A blog for all things retail and licensing.

Zalemark Will Produce M&M’S Jewelry Collection

Mars Retail Group and Zalemark Holding Company, Inc. have announced completion of a jewelry licensing agreement enabling Zalemark to design, market and distribute a line of M&M’S Brand fashion jewelry. Currently under development, the collection may include earrings, bracelets, necklaces and rings incorporating the colorful fun of the iconic candy brand and the whimsical M&M’S Characters.

The M&M’S Brand jewelry line will be available for retailers to preview in late 2015, with distribution in first quarter 2016. With price points ranging from $49 to $129, the new line will appeal to a wide range of consumers – from trendy twenty-somethings to style mavens and collectors of M&M’S Brand memorabilia.

The world-renowned candy brand is no stranger to success in the jewelry industry. In 2010, an M&M’S Brand jewelry collection sold briskly in major department stores, a national grocery retailer, independent retailers and online.

“We’re thrilled to work with Zalemark, a company known for producing unique jewelry,” says John Capizzi, general manager of Licensing for Mars Retail Group. “I’m looking forward to sharing the stunning M&M’S jewelry designs with retailers and consumers.”

“M&M’S Brand parallels well with our other global brand, Crayola,” remarks Steven Zale, CEO of Zalemark. “With the historical testing of this product line, we predict it will move into the market place swiftly. The upward momentum of Zalemark is on a rolling path as we continue to add well-known brands to our line-up.”

Back-to-School Shopping Trends

By Stephanie Crets

Back-to-school shopping has yet to overtake holiday shopping, but it’s working hard to make its mark in sales. According to a report by Cardlytics, mid-July through August is the second largest shopping season in the United States. This data was collected from in-store and online purchase data from 70 percent of U.S. households.

The study found three specific trends in back-to-school shopping:

1. Consumers are making more frequent shopping trips versus making one big trip, which drives growth for retail sales.

According to the report, back-to-school retail spending increased 3.04 percent year-over-year in 2014 due to a 3.74 percent increase in shopping trips.

“To keep consumers coming back for more, retailers should drive awareness of their e-commerce site among customers who are shopping in-store and highlight convenience factors like free shipping, easy in-store returns, larger inventories and more,” says Caroline Sturm, marketing director for Cardlytics.

2. Specialty retailers are seeing the biggest gains during this shopping period.

Consumers were willing to explore new stores during this shopping season to access a wider variety of retailers, perhaps to get that one item they can’t get anywhere else. This could be anything from dorm décor to a new laptop. Regardless of the reason, this willingness to spend more time and money across different kinds of retailers drove 6.6 times more specialty retailer purchases. The biggest specialty store spike was in shoe and athletic footwear purchases with a 624 percent increase during this period.

3. Shoppers make more purchases over the mid-July to August shopping period online rather than in-store.

“One key insight from our analysis is that in many categories like apparel, office supplies and electronics, consumers will continue to purchase online even after school starts and in-store purchases have already tapered off,” Sturm says.

This could be due to parents shopping for an item their freshmen college student forgot and shipping it to them or simply because online shopping is so convenient.  But online retailers who continued to promote back-to-school savings got an extra boost after the in-store purchases dropped off.

“Retailers can extend back-to-school ads and promotions online to capture shoppers that are shopping online longer,” she says.

If retailers – both in-store and online – want to continue this upswing in sales and new trends, they can continue to attract customers in a number of ways:

  • Highlight specific back-to-school ads for those specialty store shoppers.
  • Extend online ads and offer more promotions once the traditional in-store back-to-school shopping has ended.
  • Invest in traffic-generating marketing tactics to increase awareness for those consumers looking for multiple shops to stop in.
  • Offer promotions and loyalty programs to retain current customers.

“As with many shopping holidays, the back-to-school shopping season has extended across a longer period of time,” Sturm says. “Retailers can time their promotions to maximize on this increased foot traffic.”


BlueSnap Helps Retailers Ward off Card Declines

By Stephanie Crets

One of the worst things that can happen to online retailers is a transaction not going through because of something wrong on their end. If a customer can’t make a purchase because of a declined card, even though they have the funds to pay and the card is not fraudulent, it’s likely they’ll give up and the retailer will lose that sale. It’s a bigger issue than most merchants realize and can account for a substantial loss of sales every year.

Smaller merchants that sell globally tend to have this issue more than big-box retailers. They tend to use one bank for all sales, but if a transaction is declined, they have no fallback bank to try again. And usually it’s not the retailers’ fault, but the bank not allowing a transaction to go through for any number of reasons.

