Expedia, Adidas, Deliveroo: Everything that matters this morning

Good morning and welcome to Marketing Week’s round-up of the news that matters in the marketing world today.

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Expedia claims it is beginning to see returns on loyalty focus

Online travel group Expedia is beginning to see its decision to focus on retaining higher-value consumers pay off, it claims.

Chief executive Peter Kern told investors on a call yesterday (9 February) that the company would be continuing its strategy of investing its marketing spend in channels which “attract desirable long-term customers rather than just chasing short-term transactions”.

Expedia reported it entered 2023 with 10% more active loyalty users than any other year. In the last three months of the year, the number of new customers who became loyalty members increased by 60% versus the same period in 2019.

The business claims its loyalty members drive double the gross profit and repeat business compared to non-members.

“We have clearly proven the bet of attracting and retaining the right customers and increasingly, our P&L will reflect that,” he claimed.

However, the longer-term nature of Expedia’s marketing spend means it is seeing less immediate return-on-investment, it said.

“Spend is less closely correlated to demand within any given quarter,” chief financial officer Julie Whalen said.

She also claimed the company is beginning to become more efficient with its marketing spend and that this is something it will work on through the year.

The business claimed it had its “most profitable” year in 2022, but was negatively impacted by adverse weather in the fourth quarter in the US. The company saw revenues in the fourth quarter of $2.62bn (£2.32bn), an increase of 15% from the same period in 2021. However, this missed the average analyst’s estimate of $2.7bn (£2.39bn).

The travel business said it is “really pleased” with how 2023 is starting.

“We continue to see that people are prioritising travel over just about everything,” Kern said.

Adidas issues profit warning after Kanye West fallout

Adidas has issued a warning it could see its first operational loss in 31 years due to the impact of it abandoning its partnership with rapper Kanye West on the Yeezy sneaker brand.

The sportswear company ended its partnership with the brand in October 2022, after designer and rapper Kanye West made antisemitic remarks.

In an update to investors, the company said it is currently reviewing its options as to what to do with Yeezy inventory. If this review resulted in a decision to scrap all stock this would result in a loss of €500m to the company, it said.

The brand is also currently conducting a strategic review, designed to achieve profitable growth in 2024. This is costing the company around €200m (£177m).

In a worst-case scenario, Adidas could end up with operating loss of €700m (£621m) for the company in 2023.

“The numbers speak for themselves. We are currently not performing the way we should,” said Adidas CEO Bjørn Gulden.

“2023 will be a year of transition to set the base to again be a growing and profitable company… We need to put the pieces back together again, but I am convinced that over time we will make Adidas shine again. But we need some time.”

US-traded shares in the company dropped 9% following the announcement.

Deliveroo to make around 9% of its workforce redundant

DeliverooDeliveroo will cut 350 roles from its business, representing around 9% of its total workforce.

The job cuts will be spread across all levels of the company, but the business was unable to confirm which roles will be affected. The job losses will be largely concentrated in the UK.

The brand says it hopes to limit the number of actual job losses to closer to 300, as it redeploys some staff.

CEO and founder Will Shu made a company updating yesterday (9 February) in which he attributed the job losses to the changing world in which Deliveroo operates.

“In recent years we grew our headcount very quickly. This was a response to unprecedented growth rates supported by Covid-related tailwinds. By contrast, we now face serious and unforeseen economic headwinds,” he wrote in the statement.

Shu took responsibility for the redundancies announced yesterday.

“I should have had a more balanced approach to headcount growth, but I thought stronger top-line growth would continue for longer than it has. I did not anticipate so many macro headwinds arriving all at once. This is on me, and I will not be making the same mistakes going forward,” he said.

While he described the redundancy announcement as “extremely difficult”, Shu is confident there is still a “huge market opportunity” ahead for Deliveroo. The challenge which lies ahead for the brand is to balance growth and profitability, he said.

Shopping at convenience stores could be costing consumers extra £15 a week

Consumer choice organisation Which? has found shopping at convenience store formats could be costing shoppers an additional £15.73 per week.

Which? analysed the cost of everyday items at convenience store formats such as Tesco Express and Sainsbury’s Local compared to the price at the full size supermarket equivalents.

