to offer fans a variety of products that bring Man of Steel to the world beyond the big screen.”

Additional toys, games and collectibles licensees benefiting from the film’s release include Thinkway Toys, with a full role-play line and interactive figures; Jakks Pacific, with a 31-inch collectible Superman figure and Cardinal Industries, with games and puzzles.

Sideshow Collectibles are offering statues, the Noble Collection are offering prop replicas, Neca are offering an 18-inch articulated figure; Funko are offering stylized plush and vinyl figures and Kotobukiya and SquareEnix are offering "high-end creations."

The roster of licensees includes a number of categories, ranging from apparel and accessories, to stationery and publishing. Perennial partner Bioworld is offering a line of Man of Steel-inspired apparel and accessories, utilizing a number of graphics and icons; high-end T-shirt label Kinetix is offering S-Shield T-shirts; New Era Cap Company is offering a range of hats; and Under Armour is offering high-end sportswear.

Man of Steel, a production of Warner Bros, is directed by Zack Snyder and produced by Charles Roven, Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas and Deborah Snyder. The film opens June 14.

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