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As the stumbling retailer tries to rebuild ties to shoppers, it has a massive employee morale problem to deal with as well.

Under ousted chief executive Ron Johnson, J.C. Penney (JCP -1.47%) had a massive housecleaning, sweeping away thousands of  jobs as it eliminated popular clothing lines like St. John’s Bay.

 

Now, returning CEO Myron Ullman has a knotty problem on his hands: how to revive those brands with a company suffering from deep morale problems and an employee base that has shrunk by 23%, reports The Wall Street Journal.

 

When Johnson completed his first full fiscal year on the job, Penney employed only 116,000 people, down from its recent historic level of 150,000, according to the report.

 

While the ex-CEO argued that the job cuts were needed to boost Penney’s financial performance, the opposite resulted: Loyal customers fled, with many angered at his decision to dump St. John’s Bay. Sales plunged 25% last year.

 

St. John’s Bay may have been a linchpin leading to Johnson’s failure. MSN moneyNOW readers often cited the disappearance of the casual-wear clothing line as the reason they abandoned Penney stores.

 

“If JC Penney brings back the brands that they ditched, St. John’s Bay women’s jeans for instance, I will think about shopping there again……but not until then,” one reader wrote on Thursday.

 

And it turns out that Penney is planning on bringing back the clothing line, which had brought in annual sales of a billion dollars, The Journal notes.

 

Why would Johnson single-handedly get rid of a brand that racked up such huge sales? The former Apple executive wanted to “de-frump” the stores and instead brought in edgier designers such as Cynthia Rowley. The problem, though, was that Penney customers had been happy with those comfortable clothing lines. Feeling alienated, many of them swore off shopping at the retailer.

 

Johnson misunderstood the store’s customer base, which tends to be older than 55. One-third of its customers earn less than $35,000 a year, according to BloombergBusinesswee​k. Getting rid of coupons also alienated his price-conscious customers.

 

Penney plans to return coupon advertising to newspapers, activist investor William Ackman said on Thursday, according to Bloomberg. The company needs to “calm the vendors,” he added.

 

But what to do about those morale problems? According to The Journal, the layoffs weren’t pretty. Because Penney didn’t have enough staff to cut people in face-to-face meetings, groups of employees were ushered into Penney’s auditorium to hear the news. Sometimes more than 100 people were fired at once, the story notes.

 

With Ullman’s plan to bring back St. John’s Bay, he might be taking one step toward dealing with his alienated customer base. And getting rid of Johnson was likely a big boost to internal morale. According to the New York Post, clapping and laughing erupted last Monday at an employee meeting when word of his ouster was announced.

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Aimee Picchi

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You can save 75% — or even more — when you buy these gently used items.

If you’re an avid thrift shopper like me, you know that every secondhand store has its own unique personality. Some stores are great for furniture, others for clothing; some seem to have the market cornered on books, and a few just seem to have older and more unique items than all the rest.Regardless of the personality of your favorite store, there are five standard items that you should always be on the lookout for in every thrift store. Here’s my not-so-scientific list of the top five items that offer the highest savings when compared with retail.

 

1. Shoes

If you can get over the mental roadblock of buying used shoes, it’ll do wonders for your budget. With decent-quality leather shoes ranging anywhere from $65 to $85 retail, scoring a gently used pair for $6 means you’re saving at least 90%. Focus on condition and pay special attention to soles and heels; avoid wear patterns that might affect your stride. Give leather some TLC with mink oil or shoe polish.

 

2. Belts

When did a buckled strip of leather with some holes at one end become worth $32? I’m pretty picky and my wardrobe reflects it, but I haven’t paid more than $4 for a belt in years. Sure, sometimes you walk away empty-handed. But if you’re willing to look and wait for just the right item, you can find great deals on all kinds of leather accessories like belts, wallets, and purses too.

 

3. Jeans

When I was a teenager, I saved for three months to buy a new pair of Guess jeans. I still remember the price back then ($40). Even in all their acid-washed glory, that seemed like an outrageous sum. Today, that’s a bargain price for an off-brand. Thrift stores are great places to take advantage of the growth spurts and fickle tastes of kids and pick up good-quality jeans for about $7. Deals on adult denim are easy to find too. It just takes a little patience, a few trips to the dressing room, and maybe a quick alteration.

