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U.S. retail sales experience slight rise in March

BY Allison Cerra

WASHINGTON — U.S. retail sales edged up slightly from last month to $389.3 billion, an increase of 0.4%, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Wednesday.

The increase marks the ninth consecutive month sales have risen, which could indicate that an economic recovery is under way; however, many fear that looming gas and food prices could impact future months.

The government agency also noted that retail sales experienced a 7.1% jump above the year-ago period, while total sales from January to March were 8.1% above the same period last year. Across retail sectors, grocery stores during the month of March rose 0.3% to nearly $45.6 million, up from $41.8 million in February, while health and personal care stores saw a 10.8% surge in sales, raking in $23.9 million for the month.

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 about $1.1 million to $18.1 million in February.

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Walmart, Sears support troops with employment promises

BY Gail Hoffer

BENTONVILLE, Ark. and HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. — Walmart and Sears Holdings have both announced their commitment to helping military members maintain employment when moving from one community to another.

The commitment is in line with the new Joining Forces initiative, launched by First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden to raise awareness around the challenges that military personnel and their spouses endure when moving from one community to another.

To learn more about the Joining Forces initiative, click here.

Walmart pledged its support of the Joining Forces campaign by announcing the launch of its military family promise. The commitment guarantees a job at a nearby store or club for all military personnel and military spouses employed at Walmart and Sam’s Club who move to a different part of the country because they or their spouse have been transferred by the U.S. military.

In addition, through Walmart and Sam’s Club’s Military Family Promise, associates called to active military duty will continue to be paid any difference in their salary if the associate is earning less money during their military assignment.

"As one of the nation’s largest employers of veterans, we applaud the First Lady and Dr. Biden’s continued leadership when it comes to honoring and supporting our nation’s heroes," said Bill Simon, president and CEO of Walmart U.S. "With our presence in communities across the U.S., we are in a unique position to make a difference on issues that matter most to the military and veteran communities. We know an underserved yet critical need is access to employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for military spouses and those returning home from duty. This commitment will help ease the burden of relocation and decrease the financial strain so many military families feel when they are moved to a new part of the country."

In support of the Joining Forces initiative, Sears has launched the "permanent change of duty station" promise, which helps military associates and spouses employed by Sears Holdings secure job transfers.

"The Sears Holdings PCS Promise for our military associates and their spouses was specifically created to identify new opportunities for our heroes to continue leading successful careers, regardless of their location," said Lou D’Ambrosio, CEO of Sears Holdings. "And it is an honor to offer this promise at the same time that Michelle Obama and Dr. Biden are leading the charge in the Joining Forces initiative, which is committed to providing heroes the support and opportunity they deserve."

According to Sears Holdings, under the PCS promise, it will do everything in its power to give military associates who are employed by the retailer a job at a Sears, Kmart or Lands’ End store convenient to their new location.

In addition, Sears Holdings said it also will conduct a virtual career fair for military spouses this summer that will enable them to connect online with other military spouses currently employed with the company and get information on employment opportunities at nearly 4,000 store locations.

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Kroger fuels up gas rewards program for Houston customers

BY Gail Hoffer

HOUSTON — Beginning April 13, Kroger customers in the Greater Houston area will be able to save up to $1 per gallon at 68 Kroger Fuel Centers through the grocer’s new fuel accumulation program.

Kroger’s latest gas savings initiative will allow shoppers to redeem up to 1,000 fuel points, which are earned through everyday grocery, prescription and gift card purchases using the Kroger Plus card, during a single fill-up.

"Houston is one of the most competitive markets in the nation, and to stay on top as the market share leader, Kroger will continue to roll out programs that benefit our customers and allow them to save on necessities like food and gas," said Bill Breetz, president of the Kroger Southwest division. "Our new fuel accumulation program will help shoppers save tremendously as gas prices continue to rise and the busy summer traveling season nears."

For each increment of 100 points customers earn, they will be awarded a 10-cents-per-gallon discount up to $1 at Kroger Fuel Centers. Kroger 1-2-3 REWARDS MasterCard card holders will be eligible to receive up to $1.05. For every $100 spent on groceries, excluding alcohol and tobacco, customers earn 100 points. Shoppers also can accrue points by purchasing prescriptions and gift cards. When a customer purchases a $50 gift card from the Kroger Gift Card Mall for self-use or as a present, the points are doubled, and they will receive 100 points. Additionally, 100 points are awarded for every two prescriptions that are filled or refilled at a Kroger Pharmacy, including $4 and $10 generic prescription drugs.

If a customer has accumulated 500 points, they will receive a discount of 50 cents per gallon at Kroger Fuel Centers. If they have racked up 1,000 points, they will be awarded a savings of $1 per gallon at the pump. Customers can track their points by viewing the bottom of their receipts for their latest balance. They also can check their points balance by registering their Kroger Plus card number at Kroger.com.

Points are available to use through the end of the following month in which they are earned. When filling up, a customer will always be offered the biggest discount available based on each month’s fuel point totals available in their account.

The retailer also noted that through Kroger’s partnership with Shell, shoppers still will be able to redeem 100 points to save 10 cents per gallon at more than 500 participating Shell locations in the Greater Houston area.

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