It compared the prices of 75 groceries between Tesco and Tesco Express, and found a yearly price difference of £817.91. Similarly, it examined the prices of 69 groceries between Sainsbury’s and Sainsbury’s Local. It found consumers would be spending an extra £477.93 more if they shopped in the convenience store format.

The grocery item with the single biggest price difference in a convenience store versus a supermarket was Tesco’s own-brand sweet potato. This costs 37% more in a Tesco Express than in a supermarket. Mr Kipling Bakewell Slices were the second biggest price difference, again in Tesco stores. These were 28% more expensive in Tesco Express stores.

In Sainsbury’s stores, Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup had the biggest mark-up, costing 19% more in Sainsbury’s Local branches than in supermarkets.

“Convenience stores offer a local lifeline for some shoppers, but Which? research shows shopping at a supermarket convenience shop rather than a bigger store comes at a cost – at a time when soaring grocery prices are putting huge pressure on household budgets,” says Which? head of food policy Sue Davies.

READ MORE: Is it more expensive to shop at Tesco Express and Sainsbury’s Local convenience stores?

UK narrowly avoids recession

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The UK has narrowly avoided entering a technical recession, after growth flatlined between October and December 2022.

UK gross domestic product was flat in the last quarter of 2022, following a 0.3% contraction between July and September. The technical definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative growth.

However, the economy did contract by 0.5% in December. It grew by 0.1% in November and 0.55% in October.

“In December public services were hit by fewer operations and GP visits, partly due to the impact of strikes, as well as notably lower school attendance,” says Office for National Statistics director of economic statistics Darren Morgan.

“Meanwhile, the break in Premier League football for the World Cup and postal strikes also caused a slowdown.”

The Bank of England still predicts the UK is likely to enter into a recession this year.

READ MORE: UK economy narrowly avoids recession last year

Thursday, 9 February

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Disney to cut 7,000 jobs as it searches to make streaming service profitable

Disney is cutting 7,000 jobs as the entertainment brand tries to save $5.5bn (£4.5bn) and searches for Disney+ profitability.

Announcing its results for the three months leading to 31 December 2022, Disney’s revenue grew by 8% to $23.5bn (£19.45bn).

In the same period, Disney+ lost 2.4 million subscribers, marking the first time since the streaming service launched that Disney hasn’t gained subscribers to the service. Disney+ had a $1.5bn (£1.2bn) loss in the last three months of 2022.

The streaming service had higher programming, production and technology costs in this period, the company said. However, this was “partially offset” by a “decrease in marketing costs” and subscription revenue.

CEO Bob Iger said overnight (8 February) that he did “not make this decision lightly”.

“I have enormous respect and appreciation for the talent and dedication of our employees worldwide, and I’m mindful of the personal impact of these changes,” he added.

READ MORE: Disney to cut 7,000 jobs as streaming numbers fall

Error in Google’s AI chatbot advert leads to market value drop

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Google has launched ‘Bard’, its answer to ChatGPT as the tech giants gear up for an AI battle.

However, Google’s ad for the new AI chatbot saw the service offer an incorrect answer. In the ad, a parent asks the service ‘What new discoveries from the James Web Space Telescope can I tell my 9 year old about?’.

The bot says the telescope took the “very first picture of a planet outside out own solar system”, however, it was the Very Large Telescope that did this first, in 2004.

Alphabet Inc, Google’s parent company, lost $100bn (£83bn) in market value yesterday (8 February) after the error was highlighted.

This week, both Google and Microsoft have lauded the ability and strength of their AI products, with Microsoft announcing a ChatGPT integrated Bing search.

READ MORE: Alphabet shares dive after Google AI chatbot Bard flubs answer in ad

Twitter rolls out 4,000 character tweet limit for premium users

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Twitter users who subscribe to the platform’s £8-a-month Twitter Blue service will now be allowed to tweet with a character limit of 4,000, a leap from the standard 280 character limit.

The platform also says it will be cutting the number of ads its premium subscribers see by half.

Meanwhile, overnight Twitter users experienced a glitch when using the platform. Some users were told they were “over the daily limit for sending tweets” – a limit which stands at 2,400 tweets.

