MONEY Shopping

New Moves by 3 Tech Giants Aim to Get a Bigger Piece of Your Wallet

Apple Pay
Bryan Thomas—Getty Images

Google, Amazon, and Apple are all pushing new tools—and often, encroaching on the turf of competitors—with the hopes of snagging a larger cut of everyday consumer purchases.

Several of the world’s tech giants are squaring off, thanks to new strategies and tools that have one common goal: to bring their respective companies a bigger slice of the enormous consumer spending pie.

Google vs. Amazon

This week the Wall Street Journal reported that Google is working on a “Buy” button that would allow online shoppers to make quick one-click purchases—a feature that’s most often associated with Amazon, the world’s largest e-retailer. Google wouldn’t run factories full of merchandise, nor would it sell and ship goods like Amazon does. Instead, in theory (none of this is settled, or even confirmed by Google), consumers would be able to buy goods in a single click directly from partner retailers that show up in Google Shopping search results. Google is reportedly also considering an expedited shipping subscription service along the lines of Amazon Prime or ShopRunner, which would store the customer’s billing info and shipping address.

Google dominates search in general. Yet when people are searching specifically for things to buy, far more start their online shopping expeditions at Amazon. Naturally, Google would love to have more consumers browsing for goods with its search tools. What’s more, it would love to keep them within the Google sphere when actually making purchases. Right now, consumers who start shopping searches at Google are typically sent to other sites—including Amazon—when the time comes to buy. Google would much rather keep a tight hold of the eyeballs and wallets of shoppers.

Amazon vs. Ebay

Amazon recently announced the introduction of a new “Make an Offer” feature that allows customers to bid and negotiate on the price of certain merchandise—options that are in the wheelhouse of eBay, which was born as an auction site and has evolved into more of a general marketplace for sellers big and small.

For now at least, Amazon is essentially just the host site for sellers who are willing to haggle with customers. Only items falling under a few sales categories, including Fine Art and Sport and Entertainment Collectibles, are available on the “Make an Offer” basis, and it’s always a third-party vendor (not Amazon) that does all the negotiating and selling. After a customer views the suggested price of an item and makes an offer, “The seller will receive the customer’s lower price offer through email, at which point the seller can accept, reject or counter the offer,” an Amazon.com press release explained. “The seller and customer can continue to negotiate through email until the negotiation is complete.”

Consumer Reports noted of Amazon’s new tool, “By adding a haggling element to its traditional fixed-price model, Amazon broadens its appeal to a wider audience of consumers motivated not simply by low prices, but by the thrill of the hunt and scoring a deal.” Note that there are no open auctions, and that all haggling takes place privately between the two parties involved—not unlike the negotiations that take place between buyer and seller in a car dealership, or perhaps via a connection made on Craigslist or Priceline. Customers can “Make an Offer” on roughly 150,000 items right now at Amazon, and the e-retail giant plans on expanding the bidding option to hundreds of thousands more items in 2015.

Apple Pay vs. All Other Forms of Payment

When Apple Pay debuted in October, the mobile payment tool—allowing customers to pay for goods with a tap of an iPhone—could be used at Macy’s, McDonald’s, Whole Foods, and several other major chains, but overall less than 3% of U.S. merchants that take credit cards were ready to accept Apple Pay. As the New York Times reported this week, however, dozens more banks, retailers, and at least one NBA Arena (Amway Center in Orlando) have since started accepting Apple Pay, and experts increasingly are of the mind that Apple has the best chances of making smartphone payments commonplace:

“Retailers and payment companies see Apple Pay as the implementation that has the best chance at mass consumer adoption, which has eluded prior attempts,” said Patrick Moorhead, president of Moor Insights & Strategy, a research firm. “They believe it will solve many of the problems they had before with electronic payments.”

Still, there’s a very long way to go before a critical mass of consumers are paying for purchases regularly with iPhones, or any smartphones. Many big-name retailers, including Best Buy, Walmart, and Gap, aren’t accepting Apple Pay because they’re trying to create their own smartphone payment system—which may or may not be easier and more convenient to use than Apple Pay. More importantly, consumers generally still see old-fashioned debit and credit cards as a more convenient and certainly a more comfortable way to pay for stuff. For smartphone payments to be a true success, Apple Pay or other services will have to convince the masses otherwise.

 

TIME Retail

Walmart Must Pay $188 Million to Settle Claims of Cut Rest Breaks

The company said it may appeal the decision

Walmart has been ordered to pay $188 million over claims by employees that the company regularly cut their breaks for meals and rest. The payment would be a settlement for a class-action lawsuit that went all the way to the Pennsylvania Supereme Court. The ruling would hurt Walmart’s earnings, the company said, by reducing its profits from continuing operations by 6 cents per share. Wal-Mart said it may appeal the decision.

