TIME Aviation

Drones Are Beginning to Pose a Real Threat to Flight Safety Says FAA Data

Agribotix, a start-up in Boulder, manufactures drones for agricultural use.
The Kestrel Cinematix drone takes photos and video from the air. Agribotix, a start-up in Boulder, manufactures drones for agricultural use and hopes to grow the business as restrictions are lifted on their use. Kathryn Scott Osler—Denver Post/Getty Images

There have been 25 near-collisions with aircraft reported since June 1 this year

The small, remote-controlled drones that have recently grown in popularity are beginning to pose a significant threat to flight safety in the United States, according to new data from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The data, released Wednesday at the request of the Washington Post and various other news outlets, reveals 25 near-collisions with airborne drones reported by commercial and private pilots since June 1. Many of these incidents reportedly occurred near New York and Washington, and several of them took place at major U.S. airports.

Drones, often mounted with cameras for aerial photography (although Amazon wants to use them to deliver goods as well), are becoming an everyday object. However, people who operate them often exceed the altitude limits set by the FAA, bringing them dangerously close to aircraft and helicopter flight paths.

“All it’s going to take is for one to come through a windshield to hurt some people or kill someone,” Kyle Fortune, a private pilot, told the Post. Fortune said he suddenly spotted a drone 100 feet underneath his aircraft during a Sept. 22 flight.

Other pilots said that drones getting sucked into engines, rotors or propellers could cause potentially fatal accidents.

[Washington Post]

MONEY online shopping

Best Black Friday Deals That Are Live Now—No Store Visit Required

Since Black Friday sales now start on Thanksgiving, or even the week before, it sorta makes sense that e-retailers have launched huge Cyber Monday-like sales already.

Websites used to wait for the Monday after Thanksgiving (a.k.a. Cyber Monday) to launch their biggest, across-the-board online sales on all merchandise—deals like 40% off, even 50% off sitewide, with some discounts going even higher.

But in a market in which retailers are aggressively trying to grab shopper dollars earlier and early each year, and when “Black Friday” promotions start at least a week before actual Black Friday—perhaps even occupying all of November—why wait?

Amazon.com, the world’s largest e-retailer, sure isn’t waiting. The site has been rolling out a new Black Friday deal as often as every ten minutes this week. Virtually every other retailer has deals online that were live as of Wednesday, and are especially impressive because they’re so expansive: Instead of offering a select few discounts and “doorbuster” deals, they represent markdowns on virtually everything the retailers are selling.

We’ll update as the epic Thanksgiving-Black Friday weekend progresses, and remember: All of these offers are available online, meaning none requires a trip to the mall.

40% Off
Abercrombie & Fitch: Use the code 15555 for 40% off all merchandise, online and in stores, through November 26.

American Eagle: 40% off sitewide (use code GOBBLEUP) now through November 30, with free standard shipping on all orders—plus a free blanket thrown in with all orders over $60

Ann Taylor: 40% off regular-priced items and 50% off “Sale Styles” with the code SHOPANN at checkout, valid through November 26

Lucky Brand: A “Pre-Black Friday” sale knocks 40% off sitewide

Tommy Hilfiger: Use the code BF40 for 40% off sitewide, valid through November 30

50% Off
Fila: Get 50% off nearly everything (there are a scant few exceptions) on the footwear and apparel specialist’s site, now through Black Friday

The Limited: Enter the code THANKS for 50% off and free shipping

J. Crew Factory: 50% in store and online for the Factory line, as well as 30% to 40% off standard J. Crew merchandise

60% Off
Aeropostale: 60% off everything online and in stores through November 30, with a bonus $25 gift card for purchases of $100 or more

MONEY online shopping

Amazon Launches Competitor to Angie’s List and Yelp

Amazon is testing a home contractor recommendation service that puts the e-commerce giant in competition with sites like Yelp, Angie's List and Craigslist.

