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As virus-wary shoppers opt for online purchases, retailers pay the price



LOS ANGELES(Reuters) – Online sales may be a saving grace for pandemic-battered retailers with fewer shoppers in their stores. But many retailers, from department store chain Macy’s Inc to essential retailer Target Corp, are grappling with higher expenses related to e-commerce.

Retailers often use the more lucrative in-store sales to subsidise hefty e-commerce costs, ranging from marketing to fulfilment and shipping. Companies don’t usually break out those expenses, which of late have been overshadowed by massive write-downs for unsold inventory and lower online profits.

Margins for the hardest-hit nonessential retailers – including mall-based clothing chains – on average are this year likely to be about half what they were in 2019, according to credit ratings agency S&P Global. The shift to e-commerce probably erased a couple of percentage points from company margins, Sarah Wyeth, senior director for retail and restaurants said.

When it comes to online sales, “retailers have always given away too much margin,” said Neil Saunders, managing director at GlobalData Retail. “Now that more stores are closed and online penetration is higher, losses have exploded.”

Historically, sales in stores accounted for more than 80% of all retail sales in the United States, according to eMarketer. E-commerce as a percentage of retail sales, excluding gas and auto, zoomed to 22.9% in the second quarter after the pandemic accelerated the shift to online shopping, said Andrew Lipsman, principal analyst at that research firm.

As of mid-July, the spike of COVID-19 infections around the United States has spurred states such as California to shutter indoor shopping malls – further endangering in-person transactions, which are generally lower cost.

Almost 18% of Macy’s stores are in California.

On July 1, the retail operator, which also owns Bloomingdale’s store, said gross margin tumbled to 17.1%, down more than 21 percentage points from a year earlier.

Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette said the chain was seeing “a noticeably worse trend in brick-and-mortar” stores in Texas, Florida and Arizona, where infections are setting new records.

“Conversely, in those particular states, the dot-com business is improving,” he said on the heels of posting a staggering $3.58 billion loss for the quarter that ended May 2.

Fast-forward, tighter squeeze

RSR Research co-founder Paula Rosenblum estimated that typical online orders cost retailers roughly 10-15% more than purchases in stores, where shoppers do the work of selecting items and transporting them home. Her calculation does not include returns, which are more common with e-commerce purchases because shoppers don’t see, touch or try on products beforehand.

While Inc, Walmart Inc and other deep-pocketed companies can spend heavily on projects like automation and inventory tracking to reduce e-commerce expenses “a lot of companies are on the ropes and can’t afford to,” said Hilding Anderson, senior director of strategy and consulting at Publicis Sapient.

Target stayed open throughout the early stages of the pandemic, but its gross margin fell 450 basis points in the first quarter, when digital sales surged 141%. The retailer blamed the deterioration on apparel write-downs, a shift to lower profit sales of food and essential items, and rising digital fulfilment and supply chain costs.

“Our first quarter digital volumes weren’t anticipated for another three years … It was an extreme test of our model and our team,” Target Chief Operating Officer John Mulligan said on a May 20 conference call.

Meanwhile, FedEx Corp and United Parcel Service Inc have a lock on e-commerce delivery, but lost a significant amount of high-margin business when offices shuttered. Those carriers are raising their prices to offset the explosion in higher-cost home deliveries of everything from food to furniture and electronics and exercise equipment.

“The margin squeeze might go on for a while,” said Gabriella Santaniello, founder of retail research firm A Line Partners. “It’s going to be really hard to put the genie back in the bottle.”

Reporting and photo: Reuters


Atmosphere Core expands in South Asia with Atmosphere Living ultra-luxury residences



Atmosphere Core, a globally renowned name in hospitality, has announced the launch of Atmosphere Living as part of its continued expansion in South Asia. Headquartered in India, this new company will offer branded ultra-luxury residences with customised end-to-end amenities and indulgences, including coffee lounges, wine cellars, private transport, and bespoke concierge services.

The global branded residences market has experienced a remarkable 150 percent growth over the past decade, and projections indicate a surge in demand. With the real estate veteran Sandeep Ahuja at the helm as Managing Director, Atmosphere Living is strategically positioned to capitaliSe on this demand.

Atmosphere Living will focus on a conscious design philosophy. All properties will be built in harmony with the environment and will incorporate features such as smart recycling, efficient waste and water management, and green energy solutions.

Sharing his insights on the launch, Salil Panigrahi, Managing Director, Atmosphere Core, said, “Atmosphere Living will bring a distinctive offering to India, and is a brand to watch out for. It will combine Ahuja’s decades of experience, knowledge, and industry network in real estate with Atmosphere’s hospitality expertise, introducing unparalleled serviced residences in India.”

Positioned in major metropolitan areas, established second-home destinations, and undiscovered scenic locales nationwide, these projects will also present lucrative investment opportunities. Elite homeowners will have the option to lease their residences back to Atmosphere Living, allowing them to be rented out for income generation.