The glitch comes following months of speculation that Twitter may experience severe outages after owner Elon Musk made deep cuts to the company’s workforce, taking it to around 2,300 employees from around 8,000.

READ MORE: Twitter Blue introduces 4,000 character tweets, says half ads coming soon

George at Asda launches adapted clothing range

Asda’s fashion label, George at Asda, has launched an adapted clothing range to support children and young people with disabilities with independent dressing.

The launch comes off the back of last year’s ‘Easy on Easy’ school uniform range, which had a similar goal. The new collection falls into the everyday casualwear category, “specially adapted to make independent dressing easier for those with additional needs and reduced mobility”.

The clothing features include hidden hooks and loop fasteners on necklines, higher backs and longer legs to ensure “a level waistband” and leg length for when seated, and holes to make dressing easier when using a feeding tube, the company says.

“It was really important to use that these pieces remain competitively prices and affordable to all our customers, says George’s buying manager Vicki Radford, who notes the involvement of 14-year-old deaf and blind artist Ava Joliffe in helping the collection reach its target audience.

Communications industry urged to rethink climate communications tactics

A quarter of people in the UK (25%) don’t believe climate change is a “real and present threat”, according to research from communications consultancy Firstlight Group, which surveyed 2,000 UK adults.

Around four in ten (42%) of people say they feel lectured when it comes to climate change, and 38% say they feel exhausted hearing about it.

Firstlight Group is urging climate communicators, from governments and NGOs to scientists and activists, to rethink their communications strategy for tackling the issue.

The research also highlights more than half (52%) of consumers feel “powerless in the fight” against climate change.

“As communicators it’s vital that we try to make the dialogue around climate change compelling without being overwhelming, most critically it has to be accessible to different audiences and placed within a context that they understand and can relate to,” says director at Firstlight Group, Zack King.

Wednesday, 8 February

PZ Cussons doubles marketing investment behind key brands

FMCG company PZ Cussons doubled brand investment behind its ‘must win brands’ (MWBs) over the first half of its financial year, with new campaigns for Cussons, Original Source and Sanctuary Spa.

The investment comes as part of the business’s ‘Building brands for life’ strategy. Sanctuary Spa was relaunched in the period with new packaging and product ranges, for example, demonstrating “value” to consumers looking to maintain “everyday indulgences” despite the cost of living crisis. Supported by a “significant” boost to brand investment and a marketing campaign, household penetration has increased by a third compared to two years ago.

The company’s like-for-like revenues grew 6.1% over the six months, driven by price/mix improvements and limited volume declines. The like-for-like revenue of MWBs grew 2.2%, rising to 6.7% when excluding soap brand Carex. The business achieved an operating profit of £33.2m for the period, up 0.9% compared to the first half of its previous fiscal year.

In Europe and the Americas, however, revenue declined 6% on a like-for-like basis, primarily due to Carex’s “normalisation” following its pandemic-driven boom. The business saw a 50% decline in the hand sanitiser category over the period as Covid-19 concerns have lifted. Carex revenue nevertheless remains around 20% higher than pre-Covid levels.

On the other hand, Original Source became the UK’s third largest shower brand over the period, with the business crediting “successful” marketing.

Meanwhile, ‘portfolio brand’ Imperial Leather launched its first TV campaign in seven years after several years of revenue decline, with the aim to make the brand more premium. To support this premiumisation, PZ Cussons launched new portfolio brand Cussons Creations in June at the cheaper end of the spectrum. The business claims to have seen “positive” results, with the two brands combined reporting higher sales than Imperial Leather previously achieved alone.

“Despite the continued challenging macro environment, we have delivered another quarter of like for like revenue growth. Our first half performance has been in line with expectations and we are reiterating our full year outlook. This is thanks to work we have done to make PZ Cussons a more resilient business and our focus on building stronger brands,” says CEO Jonathan Myers.

“Overall, while there remains more to do in our transformation and near-term headwinds to navigate in some of our markets, we are confident about the opportunities ahead of us. We are working to build a higher growth, higher margin, simpler and more sustainable business.”