The lawsuit involved 187,000 Pennsylvania-based Walmart employees. They worked at the retailer between 1998 and 2006.

[Reuters]

TIME Mobile

T-Mobile Now Lets You Roll Over Your Unused Data

T-Mobile
A Deutsche Telekom T-Mobile logo hangs under pink umbrellas at the stand of the German telecommunications giant at the 2014 CeBIT computer technology trade fair on March 10, 2014 in Hanover, central Germany. John Macdougall—AFP/Getty Images

For customers who buy additional data on top of their plans

We’ve all been there: Every month, a slice of our mobile data plan goes unused, only to disappear into the ether forever at the end of the month. Now, one carrier aims to put an end to that.

T-Mobile will start rolling over customers’ unused data from month-to-month, the carrier announced Tuesday. That unused data will get added to what T-Mobile is calling a “Data Stash,” where customers can use it for up to a year to avoid going over their plan’s monthly data limits.

“With Data Stash, when you buy additional high-speed data, there’s no need to lose what you don’t use,” T-Mobile CEO John Legere said in a statement.

T-Mobile is rolling out Data Stash for customers on “Simple Choice” plans who buy at least 3GB of additional smartphone data or 1GB of additional tablet data above their plan’s base rate. Qualifying T-Mobile customers will start out with 10GB of data in their Stash.

T-Mobile has a history of making bold moves to shake up the wireless carrier industry, like offering to pay competitors’ early termination fees for customers who switch to the service before their contracts are up. T-Mobile’s competitors, including Verizon, AT&T and Sprint, have often followed T-Mobile’s moves, but it remains to be seen if they’ll play ball this time: Overage fees charged to customers who exceed their monthly data limits are a lucrative source of income for wireless carriers. T-Mobile’s aim here is most likely to forego some of those fees in favor of attracting rivals’ customers fed up with overage charges.

The Data Stash announcement came during T-Mobile’s “Uncarrier 8.0″ event, during which the company also touted its recent speed improvements to wireless broadband services in several cities, including New York.

TIME Retail

These New Banks and Businesses Are Now on Apple Pay

TD Bank, Staples are among recent additions

The reach of Apple Pay continues to extend. The mobile payments system that launched on the iPhone 6 will be supported by ten additional banks starting Tuesday, including TD Bank North America and Commerce America Bank, according to the New York Times. Apple Pay will now support about 90% of credit card purchase volume in the U.S., up from 83% when the service launched in October.

Apple has also quietly been adding retailers to its roster of partners post-launch. Staples now supports Apple Pay at its physical stores, as does Winn-Dixie. The tech giant hasn’t released any firm numbers about the use of Apple Pay since announcing that 1 million credit cards were activated on the service in its first 72 hours. However, individual retailers have hinted that the service is seeing wider adoption than previous mobile wallets. McDonald’s, for instance, said in November that 50% of its tap-to-pay transactions are now made using Apple Pay.

[New York Times]

TIME

This Is the Easiest Productivity Hack in the History of Work

keyboard hands
Getty Images

You can literally do this in one second

To learn better, hit control-s and “outsource” your remembering.

In a new study, scientists found that people tackling a mental challenge on a computer did a better job if they saved the previous work they had been doing beforehand.

“Saving one file before studying a new file significantly improved memory for the contents of the new file,” the authors write. “Saving has the potential to significantly influence how people learn and remember.”

In a series of experiments, participants were instructed to study two PDF files and remember words it contained. Subjects did a better job remembering material from the second file if they successfully saved the first file before proceeding onto the second one.

“Saving allows us to maintain access to more data and experiences than would be possible otherwise,” says says Benjamin Storm, assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and lead author of the study. “Memory now works in concert with technology, and by saving information we are able to keep that information from interfering with the learning of something new.”

The act of saving something digitally gives us a sense of reassurance that the information is there when we need it, which psychologically frees up our mind and allows us to focus on the next batch of information we need to learn. Essentially, we’re reallocating our mental resources.

“To maximize memory and productivity we need to be able to set stuff aside and move on to other matters,” Storm says.

In earlier research, he found that thinking of new things makes it harder to remember old thoughts. If you’re worrying if or when you’ll need to refer to earlier information in the future, hitting the “save” button or shortcut is a quick, easy and low-risk way way to virtually hang onto that information without forcing it to occupy the forefront of your mind.

“Saving may protect us from this type of thinking-induced forgetting by allowing us to think of new ideas while keeping our old ideas safely saved and out of the way,” Storm says.

