MONEY online shopping

Believe it or Not, Amazon Is Not the King of Cheap Online Prices

Amazon logo
Lionel Bonaventure—AFP/Getty Images

A new report suggests that Amazon’s edge is not as strong as people think.

As far as conventional wisdom goes, AMAZON.COM INC. AMZN 1.7037% is the king of low-cost goods bought online; the Wal-Mart WAL-MART STORES INC. WMT -0.013% of the Internet, so to speak.

And that’s largely true.

In its rise from a humble online peddler of books into the most feared, and dominant, name in online commerce, Amazon has used its willingness to undercut the competition to send more companies than I can fit in this space the way of the dodo (RIP Borders, et al). However, a recently released report suggests that Amazon’s supposed edge when it comes to low prices might not be as strong as some believe.

Inside the battle for e-commerce

Earlier this month, Wells Fargo and online sales tracking firm 360pi unveiled their findings from a full-year analysis of the various online pricing habits of the world’s largest e-commerce companies across over 100 commonly offered stock-keeping units. And as you’ve hopefully gleaned by now, the findings came with their fair share of surprises.

Perhaps the biggest single bombshell was that has lost a sales edge in four important categories to the likes of Wal-Mart and Target TARGET CORP. TGT 0.9854% . According to the report, both big-box retailers generally offered lower prices online than Amazon in the clothing and shoes, electronics, housewares, and health and cosmetics categories. However, the report also notes that Amazon typically offered the lowest prices when it came to “like-to-like” specifics goods.

This comes as a surprise for longtime followers of Amazon and implies that online pricing software used by Wal-Mart and Target, which scans competitors’ prices and adjusts accordingly, has grown sophisticated enough to compete against Amazon’s own pricing bots. Specifically, the reports says Wal-Mart’s pricing in the four categories sat an astounding 10% lower than Amazon’s as of August and that Target enjoyed a 5% pricing advantage as well. The report acknowledges that the pricing survey didn’t account for the cost of shipping and taxes, areas where Amazon enjoys advantages with its Prime shipping service and its notorious state tax policies.

Either way, this new report certainly calls into question the conventional wisdom that it’s simply Amazon and then everyone else in the online retail space these days.

The bigger e-commerce picture

Still, I think this report misses the point to a large extent by painting Amazon in a negative light on pricing without discussing the overall profit opportunity online.

As and its online peers have been around for a generation now, it’s easy to fall into the trap of categorizing e-commerce as a whole as a somewhat mature business. In fact, the opposite is true. When viewed in the broader context of the entire U.S. economy, online retail sales represent a veritable drop in the bucket. See for yourself.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

With online sales in the U.S. consistently setting fresh all-time highs, it’s also important to understand just how paltry a percentage of total retail transactions they really represent: just 6.2% in the first quarter of the year. And this only reflects the new record figure in a technologically advanced market. Viewed globally, this figure is almost assuredly smaller and it represents a large opportunity for all e-commerce retailers.

There’s no question that the stakes are extremely high in online retail. As I’ve mentioned before, the only free lunch you get in broad-based retail sales are economies of scale. As the global e-commerce boom progresses over the next generation, the companies that control the greatest share of the proverbial pie will have the strongest hand. And both Amazon and Wal-Mart excel in online retail.

Foolish thoughts

Historically, Amazon has always outflanked other online retail outlets. However, owing to the stakes and its well-documented tenacity, it was probably never realistic for the media or investing community to expect a company like Wal-Mart to go quietly into that good night. So while this storyline gives Amazon’s dominance in the growing battle for online sales supremacy, it’s by no means the end of the story, and that is certainly worth noting.

