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Retail Roundup: L.L. Bean's duck boots, McDonald's mobile, Lowe's

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-- Maine retailer L.L. Bean says the duck boot is back in style, at least among fashion-conscious, trend-hungry college students around the country. This year, the nearly century-old outdoor apparel company sold about 400,000 pairs of the hunting boots -- which have hardy rubber soles -- up from 150,00 just four years ago, the Associated Press reported.

The boot is benefiting from a vintage fashion sense prevalent among college students, the AP said, and also new styles that updated the classic boot with bright pops of color (such as pink) for the spring. This would be the same sartorial flair that pushes flocks of teenagers to granny sweaters and thick, black-rimmed glasses.

-- Fast-food purveyor McDonald's is pushing more into the mobile space with a geo-targeted ad campaign touting its hot drinks. Inside the iPhone app for the music service Pandora, McDonald's put ads that can register the user's location and give information on the nearest McDonald's restaurant, along with photos of its hot chocolate and McCafe offerings. The ads also offer free holiday wallpapers downloads for the phone.

-- Home-improvement giant Lowe's Cos. acquired online home improvement retailer ATG Stores for an undisclosed amount. ATG will remain an independent subsidiary of Lowe's, with separate branding and merchandising, Lowe's said in a statement. No jobs are expected to be cut as a result of the acquisition.

"The addition of ATG Stores is a strategic fit, providing more opportunities for Lowe’s to be a relevant partner at every stage of the home improvement process and deliver better customer experiences from inspiration to planning to enjoyment,” Robert A. Niblock, Lowe’s chief executive and chairman, said in a statement.

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-- Shan Li

Photo: Rows of boots at the facility where L.L. Bean boots are assembled in Brunswick, Maine. Credit: Pat Wellenbach / Associated Press

Kimberly-Clark to launch 'designer' toilet paper roll covers

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Apparently, even toilet paper rolls can be fashionably dressed.

That's the rather whimsical tack taken by consumer products giant Kimberly-Clark Corp., which is launching a "spring line" of colorful covers to hold extra rolls and add pizazz to the bathroom.

The company tapped interior designer Jonathan Adler to be the creative brain behind the "collection" -- and the three designs bear his signature stamp of graphic prints combined with bold color (and fancy descriptions such as "chevron pink," "clover green" and "barjello blue").

The covers are meant to highlight a new version of Kimberly-Clark's Cottonelle toilet paper. The company's other mission: to "change people's point of view on toilet paper."

Adler was game, and said his passion lies with transforming mundane objects into "eye-catching conversation pieces."

"Until now, toilet paper has been a relatively untouched canvas," Adler said in a statement.

Those seeking a conversation piece for their loos can either order one for $3.99 at www.respecttheroll.com. Or just buy a specially marked package of Cottonelle toilet paper and pay $1.99 for shipping.

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Photo: New toilet paper roll covers from Kimberly-Clark. Credit: Kimberly-Clark

Three California Sears stores among 79 outlets to close nationwide

Sears
Three Sears stores in California are among 79 stores nationwide on the chopping block after a dismal holiday season forced Sears Holdings Corp. to retool its strategy.

Two Sears stores in San Diego and one in El Monte will be closed at a date yet to be determined. The Illinois retailer posted a list of 41 Sears and 38 Kmart outlets targeted for closure, the first wave of the 100 to 120 total stores that the company ultimately plans to shut down. The list can be viewed here.

Retail analysts believe that the company, which has suffered more than four years of sales declines, may be edging toward bankruptcy unless it takes drastic action to upgrade its stores and revamp its merchandise.

After domestic sales dropped 5.2% in the two months leading up to Christmas, the retailer announced a new strategy redirecting resources away from "marginally performing" stores and toward more profitable shops. The company said Tuesday that lackluster holiday sales coupled with rising costs will slash fourth-quarter earnings to less than half the $933 million it reported a year earlier.

Sears Holdings is controlled by billionaire financier Edward Lampert, who gained control of Kmart in 2003 and two years later brought Sears, Roebuck & Co. into the fold. As board chairman, Lampert has held down costs by cutting investment in stores and reducing product assortment, decisions that retail analysts say won short-term profits at the expense of long-term growth.

Sears shares fell 43 cents, or 1.3%, to $32.90 on Thursday.

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Photo: A Sears store in Niles, Illinois.Credit: Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Sears and Kmart closures: List of 79 stores is released

 

Sears store

This post had been updated below.

Struggling Sears Holdings Co., which controls the Kmart and Sears chains, has posted a list of 79 stores that will be shuttered after a disappointing holiday season.

The list of 38 Kmart and 41 Sears shops is not yet complete. Sears said that it plans to close between 100 and 120 stores in total.

