The Big Story

Shopping and Shipping: Ecommerce’s Promise and Challenge

Doug Stebbins, CFA

With encouraging COVID-19 vaccine approvals tantalizingly close, a milestone or a turning-of-the-corner moment feels near. Such moments are often a good time to look back, and to also peer forward. As we do that in the context of the consumer economy, interestingly, a key theme in both the post-mortem of the last nine months and a review of the economy’s prospects over the next few weeks and months is the same: ecommerce.

First, looking back, it is well understood that ecommerce businesses have outperformed physical retail in general, but we looked at over 130 publicly traded retailers to ascertain specifically how sales through the first three quarters of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.  Not surprisingly, retailers that were deemed essential and were not subject to COVID shutdowns performed well, while retailers selling items deemed non-essential struggled. General Merchandise Stores (e.g. Walmart and Target) fared well versus the same period in 2019 (+15%), as did Home Improvement Retail (+13%).  On the flip side, on average, mall-based retailers, such as Department Stores (-35%) and Apparel Retail (-24%), saw dramatic drops in revenue.

However, the biggest beneficiary of changing consumer behaviors related to COVID has been ecommerce.  Even though travel-related sites like Expedia (-54%) and (-53%) saw revenue plummet, most web-based retailers selling physical products prospered over the past nine months.  Of the 15 fastest growing public retailers, 11 of them were ecommerce companies, and Etsy (+102%), Overstock (+71%), Wayfair (+59%) and (+49%) were each in the top five.  Amazon saw its revenue increase 35% over the same period in 2019.  That may not sound too impressive compared to the growth rates in the Etsy group. However, given its massive scale, that growth accounted for $67 billion of incremental revenue.

Second, looking forward, ecommerce is widely expected to maintain and even build on its current momentum this holiday season. The market is bracing for record-breaking ecommerce volume over the next few weeks, with the expectation that many consumers will prefer shopping online to shopping in malls.  ShipMatrix estimates that this year there will be an increase of as many as seven million packages per day between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But will shipping and logistics companies be able to keep up? Keep in mind that the 2020 holiday shipping rush will coincide with the launch of one of the largest logistical mobilizations in history, as the first tens of millions of doses of COVID vaccine will hopefully begin shipping to medical centers nationwide. FedEx and UPS are both expected to play an important role in vaccine distribution and are aggressively adding deep freeze facilities to their infrastructure.  The packages will also be outfitted with advanced GPS trackers to allow real-time monitoring of the vaccine shipments during the journey.

With 50 million doses of vaccine expected to be ready by the end of 2020, the waves of retail and medical shipping demand are expected to overlap and result in serious stress to the delivery system.  Shipping companies have been bolstering their infrastructure to prepare for the coming wave of volume, but it may not be enough.  Over Thanksgiving week, UPS placed shipping limits on certain retailers to better allocate resources across the market.  The UPS restrictions were instituted to prevent certain large customers from overwhelming the system at the expense of smaller and non-retail businesses, especially those shipping medical supplies and other essential goods.

The infrastructure investments made in preparation for this month’s unprecedented shipment volume will benefit web retailers and shoppers well beyond the era of COVID.   While the migration toward ecommerce has been steady for years, this COVID Christmas season might push retailers’, consumers’, and shippers’ commitments to ecommerce to a whole new level.

Just like the rest of year, the 2020 holidays will be like no other.  While we all hope that COVID will be a distant memory by Christmas 2021, this year’s changes to consumer behavior and the delivery infrastructure will be here to stay.



Headlines of the Week

Kohl’s and Sephora Announce Major Long-Term Strategic Partnership Bringing Transformative Prestige Beauty Experience to Millions of Consumers

Kohl’s and Sephora announced a long-term strategic partnership to create a new era of elevated Beauty at Kohl’s, marrying Kohl’s expansive customer reach and omnichannel convenience with Sephora’s prestige service, product selection and exceptional beauty experience. “Sephora at Kohl’s” will be a fully-immersive, premium beauty destination, designed within a 2,500 square foot space and prominently located at the front of the store. When the first 200 locations open in Fall 2021, the online beauty selection will also convert to exclusively showcase an expanded assortment of Sephora’s prestige product offerings.