Andrew Tonner has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends The Motley Fool owns shares of Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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TIME Gadgets

Report: Apple to Unveil 2 New iPhones and a Watch

Apple's New IPhone Poised for Record Debut as Sales Begin
A customer looks at an Apple Inc. iPhone 5c device during the launch at the company's new store in Palo Alto, California, U.S., on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. Bloomberg/Getty Images

New report on rumors swirling about event on Sept. 9

Get ready, Apple fans: A new report appears to confirm the tech giant will not only unveil two new iPhones at an event on Sept. 9, but will also debut its long-awaited, long-rumored smartwatch.

Apple is still officially mum on what it’s announcing, but a New York Times report — citing unnamed Apple employees and others knowledgeable about the products — addresses a heap of iPhone and so-called iWatch rumors that have trickled out over the last few days, weeks and months.

Here’s the meat and potatoes:

iPhone (Likely “iPhone 6,” but name unconfirmed)

  • Two different sizes, 4.7 inches and 5.5 inches, a first for the company. Both are bigger than previous iPhones, and the 5.5-inch model will be more expensive than its smaller brethren.
  • The new, bigger iPhones will have a new one-handed typing feature to better accommodate the smaller-pawed among us.
  • Near-Field Communication (NFC) is coming to the new iPhones, along with a mobile payment system for which Apple is partnering with Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Some top Android phones have long had NFC, but the tech hasn’t really taken off just yet.

iWatch (Name also unconfirmed)

  • It’s geared towards fitness, with footstep and heart-rate monitors built in and a version of Apple’s HealthKit software.
  • It’s covered in “sapphire glass,” which is tougher than your average glass (and already used in parts of previous iPhones).
  • Wireless charging! That’ll make the smartwatch easier to recharge than most other smart fitness bands on the market. Interestingly, the Times says Apple experimented with solar charging, “but that experiment failed.”
  • It’ll work with Handoff, a new OS X/iOS feature that makes it super-simple to start working on a task on one Apple device and seamlessly switch to another.

Stay tuned for more Apple coverage this weekend and on the day of the event.


TIME Companies

Vizio Recalls 245,000 TVs at Risk of Tipping Over

Regulators say the unsturdy TV runs a "risk of impact injury to the consumer"

The U.S. consumer electronics company Vizio issued a recall for some 245,000 television sets that are at risk of tipping over and injuring someone, according to a federal regulator.

The recall applies to all VIZIO E-Series 39-inch and 42-inch TVs, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Wednesday. According to the announcement, the stand assembly can fail and lead the TV, which retails at between $370 to $450, to tip over, “posing a risk of impact injury to the consumer.”

Owners who use the stand should immediately detach the television from the stand, and owners who mount their televisions on the wall are still recommended to request a replacement stand because, the regulators say quite reasonably, they may decide to use the stand in the future.


TIME Tablets

These Are the 10 Best Android Tablets of 2014


Here's how to choose the best tablet for you

Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 9.42.33 AM

This post is in partnership with Trusted Reviews. The article below was originally published at Trusted


Are you on the lookout for an Android tablet? The range is vast and varied so we understand it can be a nightmare finding the right one for your needs. So to help you in your search we’ve selected some of the best Android tablets for a number of different scenarios, whether you want the best for a specific budget or you want a tablet that is perfect for your kids or for work.

If you’d like even more advance on what to look for when buying for a new tablet, you should read our Tablet Buyer’s Guide which explains the strengths and weaknesses of each type of tablet and anything else you may need to consider.

If, on the other hand, you know that the iPad Air or a Windows tablet isn’t for you then here’s the place to be.

One of the golden rules when looking at Android tablets is that you should steer clear of cheap no-name models. There are countless of them and they’re almost never worth the money or the effort of using such inferior products.

As for the “best” Android tablet, well there isn’t really one at the moment. What you have is a number of great Android tablets that do some things better than others. What is best for you may be very different from what the person next to you might need.

