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All Posts By Cristina Diaconu

Despite Brexit, International Online Searches for UK Retailers Remain Robust

Cristina Diaconu By Posted on 2 m read

International consumers’ enthusiasm for UK retailers has remained as strong as ever, with mobile devices in particular showing significant growth.

Google and the British Retail Consortium published a new report today, with some of the highest search volumes coming from Middle Eastern countries including Israel, UAE, and Saudi Arabia in the top six.

The figures, which are for the second quarter of 2016, show Israel having the biggest growth, at 89 per cent increase on mobile devices, followed by Hong Kong and Indonesia. The United States were 5th, with 46% growth.

Tablet searches have decreased dramatically, however, with the only increase being 1% in Japan. The report suggests that this was expected and follows recent trends, as smartphones become more universal and user-friendly, eclipsing the less portable tablets.

The only countries to show a notable drop in both mobile and tablet searches were Brazil and China, both ‘emerging economies’, which the report attributed to recent slight economic declines in the countries.

Chief of the BRC, Helen Dickinson, said that British retail businesses are at the cutting edge of e-commerce, tailoring their websites “to make the journey from search to shop as mobile friendly as possible.”

Martijn Bertisen, retail director for Google, said the report should be “reassuring” for the UK retailers who are concerned about the post-Brexit situation.

“Looking outside the EU, we see growth from our North American neighbours in Canada and the US,” he said.

“However, it is in the Middle East and Asia where increasing mobile adoption rates have driven the strongest growth in interest in our UK retail brands.”

The report also detailed a retail sector breakdown for the searches, showing that the beauty and clothing markets experienced the largest increases, at 52% and 49% respectively on mobile devices.

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5000 BHS Workers to Lose their Jobs as Retail Giant Ceases Trading

Cristina Diaconu By Posted on 2 m read

Despite last week’s confirmation that retail giant British Home Stores is to close 30 of its stores by the end of July, the struggling staple of the high street has now set a date to shut down the rest of their 163 outlet stores.

This news follows the publishing of a scathing report from the inquiry into the collapse of BHS, led by senior MPs, which places all blame squarely at the feet of Sir Philip Green for his poor leadership skills. Green and his family owned the chain of department stores for the last 15 of their 88 years, from 2000 to 2015.

All of the store closures will have to be completed by the August 20th deadline, which will mean the termination of employment for more than 5000 shop floor staff.

The company went into administration in April, but now attempts to find a buyer for their embattled business as ‘a going concern’ have failed. The administrators are Duff and Phelps, the New York corporate finance company.

Currently, as the stores hold ‘closing down’ sales, customers have been told that they cannot get refunds for anything bought before 22nd April 2016, but can return items to the store to be replaced by another of equal or lesser value. Purchases made after this time may only be refunded if they are faulty; unwanted items may be exchanged.

Gift cards are still being honoured, but only if shoppers spend at least twice the value of the card, and they can only be spent in store. BHS have said that they expect all online orders to be honoured, but they cannot guarantee that this is the case.

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Sainsbury’s Planning on Buying Home Retail Group

Cristina Diaconu By Posted on 2 m read

Sainsbury’s request to buy Home Retail Group has been approved by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

The £1.4bn takeover of the UK based retailer that is the parent company of Argos and Habitat, has been under discussion since April this year. Sainsbury’s went under an in-depth investigation with the CMA that gave them green light to close the deal in early September.

This decision will broaden the supermarket’s product range and reduce its reliance on the competitive grocery market. Argos stores will be implemented in the supermarkets, adding a more varied range of homeware and other products. They will also acquire Argos’s online business.

This comes as good news for Sainsbury’s which has recently announced it will create 900 jobs for its launching of same-day online delivery services. This new service will allow the customers who order before 12pm to get their shopping delivered before 6pm. However, it will only be free of charge for orders over £100.

The idea will be carried out in three stores: London’s Streatham Common and Richmond and Surrey’s Brookwood for the start, and will expand to 30 outlets by Christmas. “This is a natural next step in delivering our strategy to help customers shop whenever and wherever they want,” says Robbie Feather, Sainsbury’s director of the online sector.

The second largest chain of supermarkets in the UK operates over 1,200 supermarkets and stores, and employs around 161,000 staff. It holds 16.7% of the market shares, overtaken by Tesco with 28.4% shares. It was founded in 1869 and was the largest grocery retailer until 1995 when Tesco became the market leader – a title that it is still owned by the same company.

With its purchase of Argos and the implementation of a same-day delivery system, Sainsbury’s looks like will become a major rival in the non-food retailing industry.

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Oscar Wilde at Reading Prison

Cristina Diaconu By Posted on 2 m read

“I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.” is a beautiful quote from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Wilde is one of the most famous authors of all times and events organised in his name, with readings and plays, are not something unusual.

But there is a particular dark time in his life that hasn’t been celebrated that much – his years spent in the Reading Prison. During those (almost) two years he wrote “one of the longest and greatest letters in the English language” – De Profundis – a poem wrote for his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas.

