The Big Story

CGBS Presenter Profile: United By Blue

Consensus

We are excitedly counting down the months and weeks until the Consensus Great Brands Show (CGBS), which will take place September 25th, at the New York Times TimesCenter in Manhattan – https://greatbrandsshow.com/. With the date of the CGBS approaching, we are using this space each week to profile a different company that will be taking the stage in September. As we strive to assemble the most compelling slate of participating companies yet in the history of this event, we hope our weekly previews underscore our growing anticipation for this year’s show and give you a head start on learning about these dynamic brands and entrepreneurs.

United By Blue

8 million tons. That is how much plastic enters the earth’s oceans each year. United By Blue was created in an effort to help make a measurable impact on this extremely pressing environmental problem. The outdoor clothing company was founded in 2010 on the idea that a brand can profitably sell high-quality products while still helping the environment.

United By Blue sells a wide variety of outdoor clothing for men and women, as well as backpacks, totes, camping gear, and other outdoor necessities and equipment. It promises to remove one pound of trash from oceans and waterways for every unit sold. To date, the company has removed over 1.7 million pounds of trash, which is ahead of schedule compared to total units sold. UBB has enlisted the help of over 10,000 volunteers since its inception in order to clean up this impressive amount of trash. The company hosted 45 cleanups across 23 states in 2018, along with its first overseas cleanup in Netherlands and various other social initiatives to help keep the planet clean.  It is currently working to complete its 2019 goal of removing 1 million pounds of marine debris from waterways, coastlines, and oceans around the country.

Despite United By Blue’s extensive efforts to help the environment, it is not a nonprofit. UBB has pursued B-Corp Certification, a designation it wears proudly. In order to receive B-Corp Certification, a for-profit company must meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Nonprofits work as a result of foundations and grants, but as a Benefit Corporation, United By Blue is able to manage its own business, generate its own profits, and fund in-house conservation efforts. The brand continues to grow in popularity, all while making the world a cleaner place one sale at a time.

Headlines of the Week

Toys R Us stores will be back this holiday season, this time with a tech partner

This holiday season, shoppers will once again be able to shop in a Toys R Us store. The retailer will open two permanent stores in November – at Simon Property Group’s Galleria mall in Houston and at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield’s Garden State Plaza mall in Paramus, New Jersey. The stores are product of a joint venture between software retailer b8ta and Tru Kids, the company that is helping to manage the brand names left in the wake of Toys R Us’ liquidation last year. After the company shuttered its 800 U.S. stores, lenders including Solus Alternative Asset Management and the Angelo Gordon investment firm took control of the company’s Toys R Us, Babies R Us and Geoffrey brand names. The new company hopes to open 10 stores around the U.S. in 2020, possibly including a larger flagship in New York or California. The new stores will be smaller, spanning 6,500 to 10,000 square feet, compared with the 40,000 they used to take up. B8ta will also be giving Tru Kids access to data and analytics to track things like foot traffic in and out of the stores to allow the company to make smarter decisions, according to Phillip Raub, b8ta co-founder and president.

Anne Klein sold to PE-backed firm

Premier Brands Group on Wednesday announced the sale of apparel brand Anne Klein to WHP Global, a new brand management platform (also launched on Wednesday) led by Wave Hill Partners founder Yehuda Shmidman. The transaction amount was not disclosed. WHP Global, “founded to acquire and manage multiple global consumer brands,” is backed by a $200 million equity commitment from private equity firm Oaktree Capital Management, L.P.. Anne Klein, which generates over $700 million in global retail sales, is its first acquisition. Shmidman has had several c-suite brand management roles, and has “raised and invested nearly $2 billion of institutional capital in fashion, home, entertainment and consumer brands.” He also serves as vice chairman of new Toys R Us parent, Tru Kids.