Petco has filed to go public as consumers adopt more pets during the pandemic

Petco Health and Wellness has filed an S-1 for an initial public offering as consumer spending on pets rises during the coronavirus pandemic. The retailer has not yet shared the number of shares available or the pricing for its IPO. It plans to be listed on the Nasdaq with the ticker “WOOF.” The company noted in its filing that the number of households with pets is expected to increase by 4% this year alone, driven by the pandemic. The jump in pet owners creates $4 billion in new demand for pet care products. Chewy, the online business for PetSmart that went public more than a year ago, has seen its shares rise more than 150% so far this year, to a market value of $30.3 billion. Five years ago, Petco nearly went public but was instead acquired by private equity firms CVC Capital Partners and Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board for $4.6 billion. The company, which was founded in 1965, was last publicly traded in 2006.


Function of Beauty raises $150 million from L Catterton

Function of Beauty, a leading creator of customizable hair, skin, and body care products, announced that it has received a $150 million strategic minority investment from L Catterton, with participation from existing investors CircleUp and GGV. Function of Beauty was founded in 2015 to bring the benefits of customization to the masses. Today, it sells in 45 markets and employs more than 400 people. The investment will accelerate the company’s product development, support its continued worldwide expansion, and enhance its manufacturing capabilities.



Apparel & Footwear

L Brands on track to separate Bath & Body Works, Victoria’s Secret in 2021

L Brands plans a spinoff of its Bath & Body Works business some time next year, CEO Andrew Meslow said during a Morgan Stanley Virtual Global Consumer & Retail Conference Wednesday. It could come early in 2021. Much of the necessary work was accomplished as a result of the company’s February deal for Sycamore to take over Victoria’s Secret, (which fell through a few months later), Meslow said. The Bath & Body Works business is committed to shift away from the mall, and move many more stores into off-mall locations, Meslow also said. Meslow on Wednesday painted a picture of a company very ready to split in two, a prospect that some analysts have advocated for quite a while. “The board has been very consistent for well over a year now, that we believe that these two businesses will be best positioned as two separate businesses,” he said. “Our business models are quite different, our approach is quite different … and the trajectory of the two businesses, very different.”


Parent company of U.K.’s Topshop goes into bankruptcy

The formerly high-flying Arcadia Group has come back down to earth with a thud. The parent company of the Topshop, Miss Selfridges and Dorothy Perkins brands has gone into administration, the British equivalent of bankruptcy. Arcadia, which has more than 500 stores in the U.K., will continue to operate as it seeks buyers for all or some of its assets, reported The Guardian. The company said it had called in administrators from Deloitte after the pandemic “severely impacted” sales across its brands. The collapse of Arcadia is the biggest British corporate failure of the pandemic and brings to an end the storied retail career of British tycoon Sir Philip Green, who is not expected to bid for any of the company’s assets, according to the report. More than 10 buyers are already thought to be lining up for Topshop, including Boohoo, Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group, formerly known as Sports Direct, and a number of private equity players, The Guardian said, with Next and Marks & Spencer also thought to be taking a look at Arcadia’s brands.


Express reduces corporate headcount by 10%, again

Express on Thursday said that it cut 10% of the workforce at its corporate office in Columbus, Ohio, which will result in an estimated $13 million in cost savings in 2021, according to a third quarter earnings presentation. Net sales decreased 34% to $332.1 million, down from $488.5 million year over year. Operating losses were $110.9 million, compared to a loss of $6.7 million in the third quarter last year, and net loss was $90.3 million. Digital transactions were up 17% for the quarter, according to a company press release. Comparable sales were down 30%, due to “continued steep declines in wear-to-work and occasion-based categories,” according to the company. The retailer’s aesthetic favors workwear and event clothing — two apparel categories that are feeling the pressure of dramatically reduced sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic as shoppers reach for comfortable clothing.

