TIME Laws

Kansas Tattoo Parlors Say Nobody’s Getting Inked on Welfare Checks

Gov. Sam Brownback signs a welfare reform bill into law in Topeka, Kan. on April 16, 2015.
Orlin Wagner—AP Gov. Sam Brownback signs a welfare reform bill into law in Topeka, Kans., on Apr. 16, 2015.

A new law also restricts welfare spending on lingerie, concert tickets and psychics

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed into law Thursday some of the country’s strictest prohibitions on where welfare money can and can’t be spent. For needy families in the Sunflower State, concerts are out. Casinos: out. Lingerie: out. Fortune tellers: out. The law lists more than two dozen products or businesses that are now off-limits.

But owners and operators of a half-dozen Kansas psychics, lingerie stores and tattoo parlors, in which poor families are now restricted from spending cash assistance from the state, all say essentially the same thing: patrons aren’t using welfare in here anyway.

“I’ve never seen anybody try that,” says Aimee Teets, a receptionist at Aftershock Tattoo Co., in Olathe, Kan. Teets says some pre-loadable cards aren’t even accepted at her business, so it’s possible that a benefits card from the state would’ve been denied even before the law was passed.

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 23 states have passed restrictions on state benefit cards in attempts to prevent purchases on items like alcohol and gambling. The law signed in Kansas Thursday is believed to be among the most restrictive in the U.S.

But according to studies, most welfare recipients appear to be spending a majority of their money on basic necessities. According to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, a vast majority of families on public assistance spend that money on housing, food and transportation. Only a small percentage goes to expenses like entertainment.

The Associated Press also cites a 2014 federal report looking at eight states’ welfare transactions showing that spending on liquor stores, casinos and strip clubs made up less than 1% of the total.

Liz Bartlett, a sales associate at lingerie store Clair de Lune in Overland Park, Kan., says she’s never been aware of anyone using welfare money on purchases at the store. Tattooists who spoke to TIME agreed. “I’ve never heard of anything like that,” says Jim, the general manager of The Mercy Seat who refused to give his last name. “But we’re cash only anyway.”

That still poses a problem for state officials hoping to keep welfare monies in check. The new law allows people to withdraw $25 a day, and the state can’t easily control where it’s spent.

“The purchases may be declined if an EBT card is used,” says Theresa Freed, a spokesperson for the Kansas Department for Children and Families. “If [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] cash funds are withdrawn from an EBT card, it is very difficult to track the use of those funds.”

TIME Retail

Amazon Is Suing Sites That Sell Fake Reviews

Amazon Unveils Its First Smartphone
David Ryder—Getty Images Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos presents the company's first smartphone, the Fire Phone, on June 18, 2014 in Seattle, Washington.

Sites offer to fill seller's product pages with 4 and 5-star reviews

Amazon is cracking down on sites that it says sell fake reviews to bolster products sold on the retailer’s website.

The online retail giant filed suit Wednesday against buyamazonreviews.con and buyazonreviews.com, according to The Seattle Times. The suit accuses the websites of false advertising, trademark infringement and violating consumer protection laws.

Buyamazonreviews.com did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, the website’s owner, Mark Collins, told the Times that Amazon’s claims were without merit, saying his site offers “unbiased and honest” reviews, not fake ones.

On its home page, buyamazonreviews.com offers “unlimited” four and five star reviews to its customers. “Our skilled writers look at your product, look at your competitor’s products and then write state of the art reviews that will be sure to generate sales for you,” the website states.

The case marks the first time Amazon has brought a lawsuit against a company said to be shilling fake reviews. Amazon is seeking triple damages and attorney’s fees, as well as a court order to stop the other sites from using the retailer’s name.

TIME China

No, Ikea Hasn’t Banned Customers From Sleeping in Its Chinese Stores

Chinese Shoppers Make The Most Of IKEA's Open Bed Policy
Kevin Frayer—Getty Images Chinese shoppers sleep on a sofa in the showroom of the IKEA store on July 6, 2014 in Beijing, China.

They're as comfy as ever

It turns out the Great Ikea Crackdown of 2015 was greatly exaggerated.

For Ikea, adapting to the Chinese market has meant embracing the fact that customers quite like to lounge in the store, taking enthusiastic advantage of the comfy beds and free air-con. But earlier this week, state media shocked the capital by reporting that the Swedish retailer planned to stop shoppers from sleeping in display rooms and stretching out on sofas.

News of the nascent ban spread quickly, from state media to the foreign press. (“Rude awakening” chuckled the Daily Mail.)