 

 

Apparel & Footwear

Roberto Cavalli Has Been Acquired by a Dubai-Based Developer

With its former creative director Paul Surridge exiting the house in March, Roberto Cavalli SpA now has a new owner. According to WWD, Vision Investment Co., an investment company of Dubai’s billionaire Hussain Sajwani who owns Damac Properties Group, signed an agreement to acquire 100 percent of the Italian house. The brand has recently been experiencing difficulty, having filed for bankruptcy and closing all stores in the United States on top of its creative lead departing after just two years. The fashion house was controlled by an Italian private equity firm before receiving five offers including Vision Investment’s. With Sajwani listed as the world’s fourth richest Arab with a net worth of $4.1 billion USD by Forbes, Damac Properties was ranked first in 2017 for the fastest-growing global company.

Ugly is in: How Crocs have taken over teen footwear, and sent the stock soaring

This year, Crocs is the 13th most popular footwear brand among average-income female teenagers, according to Piper Jaffray, up from 30th in 2017. Teens say the shoe’s popularity shows no sign of stopping. But that doesn’t mean its reputation of being ugly has faded. The consumer is moving away from the conventional idea of beauty, and at the same time investing in products that are comfortable to wear, says one analyst. Although the stock is down 15% since January, that’s because “demand is so good that they can’t quite keep up with the supply,” said Sam Poser, an equity research analyst at Susquehanna. The company has been air freighting goods into the country in order to replenish fast-selling items, which cuts into their gross margins. “It’s a good problem to have, and they’re keeping people hungry for product,” he said.

 

Where did Forever 21 go wrong?

Nearly a decade ago, before Instagram influencers existed, Forever 21 helped teen girls dress like their favorite celebrities, for cheap. It wasn’t a novel idea — teenage girls have always wanted to dress like their idols. The dizzying speed at which Forever 21 could make those trends available and affordable, however, was. The company’s specialty became known as fast fashion, and the chain grew aggressively to become a staple in American shopping malls, opening hundreds of stores and redefining what it meant to be a traditional mall anchor. Forever 21 reportedly is now in financial trouble and developing restructuring plans in hopes of avoiding a possible sale or bankruptcy. With about 800 stores worldwide and more than $3 billion in estimated annual sales, Forever 21 — a privately held family business that started with a single store in Los Angeles’ Highland Park neighborhood in 1984 — is being squeezed on multiple fronts.

From Old Navy to Madewell: How sub-brands grow up to eat their parents

They’re not designed to be predators. But sometimes a sub-brand ultimately does a flagship more harm than good. The theory is often sound: create a new brand to better compete with rivals, which often includes emerging businesses that are disrupting your offer. But the result can mean that your customers drift to that new entity, especially if it was developed as a cheap alternative, and subsequently abandon the original. The phenomenon is on display most vividly at Gap Inc. Mickey Drexler, who in the 1980s took Gap from a regional apparel brand to a global powerhouse, launched Old Navy to defend against Target and other retailers that had begun selling lower-priced denim. Soon Old Navy began to dominate the company’s earnings reports, most quarters delivering sales and traffic bumps as The Gap sagged. It got to the point where Gap Inc. two years ago centered a turnaround on Old Navy’s potential, only to decide this past February that it deserved to go it alone by splitting into two independent companies instead.

 

Athletic & Sporting Goods

Adidas joins the fight against plastic

Adidas said last week that it has committed to using only recycled plastic by 2024. The pledge to eliminate the use of “virgin” plastic, which was first reported by the Financial Times, includes polyester. Used in everything from t-shirts to sports bras, the material is popular in sportswear because it dries quickly and weighs little. Adidas also said it would stop using virgin plastic in its offices, retail outlets, warehouses and distribution centers, a move that would save an estimated 40 tons of plastic per year, starting in 2018. Adidas is the latest in a series of global companies that have pledged to reduce plastic use.

Reebok Moves From Footwear to Beauty With Nail Supplement Launch

Moving away from just feet, Reebok is launching their “Nailed it!” nail supplement. Its the sportswear giants’ solution for stronger, longer and harder talons. Available in a delicious strawberry flavor the gummies are an unexpected venture for the company. The bottle itself has a retro-vibe to it, with giant Barbie-pink lettering splashed across the front. As far as promises, Reebok claims they’ll turn “regular-degular-schmegular” nails into traffic-stopping claws.

