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NRF: Expect modest increase in holiday retail sales

BY Allison Cerra

WASHINGTON — The National Retail Federation described the 2011 holiday season as "average," projecting that holiday sales will rise 2.8% to $465.6 billion.

While that growth is far lower than the 5.2% increase retailers experienced last year, it is slightly higher than the 10-year average holiday sales increase, according to Department of Commerce statistics.

“Retailers are optimistic that a combination of strong promotions and lean inventory levels will help them address consumer caution this holiday season,” NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said. “While businesses remain concerned over the viability of the economic recovery, there is no doubt that the retail industry is in a better position this year to handle consumer uncertainty than it was in 2008 and 2009.”

Additionally, NRF used its holiday forecasting model to create a projection for seasonal hiring in retail, forecasting that retailers are expected to hire between 480,000 and 500,000 seasonal workers this holiday season, up from about 495,000 seasonal employees hired last year.

NRF noted that it defines “holiday sales” as retail industry sales in the months of November and December.

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Walgreens adds text alerts to its refill reminder service

BY Michael Johnsen

DEERFIELD, Ill. — Walgreens on Thursday launched a text messaging refill reminder functionality that allows patients to complete prescription orders.

"We’ve driven strong adoption and customer engagement through our mobile applications, and these mobile pharmacy features are also great tools for helping people manage their health," Walgreens president of e-commerce Sona Chawla said. "This is another way we’re extending the access to Walgreens pharmacy to patients on the go and helping them stay well."

Pharmacy patients can sign up for refill reminder text alerts at any Walgreens pharmacy and also online at Walgreens.com/textalerts .

The service is free to mobile and smartphone users, standard data and messaging rates apply through wireless carriers.

Walgreens currently has more than 2 million subscribers for its Prescription Ready Text Alerts, which notify customers when a prescription order is ready for pickup.

The text reminder service may drive compliance, the pharmacy retailer noted. "Medication non-adherence is one of the biggest hurdles in treating illness today, responsible for more than $100 billion each year in avoidable hospitalizations," Walgreens chief medical officer Cheryl Pegus said. "Tools and personalized services that can help patients remain compliant with their prescription regimens can be effective in lowering healthcare costs and improving patient care."

Walgreens mobile applications, which recently received Webby Awards in the people’s voice categories of Best Integrated Mobile Experience and Best Shopping from a Mobile Device, now account for more than 25% of the company’s online prescription refills.

These applications feature Refill by Scan, which enables mobile users to order refills simply by scanning the barcode on a prescription bottle. They also have a prescription refills tab, where refills can be ordered by entering a prescription number, with in-store pickup available at any Walgreens store.


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Branded-to-generic shift impacts Fred’s September comps

BY Michael Johnsen

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Fred’s posted a 1% gain in sales, to $17.5 million, for the five weeks ended Oct. 1.

Comparable store sales for September increased 1.1%; comparable store sales were flat in the year-earlier month. The September total sales comparison was adversely affected by store-closing sales that occurred last year during the month.

"Our general merchandise departments performed well during September, highlighted by the strength of our Core 5 Pet and Household Supplies areas, as well as other consumable departments," Fred’s CEO Bruce Efird said. "Sales for the month were within our projections as strong customer traffic offset a lower average customer ticket. The ongoing brand-to-generic shift within the pharmacy department, however, continued to affect comparable store sales. Additionally, the timing of Social Security payments resulted in a sales shift from September to October. With sales for the first two months of the third quarter tracking within the projected range, we remain confident with our forecasted earnings for the quarter."

Fred’s total sales for the year-to-date period increased 2% to $1.2 billion. On a comparable-store basis, year-to-date sales increased 0.6%, versus an increase of 2.3% for the same period last year.

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