MONEY Amazon

Amazon Launches a New Service to Take On Yelp and Angie’s List

handyman in moody lighting
Monty Rakusen—Getty Images/Cultura

The retail giant's latest product aims to match shoppers with service professionals.

Amazon has launched a new service to connect consumers with handymen, installation technicians, and other professionals.

The new product, called Amazon Services, was originally reported on by Reuters in June, but appears to have only recently made its public debut.

Services works by monitoring certain search terms, such as “Television,” and then prompting users to shop for “a top rated technician” using a Services interface that looks a lot what you see when shopping for any Amazon product. Customers can then pick from a range of TV installation businesses, add a particular business’s service to their cart, and checkout as normal.

According to Amazon’s website, businesses wishing to participate in Services must pay for a background check, and give the online retailer a cut of all services sold. Amazon gets 20% of services priced more than $1,000, and 15% of any less expensive offerings. A monthly subscription fee will also be introduced, but is being waived by Amazon until July of 2015.

All services sold through the site are backed by Amazon’s “Happiness Guarantee,” which promises a full refund if customers are unsatisfied with their purchase.

While Services appears to be currently limited to installations, the Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon hopes to expand their product to cover fitness instructors, music teachers, and a wide variety of other service providers.

Following initial reports on Amazon Services, there was speculation as to whether Services would hurt existing review platforms like Yelp and Angie’s List. In the latter case, the unveiling of Amazon’s product could not have come at a worse time. Angie’s List stock has lost over 30% of its value since late October, following a slowdown in paid memberships and missed profit expectations. As of press time, shares of Angie’s List were down 5% for the day.

In Yelp’s case, however, Amazon Services may have chosen to co-exist rather than compete. Amazon includes Yelp reviews of all services offered through the site, in addition to reviews by Amazon users.

This integration could give Yelp a boost in its ongoing battle with Angie’s List, especially in the services sector, where many industry watchers consider Yelp to be weaker. Of course, Amazon could opt to remove Yelp reviews once it builds a sufficiently large review archive of its own.

Services is currently operating in 15 cities across nine states. According to Reuters, the company plans to gradually expand the program as it measures demand and tests logistics; a strategy similar to how the company launched its grocery delivery service, Amazon Fresh.

The review platform is just the latest instance of Amazon taking on a new market. In the last year, the company has entered the mobile industry with the Amazon Fire smartphone, challenged Square with its own credit card reader, taken on Roko and Google with the Amazon Fire TV Stick, and released Alexa, a voice-based digital assistant and clear competitor to Apple’s Siri.

On Tuesday, Skift reported that Amazon plans to announce a travel service that would compete with Expedia. Amazon did respond to Skift’s request for comment. Amazon has now debunked the report (“We have no intent to launch a travel site,” an Amazon spokesperson told MONEY), but the rumor’s pervasiveness shows how the company’s willingness to go after new markets has infiltrated the public consciousness.

This article has been updated with a statement from Amazon.

 

TIME Companies

Amazon Wants to Help You Find a Handyman

I know just the guy for the job, Amazon says

Amazon will sell you an air conditioner, and then it’ll find someone to install it for you, too.

The online retailer is connecting customers with local appliance installers like plumbers and electricians with a new offering called Amazon Local Services.

After adding an item to their virtual cart, customers will see installation offers from Amazon after buying items like an air conditioner or a car stereo. A recent search for air conditioners in New York yielded installation price options in the range of $99 to $120. Each offering came with appointment time preferences which then added the installation cost to the sticker cost of the air conditioner.

An anonymous source briefed on the plan told the Wall Street Journal that the service is now offered in New York, Los Angeles and Seattle. Amazon’s new service will likely help the company compete with brick-and-mortar stores and other online retailers by making it more simple to install complicated appliances. It could also drive business to local installers.

One electrician in Los Angeles who had signed onto the program told the Journal that when he lands a job through Amazon Local Services, he pays Amazon a fee.