To combat this problem, an intelligent payment gateway company called BlueSnap is offering a solution. It has built a tool that identifies where both the shopper and merchant are located and the types of products the merchant sells, and then routes the transaction to a bank based on where the transaction will have the best chance of being accepted. This technology allows merchants to process transactions more successfully by detecting where the shopper’s credit card is from and processing it through a bank that is authorized in that country.

By implementing this technology, many retailers have seen a five to 20 percent increase in conversion rates. For example, a gaming company called Disruptor Beam — creators of the Game of Thrones Ascent game on Facebook — offers in-game purchases for players and wanted a better way to facilitate these without game interruption. BlueSnap allowed Disruptor Beam to increase the profitability of every transaction by 20 percent and expanded into more than 100 countries due to its global reach.

When customers know what they want to buy, they want a seamless, hassle-free transaction process. And if they really want the product, they’ll call the retailer and try to finish the transaction over the phone, which causes even more stress on the consumer side because the entire point of shopping online is the lack of human interaction. But many merchants reported to BlueSnap that 30 percent of their call center calls were due to cards being declined because of a bank issue on the merchant’s end. Therefore, this will benefit everyone, including consumers, whether they realize it or not.

“Some merchants just don’t know there’s other options,” CEO of BlueSnap Ralph Dangelmaier says. “They just go online and connect themselves to one bank. That’s when we come in and explain to the merchant what’s going on, and then they look at alternatives. The real big merchants have figured it out. Most of them built their own routing programs. But the smaller merchants haven’t done that, so we help them.”


Using Venn Diagrams to Drive Brand Innovation

By Bruce Levinson, Vice President, Client Engagement, SGK

Back in grade school, we all learned about Venn diagrams. Those intersecting circles are used to demonstrate visually which portions of multiple sets are shared and which are not. I never quite knew when in my future life I would find them useful, if at all, but [many, many] years later I think I’ve finally got it: Venn diagrams are incredibly helpful tools for brand marketers to create and evaluate truly meaningful innovation that drives market performance. Or at least, that’s one way to use them.

By innovation I am referring chiefly to new products or services aimed at growing a brand.  Marketers know that for new products to succeed they must satisfy a consumer need, ideally an unmet and important consumer need. In reality, innovation must also achieve numerous other hurdles like internal financial targets, external retailer requirements and various social, environmental and regulatory constraints. Plus, critically, it must be a coherent fit with the brand positioning.

Typically the innovation funnel is filled with more concepts than a company has capacity to launch, so filters are applied (and testing done) to winnow down the field. Venn diagrams can be applied here. A company may also be looking to create new product concepts and Venn diagrams work just as well in doing that. Here is how it works: create a circle for each of the key drivers of your category, making sure to consider not just brand and consumer drivers, but also retail and corporate realities. Now partially overlap the various circles looking for synergies in the common areas: do your concepts satisfy multiple drivers? The strongest ideas typically do.

Let’s illustrate with some category examples: concentrated household cleaners deliver the consumer benefit of convenience, plus the joint financial and environmental benefits of smaller packaging and a more efficient retail shelf. That’s a ton of overlapping category drivers – lots of shared space in our Venn diagram. Greek yogurt is another good example, delivering on the protein craze, snacking culture, taste and a revenue trade-up opportunity for both brand and retailer.

The Venn diagram shown here demonstrates how a dairy company might evaluate an investment in Greek yogurt. I’ve created an overly simplistic Venn just to illustrate, but you’ll see the three key drivers selected are: high protein; snacking; and financial attractiveness. Greek yogurt is the one product they make that satisfies all three drivers: Kids yogurt delivers on Snacking and Financial Attractiveness, but not High Protein; String Cheese satisfies Snacking and High Protein, but not Financial Attractiveness and so on.

Your own approach may be much more involved, with more drivers and more diagrams. The trick is to specifically identify the most meaningful drivers as they emerge (e.g., the protein craze) rather than something as broad as “healthy eating.”  Doing this pre-work well takes time to uncover the most promising insights. But a keen understanding of your brand, category, competitive and retail environments – plus a throwback to grade school math – can go a long way to driving your brand performance.

Bruce is Vice President, Client Engagement at SGK, a leading brand development, activation and deployment provider that drives brand performance. Bruce is a passionate architect of brand strategy and is highly experienced in translating consumer insights and client needs. His experience helps clients meet market and regulatory demands while driving brand initiatives domestically and internationally. His previous positions include director-level marketing roles at Unilever in the US and UK, and as an advertising account executive.