4. Furniture

After you’ve been thrifting for a few years, strolling through most retail settings is like visiting a foreign land: You can appreciate the beauty, but you don’t understand what’s being said. Nowhere is this feeling more pronounced than in furniture stores. Spending $219 for a nightstand or $389 for an accent chair? What language are they speaking?

 

Last month I made a quick stop at a local charity’s thrift center and found a club chair and matching ottoman for $80. It was so new it still smelled like the furniture store that had donated it. All it needed was one small repair to the roping detail along the top edge of the ottoman. It took all of 10 minutes to make it look showroom perfect.

 

Check your local thrift store for lamps, nightstands, coffee tables, and bed frames. They can usually be found in perfect or near-perfect condition. Items in rougher shape can become weekend projects and get a second life with a bit of sanding and varnish or paint. Often the sheer quality of older items makes them worthy candidates for a salvage project. Look for quality markers like solid wood construction and dovetail joints.

 

5. Books

Even if you have an e-reader, sometimes it’s nice to hold a book in your hands. And thrift stores are treasure-troves of good used books. Retail prices for paperbacks range from $12.99 to $14; at most thrift shops, they’re 89 cents to $2.99. That’s a minimum savings of about 75%. Thrift stores in college towns and larger cities seem to have the quickest turnover in books and the best selection. Grab some coffee and stroll through their stacks.

 

Successful thrifting is all about being persistent, knowing what you need today and might need tomorrow, and seizing a good a deal when you find it. If you know the right categories to mine, thrift shopping can be a way to save some serious cash by avoiding retail prices on as much as you can whenever you can.

 

Do you focus on certain categories when you thrift shop? What’s the best deal you’ve ever scored secondhand?

 

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Karen Datko

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Avoid foolish impulse buys by asking yourself these 4 pre-purchase questions.

 

If you’re feeling blue, hide your green. According to new research published in the journal Psychological Science, sadness can lead to impulsive (and irresponsible) financial choices.

Study participants watched either a sad or neutral video. Then researchers asked them to choose how they’d like to receive a cash reward. They could either receive one sum of money at the end of the session, or receive a bigger reward mailed to them in the future. Participants who watched the neutral video chose the delayed reward 13 to 34 percent more often than people who watched the sad video, according to Jennifer Lerner, Ph.D., director of the Harvard Laboratory for Decision Science and one of the study’s authors. These differences emerged even though real money was at stake.

“Sadness makes people devalue future gains relative to present gains,” Lerner says. In other words, when you’re sad, you’re more focused on the now, rather than the future. You just want to be happy. You don’t care about what happens down the line.”

“This process occurs unconsciously,” Lerner adds. “Decision makers themselves do not recognize that sadness has such effects.” Meaning: If you shop while sad, you could set yourself up for some potential wallet pain and not even know it. (Is the cold weather making you feel more sad than normal? Try these 6 Ways Beat the Winter Blues.)

Before you sprint to the mall, ask yourself these four questions to make sure you’re not being financially shortsighted.

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: Vera Sizensky, Women’s Health

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In a one-day blitz of shopping, consumers are expected to empty their wallets of more than $1 billion on Cyber Monday, the online shopping spree on November 26, according to spending projections from research firm, ComScore.

The day follows closely on the heels of Black Friday on November 23, which kicks off the holiday shopping season at stores, and is often the busiest shopping day for retailers.

Come Monday, not every web-browsing window shopper will hit the “buy” button, and 65 percent of shopping carts are typically abandoned by online shoppers, says the Baynard Institute in Copenhagen. These consumers may be motivated by a belief, often correct, that there’s a better deal out there.

Cyber Monday 2012 may offer the best deals on technology products this year, says Brian Hoyt, senior writer for RetailMeNot.com, a coupon code site.

That’s because merchants have held back their best deals for the Black Friday-Cyber Monday shopping bonanza to whittle down their inventory, and they are likely to sell out without needing to discount further, he says.

Here are strategies that should help you navigate Cyber Monday and enjoy the best possible prices this year.

MAKE A LIST

Successful Cyber Monday shopping is not about aimlessly browsing or getting everything in one place, says Hoyt. It’s about honing your list down to specific items and searching for the lowest prices for each of them.

One way to do this is to browse at stores over the holiday weekend, to scan bar codes of desired products into a price-checking application like Red Laser, and to check reviews or browse ads at home.