Zoom to cut staff by 15% following pandemic ‘mistakes’

Video conferencing company Zoom is to lay off 1,300 employees, or 15% of its global workforce, as the business aims to “reset” following its pandemic boom.

Cuts are to be made across the business, particularly where functions have become “overly complex or duplicative”, founder and CEO Eric Yuan told staff in a letter yesterday (7 February).

To show “accountability” for “mistakes” made during the business’s rapid growth over the past few years, Yuan is reducing his own salary for the coming fiscal year by 98% and is foregoing his corporate bonus. Members of the executive leadership team will have their base salaries cut by 20% while also forfeiting their bonuses.

“Our trajectory was forever changed during the pandemic when the world faced one of its toughest challenges, and I am proud of the way we mobilized [sic] as a company to keep people connected. To make this possible, we needed to staff up rapidly to support the quick rise of users on our platform and their evolving needs. Within 24 months, Zoom grew 3x in size to manage this demand while enabling continued innovation,” Yuan explained.

“We worked tirelessly and made Zoom better for our customers and users. But we also made mistakes. We didn’t take as much time as we should have to thoroughly analyze our teams or assess if we were growing sustainably, toward the highest priorities.”

With working from home remaining a norm post-pandemic, Zoom is still an essential tool for many businesses. However, with inflation weighing down on the platform’s customers, the business needs to “reset” to weather the economic uncertainty, he said.

Zoom joins the string of tech firms undergoing major job cuts this year after growing rapidly during the pandemic. Yesterday Dell announced plans to cut over 6,000 jobs, after PayPal last week said it was cutting around 2,000.

Earlier this year Amazon said it would cut over 18,000 jobs, while Alphabet is set to shed 12,000. Microsoft is expecting 10,000 job losses.

Lidl cuts back on store openings despite £10m customer switching boost

Lidl storeLidl is cutting its store opening programme in half this year to focus on its warehouses, the Grocer reports. The discounter plans to open only 25 new stores, compared to the 54 opened in 2022.

Lidl previously set a goal of reaching 1,100 stores in the UK by the end of 2025, with around 50 new stores opening annually over the last few years. There are now approximately 950.

With its tight margins, expanding its store estate has been essential for the discounter’s sales growth to date. In its 2021 financial year Lidl increased its store estate by 6.1% to 918, while revenues grew 1.5% to £7.8bn. Rival Aldi aims to hit 1,200 stores by the end of 2025, meaning around 210 new stores in the next three years.

Meanwhile, the discounter says households chose to switch £11m in spend from M&S, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s to Lidl in January, a £10m increase compared to the first month of 2022. According to Kantar data, the German retailer has therefore gained £120m over the last 12 months from households moving spend away from “premium” supermarkets.

The discounter’s fruit and vegetables were a major contributor towards the growth, with the latter achieving an all-time market share high of 10.2%.

“It’s clear that a lot of shoppers are now refusing to pay a premium for their groceries,” says Lidl GB CEO Ryan McDonnell.

“As we progress into 2023, we are seeing more customers coming through our doors, switching spend to Lidl from premium supermarkets. We know they switch to us to make savings, but then they stay with us when they realise that they’re not having to compromise on quality.”

READ MORE: Lidl scales back store opening plans

Women’s sport broke viewership records in 2022

The average TV viewing time per person for women’s sport in the UK increased by 131% in 2022 compared to the previous year, according to research from the Women’s Sport Trust and Futures Sport & Entertainment.

Boosted by the Women’s Euros tournament in the summer, the average viewer watched 8 hours and 44 minutes of women’s sport last year, versus 3 hours and 47 minutes in 2021.

The year also set records for domestic women’s sports, at 37.6 million viewers compared to 32.9 million. This was mainly driven by the Women’s Super League (WSL), which raked in 16 million unique views.

Some 21.7 million TV viewers watched two hours of women’s sport or more, 46% of whom were female. In 2021 just 7.6 million viewers did this, while in 2019 – the year of the FIFA Women’s World Cup – the figure sat at 20.2 million. Fewer viewers watched two or more hours of I’m A Celebrity (19.1 million), Strictly Come Dancing (18.9 million) or the Great British Bake Off (11.9 million).

