MONEY Shopping

H&M Tries Luring New Workers With Fat Benefits

Low-price fashion retailer H&M is aggressively recruiting employees, offering up to five weeks paid vacation.

MONEY Shopping

The Death of the Shopping Mall Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

The Crystals shopping, dining, and entertainment complex at CityCenter in Las Vegas.
Jamie Pham—Alamy The Crystals shopping, dining, and entertainment complex at CityCenter in Las Vegas.

High-end malls are hot with investors

Even as the rise of online retailers such as Amazon.com leads analysts to predict the eventual death of the American shopping mall, real estate fund managers are betting some will prosper – if they can lure the right kind of consumer.

Simon Property Group, the largest high-end mall operator in the country with properties including Palo Alto, California’s Stanford Shopping Center and suburban Philadelphia’s King of Prussia Mall is the top holding in 53 of the 71 U.S. real estate funds tracked by Lipper. The average real estate fund devotes 8.8% of its portfolio to Simon, a bigger average bet than the 7.6% that tech funds invest in Apple and almost one percentage point more than the weight of Simon in the benchmark S&P U.S. REIT index.

Still a symbol of a car-based, middle-class suburban America, malls are increasingly seen as viable only if they attract the affluent. Fund managers are bullish on so-called Class A malls, anchored by department stores like Bloomingdale’s and featuring retailers like Apple, reflecting how better-off consumers have thrived since the end of the financial crisis while middle and lower income consumers have struggled.

“Class A malls are repositioning themselves to be destinations, with more restaurants, which is making them more resilient to what’s going on with the Internet,” said Rick Romano, a portfolio manager of the $3.8 billion Prudential Global Real Estate fund, who holds 4.5% of his portfolio in Simon, his top holding.

Class A malls are also the only shopping centers able to attract an Apple store, which can post annual sales of more than $5,000 a square foot – the highest of any U.S. retailer – and boost sales growth for other retailers throughout the mall, Romano said. As a result, Simon has been able to post rent increases of 18.9% for new leases over the last 12 months, according to Paul Morgan, an analyst at MLV & Co.

Simon’s average rent per square foot – which includes ongoing and new leases – rose 4.5% in the first quarter compared with the year before, or about six times the 0.8% pace of inflation in the U.S. Bloomingdale’s is the most frequent anchor store at the highest-rated malls in the country, followed by Nordstrom.

Those Americans in the top 20% of income – or Class A mall shoppers – have seen their household assets jump from about $15 trillion in 2010 to $25 trillion in 2014, according to Green Street Advisors. Household assets for Class B and lower mall customers rose from about $7 trillion in 2010 to a little over $10 trillion in 2014.

Class B malls are often saddled with struggling department stores such as Sears or J.C. Penney as anchors, making them less attractive to prospective tenants. Some 24 such malls have closed since 2010, and an additional 60 are on the brink of closure, according to Green Street Advisors.

No REIT fund hold Class B or lower mall operators as their largest holding, according to Lipper. J.C Penney and Sears are the most frequent anchor stores at Class C and lower malls, according to Green Street.

There are about 1,000 enclosed shopping malls in the U.S. Foot traffic at malls during the November and December holiday shopping season fell from approximately 35 billion visits in 2010 to 17.6 billion in 2013, according to an October Cushman and Wakefield report. Online commerce now accounts for 15% of retail sales – just 5 percentage points less than the percentage of retail sales that come from malls and gaining, according to a report from Green Street Advisors.

DEMAND FOR HIGH-END RISING

Investor demand for high-end malls will rise even if consumer spending overall flattens or starts to slow, said Jason Ko, a co-portfolio manager of the $2.1 billion J.P. Morgan Realty Income fund who has 7.8% of his portfolio in Simon, his largest position.

Macerich, the third-largest mall owner in the U.S., rejected a $16.8 billion takeover offer from Simon Property on April 1, a merger that would give Simon an even larger hold of the high-end mall market. Simon is not expected to come back with a higher offer, analysts and fund managers said.

“What that attempt signifies is that high quality malls are irreplaceable: difficult to build and difficult to buy,” Ko said.

Shares of Simon Property are down 5.5% since Macerich rejected its takeover offer, while shares of Macerich have fallen 2.2% over the same time. Over the last 12 months, shares of Simon are up 5.7%, or about 2 percentage points less than the 7.9% gain in the benchmark index.