Fashion retailer Tailored Brands emerges from bankruptcy protection

Tailored Brands said on Tuesday it has emerged from bankruptcy protection following a financial restructuring process that helped the U.S. men’s fashion retailer eliminate $686 million of debt from its balance sheet. The Houston-based company in August filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, joining a list of brick-and-mortar retailers succumbing to the hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. It confirmed a restructuring plan last month that consisted of a $430 million lending facility. Tailored Brands said on Tuesday it now operates with a capital structure that includes an exit term loan of $365 million, which it expects will support its ongoing operations and strategic initiatives. The company in July announced plans to cut its workforce by 20% and shut as many as 500 stores, in response to the impact of the pandemic.

Store closings: Francesca’s files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, plans to close 140 stores amid COVID-19

Women’s boutique chain Francesca’s has voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection with plans to sell the business, including its brick-and-mortar stores. According to a news release, Francesca’s filed Thursday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware, which noted it still plans to close about 140 of its 700 stores previously announced in September. The company said Thursday 558 stores remain open but it “plans to attempt to renegotiate a number of leases during this process, which may include closing additional boutiques.” On Thursday, the company said it is obtaining $25 million in financing from its existing lender, Tiger Finance, to facilitate the sales process, subject to court approval. Francesca’s CEO Andrew Clarke said in the release that the process allows the company to address lease obligations and “seek a new investor that can see Francesca’s into the future.” The company says it has lined up a “stalking horse” bid, or first bid in a court-supervised sales process, and has a letter of intent from TerraMar Capital LLC, an investment firm that provides debt and equity capital to middle-market businesses.



Athletic & Sporting Goods

Under Armour launches a brand with NBA star Steph Curry to better compete with Nike’s Jordan

Under Armour announced the launch of the Curry Brand with NBA star Stephen Curry, a long-time Under Armour athlete, in a bid to reach younger consumers and compete with Nike and its Jordan Brand.  The new line, which launches on this week, features shoes and clothes for a number of sports including basketball and golf. The launch of the Curry Brand could help Under Armour gain momentum against its rivals, especially with younger consumers, where it has lost ground.  Nike has maintained its No. 1 spot as the favorite apparel brand among teens for a decade, according to Piper Sandler’s biannual survey.


Summit Outdoors Acquires Ghost Blind Industries

Summit Outdoors announced it had acquired Ghost Blind Industries, the maker of popular mirrored hunting blinds.  Summit Outdoors, based in Fort Wayne, IN, said the addition complements existing products owned by the outdoor group by adding mirrored blind technology to the already robust lineup of hunting blinds and components. Summit Outdoors’ portfolio includes Shadow Hunter Blinds, Elevators, Hunt Comfort, and Slotlock.  Ghost Blind Industries, Inc operates out of Marietta, OH manufacturing mirrored blinds including the Predator, Phantom, 6-Panel blinds, Octagon Box Blind kit, and an assortment of accessories for each.

fuboTV Acquires Balto Sports, Moves Into Sports Betting

fuboTV has announced its acquisition of Balto Sports, a move that will bring fuboTV into the sports betting market.  Plans to get into the sports betting market were shared last month when David Gandler, co-founder and CEO, said during the company’s Q3 earnings call that “people come to fubo for the sports,” before sharing that the goal of expanding into this area was to bring in revenue, commenting that sports wagering will be “an important contributor to our business.”  With the newly announced deal, Balto, a company that develops tools for users to organize and play fantasy sports games, will help fuboTV expand into both free to play gaming and online sports wagering. The online sports wagering market is expected to reach $155 billion by 2024 according to Zion Market Research.

Cosmetics & Pharmacy

Church & Dwight Acquires Zicam Brand for $530 Million

Church & Dwight Co., Inc. has completed the acquisition of Matrixx Initiatives, Inc., the owner of the ZICAM™ brand for $530 million. The acquisition was structured as a stock purchase that the Company financed with a combination of cash and debt. Zicam is the #1 zinc supplement in the United States in the VMS (vitamins, minerals, and supplements) cough/cold shortening category. Zicam shortens the duration of a cold using zinc as the core active ingredient. “The acquisition of Zicam represents a superb addition to our existing portfolio and brings to our Company the leading brand within zinc supplements, one of the fastest-growing sub-segments of the VMS category, said Matthew Farrell, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Church & Dwight. ” Zicam’s annual net sales are projected to be approximately $90 million in 2021 and EBITDA is expected to be approximately $36 million. Once Zicam is fully integrated, Church & Dwight expects to leverage its distribution network, operating discipline, and support functions to generate anticipated annual cost savings of approximately $5 million by 2022.

