MONEY Autos

A Pop-Up Tesla Store Just Started Its US Tour

Tesla Model S
Tesla Motors Tesla Model S

First top: Santa Barbara

Electric-car maker Tesla Motors TESLA MOTORS INC. TSLA 0.64% is already known for its unique approach to selling its cars, bypassing dealerships and instead selling its vehicles directly to consumers in company-owned retail locations in upscale shopping areas. But it wants to push the boundaries of what consumers are accustomed to in the auto retail experience even further. Showing off the flexibility of Tesla’s direct-to-consumer model, the electric-car maker is meeting customers at popular summer locations with a touring, full-fledged store experience — a feat auto dealers may have difficulty matching.

Tesla’s mobile store
When transported, Tesla’s new mobile store fits on a single flatbed truck and is about the size of four shipping containers sitting side by side. Once expanded and transformed, the store is about 20 feet deep and 34.5 feet wide.

“Designed in-house, the shipping container arrives and unfolds to double its size in just a few hours,” Tesla said in a media release. “The mobility and convenience of the design allows Tesla to bring our unique retail approach to customers in new locations where we do not yet have a brick-and-mortar location.”

The store will highlight Model S components, including the Model S’s electric powertrain and battery architecture. People visiting the store will be able to “learn about electric driving with enticing visuals and interactive displays,” as well as to test-drive the Model S.

Just in time for the busy Memorial Day weekend shopping, Tesla’s mobile container store landed in Santa Barbara, California, today, and will have its public grand opening tomorrow. After finishing up the month in Santa Barbara, Tesla will then transport its mobile store to its next stop in the Hamptons.

As Twitter user @TonyJGiannini pointed out, Tesla’s mobile store is already touring in Europe. Mostly slipping under the radar in the media, the pop-up store made an appearance in England at the Bluewater shopping center in November and December.

There are three of these mobile stores in Europe and one in the U.S. The three in Europe are currently in Denmark, France, and Switzerland. Going forward, Tesla could very well expand its investment in these stores, Tesla spokeswoman Alexis Georgeson told The Motley Fool.

Tesla’s secret weapon?
During Tesla’s fourth-quarter earnings call, CEO Elon Musk said the company had “a secret weapon on the demand side that we’ll probably start to deploy later this year for demand generation,” adding that it could be a “good weapon against the dealers.”

Is this unique touring retail experience the company’s “secret weapon”? It’s quite possible.

It would be difficult for traditional automakers to set up similar direct-to-consumer pop-up shops to sell their vehicles. Doing so would likely require the vehicle manufacturer to refer visitors to nearby dealers for test drives and sales, in order not to interfere with the local dealer network. Dealers, too, could have trouble matching Tesla’s mobile store. They probably wouldn’t want to set up shop far from their dealership, since the majority of dealer profits come from servicing cars — not auto sales.

There’s good reason to believe Tesla’s investment in mobile stores is likely to pay off handsomely

First, Tesla’s demand is arguably limited by the company’s small retail footprint. So, every additional store is important.

Not spending a dime on advertising, Tesla relies heavily on its limited yet fast-growing retail locations for sales. Touring its mobile stores in high-foot-traffic locations could help Tesla expand its retail footprint to key areas without having to take the time to set up a physical brick-and-mortar location.

Second, Tesla’s spending on retail locations to date has proven to be a lucrative investment. Musk said last year that sales per square foot for its retail stores are double Apple’s. Apple was previously thought to have the highest sales per square foot in the world.

Last, customer education plays an important role in Tesla’s selling process. In Tesla stores, customers ask employees many questions about driving electrically. By bringing mobile locations to popular destinations where Tesla doesn’t have a retail footprint, the company can educate more people who are unfamiliar with the company’s fully electric vehicles.

Tesla’s growing footprint of retail locations has been a key driver in sales growth. Model S deliveries were up 56% year over year in the company’s most recent quarter.

Is Tesla’s production catching up with demand?
With Tesla constantly ramping up the pace of production for the Model S, the company’s further investment in these mobile stores could be a sign that its production is finally catching up to demand. While Tesla did say orders continued to grow in Q1 and that it expects global order growth for Model S to continue to rise throughout the year, perhaps the level and rate of Tesla’s production ramp-up is getting closer to the level and rate of order growth.

If Tesla’s production ramp-up for Model S is catching up with orders, will an investment in mobile stores help Tesla achieve its goal to increase Model S sales by about 50% for the entire year?