Simon shares closed Wednesday at $181.31, compared with the average target price of $217.05 among analysts tracked by Thomson Reuters. At that price, Simon is selling at 39 times trailing 12 month earnings, slightly below the average 45 times earnings among its peers, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Class B malls, meanwhile, will not only feel the effects of sales declines at J.C. Penney and Sears, but will see increased competition from so-called power centers – suburban developments that are often next to a major highway and include a Home Depot or Best Buy alongside a traditional strip mall, said Ian Goltra, who helps oversee $2 billion in real estate investments at San Francisco-based Forward Funds.

Goltra has several short positions for Class B mall operators in his funds, yet expects shares of Simon to rise, even with its high percentage of fund ownership. He has been adding shares of Simon as it has traded in the $180s, down from a high of $205.31 on Jan 28th.

“They have the largest portfolio of blue-chip tenants, and that’s something their competitors have not been able to replicate,” he said.

MONEY

6 Crazy Things You Can Sell on eBay

toilet paper roll
Michael Krinke—Getty Images

You'd be surprised how much money you'll make off these everyday items

It seems that nothing is too head-scratchingly weird to be placed up for sale on eBay. But what if I told you that you could earn some extra cash on eBay by selling common household items that most of us toss without a second thought?

This is definitely an example of one person’s trash being another’s treasure. Selling what is typically considered garbage can net you a few hundred dollars a year from eBay and have you rethinking what you throw away. Did you know that you could make money selling:

1. Old Computer Software

If you have software for computers you replaced years ago, you may be able to sell them for extra cash on eBay. That’s exactly what I did when I discovered a bunch of old software in my junk storage drawer. Think no one is interested in your 2003 Microsoft Word software? Think again. That’ll sell for $15 to $30 on eBay. And that’s just one example. The amount of software out there is vast, so it’s impossible to provide a lot of specifics for what will sell. However, it doesn’t take long to check. Seriously, it’s a potential gold mine. Pull out those old disks and check away.

2. Magazines

After being convinced that I needed to part with some of my beloved magazines, I jokingly implored my husband to check on eBay to see if anyone would buy them. I was surprised to find out that I could make money selling my old issues, and I started cleaning house!

Which magazines sell? The specific magazines and the prices they will sell for vary. For instance, one back issue of Everyday with Rachael Ray sold for $5, while a group of 11 magazines from 2008 to 2011 sold for $19.99. We’re not talking rare or vintage stuff here, just regular issues that people are selling after reading them. Spend a few minutes on eBay looking up your magazines and you could be ready to sell and make some money too!

3. Empty Makeup Containers

Specifically, the empty makeup containers of a specific high end brand, M.A.C., are in high demand. They are popular because of the retailer’s “Back to M.A.C.” rewards program where customers can exchange six empty M.A.C. makeup containers for a free lipstick. At $16 a pop, people are looking for ways to get their pricey lipstick for less. Empty M.A.C. containers sell anywhere from $5 to $40 depending on the number for sale and the cost of shipping. If you use this brand, it’s an opportunity to score some extra cash. If you’re looking for a way to get your M.A.C. for less, well, here it is.

So there you have it, six examples of common household trash items that can be sold on eBay for a few hundred dollars per year. I’ll be looking for others because I’m sure there are more. That’s my type of recycling.

4. Coupons

How would you like to make $5 to $10 for selling one coupon? Sounds crazy, right? But there’s a market for these recyclable bits. Some coupons seem to sell at a premium. For instance, a 15% coupon from Pottery Barn, or other high end stores, regularly sells for $9.99, and a $25 coupon sells for $14.99. Coupons for many other retailers like Macy’s, Target, Home Depot, and more sell well too. The beauty of this is all you have to do is wait for them to show up in the mail and sell what you’re not using. Doing this once a month could probably net you an additional $50–$75 a year.

5. Empty Egg Cartons

To think I felt good about myself because I made a point of placing my empty egg cartons in the correct recycling bin for trash pickup. Who knew I could give them new life and bring people joy (and earn some extra cash) by selling them on eBay?

