On Wednesday, March 20th, the Texas Retailers Association held their biennial Texas Retailers Lobby Day. Members of the Texas Retailers Association visited Austin, Texas to meet with Members of the Texas Legislature about the issues that affect the retail industry. Attendees started their day with breakfast, a briefing on the major issues, and a lesson on “How to Lobby.” After being bused over to the State Capitol, retailers walked the halls, meeting with key legislators and their staff about SNAP Distribution, Wayfair, consistent employment regulations, and other issues that concern retailers and grocers. Members of TRA’s Executive Committee met with Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and Speaker Dennis Bonnen. Attendees were encouraged to meet with their Representative and Senator as well. Click here to view some of the highlights from Texas Retailers Lobby Day 2019!
More than 3.5 million Texans will get their February SNAP benefits early because of the partial government shutdown.
The Texas Health and Human Services on Sunday announced that the February SNAP benefits will be issued early. The state said current SNAP recipients will get February benefits automatically loaded onto their Lone Star Cards by Jan. 20.
SNAP is the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that offers food assistance to eligible low-income people and families. The program is often referred to as the government’s “food stamps.”
“We are relieved that the government shutdown won’t affect benefits for SNAP recipients in February,” said Celia Cole, CEO of non-profit Feeding Texas, in a news release.
Cole said any disruption in this assistance would “create immediate hardship for these households that could have lasting consequences.”
Cole said it is unclear if there will be funding in March if the shutdown continues.
The state said in a news release that “the federal government has alerted states that they can issue benefits until federal funds are no longer available; it is unclear from the federal government when that will occur.”
Gary Huddleston, a food retailing consultant for the Texas Retailers Association, said SNAP customers are important and any impact to their ability to get food would also “greatly affect a number of food retailers in North Texas.”
Huddleston said that like the state, retailers want families to know that they don’t have to use all of their benefits at once. In fact, the state is encouraging families to space out their purchases throughout February.
“This is a one-time exception and their benefits are available all through February,” Huddleston said.
The partial government shutdown, which began Dec. 22 and impacts nine federal departments, means that 800,000 impacted federal employees are either furloughed or working without pay. They could be paid retroactively after lawmakers reach a compromise.
There are also federal contract workers impacted by the shutdown who are not getting paid and it is unclear if they will get back pay.
Nationwide, those federal and contract workers, along with families on SNAP benefits, are the focus of concerns for many food and anti-hunger advocates who worry their situation will grow more worrisome the longer the shutdown continues.
In North Texas, area food banks are prepared to respond to the needs of these populations.
“We have not quite seen the impact yet, but we want to be ready should the need present itself in a greater way. Hunger is an issue that is always there,” said Katherine Randall, interim director of marketing communications for the Tarrant Area Food Bank.
Randall said the Tarrant Area Food Bank partners with 270 food banks in North Texas. It has been reaching out to the 40 largest ones to monitor any impact on communities from the shutdown.
“We are reaching out to them to see if they are starting to see an increase in the need in their communities,” Randall said, adding that the agency will activate an internal response team to help families.
SNAP recipients can check benefit amounts at Your TexasBenefits.com or by calling the Lone Star Help Desk at 800-777-7EBT.
Texans who need additional food assistance should contact a local food bank or call 2-1-1 for help.
The State of Texas announced that February food benefits will be provided early to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients. This gives recipients more time to manage their resources during the government shutdown due to the uncertainty about future federal program funding.
SNAP Recipients will see funds on their Lone Star cards by January 20th. While SNAP recipients are encouraged to not make mass purchases and try to space their food purchases throughout the whole month of February, retailers should prepare for both cases. Roughly three and a half million people will be receiving their benefits early and retailers need to be prepared to accommodate mass crowds.
WIC benefits for February will be released as normal.
AM 740 – KTRH
By Audrey Morton
As less retailers are opening new stores, U.S. mall owners are looking for new ways to fill the vacancies.
Some big name retailers are downsizing their store’s footprint—size, numbers, locations, which means malls and shopping centers might need to prepare for some store closures.
Texas Retailers Association President and CEO George Kelemen said shoppers still want to touch and see what they buy, and doesn’t see malls closing completely any time soon, it’s just the evolutionary nature of retail.
“Differently formatted shopping center, if you will, that’s definitely going to evolve and you’ll see some changes, and I think you’re seeing some of those that have happened over the last five years to the last or decade or so, and some of those will continue to evolve,” said Kelemen.
He says while e-commerce is driving some of the change, so is location, geography and changing demographics.
Kelemen said the retail industry is doing well, but is in transition.