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MONEY Holidays

Memorial Day Weekend Traffic, Sales & More, By the Numbers

We know for sure that during the holiday weekend, sales will be big, traffic will be heavy, and many, many hot dogs will be eaten. Here's a big roundup of fun factoids about the holiday weekend ahead.

  • 95¢

    In this May 8, 2015 photo, vehicles drive past a gas station in Andover, Mass. Even after the typical springtime run-up, the average price for gallon of regular gasoline should top out around $2.60.
    Elise Amendola—AP

    Approximate difference in the price of a gallon of regular gasoline this Memorial Day, compared to the holiday weekend in 2014. Even as gas prices have surged steadily for over a month, filling up the tank is substantially cheaper than it was a year ago. The last time gas was this cheap over Memorial Day weekend, it was 2009.

  • 5%

    Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel resort exterior property swimming pool, Orlando, Florida
    Rosa Irene Betancourt—Alamy

    Average percentage rise in hotel rates this year compared to 2014. According to Priceline data, daily room rates over Memorial Day weekend are up even more than that in cities such as Orlando and Dallas, while prices at Virginia Beach, Detroit, and Fort Lauderdale have fallen compared to a year ago. Meanwhile, forecasts from AAA call for a 16% increase in rates at lower-end (two-star) hotels over the weekend.

  • 14

    person clicking seatbelt
    Getty Images

    Number of days that police around the country are aggressively enforcing a “Click It or Ticket” campaign to get drivers and auto passengers to wear seatbelts. Look for police to pull cars over and issue a disproportionately high number of tickets for not wearing seatbelts from May 18 to 31.

  • 14+

    Colonial Williamsburg
    Bob Stefko—Getty Images Colonial Williamsburg

    Number of freebies and special discounts available to veterans and active military on or around Memorial Day, per sites such as Military.com and MilitaryBenefits.info. For instance, at Colonial Williamsburg, admission is free this weekend for all active duty, reservists, retirees, and veterans—and their dependents get in free as well.

  • 25

    War Memorial to Confederate Soldiers, Macon, Georgia
    Sean Pavone—Alamy

    Approximate number of American cities that have laid claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day, the majority of which are in the South and held celebrations in the aftermath of the Civil War. (One of them is Macon, Ga., whose War Memorial to Confederate Soldiers is pictured above.)

  • 54%

    George W. Bush International Airport, Houston, Texas, USA
    Alamy

    Percentage of Americans who said they prefer to travel on non-holiday weekends rather than holidays like Memorial Day, according to a survey conducted for Citi ThankYou Premier card. Only 11% named Memorial Day as the best summer holiday for travel.

  • 57%

    man grilling fish
    Stephen Lux—Getty Images

    Percentage of Americans who say they will grill food on the barbecue during Memorial Day weekend.

  • 60% to 70%

    Cabela’s, Scarborough, Maine
    Gregory Rec—Portland Press Herald via Getty

    Discount off the original prices that shoppers can expect during many Memorial Day sales.

  • $199

    2015 Buick Verano Turbo
    Tom Drew 2015 Buick Verano Turbo

    The hot per-month lease price available for more than two dozen new vehicles during the busy holiday weekend, according to Edmunds.com. The auto research site also notes that there are an exceptionally large number of 0% financing offers in May, including 0% financing deals on several Toyota and Nissan vehicles and most Ford models.

  • 383

    overturned car
    Sebastien Cote—Getty Images

    Estimated number of fatalities from traffic crashes that will take place over Memorial Day weekend, according to the National Safety Council. Drivers and passengers can expect another car crash-related 46,300 injuries over the weekend as well.

  • 818

    hot dogs on plate
    Greg Elms—Getty Images

    Number of hot dogs consumed every second in the U.S. from Memorial Day to Labor Day, known as peak hot dog season, when we’ll collectively wolf down 7 billion dogs.

     

  • $200,000+

    toasting with beer pints
    John Giustina—Getty Images

    Amount of money raised for military-focused charities last year with the release of a special craft beer, Homefront IPA. Ten craft brewers have made their own versions of Homefront IPA for the charity effort this year, and the official release date for the brews is Memorial Day, May 25, 2015.

  • 1.75 Million

    Passengers board a Bolt bus to New York in Washington, D.C.
    Jay Mallin—Bloomberg via Getty Images

    Projected total number of travelers in the U.S. boarding buses on rides of 50 miles or more from Wednesday, May 20, through Monday, May 25. That would be a 5% rise over the holiday period last year, and the highest total for Memorial Day weekend bus travel in 25 years.