Like the cardboard tubes above, egg cartons seem to be wanted by the arts and crafts crowd. It’s not uncommon for a stack of empty egg cartons to sell for $10 to $20, and it doesn’t seem to matter if they are cardboard or foam. They are easily stackable and won’t take up much space while you collect enough to sell. By saving my cartons (and taking my parents’ empties), I should be able to sell a few stacks a year.

6. Paper Towel and Toilet Tissue Cardboard Tubes

I know, right? Who would have thought that people would pay money for the cardboard tubes of spent tissue? The people who are selling them on eBay and making money, that’s who! It seems that these recyclable goodies are popular for arts and crafts projects.

To cash in you’ll need to stock up before you sell, saving at least 35 empty tubes. So grab a bag, toss in those tubes, and let them add up. Depending on the size of your family and how quickly you go through rolls will determine how often you can sell on eBay. It’s not uncommon for empty cardboard tubes to sell for $10, $20 or $30. That’s pretty good for something that is literally tossed in the recycling bin.

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MONEY groceries

This Is America’s Favorite Supermarket

Robin Gallo (center) of North Palm Beach attended the opening on the new Trader Joe's store in Palm Beach Gardens store Friday, September 19, 2014. ''I got here at 6am and was the first in line, '' she said. ''I am using half a vacation day for this.
Bruce R. Bennett—The Palm Beach Post/Zuma Press, Inc./Alamy The opening on the new Trader Joe's store in Palm Beach Gardens store in Florida on Friday, September 19, 2014.

Yet again, Trader Joe's has been named as the best supermarket in the land by grocery shoppers, in a survey that factors in cleanliness, service, speed of checkout, and overall value.

Trader Joe’s may be known for its small stores, but it would be understandable if the grocery chain was getting a big head. For the third year in a row, TJ’s has been named by consumers as their overall favorite supermarket in a survey conducted by Market Force Information.

Survey participants are asked to rate grocery chains on attributes like Courteous Service and One-Stop Shopping, and Market Force compiles the data into what it calls a Composite Loyalty Index, meant to gauge overall consumer satisfaction and the likelihood of recommending the retailer to others. Trader Joe’s may not be the go-to spot for one-stop shopping, but for the past few years, it has ranked at or near the top of shopper ratings for attributes such as Courteous Service, Inviting Atmosphere, Low Prices, Cleanliness, and Fast Checkouts. That’s given the grocery chain the top ranking three years and running.

Publix’s high scores for courteous employees, speedy checkouts, and cleanliness helped the Florida-based supermarket chain nab the #2 slot in the Market Force study. The third-highest grocery chain, meanwhile, is Aldi, the exceptionally low-price, no-frills, generic-brand sibling of Trader Joe’s. WinCo Foods, another emerging low-price chain, and Costco received the highest ratings for value alongside Aldi.

This past spring, Consumer Reports’ study on the nation’s best supermarkets also placed Trader Joe’s and Publix in the top three, though it named Wegmans as the overall best grocery chain. (Wegmans wasn’t featured in the Market Force survey.)

One other notable nugget from both surveys is that Walmart is singled out for two reasons: It is the biggest and most visited of all grocery stores, and it receives the lowest ratings from shoppers.

 

MONEY Shopping

How to Buy a Mattress in 10 Minutes or Less

woman on bed
iStock

Simplify your quest for the perfect night's sleep

Mattress shopping can be kind of a nightmare. There are so many choices. And since the last time you bought a new mattress was probably several years ago, you probably can’t even remember how you did it. Is this an all-day shopping event? An endless, store-hopping nightmare?

Finding your perfect bed doesn’t need to be a stressful ordeal. In fact, preparation and the right tools will help you find a mattress in less time than it takes to brush your teeth, change into your PJs, and set the sleep timer on your TV. Here’s how to find the perfect mattress in less than 10 minutes.

1. Identify Your Current Mattress’ Flaws

Before even going to the mattress store, figure out what you want to avoid in your next mattress. Too many coils? Too firm for you and not firm enough for your partner or spouse? Narrowing down your list of current mattress flaws will give you a better idea of what you do want.

2. Do Your Homework

Once you know what you don’t want, and have a vague idea of what you do want, it’s time to do a basic search online. Check for prices, sizes, and brand names you’d like to see in person. This, too, will cut your actual in-person shopping time way down.

