TIME Retail

Why Your Boss Will Turn a Blind Eye on Cyber Monday as You Shop Online

Most companies have given up trying to keep people from shopping at work

Braving the local mall this weekend may appeal to fewer shoppers this year than last, but online stores expect a cheery Cyber Monday. With total holiday sales forecast at $617 billion, up about 4% over last year, online shopping will jump 16%, according to the National Federation of Retailers—and more of those online shoppers will be sitting at their desks, especially if they work at tech companies.

The number of companies allowing “unrestricted access” to non-work sites has leapt 17 percentage points in just the past two years, says a new survey from staffing firm Robert Half Technology, and fewer employers bother monitoring for “excessive” web surfing. Altogether, about two-thirds (69%) have given up trying to keep people from shopping at work.

That’s not to say that the IT department is always thrilled with it. “There’s still a higher risk of corrupting the network when you have large numbers of employees visiting a lot of outside sites,” notes John Reed, RHT’s senior executive director. “But, even so, there’s more upside to allowing it than to trying to lock it down.”

One reason is that people bent on, say, the latest Disney “Frozen” doll or an Xbox One are nothing if not determined. “So it’s either a three-hour lunch for a trip to the mall, or 10 minutes online at their work stations,” observes Reed. The rise of BYOD (bring your own device) policies in most workplaces plays a part, too. “From a productivity standpoint, you gain nothing by blocking retail sites,” Reed says. “People will just use their own iPads.”

A subtler reason for turning a blind eye to online shopping is that “employees want control over their own time,” Reed notes. “So employers are trying harder to be flexible. They’re looking for any edge that will keep talent, especially tech talent, from taking a phone call from a recruiter.”

Besides, it’s tough to tell people they can’t shop online during work hours when they see their bosses doing it. More than half (53%) of senior managers—defined as “C-suite executives, vice presidents, directors, managers, and supervisors” —admit they’ll use company time to go cyber-shopping, says CareerBuilder’s 2014 Cyber Monday survey, versus 46% of professional and entry-level staffers who say the same.

If gift-buying online at the office looks like a major distraction, consider the following: It could help people focus on their work by serving as a seasonal stress reliever. A 2013 poll by the National Federation of Retailers found that 46% of women, and 78% of men, ranked in-person shopping—and battling the holiday crowds—as “more stressful than a trip to the DMV.”

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Retail

How Black Friday Invaded the U.K.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s U.K. Asda Supermarket Entices Shoppers With Black Friday Deals
Customers push loaded shopping carts through crowded aisles as they look for bargains during a Black Friday discount sale inside an Asda supermarket in Wembley, London, U.K., on Friday, Nov. 29, 2013. Simon Dawson—Bloomberg / Getty Images

Black Friday, long an American tradition, is becoming a British one, too

Four years ago, Black Friday was considered a distinctly American tradition, as exotic to non-Americans as the running of the bulls to non-Spaniards. “It was never even on our radar,” says Elizabetta Camilleri, CEO of SalesGossip, a web service that tracks discounts at 1,400 fashion labels across Europe.

Three years ago, Camilleri’s team first spotted a handful of Black Friday sales cropping up in London. This year, they’re witnessing a veritable American invasion.

“We’re seeing promotions from 250 branded retailers,” says Camilleri. “It literally doubled over last year.” And the deals keep coming. “We’re getting all of these retailers phoning us, saying, ‘We’ve just realized we’re doing a big promotion next week. Can we get on your home page?'”

So nearly 400 years after the Mayflower made it to Plymouth, Black Friday has taken the return trip and officially landed in the Old World. Some 65% of U.K. retailers plan to hold Black Friday sales this year, according to a survey by Barclays. Giants such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s have jumped in with aggressive, half-off discounts, while high-end boutiques, such as the clothing store Duchamp London, have shaved off 25% for the holiday.

Black Friday’s British invasion might seem odd, given that the sales revolve around an American holiday. Indeed, American retailers have considered the day so essential to their business that in the midst of the Great Depression, they lobbied to give Thanksgiving Day a little nudge on the calendar to prolong the shopping season. So how did Black Friday make the leap across the pond?