“They may not necessarily be in a traditional kind of all-enclosed mall that we’ve had since the 60s, 70s and 80s. They may just take different shapes and forms,” said Kelemen.
He said these big name companies that are closing stores are not in financial distress, they’re still alive and well.
It’s reported that some malls are using co-working spaces, apartment complexes and health facilities to replace department stores.
My SA/San Antonio Express-News
By Madison Iszler
As promotional emails flood your inbox and advertisements take over your social media feeds this weekend, watch out for scam artists.
About 164 million people plan to shop between Thanksgiving Day and Nov. 26, also known as Cyber Monday, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics. They predict that 75 million will capitalize on digital deals on Cyber Monday.
People plan to spend more: Adobe Digital Insights predicts shoppers will shell out $23.4 billion online over the five-day holiday weekend, up 19.4 percent from last year. Online sales during Cyber Monday are projected to break records and reach an estimated $7.8 billion, a 17.6 percent uptick from 2017.
It’s a lucrative opportunity for cyber thieves, and “attackers will capitalize,” cyber security firm RiskIQ warned in a recent report. Phony mobile apps and websites will try to trick people into disclosing personal information and downloading harmful software, the report said.
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RiskIQ searched the term “Cyber Monday” in app stores and found that 4.6 percent of the 959 results were malicious. They also discovered more than 6,000 harmful apps pretending to be official sources for popular retailers.
To better protect themselves and their money, people should stick to app stores like Google’s and Apple’s and be wary of apps that ask for access to text messages, passwords and other information.
“Just because an app appears to have a good reputation doesn’t make it so. Rave reviews can be forged, and a high amount of downloads can simply indicate a threat actor was successful in fooling a lot of victims,” wrote the authors of the RiskIQ report. “Before downloading an app, be sure to take a look at the developer — if it’s not a brand you recognize or has a strange appearance or spelling, think twice.”
Related: Parents urged: know and avoid dangerous toys
Use encrypted websites, check your credit card statements and don’t buy from websites you’ve never heard of, “even if it has the one item you’ve been looking for,” said George Kelemen, president and CEO of the Texas Retailers Association. Parents should be aware of what purchases they might be making through gaming apps, he said.
“Use common sense,” Kelemen said.
Bret Piatt, CEO of San Antonio-based cyber security company Jungle Disk, warned people not to click on links in promotional emails.
Visit the retailer’s website directly instead, he said. Make sure the website you’re using to shop starts with “HTTPS” and has a lock symbol in the task bar, the Better Business Bureau cautions.
Use a credit card rather than a debit card when shopping because the former offers more protection, Piatt said. Shoppers can go a step further and get a pre-paid card for the amount they plan to spend or a card with lower limits.
When shopping online, have packages delivered to a place where someone can pick them up so a thief can’t grab them from outside your front door, he said.
“There will be people who are looking to go shopping on other people’s porches,” Piatt said.
Forty-two percent of those surveyed recently by consulting firm Deloitte said they had experienced a digital security breach. People are becoming more cognizant of the risks, said Matt Marsh, the firm’s retail sector leader.
“The public is becoming very aware of the importance of protecting their data,” he said. “It’s kind of happening to everybody.”
He advised people to be wary of using public WiFi or clicking on links in email promotions. Check the spelling of a website because cyber criminals will try to spoof sites, Marsh said.
Shoppers should be ware of buying from third-party vendors because there’s a higher risk of fraud, said Ana Serafin Smith, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation.
Wherever you shop, she recommended reading the fine print on return policies and checking what items are eligible to be returned.
“Do your research,” she said.
AM 740 – KTRH
By Audrey Morton
According to a study, holiday retail sales in the U.S. are expected to hit the $1 trillion mark for the first time this year. They claim this is six percent growth from last year, making it the “strongest growth since 2011”.
Texas Retailers Association President and CEO George Kelemen believes on a high end, that is possible.
“The forecast we’re seeing have us anywhere between three quarters of a trillion (dollars), so it’s like $750 billion, anything between that and a trillion, which would be significant because it would show a lot of confidence out there,” said Kelemen.
He added where you see things nationally are also playing out in Texas because of the great economy and low unemployment.
Kelemen said projections for holiday spending is indicator that the retail industry is strong and keeping up with a strong economy.
“The projects for this year are being forecast at anywhere between, like four and a half and five percent above last year, which was a great year, as well,” said Kelemen.
In-store sales are forecast to rise 4.4 percent year-on-year, while e-commerce sales are predicted to grow by 16.6 percent.
