TIME Companies

Walmart’s Head of U.S. Operations Will Step Down After Slump in Sales

A sign lists the current Walmart stock price at a Walmart Supercenter in Bentonville
A sign lists the current Walmart stock price at the Walmart Supercenter in Bentonville, Ark., on June 5, 2014 Rick Wilking — Reuters

His replacement has quickly ascended the ranks of the company's operations in Asia in recent years

Walmart announced on Thursday that Bill Simon, the president of its operations in the U.S., will leave the company next month after four years of leadership marked most recently by a decline in sales. Greg Foran, the New Zealand–born executive who just last month assumed his role as head of Walmart Asia, will take over from Simon from Aug. 9.

“Being asked to lead the Walmart U.S. business is a privilege that I don’t take lightly,” Foran said in a company statement. “I am excited to get started. The needs of our customers are changing dramatically, and we have an enormous opportunity to serve them in new and different ways.”

Foran will assume office at a time of uncertainty for the corporation, with five quarters of falling sales in the rearview mirror despite a recent surge in U.S. consumer confidence. A market analyst told Reuters that Walmart CEO Doug McMillon “wanted new blood” in the company to facilitate its efforts in online retail and general rebranding. Foran has been a rising star in Walmart: he left his position as Woolworths’ head of supermarkets in 2011 to take the reins of Walmart’s fledgling China project and was promoted to oversee the company’s expansion in Asia.

TIME Earnings

Amazon’s Q2 Earnings Lower Than Expected

Amazon Q2 2014 Earnings Report
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos presents the company's first smartphone, the Fire Phone, on June 18, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. David Ryder—Getty Images

Pressure is rising for Amazon's new services and products to help the company show profit

Amazon said Thursday that its second quarter financial performance was worse than expected, causing shares to tumble over six percent in after-hours trading.

Amazon reported losing 27 cents per share on revenue of $19.34 billion, while Wall Street had been expecting, on average, a loss of 15 cents per share. Additionally, Amazon’s net loss was $126 million, far greater than the $7 million posted during the same period in 2013.

The company’s net sales, however, rose 23% to $19.34 billion, compared with $15.70 billion in second quarter 2013. Amazon said it expects net sales in the third quarter to reach between $19.7 billion and $21.5 billion. It also expects an operating loss of $410 million to $810 million for next quarter, up significantly from $25 million in 2013, which Amazon attributes to stock-based compensation and amortization of intangible assets.

Investors have long been forgiving of Amazon posting losses or thin profit margins despite its rising revenue, which some insist will be channeled into developing new products that will eventually win back those losses. But Amazon’s shares have fallen by nearly 10 percent this year as some investors grow skeptical of Amazon’s potential long-term growth. Questions remain about how well Amazon’s new services, such as its same-day grocery delivery service, will perform in the future, as Amazon will likely have to work harder to convince stakeholders of its profitability.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement Thursday that the company continues “working hard on making the Amazon customer experience better and better,” noting recent improvements such as those to its cloud computing service, and its new Fire Phone, which goes on sale in the U.S. Friday.

 

TIME food and drink

This Company Is Making Millions By Giving You 5 Fewer Chips Per Bag

Lay's-New Flavor
Using images provided by Frito-Lay, this composite image shows the four finalists for its 2014 "Do Us a Flavor" contest in the U.S. Associated Press

Lay's flavored bags contain slightly fewer chips than regular bags, and the savings add up

The truth is out: yes, some bags of Lay’s potato chips do in fact contain fewer chips. It’s intentional, and it’s saving the company millions.

Lay’s regular packs are 10 oz., but the company’s bags of flavored chips are 9.5 oz, yet both sell for $4.29, according to the Associated Press. The difference is equivalent to roughly 5-6 chips. And while that gap is saving consumers about 75 greasy calories, the biggest benefits are to Lay’s parent company, PepsiCo, which raised its full-year earnings forecast Wednesday in part because of these flavored bags, whose interesting tastes were crowdsourced by potato chip-loving Americans.

Just how much is Lay’s making? Cutting half an ounce from a bag while leaving its price unchanged correlates roughly to a 21 cents-per-bag saving. Lay’s potato chips bring in over $1 billion annually in retail sales, equivalent to over 200 million bags, if the average price per bag is somewhere around $4. At 21 cents saved per bag, the total amount saved is therefore upwards of $50 million—quite a lot for Lay’s considering the tiny amount of chips on which consumers miss out.

The fewer chips strategy is a tack-on to PepsiCo’s larger effort to cut costs through productivity increases, a plan announced in 2012 that’s expected to save PepsiCo $1 billion annually through 2019. Overall this quarter, PepsiCo saw a 5% rise in worldwide on global organic snack revenue, and even a 2% global increase in global beverage sales. The two upward sales and general cost cutting are vital for PepsiCo’s ongoing battle against investor Nelson Peltz, a stakeholder who’s launched a campaign urging PepsiCo to split its snack business from its sluggish beverage business.

