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EPA, NIH seek pollution solution

BY Brae Canlen

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are sponsoring a nationwide competition offering awards to any company that develops a personal, portable sensor system that measures air pollution and a person’s physiological response to it.

The “My Air, My Health Challenge” will be formally announced on June 6 at the Health Data Initiative Forum III: The Health Datapalooza in Washington, D.C. Representatives from both the EPA and the NIH will be present.

For more information about the contest, click here.

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Industry Confidence Index improves in May

BY Brae Canlen

The American Hardware Manufacturers Association’s AHMA Home Improvement Industry Confidence Index’s Current Situation Index improved in May to 312.5 from 308.3 in April (October 2008 = 100), while the Future Expectations Index fell to 229.3 from 239.7.

In comparing current sales levels with year-ago levels, 75% of respondents said sales were higher in May versus year-ago levels, up from 74% in April. For May, 12% reported sales were even, and 12% said sales were below year-ago levels.

Looking forward six months, 62% of May respondents said they expect sales to be above current levels, the same as in April. In May, 25% said they expect sales to be even in six months and 12% expect sales to be below current levels.

“It is encouraging that 75% of our members responding to the survey report sales levels above year-ago levels,” said Timothy Farrell, president and CEO of the American Hardware Manufacturers Association. “However, we continue to keep a close eye on the challenging economic developments in Europe and the continuing slow pace of recovery here in the U.S. as we look to the future.”

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IT No. 1 priority for retailer spending

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Retail executives have more cash, are adding employees and enjoying stronger revenue, but they remain quite guarded longer term, not seeing a complete economic recovery until 2014 or later, according to the 2012 Retail Outlook Survey by audit, tax, and advisory firm KPMG LLP.

In the recent survey, 77% of retail executives indicate that their companies have significant cash on the balance sheet — up from 72% in KPMG’s 2011 survey — and 56% say their companies’ cash positions have increased from last year.

In addition, 64% say revenues are up from prior year (compared to 47% percent in 2011), and 52% say they have increased the number of U.S. employees. Interestingly, 22% indicate that their company’s headcount has returned to pre-recession levels — compared with just 18% in 2011.

Despite the positive sentiments in the report, caution remains the watchword of the day.

"The retail sector has experienced some positive momentum in the past year, but executive leaders aren’t about to throw caution to the wind," said Mark Larson, KPMG global retail leader. "In this year’s survey, executives have pushed back their estimated timeline for economic recovery to 2014 or later, with concerns that decreased consumer confidence and continued high national unemployment are hindering a full retail recovery."

While waiting for the recovery to take the hold, 58% plan to increase capital spending over the next year. The highest priority investment area is information technology — including data analytics and digital marketing channels — cited by 51% of the executives in the KPMG survey. Other significant areas of investment for retailers are new products or services (43%), geographic expansion (33%), and advertising and marketing (24%).

When asked about digital marketing channels, retail executives in the 2012 KPMG retail survey indicate that online shopping (59%), social media platforms (58%), and email campaigns (49%) are having the most significant impact on their businesses. Additionally, executive indicate that the incorporation of mobile technology is also having a significant impact, specifically mobile shopping (36%), mobile promotions (28%), and mobile payments (21%).

Executives also say that the use of data analytics is playing a larger role in their strategic decision making — including areas such as customer insight, brand and product management, pricing decisions and market expansion.

"With consumer behavior, spending and demographic profiles changing rapidly," Larson said, "a key to success will be investing in technology to harness the vast amount of data that resides in a company. That data can drive the insights that will allow retailers to interact with consumers more effectively and capture more ‘wallet-share.’ It may also reveal information on new markets, new strategies and new operating models that will ultimately generate growth and profitability."

Lack of customer demand, pricing pressures and labor costs were ranked as the most significant barriers to revenue growth, according to the survey. The most significant barriers to profit margins: discounting practices, input costs and decreased sales volumes.

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