Click the next arrow to go through and read a bit more about each tablet to find your perfect Android tablet partner.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4

Originally reviewed by 09 July 2014

Best Android Tablet Overall

Key features:

  • 8.4-inch Super AMOLED screen
  • 16GB storage
  • MicroSD slot

It’s taken some time, but we finally have a tablet to knock the Nexus 7 (2013 edition) off its lofty perch. The 2,560 x 1,600 display on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is fantastic, making it a great place to watch Netflix or BBC iPlayer. The battery life is great and the slim design means it’ll slip nicely into your bag. As we’ve come to expect from Samsung tablets, it still has some not so great software quirks and the fingerprint scanner is not very useful. But if you are looking for an iPad Mini 2 alternative, then this is currently your best option.

Nexus 7 2013

Originally reviewed by 12 August 2013

Best 7-inch Android Tablet

Key features:

  • 7-inch, 1920 x 1200 IPS screen
  • Powered by a reasonably nippy Snapdragon S4Pro quad-core processor
  • Features a 5-megapixel rear camera
  • 16GB/32GB non-expandable

The successor to the brilliant Nexus 7, Google teamed up with Asus once again for the Nexus 7 2 and it’s still one of the best portable Android tablets to own. So, what’s new? Well, the screen resolution has been bumped up to 1,920 x 1,200, the Tegra 3 processor has been replaced with a Qualcomm snapdragon S4 Pro CPU and there’s now a 5-megapixel main camera. It’s more expensive than the original at £199 but it still looks great and offers a zippy performance. The new camera addition is no different from the average rear-facing snappers we’ve seen on other tablets, though.

TIME electronics

This Smart Cup Knows What’s Inside of It

A smart cup to help users achieve health and fitness goals

Vessyl, whose pre-sale began on Thursday, looks like most portable cups: plastic, handy and durable. But it’s far smarter than your average container.

Created by startup Mark One over seven years, Vessyl is sensor-equipped and immediately reports your drink’s nutrition facts, according to the product’s promotional video.

Once a liquid is poured into the Vessyl, a small digital display will tell you the caffeine, fat and calorie content, among other information. It also identifies the drink—it can tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi, for example, by calculating differences in sugar content. It even works for alcoholic drinks and thicker fluids like milkshakes and yogurt.

Charged wirelessly, the Vessyl is linked via Bluetooth to your smartphone, where you can manually enter drinks you’ve consumed elsewhere on the Vessyl app. The app then collects data on your hydration level and chemical intake to facilitate a healthy lifestyle.

The Vessyl can be pre-ordered for $99 (it will retail for $199), and will be released by early 2015.

TIME electronics

Beats Rolls Out its First Wireless Earphones

Powerbeats2 Wireless Earphones Released by Beats
A pair of red Powerbeats2 Wireless earphones, which were released on Thursday. Courtesy of Beats Electronics.

No tangles in Beats' newest product

Beats Electronics released the Powerbeats 2 Wireless ear buds on Thursday. The company’s first wireless earphones, the Powerbeats 2 are designed to seamlessly add music to your workout.

An upgraded version of the original Powerbeats headset, Powerbeats 2 features a flat cable that runs between the two earbuds, and boasts redesigned ear hooks and a lighter feel, according to a press release. A Bluetooth connectivity feature will link the earphones to an iPhone or other music-playing device.

“To me this product represents the intersection of sports and music,” Beats president Luke Wood said in the press release. “But most importantly, the Powerbeats 2 Wireless are designed to serve as a tool for athletes at all fitness levels, whether you’re LeBron James in training or just out for a morning run.”

The rechargeable battery can power up to 6 hours of non-stop playback. If low on battery, a 15-minute quick charge will provide an extra hours’ worth of music.

Available online and in select stores, the product is sold in red, white and black—fewer colors than its predecessor—and retails for $200, while the original Powerbeats has been lowered to $150. The new device will be widely available next month.

Apple announced its intention to acquire Beats Electronics on May 28.

TIME retailers

Yep, RadioShack Is Still Doing Terribly

That well-received Super Bowl ad might end up being the only successful endeavor by RadioShack in 2014. The struggling electronics retailer posted another huge loss in the first fiscal quarter, with both overall and same-store sales plummeting.

