As hard as family and friends try, sometimes their holiday gifts are all wrong. The sweater they bought you is too small. You already have an iPad. Or you are too old for a Barbie doll. Luckily many stores allow you to return the undesirable gift for cash or a exchange it for a store credit. To make the return process easier, Consumer World  put together a report of “Holiday Return Policies.” The annual list is a rundown of “noteworthy policies, policy changes, or unusual return policies” at the nation’s largest retailers. Consumer World also notes laws that may impact your ability to make returns in select states and loans tips on how avoid a stressful return experience. A few stand out store policies include: “Sears shortened its regular return policy for many categories of items from 90 days to 60 days. Its extended holiday return period is no longer 120 days across the board, but 30 and 60-day category items can be returned until

  Early holiday spending results are not eliciting much cheer from retailers or the stock market. The day after Christmas, the 2012 season is shaping up to be the worst since the 2008 financial crisis with some pegging sales growth at a measly 0.7 percent. The same period last year saw a 2 percent increase, according to a Reuters article posted not long after U.S. markets closed on Wednesday. The article, like much initial coverage of the results, offers several potential contributing factors including Hurricane Sandy and the pending Fiscal Cliff. Still physically recovering from the storm, shoppers in the Northeast didn’t resume regular shopping patterns until late November. Perhaps too late to make up the balance. Across the nation fears of going over the Fiscal Cliff remain. Worried about the tax increases that will kick in if Congress fails to reach an agreement, many Americans are cutting back this year. What does this mean for shoppers and retailers in the final days of 2012? Reuters

Movie licenses make up 25% of Lego’s business, much of which is done during the holiday season. (Picture by jlottosen on Flickr)

 

On Thursday The Wall Street Journal ran a story called “What It Takes to Build a Lego Hobbit (and Gollum and More).” The article transports readers inside the quirky world of Lego headquarters. From that vantage the writer shows what it takes to build a branded set of the iconic building toy — in this case for the upcoming movie “The Hobbit.”

Reporter Jens Hansegard writes:

“Behind the movie tie-ins is a design and engineering team of 160 self-proclaimed geeks, many with impressive tattoos, who spend days playing with the plastic bricks and other tiny architectural elements in the building lab in the basement of Lego’s Billund, Denmark, headquarters.”

Nicholas Groves, lead designer on the Hobbit collection told Hansegard, “Not only does it have to look right, we also have to create a great building experience for a kid.” Hansegard describes Groves as, “a 31-year-old Brit with tattooed knuckles and a shaggy beard.”

Beyond the geeky details, the article tells a story of retail prowess and reinvention. The Journal explains that when Jorgen Vig Knudstorp became Lego’s chief in 2004 he decided his people shouldn’t loan their time to starting from scratch for every special project. Years of reinventing the wheel had led the iconic brand to near bankruptcy. So Knudstrop created what he calls Lego’s “system of play,” a collection of pieces that are used to compile every set of nodular bricks we see on toy store shelves. 

  As the holiday season slowly winds down — or comes to a screeching halt depending on how long you waited to shop — it is interesting to consider how one retailer gains the edge over another. The answer, it turns out, might boil down to emotions. At least according to New Media Metrics, an analytical marketing firm that quantitatively measures consumer’s emotional attachment to over 350 brands and compiles a list called the Leap Index — which stands for “Leveraging Emotional Attachment for Profit.” This year, according to Forbes, the top ten Leap brands are: Amazon.com Victoria’s Secret Wal-Mart Target GameStop H&M Best Buy Abercrombie and Fitch Kohl’s Macy’s The strategic marketing firm also has statistics to back up their list. They use independent study data to claim that a customer is 40% more likely to pay attention to media they have a strong attachment to. The company also touts that brand attachment makes a person 2.5 times more likely to pay attention to an

  For the third time this holiday shopping season, credit card giant American Express is encouraging consumers to use their dollars to support small businesses. Since 2012, the company has hosted an intiative called Small Business Saturday. The nation wide event takes place on the Saturday between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This year the event was held on November 24 and as always aimed to encourage local spending that will help the economy recover and grow. According to American Express, shoppers spent $5.5 billion at independent merchants that day. This total represents about 9% of the $59.1 billion total spending reported over Thanksgiving weekend. Over 500 companies big and small lent their support (and Facebook pages) to the cause. The Washington Post reported that, “American Express is urging small business owners to promote the day themselves through social media such as Facebook and Twitter, instead of relying solely on American Express’ television spots and advertising.” The paper explains that Amex does loan content to post via

  Macy’s stores around the country are being loaned out as guinea pigs this holiday season. Macy’s is testing out what will likely become a national trend of major retailers staying open over nights leading up to Christmas Eve.  Late last week, Macy’s department store announced plans to extend its annual one day sale an extra 24-hours. Macy’s — the second largest retailer in the United States — has been running a last-minute shopping marathon since 2006 in one form or another. But this year select stores will be open for 48-hours leading up to Christmas Eve. This will be a among the largest last minute shopping initiatives ever take on by a major retailer. But, as Bloomberg Businessweek point out, if this experiment goes well for Macy’s other retailers are sure to follow suit next year. “For the first time ever, Macy’s will keep most stores open around the clock for the last weekend of holiday shopping, an expansion of our successful marathon that

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