To remind people of what has happened in that prison during the late 1890s, HMP Reading will open to the public for the first time, to celebrate its former inmate Oscar Wilde. Actors Ralph Fiennes and Maxine Peake and singer Patti Smith are among those ones who will read the four-and-a-half-hour long poem.

De Profundis is a love letter that was never sent. Wilde talks about his journey in the Victorian times prison system. His misery can be felt along the whole poem, with passages like “The most terrible thing about it is not that it breaks one’s heart – hearts are made to be broken – but that it turns one’s heart to stone.”

30 more artists, writers, and performers have signed up to be part of this project. There will be artworks exhibitions, reading of some other prison letters, and people will also be able to wander around the cells and check the conditions the prisoners were kept in and even the Victorian architecture.

The Inside: Artists and Writers in Reading Prison will run from 4th of September to 30th of October. It is part of an initiative started by the University of Reading called Reading International, to promote art.

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Cristina Diaconu By Posted on 2 m read

It’s been six weeks into the previews of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and the Pottermania still isn’t over. This might be due to the very restrictive approach it’s been taken with this play.

“Imagine Star Wars was opening in one cinema in one city and that was the only place you could see it. That’s sort of what’s happening with this. The amount of interest worldwide is that much,” says Sonia Friedman, theatre producer. The play is only available for the public in just one venue, the Palace theatre, in London.

It has been managed so well that fans who haven’t seen the play still don’t know what is happening with Harry, Hermione, and Rob. The audiences and the newspapers refused to disclose any information about the plot. What is known is that Potter is dealing with parental issues: “how does a 40-year-old man, who’s also an orphan and a wizard and one of the world’s greatest heroes, how does he do the most basic thing of being a dad when he’s had no parenting experience and actually quite a lot of abuse,” says Friedman.

What theatre wants to prove is that it can compete visually with CGI technology. The play’s chills given by ingenious illusions, makes it the darkest of all the Harry Potter projects.

For those who haven’t got the chance to see the play, mainly for location reasons, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will release its book, a “special rehearsal edition”, on July 31st. The book is based on the script used for the play and it promises to offer loads of surprises for its readers, including tears. It is Amazon’s most preordered book of 2016, both in the U.S. and the UK.

Because the play keeps getting sharpen to make it even better and to fill the audience’s needs, an edited edition with new content will come in 2017.

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British Retail Consortium Announced their New Chairman

Cristina Diaconu By Posted on 2 m read

Richard Baker has just been announced to be the new chairman of one of UK’s leading trade associations –  British Retail Consortium (BRC). He will start his term on the 1st of September, when Sir Charlie Mayfield will leave this position after two years.

Baker already is a member of the BRC, with a status of chairman for the furniture retailer DFS and Whitbread. He has previously been the chief executive of the beauty, health, and pharmacy retail chain Boots, from 2003 to 2007. Previous to that, he was the chief operating officer at one of the biggest supermarket retailers in the UK, Asda.

Baker said he is looking forward to starting his work with the BRC: “The BRC has a strong track record of championing the needs of British retailers – small, medium, and large. A backdrop of unprecedented transformation in the industry and many external uncertainties provides a real opportunity to influence the future.”

But he is not the only one happy to take on the lead on the retail company. Helen Dickinson, the chief executive, said that: “His wealth and breadth of experience will be critical as we take the BRC forward through a period of profound political and economic change.”

The retail industry is proposing itself to thrive in the face of Brexit’s uncertainty and challenges. Baker wants to ensure that this sector will have a voice in the government and will maintain ongoing dialogue with policy-makers on issues such as apprenticeships and business rates: “One of the great things we do in retail, which I don’t think is always fully recognised, is to create a huge amount of general business managers, which is huge value-add to British business,” he said.

Whether or not the retail industry, together with BRC, will continue to prosper is still unknown, but confidence and determination is definitely a sign of future success.

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American Whiskey, is the Best Whiskey?

Cristina Diaconu By Posted on 2 m read

One of the most popular drinks in a party is definitely whiskey. Whether is on the rocks, an Old Fashioned, or a Manhattan, it definitely steals the show in British clubs and home parties.

Scotland’s The Famous Grouse Scotch is no longer the favourite whiskey in the UK. Jack Daniel’s outsold it in the past year, with sales that have risen by 9.3% in shops and supermarkets. The Famous Grouse saw their sales fall by 14.9% mainly because young people prefer the American brands over the home grown ones.

“Generally speaking, Bourbon has overtaken Scotch. The best whiskey is coming not from Scotland anymore, but from Kentucky.” said Jim Murray, author of the Whisky Bible. However, speaking at a global level, Scotch sells three times the amount of American whiskey, with U.S. being the world’ largest market for Scotch.

The reasons why British people choose American over Scottish are disputable. It might be because the youth simply doesn’t want to drink what their fathers and grandfathers do; or it might be the great advertising campaign JD has had over the last years, from T-shirts and posters to pool tables with the brand’s logo on.