3. Test With a Trust Fall

For every mattress I’ve ever purchased, this is the sure-fire method I’ve used to find my ideal mattress match. I stand at the foot of the bed, pretend there are eight sets of trusting arms about to catch me, and I fearlessly fall back. I wouldn’t recommend this if you prefer a firm mattress, because, ouch, or if you have pre-existing neck problems, because whiplash. But if you’re looking for a soft and cuddly pillow-top, this is all kinds of fun, and only takes one minute of your time.

4. Try Out All Options

If you’re looking for a new kind of bed, then take the homework you did and test out firm, pillow-top, adjustable, and Tempur-Pedic mattresses by laying down for one or two minutes on each one. It’s kind of like trying on wedding dresses, in that you’ll know instantly once you’ve found “the one.”

5. Don’t Go for the Cheapest Mattress

A mattress is probably one of the most important purchases you will ever make. Restful sleep is crucial to your overall health and wellbeing, so going for the cheapest mattress you can find is not the best idea. You will spend six to eight hours a day laying on this thing, so acknowledge that this is an investment and is worth the hefty pricetag.

6. Know Your Warranty and Refund Rights

You might feel confident in your mattress selection at the store, but just in case you take it home and completely hate it, make sure you know what the mattress store’s policies are with warranties and refunds. Most quality mattresses will come with a 10-year full warranty. As for refunds, some brands give you two weeks to decide if you want to keep it. Some offer a “comfort period” for your body to adjust to the mattress and then a set time frame for returns. But be wary of these “comfort periods” because they often come with a shipping fee and a restocking fee. So once you’ve found your top pick, ask about both before handing over your money.

7. Negotiate Away

If a mattress store is willing to negotiate on price, then you need to make sure they negotiate fairly. This is because most mattress manufacturers apply set minimum prices for their retailers, so many will just price them at the minimum right off the bat. If you find some wiggle room in price discussions with the salesperson, bring them down as low as possible, since you know they marked it way over the minimum manufacturer price. This might take the most time, so save five minutes for haggling, if needed.

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MONEY deals

Get a Sale-Price Match at Walmart, Home Depot and J. Crew

Walmart, Bentonville, Arkansas
Gunnar Rathbun—Invision for Walmart/AP Images Walmart, Bentonville, Arkansas

Big retailers will happily match competitors' prices if you ask the right way

My family has been trying to save money these past few years by avoiding unnecessary purchases on everything from clothing to toys to electronics. There are times, though, when things break, clothes wear out, or we otherwise find ourselves heading to the store to fill a new need. Best case scenario in this event? Paying the lowest price possible. Over time, I’ve discovered a few tips and tricks that get us the best price matching and adjustments at a number of popular retailers.

1. Target

If you find a lower price on something you bought within seven days of purchase, you can take advantage of Target’s price-matching policy. Just bring your receipt to guest services and proof of lower price (from places like Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy) via website or printed ad. Price adjustments may also be made before you buy. Note: Any purchases made online are exempt from Target’s price-matching policy.

2. Walmart

I’ve searched Walmart’s website for pricing and headed to the store only to find the item more expensive on the shelf. In this event, you can request a price match in most U.S. states at the register. For other adjustments, bring proof of price to customer service and make sure the item is identical and in stock at the competing store. Walmart also offers its Savings Catcher to compare your receipt with local competitor pricing. If there’s an opportunity for you to save, you’ll get the difference back on an eGift Card.

3. Macy’s

Price adjustment requests can be made within 14 days at Macy’s stores nationwide. Money is refunded to your original form of payment, whether cash, debit, or credit. Price changes are only made if the original purchase was made without a coupon, and you must take your item(s) back to the store for the adjustment.

4. Nordstrom

Good news! If you find an item you just bought for less at a competitor’s store, Nordstrom will meet that price provided it’s the same color and size. Alternatively, if the same item you bought goes on sale at a Nordstrom store within 14 days of your purchase, you can easily get the extra taken off your order by bringing your receipt to customer service.

5. GAP, Old Navy, Banana Republic

Keep your receipt to get a one-time price adjustment within 14 days of your purchase. Any items you bought using coupons, promotions, or other discounts (clearance, final sale, etc.) are not eligible for changes unless the promotion was free shipping. In addition, price adjustments for items sold online cannot be made in physical store locations.