Unilever acquiring SmartyPants Vitamins

Unilever is adding to its portfolio in the VMS space. The Englewood Cliffs, N.J.-based CPG giant is acquiring SmartyPants Vitamins, which was founded in Los Angeles in 2011 by entrepreneurs Courtney Nichols Gould and Gordon Gould with a focus on products with premium ingredients for children and adults. SmartyPants uses non-GMO ingredients and sustainable sourcing methods for nutrients and offers a product range that is free of synthetic colors, artificial flavors and preservatives. It joins other brands in Unilever’s portfolio that include Horlicks, Olly, Equilibria and Liquid I.V. Also central to SmartyPants’ brand ethos is its partnership with Vitamin Angels, which provides vitamins to mothers, expecting mothers and children in need worldwide. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Ulta Beauty Sales Down in Third Quarter as COVID-19 Continues to Impact

Ulta Beauty reported that sales were down in its third fiscal quarter, as the company continues to navigate the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the quarter ending Nov. 2, the company posted a net sales decrease of 7.8 percent to $1.6 billion, compared to $1.7 billion in the third quarter of fiscal 2019. Net income was $74.8 million compared to $129.7 million in the third quarter of fiscal 2019. The company said its decline in net income was due to asset impairment and restructuring costs related to the suspension of its expansion into Canada, which has been put on hold due to the pandemic. Sales declines were also impacted by a pull-back on promotions, as the company tries to refine its sale strategy. Certain promotions from last year were discontinued or scaled back, and a “We Love Our Members” event during the quarter was instituted to welcome back rewards members to in-store shopping. Ulta’s loyalty program, which includes its most engaged consumer set, counts 37.1 million, and did not grow this quarter, so the company is turning its attention to membership retention and acquisition.


Discounters & Department Stores

Walmart pays out bonuses, extends emergency leave policy for workers

Walmart on Thursday announced over $700 million in additional bonuses to U.S.-based employees. That includes $319 million in quarterly bonuses paid to associates in their Nov. 25 paychecks. The retail giant will pay another $388 million in special cash bonuses on Dec. 24 to recognize employees for their service during the COVID-19 pandemic. Around 1.5 million full- and part-time Walmart and Sam’s Club associates working across its stores and facilities will receive the Dec. 24 bonus, the company said.

Pandemic tees up dollar stores for favorable post-crisis future

Like most retailers, dollar stores saw traffic plummet early in the pandemic, but in recent weeks major players Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Five Below have all staged a comeback. At Dollar General, for example, foot traffic rose 8.6% year over year in the first week of November and 9.6% in the second, according to data from traffic analytics firm Five Below’s 93.4% year-over-year traffic plunge in April gave way to a 9.9% rise in October, the firm found. A relative laggard, footfall at Dollar Tree (which also runs Family Dollar) was down 3.4% year-over-year during October, but that still beats most other retailers, noted.

J.C. Penney plans new beauty concept

J.C. Penney is developing a beauty concept, a company spokesperson said in an email to Retail Dive. The announcement follows news earlier this week that its current beauty partner, Sephora, is launching a collaboration with Kohl’s. The J.C. Penney tie-up with Sephora ends in 2023. The retailer stressed that the partnership with Sephora “remains strong” in the meantime. The effort, described as a “new, inclusive beauty concept that offers our customers a wide array of product,” is part of the department store’s Plan for Renewal, which hinges on improving merchandise offerings, driving traffic and providing an engaging experience.

Belk offers virtual festivities for the holidays

Belk on Dec. 1 unveiled virtual holiday activities, including free phone calls from Santa Claus, an online holiday home decorating contest and gift cards for select shoppers covering the value of their order when they use free in-store or curbside pickup. As part of its debut Holidays at Home contest, the retailer asked consumers to share photos or videos of their holiday decorations on Facebook or Instagram and use the hashtag #BelkHolidaysAtHome2020. The retailer will announce winners on Dec. 16 and award gift cards valued at $500, $250 and $100, respectively, to the first, second and third prize winners, according to the company announcement.