  • 37.2 Million

    Interstate I-10, Arizona
    Natalia Bratslavsky—Alamy

    Number of Americans that AAA is projecting will travel at least 50 miles from home over the big holiday weekend. That would represent a 4.7 increase over last year, and the highest volume of Memorial Day traffic since 2005. Nearly 9 in 10 travelers will get to their destinations this weekend via automobile.

  • 42+ Million

    U.S. Marines march during the National Memorial Day Parade on Constitution Avenue in Washington, May 27, 2013.
    Yuri Gripas—Reuters

    Number of American men and women who have served their country in the armed services during war time over the centuries; approximately 1.2 million lost their lives in the course of their service.

MONEY Odd Spending

This Is How Much Summer Will Cost You

To mark the unofficial start of the season, MONEY reveals the results of its summer spending survey. Bottom line: Budgeting for warm-weather fun is no day at the beach.

MONEY Shopping

J.C. Penney Sued for Never Charging Full Price

JCPenney store at the Newport Mall in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Kena Betancur—Getty Images JCPenney store at the Newport Mall in Jersey City, New Jersey

The "original price" is a big fat lie.

J.C. Penney has long been in the business of giving merchandise “fake prices.” That’s how Ron Johnson described the retailer’s pricing strategy when he took over as CEO in 2012, pointing out that less than 1% of store sales were for items at full original price.

After the short-lived Johnson experiment in more transparent, less promotion-driven sales ended in monumental failure, J.C. Penney resorted to its old high-low pricing scheme, in which items were given inflated original prices solely for the purpose of making the inevitable discounts seem more impressive. It’s a classic sales strategy known as “price anchoring,” and J.C. Penney is hardly the only store known to engage in the practice.

Yet J.C. Penney is the one that has been hit with a class-action lawsuit in California federal court for its pricing strategies, a “massive, years-long, pervasive campaign” that has allegedly been tantamount to deceptive and fraudulent advertising. According to Reuters, the lead plaintiff in the suit purchased three blouses at J.C. Penney at a price of $17.99 each—seemingly a good deal in light of the $30 “original” price on the tag. But with a little research, the shopper discovered that the blouses in question were never priced for more than $17.99 during the three months prior to her purchase.

“Price comparisons are not illegal, but it is deceptive if there is no basis for the original price,” said Matthew Zevin, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, who could number in the hundreds of thousands.

This isn’t the first time a retailer has gotten sued for allegedly having too many sales and promotions—or rather, for never actually selling items at non-discounted prices. In 2012, Jos. A. Bank, the men’s apparel retailer known for seemingly insane “Buy 1, Get 7 Free” promotions, was hit with a class-action lawsuit in New Jersey for allegedly using “misleading, inaccurate and deceptive marketing” to create “a false sense of urgency” among shoppers. Essentially, the retailer was accused of partaking in the same tactic that’s gotten J.C. Penney sued: Showing items with list or “original” prices that are never (or almost never) charged.

The suit against Jos. A. Bank was dismissed because the plaintiffs failed to quantify “the difference between what the regular price actually was and what the discount price should have been,” according to the New Jersey federal judge hearing the case. This doesn’t prove that Jos. A. Bank didn’t engage in the practice; it just means that the plaintiffs could not prove how much of an “ascertainable loss” they suffered as a result of the retailer’s pricing strategies.

In any event, last month Jos. A. Bank pledged it would be moving away from a “hyper aggressive promotional strategy” because it has hurt the brand—and sales and profits by extension. The announcement took place roughly a year after Jos. A. Bank was purchased for $1.8 billion by rival Men’s Wearhouse.

Let’s hope that regardless of the results of any lawsuits, stores get the message that the common practice of listing items at inflated, meaningless original prices is bad for business.

MONEY Financial Planning

7 Ways Couples Cheat on Each Other — Financially

Jonathan Kitchen/Getty Images

Financial infidelity and the lies we tell

Several years ago, a friend of mine admitted she had a bank account her husband didn’t know about so that she could spend from her secret stash on the sly. And recently, an acquaintance who owns a luxury jewelry store revealed to me that some of her clients purchase the high-end gems with cash in order to keep their spouse in the dark about their indulgences.

