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Credit Suisse: Safeway may be exploring strategic alternatives

BY Michael Johnsen

NEW YORK — Credit Suisse on Tuesday speculated that Safeway may be considering either a sale or acquisition. 

"The news around Safeway has been curiously slow in recent months, but the upcoming earnings report could shed some light on the company’s next step," suggested Credit Suisse research analyst Ed Kelly. "While the quarter could disappoint given industry trends, the absence of a debt tender, lack of any sign of a meaningful share repurchase, no detail on the fast approaching analyst meeting and management’s low visibility with investors generally suggests it may in fact be exploring strategic alternatives," he wrote. "Safeway received $4 billion in proceeds from its Canada sale in early November. Its stated use was for debt reduction and share repurchase, yet there has been no debt tender and volume on the stock suggests any repurchase activity has been minimal."

Kelly also noted that a shareholder meeting has been scheduled for early March, but that no detail on that meeting has been provided. "We may be thinking too hard on this one, but the lack of activity is certainly curious given the potential for strategic action," Kelly concluded. 

Kelly speculated that an outright sale to Cerberus/Kroger would be the best-case scenario for investors. However, Safeway could be considering the acquisition of certain Cerberus assets. "Don’t laugh, but a Safeway acquisition of Cerberus assets could also make sense," Kelly suggested. "It would accomplish the same result as a sale of Safeway to Cerberus while providing a cleaner, more efficient exit strategy for the private equity firm. The upside to shareholders would be driven through the creation of large synergies, higher earnings power, and the benefit of Cerberus influence/alignment. While complicated and full of questions, we believe the stock would ultimately react well to this alternative."

 

 

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IBM: Valentine’s Day online shopping shows strong growth

BY Dan Berthiaume

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Overall online shopping rose 8% during the week before Valentine’s Day compared with the same period in 2013. Growth was particularly strong in the categories of gifts (up 20%), apparel (up 17%) and health and beauty (up 15%), as well as department stores (34%) compared with the previous year.

Key drivers of this year’s Valentine’s Day shopping rush (Feb. 7 – Feb. 13) include mobile traffic accounting for 36.8% of all online traffic, up 39.6% compared to the same period in 2013. Mobile sales also remained strong at 17.2% of all online sales, up 42.9% from 2013. Smartphones drove 23.3% of all online traffic compared to tablets at 13.3%, making it the browsing device of choice.

When it comes to making the sale, tablets drove 11.4% of all online sales, twice that of smartphones, which accounted for 5.6%. Tablet users also averaged $135.26 per order, compared to smartphone users, who averaged $114.00 per order.

As a percentage of total online sales, iOS was more than four times higher than Android, driving 13.6% compared to 3.4% for Android. On average, iOS users spent $132.28 per order, compared to Android users who spent $110.54 per order. iOS also led as a component of overall online traffic with 24.6%, nearly twice that of Android users at 11.9%.

And looking at social influence, shoppers referred from Facebook averaged $125.24 per order, compared to Pinterest referrals, which drove $147.74 per order. However, Facebook referrals converted sales at 3.5 times the rate of Pinterest referrals, perhaps indicating stronger confidence in network recommendations.

 

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Study: Top five social media trends for retail

BY Marianne Wilson

SEATTLE — Pinterest will emerge as a stronger alternative to Facebook and Twitter, according to global research and analytics firm Blueocean Market Intelligence. The company analyzed the online data of the nation’s top 100 retailers from September through December 2013 as part of its ongoing study assessing the business impact of top retailers’ social media efforts.

Based on the analysis, Blueocean Market Intelligence predicts the following top social media trends for the retail industry in 2014:

  1. The traditional shopping experience is evolving as more consumers move online. While the holiday season still provides many opportunities for shiny marketing promotions and campaigns, digital advances have changed the game. Retailers have more flexibility on how and when they approach customers. Last year’s Black Friday was not just limited to Friday – retailers offered deep discounts days before to gain more customers. Increased competition and customers’ lack of patience with crowds and long lines will continue to push them online, away from brick-and-mortar storefronts.
  2. Pinterest will emerge as a stronger alternative to Facebook and Twitter. During last year’s holiday season, Twitter referrals experienced the most growth with a 24% increase year over year, followed by Pinterest (17%) and Facebook (12%). While Facebook led the battle among social influencers in the online space, Pinterest emerged as the top social channel for “top of the funnel” advertising with its fast-growing referral traffic and higher conversion rates.
  3. Successful retailers will integrate omnichannel communications. Cementing an omnichannel strategy will continue to be crucial, and online-plus-mobile will equal strong sales. According to the Adobe Digital Index 2013, consumers shopped 40% more from their smartphones this past holiday season than in 2012. Retailers that identify opportunities to create a more a seamless experience with consistent communications across all platforms, as well as improved inventory and transparent pricing, will create a more fulfilling experience for customers.
  4. Content marketing will increasingly rely on social media to drive engagement. Brands will move away from a one-way content marketing push, instead leveraging social media to drive engagement, timely conversations and personalized customer interactions. However, 2014 will also bring a shift from text to more visually oriented elements such as video and pictures, affecting data storage requirements and even broader types of content. Organizations that want to harness data from social intelligence will need to acknowledge unstructured data and determine how it can be converted and made relevant for today’s business strategies.
  5. Social shopping will become a reality. Social media engagement has traditionally focused on customers in the consideration phase of the purchase cycle. However, we can now expect companies to launch greater social shopping initiatives by leveraging virtual currencies such as Bitcoins. Social shopping will not just occur on independent platforms, but will be integrated into social platforms. With a quick click, share or Tweet, customers will be able to purchase a product or service, impacting how organizations track their logistics, customer verifications and inventory management.

“In 2014, we can expect to see increased adoption of next-generation, interactive social technologies that will help retailers gain deeper customer insights and identify new market opportunities. Digital marketing strategies will be more holistic in nature to enhance customer engagement and increase sales, not only during the holidays, but throughout the entire year,” said senior VP Anees Merchant.

 

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