Doing Retail Collaborations Right: Macy’s And Dick’s Sporting Goods Show A New Way

Brand-on-brand and brand-with-retailer collaborations are nothing new. But retailer-and-retailer collaborations are just beginning to pop up, like Kohl’s and Amazon, J.C. Penney and Sephora, Walgreen’s and Birchbox, Target and Casper (mattresses) and Harry’s (shaving supplies), and West Elm and corporate sister Pottery Barn and mattress-brand Leesa. Until now, these new retailer-and-retailer collaborations have largely been between brick-and-mortar retailer and digitally-native ones to enable each to cross-over into the others’ channel. Now a new collaboration is announced that brings one major retailer–Dick’s Sporting Goods–into another–Macy’s. Facilitated by Macy’s newly-acquired Story, the original collaboration retailer, and its founder Rachel Shechtman, who joined the company as brand experience officer in May 2018, it presents a new model of retailer collaboration that we are likely to see more of in the future.

Cosmetics & Pharmacy

Kopari Beauty Announces New Round of Growth Capital Investments

Kopari Beauty, the premium coconut-powered lifestyle brand, today announced the closing of a $20 million funding round from notable partners including the Growth Fund of L Catterton, the largest and most global consumer-focused private equity firm, and Unilever Ventures, as well as San Diego-based University Growth Fund, the largest student-run fund in the country, among other investors. “The continued investment from such formidable firms demonstrates our sustained category dominance and successful market integration with our hero ingredient to reach a wide, and still growing, consumer set,” said Bryce Goldman, CEO and Co-Founder of Kopari.

Beauty category, retailers eager to include CBD-infused products

Even the beauty category wants a piece of the CBD boom. As many big chains take a wait-and-see attitude while the legalities of CBD products are being sorted out, there are growing signs among retailers and suppliers that the category could be the next big item in beauty. A recent Gallup poll found that the majority of survey participants familiar with CBD believe the compound has health benefits. Google searches for the term “CBD beauty” have soared, surpassing such terms as “natural” and “clean.” One of the two most asked questions via Google is where to buy CBD oil. Still, the paths vary from retailer to retailer and brand to brand, but whether it be hemp seed oil, which contains no actual CBD, or full-spectrum CBD, the number of items on beauty shelves is growing. The beauty sector is expected to be one of the largest portions of what Piper Jaffray estimates could be as large as a $500 billion long-term opportunity.

Fred’s announces additional store closings

Fred’s store footprint keeps shrinking. The embattled retailer announced that it will close an additional 129 retail stores and hold clearance sales across all locations in an effort to refocus its product mix, simplify its store portfolio and repay debt. This is Fred’s fourth round of closings — the chain has closed some 300 stores during the past few months — and, when completed, will leave it with 80 locations, centered primarily around its distribution center in Dublin, Ga. Fred’s said it may evaluate re-launching certain closed stores in the future under a new operating model with an updated assortment. The company expects the proceeds from the inventory clearance sales will be used to repay outstanding indebtedness under its revolving credit agreement.

 

Discounters & Department Stores

Amazon Prime Day Wars: Do Competing Sales Really Work?

In just four years, Amazon has turned Prime Day into an industrywide shopping event that no one – especially its biggest rivals — can ignore. On Monday, just as the e-commerce giant began its 48-hour discount bonanza, Target kicked off its Deal Days event, eBay launched its Crash Sale and Walmart began The Big Save — all designed to feed off the buzz generated by Amazon’s members-only sale. As the name of eBay’s event hints at, some of the halo effect that other retailers have experienced in the past has been the product of tech problems on Amazon’s end; the traffic surge on Prime Day has caused website glitches every year since the company started the holiday in 2015.