These breaches of trust are surprisingly common: According to a recent survey by the National Endowment for Financial Education, one in three adults who have combined their money in a relationship admit to committing financial infidelity against their partner. And 76 percent of those people concede that their deception has affected the relationship.

Why all the fibs about your finances? We dug into the reasons behind some of the biggest fiscal lies couples tell, and the steps you can take to get back on track.

Lie #1: “Yes, I paid that bill.”

Where it Comes From: There are two primary reasons why people hide money moves from their significant other. Number one: “You might feel controlled by your partner, so you act out as a form of rebellion,” says money coach Deborah Price, CEO and founder of the Money Coaching Institute and author of “The Heart of Money.”

If one person is in charge of the purchasing decisions (picking apart every detail of the credit card statement, deciding what their spouse can and can’t buy, imposing a spending limit), while the other doesn’t have much of a say, anger and resentment can build up — which results in deceptive behavior.

Number two: “You feel ashamed about your financial situation, so you try to cover it up, hoping you’ll be able to get a handle on things before your spouse finds out,” says Price. “You’re afraid that your partner won’t be able to cope with the truth.” Maybe you’re in debt, and are worried your husband wouldn’t want to be with you if he discovers what’s really going on. Or perhaps you feel guilty about splurging, and don’t want your partner to judge you.

Break the Habit: The first step is to get to the bottom of the lie. “Most money problems aren’t actually about money — they’re symptoms, and the problems are truly about something else,” says Price, who advises to look into when and why the behavior initially emerged. One method: Write what she calls a “money biography.” Did the fib predate your marriage or start after you wed? How does lying make you feel — guilty for being dishonest, thrilled about getting away with something, or afraid that your partner will learn the truth?

“Most of our money patterns are formed in early childhood and get acted out in our relationships unconsciously,” says Price. “Once you understand your patterns, you have some power over them and can begin taking measures to correct them.

Next, consider what it would feel like to come clean. Ask yourself, if you were sure that your partner wouldn’t freak out, what would you ideally like to happen? Now, how can you start to move toward that? “In order to tell the truth, it’s important that you feel safe in your relationship,” explains Price. “You can’t be worried that your partner will run out the door.” She suggests starting the conversation by saying, “There’s something important I need to talk to you about, but I’m afraid that it will upset you. Before I tell you, will you promise to stay calm and help me work through it?” Yes it will be a tough discussion, but coming forward will ultimately help you build a stronger bond.

Lie #2: “I’m terrible with money — you handle it.”

Where it Comes From: This is an incredibly common phenomenon: People who are perfectly competent mistakenly believe that they are financially inept. “You feel powerless and are fearful that you will make a mistake,” says Price. “Maybe you were told you weren’t smart growing up, or had parents or teachers who made you feel insecure.” She also points out that sometimes there’s a subconscious benefit to not being powerful with money, in that it lets you off the hook about having to be the “responsible one” and sets the stage for you to be rescued by someone more “capable.”

Break the Habit: Is it true that you don’t have a good grasp on finances, or is it a projection based upon your fears that you’ll mess up? To find out, list your fiscal skills: Are you aware of how much you have in your checking and savings accounts? Do you know how much you earn? Are you contributing to a 401(k) or IRA? When you were on your own, did you pay your bills on time and spend within your means? You might realize that you’re more in control of your money than you thought. Or, you will identify what areas where you need need some guidance. (Check out our DIY Financial Planning Guide.)

Even though you haven’t done something in the past, it doesn’t mean you can’t become proficient,” stresses Price. “And while it’s okay for one person to have the role of ‘family CFO,’ both of you should be involved in your finances to some extent.” In the worst-case scenario, if you lose your spouse or get divorced and they have the keys to your fiscal life, you’ll be in a bind — especially if there are kids in the picture. So, no matter who takes the lead with financial decisions, make sure to sit down together at least once a month to discuss where your joint finances stand.

Lie #3: “Sure, we can afford that.”

Where it Comes From: This one might not be an outright lie. Many people simply aren’t connected enough to their daily financial accounting to knowwhether or not they can afford a new car or trip to the Andes. And once you’re married, money cluelessness can get even worse — assuming that your spouse will handle the finances gives you an excuse to grow more out of touch.

Plus, when there are two of you, it’s easy to pass the buck so you won’t be the one at fault for having made an irresponsible decision. “Some people might also avoid telling the truth [that a certain item is out of your price range] in order to avoid a potential fight,” adds Price. (Of course, that backfires: You might end up pointing the finger at each other later on when fiscal remorse sets in.)