Emerging Consumer Companies

Personal care brand Every Man Jack sells controlling stake to Carlyle

Every Man Jack, the Corte Madera based men’s personal care brand, sold a controlling interest to The Carlyle Group. Every Man Jack makes affordable, high-quality grooming products for men, striving to use as many naturally derived and plant-based ingredients as possible – no aluminum, parabens, phthalates, dyes, and never tested on animals. The company launched in 2007 with just twelve products primarily in shave and body care, but has since expanded to over eighty products across a broad range of men’s grooming categories, including body, hair, deodorant, beard, shave and skincare.

Hodinkee, destination for watch enthusiasts, raises $40 million

Hodinkee, a news and e-commerce website for luxury and vintage watch enthusiasts, has raised $40 million in an investment round led by TCG, an affiliate of The Chernin Group, with participation from new and existing investors, including LVMH Luxury Ventures, True Ventures, Tony Fadell’s Future Shape, NFL star Tom Brady, GV and singer John Mayer. The company also announced that founder Benjamin Clymer will step down as CEO and become executive chairman, and that Toby Bateman, formerly the managing director of Mr. Porter, a luxury men’s e-commerce site, will replace him as CEO. Hodinkee said it will use the investment to further accelerate its retail and e-commerce capabilities and editorial product development.



Grocery & Restaurants

Kroger tallies Q3 gains as business transformation continues

Strong identical and digital sales growth lifted results at The Kroger Co. for the fiscal 2020 third quarter, as the supermarket giant topped Wall Street’s consensus earnings projection. For the quarter ended Nov. 7, sales totaled $29.72 billion, up 6.3% from $27.97 billion a year earlier, Kroger said Thursday. Identical sales excluding fuel climbed 10.9% year over year, while digital sales jumped 108%. Including gains of 14.6% in the second quarter and 19% in the first quarter, Kroger’s year-to-date identical sales without fuel are up 15.3%. High demand for groceries amid the coronavirus crisis continued to propel sales growth in the quarter, according to Kroger. Online grocery expansion fueled e-commerce growth, as Kroger extended to 2,213 pickup sites and 2,468 delivery locations in the quarter. Kroger lifted its guidance for the full 2020 fiscal year.


J.M. Smucker to divest premium pet food brand

The J.M. Smucker Co. announced plans to divest its Natural Balance premium pet food business. Nexus Capital Management LP has agreed to buy the business for $50 million in cash, subject to a working capital adjustment and before a one-time cash tax benefit to be realized on the sale. The transaction includes products sold under the Natural Balance brand, certain trademarks and licensing agreements and select employees who support the business. Natural Balance generated net sales of approximately $220 million in the fiscal year ended April 30. “The divestiture reflects our strategy to direct investments and resources toward areas of the business that will generate the greatest growth and profitability,” said Mark Smucker, president and chief executive officer of The J.M. Smucker Co. The transaction is expected to close in the third quarter of Smucker’s 2021 fiscal year and remains subject to customary closing conditions.

Home & Road

Sferra acquires luxury brand Pratesi

Sferra Fine Linens announced the acquisition of Italian luxury linens brand Pratesi. Pratesi is known for elaborate floral designs, innovation, quality, and a globally recognized brand for more than a century, dating back to its founding in 1906. Sferra’s product portfolio today includes more than 10 different categories including; bed, bath, table and decorative accessories. The Sferra brand is known for its Italian craftmanship and for sourcing premium natural fibers to spin and weave its luxury goods. Historically, Pratesi has followed those same principles and officials say the combined brands will leverage those practices to expand both brands going forward. Sferra intends to initially reintroduce the Pratesi brand into the marketplace through international channels where the brand has traditionally maintained a major presence, and through a newly developed Pratesi website in order to quickly reestablish its connection with its distinct customer base.

