March 19, 2012 | last updated June 1, 2012 1:16 pm
RETAIL NOTEBOOK

U.S. sales increase driven by online, savvy consumers

Retail sales for February exceeded expectations by one-tenth of a percent, according to official figures released by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The results, buttressed by strong automotive sales, were largely driven by customers using the power of the Internet.

Kenneth Wisnefski, founder and CEO of Internet marketer WebiMax, said he feels "the increase is ... due [to] consumers researching product reviews and finding price-competitive deals online."

Savvy consumers are apparently spending more money, which means retailers of all sizes need to start offering more choices.

The Commerce Department did not break out figures by region, but Wisnefski said that isn't as crucial with the growth in online purchasing.

"The tech-savvy consumer is in every state,'' he said, "and this is aided by the fact that consumers are limitless as to where they shop, in regard to geographic region. That said, consumers on a national level are overall shopping around and turning to online shopping/online retail to make purchases versus driving to the local store where the price is what it is."

In an interview, Wisnefski said that this year small business owners, in addition to marketers and advertisers, are expected to increase their online advertising.

"Specific interest will be given to paid search, search engine marketing, and social media marketing campaigns, which should represent about 60 percent of overall online marketing initiatives in 2012," he said.

Online research has lead to more purchasing power for consumers. "Online use has been the major contributor to the trend in price-competitive shopping by the consumer. Online use now provides additional resources that simply cannot be gained for in-store purchases including reviews and price comparisons," Wisnefski said.

It's not too late for traditional retailers (i.e. brick and mortar stores) to get involved, even if it's just to provide online shopping to local customers. "Some brick-and-mortar stores have adapted and at the very least, launched social media campaigns to capture the local market and create localized visibility. They can still compete but are typically limited to this local market given their restrictions in establishing national visibility through leveraging online marketing initiatives," Wisnefski said.

"The highly successful 2011 holiday shopping season had a significant effect on jump-starting the results we are seeing now. Online shopping and online reviews are playing an intricate role in helping consumers make an affordable purchase (and many of them)," Wisnefski said. "Search engine marketing initiatives are playing a significant role in exposing online deals and helping the consumer shop the discounts. These initiatives should continue to help boost consumer spending and sales figures in 2012."

Wal-Mart looks to cloud

Up in the clouds is where Wal-Mart wants to be. According to published reports from Bloomberg, Reuters and others, Wal-Mart, a leading seller of in-home video, backs the movie industry's UltraViolet initiative that allows DVD owners to convert their discs to copies that would sit in the cloud for a small fee. The Motion Picture Association of America, headed by former Connecticut senator Chris Dodd, is backing the initiative.

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Cabela's cracks down on theft

According to Security Director News, Cabela's, which has a superstore in East Hartford, is losing 20 to 30 percent of its shrinkage (an industry term for theft either by employees or customers) to organized retail criminals. The outdoor retailer has formed a special team that will investigate the organized effort. The National Retail Federation says its research shows that organized retail theft in the U.S. costs U.S. retailers about $30 billion annually.

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Shake Shack coming

Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG) plans to bring its Shake Shack to New Haven in 2012. Shake Shack is a modern day "roadside" burger stand known for burgers, hot dogs, frozen custard, beer, wine and more. Shake Shack's New Haven home will be centrally located at 986 Chapel St., across from the New Haven Green and kitty-corner to Yale's Old Campus. The new location opens its doors just as students return in the fall.

"We are delighted to welcome Shake Shack to New Haven," said Abigail Rider, director of university properties, in a news release. "Shake Shack is an excellent addition to the many dining options that New Haven offers and will attract diners from the City and beyond to Chapel Street."

"My colleagues and I are proud to bring Shake Shack to New Haven," said Danny Meyer, CEO of USHG, also in a prepared statement. "We are incredibly excited to establish roots in this food-loving, bustling city — which some even say is the birthplace of the hamburger. New Haven is staging a thrilling urban renaissance and we are excited for the opportunity to join this community as employers and citizens."

There may be some credibility to that claim. ABC News aired a report in 2007 that said, "the Library of Congress agrees it was Louis Lassen who invented the burger when he put scraps of ground between slices of bread for fast, easy eating. And second, Lassen's burgers are still served at Louis Lunch, a small hamburger shack in New Haven where Jeff Lassen is the fourth generation proprietor."

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