OPERATIONS

Sears hires former Brookstone chief executive to lead merchandising

BY Marianne Wilson

New York City — Sears Holdings Corp. hired Ron Boire, the former president and chief executive of Brookstone Inc. to lead its merchandising and retail stores for both the Sears and Kmart brands. Prior to Brookstone, Boire served as president, U.S. Toys, North America for Toys “R” Us from 2006 to 2009, where he was in charge of merchandising, marketing and operations

"We are in the midst of a transformation of our business, from top to bottom…," Sears CEO Lou D’Ambrosio said in a statement on Tuesday.

The appointment comes one week after Sears posted disappointing holiday sales results and decided to close as many as 120 stores.

"I understand the company’s challenges, but I am more persuaded by the company’s opportunities and strengths," Boire said about his new assignment at Sears.

Boire also worked as a global merchandise manager for Best Buy, and in an array of senior roles at Sony Electronics Inc.

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E-commerce survey: Amazon tops in holiday service; Gap lags

BY Katherine Boccaccio

Ann Arbor, Mich. — Survey results released Wednesday by customer experience analytics firm ForeSee found that Amazon has continued its trend of high customer service, while other online retail experiences suffered in 2011.

According to ForeSee’s annual Holiday E-Retail Satisfaction Index,
Amazon climbed two points to score 88 on the study’s 100-point scale, registering the highest score from any retailer in 14 consecutive studies.

Of the retailers measured in the survey, Gap.com and Overstock.com posted the largest declines in satisfaction, with Gap down 6% to 73 and Overstock down 5% to 72. Other laggards included buy.com and websites run by Sony and Toys “R” Us, ForeSee said.

The largest gain in satisfaction among retailers went to J.C. Penney, which rose 6% to 83 and put it in a tie for third place with QVC.com, Apple’s online store and VistaPrint.com. A score of 80 on the Index is the standard for excellence, according to ForeSee.

“Customer satisfaction is a leading indicator of consumer spending,” said Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee.

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Consumer Confidence rose more than forecast in December

BY Katherine Boccaccio

Washington, D.C. — The Conference Board report, released Tuesday, found that confidence among consumers rose to an eight-month high in December, increasing to 64.5 from a revised 55.2 reading in November.

The index reading exceeded all estimates in a Bloomberg News survey and was the highest since April.

Unemployment that dropped last month to its lowest in more than two years and the cheapest gasoline since February are prompting households to take advantage of discounts during the holiday shopping season. The improvement in sentiment may help sustain household purchases into the New Year.

“A large part of the problem in the economy is one of confidence, and to the extent that sentiment begins improving it would be a positive for growth,” Dana Saporta, director of U.S. economic research at Credit Suisse in New York, told Bloomberg. “There are still a lot of headwinds out there, including the continued decline in home prices.”

The median forecast of 69 economists surveyed by Bloomberg forecast the U.S. consumer confidence gauge would rise to 58.9. Estimates ranged from 52 to 63. The measure averaged 53.7 during the recession that ended in June 2009 and 98 during the economic expansion that ended in December 2007.

Other surveys have reflected similar gains in optimism. The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index improved to minus 45 in the period ended Dec. 18 from a reading of minus 49.9 the prior week, marking the biggest seven-day gain since January. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan index of consumer sentiment rose to a six-month high in December.

Holiday sales will rise 3.8%, compared with a 5.2% advance last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

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