Break the Habit: Part of the problem here is that we are hard-wired to want to spend money. “We are largely governed by a part of the mind called the instinctive brain, which is driven by desire and is wholly distinct from the prefrontal cortex, the section that processes rational thought,” explains Price. As a result, money decisions are often guided by emotions, rather than logic. So, before making a major purchase you and your spouse should list all of the positive and negative consequences of the decision. “This slows down your neural processing centers and activates the prefrontal cortex,” says Price. Not only will you be less likely to get carried away in the excitement of the moment, but it also forces you to take a hard look at your financial situation.

Lie #4: “My money is your money.”

Where it Comes From: The survey mentioned earlier found that three in 10 adults with joint finances have hidden a purchase, bank account, statement, bill, or cash from their partner. So what’s with all the covert ops? “Concealing fiscal information is a self-protective response to feeling unsafe in the relationship,” says Kate Levinson, PhD, author of “Emotional Currency.” “Even though you may like the idea of merging your money with your spouse’s on an intellectual level, you ultimately don’t trust that your partner will be there for you.

This sense of insecurity might be triggered by past experiences with someone who abused money (for example, a parent who gambled away the rent or burned through the grocery budget to fund a shopping addiction). It can also be a sign of emotional unrest — if you were betrayed by an ex or had an emotionally unavailable parent, you might have learned that you can’t rely on others. “Money represents an internal need to stay independent, and squirreling it away reassures you that you aren’t overly vulnerable,” says Levinson. Thanks to your cash stash, you feel like you have a way out.

Break the Habit: Begin by investigating the underlying cause of your deception on your own — write about it, talk to a friend or therapist, or meditate until you understand what’s going on underneath. “You need to recognize that your behavior is being driven by elements outside of your awareness,” explains Levinson.

After you gain some insight into the underlying causes, work through the issue with your partner. To begin the discussion, try focusing on the relationship with an opening like: “There’s something that I’ve been afraid to talk to you about. I know you’re going to be mad, but I need you to help me figure out what’s going on because it’s getting in the way of me being close to you.” You may also want to preface the conversation by asking your partner to just listen without interrupting so that you can tell him the story in full. “Keep in mind that the core problem might have nothing to do with money, but rather can shine a light on something that’s missing in your relationship — be it that you need more one-on-one time with him, or want him to help out more around the house,” adds Levinson.

Lie #5: “I’ve had these shoes for years.”

Where it Comes From: Denial of spending is a fear-based reaction. “You’re worried that your partner might judge you for being indulgent, selfish, frivolous or undeserving — and that they won’t love you for it,” says Levinson. Your response might be an accurate reflection of your current bind, say, if your partner is financially controlling, or you have a problem with overspending. Or it might be a byproduct of your upbringing; according to Levinson, you could be modeling behavior that you saw play out in childhood (for example, your mom encouraging you to hide new purchases from your dad.

Break the Habit: Do a realistic assessment of your financial situation: “Clarify your financial goals and priorities and establish a specific budget based on your fixed expenses and discretionary spending,” Levinson recommends. Knowing exactly how much you have to splurge will alleviate any fear that your partner might disapprove. Stick to that budget, and review it monthly or bimonthly to make sure it’s still working for you.

Lie #6: “I don’t have any debt.”

Where it Comes From: Thirteen percent of survey respondents said they’d committed a serious infraction, like lying about the amount of debt that they owe. “This fib stems from shame, feeling overwhelmed, or a fear of being judged by your partner,” says Levinson. You might also be in a state of denial — subconsciously, you feel like if you haven’t told your partner the truth, then the debt doesn’t exist and you won’t have to face the consequences of it.

Break the Habit: It’s time to confront your financial situation head-on. “Own your debt,” urges Levinson. “Talk to someone you trust — a counselor, financial advisor, or family member — to begin figuring out how to get debt-free.” That way, when you come clean to your partner (try using the same conversation technique as before), you’ll have a plan of action in mind, which sends the message that you’re finally taking control of things. “You also might want to consider separating your finances to show that you understand the debt is your responsibility,” adds Levinson.

Lie #7: “I don’t have that much money.”

Where it Comes From: On the flipside, some people claim they make less than they actually do. “You may keep an inheritance or large salary from your partner while you’re dating because you’re concerned about being taken advantage of, or loved only for you money,” says Levinson. “Then you hang onto the lie because you don’t want to rock the boat.” This whopper also unleashes a cascade of tough personal questions: How will I be able to handle having so much more than my spouse? What kind of person will I become if I tap into this money? What will it do to our relationship to go from being financially equal to unequal?