6. J. Crew

Think fast, because J. Crew gives you just seven days from purchase to take advantage of its one-time price adjustments. Items must have been bought at their original prices (no clearance or final sale) and you’ll need your receipt. The same policy stands with J. Crew’s Factory outlets.

7. Lowe’s

My husband and I recently bought a new refrigerator at Lowe’s. I noticed it was $3 less at a local competitor, so I asked about the 10% Price Match Guarantee, and we ended up saving an additional $3 plus $120 on our purchase. The store gives customers a full 30 days to compare prices at local stores and websites — impressive. Just keep your receipt and bring proof of better pricing to customer service.

8. Home Depot

Not to be outdone, Home Depot offers similar 10% in-store price matching. This policy, as it goes with many retailers, does not extend to “discontinued, clearance, obsolete, seasonal, or distressed merchandise” at competing stores. Online purchases earn the matching only, minus the additional percentage back.

9. Office Depot

For adjustments at Office Depot, just make sure the item you’re requesting a change on is both new and identical at the store across town (or online). You can ask for price matching before purchase or within 14 days of receipt. The store will even match Amazon and Reliable, though third-party retailers are excluded from this policy.

10. Staples

Likewise, you can request price adjustments at the time of sale or within 14 days of purchase at Staples stores. This policy excludes any local special events, like grand openings, anniversary sales, and liquidations. In the case of items with free versus paid shipping, Staples will match if both are on the same terms. However, if the store offers free shipping and the competitor’s lower priced item does not, shipping charges will apply to the overall matching equation.

11. Toys “R” Us, Babies “R” Us

I bought my daughter a camera at Toys “R” Us earlier this year and was able to get it for the lower Amazon price by asking at customer service. The store’s Price Match Guarantee is simple and straightforward. It’s valid on in-store purchases only, limited to two items (if you’re purchasing several identical toys), and the store’s online prices are matched provided they aren’t special “online only” promotions. Exclusions include Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals; clearance, closeouts, and flash sales; as well as any pricing that is low due to typographical errors.

12. Bed Bath & Beyond

Any pricing that’s lower at direct competitors or online retailers like Amazon will be honored at Bed Bath & Beyond stores. This excludes club stores like Sam’s Club, BJ’s, etc., in addition to pricing that’s low due to clearance, closeouts, or limited time quantities. Better yet, a manufacturer’s coupon can be used in combination with the price match for even more savings.

13. Kohl’s

To get an adjustment, keep your receipt for two weeks after buying anything (original price or sale) from Kohl’s to see if the price is lowered. Items bought on Buy One, Get One (BOGO) are excluded from this offer. Kohl’s also matches competitor pricing provided you provide a dated ad — in-store only — with identical merchandise.

14. Best Buy

Electronics behemoth Best Buy “won’t be beat on price” — so you know you can get a good deal. At the time of sale, the store will match local store and online pricing in addition to online retailers like Amazon, B&H Photo Video, Crutchfield, Dell, HP, Newegg, and TigerDirect. Preordered or backordered an item? If its price drops, you will automatically get the lower price. You can also request price adjustments within 15 days of purchase with receipt.

15. Dick’s Sporting Goods

I actually live in the town where Dick’s Sporting Goods first opened its doors in the late 1940s. Their Winning Price Guarantee applies to identical items sold at local retail stores. Simply bring in the print or online ad to get the match at the time of sale. Exclusions to this policy include rebates, coupons, clearance, closeouts, BOGOs, and out-of-stock items.

16. Amazon

I had no idea that Amazon offers price-matching. But there’s a catch; it’s only on televisions and cell phones. All other items on this giant online store are exempt from the policy. Though there’s no information about formal price adjustments on the site, I’ve found several personal accounts for how to get a deal. The process involves signing into your Amazon account, clicking the help button, and then chatting with a representative about the change in price you’ve seen to get your refund. The blogger in the above scenario has only tried this approach within a week of purchase.

In the end, I’ve learned that no matter what or where you’re buying, it never hurts to ask about a retailer’s price matching or adjustment policy. The worst answer you can get is “no,” and usually you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the extra dollars you’ll have left in your pocket. Every little bit counts!

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MONEY home improvement

Lumber Liquidators Drops Chinese Flooring Suppliers

Lumber Liquidators has dropped some Chinese-made laminate flooring after reports surfaced it contained toxic levels of formaldehyde.

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