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Archive: Ylan Mui

The Cost of Christmas Carols

You think your budget is tight this Christmas. Just think how the poor folks suffered in 1780. That is the year the lyrics to the popular "Twelve Days of Christmas" were written, at least according to Wikipedia. Among the many presents that my poor true love had to dig up were five golden rings, seven lords a-leaping and 12 drummers drumming -- and this was way before Life Took Visa! In today's dollars, the full set of items would cost you $21,080.10, according to an in-depth analysis by PNC Bank this week. That's an 8 percent increase over last year,...

 

By Ylan Mui | December 4, 2008; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

The Return of Layaway

You thought it was a relic of your parents' -- or even your grandparents' -- generation. But layaway is making a comeback. This week, Sears reinstituted layaway in its stores across the country after a hiatus of nearly two decades. Company spokesman Tom Aiello said customer demand for the service, which allows shoppers to put merchandise on hold with a small down payment and pay it off over time, has spiked as the economic downturn lingers on like a bad cold. Sears phased out layaway in 1989 because of waning demand, though it kept the service in its jewelry department,...

 

By Ylan Mui | November 19, 2008; 07:01 AM ET | Comments (2)

I'm Dreaming of a Cheap Christmas

Usually, I am all about Christmas. I love Christmas, not least because my birthday is the day before and because I also love cookies. But this year, the holiday season conjures up images of large credit card statements, small bank accounts and an evil Grinch who goes by the alias "Dow Jones Industrial Average." Apparently, I'm not the only one in this mess. The National Retail Federation, a trade group, today released the gloomy results of its holiday shopping survey: Consumers plan to spend an average of $832.36 on holiday shopping this year, up 1.9 percent from last year and...

 

By Ylan Mui | October 16, 2008; 12:23 PM ET | Comments (0)

Vote with Your Coffee Cup

It's official: There is nowhere left to hide. Yes, this is Washington, and yes, the presidential election is only 21 days away. But now you can't even buy a cup of coffee or eat a burrito without becoming embroiled in partisan politics. Convenience store chain 7-Eleven launched its "7-Election" campaign this month. Customers "vote" by choosing which 20-ounce coffee cup they want to use: one with Sen. John McCain's name or one with Sen. Barack Obama's. As of this morning, here were the standings: DC: Obama, 83 percent; McCain, 17 percent MD: Obama, 59 percent; McCain, 41 percent VA: Obama,...

 

By Ylan Mui | October 14, 2008; 12:00 PM ET | Comments (2)

The Economy that Stole Christmas

Every fall, retailers try to lower the bar for expectations of holiday performance. They warn of tough times and slow sales, and then cheer when -- surprise! -- things aren't all that bad on Dec. 26. But this year is different. This year, retailers have legitimate reasons to worry, just like the rest of us. In a story this morning, I wrote about the real pressures that retailers are facing for the first time in nearly 20 years. The industry reported additional sales numbers today that feed those worries. Abercrombie & Fitch said sales at stores open at least a...

 

By Ylan Mui | October 9, 2008; 03:55 PM ET | Comments (2)

Gift Card Gamble

Take a peek inside your wallet, that desk in the spare bedroom or the catch-all drawer in your kitchen. Chances are that you've got some unused gift cards inside. I know I do. Now may be the time to rifle through them. As the roster of retailers filing for bankruptcy protection continues to grow, the Consumers Union is asking the Federal Trade Commission to force stores to accept those gift cards as long as their doors remain open. The advocacy group also wants retailers to set up a separate trust fund of gift card revenues, so that shoppers can be...

 

By Ylan Mui | September 11, 2008; 11:57 AM ET | Comments (1)

Wal-Mart Wants Mommy

Wal-Mart is making a play for the YouTube generation with the help of a dozen "mommy bloggers" tasked with making their own videos on ways to save money and live better, which just happens to be Wal-Mart's motto. The program launched this week and is called Elevenmoms, but of course, being Wal-Mart, they threw in one more to make 12. One of the bloggers, Jessica Smith of JessicaKnows, hails from Olney, Md. Smith said Wal-Mart contacted her early this summer with this offer: Create short videos of money-saving tips to kick off its new YouTube channel. Smith did not receive...

 

By Ylan Mui | September 4, 2008; 07:01 AM ET | Comments (3)

Naked for a Cause

Some companies donate money to their favorite causes. Others put their CEO on the boards of important nonprofits or organize their staff for a volunteer day. Beauty retailer Lush asked their employees to get naked. Oh, we are so there. The premise is that excess packaging is bad for the environment because it uses precious resources and wastes space in delivery trucks, which in turn wastes fuel. Lush bills itself as a "deli-style" beauty bar that sells soaps, shampoos, even deodorant in solid form and unwrapped -- aka naked -- which the company says makes the products more environmentally friendly....