Sandeep Ahuja, Managing Director, Atmosphere Living, said, “There is currently a gap in the Indian realty landscape for ultra-indulgent serviced homes catering to affluent consumers. We aim to bridge this gap by curating serviced homes that offer indulgences such as entering homes using smart key cards, 24/7 butler services, fine dining, and co-working spaces, among others. Our ultimate desire is to enable our customers to experience a life of true luxury and exclusivity.”

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A night of celestial wonders, luxury, and cosmic inspiration at Anantara Kihavah SKY Observatory by British astronaut Tim Peake



Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas celebrated a historic  milestone with the exclusive visit of the renowned British astronaut, Tim Peake. On the evening of November 2, Astronaut Peake hosted an exclusive space talk at SKY Observatory, the finest  overwater observatory in the Indian Ocean, housing the most powerful telescope in the Maldives. 

Perched gracefully over the pristine Maldivian waters, SKY Observatory provided an idyllic setting for  this extraordinary event, complemented by a stunning sunset. The exclusive gathering attracted a full  house of eager guests to a delightful evening that seamlessly blended science, luxury, and natural  beauty. 

The evening commenced with a lovely cocktail reception, where guests were serenaded by the soulful  tunes of a live saxophone band. Attendees savoured exquisite cocktails and canapés as they eagerly  awaited Tim Peake’s presentation. 

Tim Peake’s talk unveiled his personal journey, where he shared his path to becoming an astronaut  and narrated the rigorous training that astronauts undergo. He provided insights into life in space, the  daily challenges faced by astronauts, and the awe-inspiring experiences he encountered during his 

historic mission. He also offered a glimpse into his exciting future projects, leaving the audience both  inspired and spellbound. 

Following Tim’s presentation, an interactive Q&A session allowed guests to engage directly with the  British astronaut. The audience posed thoughtful questions, deepening their understanding of  astronauts’ unique experiences and the intricacies of space exploration. 

The event was further enriched by the presence of the resort’s three SKY gurus, Hammadh Rasheed,  Zunnoon Ahmed, and Ali Arushal, who conducted a stargazing session for the guests afterward. 

The success of the event was evident in the overwhelmingly positive feedback from attendees, who  left with a deeper appreciation for space exploration and a memorable evening to cherish. 

The evening marked a significant moment in Anantara Kihavah’s history, showcasing the resort’s  commitment to offering unique and memorable experiences for its guests. The presence of Tim  Peake, a celebrated astronaut and highly accomplished author, added an extraordinary dimension to  the resort’s already spectacular offerings. 

Tim Peake is a renowned British astronaut who made history as the first official British astronaut to  visit the International Space Station (ISS) and conduct a spacewalk during his six-month mission. He  also achieved the remarkable feat of running the London Marathon from space. Beyond his  extraordinary space endeavours, Tim is also a bestselling author with his most recent book Space: A thrilling human history published earlier this month. 

An astronomer’s paradise, Baa Atoll in the Maldives, is one of the best places on earth to enjoy  stargazing due to its proximity to the equator. Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas promises a voyage of  discovery on a private Indian Ocean Island, with Sky—an overwater observatory and luxury cocktail  bar—providing guests a chance to sip champagne under the stars and explore the Universe.

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Visit Maldives website adds atolls segment to showcase diverse regions



Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation’s (MMPRC/ Visit Maldives) has added a new segment to the official Visit Maldives Website specified for atolls showcasing the diversity of the Maldives.

The segment, now live at provides in depth information regarding the different regions of the Maldives, divided by atolls, to refine the traveller’s experience, commencing with an in-depth exploration of Addu Atoll and Fuvahmulah Atoll.

With 26 atolls, the Maldives offers a wide array of unique accommodations and awe-inspiring travel experiences, and this informative section of our website will serve as a gateway to discover the hidden treasures unique to each area. This falls under MMPRC’s initiatives to encourage tourism growth in all regions of the Maldives, broadening exposure to the diverse tourism products available in the Maldives.

The goal is to elevate Visit Maldives’ digital marketing landscape by showcasing the Maldives as more than just a honeymoon destination with various accommodation options. This initiative is driven by a desire to increase awareness about the distinctive offerings within each of the Maldives’ atolls. It aims to positively shape their perception of the Sunny Side of Life brand by curating engaging content that highlights the unique features of the atolls and diverse experiences available in the islands.

Additionally, the initiative will target the affordable luxury market to promote the Maldives as the most appealing option for short holidays and weekend getaways under a unified Maldives brand umbrella.

MMPRC aims to continue exploring other atolls in the Maldives as well, encouraging growth and tourism development in all regions of the Maldives, building on the foundation we have created to promote the destination beyond the traditional paradigms of sun, sand, and sea.

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