TIME Retail

This Is Walmart’s 5-Step Plan to Conquer Absolutely Everything

Wal-Mart
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

The world's largest retailer is implementing new tools, policies, sales, and retail formats that target and step up the competition. Among them are more dollar stores and the ability of customers to trade in their used video games for gift cards

GameStop, 7-Eleven, Dollar General, CVS, Target, Home Depot, and Food Lion are among the many, many retailers that have new reason to worry about competing with Walmart.

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, prides itself on selling pretty much anything a consumer needs or wants. That means that Walmart essentially competes with almost every retailer under the sun. Lately, Walmart has been rolling out new tools, policies, sales, and retail formats that target and step up the competition with these store categories in particular:

Video Game Stores
This week, thousands of Walmart stores will start allowing customers to trade in used video games. Instead of turning in the games for cash, customers will receive Walmart gift cards which, depending on a game, could be worth anywhere from a couple bucks to $35. Understandably, analysts view Walmart’s program as a major threat to video game specialists like GameStop, as well as general electronics retailers such as Best Buy—both of which already offer video game exchanges.

Supermarkets, All-Purpose Retailers
Walmart has had a price-matching policy in place for years, in which the onus is on the shopper to ask a store clerk to match a Walmart competitor’s sale price of an item. While the burden is still on the shopper to proactively seek a price match, Walmart has made the job easier (in theory) by launching a new online “Savings Catcher” tool in select markets. Customers are expected to type in their receipt numbers into the “Savings Catcher” page of a walmart.com account within seven days of purchase. The tool then compares prices for all grocery items with brick-and-mortar competitors in the local vicinity, possibly including Target, Dollar General, CVS, and a wide range of grocery chains. As the Associated Press explained, online prices are not searched or matched, and electronics and general merchandise aren’t factored in either.

Convenience Stores
Last Wednesday, Walmart opened its first Kwik-E-Mart. Or rather, it opened Walmart To Go, a new convenience store pilot concept near the company’s Arkansas headquarters that’s about the size of a 7-Eleven, with similar offerings to boot: It’s roughly 2,500 square feet, it features a gas station, and it’s selling snacks, drinks, prepared foods (deli sandwiches, pizza), and a few staples such as milk, bread, and eggs.

(MORE: Walmart’s Big Push to Go Small and Destroy Your Neighborhood Dollar Store)

Dollar Stores
Earlier this year, Walmart announced it was significantly stepping up plans to open more Walmart Express and Walmart Neighborhood Market stores, which are far smaller than a Walmart Super Center, though still much larger than a convenience store. In other words, they’re about the size of a typical dollar store—the category that Walmart hopes to battle it out with via these two emerging retail formats.

Home Improvement Stores
Springtime is a peak sales period for Lowe’s and Home Depot, as the long winter comes to a close and homeowners finally have the opportunity to tackle yard projects in anticipation of summer. Walmart, which has blamed this year’s cold, snowy winter as one of the reasons sales totals have underwhelmed in early 2014, is obviously encroaching on the home improvement category’s turf by kicking off the season with a huge lawn and garden sale this week.

TIME Microsoft

Microsoft Desperately Wants You to Stop Using Windows XP

The Microsoft Windows XP log-in screen is displayed on a lap
Chris Ratcliffe—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The 12-year-old operating system still runs on approximately 30 percent of web-connected PCs, but the tech giant wants to kill it off by offering upgraders $100 toward a new computer or tablet, plus free tech support and data transfers

Windows XP is the operating system that refuses to die. The software is now 12 years old—a dinosaur in the fast-moving technology sector—but runs nearly 30 percent of all Internet-connected desktop PCs, according to analytics firm Net Market Share. Microsoft is planning to end support for the OS on April 8, and it’s going to increasingly dramatic measures to convince reluctant customers to upgrade.

