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February retail sales show biggest gain in four months

BY Allison Cerra

WASHINGTON — U.S. retail sales rose 1% in February to $387.1 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Friday.

This marks the biggest sales gain in four months, the government agency said, with sales also being 8.9% above the year-ago period. Digging deeper, grocery store sales saw a 0.5% gain from January and rose to nearly $41.8 million, while health and personal care stores experienced a 0.3% decline from last month, dropping to $21.4 million.

Although advanced estimates for pharmacies and drug stores are not included in the report, the U.S. Census Bureau noted sales for the sector dropped to $18.9 million from $21 million in December 2010.

Commenting on the advance sales report, the National Retail Federation’s president and CEO, Matthew Shay, said the sales reflected improved consumer sentiment as it relates to sales. “Retailers have done a commendable job keeping their inventory levels where they need to be, while still offering attractive promotions for those who are eager to spend,” Shay said. “The big challenge retailers will face in the coming months, however, will be going head to head with high cotton, food and energy prices.”

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Walmart makes multichannel move with same-day service

BY Mike Troy

BENTONVILLE, Ark. — An online order and same-day pickup service will be expanded to all Walmart stores beginning this month, the company announced.

The “Pick Up Today” service allows shoppers who make a purchase online to pick up their merchandise within about four hours if the order is placed before 6 p.m. Orders placed after that time are available for pickup the next day before 10 a.m.

“We’ve seen strong customer response from initial tests of ‘Pick Up Today,’ and we’re pleased to expand the program,” said Steve Nave, SVP and general manager of Walmart.com. “Walmart is uniquely positioned to combine the power of e-commerce with our national retail footprint to offer a leading, multichannel experience that delivers the best savings and convenience to our customers.”

In conjunction with the national rollout, product categories eligible for the program have been expanded and will include roughly 40,000 items from such categories as baby, toys, home decor, hardware, outdoor living, electronics, household appliances and video games.

The initiative is the latest development in a multichannel strategy that has been in the works for more than five years. That’s how long it has been since the company first introduced its Site-to-Store service, which offers free delivery to stores of goods ordered online. The service has been a big win for Walmart because it is able to sell merchandise to shoppers that aren’t normally available in stores, and goods usually are available for pickup within four to seven days. While customers are the beneficiaries of the free delivery, the advantage from Walmart’s perspective is that they tend to spend additional dollars when they pick up their order.

With Site-to-Store and Pick Up Today, Walmart is leveraging its existing store base, but an even more intriguing opportunity exists with a pilot program that allows online customers to have their orders shipped to a FedEx store location for pickup. The test program is designed to appeal to customers in select metro markets who don’t have convenient access to a Walmart store.

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Magnacca’s role at WAG expands

BY Allison Cerra

DEERFIELD, Ill. — Walgreens has expanded Joseph Magnacca’s role at the drug store chain by appointing him president of daily living products and solutions.

In this capacity, Magnacca — the former Shoppers Drug Mart vet, who as chief merchant of Duane Reade proved instrumental reinvention of New York City’s homegrown drug chain, converting the stores to the talk of the industry behind a series of major enhancements — will oversee Walgreens’ marketing and merchandising operations, led by chief marketing officer Kim Feil and chief merchandising officer Bryan Pugh. Magnacca’s expanded role will unite the aforementioned operations to help enhance and carry out the company’s strategy to be America’s first choice for health and daily living.

Feil and Pugh also will help with Walgreens’ transformation to better cater to the evolving needs of its customers and patients.

Meanwhile, Magnacca, who now reports directly to Walgreens president and CEO Greg Wasson, will continue to lead the integration of the Duane Reade drug stores, Walgreens noted.

“We are bringing together and raising the profile of one of the strongest teams in retail to lead our marketing and merchandising efforts and enhance our daily living products business, much as we have already enhanced our pharmacy, health-and-wellness services and solutions business,” Wasson said.

“Joe’s exceptional strategic market focus, combined with the leadership, experience and expertise that Kim and Bryan have brought to our marketing and merchandising operations, means we are now better positioned than ever to meet the daily living needs of our customers," Wasson added. "In addition, the creative innovations and improvements that Joe brought to Duane Reade will now benefit and be extended across our entire organization.”

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