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Watch out – busy holiday buying is all the buzz

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Faw, Larissa            Larissa Faw

RESEARCH from financial organization Merchant Cash USA reveals that businesses across America are optimistic that their 2015 holiday sales will be better than sales in 2014, the company says.
A total of 67 per cent of small businesses that are currently Merchant Cash clients report growth in 2015, it says, adding that the growth indicates higher sales, increased employee numbers and product launches.
The company says an upswing in the US economy is continuing and that the nation’s small-business owners are certainly hopeful it will translate into holiday sales this year.
It claims they expect their holiday sales to spike this month and next by anywhere from 25 to 40 per cent above the November and December totals for last year.
They’re about to find out – holiday shoppers stick to their plans, routines and resources, says the nation’s largest privately owned media agency, Horizon Media. Altogether, 61 per cent will do the majority of their holiday shopping online, up from 58 per cent last year, it says.
Nearly one in four – 23 per cent – will use mobile devices to buy gifts, up from 20 per cent in the past two years.
A similar number – 19 per cent – of respondents to a company survey plan to do some of their shopping through social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, an interesting and increasing new avenue for purchases.
And among the few iWatch owners, 1.5 per cent plan to make their Christmas-gift purchases using their smart watches.
Meanwhile, 50 per cent of shoppers say they buy gifts for themselves when shopping for others, a figure that’s up by seven percentage points from 2014, says financial consultant Deloitte.
Super Bowl tix
Online stock-trader TD Ameritrade is giving away free Super Bowl tickets through a contest called Most Confident Fan.
The company is using IBM’s Watson computer system to analyze participants’ faith in their favorite teams through their Facebook or Twitter profiles and to assign a confidence score based on their posts or tweets.
Throughout the regular season, competition entrants are able to increase their scores by sharing content each week. The fans with the highest scores on December 15 will be eligible to win gift cards or tickets to Super Bowl 50.
Print shopping
The magazine People is branching into e-commerce with People Shop at shop.people.com, featuring exclusive products born from partnerships with brands like Frends headphones and Julep eye-shadow.
There are also sunglasses from Quay and earrings from BaubleBar, which can be found in a People gift box inspired by television’s singing contest The Voice.
It seems the venture is not all about business, though. Each month People Shop includes a charity component called For A Good Cause.
Virtual flight
International low-cost airline Virgin America is allowing travelers to test drive their flight before they take off – thanks to Google Street View.
As the first major US commercial airline to touch down on the Google Maps service, Virgin is treating its passengers to a 360-degree interactive tour onboard the aircraft they can fly to any of its 22 destinations, including Austin and Dallas and three in Mexico.
Digital print
Thirty per cent of subscribers to Time Inc periodicals such as Sports Illustrated, In Style and Time magazine now sign up digitally rather than use those printed insert cards.
In-store shops
The partnership between major retailer JCPenney and makeup specialist Sephora continues to exceed expectations, so the department chain is accelerating its growth of in-store Sephora locations.
In the third quarter, JCPenney opened five more, bringing its total Sephora openings in 2015 to 28 and the total number of its in-store Sephora locations to 519.
Downscale
Luxury brand Burberry is struggling because its Asian and upmarket shoppers are scaling back on their shopping. As a result, the company is expanding the number of its lower-priced items and heavily promoting its iconic merchandise, particularly its cashmere scarf.
Burberry is also fast-tracking its monogrammed Runway rucksack, which it introduced at its September show. The style sold out within 24 hours on the company’s made-to-order service and the brand has introduced a waiting list to meet the demand.
The first deliveries will now take place in mid December, two months ahead of Burberry’s original schedule, with distribution to stores globally beginning in early January.
Seedless
Agricultural products seller S&W Seed’s Australia harvest was lighter than anticipated this year and now it appears that yields in the USA are lower than expected as well.
The net effect is that S&W is short on stocks of many of its highest-margin varieties. That portends a supply-and-demand problem and, consequently, higher priced seeds for farmers.
Party’s over
Sales at celebration supplies chain Party City are down this year because the phenomenon caused by last year’s animated-cartoon film Frozen created an anomaly in the party business.
Although the company’s consumers generally use its stores to purchase goodies in connection with a specific celebration or party, last year’s traffic included shoppers with a different motivation, thanks to the box-office hit.
Moms wanted to buy products incorporating Frozen images and themes because of the popularity of the film and not necessarily because they were having a celebration.
Unfortunately for Party City, the phenomenon is not being repeated this season.
Inflated wings
People still love eating at El Pollo Loco but its prices are too high, according to the fast-food chain’s research.
So EPL is taking action to reengage its more value-conscious consumers. During the third quarter, the company launched a $5 pollo bowl combo available with four new pollo bowls for a limited time and also reintroduced its $5 combo menu. Now it’s checking to see whether the idea has taken flight.

Urban taste for pants ’n’ pizza
APPAREL retailer Urban Outfitters is challenging Papa Murphy’s. After operating two successful in-store cafés, the retailer is acquiring the Vetri Family group of restaurants to execute a vision that includes an expanded Urban Outfitters store with several food-and-beverage concepts, including Pizzeria Vetri and Michael Symon’s Burger.
The store and the restaurants are clustered around an open area courtyard that offers restaurant seating and a stage for special events and concerts.
And this month the Urban brand is launching a project called Space 24 Twenty in premises across from its University Of Texas Austin campus. The project includes two restaurants, food trucks, an artists’ market and an expanded Urban Outfitters with a bar.

Larissa Faw covers business trends for Forbes, The Motley Fool and other financial websites. She can be contacted at larissafaw@gmail.com.

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