The study found that e-commerce will capture 12.3 percent of the total sales figure this year and online retail sales will rise 16.6 percent from the previous year, to $123.73 billion.
Texas Public Radio
By Paul Flahive
In 1992, North Dakota wanted Delaware-based Quill Corp to pay taxes on catalog sales to its residents. The Supreme Court said it didn’t have to since it didn’t have a physical presence in the state.
“Quill made sense In 1992, it doesn’t in 2018,” said George Kelemen, CEO of the Texas Retailers Association.
A lot has changed in 26 years, he said, which was two years before the first online sale in history.
Now, according to the Department of Commerce, more than 13 percent of all retail sales in the U.S. are online, at an estimated $450 billion.
“It could theoretically increase the sales tax base in every city across the state.”
As a result, South Dakota passed a law to tax online sellers last year and now South Dakota vs. Wayfair is at the Supreme Court.
Ultimately, Kelemen says this is about fairness and the current system puts brick-and-mortar retailers at a disadvantage — “8.25 percent of a disadvantage, when it comes to competing with someone out of state.”
The biggest player in online sales, Amazon, collects and pays sales tax. Walmart, Target, and other big chains with massive online sales already pay because they have physical locations in those states.
In fact, the Government Accountability Office estimates that states collect about 80 percent of all online sales taxes.
But there’s an estimated $13 billion in possible taxes from websites that don’t currently pay like Wayfair, Overstock.com and NewEgg.
“It’s not a big- or small-city issue. It could theoretically increase the sales tax base in every city across the state,” said Bill Longley, legislative counsel at the Texas Municipal League.
Because Texas doesn’t have an income tax, general sales tax makes up more than half of state tax revenue and a lot of city revenues, as well.
In Texas: four-year old comptroller estimates show online sales could generate $800 million more for the state and $200 million for cities and localities.
For Kelemen and Longley, this is a no brainer. But, with between 10,000 and 12,000 taxing authorities across the country, what’s more complicated is how much it will cost for businesses to comply.
“As we get smaller and smaller, it’s likely that the costs as a percentage of their sales are rising,” said David Agrawal, assistant professor of public policy and economics at the University of Kentucky, who added, according to the studies he’s seen, the costs fall disproportionately on smaller businesses.
Changing the ruling on Quill Corp could crush the small businesses argues officials from Ebay, a company that has 420,000 Texan sellers who will be affected.
Brian Bieron, executive director of Global Public Policy for Ebay says the current system is fair. Small companies — like the sometimes single-person company selling on Ebay — shouldn’t have to learn the tax code for 10,000 jurisdictions.
“State sales taxes are far more complex than the states themselves would like to admit,” he said.
In other words, here in the Lone Star State, your deodorant is charged sales tax, but if your under arm protection has antiperspirant in it, there’s no sales tax.
If you buy a Snickers bar in Illinois, you will pay 5 percent more than if you had bought a Twix bar. Because the Twix has flour, it is taxed as food rather than candy.
After Quill, 23 states formed the Streamlined Sales Tax Project to find common ground on tax rates. They also recommend free software or inexpensive programs to help calculate what online businesses owe.
Critics of these software packages say it has many errors, and the streamlined states have a long way to go.
A decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair is expected to be handed down before the end of June. If overturned, Texas could start collecting sales taxes right away. But, Bieron said, there is going to be a lot of sorting out to do.
“If that gets overturned, what were really going to see is a lot of years of litigation and a lot of complication over who exactly is covered,” he said.
If it doesn’t get overturned, retail associations and Texas cities will push for state solutions, and Congress, which has already considered bills like the Marketplace Fairness Act, will be called on to act.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz joined three Senate colleagues arguing in an amicus brief that Congress alone should make the call on this, despite little consensus in the branch.
Congress has failed to act on implementing an online sales tax despite urging the Supreme Court to do so in other cases.
Dear TRA Members and Friends,
We are thrilled to launch our new website, complete with our blog that will become your source for Texas retail industry news updates. Please take a second to view our updated TRA branding, our initiatives such as our education foundation, advocacy and our news section which includes tags to industry topics that can be filtered by your needs.
Over the past year TRA has undertaken a series of initiatives to build on TRA’s legacy of success and position our association to meet the needs, goals and challenges of our members and our industry. Specifically, our focus has been to maximize our visibility, particularly in this important election year, laying the foundation to leverage our strength as a trusted resource on behalf of our members in 2017, during the 85th Texas Legislative session.
Our new website is yet another piece we have added to improve the quality and attention to detail we provide to ensure that our members’ interests and needs are reflected in everything we do.
Please share our website with your industry colleagues so they can also become members and join online!
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