Almost nine in 10 new viewers to women’s sport in 2021 went on to watch more in 2022, as did 53% of new viewers who watched the Women’s Euros in the summer.

Overall, 13% of sports coverage hours across the main sports channels of the BBC, Sky, Channel 4 and ITV was for women’s sport last year, up from 10% of viewing hours to 15%. However, women’s sport still accounts for less than a seventh of sports coverage hours on key UK TV channels.

“While previously the focus has been on ensuring that women’s sport is visible in broadcast, which remains really important, to ensure the commercial sustainability of women’s sport we need to maintain and grow the time that fans are spending consuming women’s sport content,” says co-founder and CEO of the Women’s Sport Trust, Tammy Parlour.

“To see time spent with women’s sport increasing by 131% year-on-year, and 21.7 million TV viewers watching more than two hours of women’s sport in 2022, compared to 7.6 million in 2021, is testament to our belief that if you make women’s sport visible, then viewership will follow.”

Inflation to add £18.2bn to UK non-food retail sales in 2023

The value of UK non-food retail sales is expected to rise 2.6% to £249bn in 2023, with the additional £18.2bn to be driven “entirely” by rising consumer prices.

According to the Ecommerce Delivery Benchmark Report 2023, which surveyed over 730 retail businesses across eight international markets, 80% of retailers are planning to increase the price of products this year to beat rising costs. The report was commissioned by Auctane, in partnership with Retail Economics.

Almost three quarters of UK consumers therefore plan to change their buying behaviours, with 34% planning to make only necessary purchases and 29% intending to delay or reduce spending. As a result, UK retail sales volumes are expected to fall 4.9% compared to 2022.

Furniture and homewares is expected to be the most impacted category, with 43% of UK consumers stating plans to delay or reduce spending on these products. Some 35% plan to switch to cheaper clothing brands, while 32% will look for cheaper alternatives for electrical items.

Retailers remain positive, however, with only 20% anticipating weaker consumer demand this year despite troubling economic projections and waning consumer sentiment. Of the small enterprise retailers surveyed, 80% expect order volumes to be the same or higher in 2023, with a third anticipating order volumes to be 10% higher or more.

The least impacted category is expected to be health and beauty, with one in three UK consumers planning to spend normally this year, more than any other sector. An additional 14% plan to trade down rather than buy less often.

“These [economic] conditions favour those retailers who have strong balance sheets who can invest heavily in price, leverage data to target their most valued customers and win new ones, while efficiently utilising stores to provide a truly omnichannel proposition,” says CEO of Retail Economics, Richard Lim.

“Those that carry high levels of debt, have weak pricing power and sit in the middle of the market could find life very difficult.”

Tuesday, 7 February

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Aldi to donate £1m in apprenticeship funding to small businesses

To mark National Apprenticeship Week, Aldi has said it will donate £1m of levy funding to help small- and medium-sized businesses finance local apprenticeship schemes across the country.

To date, the supermarket has donated more than £1.7m of levy funding to businesses, including non-profit Management Development Services, which offers leadership training opportunities in the food and supply industries.

The firm will receive a portion of the latest investment, alongside training organisation Total People and Aldi’s principal apprenticeship provider, Lifetime.

Aldi’s donation will be used to fund apprenticeship schemes in sectors such as early years education, operations management, hospitality and social care.

The supermarket is itself also set to recruit more than 500 apprentices across the UK this year.

“Apprenticeships play a crucial part not only in our sector, but in helping people across the UK, at all levels, reach their full potential,” says Lisa Murphy, learning & development director at Aldi UK.

“Last year, we recruited over 150 of our own apprentices across our store, logistics and national buying teams, and enrolled over 50 existing colleagues onto apprenticeship programmes to help them gain industry-recognised qualifications and develop their skills through practical hands-on experience.”

However, in 2021 alone more than £250m in unspent levy went back to the Treasury, which could have funded over 25,000 apprenticeships.

There is also more work to be done to show businesses the value of hiring marketing apprentices specifically, with exclusive data from our Career and Salary Survey showing just under a fifth don’t see the value.

Carlsberg ups marketing investment as inflation bites

Carslberg Group says it increased investment in its brands last year, while maintaining its focus on costs, as it looks to offset inflation and changing consumer behaviour.

