REAL ESTATE

Report: Bloomingdale’s May Return to Dallas

BY CSA STAFF

Dallas, Bloomingdale’s might be returning to Dallas, according to a report in Women’s Wear Daily.

Bloomingdale’s has been on a growth pattern for the past several months, and Dallas is reportedly on the brand’s radar for future expansion, the WWD report said. Phoenix and Seattle also were mentioned as potential sites.

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REAL ESTATE

Spotlight on Union Voting

BY Richard Berman

Labor leaders have a moral victory, while business doesn’t seem to even know there’s a fight.

Most of the retailers I’ve met with around the country haven’t heard of it. Jack Welch recently cautioned his peers that they were sleepwalking into disaster. The AFL-CIO’s John Sweeney vowed to make its passage inevitable by 2009.

It’s the Orwellian concept named Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). It’s bad news for businesses and their employees. And it’s alarming how few opinion leaders have taken notice, despite a trial run of EFCA making it all the way through the House and to the Senate before a filibuster put it into temporary remission.

Desperate to prop up its dwindling membership rolls, the AFLCIO has called on Congress to scrap industrial democracy. EFCA would allow unions to force their way into the workplace using a petition-like process called “card check,” instead of the traditional private-ballot election for employees. If EFCA becomes law, employees will have no opportunity to express their unionization preferences in a voting booth. Instead, if they would normally vote “no,” they must refuse to sign a union card in front of labor organizers.

It’s easy enough to envision how this “voting” would be bad for employees. In organizing drives where it’s been used in the past, countless workers have testified to being intimidated, coerced and deceived into signing cards that give unions access to businesses where they are unable to win actual elections.

When The Orange County Register reported on the unionization of a health network’s nurses in Southern California, several nurses wrote to complain that when they signed cards they were never told they were being signed up for a union.

Business can’t afford to relax simply because EFCA didn’t make it through the Senate this time. Warning shots aren’t supposed to hit their targets.

What I can’t square is why a business world obsessed with vision and leadership has not demonstrated much of either in the face of a massive union power grab. It doesn’t take much of a visionary to see that even if EFCA didn’t become law this year, 18 months from now may be an entirely different story. And it doesn’t take a PR pro to understand that the retail industry’s position must be publicized now, before ill-informed public opinion can solidify in labor’s favor. Several surveys have shown that, when educated about this attempt to hijack elections, Americans (even those in unions) overwhelmingly support keeping the secret ballot.

If Americans don’t learn now, they will in a couple of years, when organizers start cornering employees at offices, shops and factories—not to mention their homes—to get their very public signatures on union authorization cards.

If an over-the-horizon view of this issue isn’t enough, retailers should consider their current obligations. The corporate world owes its shareholders and its employees more than a passive attitude. Union work rules can kill a company’s stock value faster than you can say “Bethlehem Steel” (I should know, I was a labor lawyer there). And no employee deserves to have dues money forced out of his paycheck just because a union managed to twist enough arms.

For purely selfish reasons, retailing leaders might also fear the disruptive effect the Employee Free Choice Act would have on their jobs. It would make CEOs into labor negotiators, CFOs into contract lawyers and current HR directors into retirees.

Organized labor’s passion for getting this law passed is the elephant in the room: Ignore it at your own risk.

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REAL ESTATE

Mobile Moves In

BY CSA STAFF

M-commerce is already booming in Asia and parts of Europe. While the United States has been gun-shy about committing to the process, tech-savvy retailers are getting a head start stateside.

Currently, there are 230 million wireless subscribers in the United States, and it is no secret that these consumers are relying on their mobile devices for more than mere phone calls. If the iPhone hype last month is any indication of what is to come, retailers are beginning to understand that they need to be ready.

“It’s a marketplace that has exploded overseas and one you can’t ignore here,” said Joe Domek, director of e-commerce for TicketsNow.com, Crystal Lake, Ill. “It’s extremely cost-effective for getting traffic and the brand out in front of new eyes.”

Ticketsnow.com has been selling tickets to sold-out events since 1999, but it recently extended its e-commerce functionality to the mobile environment. However, some mobile browsers have sluggish speeds and operational problems that could deter consumers.

To avoid this issue, Ticketsnow.com turned to Seattle-based mPoria’s flagship service GoMobile!, a solution that allows retailers to build their own mobile-shopping site. Using a cell phone or mobile device, shoppers can research, compare prices and purchase brand-name products directly from the palms of their hands.

“People have their cell phones with them 24 hours a day,” Domek said. “So instead of waiting for a customer to get to a computer, we can be always readily available to them.”

Ticketsnow.com may not be seeing an overwhelming response yet, but it’s steadily growing, Domek said.

“We’re not focusing on the conversion rate right now; we want to be a leader in this landscape,” he said. “We also haven’t had a massive marketing campaign out there, so a lot has been happening organically.”

Ultimately, the company wants to be considered a “mobile concierge” that can offer all ticket information to customers. It also plans to send text-message alerts and coupons to key demographics through regional-targeting solutions.

“We are going to take it as far as the platform lets us,” Domek said. “We like to live by the idea that if something works, we are going to throw all of the money at it. If it’s good eating, we’ll eat all we can.”

Ticketsnow.com isn’t the only one helping itself. Realizing that its consumers are likely to have devices that allow them to surf the Internet, GameStop of Grapevine, Texas, is also testing the m-commerce waters.

GameStop’s EBGames.com site, maintained by mPoria, allows consumers to view its catalog, access site information, pre-order and shop. GameStop also has a reformatted checkout interface for mobile devices. Instead of forcing shoppers to thumb-in cumbersome shipping information, the interface automatically pulls up the user’s address through her phone number. Credit-card information is not stored for security reasons.

John Brittel, VP of e-commerce and direct marketing at GameStop, said that the company’s main initiative is to drive sales to the store.

“E-commerce is exciting, but the immediacy of driving customers to stores is amazing,” Brittel said.

“In the gaming industry, it’s all about getting the product as soon as possible,” he said. “While that is a disadvantage of e-commerce in general—a delay due to shipment—we want to get the customer into the store to close that sale right away.”

GameStop is also exploring how to initiate product reservations, notifications and availability functions. It plans to beef up its search capabilities and add a feature that sends item recommendations to friends, too.

In the meantime, GameStop is learning how its m-consumers shop.

“Like our e-commerce site, a lot of our traffic is research-based. They are inquiring about pre-releases and when products hit stores,” Brittel said. “What we found in the mobile category is that there seem to be more inquiries about catalog purchases—those looking for niche games— rather than pre-release products.”

Now that the iPhone is setting a new foundation for the future, m-commerce could be on the horizon for more retailers nationwide.

“I think it’s eventually going to meet up with traditional in-store shopping,” Brittel said.

“We are channel-agnostic, but given our limited resources, we have to prioritize the technology and services we adopt,” he said. “This offers us the marketing and revenue opportunities that puts us in front of our competitors.”

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