Storm points out that his experiments just looked at what happens when someone saves a file before closing it and starting a new task, but he says it’s not a bad idea to save your work on a regular basis anyway.

When new information crowds out older thoughts, people can even forget their own ideas, Storm says. “Save or write down good ideas as soon as you get them,” he advises. “Even if you think you’re going to remember them, chances are that you won’t, especially if you continue to try to think of new ideas.”

TIME Technology & Media

Now You Can Live Stream NBC Shows Online

NBC Logo At Entrance Of GE Building
A nighttime view of the NBC logo at the entrance to the General Electric (GE) Building where the NBC Studios and the Rainbow Room are located, Midtown Manhattan, New York, May 27, 2013. Oliver Morris—Getty Images

The announcement marks a significant step in an industry wide campaign to bring TV to mobile devices

NBC will live stream programs to computers, tablets and other mobile devices, the broadcaster announced on Tuesday, as part of an industry wide push to deliver television content across a wider variety of devices.

The broadcaster eschewed the standalone subscription model favored by HBO and CBS, however, choosing instead to deliver online content to cable and satellite subscribers at no additional cost, the Wall Street Journal reports. Viewers will have to authenticate their pay-TV subscription in order to access the shows.

The initiative marks a significant step forward in the industry’s “TV Everywhere” campaign, which commits to broadcasting television content online, but has been stymied by internecine squabbles over revenue sharing agreements. NBC Universal said in a statement that it was “committed to supporting the TV Everywhere ecosystem.”

Read more at the Wall Street Journal.

TIME russia

Russia’s Currency Keeps on Crashing

Russia's President Putin chairs a meeting with permanent members of the Security Council at the Kremlin in Moscow
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (C) chairs a meeting with permanent members of the Security Council at the Kremlin in Moscow, December 12, 2014. Michael Klimentyev—Ria Novosti/Reuters

Ruble falls another 8% early Tuesday despite emergency 6.5% percent rate hike, while contagion starts to spread

The rout in emerging markets continued Tuesday with Russia again to the fore, as an emergency interest rate hike by the central bank failed to stop panic selling of the local currency, stocks and bonds.

Selling across emerging markets has intensified and spread out this week as fears about tighter U.S. monetary policy, slowing global growth and country-specific problems in Russia and Ukraine have combined to create a storm which, if not perfect, is at least pretty adequate.

The Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee meets later this week and is expected by many to drop its commitment to keeping interest rates at their current low level “for an extended period of time,” as the U.S. economy gains strength. That will end a period of nearly six years of nearly free money for global capital markets, raising problems for those who have squandered it in the meantime.

By early afternoon in Moscow, the dollar had surged 8.6% to a new all-time high of 71.26 and the dollar-denominated RTS stock index had fallen 15% to its lowest level since March 2009, as investors ignored the central bank’s decision to raise its key refinancing rate to 17% from 10.5% as of midnight. The pace of selling had eased off by mid-morning, but picked up again as the U.S. woke up.

In a television interview, central bank governor Elvira Nabiullina said the ruble was now clearly undervalued, but stressed that Russian companies would be able to repay their foreign debts, one of the biggest concerns among market participants right now.

The ruble had risen by more than 9% initially in response to the central bank’s move, but quickly gave up all its gains as world oil prices–on which Russia depends for its budget–fell further in response to weak economic data from China. The benchmark price of crude fell to its lowest level since April 2009, trading as low as $54.34 a barrel, before rebounding later on more encouraging news out of the Eurozone.

“Oil prices clearly continue to hang like an enormous black cloud,” ADM ISI analyst Marc Ostwald wrote in a note to clients Tuesday, pointing to signs of contagion to other emerging markets.

Russia is only one of a number of oil-dependent emerging markets that have been hit hard by the drop in crude. Elsewhere, Venezuela’s bonds due 2027 fell over 8% Monday to less than 38 cents on the dollar, their lowest level since 1998. President Nicolas Maduro, who has largely continued the unorthodox economic policies of his predecessor Hugo Chavez, had said over the weekend he saw no need to cut subsidies on gasoline prices that many economists see as ruinous. He was also less than reassuring on the possibility of default, according toBloomberg News, saying that: “There is no possibility of default, unless we would decide to not pay anymore as part of an economic strategy for development.”

Dubai’s stock market also remained in freefall Tuesday, the DFM index falling another 7.3%. It’s now down nearly 20% in less than a week.

But the shock waves going through markets have affected more than just oil producers. Countries with high foreign debt, low reserves or weak current accounts are all being placed under a harsh spotlight–especially if their domestic politics is also generating bad news.