Break the Habit: In this case, Levinson strongly suggests seeing a counselor, because it can be unsettling to have huge wealth discrepancies in a relationship. “Some couples are naturally financially compatible and agree on how to spend and save,” says Levinson. “But for many, it’s difficult. Your spouse might be scared of wealth, judgmental about rich people or afraid that having money will turn them into a different person with different values.

There are also questions about how your dynamic changes: If one of you has a lot more money, does what you say hold more weight? “Issues of feeling better than or less than your partner are very tricky territory to navigate, especially when there’s a sense of betrayal on top of that,” says Levinson. “Just be sure to find a couple’s therapist who’s comfortable talking about money.

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TIME

Why Walmart Has Big Problem on Its Hands

An employee pulls a forklift with display units for DVD movies at a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. location ahead of Black Friday in Los Angeles, Calif. on Nov. 24, 2014.
Bloomberg—Getty Images An employee pulls a forklift with display units for DVD movies at a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. location ahead of Black Friday in Los Angeles, Calif. on Nov. 24, 2014.

The world's largest retailer is hurting

As gas prices hit multi-year lows a few months ago, many retailers hoped the savings consumers would enjoy would yield a bonanza.

Those hopes have been dashed.

Instead of going out to buy a new polo shirt or barbecue grill, consumers seem to be saving some of what they would have spent on gas to pay other bills.

Walmart, a unit of Wal-Mart Stores on Tuesday joined a chorus of U.S. retailers to report disappointing first quarter sales that has included Macy’s, Gap Inc and Kohl’s.

The retailer reported comparable sales, which includes digital revenue but excludes newly opened or closed stores, rose 1.1%- not bad, but below the 1.5% Wall Street was looking for. On the earnings side, Wal-Mart, which also owns Sam’s Club and Walmart stores abroad, reported a profit of $1.03 per share, down from $1.11 a year ago, and a penny lower than analysts anticipated.

So what happened? Consumers have shifted their budget to other priorities, the company said.

“We know that many of our U.S. customers are using their tax refunds and the extra money from lower gas prices to pay down debt or put it into savings,” Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon said on Tuesday.

“They’re also using these funds for everyday expenses like utilities and groceries. That’s where we can be their destination of choice.”

Indeed, some improvements on the grocery side were a silver lining for the company last quarter. Walmart gets 55% of revenue, or $155 billion last year, from grocery.

Walmart has made it a priority to improve its grocery business, both in terms of assortment, particularly fresh food, and making sure stores are amply stocked to avoid a chronic problem with empty shelves. (It is still grappling with a lot of food spoiling before it can be sold, something that was a drag on profit.) It has also raised its starting wage to increase employee motivation and improve customers service.

Encouragingly for the company, comparable sales at its Neighborhood Markets stores, smaller-sized grocery stores, comparable sales rose 7.9%. And Walmart saw more shoppers come into its stores for the second quarter in a row after nearly two years of declines.

Still, the world’s largest retailer recognized that there is a lot left for it to do to get back to its growth rates of the past. In addition to all its challenges at home, some of its foreign markets are struggling badly: Asda, its U.K. subsidiary, saw like-for-like sales excluding fuel fall 3.3% on the quarter, suggesting that it’s now taking most of the strain in a relentless battle for market share between established players and German-based discounters.

“We know, though, that we’re not where we want to be yet. It will take time to achieve our goals, but we’re fully committed to providing our customers with a shopping experience they can love, and associates who see their efforts leading to broader and better careers,” said Greg Foran, CEO of Walmart U.S., the company’s biggest division with annual sales of $288 billion last year.

MONEY kids

Here’s Your Excuse to Stop Buying More Stuff for Your Kid

Getty Images/Farouk Batiche

Worldwide, kids are pretty darn happy with what they have.

The welcome if not surprising news presented in a global survey is that kids are happier and less worried about money than grownups. And despite how often parents might hear about children needing new toys, video games, electronics, and clothes, the vast majority of kids worldwide report being plenty satisfied with what they have.

According to the new International Survey of Children’s Well-Being, which polled kids ages 8, 10, and 12 in 15 countries, fewer than 1 out of 20 kids report low satisfaction with the things they have. Meanwhile, children in some of the poorer countries in the survey—Algeria, Turkey—worry a lot less about money than one might presume. (The United States was not included in this year’s survey.)

