By Louisa Hallett for RetailLeader

Staples is acquiring HiTouch Business Services to enhance the customer experience when it comes to technology, product assortment and services capabilities.

Staples is following the lead of rival Office Depot in enhancing its business services.

Staples is acquiring HiTouch Business Services to enhance the customer experience when it comes to technology, product assortment and services capabilities.

“We think Staples can bring tremendous value to HiTouch Business Services in the form of more robust capabilities and the scale that comes with being the industry leader for workplace solutions,” says Sandy Douglas, CEO of Staples.

“The combination of HiTouch’s sales organization and the strength of Staples will allow us to give customers an even higher level of service. We will continue to look for strategic opportunities like this one where we feel we can help create better options for businesses in the marketplace.”

HiTouch Business Services is a company that provides everything a business needs to operate, according to their company description. They will be a part of the Staples Business Advantage delivery organization, as well as supplying an expanded assortment of products and up-to-date e-commerce tools. HiTouch’s marketplace will still serve as its own independent platform.

“For the past 15 years, HiTouch Business Services has served its customers with pride and we look forward to the next chapter with Staples,” says John Frisk, president and CEO of HiTouch Business Services.

“We will continue to support businesses as we always have, but now with enhanced solutions from a best-in-class service provider. Together, we can create a new business model which leverages the size of a company like Staples, with the local touch HiTouch is known for, to create a truly differentiated offering.”

Staples is the world’s largest office solutions provider to date and is headquartered near Boston, with 1 255 stores located across the U.S. and 304 located throughout Canada.

By Adam Liptak and Michael D. Shear for The New York Times

The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld President Trump’s ban on travel from mostly-Muslim nations, delivering a robust endorsement of Trump’s power to control the flow of immigration into America at a time of political upheaval about the treatment of migrants at the Mexican border.

In a 5-to-4 vote, the court’s conservatives said the president’s statutory power over immigration was not undermined by his history of incendiary statements about the dangers he said Muslims pose to Americans.

Trump, who has battled court challenges to the travel ban since the first days of his administration, hailed the decision to uphold his third version of an executive order as a “tremendous victory” and promised to continue using his office to defend the country against terrorism and extremism.

“This ruling is also a moment of profound vindication following months of hysterical commentary from the media and Democratic politicians who refuse to do what it takes to secure our border and our country,” the president said in a statement issued by the White House soon after the ruling.

The vindication came even as Trump is reeling from weeks of controversy over his decision to impose “zero tolerance” at America’s southern border, leading to politically searing images of children being separated from their parents as families cross into the United States without proper documentation.

Trump and his advisers have long argued that presidents are given vast authority to reshape the way America controls its borders. The president’s attempts to do that began with the travel ban and continues today with his demand for an end to “catch and release” of illegal immigrants.

“We want strong borders and we want no crime,” Trump said Monday. “Strong borders. We want no crime.”

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said that Trump had ample statutory authority to make national security judgments in the realm of immigration. And he rejected a constitutional challenge to Trump’s latest executive order on the matter, his third, this one issued as a proclamation in September.

But the court’s liberals decried the decision. In a passionate and searing dissent from the bench, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the decision was no better than Korematsu v. United States, the 1944 decision that endorsed the detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

By upholding the travel ban, she said, the court “merely replaces one gravely wrong decision with another.”

The countries affected include:

  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Syria
  • Libya
  • Yemen
  • Somalia
  • Sudan

By Anne Quito for Quartzy

Patented in the US over a century ago as a manuscript binding solution, the humble plastic and metal fold-over fastener (a.k.a. banker’s clip) has been extolled as one of the world’s best design objects in the compendium Phaidon Design Classics. Writers, office workers and neatniks of all shades cherish the binder clip’s versatility. There’s even a popular life hack video highlighting its many uses. As celebrated designer Naoto Fukasawa told Quartz, the office supplies favorite is fine as it is.

But the original binder clip’s iconic status hasn’t deterred the stationery-obsessed Japanese from improving the original. A new binder clip model that requires half the strength to use has been named among the top products at this year’s International Stationery & Office Products Fair in Tokyo. Developed by office supplies company Plus Corporation, the so-called “Air Karu Airy Light Touch Binder Clip” features a longer, flatter finger lever and repositions the fulcrum higher up the triangular spring.

These small engineering tweaks make the clip easier to use and reduces finger pain, as its name suggests.

If Plus’s efforts to retool a perfectly fine apparatus seems frivolous, consider its effect on the billions of binder clips used each day. Air Karu’s designers estimate that a worker conserves as much as 50% energy (or “labor saving rate”) when using the largest of the three available new sizes.

