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So long winter. Retail sales spring up in March

BY CSA STAFF

Warmer spring weather spurred continued consumer spending and activity this March. According to the National Retail Federation, March retail sales, which exclude automobiles, gas stations and restaurants, increased 0.8% adjusted month-to-month and 1.6% unadjusted year-over-year.

“Consumers shed their winter coats last month for fresh, spring merchandise,” NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Retail sales increased in most categories and sectors as consumers took to stores to purchase new spring attire and home furnishings in hopeful expectation of warmer weather. Sales should continue to remain positive this spring with the approach of Easter and expected tax refunds.”

Earlier this month, NRF’s Easter Spending Survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics reported that the average American consumer will spend $137.46 this Easter holiday on clothing, candy, gifts and more, with total spending reaching $15.9 billion.

March retail sales, released today by the U.S. Census Bureau, which include categories such as automobiles, gasoline stations, and restaurants, increased 1.1% seasonally adjusted month-to-month ($433.9 billion). The Census also reported that retail sales increased 3.8% adjusted year-over-year.

“Improving economic conditions and consumer confidence should push consumers to return to spending habits this spring,” NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “Consumers released some pent-up demand in March after two consecutive months of harsh winter weather that not only hampered employment opportunities but also retail sales. We remain optimistic that retail sales will continue their positive march this spring.”

Additional findings from NRF’s retail sales report include:

  • Building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers stores’ sales increased 1.8% seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and 6.2% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Clothing and clothing accessories stores’ sales increased 1.0% seasonally-adjusted month-to-month yet decreased 2.3% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Electronics and appliance stores’ sales decreased 1.6% seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and 2% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Furniture and home furnishing stores’ sales increased 1% seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and 1% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • General merchandise stores’ sales increased 1.9% seasonally-adjusted month-to-month yet decreased 0.2% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Health and personal care stores’ sales increased 0.3% seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and 4% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Nonstore retailers’ sales increased 1.7% seasonally-adjusted month-to-month and 8% unadjusted year-over-year.
  • Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores’ sales increased 0.3% seasonally-adjusted month-to-month yet decreased 5.5% unadjusted year-over-year.

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Omnichannel beauty brand Julep’s social media strategy pays off

BY CSA STAFF

Founded in 2007, Julep is a fast-growing omnichannel beauty brand that takes a social approach to product development. The brand, which is perhaps best known for its monthly beauty box delivery program, has raised $30 million in Series C financing.

New investors Azure Capital, Madrona Venture Group and Altimeter Capital, as well as existing investors Andreessen Horowitz and Maveron, participated in the round. The new investment brings Julep’s total venture funding to $56 million.

"Julep combines tech savvy, a next-generation distribution model and beauty industry know-how in one fast-growing package," said Mike Kwatinetz, general partner of Azure Capital Partners. "It’s the only beauty brand to truly leverage crowdsourcing and social feedback to create new makeup and skincare products."

The new funding comes at a time of tremendous growth for the company, which saw revenues from e-commerce sales triple in 2013. Julep will use the new funds to continue its rapid pace of e-commerce innovation.

Leveraging crowd-sourced product development, Julep says that it brings products to market 10 times faster than traditional beauty brands. Julep invites customer feedback via online focus groups, real-world brainstorming sessions, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest — and then integrates this feedback into the development process to launch more than 300 nail polishes, skincare products, color cosmetics and beauty tools per year.

“Julep has truly figured out how to deeply engage women where they already are — social, mobile and Web — and leverage those channels to bring customers into the product innovation process,” said Julie Sandler, principal at Madrona Venture Group. "You simply don’t see this anywhere else in the beauty category, and Julep’s customers are certainly responding. We are excited to support Jane and her bold vision to build the world’s most vibrant, powerful beauty brand.”

Unlike traditional beauty companies, Julep embraces technology development concepts like A/B testing, iterative processes, and agile development for laser-efficient product creation. In May, Julep will release The Plié Wand, a first-of-its-kind nail polishing tool created and funded by Julep customers that promises to revolutionize the at-home manicure experience.

“As an early investor, we’ve witnessed first-hand the incredible vision CEO Jane Park has brought to this one-of-a-kind e-commerce company, and we’re thrilled to re-invest in Julep’s future,” said Jason Stoffer, partner at Maveron. “Julep is one of the only consumer companies that really understands the omnichannel model, driving incredible sales growth via a mixed e-commerce, subscription, and retail model.”

"The retail industry is in the midst of huge creative disruption, and e-commerce companies that leverage software and big data to transform the shopping experience are the ones that will survive and thrive," said Jeff Jordan, partner at Andreessen Horowitz. "The global brands of tomorrow will be built online, and we’re thrilled to back a trailblazing company that’s bringing innovation to the enormous beauty market."

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Samsung Electronics appoints SVP, customer service

BY CSA STAFF

Samsung Electronics America has appointed Rajiv Mehta as SVP of its customer service division.

Since joining the company in 2011, Mehta has been responsible for all customer operations in the United States including its call center, field and depot operations and warranty administration. Mehta also oversees the company’s Quality Assurance Lab.

“Rajiv’s expertise and knowledge have been invaluable assets to Samsung’s customer service efforts in the United States,” said Tim Baxter, president of Samsung Electronics America. “Samsung is committed to delivering world class customer service, and we look forward to his continued contributions to the organization.”

According to the company, Mehta has played an integral role in implementing online resources and tools that offer various channels for consumers to learn about products and their features, troubleshoot issues and receive live support.

Prior to joining Samsung, Mehta led sales and business development for Sears Home Services. Before that, Mehta specialized in supply chain management, sales and service in various parts of the world including the United States, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa for Motorola Mobility.

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