“Children tend to be more optimistic in life,” Norway’s Elisabeth Backe-Hansen, the survey’s lead researcher, told Quartz. That’s good to hear, of course, especially in light of what seems to be the increasingly stressful, high-pressure environment that kids grow up in nowadays.

Yet optimism and the refreshing idea that kids worldwide still get to enjoy fairly worry-free childhoods don’t explain all of the study’s findings, some of which are rather contradictory. For instance, children in Spain—one of the wealthier countries in the study, based on GDP—are among those most satisfied with what they have, yet they rank #2 (behind Colombia) in likelihood of reporting they “often” or “always” worry about how much money their family has.

Algeria also presents a confusing picture. “Despite Algeria’s very low GDP, children reported comparatively low levels of worry about how much money their family had,” the report states. At the same time, however, Algerian children were near the bottom in terms of being satisfied with their material goods and possessions. Only Ethiopian kids were more dissatisfied with what they have.

The researchers theorize that Algeria’s “socialist-egalitarian political regime” may have something to do with the surprisingly low level of children worrying about money. “Many effects of this–such as free education and educational resources, financial aid for poor parents at the start of the school year, free school meals for many children in primary education–remain, which may result in poor children judging their own situation to be similar to that of their peers, and therefore not feeling that their family is worse off,” the report states.

In other words, kids in Algeria may be less likely to be aware of who is poor and who is more well-off. With less obvious means of everyday comparison among children and families, there could be less of a “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality.

The researchers admit that there were some “diverging patterns of findings,” and that “it may be important to include a wider range of such questions in future surveys in order to fully capture children’s evaluations.” Based on the data we have, though, it seems like there is no clear correlation between material goods and happiness: Richer countries aren’t necessarily home to happier, more worry-free kids either.

MONEY Shopping

Why Stores Can’t Sell You Cheaper Contact Lenses

Getty Images/Adam Gault

Can you say: price fixing?

Costco and online sellers like 1-800 CONTACTS would love to sell you cheaper contact lenses. But in recent years, the country’s biggest contact manufacturers have instituted minimum prices for their products that make it impossible for retailers to offer them at lower price points.

In testimony before Congress last summer, the Consumers Union declared such policies “uncompetitive” and tantamount to price fixing: “Consumers are denied more affordable alternatives. They pay more than they need to, and sellers who would like to make those affordable alternatives available are denied the opportunity to do so.”

The manufacturers are taking advantage of a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established that it was legal for price floors to be set in certain situations. The one stipulation is that the manufacturers must not be “actively coordinating prices among themselves or with retailers,” as Marketplace put it. It’s impossible to prove that Johnson & Johnson, Alcon, Bausch & Lomb, and other big sellers are conspiring to set prices, yet all have instituted unilateral pricing, which means that retailers aren’t allowed to sell their products below a certain price. The net result is that stores and online sellers can’t discount the vast majority of name-brand contact lenses on the market, so there’s no point in consumers shopping around.

Earlier this year, the Utah legislature passed a bill that would prohibit the setting of price floors on contact lenses. It’s worth noting that online discounter 1800CONTACTS.com backed the bill and just so happens to be headquartered in Utah.

The big contact lens companies followed by suing Utah in federal court, and the latest news is that an appeals court declared the law unconstitutional, blocking it from being enforced. Essentially, the court has said that the contact lens manufacturers are within their legal rights to mandate a price floor.

Novartis, owner of the Alcon brand, has argued that price minimums are necessary to combat “showrooming,” the nickname for the practice in which consumers scope out prices from one seller—often, the optometrist’s office where they receive prescriptions—before shopping around and getting the product at a cheaper price elsewhere, typically online. “Eye-care professionals incur the cost of studying and appraising the new technology, but online and big-box retailers do not,” the company wrote in defense of price floors.

Costco, which says the price minimums have forced it to charge prices that are 20% higher than they would have for some contacts, warned that if eye care professionals don’t have to compete on price, they will “leverage their control over prescriptions and brand selection to also control and monopolize contact lens sales.” The result wouldn’t be bad just for Costco; it would negatively affect consumers too.

For the time being at least, the discount retailers—and by extension, consumers seeking contacts at lower prices—are on the losing side of the battle.