 

By Ylan Mui | August 27, 2008; 04:48 PM ET | Comments (0)

The Politics of Shopping

Everyone wants a little piece of the political action these days, even retailers. Two interesting releases came across my inbox the other day. (None of which had any real inside info. For that, head to The Trail!) But they did offer some insights into what your credit card statement might say about your voting record. According to BIGresearch, which studies consumer behavior, people who drink Starbucks coffee favor Obama (44 percent) over McCain (37.8 percent), giving some credence to the term "latte liberals." However, if you head to McDonald's for your morning cup o' joe (and perhaps a well-done sausage...

 

By Ylan Mui | August 22, 2008; 05:06 PM ET | Comments (0)

Costco Cautions Against Mercury

Costco is the latest retailer to agree to post signs at its seafood counters with the FDA's warnings about consuming mercury in seafood. The move comes after customer requests and an active campaign by environmental advocacy group Oceana. Oceana began its campaign in 2005 and so far has signed up nearly 6,400 grocery stores at several major chains, including Whole Foods, Harris Teeter and Safeway. The FDA's guidance says women who may become pregnant, who are pregnant or who are nursing should stay away from swordfish, shark, tilefish and king mackerel and limit consumption of albacore tuna and tuna steaks...

 

By Ylan Mui | August 11, 2008; 07:01 AM ET | Comments (4)

Balducci's Goes International

The next chapter in the Balducci's saga takes place overseas. The gourmet grocer that built a following for its 10 stores along the East Coast plans to open its first international location in Dubai at the end of next month. The store is being built in partnership with developer Nakheel Retail in the Mall of Dubai, and the company hopes it will be the first of several locations in the bustling, wealthy region. Gee, Penn Quarter -- where Balducci's had an on-again/off-again relationship with a site -- just doesn't have the same ring to it. Looks like residents will need...

 

By Ylan Mui | August 5, 2008; 07:03 AM ET | Comments (0)

J.Crew says sorry

J. Crew wants you to know that it doesn't take technical glitches lightly. Consider this e-mail that appeared in my inbox and on the front of the retailer's Web site yesterday (trendy all-lowercase style is theirs): "we've made some mistakes ... (too many in our mind). we want to say that we're sorry for any issues you have experienced while shopping J.Crew online or over the phone over the last few weeks -- we know we've let you down. we are in the midst of making some enhancements to our web site an call center (and unfortunately encountered some bumps...

 

By Ylan Mui | July 31, 2008; 10:00 AM ET | Comments (7)

Update: Earthworks Responds to WMT's New Jewelry

Mining reform advocacy group Earthworks has responded to Wal-Mart's new jewelry line, Love, Earth, which can be traced back to mines that meet certain environmental and social standards. The group said it is hopeful that the jewelry line is a first step but that it does not consider any large gold mines "responsible." You can read their full statement in all its nuance here. We reported last week that Wal-Mart joined Earthworks' No Dirty Gold campaign last year after repeated pleas from the group. The Love, Earth line launched last week in partnership with Conservation International....

 

By Ylan Mui | July 25, 2008; 09:19 AM ET | Comments (99)

Giant's Seafood Makeover

Last week, we reported on Whole Foods and other supermarkets' new sustainable seafood initiatives. Yesterday, Giant Food announced support for the principles of the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions, a coalition of nonprofit groups that works with retailers to change the way they buy seafood. Giant said it is committing to work toward buying environmentally responsible products, making information on seafood products readily available and supporting policy changes that have positive environmental impact. The company's seafood buyers are now also ranking their purchases on how plentiful the species is, how it is caught and what effect fishing has on the...

 

By Ylan Mui | July 24, 2008; 07:01 AM ET | Comments (77)

Cleaning Up Dirty Gold

For years, mining reform advocacy group Earthworks called on Wal-Mart to endorse its No Dirty Gold campaign and promise to adhere to several principles, including respecting human rights, cleaning up mine sites and not forcing communities off their land. The group never got a response -- except once, from the communications department -- from the company that sells more jewelry than any other retailer in the United States. That is, not until 2006, after Wal-Mart had embarked on its sustainability makeover. In February 2007, it publicly joined the No Dirty Gold campaign. The other day, this press release with this...

 

By Ylan Mui | July 17, 2008; 07:04 AM ET | Comments (1)

Transsexual Tilapia?

I know what you're thinking already. It sounds totally insane. But the tilapia you eat very likely has gone through a sex change. Let me explain: When we began working on our story about Whole Foods' new farmed seafood standards, one bullet point caught our eye: No Methyl testosterone for sex reversal. As it turns out, farm-raised tilapia is typically given testosterone in their food when they're very small, for the first 35-40 days of feeding, Whole Foods seafood quality standards coordinator Carrie Brownstein told me. Any fish that were on the path to a womanly fishhood change course to...