“If I were a consumer trying to be as thrifty as possible, I would invest my time at the aggregated websites that are compiling the Cyber Monday deals,” says Andrew Baker, assistant professor of marketing in the College of Business Administration at San Diego State University. (Some such sites are http://dealnews.com, http://cybermonday.com and http://slickdeals.net)

And, when stores are shut, check for deals online.

“That’s what retailers want you to do,” says Dan Olds, who runs Gabriel Consulting Group, a retail trend watching firm.

MAXIMISE SAVINGS

Once you’ve narrowed down your wish list, it should take minutes to find the lowest price, says RetailMeNot’s Hoyt. Simply plug the item into a search engine like Nextag, Google Shopping or Pricegrabber, and evaluate.

Then, enter details on the stores with the best prices into a coupon code site (such as http://RetailMeNot.com or http://couponcabin.com, http://dealcatcher.com) to see if there are codes that come up.

When you do the math, you may find that the merchant in the No. 2 spot may be offering a 10 percent discount deal or free shipping, offering better overall value than the store in the top spot.

Indeed, try to avoid shipping costs altogether.

To broaden your chances of finding deals, “Like” and follow your favorite stores on Twitter and Facebook; some retailers will post deals just for their online fans.

If you are an active online shopper, you may receive personalized deal offers as the holiday season progresses. For example, if you like to buy Coach handbags at Nordstrom, you might see offers to get 20-percent off of Coach accessories.

“The conversion rate of a typical coupon deal is less than one percent, which is very low, but the conversion rate for tuned and personalized offers is much higher – in the 5 to 10 percent range,” says Kevin Sterneckert, vice president of retail research at Gartner Group.

Lands End, LL Bean and CVS are among retailers who are tapping their databases to entice shoppers with customized offers.

Should you jump at these deals? Only if the items are on your shopping list and you’ve done your research on prices.

BEST PAYMENT METHODS

You can reap additional rewards by picking your mode of payment wisely.

For online shoppers, Brian Kelly of ThePointsGuy.com recommends checking your credit card’s rewards website and visiting retail links from there. Some cards will offer a 5 percent bonus for such transactions. You can check your card benefits for details.

This year, PayPal is offering price-match guarantees and free return shipping for purchases made using PayPal. Citi, Visa and MasterCard also frequently offer price matching. Other shoppers rely on various reward and cash-back cards to maximize their benefits.

If you’ve taken all these steps and still don’t like the deal you’re getting, you could take your chances and wait – December 17 is “Free Shipping Day” (http://www.freeshippingday.com) for procrastinators who want a day of their own.

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

(Additional reporting by Chelsea Emery and Lauren Young; Editing by Linda Stern and Bernadette Baum)

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2012.

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You might see some holiday deals on these items, but you’ll likely get much better prices if you wait a bit.

 

With all the Black Friday ad leaks and sneak peeks unearthed in the past few weeks, this season’s shopping extravaganza is looking ripe with deals and discounts for all. But even though many product categories will see new all-time low prices, not everything will be a good purchase on Black Friday.

In some cases, you would be better off skipping certain deals and waiting for a better offer later on. Here are 10 items that are not worth buying this Black Friday.

Toys

We’ve said it many times already, and we’ll say it once more: Black Friday is not the best time to buy toys for the holidays. Many will likely still be discounted for Black Friday, and it may feel pretty good to get your shopping done early, but you won’t love that sinking feeling you’ll get when you see bigger discounts on those toys about two weeks before Christmas.

Game consoles without a bundled item

Speaking of toys, if you’re looking to buy any of the major video game consoles this holiday, you’re likely to get more bang for your buck by opting for one that comes with a few extras. While we’ve already seen a few choice Xbox deals in the leaked Black Friday ads, in years past the vast majority of Editors’ Choice console deals went to holiday bundles that included premium accessories and two or three game titles. These were frequently discounted 30% to 40% off their retail prices.

Brand-name HDTVs

Black Friday is an excellent time to invest in a new HDTV, as we predict a variety of size categories will hit their lowest price points. But don’t expect the best deals to be tagged with name brands. Typically, the rock-bottom prices will mostly apply to third-tier manufacturers. Instead, brand-name TVs tend to see their best price of the year in January and February as manufacturers look to clear stock in preparation for new models in the spring.