Bruce Levinson <bruce.levinson@sgkinc.com>
Twitter: @SGKInc
Website: http://www.sgkinc.com
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/levinsonbruce

Merchandise Monday: Visionworks

Having a new, stylish pair of glasses for the latest school year is almost as important as that new backpack or set of notebooks. As someone who has had glasses since age six, I understand the significance to having a cool pair of glasses on the first day back. (Mine were definitely not cool.) Fortunately, for kids, pre-teens and teens, Visionworks has a vast selection of stylish frames from top designers to ensure a great back-to-school look.
Chelsea Morgan

These frames are exclusive to Visionworks and boast flashy colors, funky prints and fun shapes within the collection.


Nike Boys

Nike’s mission is to provide inspiration and innovation for every athlete. For this collection for boys, the frames are active-wear inspired with the signature swoosh logo. These frames are great for pairing with you kid’s Nike gym gear.


Vera Bradley

Vera Bradley is known for its colorful prints and patterns, mainly in the handbag world. But now it’s venturing out to give teens, tweens and petite faces a unique and vibrant pair of frames.


Robert Mitchel

Another exclusive collection to Visionworks, these frames offer a sophisticated, colorful look to compliment your young gentlemen’s back-to-school look.


See more New & Notable products here.
By Stephanie Crets

Yahoo Sets Its Sights on Polyvore

Anyone who loves fashion, creativity and a sense of community probably knows about Polyvore. I’ve made several of my own collages through its program, such as styles I’m coveting for spring or fall, a wish list for my new apartment and, most importantly, holiday shopping lists.

Polyvore brings 350 retailers together in one convenient place and allows users to curate and create a collage through an easy-to-use search function. Once you’ve created a collage of items you want to buy (or hope someone else will buy for you), you can share it to social media or on your website with provided html tags. The collage also includes direct links to retailers for each item, making shopping incredibly easy. The website also creates a community among its fashion-focused members, as they inspire each other and drive sales to retailers. The average basket size from Polyvore to a retailer is about $338.

Because of its position in the e-commerce market, the seven-year-old company announced this week that it will be acquired by Yahoo. With this acquisition, Yahoo hopes to enhance its consumer and advertiser offerings by utilizing Polyvore’s platform of combined community and commerce. Polyvore already dominates social, mobile and native content, so Yahoo hopes the company will accelerate its own growth in those arenas.

“I’m delighted to join Yahoo. Our core mission of empowering people to feel good about their style will remain the same, but with Yahoo’s help we’ll be able to make Polyvore even bigger and better for our user community,” says Jess Lee, co-founder and CEO of Polyvore.

Polyvore assures its users that this acquisition will only bring only positive changes for its users, allowing it to expand its resources. With Yahoo’s assistance, it plans to add new product features for everyone and new perks for its top members.

“Polyvore has built an excellent team, a category-leading product and a strong business based on a highly engaged community,” Yahoo’s SVP of Publisher Products, Simon Khalaf says. “The combination of Yahoo’s industry-leading digital content with Polyvore’s expertise in community and commerce has outstanding potential. We are thrilled to have the Polyvore team join us.”

While both assures its users that nothing will change, I wonder if there will be a period of growing pains. When Yahoo acquired Tumblr in 2013, there was an enormous outcry from its users because they thought their content would be controlled and limited. (It didn’t really, as far as I can tell as a regular Tumblr user.) Polyvore provides a much different type of content, so I tend to believe the usability and overall function of the site will remain unchanged and that this acquisition will only be for the better.


By Stephanie Crets

The Force is Strong with Toys “R” Us

By Stephanie Crets

By now we’ve all watched the trailer for the next Star Wars installment a million times. Or at least I have. Now retailers around the world are preparing for the influx of new Star Wars merchandise. But none more than Toys “R” Us.

Toys “R” Us is kicking off the hype for the new film with Force Friday on Sept. 5, a special event where its stores around the world will open their doors at midnight to give fans a chance to purchase exclusive, new Star Wars toys. Those who attend the midnight event will also have a chance to receive special giveaways, such as a limited edition LEGO Star Wars Commemorative Brick and an exclusive Star Wars poster.

“Since the introduction of the first Star Wars toy in 1977, Toys “R” Us has served as the ultimate destination for Star Wars playthings, providing millions of kids and collectors worldwide with their most beloved memorabilia,” says Richard Barry, executive vice president and global chief merchandising officer at Toys “R” Us. “Since then, Star Wars has become a time-honored franchise with loyal fan interest, making it a perennial, top-selling licensed property. With the upcoming introduction of the new Star Wars toy line, we’re excited to welcome the next generation of fans into our stores around the world with exclusive products, special events, feature shops and giveaways.”