In the coming months, the reduced flavored bags will continue to benefit sales volume for Frito-Lay North America, according to PepsiCo CFO Hugh Johnston.

 

 

TIME Retail

Walmart Managers Average Salary Higher Than Starbucks

Wal-Mart Associate Jeff Parker stocks produce at store #100 in Bentonville, Arkansas on July 2, 2003.
Wal-Mart Associate Jeff Parker stocks produce at store #100 in Bentonville, Arkansas on July 2, 2003. Reuters

Their cashiers, however, make less than the national average of $11.22/hour

Walmart may often get criticized for not paying its workers a living wage, but according to a new working paper, climbing the corporate ladder within the chain can lead to substantial income. In fact, the National Bureau of Economic Research found, Walmart store managers make an average salary of $92,462 per year.

The authors of the new working paper used data from career site Glassdoor and the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey to analyze and compare average salaries of employees at some of the U.S.’s largest retail chains including Walmart, Costco, Whole Foods, and Starbucks. According to the analysis, Walmart store managers are among the highest paid in the nation, with Costco leading the pack with average manager salaries of $109,000. At Starbucks and Whole Foods, store managers bring home on average $44,632 and $75,775, respectively.

However, while store manager pay ranks high, according to NBER, Walmart cashiers earn about $8.48/hour and are paid less than their counterparts at the other chains. At Starbucks, “baristas” make $8.80 an hour, on average, while those at Whole Foods and Costco make $10.31 and $11.59. Cashiers at three out of four of the retailers make less than the average national hourly cashier rate of $11.22/hour.

The paper also shows a significant gender gap, even among cashiers. While high school educated women in retail make 25% less than their male counterparts, women cashiers make 17% less. Among those with some college education, women make 20% and 21% less than men when they have a high school education and some college, respectively.

TIME Companies

You Can’t Check-In on Foursquare’s Main App Starting Tomorrow

Foursquare Squares Off with Yelp After Major Overhaul
Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley speaks during the NikeFuel Forum at Spring Studios on October 15, 2013 in New York City. Mike Lawrie—Getty Images

Foursquare is shedding its rep as a check-in app to compete with discovery services like Yelp

You can check out Foursquare’s new app starting in the next few weeks, but you can’t check-in.

Foursquare said Wednesday that users will have to use its secondary app, Swarm, to check-in to locations starting Thursday. That change comes after Foursquare announced an unbundling into two separate apps back in May: Foursquare, where users run local searches, and Swarm, where check-ins are re-hosted.

That split gave Foursquare—now with a brand new logo—time to cocoon up for a metamorphosis that’s “almost ready for you,” according to Foursquare’s blog post. The “new” Foursquare app, releasing sometime in the next two weeks, will feature personalized local searches, giving users different results based on their preferences and activity. Foursquare promises no two people will have the same experience.

“In a couple weeks, we’re rolling out a brand new version of Foursquare that’s all about you,” Foursquare’s blog states. “Tell us what you like, and we’ll be on the lookout for great places that match your tastes, wherever you are.”

Personalized searches have been a hot topic for Foursquare and similar rival apps, like Yelp. Foursquare has previously personalized user experiences through an “Explore” button. The feature allowed users to filter by category and to receive recommendations, services resembling those on Yelp, which also added a feature similar to Foursquare’s check-in function. Foursquare’s new primary app, meanwhile, is clearly intended as a salvo in the direction of Yelp and similar services — though it remains to be seen how Foursquare user’s will react to being forced over to a new app for check-ins; similar service splits have not gone well in the past.

 

TIME Companies

The Next iPhone Will Reportedly Have a Way Bigger Screen

Apple is reportedly increasing the size of the iPhone display from 4 inches to options of 4.7 or 5.5 inches

Apple has ordered larger-sized screens for its next generation of iPhones this year, the Wall Street Journal reports, betting that consumer demand for bigger phone displays will help wrest market share from competitors like Samsung.

The company has asked suppliers to manufacture between 70 and 80 million units of large-screen iPhones with 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch displays. The most recent versions of the iPhone, the 5s and 5C, have only 4-inch diagonal displays.

Samsung, which has a 29% share of the smartphone market compared with Apple’s 18%, produces the top-selling Galaxy S with a 4.8-inch display. Apple’s move into larger screens may be a competitive strike against Samsung just as the company prepares to release its third-quarter results Tuesday and provide a financial outlook for the period ending in September.

Apple’s 70- to 80-million unit initial order for what is being called the iPhone 6 is significantly larger than the 50- to 60 million-unit initial order of the iPhone 5S and C.