The beer firm increased marketing investment by 19% during its 2022 financial year compared to the year prior, with investment in marketing also around 10% higher than pre-pandemic 2019 levels.

Total operating expenses increased organically by 13% as a result of higher marketing investment, logistics costs relating to on-trade recovery and rising energy prices. The war in Ukraine was also cited as a challenge for the business. Taking all this into account, as a percentage of revenue, reported operating expenses improved by 70bp to 30.7%. When excluding marketing investments, the improvement was 100bp.

The Danish beer maker launched its Sail27 long-term growth strategy last February, part of which is to bolster its premium portfolio, which includes Tuborg, 1664 Blanc and Carlsberg. Premium brands now account for 16% of total volume.

In the UK, the business had a good first half to the year thanks to the rebound of the on-trade, but it describes the second half as “increasingly challenging” with consumer behaviour impacted by high inflation. Volumes for the year grew by mid-single-digit percentages, but declined in the second half, with its international premium lager brands, including Carlsberg and Poretti, the main drivers of growth,

It also saw a “positive development” for the Brooklyn brand following the launch of Brooklyn Pilsner.

Carlsberg Group reported operating profit growth of 13.2% to DKK 11,470m (£1.38bn) for the year, with organic revenue up by 15.6%.

UK gives go-ahead to digital pound development

The UK is set to launch a digital pound in the next few years as it looks to provide a “trusted, accessible and easy to use” electronic currency.

Backed by the Bank of England and the Treasury, the central-bank digital currency (CBDC) will not be built until at least 2025, however, but a formal consultation process for the digital currency will begin today.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt says: “We want to investigate what is possible first, whilst always making sure we protect financial stability.”

Unlike other cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, as the digital pound will be backed by the central bank its value will always be worth the same as a physical £1 coin, according to the Treasury.

The BBC’s economics editor Faisal Islam believes there is currently “little need for a digital pound” given people use their debit cards, phones and watches to pay, so it is a “solution to a problem that does not yet exist”.

However, he suggests the move is about tracking and understanding what the UK is spending.

“At its heart it is about data on what you spend, and what the entire population spends. It is a world where people might just choose to trust international private sector brands, in finance or in tech, more than the state. Think Amazon, or Facebook, or maybe Chinese-owned Alibaba or Tiktok having a version of sterling,” he explains.

“Companies that control the data on everything someone spends, when and where they spend it, will sit on a priceless asset. Unregulated digital currencies could offer those companies incentives to create walled gardens, fragmenting the pound system. It would make controlling the economy more difficult, because £1 might not be worth £1 everywhere.”

READ MORE: Digital pound likely this decade, Treasury says

Dell latest tech firm to slash 5% of global workforce

Computer giant Dell has become the latest US tech firm to cut jobs, telling employees the steps it had taken so far to save money were no longer enough.

The business has confirmed 6,650 roles are being slashed, 5% of the PC maker’s global workforce.

Dell has blamed deteriorating market conditions and hiring freezes and reducing travel were no longer sufficient.

The firm’s co-chief operating officer, Jeff Clarke, says: “What we know is market conditions continue to erode with an uncertain future. The steps we’ve taken to stay ahead of downturn impacts … are no longer enough. We now have to make additional decisions to prepare for the road ahead.”

Dell is the latest tech business to cut jobs, with many admitting they grew too quickly during the pandemic. Microsoft, Facebook owner Meta, Amazon and Google parent Alphabet have all announced job cuts in recent weeks.

READ MORE: Dell to cut 5% of global workforce as ‘uncertain future’ looms

Industry’s need for emotional support ‘higher than ever’

The number of people working in media, marketing and advertising struggling with emotional and financial worries is rising as the cost of living crisis and economic uncertainty take their toll.

Industry charity NABS recorded a 49% rise in calls for its services last year, making it the organisation’s busiest year since 2018.

Calls to the NABS’ advice line increased by 35% in 2022, with people predominantly seeking emotional support (37%) and financial guidance (36%).

Two-thirds (66%) of all emotional support calls were for help with mental health issues, a 31% increase compared to 2021.