RadioShack generated just $737 million in the first quarter, down from $848 million a year ago. Same-store sales were down 14 percent due to decreased foot traffic and underperformance in mobile sales. The company’s net loss was $98 million, more than triple the $28 million loss during the same period last year.

The retailer has faced headwinds for years, but RadioShack’s problems have escalated as consumers have grown more accustomed to buying electronics online through sites like Amazon. RadioShack CEO Joseph Magnacca said in a release that the company will reverse its fortunes by expanding its line of concept stores and launching new, exclusive products.

RadioShack said earlier this year it’s planning to close more than 1,000 of its U.S. locations, but in its earnings report the company said it now plans to close just 200 this year.

TIME technology

Here’s the Totally Amazing Wonder Material That Could Revolutionize Technology

The Progression From Graphite To Graphene
Boston Globe—Boston Globe via Getty Images

Graphene is a better conductor. It's transparent. It's lightweight. It's strong. It's flexible and elastic. In other words, it could change the electronics business

This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at

In the technology industry, every new product or service seems to come with the promise that it is an innovation with the potential to change the world. Graphene, a form of carbon, might actually do just that.

“Graphene is a wonderful material,” Jeanie Lau, a professor of physics at the University of California at Riverside, told Fortune. “It conducts heat 10 times better than copper and electricity 100 times better than silicon, is transparent like plastic, extremely lightweight, extremely strong, yet flexible and elastic. In the past decade, it has taken the scientific and technology communities by storm, and has become the most promising electronic material to supplement or replace silicon.”

Graphene has already found its way into a number of compelling applications, Lau said. For instance, “since it is both transparent and electrically conductive — two attributes rarely found in the same material in nature — it has tremendous potential as the transparent electrode in monitors, displays, solar cells, and touch screens,” she explained. “Companies such as Samsung that invest heavily in this area have already secured patents, produced prototypes, and are expected to bring products to market in a few years.”

Wearable electronic devices, aviation components, broadband photodetectors, radiation-resistant coatings, sensors, and energy storage are among numerous other areas of active research, Lau said.

For many researchers and investors, the ultimate application is graphene-based transistors, the building blocks of modern electronics. But getting there may take some time.

A child of graphite

First produced in a lab back in 2004, graphene is essentially a single layer of pure carbon atoms bonded together in a honeycomb lattice so thin it’s actually considered two-dimensional.

“We generally regard anything less than 10 layers of graphene as graphene; otherwise, it’s graphite,” said Aravind Vijayaraghavan, a lecturer in nanomaterials at the University of Manchester.

Even “graphene” is a bit of an umbrella term. “To oversimplify, there are two major types of graphene,” Michael Patterson, CEO of Graphene Frontiers, said. The first: “Nanoplatelets,” which are powders or flakes made from graphite. These have been around for a while and are “not really super-sexy,” Patterson said. “You mix them into polymers or inks or rubbers to make them conductive.” In flake form, graphene is already on its way to becoming a commodity, Patterson added.

MORE: Fitness trackers are on the outs, but wearables are not

The other type — in sheet or film form — is where graphene’s biggest promise lies. Graphene sheets have “incredible potential for electronics,” Patterson said. In the near term, that potential may manifest in situations where the quantity requirements are “not that great” and where quality or conductivity doesn’t have to be as high, such as in basic touch-screen applications, he said. Products that use graphene in this way could arrive to market in the next six to 12 months.

Looking a little further out, graphene can be employed in membranes used for water desalination. Lockheed-Martin already has a patented product known as Perforene. “It’s real and it works, but it won’t be economically viable until the product reaches an industrial scale where the cost is measured in pennies per square inch” rather than dollars or tens of dollars per square inch, Patterson explained. “That’s where we’re working today.”

‘It’s expensive and low-capacity’

But use of graphene in semiconductors — the technology’s Holy Grail — is likely a decade away.