TIME Retail

There’s a Wild New Way to Buy Stuff on Amazon

Amazon Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo now lets you buy stuff with your voice

Who needs a computer or even a phone to buy stuff online when you’ve got your voice? Amazon has just updated its new digital assistant product Echo with the ability to reorder products from the online retailer using voice commands.

Amazon users who have a Prime membership can tell Echo, “Alexa, reorder laundry detergent,” for example, and the device will automatically check to see if the user has previously ordered the item. Echo’s name defaults to Alexa but can easily be changed.

If an item hasn’t previously been ordered, Echo will search for similar items among a list of high-rated products called Amazon’s Choice and offer users the chance to order that instead. If there are no similar products available in the Amazon’s Choice selection, the item will be placed in a user’s shopping list.

It’s no surprise that Amazon is using Echo to rope people into buying more stuff online. The company also recently unveiled a selection of tiny physical buttons that people can place around their home and press to automatically reorder staples like detergent and diapers.

TIME Food

Why Consumers Don’t Trust ‘Organic’ Labels

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Photograph by Danny Kim for TIME; Gif by Mia Tramz for TIME

Survey finds many shoppers believe organic labels are just an excuse to charge more

Organic products are all over grocery store shelves and menus, but consumers don’t have much faith in the “o” word, according to a study from market research firm Mintel. More than half of shoppers say they believe that labeling something as organic is “an excuse to charge more,” and more than one-third say they believe “organic” is just marketing jargon “with no real value or definition.”

The word has, however, had a strict definition overseen by the federal government since 2002. Back then, fresh off the heels of public debate about the term, a report on Oregon shoppers found that just 7% had no trust in the label. “It’s about an erosion of confidence,” says Billy Roberts, an analyst with Mintel, which surveyed 2,002 U.S. adults for the new study. “It’s a question of whether the whole supply chain is delivering on an organic promise.”

Roberts says that highly visible food recalls, along with a perennial distrust of big corporations and the government, has led people to feel less certain about what they’re getting when they buy something at the local grocery store. The entrance of bigger players into the organic scene—companies such as Wal-Mart, Target and PepsiCo have all been expanding their selections in recent years—has also driven down prices, Roberts notes, “and those high prices were almost a certain reassurance to consumers that what they were buying was what had been promised to them.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture decides whether any company or farm can slap an “organic” label on their product and investigate every complaint that the word is being falsely used. “We have a robust system,” says Betsy Rakola, the USDA’s organic policy advisor. “There’s a lot of integrity behind the label. Anyone who wants to sell or market or label their product as organic has to follow the USDA regulations.”

Those regulations include rules that farmland must have been free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for at least three years, for example. Organic livestock has to eat 100% organic feed and have access to the outdoors. Facilities pursuing the label must be inspected and reviewed every year. Though Mintel found that many consumers believe organic products are healthier for them, Rakola says their oversight is about the production process. Farmers have to promote ecological balance and biodiversity; they have to enhance soil and water quality; they must conserve resources. “It’s about the process and how the food is grown,” she says. “That’s the assurance that the seal provides.”

Organic may also have lost credibility because of its close association with buzzwords that have little or no definition in the eyes of the government. Outside of meat and dairy products, the word “natural” has no concrete meaning in the marketplace—which has upset some consumers enough to sue companies like Tyson for claiming they sell “100 percent all-natural” chicken nuggets. So far as Rakola is aware, there is no standard at all for when people can use the word “artisanal,” even though it evokes an image of small-batch, hand-crafted, superior-quality products.

Clamor for uniformity—for the sake of consumers and for leveling the competitive playing field—led to “organic” getting its federal definition 13 years ago. Health concerns helped win “gluten-free” a standard that went into effect in 2014; while the presences of little gluten makes little difference for trendier dieters, the lack of assurance that new dishes or products were in fact gluten-free became a danger for those with actual allergies to gluten in recent years.

Should words like “natural” and “artisanal” have definitions too, so they can’t be bandied about? “It’s not for us to jump in and say what people need,” Rakola says, emphasizing that the USDA’s job is to respond to the public and to Congress.

The market research analyst sees a chance for businesses to get ahead in the meantime, using transparency and interactive elements to show shoppers more about how their products are made. That may also be a path to giving thousands of organic products more credence with the public. “Consumers are a little hesitant to purchase many of them because of lack of confidence,” Roberts says. “It’s an opportunity for manufacturers to reach consumers, establishing that trust that consumers are really looking for.”

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