That’s certainly the case for Turkey, whose currency hit a new all-time low of 2.38 to the dollar Tuesday after falling 3% on Monday after police arrested dozens of opposition journalists in a crackdown on independent media at the weekend. Those arrested had been instrumental in exposing widespread government corruption over the last year.

“The Turkish authorities have a track record of using the broadly phrased anti-terrorism legislation, under which these arrests were made, to target political opponents and there is good reason to believe that is what is happening here,” Amnesty International said in a blog post.

In Asia, the Indonesian rupiah and Indian rupee continued to fall, along with their respective stock markets, despite the fact that both countries, as net importers of oil, should face less pressure on their current accounts.

ADM ISI’s Ostwald said recent moves had been exacerbated by the fact that financial regulation since the crisis had dried out liquidity in many markets, making them inherently more volatile. Many Wall Street and European banks have largely withdrawn from more exotic financial markets owing to higher capital requirements, while the increasing share of “passively” managed investment funds that use automated programs to update their portfolios has reinforced a tendency to herd behavior.

This article was originally published in Fortune.com

TIME Advertising

How Facebook Is Going to Battle With YouTube

Facebook Said to Plan IPO Filing for as Early as Coming Week
In this file photo the Facebook Inc. logo is reflected in the eyeglasses of a user in this arranged photo in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Facebook is suddenly a serious player in video

Facebook is well on its way to developing its next big cash cow, and it has nothing to do with the social network’s splashy billion-dollar purchases of messaging and virtual reality startups.

This year, the company dusted off its oft-neglected video feature and quickly made auto-playing clips ubiquitous in users’ News Feeds (with a big assist from the wildly viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge). People are now watching videos uploaded directly to Facebook one billion times per day — and that big number is starting to whet marketers’ appetites. As the social network ratchets up its plan to lure brands to place video ads on the site, its efforts could eventually threaten YouTube, which has dominated the online video space for nearly a decade.

This holiday season, Facebook is partnering with brands such as fashion design house Kate Spade and retailer Gap to develop targeted video ads that play automatically in users’ feeds. The Kate Spade spot, a two-and-half minute short starring Anna Kendrick, has managed to rack up 1.8 million views and 49,000 likes, comments and shares since launching in November. A YouTube version of the commercial released the same day has about 150,000 views. (Facebook’s view metrics automatically lean in the social network’s favor because videos auto-play by default and only have to be seen for three seconds to register as a view; a Google spokesperson says a YouTube video must be watched “many times longer” to count as a view).

Kate Spade’s new spot was the first time the brand used Facebook’s native video player instead just posting a YouTube link onto Facebook. Chief Marketing Officer Mary Beech says the company is happy with the results, which came from a mix of paid promotion and organic sharing by users. Kate Spade now intends to launch another video ad on Facebook in the spring. “Facebook has been wonderful in terms of the shares,” Beech says.

Facebook’s video pitch to marketers is much the same as it’s always been: thanks to the social network’s massive trove of user data, Facebook believes it can show video ads to precisely those people who will be most receptive to them. “[Marketers] are looking at Facebook to deliver very personalized messages,” says Nicolas Franchet, head of retail and e-commerce on Facebook’s global vertical marketing team. “Video is now one of the ways they can do that.”

Videos also give Facebook another key data point it can use to try to ferret out its users’ intent. For example, Kate Spade was able to serve ads for certain products featured in the Anna Kendrick commercial specifically to users who saw the video. “If you’ve viewed a video, you’ve certainly formed some sort of interest in the brand and so the brand can capitalize on that,” Franchet says.

While Facebook has found fast success with video, YouTube continues to lead in the space by many metrics. An analysis of 10 holiday ad campaigns by the advertising research firm Unruly found that that the commercials earned 13 million views on Facebook, but about 32 million on YouTube. The YouTube versions of the videos were also shared more across the Internet, gaining 630,000 shares compared to 530,000 shares for the Facebook versions. And in terms of raw usage, YouTube is still king—the video site had 4 billion views per day way back in 2012, compared to Facebook’s current 1 billion (YouTube no longer regularly discloses overall viewcounts, but the amount of content being uploaded per minute to the site has quintupled since 2012). Compared to Facebook’s videos, YouTube videos are easier to find weeks or months after they’ve been posted, and they’re easier to embed on websites or competing social networks.