Reviews on Amazon have been positive, with many saying how surprised they were with the clip’s efficiency and ease of use.

“If you frequently use double [large] clips, you know that double clips of this size are too much for women,” writes one five star reviewer. “The double clip seems to be patented in 1910…it is surprising that products that have been invented for more than 100 years now will come up with such ingenuity. Once a patent is registered, a new one page will be added to the patent application textbook.”

Another satisfied customer points out how the new design could benefit Japan’s aging population. “I think that elderly people can use it without inconvenience because of the easy-to-hold lever.” And one customer who sampled the largest Air Karu 32 mm model even had a philosophical take: “it’s a gem when you realize that evolution of technology makes life more convenient.”

By Lameez Omarjee for Fin24 

The rand came under “massive pressure” on Tuesday morning, having weakened from R13.63 to R13.90, following news that US President Donald Trump is threatening new tariffs on Chinese imports.

TreasuryONE’s lead dealer Wichard Cilliers said in a snap note that all eyes would now be on the trade spat.

By 09:14 the local currency was trading 1.92% weaker at R13.90 against the US dollar after breaching this level for the first time since November 27 last year when the rand traded at R14.00/$.

“The trade wars are heating up with US president Trump to identify $200bn in Chinese imports for additional tariffs of 10% and on another $200bn after that if Beijing retaliates,” said Cilliers.

Trump reportedly said that the United States will no longer be taken advantage of on trade by China and other countries in the world. “We will continue using all available tools to create a better and fairer trading system for all Americans,” Trump said.

The IMF noted that this could place global growth at risk.

Bloomberg reports the tariffs could be the latest round of punitive measures in an escalating dispute over the large trade imbalance between the two countries. Trump recently ordered tariffs on $50bn (R692.77bn) in Chinese goods in retaliation for intellectual properly theft. The tariffs were quickly matched by China on US exports.

Apart from the trade wars, locally load shedding is also adding to currency weakness, commented NKC Africa Economics.

NKC expects the rand to trade within a range of R13.65/$ to R13.95/$.

RMB economist Mpho Tsebe noted that the rand was among Monday’s worst-performing emerging market currencies, along with the Colombian peso and the Thai baht.

“Given the fragile growth outlook and inflation contained within the 3%-6% target band, the SARB (South African Reserve Bank) is unlikely to increase interest rates to support the currency,” she said.

Peregrine Treasury Solutions’ Bianca Botes said investors are dumping emerging markets for safe haven assets, including US treasury bonds. “South Africa, due to the liquidity that our local market offers, often leads the losing streak, she said.

“Should these tensions elevate and strong data from the US keeps making its way to market, emerging market currencies will remain under pressure and one could very well see the rand target R14/$,” Botes warned.

However, Andre Botha, senior currency dealer at TreasuryONE was optimistic that the rand could recover.

“We still believe that the rand is overdone at these levels and should the tide turn and risk-taking behaviour start taking precedent again the rand could stage a comeback.” He echoed views that the rand’s performance largely depends on global events rather than local factors.

By Sam Rutherford for Gizmodo; and Angela Monaghan for The Guardian

Despite the prevalence of credit cards and payment services like Venmo and Apple Pay, when things go wrong, cash is still king.

Europe and the UK got a really good reminder of that after a network crash on 1 June prevented millions of Visa credit and debit card holders from making any transactions.

Things got even worse when some MasterCard and American Express cards started getting declined after transactions were rerouted through Visa’s IT network.

All told, this issue created a pretty big headache for a lot of Europeans who found that when trying to buy tickets for a train or bus ride home after work, the cards in the wallets had suddenly reverted to being useless pieces of plastic.

In addition to many gas and railway stations, other major outlets including Mark’s and Spencer’s and Sainsbury’s were unable to accept payments from Visa cards, with The Guardian reporting that after learning about the issue, “some customers were simply dumping their shopping at the tills”.

Apparently people with Visa debit cards were still able to withdraw cash from ATMs.

Visa UK first tweeted out a statement regarding “service disruptions” shortly before 6pm London time, after problems first started around 2:30pm. This was later followed up by an announcement from UK Finance, the trade association that represents payment firms in Britain:

Visa is currently experiencing a service disruption which is preventing some Visa transactions in Europe from being processed. It is investigating the cause and acting as quickly as possible to resolve the situation. Visa is working with banks, building societies, merchant acquirers and card providers to return to a normal service and will provide regular updates.

Meanwhile, MPs are demanding answers from Visa, who were down for half a day after a “hardware failure”.

