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Only time will tell what gas prices will do to retailers

BY Alaric DeArment

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT — Gas prices are one of the American economy’s biggest Achilles’ heels, thanks to the high percentage of Americans who depend on automobiles for travel. Thus, retailers have good reason to feel uneasy when gas prices start to rise, and it makes sense that those operating gas stations would offer discounts on fuel as a way to entice customers to their stores.

(THE NEWS: Walmart helps customers save at the pump. For the full story, click here)

According to an April poll in Drug Store News, 92% of respondents — out of a total of 401 — said retailers likely would lose trips if gas prices went above $5 a gallon this summer. And last week, a report by SymphonyIRI found that 4-in-10 consumers were forced to completely eliminate trips to their preferred retailers because of rising gas prices, with many choosing retailers closer to home.

Of course, nobody can really predict what gas prices will do. In fact, they might even be falling. According to the Department of Energy, the average price for gas hit a peak of about $3.97 per gallon during the week of May 9, but it has been declining steadily since then, reaching $3.57 as of June 27. Last year, prices stayed between $2.68 and $2.78 between June and September, compared with a peak of $2.91 in May.

The Obama administration’s decision to release some of the country’s oil reserves will probably help keep gas prices down a bit. In addition, Bloomberg reported that consumer confidence rose to its highest level in 10 weeks as falling gas prices provided consumers with some relief amid a job market still contending with 9.1% unemployment.

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Changing Channels — FakeTV, Philips incandescent lightbulbs and Simply Naked unoaked wine

BY Alaric DeArment

Chill out, chihuahua
Stress and anxiety among pets can lead to all kinds of negative emotions, but Rescue Remedy Pet offers a quick and easy solution.
Price: $15.55 to $18.95
RescueRemedy.com/Pets


Incessant wining
Constellation Wines has introduced Simply Naked, the country’s first lineup of unoaked wines. The collection includes 2010 vintages of pinot grigio, merlot, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon.
Price: $9.99
SimplyNakedWines.com


Medicine for Edison
Lighting gets an upgrade with Philips’ new halogen incandescent light bulbs, which reduce energy use by at least 28% and are mercury-free.
Price: $2.29 to $2.99
Lighting.Philips.com/us_en/products/ecovantage


Smart idiot box
Burglars will think twice before entering a house when FakeTV makes them think they see the pulsating blue light of a television.
Price: $34.95
FakeTV.com


Shampooch
Most pets dread bath time, but John Paul Pet’s Awapoochi makes the experience easier with the awapuhi plant’s moisturizing properties.
Price: $11.99
JohnPaulPet.com

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Navigating the multichannel universe with WAG

BY Michael Johnsen

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT — Somehow, someway, Walgreens will be the first to figure out how to beam a prescription right into a patient’s medicine cabinet "Star-Trek" style. Because as sure as the chain’s e-commerce president Sona Chawla is to Walgreens as Scotty is to the USS Enterprise, Walgreens is moving at light speed in monetizing and capitalizing on multichannel retailing. And the chain hasn’t even got its multichannel engines really revved yet.

(THE NEWS: Walgreens rolls out Web pickup to Chicagoland stores. For the full story, click here.)

(THE NEWS: Walgreens implements Chicago Hometown Investment Initiative. For the full story, click here.)

Here Walgreens isn’t only creating a convenience play as a value-added bonus for being a loyal Walgreens consumer; they are literally staking a Walgreens retail banner wherever their consumer happens to be at the time. And more and more, she’s online seeking out the best deals and making her shopping lists.

According to a recent survey released by SymphonyIRI Group, list making and coupon clipping still are top of mind for consumers as they struggle with high gas prices and question their job stability. Additionally, the survey uncovered that consumers are turning to the Internet to find the best deals. And as many as 8% of consumers are using the Internet to make lists, SymphonyIRI found.

And now Walgreens has created a tool whereby a shopper can create that list and pay for everything on that list all online and just before leaving work, after which they can pick it up on the way home at their convenience. Walgreens is even developing a curbside program where those tech-savvy consumers won’t have to get out of their cars. I’m telling you, the next phase of this program is going to be teleportation. OK, beaming over a prescription refill still may be a little sci-fi fantasy-ish, but don’t think Walgreens is done innovating in the multichannel space. Not by a long shot, because the company also last week announced they will soon hire more than 300 technophiles in order to fully capitalize on multichannel retailing.

With these new hires, Walgreens will be bolstering its dedicated workforce against its e-commerce, information technology and other support areas. The expansion comes shortly after Walgreens completed its acquisition of Drugstore.com, a strong online business that better positions Walgreens as “the most convenient multichannel retailer of health and daily living in America.”

With all of this, you don’t have to be a Trekkie to see that Walgreens is bravely navigating the multichannel universe.

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