[WSJ]

TIME Companies

This Might Be Apple’s New Biggest Problem

Apple Profit Margins
The exterior of the downtown Apple Store in Central Hong Kong in May 2014. George Rose—Getty Images

Analysts’ average estimate for the gross profit margin is 38.1%

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

In a note to clients Monday, UBS’s Steven Milunovich raised his Apple price target to $115 from $100 on signs that the company’s gross margins — long the envy of its competitors — are once again on the upswing.

Gross margin, or GM, may be the number Apple analysts watch most closely — even more than iPhone unit sales, although the two are closely linked (the more iPhones Apple sells, the better its gross margins).

GM is a ratio calculated by the formula GM=(Rev-Cost)/Rev, and it measures how efficiently a company turns sales into profits — something Apple does better than most because it doesn’t have to cut prices to stay competitive.

Instead, Apple’s gross margins tend follow their own internal rhythms, falling when the company is tooling up to build new products and rising as efficiencies increase and component prices fall.

Gross margins peaked in Q2 2012 at an extraordinary 47.4% on the strength of sales of the iPhone 4S and dropped to 36.9% in Q3 2013 as Apple was gearing up to launch, in the same quarter, two new iPhones and pair of iPads.

For the rest of the story, go to Fortune.com.

TIME Companies

This Is the Scandal McDonald’s Is Dealing With Now

Firms cut ties to Shanghai-based supplier after allegations revive memories of 2012 scandal

+ READ ARTICLE

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This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

McDonald’s Corp and Yum Brands Inc are embroiled in a new scandal over food safety in China after one of its suppliers came under investigation for allegedly selling expired beef and chicken.

The episode threatens to throw a wrench in the pair’s efforts to get over a similar scandal in 2012, when they were accused of selling chicken products with excessive amounts of antibiotics.

Yum is the parent of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell and is the biggest operator of fast-food restaurants in China, having first opened KFC there in 1987, while McDonald’s has recently been lost second place, in terms of stores, to Taiwan-based Dicos.

Yum had said only last week that like-for-like sales in China had risen 15% in the second quarter, and that KFC sales had risen 21%, a badly-needed boost in view of falling sales in the U.S. at KFC and Pizza Hut.

For the rest of the story, go to Fortune.com.

TIME Economy

New Data Show Faster Job Growth in States With Higher Minimum Wage

Labor Secretary Perez Discusses Raising Minimum Wage During Visit To DC Restaurant
U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, second left, and Representative George Miller (D-CA) visit a Sweetgreen restaurant to discuss minimum wage, June 16, 2014 at Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. Alex Wong—Getty Images

Findings could undermine the argument that raising the minimum wage hurts job growth

New data show that the 13 states that raised the minimum wage this year are adding jobs at a faster pace than those that did not.

State-by-state hiring data released Friday by the Labor Department reveal that in the 13 states that boosted minimum wages at the beginning of this year, the number of jobs grew an average of 0.85 percent from January to June. The average in the other 37 states was 0.61 percent, the Associated Press reports.

The findings could undermine the argument that raising the minimum wage hurts job growth, a view held by major conservative lobbies. The Congressional Budget Office reported earlier this year that a minimum wage of $10.10 could bring 900,000 people out of of poverty, but would cost 500,000 jobs nationwide.

“It raises serious questions about the claims that a raise in the minimum wage is a jobs disaster,” said John Schmitt, a senior economist at the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research. The job data “isn’t definitive,” he added, but is “probably a reasonable first cut at what’s going on.”

President Barack Obama has supported raising the minimum wage, saying that it will help the economy and businesses.

Some economists said that data was inconclusive and that it’s too early to say whether minimum wage hikes hurt job growth. The rate of job growth was the highest in North Dakota, where the local oil and gas boom has spurred the economy but there has been no minimum wage increase. “It’s too early to tell,” said Stan Veuger, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “These states are very different along all kinds of dimensions.”

[AP]

TIME Companies

These Are the Companies With the Worst Customer Service

Wells Fargo has become the leading bank in home mortgages. Photo: Shutterstock

Not great

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This post is in partnership with 24/7 Wall Street. The article below was originally published on 247wallst.com.

By , , , and

When it comes to companies we dread dealing with, we all know who they are. Let’s put it this way, would you rather go to the Apple Genius Bar to fix something with your iPhone or to the Bank of America teller to reverse a surprise interest charge?

It’s perhaps no wonder Bank of America leads the nation in bad customer service. The massive U.S. financial institution has made the Customer Service Hall of Shame every year since 2009.

In collaboration with research survey group Zogby Analytics, we polled 2,500 adults about the quality of customer service at 150 of America’s best-known companies in 15 industries, asking if that service was “excellent,” “good,” “fair” or “poor.”

Those with the highest percentages of “excellent” rankings make up the Customer Service Hall of Fame; those with the highest share “poor” ratings make up our Customer Service Hall of Shame. (See how the survey was done and full results on the last page of this article.)