The latest digital cameras

There’s no shortage of digital camera deals around Black Friday, but keep in mind that the premium current-generation models are just a few months away from being replaced by a new line of 2013 options. If you’re eying a brand-new digital SLR, we recommend waiting until February or later when it becomes an “old model,” resulting in more aggressive discounts from retailers.

Christmas decorations

While not typically on anyone’s “To Buy on Black Friday” list, Christmas decor tends to end up in-cart as impulse buys. Sure, that string of lights or holiday wreath might be on sale, but deals on Christmas items get better the closer we get to the holiday itself — and of course are the best after the holiday.

Office supplies

For some, it may seem silly to advise against office supply deals on Black Friday, as it’s not typically a category associated with the shopping event. But for several years running, office supply stores like Office Depot and OfficeMax have released Black Friday ads in the hopes of encouraging an uptick in business. Unfortunately, these deals are generally no better than those we see throughout the rest of the year. In fact, during the entire Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday stretch in 2011, we only found a measly three Editors’ Choice deals in this category.

Jewelry and watches

We’re flagging this accessories category “do not buy” for the entire holiday season. Much like Christmas items, there will be lots of sales advertising shiny, metallic objects perfect for him or her. But the discounts on jewelry around the winter holidays are no better than those around Valentine’s Day, when baubles are at peak demand. And instead of buying a watch now, consider holding off until the spring and summer when we see more Editors’ Choice deals.

Winter apparel

During Black Friday, we’ll likely see some of the best apparel coupons of the year from a variety of retailers. However, if winter apparel is on your list, it’s smarter to hold off until January, when those items are added to clearance sales that take much deeper base discounts. We will inevitably find additional stacking coupons then too, to make those stronger sales even better for your wallet.

Apple iPad Mini

The long-awaited iPad Mini will set you back at least $329, and if it follows the price pattern of its distant predecessor, the first generation iPad, it won’t see a discount until several months from now. While there’s an off-chance that an attention-seeking retailer could offer an iPad Mini promotion — the latest full-size iPad is included in the Target Black Friday ad, after all — the bottom line is this: The iPad Mini features essentially the same innards as the iPad 2, and we’re predicting that the latter will fall to $299 this Black Friday. Therefore, the iPad 2 will offer more screen real estate at a lower price.

While we advise against purchasing the above products around Black Friday, keep in mind that nothing is written in stone, and we may still see some stellar deals within these categories. However, it’s more likely that we’ll encounter so-so offers, so it’s best to temper your expectations.

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: MSN Money partner

Click here to view the original article

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You might see some holiday deals on these items, but you’ll likely get much better prices if you wait a bit.

 

With all the Black Friday ad leaks and sneak peeks unearthed in the past few weeks, this season’s shopping extravaganza is looking ripe with deals and discounts for all. But even though many product categories will see new all-time low prices, not everything will be a good purchase on Black Friday.

In some cases, you would be better off skipping certain deals and waiting for a better offer later on. Here are 10 items that are not worth buying this Black Friday.

Toys

We’ve said it many times already, and we’ll say it once more: Black Friday is not the best time to buy toys for the holidays. Many will likely still be discounted for Black Friday, and it may feel pretty good to get your shopping done early, but you won’t love that sinking feeling you’ll get when you see bigger discounts on those toys about two weeks before Christmas.

Game consoles without a bundled item

Speaking of toys, if you’re looking to buy any of the major video game consoles this holiday, you’re likely to get more bang for your buck by opting for one that comes with a few extras. While we’ve already seen a few choice Xbox deals in the leaked Black Friday ads, in years past the vast majority of Editors’ Choice console deals went to holiday bundles that included premium accessories and two or three game titles. These were frequently discounted 30% to 40% off their retail prices.

Brand-name HDTVs

Black Friday is an excellent time to invest in a new HDTV, as we predict a variety of size categories will hit their lowest price points. But don’t expect the best deals to be tagged with name brands. Typically, the rock-bottom prices will mostly apply to third-tier manufacturers. Instead, brand-name TVs tend to see their best price of the year in January and February as manufacturers look to clear stock in preparation for new models in the spring.

The latest digital cameras

There’s no shortage of digital camera deals around Black Friday, but keep in mind that the premium current-generation models are just a few months away from being replaced by a new line of 2013 options. If you’re eying a brand-new digital SLR, we recommend waiting until February or later when it becomes an “old model,” resulting in more aggressive discounts from retailers.