“Many of the challenges presented by graphene are common to most new materials,” Paul Smith, a patent associate with the Intellectual Property Law Group at Fenwick & West, toldFortune. “The trick is figuring out how to synthesize graphene in a way that first is manufacturable beyond lab scale; second, preserves the desirable properties of the material; and third, can be integrated into a product or technology.”

Synthesizing graphene in sheet form is considerably more expensive and time-consuming than producing graphene flakes. Whereas the latter typically involves a “quick and dirty” process by which bulk graphite is disassembled into millions of tiny pieces, Lau explained, large sheets of graphene are carefully “grown” on substrates such as copper, germanium, or silicon carbide.

MORE: Personal digital assistants, rise up!

Graphene sheets are also prone to defects and “very difficult to make in good quality,” Ron Mertens, owner and editor of, said.

Production capacity is also very limited. “There are thousands of small companies that can make graphene, but it’s expensive and low-capacity,” Mertens said. A round wafer measuring one inch in diameter, for instance, costs about $100, he added.

An even thornier obstacle on the way to graphene transistors is the fact that the material has no “band gap,” an essential property that allows transistors to be turned on and off without leaking electronic charge in the “off” state, said Elias Towe, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

“Band-gap engineering has been and remains the biggest challenge in the development of graphene transistors and computer chips,” Lau said.

It requires controlling the material almost down at the atomic level, and “that’s really pushing the edges of existing technology,” Patterson said. “In 10 years, we’ll start to see these problems be solved.”

‘It is largely a matter of time’

If graphene is to succeed as a replacement for silicon, every unit of cost and performance will make a difference, Towe said.

“Silicon is hard to displace, with all the billions dollars of investments made in manufacturing infrastructure,” he said. “A replacement for silicon has to offer extraordinary performance at extremely rock-bottom cost to compel industry to change its way.”

Though graphene is just 10 years old — in contrast, use of silicon in transistors dates to the early 1950s — considerable progress has already been made. For example, the largest graphene sheet was produced by hand in a laboratory eight years ago; its width was less than that of a human hair. “Nowadays, roll-to-roll printing of graphene sheets up to 100 meters long has been achieved,” Lau said.

“With the increasing interest, investment, and research in graphene-based technology, I think it is largely a matter of time before the economy of scale kicks in and truly low-cost, large-scale production of high-quality graphene is accomplished,” she added.

MORE: Why Google and Facebook are drooling over drone companies

The next series of hurdles “can be overcome with time and effort,” said Vijayaraghavan of the University of Manchester. “We’re learning new things every day. There is still much we don’t understand, and still plenty of research to be done.” For example, researchers have only just begun to study the consequences of graphene pollution on the environment and human health.

Still, the possibilities that graphene holds for the nearly $2 trillion global electronics industry are difficult to ignore.

“Imagine a tiny chip, one-tenth the size of a postage stamp, that your doctor could use to test for all kinds of things,” Patterson said. “You’d walk in, and instead of having to give three vials of blood to test for two things and then get the results the next day, your doctor could use one drop of blood to test for hundreds of things and you’d get the results right away. Graphene makes it possible.”

TIME Technologizer

LittleBits’ Space-Themed Electronics Kit Is Plug-and-Play and NASA-Approved


Snap-together electronics modules let you learn about space exploration by building stuff

What if experimenting with electronics was more like playing with Lego? That’s the idea behind LittleBits, a system of modules such as motors, displays, sensors and buzzers. They’re color-coded, snap together magnetically and come with instructions for projects, letting young and not-so-young amateur engineers build stuff without ever getting near a soldering gun.

Today, LittleBits is introducing a new package called the Space Kit. And it’s doing it in collaboration with the ultimate expert on its theme of space exploration: NASA. The space agency collaborated with the company on the projects supplied with the kit, which provides build-it-yourself desktop versions of some of the devices and technologies used by real astronauts.