MONEY deals

Black Friday Is Already Here

A "Black Friday" advertisement for Walmart is seen on an iPad in Annapolis, Maryland November 16, 2014.
A "Black Friday" advertisement for Walmart is seen on an iPad in Annapolis, Maryland November 16, 2014. "Black Friday" is coming early this year to retailers. Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images

Based on the big discounts already in effect at Walmart, Target, Amazon, Gap, Staples, and plenty of other retailers, it looks like Black Friday sales are well underway.

Many people are upset that dozens of national retailers have decided to launch Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving, thereby ruining the holiday for workers who can’t spend the day with their families—and also ruining the day for families whose shopping-crazed relatives will ditch them for the chance to score cheap tablets, TVs, and fast fashion at the mall. (According to surveys, millennials are particularly likely to go shopping on Thanksgiving rather than continue hanging out at home once dinner is done.)

But based on the proliferation of broad, often substantial discounts that invoke the phrase “Black Friday” days or even a full week before the actual day arrives, it appears as if Black Friday sales are in effect right now. Deal-tracking sites such as TheBlackFriday.com have rounded up long lists of retailers that have already tried to grab shoppers’ attention by launching big holiday sales under names like “Pre-Black Friday Deals,” “Black Friday All Week Long Sale,” and “Cyber Monday Now.”

One week before Black Friday, Amazon kicked off its Black Friday Deals Week, throughout the course of which the world’s largest e-retailer is adding new deals as often as every 10 minutes. Likewise, Walmart launched a “Pre-Black Friday Event” on Friday, November 21, with lots of prices that seem on par with Black Friday’s best bargains: LED TVs for under $150, tablets starting at $40, two-packs of women’s fleece pants for $8, and so on. Similarly, Staples is trying to woo shoppers early with 50% off select merchandise and an array of quirky coupons (a flat $100 off many tablets, laptops, and desk-tops), and Target, Lowes, Sears, and many others are advertising some variation of “Pre-Black Friday” or “Black Friday Now” deals.

Some across-the-board online discounts—the kind normally offered on Cyber Monday—have also surfaced this week, such as 30% off everything at Lands’ End, on top of another 40% off shoes and slippers. On Monday, Gap introduced a sale on denim and cords for $25 and under (normally priced up to $70), on the heels of a 50% off all online purchases (for Gap card members) on Sunday.

The early sales shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the overarching trend of retailers attempting to expand the holiday shopping season and grab consumers’ limited gift-purchasing dollars before their competitors can. Kmart launched its first holiday ad in September, and many studies show that the best deals aren’t on Black Friday necessarily, but can appear weeks before or after Thanksgiving weekend, thanks to retailers’ strategic efforts to boost sales during lulls.

An Adweek story quotes several retail experts of the opinion that “Black Friday” basically occupies all of November nowadays, or at least that Black Friday-type sales appear on the scene earlier and earlier each year:

“We definitely see retailers pushing Black Friday earlier than ever,” said Sara Al-Tukhaim, director of retail insights for Kantar Retail. “This concept of Black Friday is just getting stretched out more” and becoming “more blurry.”

Bear in mind that not all of these early deals are worth getting excited about. The Disney Store rolled out what it’s calling its Black Magical Friday Sale on Friday, November 21, with discounts “up to 40% off,” but most of the deals—16″ dolls for $20 (originally $24.95), play sets from Star Wars, Monsters University, and Toy Story for $10 (originally $12.95)—seem like run-of-the-mill sales, not can’t-pass-up bargains. What’s more, some of the best early Black Friday deals seem all but impossible to buy. For example, Walmart advertised the Skylanders Trap Team Starter Kit for Wii U over the weekend priced at $37 (full price around $75), but it has been out of stock for online orders and isn’t available at most stores either.

