With the beginnings of the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 brought an onslaught of retail bankruptcy cases. Lord & Taylor, Ascena Brands, Neiman Marcus and JC Penny, among many others – not less than 52 in total. As the economy recovered from the initial shock of the pandemic, the number of retail bankruptcy cases subsided in 2021. According to reports, there were 21 retail cases in 2021 as retail traffic began returning to pre-pandemic levels. 2022, however, brings new pressures on the global economy, and certain that may strike the retail industry with force. This month’s filing by Revlon put a spotlight on the industry and may portend a coming wave of filings in what has been a rather tame year for bankruptcies generally, and in retail in particular.

Continue Reading Revlon May Signal Another Wave of Retail Bankruptcies

Our look back on the 10 most read posts from this past year highlights key developments in 2021. These posts reflect the emergence of environmental justice and environment, social, and governance as critical areas for businesses on both sides of the Atlantic. They also show the growing enforcement trend among State Attorneys General and the Federal Trade Commission. Regulations have covered a wide range of issues, from chemicals and hazardous materials in the U.S. to digital markets in the European Union. And, as the impact of Covid-19 continues to affect us all, one of our most-read articles shows the continued struggle retailers face with pandemic-related lease disputes.

Continue Reading This Year’s Most Popular Posts

On November 11, 2021 activewear apparel brand lululemon athletica canada inc. (“lululemon”) sent a cease and desist letter to interactive fitness platform Peloton Interactive, Inc. (“Peloton”), alleging that five of Peloton’s products, including four bras and a pair of leggings, were infringing upon six of lululemon’s design patents and that Peloton’s One Luxe Tight infringed upon lululemon’s Align pant trade dress.

Rather than spinning its wheels, on November 24, 2021, Peloton responded with an action for declaratory judgment against lululemon in the Southern District of New York, seeking (1) a determination that Peloton did not infringe lululemon’s design patents, (2) invalidity of these patents, and (3) a declaration that lululemon does not have trade dress rights in the Align pant and/or that Peloton did not infringe upon this trade dress. Specifically, Peloton argues that there are clear and obvious differences between its products and lululemon’s design patents, the presence of the brands’ trademarks on the products eliminates confusion, and the design patents are anticipated and/or obvious based on prior art. For example, Peloton emphasizes that the back of its Peloton Branded Strappy Bra is cut straight across and has a mesh layer, while the design patents depict a scooped back and no mesh layer, among other differences. Peloton also argues that the asserted Align trade dress does not possess the requisite distinctiveness to be protectable, and even if it does, Pelton’s One Luxe Tight is not likely to cause marketplace confusion.
Continue Reading Peloton and lululemon Yet to Work Things Out, File Cross Lawsuits

Earlier this year, the Attorney General Alliance (AGA) conducted an important webinar highlighting the risks of organized retail crime (ORC) to retail organizations, employees, and customers. ORC presents substantial dangers in both the online and brick-and-mortar settings, necessitating cooperative efforts between businesses and government actors to combat this illicit activity. Retail clients should be aware of pandemic-driven upticks in ORC, increased safety risks to employees and customers, and proposed solutions like the INFORM Act that may impose new business obligations in the effort to prevent ORC.

An Increase in ORC

ORC refers to acts of theft by professional criminals both in-store and online. ORC is much more serious than casual shoplifting and is closely linked to dangerous crimes like human trafficking and money laundering. Participants in ORC are generally extremely well-organized and intentional. In stark contrast to the casual shoplifter who likely engages in his or her crime of choice no more than a few times per week, organized retail criminals can easily hit several stores in a single day. Moreover, because their aim is resale, rather than personal use, these criminals tend to target in-demand products. These include cosmetics, fragrances, allergy medications, razor blades, designer clothing, batteries, drills, over-the-counter drugs, and baby formula.

While ORC has existed for decades, shifts in purchaser behavior during the coronavirus pandemic appear to have dangerously increased its felt effects; retailers, for one, are taking a substantial financial hit. Scott Draher, an asset protection and safety executive for Lowe’s, noted that while maybe 25% of all Lowe’s losses in 2015 resulted from ORC, that number is now around 60%. Although the exact cause of this spike in ORC activity is unclear, it may be that pandemic-era buyers, in their efforts to avoid in-person shopping, are more willing to purchase products from questionable sources, creating increased resale opportunities for ORC participants.

The increase in demand for certain goods—even from uncertain sources—has also fueled another troubling ORC trend: An increase in violence. It appears that ORC criminals are becoming more brazen and aggressive. Many will do anything to get out the door with their stolen goods, including harming people in their way. Employees, in particular, have been regularly threatened with mace and other weapons. According to Ben Dugan, part of the ORC investigations team for CVS Health, the key driver of this increased aggression is the desire to meet escalating demand; the recent increase in online sales of the products targeted by ORC criminals, about 30%, roughly mirror the increase in theft.

ORC also creates troubling consumer safety risks apart from the risk of altercation with a fleeing criminal. Consider an organized retail criminal who steals and resells baby formula. This sensitive product may not be stored the right way prior to resale, or the thief may tamper with the contents or change expiration dates on the packaging. More generally, third-party sellers are simply not held to the same product integrity and safety standards that would otherwise apply. These risks are particularly high in the context of online sales, where consumers have less information about the product and the seller—and thus less opportunity to obtain legal redress.
Continue Reading AG Alliance Highlights New Trends in Organized Retail Crime