FINANCE

Women’s specialty chain lowers Q3 guidance

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

As product and marketing issues continue to take their tolls on sales, J.Jill is adjusting its quarterly expectations.

For the third quarter ending on Oct. 28, the mall-based women’s specialty chain now expects to report total company comparable sales of -3% to -5%, with a moderate decline in gross margin as compared to last year. The company also now expects GAAP diluted EPS of $0.07 to $0.09, and adjusted diluted EPS of $0.08 to $0.10 for the quarter. This excludes approximately $0.6 million of non-recurring expenses associated with the retailer’s transition to a public company.

“We have experienced a lower than expected sales trend across both our retail and direct channels, and are updating our guidance for the quarter,” said Paula Bennett, president and CEO of J.Jill.

“We have been assessing the change in trend and have identified product and marketing calendar issues that are affecting traffic and conversion, and we are reacting quickly,” she added. “Given our long track record of consistent sales and earnings growth driven by a strong connection with our customers, we are very disappointed with our soft sales trend. I am confident in the actions we are taking to regain momentum and once again delight our customer with the product and service experience she expects from us.”

The company will provide its outlook for the fourth quarter and a revised outlook for the full fiscal year of 2017 when it reports third quarter results on Dec. 5.

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TECHNOLOGY

Shoppers expected to forego Black Friday lines this year

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

More shoppers across the United States intend to stay home this Black Friday weekend.

This was according to a new study from Market Track LLC. Based on the 1,000 U.S. shoppers that participated in the study, only 30% of respondents said they would shop in-store this Thanksgiving compared to the 50% that planned on ditching dinner in 2016.

Participation rates for Black Friday look equally dismal with only 40% of respondents expecting to brave the sales floor. While the outlook for in-store shopping this Black Friday weekend is bleak, respondents did say that Walmart will be their top destination for in-store shopping this holiday season.

With the bulk of consumers planning to stay home to feast on Thanksgiving, Amazon’s prowess in the online sector continues to grow. Over 80% of shoppers plan to shop at the retail e-commerce giant this year compared to 74% in 2016. Regardless of where shoppers make their online purchases, the majority believe that the best deals on the most popular holiday gifting items — electronics, TVs, and sporting goods — can be found online versus in-store.

Despite the sizable growth of online holiday shopping, social media still remains in the background. A mere 5% plan to look for sales and deals on social media sites, and only 21% plan to make purchases directly from platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.

“The decline in both store traffic and positive consumer sentiment toward Black Friday in-store events is well-documented. The battlefront has shifted to digital commerce, and that trend is only going to pick up steam,” said Ryne Misso, director of marketing at Market Track. “This holiday season, look for Black Friday to morph into Cyber Friday, where the top deals and unique shopping experiences will take place, perhaps first and foremost, online.”

Other trends to watch for this holiday shopping season include:

Fulfillment: Anytime, Anywhere: Technology has enabled shoppers to exist in a perennial “buy” state, and successful brands and retailers have become experts at seizing the moment of influence, whenever and wherever that may be. This holiday season, retailers must make the purchase easy whether a shopper transacts online, on their phone, in the store, on social media, or via other digital avenues, and they must present any and all methods of fulfillment to ensure that, no matter the shopper, the experience is seamless.

“Alexa, buy that TV for me”: Prime Day provided an early look into the direction of voice commerce, as Amazon educated Prime Day shoppers on how turn Alexa into their own personal shopper. Look for Amazon, Walmart, and Google to integrate voice commerce into their holiday shopping experience, offering deals that can only be unlocked by first stating “Alexa” or “Ok Google.”

Grocery as a differentiator?: Now that Amazon’s endless aisles are stocked with countless 365 products and other consumables, it only seems natural that their expanded assortment may play a role in holiday shopping. Need some game day snacks to go with that brand new flat-screen TV? Amazon may have you covered this holiday season by incentivizing holiday gift purchases with offers on food, beverage, and other grocery products.

Stores aren’t just for shoppers: Since when does going to the store mean you have to buy something? Retailers will prep their store locations to deliver an experience to shoppers this holiday season to ensure their traffic numbers keep pace. And we’re not talking sitting on Santa’s lap. Look for demos of the latest VR technology, taking drones for a test drive, tasting coffee from the latest counter-top barista, and much, much more.

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TECHNOLOGY

Amazon gives co-eds a break on Prime Student memberships

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Amazon introduced a new way to make Prime accessible to college students.

The online giant now offers a monthly payment option for Prime Student memberships. Available to all college students enrolled in two- or four- year colleges in the United States, Prime Student is $5.49 a month, after they complete a six month trial. While this new payment option is 50% discount off of the usual membership fee, students are still entitled to all Prime benefits without an annual commitment.

To join, enrolled college students must provide a valid .edu email address. Following a six-month trial, Prime Student will be 50% off, which equates to $5.49 a month with no annual commitment. Students also have the option to pay $49 a year for an annual Prime Student membership, Amazon said.

“Our new monthly payment option lets students enjoy the best of Amazon in a more flexible and simple way,” said Ellen Kinney, director of Prime Student, Amazon. “Whether it’s getting their favorite products with free shipping or streaming thousands of popular movies and shows, Prime student members can experience all the benefits of Prime.”

This is not the first time Amazon has discounted its Prime membership. In June, the online giant introduced a program that makes individuals participating in government assistance programs eligible for Amazon Prime at a discounted rate of $5.99 per month. The regular annual membership for Prime is $99 per year, or $10.99 a month for those who prefer to pay on a monthly basis. Similar to the new Prime Student monthly option, Prime members on government assistance have no annual commitment and they can cancel anytime.

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