 

By Ylan Mui | July 16, 2008; 02:03 PM ET | Comments (4)

Men, Women and Shopping

A new poll by Consumer Reports quantifies what many of us already know: Men and women just don't shop the same. The survey found that 84 percent of couples say they shop together at least sometimes. Three-quarters say they have held hands while shopping, and 46 percent admit to "other" public displays of affection, which, really, we don't need any more detail about. That's the boring stuff, anyway. Here's the good dish: More than a quarter of couples say they have argued in public while shopping, and 25 percent have been embarassed by their partner in a store. ("Honey, put...

 

By Ylan Mui | July 15, 2008; 07:05 AM ET | Comments (1)

Chatting It Up with Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart held its first online chat with shoppers Thursday on its new Web site, www.makeyourdollarstretch.com. The guest chatter was Ellie Kay, who dug herself out of $40,000 in debt and now writes books about saving money. The chat was the latest example of Wal-Mart's attempts to refresh its image under the new slogan, "Save Money. Live Better." (The old motto was "Always low prices. Always." Just in case you missed it.) For two hours, Kay fielded questions on everything from how to start a budget to paying for college tuition to filing bankruptcy -- though not in such a depressing...

 

By Ylan Mui | June 20, 2008; 12:00 PM ET | Comments (0)

Fuel Surcharge Frenzy

The air conditioning in my condo died over the weekend. It sounded fine at first, humming away even as the temperature crept up to 75, 76, 77 degrees. Then it fell silent, and I began to sweat. I called a maintenance company to repair the machine. An agent quoted me a price over the phone, and I was surprised when he mentioned a $10 fuel surcharge for driving the repair van to my house. Ten dollars! It's not surprising to find fuel surcharges added to the price of your airline ticket or car rental. But I had never considered that...

 

By Ylan Mui | June 17, 2008; 01:42 PM ET | Comments (0)

Another Sales Tax Holiday

Hurricane season starts June 1. Do you know where your glow sticks are? Don't worry -- we can't find ours either. Enter the Virginia Department of Emergency Preparedness, which is offering a state sales tax holiday through Saturday on the equipment you need to weather this season's storms. The holiday covers products costing less than $60 each, including: batteries, bungee cords, duct tape, portable self-powered radios, cell phone chargers, first aid kits -- and yes, glow sticks, flashlights, lanterns and other "self-powered light sources." Portable generators and certain power cables costing less than $1,000 are also included. The full printer-friendly...

 

By Ylan Mui | May 26, 2008; 07:46 AM ET | Comments (1)

Retailers Want Your Rebate!

Retailers are feeling very Jerry Maguire these days. All they seem to be saying is "SHOW ME THE MONEY!" That money would be your rebate check, or in government parlance, your "economic stimulus payment." The IRS announced last week that it had begun depositing money in taxpayers' bank accounts and expected to continue the payments through mid-July. The agency has posted a schedule for the rebates on its Web site, along with a calculator to help you figure out how much you're going to get. Retailers, of course, are wasting no time in helping you figure out how to spend...

 

By Ylan Mui | May 5, 2008; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (4)

The Saucy Siren of Starbucks

We are on the phone with Starbucks public relations and trying hard to sound like a hard-nosed investigative reporter. We want to ask about their newly brown logo and the mermaid -- Compare the new logo (top) with the old logo (bottom). (Images Courtesy of Starbucks) "She is a siren," spokeswoman Bridget Baker corrects. "A siren has a split tail and a mermaid has a single tail." She pauses. "This is my job." Well, we had to ask. And that's because the logo unveiled this month to celebrate the new Starbucks' Pike Place Roast reveals the saucy siren in all...

 

By Ylan Mui | April 25, 2008; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (6)

Update: Toys 'R' Us to Phase Out BPA Baby Bottles

It's still early on Monday morning, but Toys 'R' Us has already sent us two e-mails to make sure we know that it plans to phase out by the end of the year all baby bottles and other baby feeding products that are made with bisphenol A, the controversial chemical used to make clear plastic. Straight from the e-mail from spokesman Bob Friedland: Toys"R"Us, Inc. is committed to the safety of all its customers and is vigilant about staying current with emerging scientific and other thinking about ingredients in products sold in its stores. While the FDA has not changed...

 

By Ylan Mui | April 21, 2008; 11:01 AM ET | Comments (0)

Bye-Bye Bisphenol A?

The bisphenol-A debate has gained plenty of momentum this week. I reported this morning that Wal-Mart said yesterday it will sell only BPA-free baby bottles in its U.S. stores by early next year -- one day after its Canadian division halted all sales of baby bottles, pacifiers, sippy cups, food containers an water bottles containing the chemical. That's a major move by the biggest retailer in the world. It comes at a time when debate over BPA has reached frenetic levels. My colleague Lyndsey Layton reported earlier this week on the National Toxicology Program draft report that found there is...

 

By Ylan Mui | April 18, 2008; 08:19 AM ET | Comments (11)

 

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