But an Ikea rep says there is no new policy on in-store power napping. Margaret Ma, a Beijing-based marketing manager, declined a phone interview, but in an email reply to questions from TIME, denied recent reports of a ban. “In terms of any impolite behavior that will affect other customers or cause inconvenience to other customers, our staff always stops that behavior politely,” she writes. “The measure you mentioned is not a new rule.”

Trips to both Beijing locations confirmed that loungers are still legion, and very much at ease. At the store’s Xihongmen branch, a young couple lay curled up on the lower reaches of a bunk bed, headphones in, watching TV on a tablet. Nearby, an older gentleman was relaxing on a sofa, pants high, feet up, and eyes closed. Around the corner, aunties with empty Ikea bags watched over toddlers tossing stuffed toys to and fro. Pretty much business as usual.

So if you’re a Beijinger looking for a place to unwind, Ikea is still your happy place.

TIME consumer goods

This Is About to Become Your Favorite New Drink

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Chris Stein—Getty Images

Interest in premium brands is on the rise

Bacardi is jumping onto the bourbon bandwagon with its acquisition of a premium Kentucky distiller. But the bandwagon it has been riding since 1862 is picking up speed itself: Even as volume sales of rum are expected to decline, dollar sales are expected to grow, according to a new report, thanks mainly to rising interest in premium brands.

Bacardi on Monday announced it would acquire the maker of Angel’s Envy bourbon, giving the fourth-largest spirits maker its first foothold on the bourgeoning American bourbon market. The brand is owned by Angel’s Share Brands and Louisville Distilling Co. Its flagship port-finished bourbon is among the fastest-growing brands in a market that has seen eye-popping growth: total bourbon sales have increased 35% in the United States over the past five years, and 50% worldwide.

Bacardi is late to the party. It owns the staid, mainstream Dewar’s Scotch, and some whisky-based liqueurs, but until now has had no bourbon brands or any American whiskeys of any kind. But the bourbon trend doesn’t seem to be abating, and though Angel’s Envy is expected to move just 65,000 cases this year (not bad for a company launched in 2011), the company is building a new distillery in Louisville to be completed in 2016. That will take capacity to 800,000 cases.

Meanwhile, rum might be the new bourbon, as drinkers worldwide continue to seek out higher-end hooch. While total volume is expected to fall by about 1.7% between this year and 2014, most of that shrinkage will be at the low end of the market, according to a new report from just-drinks/IWSR Insights. Leaving the cheap stuff out of the equation, volumes will increase by more than 5.5 million cases, to 64.5 million, all of it premium priced.

Just as with premium and small-batch bourbons, “aspirational drinkers” are driving these trends. Rum has been somewhat late to the game because it has had to overcome its image as the booze of frat-boy party monsters and Jimmy Buffett fans. But the industry, most definitely including Bacardi itself, has been working to change that image through — and this is a word uttered entirely seriously by industry people — “premiumization.” Bacardi in 2013 vowed to “premiumitize” the whole rum category, with particular attention to premium brands as well as flavored varieties and spiced rums, all of which have seen sales take off over the past couple of years.

Not that rum will necessarily displace bourbon and other craft whiskeys in terms of cultural cachet. But drinkers are bolting for the high end across all categories. Still, rum has its work cut out for it. In 2014, Ed Pilkington, head of global marketing for Diageo’s vodka, rum, and gin brands, declared that rum had “lost its soul,” and had “fallen behind,” thanks to those aforementioned frat boys.

At the same time, rum was taking off in Europe, even as sales were slowing just about everywhere else. Those trends, according to the new report, are now spreading elsewhere, thanks in part to introductions of products like Bacardi’s high-end Gran Reserva Maestro de Ron, as well as flavored rum’s like its Bacardi Mango Fusion.

TIME Retail

Amazon Basically Just Unveiled the Future of Shopping and It’s Awesome

No, the Dash Button is not an April Fool

Amazon.com unveiled its latest innovation Tuesday — a tiny device that allows you to order household items at the touch of a button.

The Dash Button is a Wi-Fi enabled plastic controller that connects to a customer’s smartphone through the Amazon app. The buttons can be stuck or hung anywhere around the house — like on your washing machine, say. If you run out of detergent, you just push the button and an order is automatically sent to Amazon for that particular product.

More than a dozen brands — listing about 255 of the kind of bulky products you need to replenish often — are available to order through the Dash Button program.

The device allows users to cancel their order within 30 minutes, and the order will only process once, so you won’t end up with tons of detergent being delivered to your door.

The timing of Amazon’s announcement has got many people wondering if it’s a prank for April Fool’s Day. Others see the timing as a stroke of marketing genius, because while people are trying to decide if it’s a hoax they are also doing precisely what Amazon wants them to do — which is talk about Dash and share the news.

Amazon spokesperson Kinley Pearsall confirmed to the Los Angeles Times that the Dash Button is indeed real, although for now the service is only available to Amazon Prime customers by invitation only.