Net sales for At Home Group up more than 47% in Q3

At Home Group Inc., the home décor superstore, posted an increase in net sales of 47.5% to $470 million for the third quarter 2021 ended Oct. 24. This compares with $318.7 million in net sales during the third quarter of last year. At Home chairman and CEO Lee Bird said he believes strong demand, the continued rollout of the company’s strategic initiatives and the net increase in open stores helped drive the growth. “We not only delivered record comps of 44% in the third quarter, but also generated strong earnings flow through as well as excellent free cash flow,” Bird said. “Our leverage ratio of 0.9x is our lowest ever as a public company and reflects continued strength in our business and the significant transformation of our balance sheet.” Bird added that the company’s inventory position is improving meaningfully, and fourth-quarter performance to date has remained strong as customers continue to refresh their homes and decorate for the holiday. Earnings per share was 71 cents for the third quarter compared with negative 23 cents in the third quarter of fiscal 2020.

Jewelry & Luxury

Signet Soars: Comps Jump 15% in Third Quarter

Signet Jewelers posted strong numbers for the third quarter of fiscal 2021 (ending Oct. 31), with comps rising 15.1%. Total sales were $1.3 billion, up 9.5% over the same period last year. Not surprisingly, most of that gain was fueled by online sales, which rose 71.4%, to hit $238.8 million. Brick-and-mortar comps rose 6.8%. The company—which owns the Kay, Zales, Jared, and Piercing Pagoda chains in the United States—was a little more leery about December. It noted that same-store sales for Thanksgiving and Black Friday showed a low-single-digit drop, reflecting lower sales traffic. Conversion rates and the average transaction value rose, however.

Even in a Pandemic, Fine Jewelry Is Selling

Conventional wisdom suggests that a pandemic would not bode well for jewelry sales. But for Mark Patterson, a fine jewelry designer with a retail store in this coastal Southern California enclave, 2020 has defied expectations at every turn. (And he’s not alone.) “Wholesale is down — we haven’t done any trunk shows — but our retail store has doubled sales from last year,” Mr. Patterson said in late October. “It’s crazy. We don’t know how to explain it.” Actually, he did. “Big diamonds,” he said. Mr. Patterson described a recent sale to a local couple: “They had plans to travel for their 20th anniversary — Europe or maybe Australia — and their trip was canceled due to Covid, so they decided to upgrade her diamond engagement ring from one carat to four carats,” Mr. Patterson said. “They spent close to $55,000.”

LVMH’s chief digital officer leaves for cryptocurrency startup

Ian Rogers, chief digital officer at LVMH, is leaving to serve as the chief experience officer at Ledger, a tech company that safeguards digital assets like cryptocurrency. The departure ends a five-year run at LVMH, according to an announcement on Medium. Rogers will oversee Ledger’s business-to-consumer side, including product, marketing and sales. In the new role, Rogers plans to bring technical expertise and experience transitioning emerging technologies into the mainstream, according to the blog post. With Rogers out the door, Reuters reports that LVMH will promote Michael David to serve as its chief omnichannel officer, citing an internal memo the news service obtained.


Office & Leisure

Michaels tops estimate as online surges; to pay holiday bonuses

The Michaels Cos. reported a better-than-expected third-quarter performance, driven by strong demand in its stores and online, where sales surged 128%. The arts and crafts retailer announced it will pay approximately $10 million in one-time holiday bonuses to full-time and part-time employees in recognition of “their extraordinary work this year during unprecedented times.” Sales rose 15.1% to $1.406 billion, also more than expected. Same-store sales rose 16.3%, with strong demand in both stores and e-commerce. E-commerce sales rose 128%, driven by enhanced omnichannel capabilities including curbside pick-up, same-day delivery, ship from store, buy online, pick-up in store, in-app purchases and more. Year-to-date e-commerce growth totaled 249%.

Royal Caribbean Returns to Cruising in Singapore

Royal Caribbean completed its first journey this week since the pandemic effectively shut down global cruising in March. The Quantum of the Seas ship departed from Singapore on Tuesday for a two-night trip to nowhere. It returned to Singapore’s Marina Bay on Thursday. Quantum of the Seas ran at 30% capacity and had approximately 1,100 guests on board, Travel Weekly reported. Royal Caribbean plans to launch longer three- and four-night cruises to nowhere from Singapore, where the Quantum of the Seas will be based for the next several months. Those “ocean getaway voyages” have no port calls and require passengers to participate in a rigorous system of PCR testing and contact tracing. The cruises are also only permitting Singapore residents for now. Elsewhere in the world, Royal Caribbean has said it will suspend sailing through at least February 2021.