 

IKEA closing its only US factory, will move operations to Europe: report

IKEA plans to close its only U.S. factory site and shift operations to Europe. The Swedish furniture company’s Danville, Virginia, manufacturing facility will close in December, cutting about 300 jobs, The Wall Street Journal reported. IKEA produces wood-based products like the KALLAX shelves and BESTA storage units at the 930,000-square-foot facility, which opened in 2008. The company said its production costs in Europe will be lower and that importing the goods will make its products more affordable in North America, according to the report.

 

Kohl’s says let the holiday hiring season begin

It’s still July, but Kohl’s just kicked off its seasonal hiring. The big-box retailer said Wednesday it’s beginning to staff up for the second half of the year at its stores and distribution centers, at a time when the U.S. labor market is tight and finding skilled workers is increasingly more difficult. Last year, Kohl’s started hiring for the holidays even earlier — at the end of June. Kohl’s said it’s now hiring for an “early wave of seasonal positions” at 500 stores, about double the number in last year’s early-hiring program. The rest of Kohl’s stores, distribution and e-commerce fulfillment centers will start seasonal hiring in August. Kohl’s said it’s also looking for full- and part-time workers for customer-service jobs.

 

 

Emerging Consumer Companies

Next Billion-Dollar Startups: Rothy’s Makes This Year’s ‘It’ Shoe. But Can It Keep Growing Amid A Flood Of Copy Cats—And A Founder’s Departure?

Getting the perfect colors and patterns is essential to fashion success, and there has never been a more critical moment for Rothy’s. In three years, Rothy’s—a mash-up of the brand’s cofounders’ names—has rocketed out of nowhere to $140 million in revenue, mostly built on low-cost social media marketing and word of mouth. Look down at a woman’s feet the next chance you get. She’s probably wearing a pair, especially if she’s under 40. Meghan Markle, for one, is a fan. With a valuation of $700 million after its most recent funding round, Rothy’s has raised just $42 million in equity from investors led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and Goldman Sachs.

Third Love opens first retail store

ThirdLove announced that it will open its first experiential retail store concept. It will be located in New York City. The store will open on July 24th, and will remain open through the end of 2019. The majority of the space will be dedicated to fitting rooms and will feature product displays for the brand’s eighty product styles and sizes. The San Francisco-based company has raised nearly $70 million to date, including $55 million in a Series B round in February 2019.

Floyd to release modular shelving system

Floyd, the Detroit-based furniture brand, has designed a modular shelving system that can expand to fit any wall, and are flexible enough to follow its buyers who move frequently. Founded in 2013, Floyd makes minimalistic furniture line targeted towards millennials. The company has raised $5.6 million to date.

 

 

Grocery & Restaurants

AB InBev sells Australian business after ditching huge Asian IPO

The world’s biggest brewer is selling its Australian business just days after calling off what would have been the biggest initial public offering of 2019. Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) will unload its Carlton & United Breweries unit to Japanese beer giant Asahi in a deal worth 16 billion Australian dollars (about $11.3 billion). It was announced on Friday, the day AB InBev was originally scheduled to list its Asia business on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in an IPO that could have raised as much as $9.8 billion. Under the terms of the deal, which is expected to close by the first quarter of 2020, AB InBev will grant Asahi the rights to commercialize the portfolio of AB InBev’s global and international brands in Australia.

McDonald’s drops Uber Eats sole partnership with new DoorDash deal

McDonald’s Corp.’s exclusive partnership with Uber Eats is over as the chain announced plans Tuesday to add a second third-party delivery operator, DoorDash, to its McDelivery program. The Chicago-based chain, which launched nationwide delivery with Uber Eats in 2017, said it will begin testing DoorDash delivery at 200 Houston-area restaurants in late July. Uber Eats, which serves about 9,100 McDonald’s restaurants, will remain a partner in the Texas region and across the U.S. McDonald’s said the move to add an additional third-party delivery provider was made to expand the chain’s reach. DoorDash provides delivery in all 50 states.

