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31
Jan-18
Wednesday

SFG assessing bid from Gary Perlstein’s consortium

4
Specialty Fashion Group is on the market again, assessing a bid from Gary Perlstein’s consortium.  If successful, this would take the company private, making the repair job easier.  The Group suffered a loss last year and announced its intention to close as many as 300 stores.  It would be interesting to see what strategy and resources Gary would deploy to make the shift back to profit.
30
Jan-18
Tuesday

Zara tests concept click and collect London store

5
The Independent in the UK reported that Zara has opened a temporary shop in London that focuses on click-and-collect services, including returns and exchanges of online purchases. The store will stay open while the nearby flagship undergoes renovations.  Could this be an interesting, general idea for other retailers?  A brick and mortar customer service counter for e-commerce?

Electricity prices double in Victoria and SA

8
The Australian reported today that electricity prices in South Australia and Victoria doubled over the last 12 months.  This impacts everyone, including retailers.  Some are being hurt badly, if they need refrigeration or freezers to run their business.  The state governments still haven’t learnt that when you reduce supply below the demand (by closing power stations), the rules of basic economics cut in, driving prices up.  To add insult to the injury, the expensive power is also increasingly unreliable, as South Australia and Victoria shift further towards intermittent energy sources.  
29
Jan-18
Monday

US weaning off imported Chinese products

5
Bloomberg reported that Chinese companies are experiencing greater difficulties in getting their products to the US market.  We did suspect that post Trump’s election the US will be making it progressively harder for Chinese goods to come to the US, to wean the country off its current dependency on Chinese products.

IKEA explores IA to connect with customers

5
The New York Times commented that technological innovation has allowed Sweden-based furniture retailer IKEA to “explore options for using artificial intelligence and virtual reality to connect with consumers”.  Whatever this means…  The NYT quoted IKEA’s CEO Jesper Brodin saying that "like most retailers, we don't know exactly where we will land at the end of it but our curiosity and willingness to create will be a guide for us." Doesn’t strike us like a solid base for investment.

Walmart aims to cut 1000 employees by 2019

5
According to Bloomberg, Walmart trimmed between 400 and 500 head office jobs.  "We've been looking at our structure for some time as we explore ways to operate more effectively," Walmart said in a statement.  They aim to remove a total of about 1,000 people by 2019.  Our maths indicate that these are strange moves.  1,000 people at (even) @ 100,000 USD per annum equates to a mere $100 million.  Compare this to the billions of dollars Walmart spends on their computer systems and you have to wonder whether the staff had to be cut to pay for the gold-plated computers.

Will the Chinese economic miracle fade?

7
Oxford Analytica pointed out that in 2002 there were Communist Party groups in 17% of foreign-funded enterprises in China. Today 70% have Party groups.  Clearly, the Chinese government prefers to have Soviet-style control over private enterprises, rather that free market dynamics and creativity.  It looks like the Chinese economic miracle will be gradually fading…  Senior management duality caused massive issues in the Soviet Union, why wouldn’t it do the same to China?

Steven Mnuchin has more punch than Trump

5
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin implied in Davos that he preferred a weaker dollar, but President Trump countered this with a subsequent comment that he wants to see a strong dollar.  Today 1 AUD buys you 81 US cents, so it seems that Steven has more punch than Donald.
26
Jan-18
Friday

US complains about unfair trade

6
The International Monetary Fund official gave credence to US complaints about unfair trade, urging the rest of the world—and in particular China—to take note.  Distortive trade practices and massive trade imbalances cause issues in multinational relations and internally.