Three California Sears stores are headed for closure, including two in San Diego and one in El Monte. No Kmart stores in the state were listed.

The store closings are part of a new strategy the company announced Tuesday of redirecting resources to profitable stores and away from underperforming stores.

"While our past practice has been to keep marginally performing stores open while we worked to improve their performance, we no longer believe that to be the appropriate action in this environment," the company said in a statement.

Retail analysts believe that the company, which has suffered more than four years of sales declines, may be headed to bankruptcy unless it takes drastic action to upgrade its stores and revamp its merchandise.

[Updated 1:52 p.m.: A list of store closings can be found here.]

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Photo: A couple walks into a Sears store on in Milford, Conn. Credit: Spencer Platt / Getty Images


'Beverly Hillbillies' actress settles lawsuit over Barbie doll

GetprevAn actress on the long-running "Beverly Hillbillies" television show has reached a settlement in a lawsuit with toy giant Mattel and CBS Consumer Products Inc. over a Barbie doll modeled on her features and using her character's name.

Donna Douglas, who played beautiful tomboy Elly May Clampett on the show, sued the companies alleging that she never gave permission for the Barbie, which sported a gingham shirt and her trademark pigtails tied with ribbons.

The companies counter-argued that they did not need her approval since they owned exclusive rights to the character.

A lawyer for Douglas told the Associated Press that a settlement had been reached. Although the terms were confidential, the lawsuit had originally asked for at least $75,000 in compensation.

Douglas played Elly May for the entire nine seasons of "Beverly Hillbillies," which ran on CBS from 1962 to 1971 and followed the comic misadventures of a poor family that moves to Beverly Hills after discovering oil on their land.

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— Shan Li

Photo: Donna Douglas, who starred in the television series "The Beverly Hillbillies," poses with a photo from the show in Baton Rouge, La. in 2009. Credit: Bill Haber / Associated Press

Last-minute shopping before Christmas lifted sales

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Procrastinating shoppers scrambling to buy gifts gave retailers a lift in the last days before Christmas.

Sales at stores open at least a year rose 4.5% last week compared with the same time last year, according to a weekly sales index from the International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs. That was also a 0.9% increase over sales the week earlier.

Last-minute buyers also turned online, where spending last week increased 16% to $2.8 billion compared with a year earlier, according to market research firm ComScore Inc. From Nov. 1 to Dec. 25, online retailers raked in $35.3 billion, a 15% bump over a year earlier.

"Holiday e-commerce spending has remained strong throughout the season," ComScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni said in a statement.

That spending continued into the holiday weekend, with online sales up 10% on Christmas Day and jumping 27.8% on the day after Christmas compared with the same days in 2010, according to a survey from IBM.

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-- Shan Li

Photo: A last-minute shopper leaves the Toys R Us flagship store in New York's Times Square on Christmas Eve. Credit: Mary Altaffer / Associated Press

Pepper spray, fights break out over Nike Air Jordan shoes

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Are Nike Air Jordan shoes, which retail for about $180 a pair, worth going to jail for?

Apparently some fans thought yes. On Friday, hordes of people lined up outside shoe stores across the country for the release of Nike's retro Air Jordans, with fights breaking out and at least one incident in which cops pepper sprayed unruly shoppers.

In Los Angeles, shoe enthusiasts quickly cleaned out the stock at the All Pro Athletic Shoes store, said manager Shirley Yu.

"We sold out in 10 minutes," Yu said. "We are a very small store and only got about 18 pairs. Those were gone in 10."

Yu said that new Air Jordan styles always sold well, especially around the holidays. The store let a few loyal customers know beforehand that the shoes had come in stock.

Bouts of frenzy erupted around the nation.

In suburban Seattle, about 20 people at a mall were pepper sprayed by police after the crowd waiting to buy shoes swelled to more than 1,000 by 4 a.m., Tukwila officer Mike Murphy told the Associated Press.

"Around 3 [a.m.] there started to be some fighting and pushing among the customers," Murphy said. "Around 4, it started to get pretty unruly and officers sprayed pepper spray on a few people who were fighting, and that seemed to do the trick to break them up."

Murphy said one man was arrested for assault for allegedly pushing an officer. "He did not get his shoes; he went to jail," Murphy said.

Near Atlanta, a swarm of customers took down the door of a store that had not opened yet to get to the shoes, the AP said. Authorities arrested at least four shoppers and later arrested another woman who left two toddlers inside a car while hunting for the shoes.

Violence breaking out during holiday shopping is nothing new. Remember the woman who pepper sprayed her competition at a Wal-Mart store in Porter Ranch on Black Friday? Authorities called it a fit of "shopping rage."