Slim Chickens draws investment

Slim Chickens, the 80-unit fast-casual chicken brand, has drawn an investment from the 10 Point Capital private-equity firm, the companies said Wednesday. The Fayetteville, Ark.-based Slim Chickens said the investment by Atlanta-based 10 Point Capital would finance the brand’s continued growth. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Slim Chickens, which launched in 2003, has locations in 14 states, the United Kingdom and Kuwait. It serves a menu of chicken tenders and wings cooked to order and served with house-made dipping sauces.

Cooper’s Hawk sold to Ares Management

Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants, one of the fastest-growing casual-dining chains, has reportedly reached a sale agreement with private equity firm Ares Management, according to Mergermarket. The financial media company cites two sources, both of whom said the private equity firm would pay $700 million to buy the chain entirely. Countryside, Ill.-based Cooper’s Hawk’s unusual model — part wine bar, part restaurant and part wine-of-the-month club — help draw in a variety of loyal customers and aggressive bidders, according to Mergermarket.

Home & Road

Portmeirion Group Acquires Nambé

Portmeirion Group announced its purchase of Nambé LLC, a premium branded U.S. homewares business. The acquisition provides the Group with additional scale in key U.S. markets and strategically complements the existing U.S. subsidiary while continuing to diversify business into new homeware product categories. Lawrence Bryan, chief executive, said: “Nambé is synonymous with market leading design in homewares and we are hugely excited to take the brand on the next part of its journey. Portmeirion has a great track record of adding value through acquiring quality brands that can then be leveraged through our global sales infrastructure. We are looking forward to working with the Nambé team on growing the business.“  Bryan added, “Portmeirion has a great track record of adding value through acquiring quality brands that can then be leveraged through our global sales infrastructure.” Portmeirion was founded by legendary ceramic designer Susan William-Ellis in Stoke-on-Trent, England in 1960 and has since continued to develop contemporary designs. Portmeirion is part of the Portmeirion Group which encompasses the Portmeirion, Spode, Royal Worcester, Pimpernel brands and the home fragrance and candle company, Wax Lyrical. The company is known for its tableware, cookware and gifts.

Rent-A-Center acquiring Merchants Preferred

Rent-A-Center has signed an agreement to acquire virtual rent-to-own company Merchants Preferred in a cash and stock deal valued at about $47.5 million. The transaction, approved by Rent-A-Center’s board and expected to close in the third quarter, consists of a $28 million cash payment and at least 701,918 shares of RAC stock. The $47.5 million valuation is based on RAC’s Friday closing stock price of $27.83 per share. The deal will speed up expansion plans for RAC’s Acceptance Now virtual RTO business, which provides services to third-party retailers and their customers. “Expanding Merchants Preferred’s and Acceptance Now’s existing relationships with its retail partners will be a top priority,” RAC said. Among other things, it will give RAC an additional 2,500 locations to add to its roughly 1,100 Acceptance Now kiosk locations and enhances its ability “to expand into large, national retail and online partners.”

Samson Holding acquires majority stake in Vietnam furniture plant

Samson Holding Ltd., the parent company of case goods and upholstery resource Universal Furniture, is acquiring a majority ownership position in one of the largest furniture plants in Vietnam for $32.5 million. The company announced it has acquired a 70% stake in the Timber Inds. furniture plant in Bien Hoa, Vietnam, which is located in the Dong Nai Province. Timber Inds. is a part of Green River Group. The company said this purchase is a “strategic investment” that will support Universal and “enter a well-established Vietnam furniture manufacturing community while remaining a viable, vertically integrated partner to retailers and interior designers around the world.” The purchase is key to Universal’s success moving as it is part of a move to shift the company’s production outside the China-based production facilities of Lacquer Craft Manufacturing, also a Samson subsidiary. Universal already has passed along temporary China tariff-related surcharges to offset increased costs of China-made products. By shifting production outside China, it potentially can lessen or remove these tariff related surcharges sooner than later.