Read next: 7 Things You Probably Had No Idea Amazon Sold

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Companies

Toys ‘R’ Us Wants to Make Its Stores More Fun For, Well, the Kids

The Toys R Us Inc. logo is displayed inside a store ahead of Black Friday in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014
Peter Foley—Bloomberg/Getty Images The Toys R Us Inc. logo is displayed inside a store ahead of Black Friday in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014

Makes sense

In effort to contend with online retailers and discount box stores, Toys ‘R’ Us is planning an overhaul aimed at making its stores more appealing for its core market: children.

Bloomberg reports the company will start with a prototype store in New York this year that will feature interactive technology and — why didn’t they think of this before? —a play area. If the kids are enjoying themselves, the thinking goes, parents will spend more time, and money, in the store.

“It has to be something where kids want to go and play,” CEO Antonio Urceley said on Tuesday, “We have to reinforce that we are a specialist.”

Toys ‘R’ Us is struggling to compete with retailers like Amazon.com and Target, which undercut the toy brand on price. The company hopes that souped up stores will make up for that.

Additionally, the company plans to hire more staff at Babies ‘R’ Us to boost customer service that it admits has been slacking.

The struggles of Toys ‘R’ Us are not new. In 2005, it became a jointly held private corporation owned by Bain Capital Inc., KKR & Co. and Vornado Realty Trust. Since then, it has failed to garner momentum for an initial public offering with the last attempt in 2013 failing due to “unfavorable market conditions.”

[Bloomberg]

MONEY Shopping

Why Target Just Gave You a Year to Return Stuff

Exterior of Target store
Richard Clement—ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy

Target's newly generous return policy goes against industry trends, and it's inevitable that some shoppers will go overboard and abuse it. What is the company thinking?

Last week, Target announced it was extending the return policy on a wide range of merchandise to 365 days, a huge increase compared with the old 90-day return allowance.

The new policy doesn’t apply to all goods purchased at Target. Instead, the one-year window is valid on all 32 Target “owned and exclusive brands”—the stuff you can buy only at Target—including merchandise sold under names such as Archer Foods, C9 Champion, Cherokee, Liz Lange, Mossimo, Nate Berkus, Shaun White, and Wine Cube. The return policy for all items purchased as part of a Target gift registry (for babies, weddings, and such) has also been extended from 90 days to 365 days. And the liberal return period allowance for registry items commences on the day of the event, not the date of purchase.

While certainly more generous compared with most of its competitors, Target’s new return policy is not completely unheard of. “It’s a bit reminiscent of Costco’s liberal return policy,” Edgar Dworsky, a consumer advocate and the founder of Consumerworld.org, which publishes an annual retailer return policy report, said to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “It certainly is an unusual move.”

Unusual indeed. During the same week that Target was rolling out its easier-than-ever return policy, Bed Bath & Beyond was following industry trends by making its policy less customer-friendly. As Consumerist.com noted, in the past Bed Bath & Beyond allowed all items purchased at the store to be returned for store credit or a direct exchange indefinitely, with or without a receipt—a “policy that most customers enjoyed and a few abused.” Now, however, when customers bring back items without a receipt, they’ll still be able to get store credit, but there will be a 20% deduction on the amount they receive.

[UPDATE/CORRECTION: Bed Bath & Beyond reached out to us to clarify that its new return policy takes effect on April 20, 2015, and that it “will only affect customers whose purchase cannot be located to process a return, either because the receipt was not provided or because we could not identify the purchase through a query of our transaction records.”]

In recent years, other retailers once renowned for incredibly generous return policies have felt forced to tighten up restrictions due to the abuse by a small percentage of customers. For instance, Bloomingdale’s and REI have ratcheted up return policies, partly because of the extreme behavior of a few rotten shoppers. Some people had the gall to return counterfeit goods purchased on the black market overseas to REI, while others referred to the retailer as “Rental Equipment Inc.” because they used backpacks, tents, and other gear for years and turned them in for new models once they were worn out.

Retailers say they’ve also been compelled to tweak return policies because of a certain subspecies of “returnaholic” shoppers known for engaging in the practice of “wardrobing.” This is the name when you buy something—typically clothing or accessories—wear it to some special event while hiding the fact that the price tag is still attached, and then return it afterward.

At a discussion of Target’s new return policy over at the industry publication Retail Wire, one retail insider noted that the company was all but asking for “wardrobing” and other kinds of abuse to take place:

I expect Target will get flooded with returns as a result of this policy—especially by Millennials who want to rent rather than own. Upscale retailers have had to limit the returns of expensive dresses because women would wear them for one night and return them using the store’s liberal return policy.