Earlier this month the company offered XP users a $50 gift card if they purchased a new PC on the Microsoft online store. Now the company is sweetening the pot by offering a $100 discount on Surface Pro 2 tablets and a range of laptop and desktop computers. Microsoft is also throwing in 90 days of free technical support and free data transfer to help people move their data over to a new machine. The promotion runs through June 15.

It’s not clear how effective the promotion will be in killing off Windows XP since the people keeping the OS alive aren’t just tech novices who need a website to tell them if they’re running XP or not. The operating system is popular in schools because many districts buy refurbished computers that come installed with the software. Ten percent of federal government computers still use the software, according to The Washington Post. Forrester Research estimates that six percent of corporate computers will still be on XP come April, and small businesses in particular are likely to ignore Microsoft’s pleas to upgrade. The oddest Windows XP diehards are ATMs—95 percent of the banking machines run on the ancient software. All these groups will be more susceptible to viruses and malware once Microsoft stops providing security updates for the software next month.

Microsoft may take further steps after they officially pull the plug on XP, such as a free or low-cost version of Windows 8.1 that is rumored to be in the works. Ultimately, though, the company may find itself in the same predicament in five years’ time. The four-year-old Windows 7 is the most popular OS in the world right now, with a market share of nearly 50 percent.

TIME Economic Indicators

Poll: Washington D.C. and San Jose Residents Most Confident In Economy

Gallup poll has the capitals of tech and government neck and neck for most bullish on the state of the U.S. economy

Residents of the San Jose, Calif. and Washington D.C. metropolitan areas are the most confident in the country about the state and trajectory of the U.S. economy, according to a Gallup poll out Monday.

Gallup’s score for “economic confidence” is a composite of two metrics: how respondents feel about the current state of the economy, and how optimistic they are about the direction it’s heading. Though both D.C. and San Jose gave the state of the economy at present a negative rating overall, both cities—respectively the capitals of government and the tech industry—vaulted to the head of the pack due to their optimism about the economy’s trajectory. Other metro areas in the top five most economically confident are, in order, San Francisco, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Seattle.

The city with the gloomiest outlook on the state of the economy is Jacksonville, Fla., where residents said not only that things are pretty terrible but that they’re even more likely to get worse. Next cities down the list are Pittsburgh, Oklahoma City, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Providence, R.I.

[Gallup]

TIME Artificial Intelligence

Zuckerberg, Musk and Kutcher Invest In Artificial Intelligence Firm

The actor has joined together with tech billionaires to invest in Vicarious FPC, which hopes to build a “computer that thinks like a person"

Billionaire tech entrepreneurs Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, along with actor Ashton Kutcher, have joined forces to make a $40 million investment in the artificial intelligence firm Vicarious FPC.

The firm hopes to build a system capable of replicating the functions of the neocortex of the human brain, the part that controls body movement, vision, understands language and does math, The Wall Street Journal reports. One day, the company hopes to build a “computer that thinks like a person,” Vicarious co-founder Scott Phoenix says. “except it doesn’t have to eat or sleep.”

Musk, the investor behind the electric car company Tesla, is no stranger to forward-looking investments. In addition to his work to mainstream the electric car, Musk is behind the company SpaceX, which is developing quickly reusable rocket technology that Musk says could be used to colonize other planets. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement that his Vicarious investment reflects a personal interest and not a move on behalf of the social network he built, but the artificial intelligence technology companies like Vicarious are developing could be instrumental in turning Facebook’s massive amount of user-generated data into usable information. Though not as well-known a tech entrepreneur, Kutcher has literally played one in the movies (Steve Jobs).

Creating artificial intelligence machines with human-like capabilities is likely decades away, at least, but that hasn’t stopped investors from putting their money in companies that could one day take big data analysis to a level as yet unseen. Just last month Google spent $400 million buying the artificial intelligence firm “Deep Mind.”

[WSJ]

TIME

See the 10 Most Iconic Movie Props Ever Sold

How much did the most memorable props of all time fetch at auction?

