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Inside Retail (Jul 24th, 2017)

After a rocky start to public trading, Blue Apron Inc. (APRN) shares surged 17 percent Monday on a slew of analyst upgrades. The meal-kit delivery service has been struggling since Amazon.com (AMZN) announced it would acquire Whole Foods Market Inc. (WFM). The online retailer has also launched its own subscription meal kit service. But Blue Apron received 11 new analyst recommendations recently, including seven Buy ratings and four Neutral ratings. "Blue Apron is the leading player in the nascent meal-kit delivery market and addressing a large, multi-billion dollar market," RBC analyst Mark Mahaney said in a note. He has a $10 price target on Blue Apron stock. Blue Apron shares are down 22.9 percent since they began trading on the New York Stock Exchange late last month. – BUSINESS INSIDER

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The Federal Trade Commission is informally investigating whether Amazon.com (AMZN) is regularly misleading customers on the size of discounts on products sold on its website. Consumer Watchdog filed a complaint against Amazon earlier this month, saying Amazon listed false reference prices on products to underscore discounts, which made them inflated. In its survey of 1,000 products, of which 46 percent had list prices, Consumer Watchdog found that 61 percent of those list prices were higher than what Amazon had sold the same product for in the previous 90 days. In a statement, Amazon said Consumer Watchdog’s study was “deeply flawed.” Amazon said it validates “the reference prices provided by manufacturers, vendors and sellers against actual prices recently found across Amazon and other retailers." – REUTERS

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Hibbett Sports Inc. (HIBB) shares plunged 30 percent in Monday’s session after it issued a warning on its second quarter profit. The sporting-goods retailer said it expects “very challenging" sales trends and anticipates same-stores sales will be down 10 percent for the quarter. Hibbett now expects a loss of 19 cents to 22 cents per share, whereas analysts were expecting a profit of 15 cents per share. Hibbett also said it plans to launch an e-commerce site with features that encourage shoppers to add product launch dates to their calendars. Its digital efforts also include True Fit technology that will help customers connect with their correct size. Hibbett’s previous website did not allow customers to make purchases. – MARKETWATCH

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Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) is expanding a program for online pickup kiosks at 100 more locations. The retail giant has been testing the vending machine-like kiosks, called Pickup Towers, at 20 locations throughout the U.S. and said it has had positive response from users. Customers can order products online for in-store pickup, then enter their pick-up code into the kiosks for speedy service. Wal-Mart is among the major retailers making significant upgrades to their online sales strategy to better compete in an evolving retail climate in which customers are increasingly favoring online shopping. Wal-Mart shares are up 11.5 percent for the year. – RETAIL DIVE

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After Amazon.com (AMZN) announced it would delve into appliance retailing, Wall Street is concerned about the fate of home improvement companies like Home Depot Inc. (HD). Sears Holdings (SHLD) said Thursday it would start selling its Kenmore appliances through Amazon as it launches a line of appliances that can be voice-controlled with Amazon’s Alexa. Shares of Home Depot, Lowe’s, Whirlpool and Best Buy sank on the news as shares of Sears rallied 15 percent. Sears shares are down 9.3 percent so far this year. – BUSINESS INSIDER

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