To sum up, right now many stores have some genuinely terrific, Black Friday-esque bargains. But many of the advertised deals aren’t all that impressive, and the biggest discounts generally apply only to select merchandise and may not actually be available for purchase. In other words, retailers are already using amazing discounts and other tricks to get shoppers into stores—where the hope is that they’ll buy plenty of lightly-discounted or full-price items while they’re browsing. This is the gist of how and why retailers use Black Friday as a sales-boosting tactic in the first place, and it’s a strategy that is indeed well underway.

TIME Companies

Amazon Wants to Book Your Next Hotel

The Amazon logo is seen on a podium duri
The Amazon logo is seen on a podium during a press conference in New York, September 28, 2011. EMMANUEL DUNAND—AFP/Getty Images

Amazon could potentially combine hotel booking information with product offerings

A new feature is reportedly coming to Amazon: hotel booking.

The online retailer, hardware maker, publisher and video distributor is adding a service called Amazon Travel to its litany of businesses, according to a report from travel industry news site Skift.

Amazon Travel will feature a curated selection of hotels within a few hours’ drive from New York, Los Angeles and Seattle. The hotels will load their room types, availability and pricing information onto Amazon and pay the company a 15% commission, Skift reports. Hoteliers would receive their payments for the room from Amazon, and could negotiate a lower commission.

One advantage for Amazon is that it could combine information about a traveler’s hotel plans with other product offerings, depending on the trip.

Skift reports that the service will likely go live January 1.

[Skift]

TIME Government

Americans Actually Love the Post Office

United States Postal Service clerks sort mail at the USPS Lincoln Park carriers annex in Chicago
USPS mail clerks sort packages in Chicago, November 29, 2012. A new Gallup poll shows that most Americans think the post office is doing a good or excellent job despite its financial difficulties. John Gress—Reuters

Poll finds that the beleaguered USPS is the nation's most-liked government agency

Complaining about the post office is an American pastime, like griping about Congress, or whining about the DMV. Who, in their right mind, actually likes dealing with the post office?

A lot of people, it turns out. According to a new Gallup survey, 72% of Americans say the U.S. Postal Service is doing an excellent or good job. That puts the USPS ahead of 12 other government agencies, including the FBI, the CDC, NASA and the CIA. And the younger the respondent, the more likely they were to think highly of our much-maligned courier: 81% of 18-to-29-year-olds rated the post office’s job as excellent or good, while 65% of those over 65 said the same thing.

So what accounts for the post office’s surprising popularity? Age, for one.

(MORE: The Postmaster General Hangs Up His Mail Bag, With a Parting Shot at Congress)

As the volume of letters has declined, the USPS has evolved to become as much a courier of packages as it is a way to send and receive first-class mail. In the last few years, the post office has not only expanded its delivery of parcels (it recently began a partnership with Amazon to deliver on Sundays), but it also often delivers packages for FedEx and UPS in what’s called “last mile” delivery, which are shipments to residents that private carriers don’t service. That means millennials interact less with the USPS at its worst — the interminable lines at understaffed post offices — and more from the comfort of home, where the mailman is the person at the door with their new shoes from Amazon or their iPhone from the Apple store.

The post office is also the one agency that Americans actually see doing its job each day. You see postal employees on their routes. You can see post offices open. When’s the last time you saw an FDA worker inspecting your local restaurant or the Federal Reserve Board in action as it plotted the end of quantitative easing?

Not that the latest survey should make the post office rejoice. The faltering institution has run deficits every year since 2007 and its aggressive efforts to adapt to the digital age have not yet been enough to offset the substantial drop in mail volume and onerous Congressional mandates to fund retirees. But it never hurts to have the public on your side.

TIME Retail

Amazon’s Massive Holiday Sales Start a Week Before Black Friday

An employee seals a box at the Amazon.com Inc. fulfillment center in Phoenix, Arizona on Dec. 2, 2013.
An employee seals a box at the Amazon.com Inc. fulfillment center in Phoenix, Arizona on Dec. 2, 2013. Bloomberg/Getty Images

The online super retailer is sliding ahead of the competition

Amazon is beginning its deals for this year’s Thanksgiving shopping blowout earlier than ever, using its online platform to get ahead of competing retailers.