June furniture store sales edge up 0.8%

Furniture and home furnishings store sales were up 0.8% in June from the same month last year and were down 0.2% for the second quarter, as the pace of growth continued to lag behind the broad retail sector this year. Sales in the home furnishings store category increased to $9.84 billion, from a revised $9.76 billion for June a year ago, according the latest report by the U.S. Department of Commerce. June furniture and home furnishings store sales were up 0.5% from May sales, which were revised down to $9.79 billion.

Jewelry & Luxury

LVMH, Stella McCartney Brand Form Partnership

LVMH has bought a minority stake in the Stella McCartney brand, a year after the designer’s split with rival luxury conglomerate Kering. McCartney will continue as the brand’s creative director and brand ambassador and will retain majority ownership, a statement said. She will also advise LVMH chairman and chief executive officer Bernard Arnault and the group’s executive committee on sustainability, it added. The “full scope” of the new partnership will be announced in September, it said. While primarily known for its clothes, the McCartney brand also produces jewelry, including an Alice in Wonderland–themed costume jewelry collection for Disney.

Charming Charlie To Close All 261 Stores

Accessories store Charming Charlie filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Thursday, with plans to close all of its 261 locations by August 31. The Houston-based retailer claimed $81.8 million in debt with $6,000 in cash on hand, as per a court filing. Known for organizing its sections by color, the stores sell fashion jewelry, handbags, clothing and giftware. Court documents show the company employs 3,342 people, including 856 full-time and 2,486 part-time workers. Chief Financial Officer Alvaro Bellon pointed to “unsustainable” operating expenses, including “onerous leases” and constrained liquidity under its existing loans, as the issues hindering long-term sustainability in a preliminary statement in court filings. The retailer leased all of its stores with aggregate occupancy costs totaling $47.4 million in 2018, as per court filings.

Lab-Grown Diamond Companies Receive Investment

Japanese conglomerate Cornes has bought a minority stake in Green Rocks and Isrough, two lab-grown diamond companies linked to Israel diamond dealer Ofer Mizrahi. Mizrahi, whose natural diamond company, Ofer Mizrahi Diamonds (OMD), has regularly topped Israeli export charts, owns a personal majority stake in Israel diamond grower Isrough, a joint venture with the Israeli Center of Diamond Technologies. OMD is the majority owner of Green Rocks, an Aventura, Fla., company that wholesales lab-growns to retailers. Cornes, the new investor, is a Japanese conglomerate that owns a range of businesses, which manufacture everything from luxury cars to kitchenware to diamond reactors through its Seki Diamond Systems division. Seki will continue to manufacture equipment for competing companies, it says. Green Rocks chief executive officer Leon Peres (pictured below) says the investment will enable Isrough to quintuple its current production of diamonds grown by chemical vapor deposition (CVD) by next year.

 

Office & Leisure

Former Petco CEO heads to Party City

Party City Holdco Inc. announced a replacement for Ryan Vero, president of its Retail Group, the day after he was tapped as CEO of tween/teen jewelry and accessories retailer Claire’s Stores. The party goods company also enhanced the position. Party City Holdco announced that Brad Weston has been appointed as CEO of Party City Retail Group and president of Party City Holdco, effective July 25, 2019. In the newly created role, Weston will report directly to James M. Harrison, CEO of PCHI. Weston, who will lead all aspects of the company’s retail operations, was most recently at pet supplies giant Petco, where he served as president from 2011 to December 2016, and CEO from January 2017 to June 2018.