Amazon takes credit for introducing the tradition to the U.K. in 2010, though inklings of Black Friday sales could be found along one of London’s main shopping thoroughfares — Oxford Circus — as far back as seven years ago. Dan Taylor, retail manager for Duchamp London, recalls seeing Oxford Street closed to traffic and pedestrians pouring in for an embryonic version of a Black Friday sale. “It was packaged as something quite different,” Taylor says, “as ‘Christmas Comes Early.'”

Black Friday has further seeped into the U.K.’s public consciousness through a blend of media events from across the pond, global trade and plain old competition. “Everyone knows that it happens,” says Taylor. “Everyone then expects it to happen.”

This year, the shopping day got a boost from unseasonably warm fall weather. Sales of autumn apparel slackened over previous years. With fall boots and jackets taking up valuable shelf space and winter merchandise rapidly approaching, retailers had to find a way to move product fast.

“Black Friday became this holy grail of, ‘It’s going to solve all of our problems,” says Camilleri, who warns that the sales could undercut profits in the U.K. After all, Britain has already conditioned shoppers for its own version of Black Friday: Boxing Day, which falls on December 26. If retailers bookend the shopping season with steep discounts, some say, shoppers may steer clear of stores in the intervening period.

Still, there are signs that Black Friday’s spread may end at Britain’s shoreline. Retailers in continental Europe have — so far — proven immune to its charms.

“We’ve seen no sign of it happening in France or Spain,” says Camilleri. A strict regulatory environment prevents retailers in some EU nations from dropping prices outside of designated windows. But Camilleri notes a deeper instinct to resist. When she asked a German retailer if they might consider a Black Friday sale, the retailer simply replied, “We are not Americans.”

TIME Retail

7 Black Friday Haggling Secrets You Need to Know

Early Black Friday Shopping At A Target Store
Customers pick up shopping carts containing Element Electronics 50-inch light-emitting diode (LED) high definition televisions at a Target Corp. store opening ahead of Black Friday in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Because paying full price is for suckers

If you’re chasing down a hot deal this week, your best bet is knowing the right way to haggle. Consumer Reports says almost nine out of 10 people who haggle over prices are at least somewhat successful.

The magazine surveyed 2,000 savvy shoppers to find out what tricks work best when you’re trying to score a steal. Here’s what they found out, along with some other insider secrets.

Comparison-shop. More than half of successful hagglers say they either tell a salesperson they’re going to check out the competition’s prices or just go ahead and scout different stores for better prices, and 42% arm themselves with circulars or coupons from competitors. With predictions about how well retailers will fare this holiday season all over the map, it’s obvious that stores will be paying very close attention to prices, and the customers who force merchants to compete on price will be the winners.

Be nice. More than four in 10 survey respondents found that friendliness is the ticket to a bargain-basement price, with 43% saying they chat up the salesperson and try to form a connection before hitting them up for a discount.

Find out what others paid. Using social media to your advantage can pay off. Almost 40% of hagglers say they scope out user reviews to find out what other people have paid for the items on their wish lists.

Don’t be bashful. Haggling isn’t just for car dealerships and furniture stores; here’s a list of situations when you should go into a transaction with the mindset that the list price is just a starting point.

Talk a good game. Consumer Reports says another way successful hagglers chip away at prices is by telling a story that turns the negotiation into a dialogue: Give them a sob story, show them how much you understand about what you’re buying, argue that a blemish lowers the item’s value or ask an open-ended question like, “How can you help me out?” That puts the ball in the salesperson’s court.

Know when to shut up. Talk about silence literally being golden: Negotiating expert Steven Cohen tells Consumer Reports a well-placed pause in the conversation can throw a salesperson off their game just a little bit and make them work harder to win your business.

Check out these tips. Negotiating experts tell TIME which tricks they keep up their sleeves when they want a better deal.

TIME Retail

San Francisco Passes First-Ever Retail Worker ‘Bill of Rights’

Ahead of the hectic Thanksgiving and Black Friday shifts

Just in time for Black Friday and the holiday shopping season, the measure will make the worker-friendly city even friendlier.

Hours before retail employees punch in for their stores’ hectic Thanksgiving and Black Friday shifts, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved new protections for the city’s retail workers.

The supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday afternoon in favor of measures aimed at giving retail staffers more predictable schedules and access to extra hours. The ordinances will require businesses to post workers’ schedules at least two weeks in advance. Workers will receive compensation for last-minute schedule changes, “on-call” hours, and instances in which they’re sent home before completing their assigned shifts.

Businesses must also offer existing part-time workers additional hours before hiring new employees, and they are required to give part-timers and full-timers equal access to scheduling and time-off requests. The legislation will apply to retail chains with 20 or more locations nationally or worldwide and that have at least 20 employees in San Francisco under one management system. David Chiu, president of the Board of Supervisors, told Fortune on Tuesday that the proposal will affect approximately 5% of the city’s workforce.

The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce has opposed the bill, arguing that it is too onerous for business owners. In particular, the Chamber has taken issue with the limits the new requirements will impose on employers’ staffing decisions.

Now that it has board approval, the proposal just needs the signature of Mayor Ed Lee, a Democrat, to become law. Even if the mayor rejects the legislation, which is unlikely, the measure has enough support among the city’s supervisors to override a veto.

While the action San Francisco is set to take on workers’ behalf is the first of its kind, one aspect of the legislation has precedent. Last year, voters in SeaTac, Wash. approved a measure that requires companies to offer more hours to part-time workers before they hire new employees. They voted for it as part of a ballot initiative to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour, one of the nation’s highest rates.

If San Francisco’s retail worker bill becomes law, it will make a city already known as worker-friendly even more so. Earlier this month, 59% of voters cast ballots in favor of increasing San Francisco’s current minimum wage of $10.74 to $15 by 2017.

San Francisco’s proposal takes sharp aim at employers’ tendency to schedule workers’ hours with little notice—a practice especially prevalent in retail. Earlier this year, University of Chicago professors found that employers determined the work schedules of about half of young adults without employee input, which resulted in part-time schedules that fluctuated between 17 and 28 hours per week. Forty-seven percent of employees ages 26 to 32 who work part time receive one week or less in advance notice of the hours they’re expected to work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Congress attempted to tackle this issue at the federal level in July when they proposed legislation that would give retail workers more predictable hours. “Workers need scheduling predictability so they can arrange for child care, pick up kids from school, or take an elderly parent to the doctor,” co-sponsor Representative George Miller, a Democrat from California, said at the time. But the “Schedules that Work” bill has gone nowhere since it was introduced.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

MONEY Shopping

Old Navy Changes Plus-Size Clothing Policies in Response to Petition

The Gap-owned retailer is changing how it sells its larger-sized apparel, but women will still have to pay extra.

Responding to a Change.org petition protesting Old Navy’s pricing of plus-size clothing for women, the retailer said Friday it was changing some of its policies regarding its sale of larger apparel sizes — but not changing its price.

The Gap-owned retailer said Friday it was changing its return policy for women who purchase plus-size clothing, which is available only online. Starting December 5, customers will be able to make plus-size apparel returns in the chain’s brick-and-mortar stores, instead of having to ship the returns back to Old Navy.

In addition, Old Navy said that in January it would form a new customer panel “to gather insights that will further enhance our plus size collections.” The group, according to the company, “will focus on discussion, fashion brainstorming and product feedback directly to the Old Navy design and marketing teams.”

But the retailer made no indication it would change the pricing policy that sparked the Change.org petition: that women’s plus-size clothing is priced higher than its mainstream counterparts at the store, while larger men’s clothing doesn’t cost more than standard sizes.

Old Navy’s plus-size women’s line is “priced differently because it is different,” the company said. “We invest more in our product, and we’re proud of what we deliver.”

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 Food

Holiday Ham May Be Pricier Than Ever

A deadly virus killed millions of piglets.

Ham might take a bigger cut out of your budget this holiday season.

Prices have soared to a record high this fall ahead of the holidays—when half of total ham consumption occurs—after a devastating virus shrank the number of hogs slaughtered this year by more than five percent, Bloomberg reports.