If you’re lucky enough to live in New York City, you can attend the biggest Star Wars celebration at Toys “R” Us’s international flagship store in Times Square. The festivities kick off on Sept. 3 and the store will host a bunch of Star Wars-themed activities and events, such as:

  • Star Wars trivia;
  • A LEGO Star Wars make and take;
  • An art class and meet and greet with Star Wars and science fiction artist Jeff Carlisle;
  • Star Wars-themed cookie decorating at a “Wookiee” Cookie Party;
  • Costume contest;
  • Light Saber Academy class with members of New York Jedi, a community of cosplayers, martial artists and teachers who share practical stage combat techniques oriented toward light sabers;
  • A book signing and meet-and-greet with Steve Sansweet, CEO and president of Rancho Obi-Wan Inc., storied Star Wars author and former head of fan relations and director of content management at Lucasfilm Ltd.; and
  • Photo opportunities with costumed characters, including Furbacca, a character versioned after the Hasbro toy that makes wookiee sounds like Chewbacca, Geoffrey the Giraffe and more.

Force Friday will take place in Toys “R” Us stores in the United States, Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Poland, Portugal, Spain and the U.K. Leading up to this event, all stores will feature a countdown clock to increase the hype – if you weren’t hyped enough already.

Considering Toys “R” Us is a recognized name in 38 countries around the world as the authority on all things toys, it’s leveraging this position to bring awareness to these exclusive new toys. Not that Star Wars needs any assistance in creating brand awareness, but producing an event to celebrate the fans and give them the opportunity to purchase the highly anticipated new toys before anyone else demonstrates its commitment to its shoppers. It’s a testament to both brands that this will likely be a very successful event, even though the new Star Wars film has yet to even be released.

Many of the new toys will celebrate Star Wars: Episodes IV-VI. During Force Friday, shoppers can purchase:

  • Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo action figures
  • Chewbacca and R2D2 stuffed toys
  • Bobba Fett, Yoda and Gamorrean Guard masks
  • Charm bracelets featuring Darth Vadar and X-Wing fighters
  • 17 Ewok stuffed toys
  • 13 different puzzle sets

If you can’t make it to the store for Force Friday, you can still browse and shop the new merchandise at midnight on the website.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is in theaters Dec. 18.

Merchandise Monday: Back to School with DC Comics and Crayola

Whether your kiddo is heading to pre-school, grade school or middle school, you can send them off in superhero style with Warner Bros.’ line of DC Comics-inspired backpacks, pencil boxes and more. But if your kids are still too young for school or you need something to entertain them before school starts, Crayola offers a variety of different products to help them hone their creativity at home.



Fast Forward Inc. Mini Backpacks

Supergirl will always have your back with this stylish mini backpack, featuring a bright pink sparkle logo.  It’s perfect for toting around all your back-to-school essentials. Also available in Batgirl.




Crayola Crayon Bank

These 12-inch-high Crayola crayon banks are perfect for storing lunch money. They come in four assorted colors and are made out of metal with a plastic lid that contains a coin slot.



Vaultz Locking Binder Pouches

Lockable binder pouches are essential for securing school supplies, phones, cash, calculators, small valuables and anything else you want to protect. This product features a decorative locking zipper latch for stylish security.



Crayola Book Making Kits

Let your kids tap into their creative side and take a break from the usual homework with these book-making kits. Each one comes with all the materials needed to create their very own book or comic book, including a free professionally printed copy of the completed book delivered to your home.



Fast Forward Inc. Batman Backpack with Lunch Kit

Batman protects not only your kids’ school supplies, but also their lunch. This full-size Batman backpack also features a detachable Batman logo lunch kit.




Crayola Super Fun Coloring and Activity Book

This coloring and activity book comes with a shaped, foil-embellished cover, more than 30 stickers and 80 coloring pages for your younger kiddo.


Accutime Cape Watch

These caped watches featuring Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman will always keep kids (hopefully) on time for class.




Crayola Glow Easel

Kids can bring their creations to life with the double-sided glow easel. This product allows two kids to draw and create at the same time and comes with two Crayola Gel Markers, four pieces of Crayola color chalk and an eraser.

See more New & Notable products here.

By Stephanie Crets

How Do You Protect Your Budget and Your Identity While on Summer Vacation?