GameStop partners to develop new store concepts and in-store experiences

GameStop is doubling down on brick-and-mortar. The world’s largest video game retailer is partnering with global design firm R/GA to develop and piloting new and streamlined physical store concepts, introducing new ways for gamers to try new titles before they buy them, and giving stores a unique layout and purpose that appeal to gamers. From store concepts that offer competitive sessions in home-grown e-Leagues to locations that sell strictly retro gaming software and hardware, GameStop plans to pilot the new store concepts in a “select market.” “We’re on a journey to use our vast retail footprint to provide an engaging and well-thought-out experience that enhances our consumers’ gaming interests,” said Frank Hamlin, chief customer officer at GameStop, which operates over 5,700 stores across 14 countries. “Our investment in this partnership is the next stage of our transformation and growth strategy.” The initiative comes as GameStop is working to adjust to the reshaped video game market, which is increasingly dominated by online downloads versus purchases. In March, GameStop announced a series of partnerships in the fast-growing esport space, which involve live video game competitions, are growing at a breakneck pace.

How Marriott is declaring war on Airbnb

Marriott is taking aim at Airbnb’s enviable position in the lodging rental space, and doing it with a completely different model. The iconic hotel chain that boasts 1.3 million hotel rooms spanning 30 brands, is fresh off a late spring launch of Homes & Villas by Marriott International. Initially tested last year in four European markets, Homes & Villas by Marriott International has since expanded to 2,000 premium and luxury rental homes found in 100 locations in the U.S., Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America. For urban areas, Marriott will rent you a high-end flat. The competitive advantage here for a Marriott: It has integrated the home rental service into its enormous, well-liked rewards program. So, you can accrue valuable rewards points by renting a luxury home and then apply them to staying at Marriott or Starwood locations. Marriott President and CEO Arne Sorenson told Yahoo Finance he has big plans for the lodging rental space, but declined to elaborate on those plans.

Technology & Internet

Amazon Prime Day 2019 sales cross $7 billion

Prime Day 2019 is now Amazon.com Inc.’s biggest sales event ever, surpassing its previous Prime Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales events. Amazon (No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 1000 and No. 3 in the Online Marketplaces database) didn’t provide specifics on sales or growth of its fifth-annual Prime Day. However, based on early analysis of marketplace sales, Amazon’s top-selling product categories and key site metrics, like conversion rate and traffic, Internet Retailer estimates sales hit $7.16 billion globally over the 48-hour period. That’s up 71% from the $4.19 billion sold during the 36-hour sales event last year. While Amazon doesn’t disclose total gross sales, it did say the retailer sold more than 175 million products during the two-day event (July 15-16). That compares with 100 million products sold during Prime Day 2018.

 

Amazon faces big EU antitrust probe

Amazon.com faces a full-blown European Union antitrust probe as the bloc’s competition chief Margrethe Vestager prepares for a summer finale to her five-year crackdown on U.S. technology giants. The Dane, who heads the EU’s competition division, is poised to open a formal investigation into Amazon within days, according to two people familiar with the case, who asked not to be named because the process isn’t public. Vestager has hinted for months that she wanted to escalate a preliminary inquiry into how Amazon may be unfairly using sales data to undercut smaller shops on its Marketplace platform. By ramping up the probe, officials can start to build a case that could ultimately lead to fines or an order to change the way the Seattle-based company operates.

 

Finance & Economy

US retail sales beat expectations in June

U.S. retail sales increased more than expected in June, pointing to strong consumer spending, which could help to blunt some of the hit on the economy from weak business investment.  June’s strong gain in core retail sales, coming on the heels of solid increases in April and May, suggested a sharp acceleration in consumer spending in the second quarter.  Spending is being supported by a tight labor market, even as the broader economy is slowing as weaker business investment, an inventory overhang, a trade war between the United States and China, and softening global growth pressure the manufacturing sector.

US housing starts fall; permits hit a 2-year low

U.S. homebuilding fell for a second straight month in June and permits dropped to a two-year low, suggesting the housing market continued to struggle despite lower mortgage rates. Housing starts decreased 0.9% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.253 million units last month as a rebound in the construction of single-family housing units was offset by a plunge in multi-family homebuilding, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday. Data for May was revised slightly down to show homebuilding falling to a pace of 1.265 million units, instead of slipping to a rate of 1.269 million units as previously reported. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast housing starts dipping to a pace of 1.261 million units in June.