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.

TIME Technology & Media

Amazon Kindle Users Are Getting the Washington Post for Free

US-IT-AMAZON-KINDLE
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, introduces new Kindle Fire HD Family during the AMAZON press conference on September 06, 2012 in Santa Monica, California. Joe Klamar—AFP/Getty Images

Jeff Bezos reshapes the Washington Post with new Kindle app

Owners of Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet are getting a 6-month digital subscription to the Washington Post for free, the retailer announced Thursday. The deal marks the first major collaboration between the newspaper and the retailer since Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos bought the Post last year.

Amazon Fire owners will have access to the Post through the paper’s brand new tablet-only app, which at first will be available only to Fire users. The Washington Post will package news for the Fire tablet in distinct morning and evening editions, along with updates for major breaking stories.

Both the newspaper and the online retailer have plenty to gain from the new arrangement. With its platform on the Kindle, the Post will aim at tapping into a wider audience. And Amazon could bring more customers to the Kindle Fire in order to gain exclusive access to the tablet version of the Post.

“Digital reading opens up so many possibilities for experimentation, and The Washington Post’s new app offers an immersive news-reading experience that we hope our customers find engaging and informative,” said Russ Grandinetti, Senior Vice President of Kindle, in a statement.

Bezos completed his $250 million purchase of the Washington Post in October 2013. He has since helped usher in substantive changes at the paper, dismissing the Post’s longtime publisher Katharine Weymouth and replacing her with former President Ronald Reagan aide Fred Ryan. He’s also hired 100 new journalists and cut retirement benefits for current employees.

Bezos played an outsized role in helping design the Post’s app, the newspaper’s chief technology officer Shailesh Prakash told the New York Times. “We talked to him constantly,” Prakash said about the feedback Bezos gave to developers. “He’s our most active beta tester.”

The Post’s app has been designed with high-resolution photos and graphics, Amazon said, and has an immersive read view as well as a bird’s eye browsing view. Readers can swipe once to move from story to story. The editions will be released at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET.

Amazon has a base of 22.7 million tablet users, according to Kantar World Panel analyst Carolina Milanesi, though its share of tablet sales dropped to 18% from 25% in the year ending in September. The Post saw its paper sales decline 44% in the six years before Bezos purchased it, and both the paper and Amazon hope to energize their businesses through the collaboration.

Analysts said that for Kindle Fire owners, who use the device much more for reading than do owners of other tablets, the new Post app will improve the tablet’s value. But it’s unclear whether the app will drive new Fire sales. “There’s a heavy skew in the amount of time during the day that Kindle Fire owners use it for reading,” said Milanesi. “So that would suit this kind of bundling. But would it make a huge difference to a readership when the free content offering ends? It’s hard to tell.”

For the Post, access to a new audience is instantaneous. “With 42 million monthly readers and growing, this is another step forward in our effort to serve an even larger national and global audience,” said the Post’s Ryan.

TIME Companies

Amazon Vows to Run Its Cloud Entirely on Renewable Energy

Operations At An Amazon.com Inc. Fulfillment Centre And An Argos Distribution Warehouse On Cyber Monday
An employee walks over a logo on the floor of Amazon's fulfillment centers in Rugeley, U.K., on Dec. 2, 2013 Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

It's a major commitment for the world's biggest cloud-computing company

Amazon on Wednesday vowed to run its cloud-computing division completely on renewable energy, following in the footsteps of tech giants Apple, Google and Facebook in making a comprehensive environmental pledge regarding its data services.

The company said that its web-services segment would aim to achieve 100% renewable-energy usage in its global infrastructure footprint, but didn’t set a deadline for achieving that goal. Amazon is the largest cloud-computing company in the world, and its web-services segment has been offering IT infrastructure to businesses since 2006. Netflix, Spotify and Pinterest all use the Amazon cloud, among other top websites.

Amazon Web Services already uses 15% clean energy, according to a Greenpeace study released in April. That’s less than Google, Facebook and Microsoft, though Amazon has disputed the accuracy of Greenpeace’s report.

It may take years for Amazon to implement its clean-energy policy, as it will be costly to move the large amounts of energy consumed by the company’s cloud to renewables. Facebook, for instance, said that only 25% of its power would come from renewable sources by 2015.

