Retail news from around the globe

Walmart Chile struck over automation

Some 17,000 workers at Walmart’s largest union in Chile have walked off the job indefinitely, shutting down as many as 124 of its 375 stores in the country.

At the heart of the dispute is the demand by workers to be compensated for the increase in automation that’s forcing them to multitask in their daily jobs, for example, with cashiers now having to restock shelves next to cash registers. Unionised workers have demanded a 4 per cent rise in salaries; Walmart Chile has offered 3 per cent, Bloomberg reports.

On the issue of worker unrest due to automation, Copper workers at Chile’s Chuquicamata operation put down their tools for two weeks last month, protesting job cuts from increasing automation at the mine.

Superdry tips long struggle ahead

Superdry founder Julian Dunkerton says the revival of the struggling British fashion group will be a long haul after a charge for poorly performing stores pushed it into an annual loss of £85 million ($152.6 million) and took its shares down more than 10 per cent.

Dunkerton, the group’s biggest shareholder with an 18.4 per cent stake, won an acrimonious battle to rejoin the board in April, prompting the existing directors, including chief executive Euan Sutherland, to resign en masse. He is now interim CEO while the company searches for someone to fill this role.

Dunkerton’s initial focus has been to “steady the ship”, the BBC reports. He aims to get Superdry’s product ranges right and improve its e-commerce proposition.

Kate Culvert, a retail analyst at Investec, told the BBC: “With so many moving parts, these types of recovery stories rarely go smoothly and management faces a very long uphill struggle given how challenging the competitive backdrop is”.

Microsoft opens London store

US software group Microsoft is opening its first European retail store in London, showcasing technology ranging from Xbox games and Surface tablets to augmented reality and LinkedIn masterclasses.

The new shop has a prime position in Oxford Circus, central London, where its three-floor flagship will be seen by about 86 million shoppers and tourists every year.

The store will include a gaming lounge, an augmented reality experience and an area for business technology.

Microsoft UK chief executive Cindy Rose told Reuters that the store reinforced the company’s commitment to digital skills.

“We do feel that there’s a digital skills shortage in the UK and we’ve made public commitments around AI apprenticeships and technology apprenticeships exposing children to coding,” she said. “We’d like to expose around three million kids to coding by next year.”

Amazon snaps up Lady Gaga brand

Pop star Lady Gaga has announced a line of beauty products exclusively for sale on Amazon. The brand, Haus Laboratories, will launch in September for shoppers in nearly a dozen countries, including the US, Germany and Japan.

In recent years, new beauty lines have chosen to bypass traditional bricks-and-mortar stores by launching online, including Kylie Cosmetics, the range owned and run by lifestyle celebrity Kylie Jenner, and Sephora-parent LVMH, which has launched a beauty brand by singer Rihanna.

Haus Laboratories is being backed by Lightspeed Ventures Partners, whose other investments include Goop, the “modern lifestyle brand” site owned by actress Gwyneth Paltrow.

Lady Gaga commented to the BBC: “The last thing the world needs is another beauty brand … but that’s too bad.”

M&S pins hopes on Ocado

British retailer Marks & Spencer is hoping to double its £6 billion ($10.8 billion) food business through its new joint venture with online supermarket Ocado, chairman Archie Norman told investors at the company’s annual meeting in Wembley Stadium in London.

M&S bought a 50 per cent share in Ocado’s UK retail business for an initial £562.5 million in February. The acquisition will provide M&S with a home-delivery service from September 2020 at the latest, Reuters reports.

Norman told the meeting, that the tie-up with Ocado would also allow M&S to get a 7 to 8 per cent improvement in terms from suppliers of branded goods, worth £7 million to £10 million a year to its bottom line.

Although the group reported a third straight drop in annual profit in May, Norman believes its transformation is on track. However, shares have fallen 30 per cent  over the last year.

Steinhoff CFO steps down

South African retailer Steinhoff has announced that Philip Dieperink will step down as chief financial officer and will be replaced by Theodore de Klerk, effective September 1 following the annual meeting.

His is the latest in a long list of executive departures from the beleaguered company and he is the second executive director to leave this year – former deputy chief executive Alexandre Nodale announced his departure in April. 

Dieperink assumed the role of chief financial officer after the accounting scandal broke in December 2017 – a debacle which resulted in the share price declining by more than 90 per cent, a loss in market capitalisation of more than 200 billion rand ($20.5 billion), and the reputational damage resulting from at least two senior executives being implicated. 
The company played down the suddenness of Dieperink’s departure, telling South Africa’s Business Report website that he had accomplished the key objectives of his time in the office, getting its debt restructured and working out its voluntary arrangements.

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