Monday’s Premiere Props Hollywood Auction Extravaganza XIII has some impressive items: a sword from Kill Bill, a gorilla mask from Planet of the Apes, the Riddler’s hat from Batman Forever. These films would have been different without these pieces; some films are so connected to their props, they become symbols for the movie.

And so cinephiles clamor to get their hands on these objects that embody their favorite movies and are willing to pay a fortune to get them. $200,000 for a small metal tube, $78,000 for a suit of clothes: if it graced the silver screen, it’s worth more than gold.

TIME

Too Many New Hires Quit For This Really Dumb Reason

Jobs are still hard to come by in many places, so it’s surprising that nearly one in six employees quits a new job within six months — and 15% either makes plans to do so or quit outright with that time frame.

HR software company BambooHR surveyed more than 1,000 workers and found that the issue is “onboarding” problems. In plain English, that means your new boss or HR department does a horrible job orienting you and getting you up to speed.

First impressions are lasting impressions when it comes to fitting in on the job. John Kammeyer-Mueller, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, studied how new employees assimilate into the workplace and found that there’s only a 90-day window for settling in — mess up that, and it’ll be like being the new kid at school forever.

But unfortunately, not all companies are great about bringing new employees up to speed in a way that informs them without overwhelming them (BambooHR’s survey found that, while companies like to talk up perks like free food, what new workers really want is more and better training). If you landed in one of those workplaces, though, you’re not stuck either waking up dreading every day or walking out. You can take matters into your own hands and steer yourself along the on-ramp to a successful job. Here’s how:

Start before you get there. “Demonstrate initiative before you actually join the company and start your new role,” says Mike Fenlon, US and global talent leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “Ask how you can prepare, request materials to review and speak directly with future team members.” Ask expectations for you and your new department, along with people you should look up and connect with once you get on the job.

Don’t be afraid to ask. Questions, that is. “Some people are afraid of asking for information because they’re worried that they’ll be judged as ignorant, but it seems like most established co-workers and supervisors prefer a question about how to do things right over a mistake,” Kammeyer-Mueller says.

Ask if you need information or if you want to get feedback about how you’re doing — and don’t assume no feedback means you’re doing everything right. Office cultures differ, and no news isn’t always good news. “Information and feedback seeking are both associated with increased feelings of competence and satisfaction with one’s work,” Kammeyer-Mueller says. “In short, people who know how to do their work tend to like what they’re doing more.”

Seek out a mentor. Some companies have formal mentoring programs, but if yours doesn’t, that doesn’t mean you have to figure everything out on your own. “Often, new employees can quickly find someone who is in the know and seems willing to help, even if they don’t have an official manager title,” says BambooHR co-founder and COO Ryan Sanders. Use these in-the-know colleagues as unofficial mentors, tapping them for technical as well as cultural expertise. Look for someone who is patient and knowledgeable, and who has good relationships with a wide variety of people both in and outside of your department.

Be friendly. No, it’s not directly related to your job, but good relationships with bosses and fellow workers are a make-or-break factor for many new workers. “Building relationships with co-workers helps people feel social adjusted,” Kammeyer-Mueller says. You don’t have to go overboard, he says. Keep it low-key by taking a personal interest in your colleagues’ feelings about their work and their life outside work. “Building relationships with a boss will be less personal, of course, but taking time to talk to a supervisor and treating him or her with friendly but appropriate behavior helps a lot,” he says.

Approach people the right way. “How you ask for feedback is just as important as who you ask,” Fenlon says. You want to make your colleagues trust and feel comfortable with you, so communicate in a positive way that you want to hear what they have to say, even if it’s critical. Fenlon says phrases like, “I want you to know that I’m open to hearing how I can improve and develop” will take you a long way. “Your co-workers and supervisors will respect your initiative, and you will gain credibility if you act upon the feedback,” he adds.

Say thanks. “We need more gratitude in the world in general, but especially for those who help you out,” Sanders says. It seems like a little thing, but he says it goes a long way towards forging positive relationships with your colleagues and starting you off on the right foot. “People want you to succeed, so be grateful to those that help you get up and running.”