The price has been pushed up further because farmers have fed their hogs more to fatten them up and make up for losses caused by the virus; while fatter pigs mean more meat, their hind legs can grow too large for the seven-pound spiral-cut, half hams popular during the holidays.

Read more at Bloomberg

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.”

 

TIME Retail

Only 11% of Americans Plan to Shop on Thanksgiving, Poll Suggests

Customers shop at a Walmart store in the Porter Ranch section of Los Angeles November 26, 2013. This year, Black Friday starts earlier than ever.
Customers shopping at a Walmart store on Black Friday 2013. Kevork Djansezian—Reuters

Many retailers are opening earlier than ever this Thanksgiving

About 11% of consumers plan to shop on Thanksgiving, a new poll suggests, despite a retail bargain frenzy brewing around Thanksgiving and Black Friday deals this year.

The survey, released by the National Retail Federation (NRF), shows that 61.1% of shoppers will bargain hunt over the Thanksgiving weekend, which is consistent with data from last year. But, only 18.3% of those who said they would or might shop that weekend said they would do so on Thanksgiving Day, down from 23.5% last year. MarketWatch reports this indicates that about 11% of consumers overall plan to go deal-hunting that day.

“We could witness a sea change this holiday season as consumers’ reliance on extremely deep discounts over the biggest shopping weekend of the year shifts to more of a ‘wait- and-see’ mentality around what retailers will be offering on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay in a press release.

[MarketWatch]

TIME Retail

Shoppers Just Don’t Care About Credit Card Hacks

Major Retailers Begin Black Friday Sales Thanksgiving Night
People shop at a Target on Thanksgiving night November 22, 2012 in Highland, Indiana. Tasos Katopodis—Getty Images

Target and Home Depot both reported great earnings reports this week

If Target and The Home Depot are still reeling from the collective breach of 96 million customers’ credit and debit cards, it didn’t show in either company’s earnings reports this week.

Target posted $17.73 billion in revenue on Wednesday, beating one Wall Street consensus forecast by $17 million. That paled in comparison to Home Depot’s rosy earnings report on Tuesday, which showed store sales in the U.S. climbed by 5.8% in the third quarter. Breaches? What breaches?

Target’s dataclysm receded into the rear view mirror as the company revealed that expenses related to a credit card data breach late last year had plateaued at $153 million. The market rallied around its stock, driving up the share price by more than 6%. The Home Depot’s breach, though, was bigger and more recent. The verdict?

“We believe the breach is firmly behind [Home Depot] with momentum heading into 4Q,” wrote J.P. Morgan analyst Christophers Horvers. That assessment comes two months after Home Depot’s September announcement that 56 million credit card accounts had been hacked and upwards of 53 million email addresses were stolen. The only major business fallout for the company, as far as analysts could detect, was a curious blip in traffic toward Home Depot’s chief competitor, Lowe’s. “Perhaps the breach provided some traffic benefit,” Horvers speculated, before moving onto the retailer’s solid sales growth.

If neither shoppers nor shareholders ultimately punish big businesses for data breaches, will companies move to prevent them before they occur?

“In the end, the market’s behaving completely rationally,” says Avivah Litan, a security analyst for Gartner. “It’s still a pain in the neck for everyone, but there’s very little actual fraud committed as a result of these breaches.”

Litan says that hackers like those who pilfered credit card numbers at Target and Home Depot typically have a very short window of opportunity — less than one month — to rack up fraudulent charges before banks detect the suspicious activity. These heists tend to run in the range of $10 million, and shoppers rarely ever bear the costs. Instead, banks split the sum with the affected retailer, where any remaining cash vanishes into the fine print of the company’s quarterly earnings reports.

The real question, then, is why credit card hacks continue to make front page news. In the grand scheme of online theft, Litan says, what happened to Target and Home Depot shoppers is small potatoes — identity thieves have pulled off heists at ten times the scale of credit card fraud by going after medical and tax records. However, credit card hacks on retailers get lots of public attention because so many people can be affected so quickly.

“Stealing 50 million cards is just as easy as stealing 100 cards,” Litan says. The sheer number of stolen cards conjures up an image of a whole nation of shoppers exposed and helpless. But these crime stories tend to end with about as much drama as a third quarter earnings report.

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