Warner Bros. will launch every 2021 movie on HBO Max at the same time they hit theaters

AT&T’s Warner Bros. announced Thursday that all of its films scheduled to launch in 2021 will be released on HBO Max at the same time they are available in theaters. It’s currently a one-year plan. It’s an example of how AT&T is adapting to the coronavirus pandemic, allowing people to safely watch new films at home without having to venture out to a movie theater, many of which have been closed because of the increasing spread of Covid. It’s also a move that Warner Bros. already made with “Wonder Woman 1984,” which will be released to theaters and HBO Max on Christmas Day. That movie was originally scheduled to come out in the summer, but was delayed several times before WarnerMedia decided to release it on HBO Max. HBO Max is AT&T’s online video service, which launched in the U.S. in May. It costs $14.99 per month and includes access to movies and TV shows.

Technology & Internet

Uber completes purchase of Postmates

Uber Technologies, which owns Uber Eats, completed its purchase of San Francisco-based Postmates. The Uber-Postmates deal, when first announced in the summer, was valued at $2.65 billion. With Postmates, Uber Eats will grow its footprint in Southwest markets where Postmates is a dominant player including Southern California (Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego), Las Vegas and Phoenix. Postmates, an early player in the meal delivery sector, has more than 600,000 restaurants and retailers on its platform including emerging brands such as Sugarfish, Tocaya Organica, Ono Hawaiian BBQ and Sweetfin.  That pairs with Uber Eats’ more than 500,000 restaurant partners across the globe including big chains such as McDonald’s, KFC and Burger King. Both delivery apps will continue to run separately, while being “supported by a more efficient, combined merchant and delivery network,” the company said Tuesday.


FedEx plans to buy ecommerce shipping service ShopRunner

FedEx Corp. has agreed to acquire ShopRunner, an ecommerce service that provides shipping for more than 100 brands, as the courier seeks to deepen its ties with online shoppers. ShopRunner will operate as a subsidiary of FedEx Services once the deal is complete, the delivery giant said in a statement Wednesday. FedEx didn’t provide financial terms of the transaction, which is expected to close by yearend. The acquisition tightens FedEx’s embrace of surging ecommerce deliveries, adding to earlier moves such as adopting seven-day service and investing in handling large residential packages. ShopRunner allows online shoppers to choose its two-day shipping and free returns service. ShopRunner’s annual membership is $79 for consumers, but it does also offer free memberships via its payment channel partnerships with American Express, PayPal Inc. and Yahoo. “ShopRunner also shares in the success of its retail partners on sales they deliver,” the company says, without revealing more. The deal is part of FedEx’s “continued efforts to create an open, collaborative e-commerce ecosystem that helps merchants deliver seamless experiences for their customers,” said Chief Operating Officer Raj Subramaniam.


Finance & Economy

Jobless claims hit pandemic-era low as hiring continues even with rising coronavirus cases

New jobless claims filings reached their lowest level of the pandemic crisis era last week, providing a sign that hiring is continuing if at a slower pace.  First-time claims for unemployment benefits totaled 712,000 last week, compared to the estimate of 780,000 from a Dow Jones survey of economists, the Labor Department reported.  Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims actually dropped for the week, falling by more than 30,000 to 288,701. The program provides benefits to those not normally eligible prior to the pandemic.

Despite COVID, credit card debt sinks to lowest level since 2017

During the pandemic-created recession, when millions of Americans are strapped for cash, you’d think that more of us would turn to credit cards to help tide us over. It appears that just the opposite has happened, though.  Before 2020, consumer credit card debt grew for eight consecutive years, hitting a record high of $829 million in 2019, according to new data from Experian. But in the past year, that tally fell by 9 percent. Now, outstanding credit card debt in the U.S. totals $756 billion. That’s the lowest dollar amount since 2017, Experian says.  Experian suggests at least part of the decline in credit card debt can be attributed to consumers’ access to cash and debt relief through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.