Amazon Web Services’s U.S. West (Oregon) region was carbon neutral as early as 2011, and three other Amazon regions are carbon neutral today as well.

TIME Companies

Nielsen Will Measure Viewing Figures for Netflix and Other Video Streaming Sites

AWXI - Day 2
Senior Correspondent at CBS News, Anthony Mason (L) and CEO at Nielsen, Mitch Barns speak onstage at The Future of Measurement panel September 30, 2014 in New York City. Monica Schipper—2014 Getty Images

The firm aims to gather concrete numbers for online-only shows such as Netflix's Orange is the New Black and House of Cards

Nielsen says it will begin monitoring viewership numbers of online subscription video services (SVOD) from next month, including industry leaders such as Netflix and Amazon’s Prime Instant Video.

Despite Netflix and other streaming sites refusing to disclose viewership figures, Nielsen can analyze each program’s audio components to determine which show is being streamed, according to documents seen by the Wall Street Journal.

This means Nielsen can apparently gather concrete numbers for shows that are only available to watch online, such as Netflix’s Orange is the New Black and House of Cards.

“Our clients will be able to look at their programs and understand: Is putting content on Netflix impacting the viewership on linear and traditional VOD?” Nielsen Senior Vice President Brian Fuhrer told the Journal.

Both Netflix and Amazon declined to comment on the report.

Online streaming sites have seen their subscriptions rise from 34% of U.S. homes in January to 40% in September.

As more people transition from traditional TV viewing to Internet video subscriptions, Nielsen’s data could have a huge impact on negotiating licensing deals for online streaming.

[WSJ]

TIME

The Postmaster General Hangs Up His Mail Bag, With a Parting Shot at Congress

U.S. Postmaster General Donahoe speaks at a hearing on reforming the U.S. postal service, in Washington
U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe speaks at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing on reforming the U.S. postal service on Sept. 26, 2013. Donahoe announced his retirement on Friday. Jason Reed—Reuters

Amazon, booze and benefit cuts: How Patrick Donahoe tried to remake the struggling U.S. Postal Service

When Patrick Donahoe began his job as an afternoon shift postal clerk at a Pittsburgh post office in 1975, the mail was still sorted by hand. Packages weren’t much of a priority. And email, let alone online shopping, were decades away.

“It was a dusty, dreary old place,” Donahoe says. Yet he stuck it out for nearly 40 years, rising to become postmaster general of the institution he joined as a 20-year-old student at the University of Pittsburgh making $4.76 an hour in pocket money. On Friday, Donahoe announced the end of that run. He’ll retire on Feb. 1, 2015 after four transformative and tumultuous years running the USPS.

Donahoe faced stiff headwinds when he became postmaster general in 2010. Mail volume was plummeting as people increasingly turned to e-mail and smartphones to keep in touch. And a multi-billion-dollar Congressionally mandated pre-retiree health benefit approved in 2006 had recently taken effect, draining the postal service’s budget. Just a few years before, first-class mail was near 100 billion pieces, close to its peak in 2000 (last year, the post office sent 65 billion pieces). The decline in mail and the pre-retiree mandate led to yearly deficits that in 2012 ballooned to almost $16 billion.

“When you’ve lost 30% of your volume, you’ve got to get your head out of the sand,” Donahoe says. “That’s probably been the hardest part, where you see people that just deny that obvious.”

Donahoe says as postmaster general, he often thought of the steel industry’s collapse around Pittsburgh in the 1970s, and he found the parallels to today’s postal service glaring. People back then, he says, “didn’t realize you had to move quickly and change to stay ahead of problems.”

So he moved fast. Donahoe pushed to close smaller, less trafficked post offices and mail distribution centers. He enticed older postal employees to retire by offering buyouts to tens of thousands of them (postal employment has dropped from 620,000 to 490,000 on this watch). He established “village post offices” in convenience stores and expanded the postal service’s reliance on “junk mail”—one category where volume has grown. Maybe more importantly, Donahoe increased the post office’s reliance on e-commerce and developed a growing partnership with Amazon to deliver packages on Sundays and has even test-marketed mailing groceries.

