Retail news from around the globe

Alexa, send a political donation

Amazon is about to make donating to a US presidential candidate as easy as turning on the lights or playing a favourite tune, via its Alexa voice-controlled digital assistant.

Alexa Political Contributions, powered by Amazon Pay, the company’s payment system, will allow customers to contribute up to US$200 to a campaign simply by saying, “Alexa, donate to [candidate name],” according to a blog post from the world’s largest retailer.

The service will begin next month and will work only for candidates who have chosen to participate, and so far it’s limited to those running for president.

The latest evolution in campaign technology raises new questions about how such contributions will be screened to make sure they are legal. Amazon does not plan to report how many contributions flow through the service and did not consult with the Federal Election Commission in creating it, a spokeswoman told Reuters.

Walmart slated on gender discrimination

Walmart likely discriminated against 178 female workers in 30 states by paying them less, denying them promotions or both, because of their gender, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said.

In memos seen by the Wall Street Journal, the agency urged Walmart and the women who filed complaints to come to a “just resolution”, which could include a settlement and changes to Walmart’s employment practices, after finding “reasonable cause” to believe there was gender discrimination. 

The retailer has denied that it has a systemic problem, but according to the women’s lawyer, more lawsuits are pending. 

Allegations of gender discrimination are not new to the retail giant. In 2011, Walmart convinced the US Supreme Court not to let about 1.5 million female workers complaining about pay and promotions sue in a class action, with a majority of justices concluding the women had too little in common to sue as a group.

Ocado deal to power up M&S

British online supermarket Ocado says it may start home deliveries of the full Marks and Spencer range before next September, ahead of their joint venture’s original deadline.

Ocado and M&S completed the £1.5 billion ($2.8 billion) joint venture deal in August, creating Ocado Retail and signalling the end of Ocado’s supply contract with upmarket supermarket chain Waitrose in September 2020.

In March Ocado signed a $150 million deal with Coles in Australia, which is expected to double the grocery chain’s home delivery capacity. It also has technology deals with other major international retailers, including US group Kroger and France’s Casino. 

Meanwhile, the M&S tie-up has not been without controversy.

A bitter row has broken between two of the three Ocado founders – Jonathan Faiman and Tim Steiner – with accusations of industrial espionage, secret burner phones and executive bullying in bringing the deal to fruition.

The legal dispute shines a spotlight on the huge stakes in the battle for control of Britain’s massive grocery delivery market.  

Lush opens store in Hong Kong…

Asia’s first Lush Naked store has opened in Hong Kong. The store, located on Great George Street in Causeway Bay, offers its signature plastic-packaging-free products ranging from shampoo bars and soaps through to skincare solutions. 

Lush Asia director Annabelle Baker says the store offers consumers an alternative to buying packaged items, helping tackle Hong Kong’s plastic waste challenge.

Since its foundation in 1995 in the UK, Lush has grown to 928 shops in 48 countries. 

… while others driven to brink

Dozens of small Hong Kong retailers may be forced to close their doors as ongoing protests – now into their 15th week – impact trade as overseas shoppers are deterred from entering the city, the South China Post reports.

The Hong Kong Retail Management Association has repeatedly been warning of critical impact on the retail sector as store owners in areas frequently hosting protests have had to shutter their shops for safety reasons.

June’s retail sales data for Hong Kong showed a 6.7 per cent decline year on year. Since then July figures have shown an 11.4 per cent drop. There is widespread expectation that sales in August will be down even further, given 851,000 fewer passengers used Hong Kong International Airport and the number of mainlanders entering through land-based border crossings continues to decline while the protests roll on.


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