TIME media and technology

Apple and Comcast Eye Streaming Partnership

Two giants are considering teaming up at a time when net neutrality rules are in doubt

Apple is reportedly looking to team up with Comcast as part of its attempt to establish a stronger foothold in television.

The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed people familiar with the matter, reports that the two companies could soon ink a partnership that would allow Apple’s set-top box Apple TV to stream large amounts of video content over Comcast’s broadband cables without worrying about a slowdown in speeds. The talks, which could still lead nowhere, come at a time when so-called net neutrality rules governing equal access to the Internet are in doubt, and as non-traditional content providers like Netflix are considering whether it’s worth securing dedicated lanes of service from Internet providers.

Apple TV has been slower to penetrate the market than Apple’s other products, but a deal with Comcast could potentially change that. Apple is the world’s most valuable company and Comcast is the country’s largest cable and Internet provider.

The deal being considered, the Journal reports, would allow Apple TV content to travel over the faster so-called “managed service” path that Comcast uses for on-demand products.

[WSJ]

TIME

Report: U.S. Gas Prices Have Gone Up $4 Per Tank in The Last 6 Weeks

Gas pump
In thee past six weeks, gas prices in the U.S. have shot up by around $4 per average tank Getty Images

A new survey by industry analyst Trilby Lundberg finds the average price of gas is up 26 cents across the U.S. over the last six weeks—five cents just in the last two weeks—representing a nearly $4 bump on the typical tank

Regular gasoline rose five cents per gallon on average in the U.S. over the past two weeks to reach a price of $3.56.

A survey released Sunday by industry analyst Trilby Lundberg reveals prices have risen 26 cents per gallon over the past six weeks, representing a $4 bump on a typical gas tank.

Midgrade costs $3.74 per gallon on average with premium gas at $3.89 and diesel at $4.02.

Within the contiguous U.S., Los Angeles has the highest average price at $4 per gallon, while Billings, Mont., comes in lowest at $3.18.

TIME Financial Education

Why Kids in Kansas May Learn How to Shake Hands But Not How to Save and Invest

170126257
Getty Images

A statehouse debate in Topeka shines a light on common blind spots in the fight for financial education. Some favor in offering it, while others say there is no room in the school day for a stand-alone course in personal finance

In Kansas, as in many states, lawmakers are wrestling with how to make personal finance instruction part of the school day. The pushback from those opposed or who favor only half measures reached a comical and illustrative standoff in recent days.

During debate, Rep. Ward Cassidy, a former school principal, took exception to an amendment that would have required Kansas’s students to pass a one-semester course on things like budgets, saving and investing. To drive home his dissenting view he offered a proposal of his own: Let’s also require kids to learn how to deliver a firm, professional handshake—and guess what, it passed.

“Hey, if we’re going to make kids do something, let’s make kids do something that really is good,” Cassidy said, according to a report in the Topeka Capital-Journal. To be fair, Cassidy said his amendment was “somewhat facetious,” and pretty much everyone in the statehouse expects the amendment to be stricken from a final bill. But that didn’t stop Cassidy from speaking for five minutes on handshakes that are too strong, too weak or lack eye contact.

The point, he said, is that schools cannot be responsible for all a child must learn. Presumably, he wants financial education left mostly to parents. Again, according to the Capital-Journal, Cassidy explained, “I wish we could make a bill where every student would have somebody who loves them…It seems like every time there’s an ill that’s in society we’re going to find some way to make schools do a better job. I sort of have frustration with that.”

The debate that day took several turns. Rep. John Bradford spoke in favor of financial education, and said failing to require it would put kids “on a glide path straight to jail.” This comment elicited derision from the other side. “Ridiculous,” said Rep. Tom Burroughs. Okay, the glide path comment might have been overdone. But our jails really are filled with people who lack opportunity, and not understanding basic money concepts certainly qualifies as limiting.