The rising cost of living as well as concerns around the geopolitical climate, the job market, stress and conflict at work are all factors contributing to the rise in people seeking help around their mental health.

Redundancy in particular was something many were looking for guidance on, with NABS seeing a 1,432% rise in people looking to access its online redundancy guides after a drop off in this area in 2021.

Sue Todd, CEO of NABS, says: “Our sector has always been at the forefront of technological, societal and economic change, meaning our people’s exposure to uncertainty and the need to change quickly can add extra pressure. To thrive in these times, we need to put conversations and action about improving our collective mental wellness at the heart of what we do.”

Monday, 6 February

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Elon Musk found not guilty of fraud as Twitter lawsuits grow

Elon Musk has been found not guilty of fraud for a 2018 tweet relating to the ownership of Tesla, although his legal troubles at Twitter appear far from over.

A jury in San Francisco cleared Musk of wrongdoing in a class-action lawsuit brought by Tesla shareholders, who argued they had lost billions as a result of statements made by the electric carmaker’s CEO.

These statements included a tweet by Musk on 7 August 2018, in which he said: “Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.”

News of a potential Tesla buyout caused the company’s stock price to soar, but it fell back again once the deal failed to materialise. Musk’s attorney, Alex Spiro, argued a “bad tweet” does not constitute fraud. The jury returned the not guilty verdict in less than two hours after a three-week trial.

Alongside the news of Musk’s legal victory, the weekend saw new information emerge about legal challenges at his recently acquired social network, Twitter.

Lisa Bloom, a lawyer representing former Twitter employees, told the BBC she had already taken on the cases of around 100 people and the number “goes up daily”.

Twitter sacked around half of its 8,000-strong workforce following Musk’s $44bn (£39.3bn) takeover of the social network in October.

While the social media giant did not respond to the BBC’s request for comment, Bloom says she is dealing with a variety of claims against Twitter including alleged breaches of contract and discrimination. 

READ MORE: Elon Musk found not guilty of fraud over Tesla tweet

Business leaders brand Apprenticeship Levy ‘£3.5bn mistake’

Business leaders are calling on the government to reform the Apprenticeship Levy, with British Retail Consortium (BRC) chief executive Helen Dickinson branding the scheme a “£3.5bn mistake”.

In a joint letter to Skills Minister Robert Halfon, the BRC, UKHospitality, TechUK and the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) claim the levy in its current form is “holding back investment”.

As National Apprenticeships Week kicks off today (6 February), the organisations argue the Apprenticeship Levy can only be spent in a “very narrow way”, resulting in £3.5bn in funds expiring since 2019. Any unused levy expires after 24 months and is returned to HMRC. In 2021 alone more than £250m in unspent levy went back to the Treasury, which could have funded over 25,000 apprenticeships.

The partners want the current system replaced with a broader Skills Levy, giving employers the “flexibility to invest” in their workforce through short, modular courses and online learning. The argument is employees may need shorter, more targeted courses to get them to a position where they are able to introduce a full apprenticeship.

There is also the belief existing staff could benefit from shorter, more tailored upskilling programmes, none of which can currently be funded through the Apprenticeship Levy.

Describing these proposals as “revenue-neutral” for the government, the business leaders believe these plans would “unlock” the levy funding and enable companies to invest “many millions more” in skills.

According to Dickinson, businesses want to invest in training a higher skilled workforce, but the “broken apprenticeship system is a ball and chain around their efforts.”

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls claims Apprenticeship Levy reform is “urgently needed” to offer greater flexibility, while the boss of TechUK, Julian David, argues reform is necessary to make the funding system “fit-for-purpose”.

READ MORE: UK apprenticeship levy is a £3.5bn mistake, say business leaders

Claims supermarket food savings ‘twice the price’ of last year

InflationResearch suggests ‘price locked’ savings on supermarket groceries are costing consumers twice as much as they did in 2022.

The Sunday Times, which has been tracking the prices of 85,000 Tesco and Sainsbury’s products for the past 12 months, finds “hundreds” of products on the Tesco website price frozen until Easter were “much cheaper” a year ago.