MORE: Ten States with the Slowest Growing Economies

Many of the other companies with the bottom-rated customer service have earned spots on the Hall of Shame list in the past. Eight of the 10 companies in the Hall of Shame have made at least three previous appearances since 2009.

It is difficult for businesses in some industries to win consumer praise. Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup — three of the largest banks in the country — received some of the worst customer service ratings in the nation.

For banks, the many fees they charge may contribute to a customer’s poor evaluation of a company. “As soon as you take out your Bank of America ATM card you get charged,” said Praveen Kopalle, professor of marketing at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.

In addition to unpleasant and repeated charges and fees, these large banks engaged in questionable and often unlawful behavior that contributed to the housing crisis. For example, “[Banks] assured customers that [mortgage-backed securities] were actually good products when, in fact, they were pretty toxic,” Kopalle said.

Cable and satellite TV companies are another segment that has repeatedly received poor customer service ratings. Shep Hyken, a customer satisfaction expert, explained that these companies are often unclear about their service charges. “Customers get shocked when they get their bill,” Hyken said.

In some instances, companies have little incentive to offer good service. “If people really don’t like the customer service that they receive from telecom companies, they don’t have a lot of choice,” Tim Calkins, clinical professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, explained. Without competition from other companies, “there is just not that pressure to deliver great service.”

Future consolidation in these industries may exacerbate the problem. Companies like AT&T and DirecTV, as well as Time Warner Cable and Comcast, are driving merger and acquisition activity that will likely close this year, pending government approval.

Many of the companies with the worst customer service, however, are still market leaders and manage to maintain impressive profit margins. Seven of the 10 companies in the Hall of Shame dominate their industries.

This is 24/7 Wall St.’s Customer Service Hall of Shame:

MORE: Ten States with the Fastest Growing Economies

10. Citigroup
> Pct. ratings “poor”: 15.3% (credit card), 15.1% (banking)

More than 15% of respondents said they had a “poor” experience with both Citigroup Inc.’s (NYSE: C) credit card and banking businesses.

However, Citigroup is hardly alone among financial institutions in receiving low ratings for its customer service. Both Bank of America and Wells Fargo had worse-rated banking operations. While missing from the bottom 10, Capital One and J.P. Morgan Chase also received low ratings.

The banking industry as a whole suffers from bad press, likely due to its involvement in the financial crisis. According to analyst Dick Bove, penalties, regulations and rule changes have made quality customer service even more difficult to deliver.

“The banks responded by taking away millions of credit cards from customers that they could no longer do business with on a profitable basis,” Bove said.

While customers gave Citi’s credit card and banking service low grades, the bank performed well overall in the Pew Charitable Trusts’ most recent annual survey on consumer banking practices. Citi’s policies include five of the seven “best practices” endorsed by the study.

MORE: The 15 Highest-Paying Companies in America

9. Wells Fargo
> Pct. ratings “poor”: 16.2% (credit card), 15.0% (banking)

More than 16% of survey participants said their experience with Wells Fargo’s credit card business was “poor.” Wells Fargo’s banking operations did not fare much better for customer service. About 15% reported a “poor” customer service experience for Well Fargo as a bank.

The company declined an interview. In written statement, it said that it was committed to improving customer experience, and that it was “always looking for ways to apply their input and further strengthen our customer service.”

Although Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC) has largely avoided the financial crisis-related fines several of its competitors paid, it has not been immune to scrutiny. The bank, which is the largest provider of home loans, was sued by the Federal Housing Authority in 2012 for bad mortgages. Like other banks, continuous criticism since the financial crisis is likely a major component of Wells Fargo’s customer dissatisfaction.

According to Bove, bad press is only part of the problem. Strict regulations and large fines can have a considerable impact on customer relations as banks are forced to implement cost-cutting measures that may inconvenience consumers.

8. AT&T
> Pct. ratings “poor”: 17.5%

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) is hardly the only mobile telephone company that received a disproportionate number of negative reviews for its customer service. In fact, all four of the nation’s leading mobile carriers were among the bottom fifth of companies evaluated.

Although the company’s record of customer service is spotty, AT&T has developed several initiatives designed to improve customer outreach. Among these, the company wrote in its annual report that it had 70 staffers dedicated to customer care on social media platforms. Additionally, last year AT&T streamlined its call center menus, cut waiting times, and trained specialized employees to handle smartphone operating system-related questions.

“Three or four years ago, the customer service at AT&T was very poor, but they really have come a long way,” Kopalle said. Now, “They pick up the phone pretty fast, they resolve your situation very quickly.” However, Kopalle noted that AT&T’s service is hardly perfect. “I think they still suffer from a number of dropped calls. That’s not really a good thing.”

For the rest of the list, go to 24/7 Wall St.

 

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