REAL ESTATE

More of the Most Wonderful Time

BY Jeff Green

If it feels like summer just ended, that’s because it did: the first day of fall was Sept. 22. But you can bet your bottom dollar that retailers aren’t going to let a little thing like the calendar get in the way of moving forward with their holiday plans. In fact, if the recent spate of depressing economic news is any indicator, this year some brands might literally be betting their bottom dollar on the anticipated holiday sales boost. I feel like I say this every year, but it does seem as if retailers are rolling out their holiday paraphernalia and promotions earlier than ever. From Christmas ornaments to holiday marketing materials, the holiday shopping season is already making its presence known.

To me, this year is a bit different in some respects. The summer was a disappointment, and back-to-school numbers were underwhelming almost to the point of being alarming. I talked about this in more detail in my last column, but the fact that second quarter numbers were so weak almost across the board has prompted many retailers to significantly scale back their projected earnings for the remainder of the year. In that context, the early move to pivot to holiday mode makes a bit more sense: retail has been in a lull, and it’s only natural to move on to a traditionally lucrative period.

I wouldn’t at all be surprised if more than a few brands have decided that, since they already have all of their holiday inventory and promotional materials stockpiled and ready to go, why not roll it out a little early? It will be interesting to see when the print and television ad campaigns are released; it wouldn’t surprise me to these come out earlier than usual, as well.

This raises a couple of important questions. First, will it work? On one hand, it’s not exactly a massive paradigm shift — the holiday shopping “season” has been trending earlier for years, if not decades. The issue however, is not if retailers are ready, but if consumers are ready. In a relatively soft economy, at a time when parents are just getting their kids back to school, are people really ready to start their holiday shopping? I’m not sure, but I admit I’m a little skeptical. I don’t see any real signs of pent-up demand or any real reason to think that shoppers are primed ready to start spending enthusiastically anytime soon.

The second big question is, how does all of this factor in to holiday season projections? It’s early still, but there are (unfortunately) some reasons for pessimism. In addition to the ongoing economic sluggishness, even the calendar itself isn’t in retailers’ corner this year! Last year there were 32 days and five full shopping weekends between Black Friday and Christmas. This year, on the other hand, has just 26 days and only four shopping weekends. That’s a massive difference, and that fact alone could have a big impact on the final holiday tally. When you factor in international tensions over Syria and possible fall congressional showdowns over the budget and the debt ceiling, the overall economic narrative doesn’t seem too rosy. This is all speculative, of course, but it does seem like we might have a tougher time than usual getting all of the ingredients together for a happy (and lucrative) holiday shopping season.

Normally in a year like this, I’d forecast a small-to-modest gain over last year’s holiday season retail numbers, somewhere in the neighborhood of 1%-3%. But one less weekend basically negates that, and, at this point, I think I’d put my money on a season that comes in essentially flat. If the current trends hold, I’ll actually be surprised if we manage to eke out a 1% increase over last year. What would that kind of disappointing outcome mean for retailers and retail real estate? For some brands, it might make them rethink (or at least slow down) some of their mid- to long-term expansion plans. Plans for 2014 are already well underway, so any downstream impact would be felt in portfolio decisions made for 2015 at the earliest.

What’s on your holiday shopping list this year? More to the point, have you even made one — or even started thinking about making one? How do you see the impact from an early start? I’d love to hear your feedback about the holiday shopping season, and what your plans might be in the weeks and months ahead. Leave a comment below or contact me at [email protected] to keep the conversation going.


Click here for past columns by Jeff Green.

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OPERATIONS

Sears Canada CEO resigns; appoints COO as new chief executive

BY Dan Berthiaume

Toronto – Sears Canada CEO Calvin McDonald has resigned to take a position with an unnamed international company. The retailer named COO and executive VP Douglas C. Campbell as president and CEO.

As COO, Campbell was responsible for retail store operations, logistics, replenishment, IT, corporate procurement, and international sourcing. Prior to joining Sears, Campbell was a principal with Boston Consulting Group and also an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.

"I am excited about the opportunity to lead a company with such a great brand and history, and to continue to improve the performance of Sears," said Campbell. "I am eager to move us forward, to work closely with our management team and to continue to engage our customers and our 25,000 associates to better serve families and communities across Canada."

Canadian press reports indicate McDonald disagreed with parent company Sears Holdings about how quickly money was being spent to fund Sears’ turnaround effort.

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OPERATIONS

Walmart launches online ‘Get on the Shelf’ reality series

BY Dan Berthiaume

Bentonville, Ark. — Walmart is launching its first-ever original reality series developed for the web. The new weekly web series highlights 20 finalists in the Walmart Get on the Shelf contest, which lets entrepreneurs present products to Walmart customers.

Each week, four different finalists will showcase their product in an effort to gain public votes and get their item sold on Walmart.com, and possibly in Walmart stores. The five weekly "webisodes," which go live on Tuesdays from Sept. 24 through Oct. 22, feature a group of finalists under the same theme, such as Kid Stuff or Great Gadgets. The webisodes give viewers a chance to learn more about the entrepreneurs behind the inventions and watch as they pitch their product to a panel of Walmart.com judges.

After each weekly webisode, voters have 72 hours to cast their votes for the winner, who will have their product sold on Walmart.com. A grand prize winner will also be selected based on the number of preorders of the product, and will receive additional support marketing from Walmart.com plus an introduction to the Walmart stores’ merchandising team to potentially be sold in Walmart stores.

"Get on the Shelf celebrates the resilient and tenacious spirit of American entrepreneurs, many of whom have been working hard for a big break like this," said Kelly Thompson, senior VP of merchandising for Walmart.com. "The web series creates more exposure for finalists to share their inspiring stories, which makes for captivating reality TV that’s also interactive since American consumers can vote for the next great product at Walmart.com."

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