Jack Daniel’s is a brand of Tennessee whiskey, which is straight bourbon, but made in the state of Tennessee. It has not always been so famous, but when you have a brilliant marketing and advertising team behind, great things happen. In the 1950’s it gained its place in the pop culture and famous figures like Winston Churchill and Frank Sinatra were spotted drinking the American whiskey.

During the years, Jack Daniel’s has become an iconic whiskey with its black and white label and square bottle. It has spread the story of how it was founded to the world and it managed to turn not only into the most famous whiskey brand, but into a cultural icon.

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Home-Made Meals for Babies

Cristina Diaconu By Posted on 2 m read

Not everyone is a genius in the kitchen, and when you have a baby to take care of, your cooking skills have to be on point. You need to know what to feed him and how much seasoning to put in the food, and sometimes that might be a problem. Researchers, however, found out that home-made meals from cooking books for babies are not as healthy as the ready to eat meals bought from supermarkets.

Experts at Aberdeen and Warwick universities found out that the food made at home contains far more fat, calories, and salt than a baby or a toddler needs. Even though cooking at home is a lot cheaper than buying ready to eat meals, they tend to have the triple amount of saturated fats and salt.

Recipes from cooking books have 26% more energy and 44% more protein and fat than the ones bought from the store, which exceeds the maximum recommendations. The food that the babies eat in the first year of their life informs the taste and habits that will last a lifetime.

For this research, the group has analysed the nutrient content, price, and food group variety from 278 baby foods sold in supermarkets like Asda, Tesco, Morrisons, Sainsburys’s, Aldi, Lidl, Boots, and Superdrug. After that, they compared the results with those of 408 home cooked meals, made using 55 cookbooks aimed at babies and toddlers.

Even though the results were concerning, those recipes had a greater variety of nutrients, but excessive intakes of salts and fats can impact on a child’s weight and health.

The question now is weather families actually use those cooking book, or they just prefer the ordinary home cooking. What the experts suggest is that parents should start using more of the green vegetables, which are higher in nutrients and vitamins than the sweet ones.

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The Rolling Stones Rare Film Screening

Cristina Diaconu By Posted on 2 m read

There have been a lot of films and documentaries made about the Rolling Stones, but there is one in particular that is known as the most revealing one ever made. Cocksucker Blues never had an official release date, so two rare screenings will take place this Wednesday and Thursday at the Film Forum in New York.

Cocksucker Blues is a documentary by the photographer Robert Frank, who filmed the band during their American tour in 1972. For unknown reasons, the footage was thought to be to wild to be revealed, so the band and the director made a pact to only show the film several times a year with several warnings added to it. But the film was not intended to come out that way.

The Rolling Stones wanted to be filmed during their triumphant return to concert in the United States. Obviously there was someone filming them while on stage, but what Frank wanted was to show the least known part of a tour – the backstage, the waiting between the shows, the discussions between the members, the boredom and what they did to conquer it. One of the rules of filming Cocksucker Blues was that none of the members could say no while being shot. If that happened, then the director would leave.

The fact that they were so great even when doing their routines made the film such a unique cultural piece. The Stones’ creativity and charisma at that time, even if it’s shown through their usual conversations or actions, only proves what a cool and outrageous band they were back then. Seeing them as they once used to be – prominent cheekbones, full lips and skinny abdomens, feels like a throw back 70s.

Cocksucker blues shows what behind the scenes looked like in the 1970s and sends the public back to that period of ‘sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll’.

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Store Twenty One having to Shutdown Stores

Cristina Diaconu By Posted on 2 m read

The UK based discount clothing and homeware retailer Store Twenty One will close 77 stores across the country. More than 500 jobs are under threat because of their rescue deal with landlords.

The business has been generating huge losses as the rents are too expensive to keep up with the sales, so they had to invoke the Company Voluntary Arrangement. This deal allows the company to pay less rent for their branches, but it also means the closing of nearly 80 of them.

Store Twenty One owner, the Indian group Grabal Alok, said that having those outlets open was not reasonable for the company and they didn’t have “any prospect of being restored to viability even if a reduction in the amount of rent is obtained”. He also added that this measure had to be taken in order to save 1,200 full-time jobs from the other locations.

Documents about the company’s profits show that they’ve been in a loss every year since Alok bought it in 2007. If they didn’t pursue to the arrangement the company would have fallen into administration or liquidation. They blamed their issues on the economic downturn, and also on the increasing competition from online retailers, supermarkets, and discounters, including Primark.

The retailer was originally known as Quality Seconds, then QS, and recently turned into Store Twenty One after being acquired by the Indian company. They have started the business in 1932 as a manufacturer supplying retailers in the West End. Their rapid success led to the opening of a number of outlets of High Street in the 70s, and after that they just continued to flourish and open stores. In 2002, a group of private investors purchased the entire share capital, making it a private company.

The CVA is considered the latest hurdle for the High Street to save certain companies from collapse.

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