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Photo: Customers shop for bargains at a Target store in Glenview, Ill., on Friday. Credit: Tannen Maury / EPA

Online holiday shopping up 15% this year so far, ComScore says

A QR code is attached to a guitar for sale.

After a heavy week of online shopping, spending on e-commerce this holiday season is up 15% compared with the same period last year, according to research firm ComScore Inc.

From Nov. 1 to Dec. 16, American shoppers spent a total of $30.9 billion online, up from $26.9 billion during the same 46 days last year, ComScore said.

Last week was an especially busy time online as shoppers shelled out more than $1 billion on each of four separate days. Monday (Dec. 12) saw $1.13 billion in online sales. In second place was Friday, a.k.a free shipping day, with $1.07 billion.

This week "may see another strong day or two" of online sales, ComScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni said, but "it's clear that we have now reached the crescendo for this season and that spending will begin to slow as we get closer to Christmas."

Fulgoni predicted that the Monday after Thanksgiving, known as Cyber Monday -- which saw $1.25 billion in online spending -- probably would be the biggest online shopping day for the second year in a row.

The Internet has played an increasingly important role in the behaviors of consumers, who are increasingly turning to their computers and mobile devices to shop, and of retailers, who are scrambling to accomodate and attract increasingly tech-savvy shoppers.

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Photo: A quick response code, also called a QR code, is attached to a guitar at the EBay Christmas pop-up store in London on Nov. 29. Credit: Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg

Vogue magazine launches 119-year digital archive

American Vogue, the style bible for generations of fashionistas, has launched a digital archive that includes every page of every issue from 1892 to the present.

Containing about 2,800 issues, the database serves as both a fashion textbook and a chronicle of changing cultural tides. Witness the evolving covers over the last 119 years: the well-groomed "Gibson Girls" of the late 19th century, supermodel Twiggy as the iconic flower child in 1967 and Beverly Johnson, the first African American Vogue cover model, appearing in 1974.

The database is searchable by designer, brand, model or photographer. Type in "Chanel," for example, and it will bring up every ad, pictorial and article on the fashion house that has appeared within the glossy folds of the magazine.

That much information doesn't come cheap. An annual subscription is priced at $1,575.

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Photos: Vogue covers from June 2011, left, and April 1950, right. Credit: Conde Nast / Associated Press

Retail group raises holiday sales forecast as stores extend hours

Shoppers grab television sets at a store in Knoxville, Tenn., on Black Friday.


With just nine days to go until Christmas and shoppers out in force at malls around the country, the nation's largest retail group is raising its sales forecast for the holiday season.

The National Retail Federation predicted holiday sales to rise 3.8% to $469.1 billion, up from its earlier estimate of 2.8%. That's far below the 5.2% increase retailers enjoyed last year, but it's a step up from the 10-year average of 2.6%.

"After strong sales reports in October and November, along with a successful Black Friday weekend, retailers are cautiously optimistic that this season will turn out better than initially expected," said Matthew Shay, the retail group's president and chief executive.

Among the signs pointing to a decent season for retailers: Shoppers, on average, still have more than half their holiday buying left to complete, according to a survey by the retail group. Nearly 37 million people have not even started, the survey found.

That gives retailers hope that procrastinators will head to stores in the last week and a half before Christmas, and many are staying open longer in the last stretch before Dec. 25.

Starting on Wednesday, Macy's Inc. is planning to keep 14 of its stores open for a straight 83 hours. Toys R Us will keep all its stores open for 112 hours straight from Tuesday until Christmas Eve.

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Photo: Shoppers grab television sets at a store in Knoxville, Tenn., minutes after it opened Nov. 25. Credit: Wade Payne / Associated Press

Retailers brace for a flood of customer returns

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Retailers are bracing for holiday shoppers with second thoughts.

People who have already picked up gifts and accessories during the bargain blitz are already flocking back into stores to return them. For retailers this holiday season, that means handing back 9.9 cents for every $1 they rake in, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation. That's up from 9.8 cents last year and almost 2 cents more than before the recession.

Returns are especially costly for retailers during the Christmas season, because many make 25% to 40% of their annuals sales during the last two months of the year. Every penny counts.

Consumer electronics especially fall victim to buyer's remorse, reported the Associated Press. This year, retailers and gadget makers will probably shell out $17 billion repairing, repackaging, restocking and reselling electronics, up 21% from four years ago, the AP said.

Many shoppers are returning items for a simple reason, the report said. They just need the cash to get by.

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-- Shan Li

Photo: Jordan Camacho,10, right, browses the toy aisle with basketball player Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder and brother Josh, 9, left, during a holiday shopping spree Dec. 13. Credit: Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press

 

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