Retail

Andrew Hill

With scent and skincare giant Coty’s $10bn bid approach for Avon Products, the descendants of Johannes Benckiser have put Bart Becht straight back to work.

Lady Gaga’s first perfume 'Monster', made in conjunction with Coty, is due to be released this year. Image by AFP/Getty

Lady Gaga’s first perfume 'Monster', made in conjunction with Coty, is due to be released this year. Image by AFP/Getty

Mr Becht stepped down last summer as a highly acclaimed (and paid) chief executive of Reckitt Benckiser, the listed household goods and personal care group in which private family company Joh A Benckiser has a 15 per cent stake. By November, with the applause of Reckitt’s investors still ringing in his ears, he had stepped in to chair another Benckiser holding – unlisted Coty, the biggest fragrance company in the world, with perfume brands from Calvin Klein to Lady Gaga’s forthcoming ‘Monster’.

For all the soft-focus marketing of Coty’s products, Mr Becht’s “Dear Andrea” letter to his Avon counterpart Andrea Jung is as direct as the sales pitch for his former employer’s popular Cillit Bang grime-cleaner. The Dutchman writes:

We were surprised and disappointed that Avon’s Board of Directors has no interest in a discussion to explore our acquisition proposal…. We do not understand how your Board’s unwillingness to discuss our proposal can serve the best interests of Avon’s shareholders.

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KFC tempura chicken strips get progressively spicier, the deeper you penetrate inland China. Iglo’s frozen fish fingers used to have four different colours of breadcrumb, depending where you bought them in Europe.

Andrew Hill

Luxury goods companies increasingly seem to inhabit a parallel universe.

Many ordinary shopkeepers – at least in the recession-blighted west – are grappling with slumping sales, falling share prices and the threat of bankruptcy.

In the US, in an effort to offset worse than expected post-Thanksgiving trading, many stores caused confusion, according to the New York Times, by bringing forward “Super Saturday” – a day of pre-Christmas discounting – to December 17. In the UK, the bleak outlook for the likes of HMV, Peacocks and Blacks Leisure, is a symptom of what one analyst forecasts will be the worst Christmas for a decade.

Contrast that gloom with the great expectations of the luxury brands. On Wednesday, Mulberry announced it would appoint Bruno Guillon, a director of Hermès, the high-end French company, as its next CEO. He’ll lead the UK bagmaker’s push into Asia. The group’s shares added another 3 per cent, having risen 60 per cent in the past year. Read more

John Gapper

Whoever thought up Amazon’s latest idea for squeezing other retailers – offering money off to people who scanned prices in US stores with its smartphone app and then bought the goods on Amazon – deserves an award for bad timing.

John Gapper

J.C. Penney, the department store chain, has pulled a fast one by nabbing Ron Johnson, head of Apple’s retail stores as its next chief executive.

The runaway success of Apple’s stores, despite early predictions that they would go the way of other capital-intensive efforts by product manufacturers to reach consumers, have prompted many imitations but none have worked as well. Read more

John Gapper

The changes to director remuneration at Tesco following a shareholder rebellion last year are sensible enough. The interesting thing is the line they draw between entrepreneurial risks and rewards, and what directors of big companies should be paid. Read more

John Gapper

I’m intrigued by McDonald’s move in Europe to replace some cashiers by introducing touchscreens on which customers can order their own food because it is a practice that could be introduced more widely in retail outlets and restaurants.

My reaction stems from having noticed that I prefer to use self-scanning machines at a local supermarket rather than go to the aisle where items are scanned by a cashier. I find it generally quicker and easier to scan them for myself. Read more

My first reaction to Best Buy’s closure of its nine branded stores in China was: not again. Another retailer had leapt into the Chinese market – and fallen on its face.

Andrew Hill

I asked Sir Terry Leahy to bring to his video interview with me this week – his last as Tesco’s chief executive – an object or picture that represented a “personal turning point” for him. My heart dropped when word came back from the supermarket chain’s HQ that he’d be bringing a Clubcard.

Sure, this sliver of plastic tells the retail group more about shoppers’ preferences and habits than any opinion poll ever could. But we know what the discount-voucher card tells Leahy about us; would it tell us anything about Leahy? Read more

When creative stars explode, they do so with a more spectacular bang than the average sufferer from a midlife crisis.

