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Retail sales soften but indicate step in ‘right direction’

BY Allison Cerra

WASHINGTON — U.S. retail sales slowed during the month of April, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday.

U.S. retail and food services sales for the month, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $408 billion, an increase of 0.1% from the previous month and 6.4% above the year-ago period. Retail trade sales were up 0.1% from last month and 6.1% above last year.

Looking across retail categories, adjusted sales at grocery stores during the month of April increased about 0.5% to roughly $47.3 billion. Health and personal care stores saw a slight decline to nearly $23.3 billion. Retail sales for drug stores and pharmacies were not recorded; however, sales experienced a slight drop from February to March (about $19.2 billion).

Commenting on the results, the National Retail Federation said while sales softened in April, it also marked 22 consecutive months of retail sales growth.

"Though consumer spending softened in April, retailers overall have seen solid sales growth so far this spring, a positive indicator we’re heading in the right direction," NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said. "With 22 straight months of sustained retail sales growth, retailers are optimistic as they gear up for the all-important summer shopping season."

Added NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz, "The expected shortfall in April retail sales reflects the seasonal shift in consumer spending at this time each year. With Easter a full 20 days earlier this year and unseasonably warm weather, consumers started spending as early as February and March on everything from spring apparel to newly-released electronic items."

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GMDC General Merchandise Conference draws near

BY Michael Johnsen

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Global Market Development Center will host its 42nd annual General Merchandise Conference in approximately three weeks in Orlando, Fla., the association announced Monday. Running June 1 through June 5, GMDC is expecting more than 900 attendees for the front-end show.

GMDC again will feature its Preview (Sample) Box, which boasts 115 entries this year. The Preview (Sample) Box allows suppliers to submit one or more of their newest products, proven-best sellers or any item they wish to highlight, to be mailed to attending GM12 Retailers. Retailers recently have received their 2012 Preview (Sample) Box for GM12 and now are previewing the items, GMDC noted.

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Oracle survey: Social media users have higher expectations for customer service

BY Marianne Wilson

REDWOOD SHORES, Calif. — A "live help" feature, detailed information about products and services, and access to personal account information are the three most important features consumers expect to find at a company’s website, according to an annual survey by Oracle.

The report, "Consumer Views of Live Help Online 2012," found that social media users have exceptionally high expectations for online support: More than half of Twitter users worldwide expect a personal response within two hours of tweeting a question or complaint. And 51% of Facebook users expected a same-day response to questions or complaints posted via the social media site.

Oracle surveyed more than 3,000 consumers worldwide regarding their use of customer service channels including call centers, live chat, click-to-call and email.

It also noted that as consumers spend more time online, they rely more on live help: Half of consumers worldwide browse and research products online daily, nearly double the number reporting daily habits in 2009. Consumer use of online customer service also is on the rise, as 50% consumers use live help compared with 37% in 2009.

"Whether the customer visits the company’s commerce site or social media page, there must be a clear link to a customer service person that is informed and able to help," Oracle Retail SVP and general manager Mike Webster said. "It is critical that the ‘live help’ platform provide the representative with immediate information on the full context of the customer’s account and recent queries or transactions with the company."

On the international front, Oracle found that 76% of Chinese consumers are online daily to browse or research products (compared with 49% worldwide) and 60% said they used live help to reach customer service (versus 50% worldwide). In Latin America, consumers were most likely to expect a social media presence: 84%of consumers surveyed in Mexico and Brazil use Facebook and 63% of those using Facebook said they expect companies to have a presence on those platforms.

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