Welcome back to The Spin! Today we reveal, which companies are being accused of lying about sales figures, return services, and the departure of talent. We also check out which retailers are at risk of default due to their debt load, and which are most affected by cybersquatting. Enjoy the read - and the weekend! Best, Ulrike


Drowning in debt. Highly leveraged US retailers like JC Penney, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Hudson’s Bay are facing challenges that might bring them down this year. High debts limit their ability to innovate, and the prospect of rising interest rates makes future growth even more unlikely. Between 2018 and 2020, US retail debt maturities amount to nearly $15 billion.

Fake figures. A whistleblower claims that US discounter Walmart inflated eCommerce sales data in its race with Amazon. According to former director of Walmart’s business development, Tri Huynh, the company also mislabeled products to lower third-party vendors’ commissions, failed to process returns, and permitted offensive products. Walmart counters that Huynh is disgruntled, since he was let go as part of workforce restructuring.

Opt to shop. Last fall, outdoor retailer REI urged customers to spend Black Friday outdoors. As part of the counter-intuitive #OptOutside campaign, REI closed its stores, payed employees to spend time outside, and encouraged the rest of the country to join in. The initiative elevated brand awareness, purchase intent soared, and 3.6 times more customers visited the stores, proving that social causes can help to bring in new customers.


Goodbye, Guillaume! After more than three years as Creative Director at Nina Ricci, Guillaume Henry has left the French fashion label, following the presentation of the fall collection in Paris on March 2nd. The rumor mill was already buzzing during Paris Fashion Week, but the Puig-owned company vehemently denied the reports (paywall) at the time. Until a successor is found, the collection will be designed by Nina Ricci’s in-house team. Henry was known (interview, video) for his subtle mix of masculine and feminine elements including soft lace, leather and sequins.

Versace without fur. Navigating many ups and downs since her brother Gianni’s death in 1997, Donatella Versace has brought the label back on expansion course. This year, she is going to add eight additional stores to the label’s retail network of 200 locations. A new TV series, pop songs (Donatella, Versace on the floor ), the upcoming CFDA International Award, and her recent announcement to join several luxury brands in getting out of fur are keeping the label on everybody's radar.

High honors. The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) has announced nominees for its annual awards, in partnership with Swarovski, which will take place on June 4th at the Brooklyn Museum. Raf Simons of Calvin Klein, who received the Womenswear and Menswear Designer of the Year awards in 2017, was nominated in both categories again. For Womenswear, he is joined by Virgil Abloh of Off-White, Marc Jacobs, Gabriela Hearst and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen of The Row. Abloh was also nominated in the Menswear category, along with Tom Ford, Thom Browne, and James Jebbia for Supreme.


Mobile money. About 65 percent of Chinese tourists now use mobile payment platforms like WeChat Pay and Alipay, six times the number of non-Chinese travelers. They are not interested in carrying large amounts of cash on overseas travels and dislike credit and bank cards, because of concerns about repeat charges, difficulties receiving SMS confirmations, and the possibility of having their card rejected. In 2016, Chinese tourists spent approximately $260 billion, up 4.5 percent from the year before.

Squatters in the .shop. The number of cybersquatting cases handled by the World Intellectual Property Organisation reached an all time high last year, with 3,074 cases filed. Cybersquatters register third-party names as Internet domains to resell them at a profit. Fashion was the second-most affected sector (after banking), with Golden Goose, Asos and Philipp Plein filing (paywall) the highest number of complaints, followed by Calvin Klein, Dr. Martens, Yves Saint Laurent and Hugo Boss.


Pillow fight. After a merchant on China's sent a cheap Contour U pillow to a customer who had ordered an expensive Comfort U cushion, a scandal played out on social media, resulting in over 100,000 views. In the past, JD famously put (paywall) Alibaba on the spot for selling counterfeits, promising its customers 100 percent authentic products and offering to pay back ten times the listed price for any fakes. But instead of a nice payout, the customer was told that she received the wrong product - not a fake, and that JD might sue for damage to its public image.


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