Others argued there is no room in the school day for a stand-alone course in personal finance. For example, said Rep. Melissa Rooker, her own son was much too busy with college prep courses. She described him as “a student without a window in his schedule.” That view reflects a common blind spot. When something is important you make room for it. And what about the 70% of kids that are on a different course in life, one that does not include a college degree? They won’t have time and may not have the inclination to figure things out on their own before debt starts to consume them.

Nine in 10 high schools now offer a foreign language course; many have it as a requirement. Why? In the last few decades we collectively have decided that learning other languages gives students a competitive advantage in a global economy and helps build valuable cultural understanding. More recently, we’ve begun to offer more computer science courses. Why? The new economy demands these skills. So there is precedent for introducing new lines of study that emerge as critical. There is precedent for making room.

Interestingly, to make room for computer science at least some schools have called it a foreign language, allowing students to choose between, say, Spanish, and writing code. That’s one way to find a window in a busy prep student’s schedule. Another is to embed personal finance lessons in existing courses, which has its challenges but can work and is the direction that Kansas and other states seem to be headed.

The state-level debate in Kansas mirrors the national debate. Should saving and investing be part of what kids learn in school? Well, if they don’t learn it there they probably won’t learn it period. Most parents lack the confidence to try to teach their kids about things they feel even they do not truly grasp. Yet in our age of diminished safety nets financial awareness is now a highly critical life skill.

Globally, half of adults totaling some 2.5 billion people do not even have a bank account. This shuts them off from credit and savings opportunities; it hinders their rise to a better life and squanders the potential to convert hundreds of millions of people from economic drains into economic contributors. Some 40 million unbanked are in the U.S. They get their financing from pawn shops and payday lenders and resort to extreme measures like using the local GameStop as a savings bank. A little financial guidance in high school could go a long way for them—and for everyone.

TIME facebook

The Free-Marketing Gravy Train Is Over on Facebook

Facebook CEO Zuckerberg addresses the audience during a media event at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park
Robert Galbraith—Reuters

Over the past several months, Facebook has been reducing the organic reach of Pages. A recent study found that companies' posts dropped from reaching 12% of their followers in October to just 6% by February

Facebook and its popular Pages platform have been a cornerstone of most companies’ social-media marketing strategies for years. But if the brands, organizations and celebrities that use Pages want to continue to reach Facebook’s 1.23 billion monthly users in the future, they’re going to have to pay up.

Over the past several months, Facebook has been reducing the organic reach of Pages. Even if a person Likes a company or organization on the social network, they’re unlikely to naturally see that Page’s content in their News Feed. In a recent study of more than 100 brand Pages, Ogilvy & Mather found that companies’ posts dropped from reaching 12% of their followers in October to just 6% by February. The tech blog Valleywag reports that Facebook is planning to dial reach down to 1% to 2% of followers eventually.

Facebook declined to comment on the percentage of fans that see posts from a typical Facebook Page (the last publicly disclosed figure was 16% in the summer of 2012), but the company admitted in December that posts from Pages are reaching fewer users. Facebook attributes this change to increased competition as more people and companies join its service. The typical user is inundated with 1,500 posts per day from friends and Pages, and Facebook picks 300 to present in the News Feed. Getting squeezed out are both posts from Pages and meme photos as Facebook shifts its focus to what it deems “high quality” content.

The solution for brands with declining engagement, according to Facebook, is to buy ads. “Like many mediums, if businesses want to make sure that people see their content, the best strategy is, and always has been, paid advertising,” a spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.

The transition to paid marketing on what has long been a free-distribution platform may be a tough sell for some brands, particularly small organizations or individuals who have built up audiences over years. So far, though, pressing the screws to Pages hasn’t hurt Facebook’s bottom line — the company generated $7 billion in ad revenue in 2013, and research firm eMarketer projects that figure will grow to about $10.8 billion this year. That’s good news for the company’s investors, but maybe less so for the people suddenly being asked to fund the social network’s financial growth.

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