“A third of all spending in the UK is processed by Visa. It’s deeply worrying, therefore, that such a vital part of the country’s payment infrastructure can fail so catastrophically,” Nicky Morgan, the chairwoman of the Treasury select committee, said.

“The consequences were sudden and severe. Many consumers and businesses were left stranded on Friday, unable to make or accept payments, with chaos reported in shops.”

A committee has been formed, and is seeking answers on a number of issues, including whether or not cardholders or shopkeepers will be entitled to compensation, and what steps Visa will take to prevent a similar system failure in the future.

By Andy Braithwaite for OPI.net

France-based Groupe Hamelin has re-entered the Australian school and office supplies market by taking a controlling interest in the Bantex Group.

Bantex went into voluntary administration at the end of 2017 and has been operating under a deed of company arrangement (DOCA) since February after reaching an agreement with its creditors. Hamelin CEO Eric Joan confirmed to OPI that Bantex is no longer under DOCA as the deed fund has now been paid in full following the takeover by Hamelin.

“The company was restructured during the voluntary administration and is now healthy,” said Joan. “The business was run for years with a lack of working capital and too high a cost structure. These problems have now been solved and we are very excited by the opportunity.”

Bantex Australia has been rebranded as Hamelin Brands Pty and will continue to market the well-known Bantex and Quill products in the country. The business is being run by Managing Director Franck Troquay. He was formerly running Hamelin’s operations in Malaysia, but has now relocated to Australia.

Former Bantex Managing Director Michael Stathakis is remaining with the company as Business Development Officer. Commenting on this appointment, Joan disagreed with OPI’s suggestion that Stathakis’ move into this role might be viewed as a temporary one.

“Even independent, Michael has always been part of the Hamelin family and we have known each other for almost 18 years,” said the Hamelin CEO. “The bailout of Bantex by Hamelin is for him the opportunity of a new start. He will bring his energy and market knowledge to a venture where we will bring management, structure and product
innovation. We believe it is a recipe for great success for all of us and Michael is just as excited as we are.”

The acquisition marks a return to the Hamelin fold of Bantex Australia. It sold the company to Australian Office Wholesalers in 2001 as it focused on integrating the Elba and Bantex brands in Europe following their acquisition by Hamelin in 1999.

Hamelin returned to the Australian market when it acquired the Canson brand in 2007, but it sold this business to FILA in 2016. Joan said the group was now “back for good” in Australia as it focused on its core school and office products categories.

Terms of the Bantex Australia deal were not disclosed.

With rapid development being the norm, the school and office supplies sector is today growing into one of Africa’s most high in demand, requiring a steady flow of materials into its ever-evolving educational and enterprise landscape.

The School & Office Expo will see South Africa make a significant impact in defining the business dynamics of Africa’s expanding stationery market. Four companies from the country will set in motion the process of breaking the monopoly of Dubai-based traders and seizing a significant chunk of the African market share with a range of colourful and aesthetically designed stationery products.

The companies, namely Bantex, Freedom Stationery, Accent Manufacturing and Empire Toys & Stationery will lend vibgyor from their rainbow nation, making the event more a festival of stationery to celebrate a proud continent’s ascent into a self-reliant future.

Bantex
Johannesburg-based Bantex is a market-driven stationery manufacturing and distribution company that supplies South Africa and Africa an extensive range of educational and home stationery items. It lends to the African market its parent Bantex A/S Denmark’s trademark for top-of-the-line quality products. Perfection is the norm, nothing less. Bantex uses advanced manufacturing technologies and environment-friendly materials to create products that are a combination of utility and aesthetics.

Freedom Stationery
Freedom stationery, true to its name, is about empowerment of the youth through affordable Scholastic books. Based in Isithebe, KwaZulu-Natal, the three-decade old company has evolved from an aspiring competitor to an iconic torchbearer for a Nation raring to take its rightful place amongst the world’s leading economies. No wonder its slogan “Education for the Nation” rings a bell through its track record of providing over 100 million books every year from its five full-fledged branches in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Bloemfontein and East London.

Accent Manufacturing
This almost two-decade old reputed manufacturer, based 50 kms south of Durban, has been consistently producing high-quality adhesive putty for a rapidly evolving world market. Accent’s current position as South Africa’s leading player in the field stands testimony to its competitive spirit and passion for innovation in successfully addressing the needs of a demanding customer base.

Empire Toys and Stationery Co (Pty) Ltd
The Butterfly brand, true to its name, is about brightening your world by surrounding yourself with vibrant and colourful stationery. Whether it is colouring books, reading books, pencil bags, school bags, drinking bottle, luggage, office stationery and even toys, Butterfly has something interesting for every target age group. Add to it, Disney-themed products – a delight for every child the world over.