So what’s behind Target’s change to a more flexible, potentially abused return policy? The short answer is that shoppers buy more stuff when they know returns are easy.

“People are more likely to purchase impulsively with the assurance of a liberal return policy,” says consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow, author of Decoding the New Consumer Mind and a frequent contributor to Money.com. “In stores like Target, impulse purchases are essential to their financial health.”

In the past, Yarrow has explained that a good return policy is critical when a retailer is trying to foster a long-lasting, trusting relationship with the customer. “Psychologically, a liberal return policy unconsciously communicates confidence in the products being sold,” she says. “With trust in businesses at abysmal levels, this is key.”

It’s been a long time since Target was known as “Tarjhay,” the “cheap chic” darling of the industry. By pushing the return policy to new levels of flexibility and generosity, Target is also pushing its reputation upscale. “Better return policies will help to elevate and classy-up the brand image–which is now more on par with Walmart whereas once it was edging up toward Macy’s,” says Yarrow.

Yarrow also points out that the retail experience today is riddled with potential headaches, so one easy way to set your company apart from the pack is by removing annoyances. “Retailers are typically focused on adding positives–what consumers really want is fewer negatives,” she says. “Hassle reduction is the new route to consumer happiness.”

TIME Retail

Target Will Pay $10 Million to Settle Data Breach Lawsuit

Individual victims will be paid up to $10,000 in damages

Target Corp has agreed to pay $10 million in a proposed settlement of a class-action lawsuit related to a huge 2013 data breach that consumers say compromised their personal financial information, court documents show.

Under the proposal, which requires federal court approval, Target will deposit the settlement amount into an interest bearing escrow account, to pay individual victims up to $10,000 in damages.

The claims will be submitted and processed primarily online through a dedicated website, according to the court documents.

The proposal also requires Target to adopt and implement data security measures such as appointing a chief information security officer and maintaining a written information security program.

 

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Consumers

This Is the Drink People Are Getting Instead of Coffee

Man on desk holding cup of coffee, close up
Getty Images

Consumption of coffee is declining

Coffee remains by far the most popular caffeine-delivery mechanism in the United States, but tea is making serious headway against its beverage rival, especially among young people.

The National Coffee Association reported Tuesday in its annual survey that coffee consumption overall slipped a bit over the past year. Last year, 61% of respondents said they drank at least one cup of coffee per day. This year, that number is 59%. It’s clearly a trend: the number was 63% in 2013’s survey.

Meanwhile, tea consumption continues to grow, with the total wholesale value of tea sold in the United States reaching $10 billion last year, up fivefold from 1990. The demographic breakdown is stark: a survey by YouGov last month found that among people over 65, 70% prefer coffee to tea. Among people 18 to 29, meanwhile, the two drinks are about even.

Some observers are guessing that the trend toward healthier options, especially among young people, is driving people to tea. There might be some truth to that, given that tea very generally contains less caffeine than coffee, and is largely perceived as the healthier option. But several studies in recent years have indicated that coffee might be much healthier than previously thought — not only not as bad for us as we thought, but actually good for us.

It’s possible to make too much of this trend. The Coffee Association survey points out that more than three-quarters of Americans still drink coffee at least sometimes, and coffee is still wildly popular in general. One indicator: the rising popularity of one-cup coffee machines (like those made by Keurig Green Mountain), which are now owned by more than a quarter of Americans.

Still, ebbing demand is troubling for the coffee growers, where wholesale prices, after a spike last year, have been trending downward. In February, the wholesale price for arabica beans fell by 5.8% from the previous month, part of a downward trend that began in October.

Read next: 7 Reasons to Have a Cup of Green Tea

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TIME Retail

IKEA: Please Stop Playing Hide-and-Seek in Our Stores

An Ikea store in Montpellier, southern France on March 27, 2013.
Pascal Guyot—AFP/Getty Images An Ikea store in Montpellier, southern France on March 27, 2013.

32,000 people signed up to play an in-store game

IKEA is a pretty fun place. But the Swedish furniture store — known for meatballs, ball pits and unpronounceable dressers — has taken a stand against irreverence by banning massive games of hide-and-seek in its Dutch stores, Bloomberg reports.

And by massive, we mean 32,ooo people signed up for a Facebook event in Eindhoven; 19,000 in Amsterdam; and 12,000 in Utrecht.

“It’s hard to control,” IKEA Group spokeswoman Martina Smedberg told Bloomberg. “We need to make sure people are safe in our stores and that’s hard to do if we don’t even know where they are.”

Last summer, hundreds played the game in Belgian IKEA locations.

And just look at how much fun they were having:

[Bloomberg]

Read next: Ground Zero in the Clutter Wars: My House

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