“We jokingly say, the Internet has giveth, and the Internet has taketh away,” Donahoe says. “We lost the bill payment world, which was very profitable for us. But the nice thing is, with e-commerce and the Internet, we’ve had the opportunity to deliver packages for companies like Amazon.”

Donahoe’s modernization efforts have had plenty of critics, many of whom have accused him of attempting to dismantle an American institution while eroding its services. Many small towns have bristled at the thought of their local post office closing. Postal unions have protested against closures of distribution plants. And what looked like cost savings to Donahoe struck many as reducing customer service to the lowest possible level at a place where it was already in short supply. Just ask anyone who’s stood in line at their own post office.

Donahoe’s reforms have helped shrink the postal service’s deficit — in 2013, USPS lost $5 billion. But the post office has still defaulted on its Congressionally mandated pre-retiree payment and has lost money every year since 2007.

Donahoe found few friends in Congress, which can restrict the kinds of goods the post office delivers and mandate benefits for its employees. When Donahoe pushed to eliminate Saturday mail delivery, which he estimated would save $3.1 billion a year, Congress balked. They’ve been similarly resistant to reducing the Congressionally mandated pre-retiree health payments. A bipartisan bill sponsored by Senators Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a Republican, and Tom Carper of Delaware, a Democrat, that would rein in the pre-retiree health benefit payments and give the postal service additional ways to expand its services while cutting costs has stalled.

“I think Congress has been irresponsible,” Donahoe says, adding that he believes the Carper-Coburn bill is a reasonable way of fixing the postal service’s problems.

Whether that happens will soon be Megan Brennan’s problem. The post office’s current chief operating officer is set to take over for Donahoe in February and would be the first female postmaster general.

Donahoe says he believes it’s time for him to step aside, even if many of the initiatives that started on his watch are still in their early phases. But he’s just not sure he’s got the energy to keep going.

“At a certain point in time, it’s time to go,” he says. “Some of these things may take three of four more years. I don’t know if I’ve got enough in the gas tank for three or four more years.”

TIME Companies

Amazon Finally Added a Long-Needed Feature to the Kindle

BRAZIL-AMAZON-KINDLE
View of an Amazon's Kindle reader. AFP—AFP/Getty Images

Book-lovers can now share multiple accounts on a single device

Amazon is now letting Kindle owners access multiple accounts on a single device.

On Friday, Amazon rolled out a software update that includes “Family Library,” a feature that will allow two adults and up to four children to share content on one Kindle. The adults can decide whether they want to share all or just a portion of their books with other users tied to a device, and each adult can separately make annotations and bookmarks in the same e-book.

The software update also includes Word Wise, a dictionary tool that automatically places definitions above difficult words within a book to help children and English language learners become better readers. Kindle owners will also have access to Kindle FreeTime Unlimited, an all-you-can-read subscription program aimed at kids that starts at $2.99 per month. Improved search capabilities and tighter integration with the online book club website Goodreads are also included.

The new update is available for the new $79 Kindle, the Kindle Voyage and the most recent Kindle Paperwhite. Users can wait for their Kindles to update automatically in the next few weeks or download the new software directly here.

TIME Companies

Amazon Is Hiring a Pilot to Test its Delivery Drones

Strike- Amazon Leipzig
A drone with an Amazon package floats in front of the Amazon logistics center in Leipzig, Germany on Oct 28, 2014. Peter Endig—dpa/Corbis

Company is also seeking a flight safety manager

It seems Amazon is getting serious about delivering packages to its customers via drone.

The e-tailer has posted a job listing for a flight operations engineer on its Amazon Prime Air drone delivery team. The new job, based at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, will involve working with regulatory authorities, planning out test flights and executing the flights themselves. Several years of flight test experience are required for the job.

The company is also seeking a flight safety manager to work on the same program.

Amazon first announced its intentions to begin a drone delivery program via a 60 Minutes episode about a year ago. The plan has been met with much skepticism because the commercial use of drones is heavily regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration. However, the agency recently permitted the use of drones on certain movie sets, which could pave the way for wider use of the vehicles at businesses such as Amazon.

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