Christmas decorations

While not typically on anyone’s “To Buy on Black Friday” list, Christmas decor tends to end up in-cart as impulse buys. Sure, that string of lights or holiday wreath might be on sale, but deals on Christmas items get better the closer we get to the holiday itself — and of course are the best after the holiday.

Office supplies

For some, it may seem silly to advise against office supply deals on Black Friday, as it’s not typically a category associated with the shopping event. But for several years running, office supply stores like Office Depot and OfficeMax have released Black Friday ads in the hopes of encouraging an uptick in business. Unfortunately, these deals are generally no better than those we see throughout the rest of the year. In fact, during the entire Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday stretch in 2011, we only found a measly three Editors’ Choice deals in this category.

Jewelry and watches

We’re flagging this accessories category “do not buy” for the entire holiday season. Much like Christmas items, there will be lots of sales advertising shiny, metallic objects perfect for him or her. But the discounts on jewelry around the winter holidays are no better than those around Valentine’s Day, when baubles are at peak demand. And instead of buying a watch now, consider holding off until the spring and summer when we see more Editors’ Choice deals.

Winter apparel

During Black Friday, we’ll likely see some of the best apparel coupons of the year from a variety of retailers. However, if winter apparel is on your list, it’s smarter to hold off until January, when those items are added to clearance sales that take much deeper base discounts. We will inevitably find additional stacking coupons then too, to make those stronger sales even better for your wallet.

Apple iPad Mini

The long-awaited iPad Mini will set you back at least $329, and if it follows the price pattern of its distant predecessor, the first generation iPad, it won’t see a discount until several months from now. While there’s an off-chance that an attention-seeking retailer could offer an iPad Mini promotion — the latest full-size iPad is included in the Target Black Friday ad, after all — the bottom line is this: The iPad Mini features essentially the same innards as the iPad 2, and we’re predicting that the latter will fall to $299 this Black Friday. Therefore, the iPad 2 will offer more screen real estate at a lower price.

While we advise against purchasing the above products around Black Friday, keep in mind that nothing is written in stone, and we may still see some stellar deals within these categories. However, it’s more likely that we’ll encounter so-so offers, so it’s best to temper your expectations.

Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: MSN Money partner

Click here to view the original article

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Toys R Us says it’s starting its sale at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Meanwhile, other major chains’ BF ads hit deal sites.

 

Shoppers might have had a hard time keeping up with the flurry of Black Friday ads landing on deal sites over the weekend.

It seemed a new ad was leaked every couple of hours, including the popular parent destination, Toys R Us.

TRU’s 32-page ad boasted a whopping 200 doorbusters — most about half price. Many consumers who commented on deal sites such as BlackFriday.Gottadea​l.com thought it filled a toy gap this year as Wal-Mart and Target focused more heavily on video games and electronics.

Like several of its discount rivals, Toys R Us is starting its sale at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, with doorbuster sale prices on Thursday night and a separate sale on Saturday.

While not every hot toy was deeply discounted, there are many good bargains to be found, including:

  • Fisher-Price Rock Star Mickey — $19.98 (now selling for $40).
  • GeoTrax on the Go Zoo — $14.99 (regularly $30).
  • $15 bonus iTunes gift card with $50 iTunes gift card purchase.
  • 40% off all Lego sets.
  • Video games, buy one, get one for $1.
  • Skylanders Giants Starter Pack for $49.99 (regularly $75).
  • Garmin nuvi 50 5-inch portable GPS for 79.99 (regularly $120).
  • $5 board games, including Monopoly and Scrabble.

Some deals are to be found only in stores. And a footnote at the bottom of the ad said that online prices “may vary.” Online shoppers, however, can snag free shipping at Toysrus.com and Babiesrus.com this season.

Be warned: While Toys R Us is offering a price-match guarantee through Dec. 24, last month it said it would not match competitors’ Black Friday prices.

Other Black Friday sale ads leaked this weekend, include those of home-improvement giants Lowe’s and Home Depot, and department stores Kohl’s and J.C. Penney. For once, troubled Penney’s did not even try to keep up with rivals’ Thursday openings, instead, pushing back its sale to 6 a.m. Friday, and eliminating last year’s free snow globes for shoppers.

Bah, humbug!
Compliments of: Martha Small | Austin Portfolio Real Estate | 512.587.0308

Original Article by: MSN Money partner

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