Christian Dior this week fired John Galliano, its 50-year-old chief designer, for allegedly making anti-Semitic remarks to a couple in a bar. He denied the claims but it seems that he told others in the same bar: “I love Hitler” and that their forefathers would have been “gassed” – a video of Mr Galliano slurring those words was published by The Sun.

John Gapper

I am struggling to believe in Groupon, which Google is reported to be considering buying for $5.3bn, making it the company’s largest acquisition. Despite Groupon having some social media trappings, and being profitable, it feels oddly old-fashioned.

Groupon amasses groups of users to take part in mass one-off discounting programmes by retailers – hence the name. In the US, where coupon-clipping is still popular, despite the power of Wal-Mart’s “every day low prices”, it grown very rapidly. Read more

John Gapper

Mickey Drexler, the ebullient chairman and chief executive of J. Crew, has done well out of private equity and will probably do so again. Mr Drexler, who would be integral to the $3bn buyout offer for J. Crew, was first recruited to the clothing company by Texas Pacific in 2003.

As New York Magazine recorded five years ago: Read more

John Gapper

Over-expansion is something that bedevils many public companies, particularly retailers. Under stock market pressure to keep growing rapidly, they lose the quality that originally set them apart.

That has been a problem for many companies, including McDonald’s and Starbucks. It also led to the firing of Mickey Drexler, the former chief executive of Gap, in 2002. Mr Drexler has now made an impressive return to form at J.Crew. Read more

John Gapper

This Wednesday turns out to be the 35th anniversary of the introduction of those machine-readable stripes now found on every packet and tin in every store.

Here is a brief history of the Universal Product Code according to GS1 US, the organisation responsible to administering (and updating) the system: Read more

John Gapper

Another day, another Kindle press conference. Here I am again at a New York launch event for a new Amazon device, only three months after the arrival of the Kindle 2.

This time, Jeff Bezos of Amazon has just enthused about the Kindle DX, which sounds like a small car but is in fact a large screen version of the Kindle electronic paper reading device. Read more

John Gapper

Supermarkets in the US are more reliant on branded products than their counterparts in Europe, which have bigger selections of private label goods. But the recession is being treated by US retailers as a chance to have another go with private label.

Wal-Mart has relaunched its Great Value private label brand and I had an interesting chat today with executives from 7-Eleven, the Japanese-owned convenience store chain, which is trying to do the same thing with its 7-Select private label brandRead more

John Gapper

This is not exactly news, but I note it anyway. I have just been walking through SoHo in New York at the start of what should be one of the busiest shopping weeks in the year, leading up to Christmas (and Hanukkah).

In practice, the streets were easy to walk around and I would say that fully half of the shops had Sale notices in the windows, several advertising up to 50 per cent off some goods. That does not bode well for retailers’ holiday sales. Read more

John Gapper

Black Friday indeed. The annual Friday after Thanksgiving tradition of teaser sales in US shops claimed a victim today when a Wal-Mart employee at a suburban New York store was trampled to death by bargain-seekers.

Elsewhere, someone filmed a crowd fighting over the last Xbox 360 at another Wal-Mart store (via Drudge). Read more

John Gapper

US supermarket chains are following their German and British counterparts in discovering the joys of small stores in cities. Both the New York Times and the FT have stories today about Wal-Mart and others following the example of Tesco’s neighbourhood stores.

There are good reasons why the neighbourhood grocery chain, which has been pioneered by Aldi’s US chain Trader Joe’s as well as Tesco’s Fresh & Easy chain in California, could pay off for US supermarkets.

As the Times article points out, there is an awful lot of pointless variety in the typical US supermarket, driven by the tendency of branded food companies to make 57 varieties of everything. Read more

John Gapper

I don’t think I have ever encountered a visual joke in a supermarket display before but I came across one yesterday in the Whole Foods Market in the Bowery in New York.

In the middle of the vegetable section, amid the onions and shallots, there was a basket full of quails’ eggs. They were the sort of same shape and colour as the items around them but they were also weirdly out of place. It felt like an absurdist work of art. Read more