Come May 18th , the colourful and quality-centric visual treat from all four lion-hearted South African companies will be on display for all to see at the first-of-its-kind School & Office Expo in Nairobi.
Save the date!

According to a recent article by Business Day, the United States has rejected South Africa’s application for exemption from President Donald Trump’s import duties on steel and aluminium.

This puts approximately 7 500 jobs under threat.

Earlier this week, Trump “signed proclamations granting permanent exemptions to a select number of countries and extended by one month the steel and aluminium tariff duty exemptions for some”, according to Business Day. Unfortunatley, South Africa was not among them.

Exempted countries will be less competitive, forcing South African steel and aluminium products out of the US market.

However, these duties are being implemented in a way that contravenes some fundamental World Trade Organisation principles.
The Department of Trade and Industry has urged domestic exporters to ask their US buyers to consider applying for product exemption under a process conducted by the US commerce department and said that it would continue to consult the industry.

Sidwell Medupe, a DTI spokesperson, says that the “measures were unfair because SA’s exports of aluminium and steel products to the US were not that significant”.

Collateral damage
“South Africa is not a cause of any national security concerns in the US nor a threat to US industry interests and is not the cause of the global steel glut. Instead, South Africa finds itself as collateral damage in the trade war of key global economies,” Medupe said.

On March 8, Trump signed a proclamation imposing a 10% ad valorem tariff on imports of aluminium articles and a 25% ad valorem tariff on imports of steel articles. The proclamation followed reports from the US secretary of commerce that imports of these products threatened to impair US national security.

Countries excluded from the duties include Canada, Mexico, the EU, South Korea, Australia, Argentina and Brazil.

SA unsuccessfully argued its case for an exemption, saying that the duties would affect both jobs and productive capacity in a sector already suffering from global steel overcapacity.

It offered to restrict exports to a quota based on the level of exports in 2017.

SA assured the US that it had stringent customs-control measures so there was no risk of circumvention or transhipment of steel from third countries to the US. It also emphasised that its exports of aluminium products represented about 1.6% of total annual US aluminium imports.

According to the US Census Bureau data, in 2017 the US imported a total of 33.4-million tonnes of steel, of which imports from SA were about 330,000 tonnes, or 0.98% of total US imports and 0.3% of total US steel demand of 107-million tonnes. The 330,000 tonnes exported from SA represents 5% of South African production, equating to about 7,500 jobs in the steel supply chain.

Medupe said that some of the exempted countries were the biggest exporters of steel and aluminium to the US. For steel imports, the exempted countries collectively accounted for 58% of total steel imports into the US in 2017 and 49% of total aluminium imports.

Trade expert Peter Draper, the MD of Tutwa Consulting, has previously indicated to Business Day that he believes the US would use the hikes as leverage to pry open the local market for US firms.
It could do this by triggering a review of SA’s trade preferences under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act.

By Sarah Butler for The Guardian 

Sainsbury’s planned £7.3bn takeover of Asda comes as the London-based supermarket continues to be outgunned by its three major rivals, according to the latest sales figures.

Sainsbury’s sales rose by just 0.2% in the 12 weeks to 22 April, its slowest pace of growth for more than a year.

Asda’s sales rose by 1.4% in the period, but the Leeds-based chain and Sainsbury’s both lost market share, according to the latest data from Kantar Worldpanel, while Tesco and Morrisons held steady thanks to their turnaround plans.

“It is very competitive out there for Sainsbury’s,” said Fraser McKevitt, the head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar Worldpanel. “Having had a difficult couple of years, Morrisons is now doing the basics of retail very well and Tesco is not seeing hugely rapid growth but it is consistent. In the light of a zero-sum game for food retail that has put pressure on everybody else.”

Sales at Tesco rose by more than 2% for the first time since 2011, helping the UK’s biggest supermarket chain retain a 27.6% share of the market compared with 15.9% at Sainsbury’s and 15.5% at Asda.

Supermarket sales growth
Morrisons also achieved sales growth in excess of 2% in line with the overall market. Discounters Aldi and Lidl continued to take market share as they increased sales by 7.7% and 9.1% respectively, helped by new stores openings.

But analysts at Bernstein noted that the discounters’ growth had slowed to the weakest pace since 2010, excluding a brief period in late 2016. Analyst Bruno Monteyne suggested the chains were finding it harder to secure new property.

McKevitt said sales growth would now be harder to find for all supermarkets as grocery inflation is slowing. Prices rose by 2.1% in the 12-week period, the slowest pace since March last year, driven by increases in the cost of butter, bottled colas and bread, while the price of fresh poultry and laundry detergent fell.

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