Retail Sales Fall 1.1%
Retail sales fell 1.1% in November and October sales were revised downward to a 0.1% decline from the 0.3% increase first reported. Sales were up 4.1% from November 2019. The two back-to-back declines came after several months of growth. Home centers, grocers and internet retailers posted small gains, but most other categories fell. Core retail sales, which exclude automobiles, gasoline and sales at building and supply stores and food services and factor into calculations for GDP, inched up 0.1% in November after rising a downwardly revised 0.9% in October.
Holiday Sales Rise 2.4%
US retail sales rose 2.4% between November 1 and Christmas Eve compared with the same period last year, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracks online and in-store spending with all forms of payment. Online sales grew 47.2%, excluding sales of gas and vehicles. Overall sales were below the 3.2% to 5.2% growth forecast by the National Retail Federation (NRF). Retailers with robust ecommerce operations such as Amazon, Walmart and Target, did very well but analysts note that online sales are generally less profitable than in-store sales. Foot traffic to stores fell considerably, with traffic down 31.3% in the seven days leading up to Christmas Eve. In addition, consumers tried to shop in fewer stores, sending sales up in Big Box stores and down in independent specialty retailers. Traditionally, the holiday season is also the time when many stores attract new customers. Nearly 90% of customers polled by America’s Research Group in recent years said that when they try a new store for the first time, it’s often during the holidays. But this year shoppers reduced the number of stores they visited to four or five from the usual six to eight.
The Home Depot
THD closed on their acquisition of HD Supply, paying $8 billion to beef up THD’s existing MRO business. The acquisition will improve their product offerings and value-added service capabilities, add an experienced salesforce and give them an established MRO-specific distribution network throughout the US and Canada.
THD agreed to pay a $20.75 million fine for violating federal environmental rules for failing to follow regulations for lead paint use in home renovations. It was the highest civil penalty ever levied under the federal Toxic Substances Control Act. THD will implement system-wide changes to ensure that contractors who perform work in homes constructed before 1978 are EPA-certified and follow lead-safe practices. The violations came to light when customers in five states complained that contractors were not following lead-safe work practices. A spokesperson for THD said they are committed to lead safety and safe work practices. Use of residential lead-based paint was banned in 1978 but the paint is still present in many older homes and apartments across the country.
CEO Marvin Ellison introduced Lowe’s Total Home strategy during a virtual Investor’s Day conference in early December. Ellison said that Lowe’s is committed to offering everything a homeowner needs to provide “a total home solution” across all categories, including products and services for repairs and improvements for both DIY and Pro customers. He said that Lowe’s will cover all décor categories, including paint, as well as simple and complex installations. Ellison also vowed to grow market share by intensely focusing on the Pro customer, expanding their online business, modernizing installation services, improving localization efforts and elevating their product assortment.
Lowe’s donated and delivered $1 million worth of pre-lit Christmas trees to families and organizations impacted by the pandemic. Lowe's partnered with the NFL and nonprofits nationwide to deliver more than 13,000 Christmas trees to homes and facilities in need of extra cheer, from childcare and youth centers to first responder stations and nonprofit housing organizations.
Walmart is contracting with FedEx to launch a free service called Carrier Pickup by FedEx that will allow shoppers to return items by simply leaving them at their front door for a FedEx delivery driver to pick up. Customers start the process online, select a date for pick up, print out and attach a shipping label and leave the item for FedEx. The service will be available anywhere FedEx offers their small parcel pick-up service. With many people still avoiding stores and shopping online, the ability to return items without having to leave home is seen as an important advantage.
In early December, Walmart eliminated the $35 minimum purchase requirement for Walmart+ members to qualify for free shipping. Members will now receive free next-day and two-day shipping no matter how much they spend. Chief Customer Officer Janey Whiteside said that customers have been clear that they want this benefit. Walmart+ costs $12.95 per month or $98 a year.
Walmart gave their 1.5 million full-time and part-time employees in the US additional cash bonuses for the fourth time during the pandemic. Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, is following in the footsteps of Lowe’s, Target and Amazon. Part-time and temporary workers will receive $150 each, while full-time employees will receive $300. Walmart said they will pay out $2.8 billion in total cash bonuses to workers this year.
Walmart intends to acquire technology company JoyRun, which developed a peer-to-peer delivery app that allows users to request an order from a local store. If another user accepts the order, they can serve as a runner, picking it up and delivering it for a fee, or for free. JoyRun, which was established in 2015, has 30,000 runners and about 540 merchant partners. Both the team and the technology will become part of Walmart’s Supply Chain Technology team when the deal closes. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Walmart is being sued by the Justice Department for fueling the nation’s opioid crisis by pressuring WM pharmacies to fill even “suspicious” prescriptions for the addictive painkillers. Federal law requires retailers to spot suspicious orders for controlled substances and report them to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Walmart immediately issued a statement accusing the Justice Department of ethics violations and inventing a legal theory that turns pharmacies into middle-men between doctors and their patients.
Amazon announced that third-party sales on the Amazon marketplace rose 50% globally during the holiday season. Nearly all third-party sellers are small and medium-sized businesses, according to Amazon. Amazon says that they invested more than $18 billion this year to help the sellers on Amazon marketplace. They also spent more than $100 million on new promotional activities to help small businesses connect with customers beginning with Prime Day and continuing through the holidays.
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