Amazon.com will begin offering deals on Friday, Nov. 21, one full week before the traditional Black Friday, the company announced Thursday. It will add new deals as often as every ten minutes for eight days.

Some deals Amazon is already offering include up to 45% off on some Samsung TVs, as well as nearly half off on many popular books. A full list of Amazon’s deals can be found here.

Among Amazon’s advantages this holiday shopping season is that as an online retailer, it can avoid making customers uneasy by opening stores on Thanksgiving, a practice many brick-and-mortar stores have begun employing. Amazon is also getting a head start on competitors by beginning deals earlier in the month and not waiting until Cyber Monday, a digital deals day that traditionally takes place on the Monday following Black Friday.

“If you’re Amazon, you don’t want to just be batting in the second slot on Cyber Monday,” said Colin Gillis, an analyst at BGC Financial. “There’s been some pushback as Black Friday pushes into Thanksgiving, disturbing the holiday period, so its a window of opportunity for Amazon.”

 

MONEY Scams

Price-Matching Scam Had $400 Sony PS4 Selling for $90 at Walmart

Scammers have been trying to take advantage of Walmart's price-matching policy by using fraudulent web pages to get Wii U bundles and Sony PS4 consoles for a fraction of their actual prices.

Leading into the 2014 winter holiday shopping season, Walmart broadened its price match guarantee policy to include prices offered by major online retailers like Amazon, as well as websites for stores such as Best Buy, Sports Authority, Staples, and Target. Until the change was made, Walmart would only match the sale prices posted in advertisements and competitors’ weekly circulars.

Well, it didn’t take long for opportunists to try—and, in some cases, succeed—to take advantage of price matching from Walmart and other stores. Earlier this week, Kotaku reported that a pricing glitch over the weekend on the Sears website showed Wii U bundles listed at $60 when they normally sell for upwards of $300. Sears fixed the mistake, and it appears as if no one was actually able to buy the console bundle for that price at the retailer’s site. But that didn’t stop many shoppers from trying to get the same deal from Sears’ competitors such as Walmart, Toys R Us, and Best Buy by way of their price matching policies. It’s unclear how many consumers were able to get the price honored, but several showed off their receipts at Reddit—one Toys R Us receipt notes the customer “Saved $240″ on the purchase—and surely many more succeeded and kept things quiet.

Then scammers took things a step further by creating fake Amazon.com pages that appeared to list Sony PS4 game consoles, which normally run $400, for under $100. As Consumerist.com explained, anyone with a registered account for selling things on Amazon can list an item at whatever price they choose. Amazon tries to root out obviously fraudulent or misleading price listings—such as a new Sony PS4 for $90—but it can take some time to catch up with the fraudsters. Before that happens, someone can take a screen shot and bring what appears to be a perfectly legitimate image into a store and ask that the price be matched.

That’s what happened at Walmart this week. By Wednesday, Walmart caught up with the scam, and some stores posted signs stating that the “PS4 Amazon.com Ad will not be Ad matched Due to Fraud.” The world’s largest retailer alerted CNBC and others that its price-matching policy has been updated to clarify that stores will not honor “Prices from marketplace and third-party sellers” such as those Amazon pages that were manipulated by users. “We can’t tolerate fraud or attempts to trick our cashiers,” a statement from Walmart explained. “This kind of activity is unfair to the millions of customers who count on us every day for honest value.”

So the scam appears to be dead, but not before an unknown number of consumers were able to take advantage of it and snag ultra-cheap PS4 consoles and, in some cases, cut-rate Xbox Ones and video games. If you think that the only ones hurt by this kind of behavior are Walmart and other major retailers, consider how much more difficult and time-consuming it’s going to be for perfectly honest customers to get genuine prices matched. Now that retailers are on the lookout for scams, be prepared to get the third degree when seeking a price match, even if you’re completely on the up and up.

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