According to the analysis, a tin of Heinz Baked Beans and Pork Sausages recently price locked at £1.20 only cost 65p as of June last year. Likewise, the price of Pedigree dog treats has been frozen at £2.35, despite being priced at £1.50 in September.

The Sunday Times product tracker shows, for example, Heinz products have risen in price by 34% at Sainsbury’s and 35% at Tesco over the assessment period. The cost of Hellmann’s mayonnaise, for instance, is up 32% across both supermarkets.

The analysis also suggests own brand price rises have accelerated at a “more modest rate” than branded items. According to the research, own brand prices are up 14% at Tesco and 11% at Sainsbury’s. The Sunday Times cites Kantar data, which finds own label grocery sales are up 13% year on year, while YouGov research reports 36% of shoppers are buying more supermarket own brand goods.

READ MORE: ‘Bargains’ at shops are twice the price of a year ago (£)

Broadband and mobile brands accused of ‘lining their pockets’ with price rises

Mobile and broadband providers are being accused of “lining their pockets” through £2.2bn of above-inflation price rises, with some customers expected to be hit with hikes of up to 17%.

EE-owner BT plans to increase prices for mobile and broadband customers by 14.4%, while Three UK is set to put up prices by 14.4% in April for broadband and mobile users who joined after 1 November 2022, the Guardian reports.

O2 has confirmed some customers will see their bills increase by the retail prices index (RPI) – currently at 13.4% – plus a further 3.9%, describing any predictions as “speculative”.

In a statement to the Guardian, BT claimed that while price rises are “never wanted nor welcomed”, they are “necessary” given the rising costs the business faces. O2 says it will freeze the cost of device repayments, meaning “half or more” of a customer’s bill will be protected from any increases.

Aside from Tesco Mobile, which has committed to not raising prices over the course of a fixed-term contract, most providers implement mid-contract hikes.

Director of policy at Citizens Advice, Matthew Upton, told the Guardian broadband and mobile companies should be helping customers during the cost of living crisis “not lining their own pockets”.

“We’re expecting millions to pay, on average, almost £90 a year extra on mobile and broadband bills – that’s £2.2bn in hikes at the worst possible time,” he adds. “We keep calling on these firms to do the right thing and axe their price hikes, but they’ve not listened. It’s now time for Ofcom and the government to force them.”

The regulator is under increasing pressure to protect customers from these in-contract price rises, which usually come into force in March or April. In December, Ofcom began an investigation into phone and broadband companies amid concerns consumers who took out contracts between 1 March 2021 and 16 June 2022 were not given sufficiently clear information about price increases.

Speaking at the time, Ofcom networks and communications group director, Lindsey Fussell, urged telecoms companies not to “shirk their responsibilities” and ensure they are upfront with consumers about future price rises.

READ MORE: Stop UK mobile and broadband firms ‘lining their pockets’, urge consumer experts

Specsavers inks Countdown sponsorship to promote audiology service

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Specsavers has signed a two-year tie-up with Channel 4 daytime quiz show Countdown to raise awareness of its audiology service. 

The sponsorship comes 17 years after the optical retail chain first sponsored the show. The new partnership will continue Specsavers’ ‘Lost and Found’ campaign, homing in on the brand’s specialism in hearing aids and hearing health.

The campaign includes a suite of Countdown idents voiced by Specsavers brand ambassador Rob Brydon. The creative aims to highlight some of the everyday sounds people commonly lose through hearing loss, with each ident revealing a sound within jumbled letters on the Countdown board.

Specsavers plans to introduce a further set of idents to raise awareness of its home visits service, supporting the launch of the brand’s ‘I Don’t Go’ campaign. Through its lifeline home visits service, Specsavers offers free eye tests at home and in care homes to anyone who is eligible for an NHS eye test, and who cannot leave their house unaccompanied due to a physical or mental illness.

Describing the Countdown partnership as a “perfect fit”, Specsavers marketing services director, Victoria Clarke, explains people typically fail to pay as much attention to their ears as they do their eyes, despite one in five Brits suffering from hearing loss.

“This partnership will initially support the recent Specsavers ‘Lost and Found’ audiology campaign, using its recognisable humour to raise awareness of the importance of hearing care before championing our home visits service,” Clarke adds.



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