“With YouTube watch time up 50% [year-over-year] and data showing that people are watching more ads than ever, advertisers are finding that their campaigns have staying power on YouTube,” a Google spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

But Facebook’s video ambitions are still young, and the company has some key advantages that previous YouTube competitors lacked. With more than 1 billion monthly users each, Facebook and YouTube already boast similar scale globally. Facebook also drives some portion of YouTube’s traffic and could use its control of the News Feed to give its own videos preference over YouTube ones (Facebook videos are already the only ones that auto-play, and they appear as larger posts within the News Feed). And Facebook has reportedly been trying to use its substantial amount of cash (its annual revenue now exceeds $11 billion) to poach YouTube stars to get them to make Facebook-exclusive content.

Still, experts say the two sites currently offer different video viewing experiences. “If you go to YouTube, you’re kind of in a serach mode. You kind of want to sit back and watch something,” says Debra Aho Williamson, a social media analyst at eMarketer “On Facebook, it’s all about discovery–almost serendipity. It’s kind of a different mindset.”

Brands will likely continue to experiment on both platforms. Kate Spade, for instance, used portions of that Anna Kendrick ad to create pre-roll spots to place on YouTube. But with finite ad dollars available, companies will have to make a conscious decision about where they spend their online video ad money. And for the first time in a long time, the answer isn’t necessarily YouTube by default.

MONEY retirement income

Junk Bond Selloff Is a Warning for Retirees Who Reached for Yield

Risky assets have paid off well the past few years. But tremors in the junk bond market signal time for a gut check.

In July, Federal Reserve Chief Janet Yellen warned of the “stretched” values of junk bonds. Few seemed to care, and among the unconcerned were millions of retirees who had reached for these bonds’ higher yields in order to maintain their lifestyle. Now, a reckoning may be at hand.

Yellen’s mid-summer warning on asset prices was reminiscent of the former Fed chief Alan Greenspan’s “irrational exuberance” comment regarding stock prices in 1996. Few listened then, either. It turns out that the Greenspan warning was way early. But the dotcom collapse hit later with devastating results.

Yellen’s remarks may be timelier. High-risk, high-yield corporate bond prices have been falling amid the strongest selling in 18 months. Since June, investors have pulled $22 billion out of the market and prices have dropped 8%. The pace of the decline has quickened since October.

The junk bond selloff began in the energy sector, where oil prices recently hitting a five-year low set off alarms about the future profits—and ability to make bond payments—of some energy companies. In the past month, the selling has spread throughout the junk-bond universe, as mutual fund managers have had to sell to meet redemptions and as worries about further losses in a possibly stalling global economy have gathered steam.

The broad decline means that junk bond investors have little or no gain to show for the risks they have been taking this year. Investors may have collected generous interest payments, and so not really felt the sting of the selloff. But the value of their bonds has fallen from, say, $1,000 to $920. The risk is that prices fall further and, in a period of global economic weakness, that issuers default on their interest payments.

Retirees have been reaching for yield in junk bonds and other relatively risky assets since the financial crisis, which presumably is partly what prompted Yellen’s warning last summer. It’s hard to place blame with retirees. The 10-year Treasury bond yield fell below 2% for a while and remains deeply depressed by historical standards. By stepping up to the higher risks of junk bonds, retirees could get 5% or more and live like it was 10 years ago. Many also flocked to dividend-paying stocks.

So far, taking these risks has generally worked out. Junk bonds returned 7.44% last year and 15.8% in 2012, according to Barclays, as reported in The Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, stocks have been on a tear. But the backup in junk bond prices this fall should serve as a warning: Companies that pay a high yield on their bonds—and many that pay a fat stock dividend—do so because they are at greater risk of defaulting or going bust. That’s the downside of reaching for yield, and it doesn’t go away even in a diversified mutual fund.

 

TIME lawsuits

U.S. Food Supplier Accused of Falsely Marketing Meat as Halal to Muslims

Wholesale Price Of Beef Rises to New High
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

The food supplier has said it will fight the charges, calling them a violation of the separation of church and state

An Iowa-based food supplier is accused of marketing its products as halal to Muslims worldwide, when its meats were in fact not produced in accordance with strict Islamic standards.

Federal prosecutors allege that Midamar Corp. sold about $4.9 million in beef to customers in Malaysia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates under the false pretense that its cattle were slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law, the Associated Press reports. The corporation has strongly refuted the allegations and called them a “religious matter” that the U.S. government has no right to regulate.

The lawsuit contends that Midamar told customers that Muslim slaughtermen killed its cattle by hand. Yet Midamar’s primary beef supplier was a Minnesota-based meatpacking plant that uses bolt stunning, which involves shooting a steel-rod through the cow’s brain, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says that Midamar employees would remove the label from the Minnesota-based plant and exchange it for a label from a Nebraska plant where kill practices are certified as halal.

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