The $189 collection includes modules such as a DC motor, an LED display, a microphone, a speaker and a doohickey that can accept input from a standard remote control. You combine these parts with household items of your own–bowls, aluminum foil, string, craft sticks–to create projects such as a robotic grappler, satellite dish, star chart and energy meter.

As with Lego, it’s all very well to piece together LittleBits projects using the supplied plans, but the same parts can be mixed and matched for a more inspiring purpose: inventing your own items from scratch. You can share your creations on LittleBits’ site, where you’ll find an array of gizmos designed by teachers, students and other enthusiasts, from a space helmet to the baby stroller of the future.

See LittleBits’ video about the Space Kit below.

TIME Retail

Your Shopping Center, Transformed One More Time

Stuart Dee—Getty Images

Once-ubiquitous retailers like Circuit City, Borders, and Blockbuster are long gone, and several big box stores have shrunk dramatically in size and scope. And the transformation at your neighborhood mall isn’t nearly complete.

The latest round of retail closures is hitting thousands of stores that were surely once staples of your shopping experience, and you’ll be surprised by what’s taking their place. Here are a few examples of changes taking place:

Abercrombie & Fitch
The high-priced youth apparel retailer has closed 220 underperforming stores since 2010, and it expects to close 60 to 70 more locations in the U.S. in the near future.

J.C. Penney
In recent days, J.C. Penney’s stock price has surged and the troubled retailer appears to be on the upswing. But the news is good for J.C. Penney only relative to far it has fallen over the years. The company has been forced to resort to its “fake pricing” strategies of old in order to entice shoppers back into stores, and as J.C. Penney announced earlier this year, it is closing 33 stores and cutting 2,000 jobs in order to help it save $65 million annually.

(MORE: Another Electronics Retail Chain Bites the Dust)

Shortly before J.C. Penney announced its store closure plan, Macy’s said it would be closing five stores and laying off 2,500 employees.

Radio Shack
As many as 1,100 Radio Shack locations will be shut down after reports surfaced this week indicating store sales had fallen 19% during the fourth quarter of 2013. Analysts have pointed out that Radio Shack’s problems come down to one simple, though huge, issue: It has run out of products to sell that people need and can’t buy elsewhere for cheaper prices, and with more convenient transactions.

Within weeks of announcing it was closing 155 locations (out of 400) in North America due to underperformance and flagging sales, the mall food court fixture Sbarro is now reportedly preparing to file for bankruptcy protection.

In a continuation of the plan first set in place in 2010 to eliminate some 300 locations, Sears made news earlier this year by saying it would close its flagship store in Chicago by spring 2014. Another noteworthy Sears—in Seattle, in place since 1925 and reportedly the oldest continuously run Sears in the country—is also getting the axe.

(MORE: Does Kmart’s Hilarious New Ad Acknowledge That Kmart Stores Are Hopeless?)

Some 225 Staples stores—roughly 12% of its total in North America—will be closed in a strategy the company hopes will help it save $500 million by 2015.

Unusual New Tenants
As department stores disappear from malls, shopping centers are seeking new “retail anchors,” as the Washington Post put it in a report on 2014 retail trends, and increasingly, these anchors are gym chains like Equinox. Sorta makese sense: At least in theory, gyms are places that members should be visiting on a regular basis, and a gym’s retail neighbors in the mall have to like the idea that potential shoppers are guilted into swinging by a few times a week.

Among the other unusual new businesses occupying space that might have otherwise been filled by Abercrombie & Fitch: The Great Mall of the Plains in Olathe, Kansas, which already has non-retail attractions such as an indoor amusement park and a glow-in-the-dark mini golf course, recently welcomed a new non-profit art studio, where students can try their hands at watercolor painting, card making, and other classes. That’s far from the strangest new mall inhabitant, however. As highlighted by NPR recently, malls in southern California now host informational kiosks for funeral home services—for instance, one is set up in between a woman’s clothing store and a LensCrafters.

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