By Stephanie Crets

Summertime means beaches, barbecues and vacations. But hopefully it doesn’t mean credit card fraud or debt. Unfortunately, many people fall victim to these two issues, especially while on vacation. You leave your troubles behind and end up racking up way more with over-spending and lack of identity protection.

According to a recent survey conducted by Experian, people spend 68 percent more than they expect while traveling or vacationing and utilize their credit cards to pay for things they didn’t budget for. This leaves 52 percent of people surveyed strapped with credit card debt when they return home.

Some of the other survey results illustrate how budgets and vacations don’t mix well for anyone, especially for the millennial generation:

  • Forty-six percent of vacationers and 50 percent of millennials surveyed have paid for a vacation using a credit card when they didn’t have enough saved.
  • Thirty-seven percent of people and 44 percent millennials have cancelled vacation plans due to budget issues.
  • Thirty-three percent of travelers and 50 percent of millennials plan to use their tax refund to pay for 2015 summer travel.
  • Seventy-five percent say a staycation is a good way to minimize spending during time off.

“People want to come home from vacation with happy memories, not with unanticipated and unmanageable credit card bills,” says Guy Abramo, president of Experian Consumer Services. “Racking up excessive credit card debt without a plan to pay it off can put people, especially millennials, in a bind that could affect their financial health and credit status for years to come.”

While some of those surveyed were wise enough to cancel their expensive holiday plans, others were obviously coming home to a mound of debt. A majority, however, had the right idea with a staycation, which also benefits those worrying about protecting their valuable assets during travel. The last thing someone wants to worry about is his or her credit card being stolen or losing a passport. You go on vacation to relax, not to worry, but it happens more frequently than people realize.

One-in-five people surveyed had something containing personal information – such as a driver’s license, passport, smartphone or credit/debit card – stolen or lost while on vacation, according to a survey by Protect My ID. Respondents showed a nine-point increase over last year’s results with 39 percent saying they have been personally victimized by identity theft while traveling.

“Vacations give people the perfect chance to relax and stop thinking about everyday life, and that’s something identity thieves count on to make it easier to commit their crimes,” Abramo says. “By taking some precautions before, during and after vacation, people can reduce the risk of identity theft happening to them.”

While the vacationers themselves are not entirely at fault, there are ways to protect yourself and your sensitive information while traveling:

  • Leave unnecessary information at home, such as your Social Security card or birth certificate.
  • Limit the number of credit/debit cards you bring and use.
  • Avoid any public Wi-Fi for checking sensitive information, such as your bank account, because these locations make it much easier for hackers to access whatever you’ve input.
  • Ensure that your smartphone or laptop is password-protected. If you lose either, it’ll make it that much harder for someone to access your information. Most smartphones also have a tracking and remote wiping capabilities. So, if you can’t get your phone back, you can at least get rid of all your data from afar.
  • Be watchful and mindful of your accounts for the duration of your trip. You never know what could happen.

Upon returning home, make sure to review all of your accounts to ensure nothing was compromised during your trip. Taking these kinds of precautions could save you a headache in the long run and allow you to actually enjoy your vacation. Just make sure you’re also watchful of how much you’re spending on those carefully protected credit/debt cards.


Go Shopping and Get Money Back

By Stephanie Crets

Clipping coupons and endlessly Googling for coupons and rebates sounds exhausting and limiting. Especially if you don’t know if you’ll ever find something for the item you want to buy. With Ibotta Inc.’s shopping app, however, shoppers get instant rebate gratification.

Unveiled this week, Ibotta has created a new shopping list feature that finds cash-back rebates when users add desired items to their shopping list. Items that can be added range from food to paper goods to office supplies to clothing items and much more, available at a range of stores, including Walmart, CVS, Amazon.com, Best Buy and Babies R Us.

Once items have been added and Ibotta generates a list of rebates, users will then be prompted to complete one or more tasks to unlock the rebate. Tasks include Learn a Fact, Watch a Video, Take a Survey and more. The tasks are quick and easy to unlock. Plus, the more tasks you complete, the more cash you unlock. Once you have your shopping list and rebates ready, go shopping at any of Ibotta’s over 80 approved retailers, in store or online. Afterwards, take a picture of your receipt and receive your cash within 24 hours by linking Ibotta with your PayPal or Venmo account within the app.

According to Ibotta, consumers can earn up to hundreds of dollars a year by using the app. “Everyone loves a deal,” says Richard Donahue, vice president of marketing at Ibotta. “We’ve made it easy to get cash back on whatever you are looking to buy. Simply add it to your list and like magic, we’ll find you cash.”


For more information, Ibotta has created a detailed step-by-step guide on how to use its app.