The Federal Trade Commission is reportedly looking into whether Amazon’s discounts are as good as they seem.

As part of the FTC’s review of Amazon’sagreement to buy Whole Foods, the Federal Trade Commission is looking into allegations that Amazon misleads customers about its pricing discounts, Reuters reports, citing a source close to the probe.

The probe is based on a complaint from the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog, Reuters said. The FTC had no comment, saying as a rule it doesn’t confirm the existence of investigations. Consumer Watchdog earlier this month published a report claiming the online retailer “routinely uses inflated and fictitious previous prices to give consumers the misleading impression they’re getting a bargain.”

Amazon refuted the group’s pricing report.

“The study issued by Consumer Watchdog is deeply flawed, based on incomplete data and improper assumptions,” it said in a statement. “The conclusions the Consumer Watchdog group reached are flat out wrong. We validate the reference prices provided by manufacturers, vendors and sellers against actual prices recently found across Amazon and other retailers.”

Consumer Watchdog, which analyzed 1,000 items sold on Amazon, said the retailer often employs “previous” prices, which it alleges are designed to give the appearance of big discounts. Consumer Watchdog said the “previous” prices appear to replace Amazon’s “list price,” which earlier this year came under fire for allegedly failing to reflect the actual market price of an item.

“Amazon displayed reference prices on 46 percent of the products surveyed—a sharp increase from a similar sample taken just months before,” Consumer Watchdog said in its report. “They now employ several different kinds of reference price, including “was” prices, “sale” prices, or simply prices with a line through them (“strikethrough prices”).”

The report also alleges Amazon boosted the reference prices to about 70 percent higher than the historical price of the item.

In one example, Amazon said the before-sale price on a pack of LED light bulbs was almost $100, but offered the pack on sale for $14.99, showing that customers would receive an $85 savings. However, Consumer Watchdog said the site hadn’t charged more than $14.99 for the lightbulbs in the previous 90 days.

“Amazon appears to be increasing its use of reference prices on its site since last year, when it quietly eliminated many list prices,” the report said. “However, the result is the same: Amazon’s customers are being deceived into thinking they are getting a bargain, when in most cases they are not.”

Consumer Watchdog said it believes the Whole Foods acquisition should be blocked unless Amazon changes its pricing strategies.

By Aimee Picchi for CBS News

The Asian region is forecast to the world’s largest market for stationery products in 2017, according to latest data compiled by leading research firm Statista.

Global revenue for the ‘Hobby and Stationery’ segment in 2017 will reach US$132 billion with an annual growth rate of 11.3 per cent between 2017 and 2021.

Asia is forecast to emerge as the highest revenue generator in 2017, which accounts for around 42 per cent of global revenue of US$56 billion.

Hong Kong, as the major trade hub in Asia Pacific, has attracted the attention of brands and manufacturers from around the world through the greater prominence of the Hong Kong International Stationery Fair.

Jointly organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) and Messe Frankfurt (HK) Ltd, the 18th edition of the Hong Kong International Stationery Fair will run from 8 – 11 January 2018 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The four day fair expects more than 250 exhibitors from 11 countries and regions, and more than 20,000 visitors from around the globe.

The 2018 fair will once again feature five product zones, including DIY Supplies, Gift Stationery, Kids & School, Pen & Paper and Smart Office.

To offer a one-stop trading platform and better sourcing experience, the Hong Kong International Stationery Fair will be held concurrently with the HKTDC’s Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair, the Hong Kong Baby Products Fair and the Hong Kong International Licensing Show at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Source www.stationerynews.com.au

Staples finally sells up

Staples’ future under private equity ownership is all about online growth.

Having disposed of its international operations (including those in Australia and New Zealand) Staples has sold off the rest of ‘farm’ to a private equity group.

Sycamore Partners, a US private equity firm that specialises in retail, will pay US$6.9 billion for Staples, a company that has seen its sales, profits and store numbers decline in the wake of the online shopping phenomena, driven by the likes of Amazon.

Staples had sought to remain competitive in the online world by merging with Office Depot but the deal was blocked by US regulators last year and the companies abandoned the plan.

In its latest annual report, Staples was up front about the challenges it faced, stating it faced strong competition from wholesalers and local stationery stores.

“We also compete with online retailers such as Amazon.com, mass merchants such as Walmart and Target, warehouse clubs such as Costco, computer and electronics retail stores such as Best Buy,” the company said.

According to a report in the New York Times, Staples’s board and management decided to sell the company after shareholders had essentially lost faith in the business. Shares of the company were trading near US$7 earlier this year, having fallen sharply from about US$18 a share just two and a half years ago.

Sycamore’s offer of US$10.25 a share represents a 20% premium over the company’s stock price in early April, before initial reports of a deal to sell the company lifted shares.

Staples still sells huge volumes of paper, printer cartridges with a minority of its goods sold at bricks-and-mortar locations.

Around US$10.6 billion of its sales are delivered, compared with about US$6.6 billion sold in stores.

Source: Stationery News

Are we in the next tech bubble?

The obvious question is whether the likes of Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google – collectively known as the FAANGs stocks – are merely pausing for breath after staggering rises so far this year or are about to launch Dotcom Bubble 2.0.

Before the sell-off, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) – had increased in value by $600-billion (R7.6-trillion).

That’s nosebleed territory.

Comparing the value of Nasdaq with the S&P, a very rough way of gauging how excited investors are about tech stocks compared with other sectors, generates the kind of multiples last seen when the dotcom bubble was primed to burst at the end of the 1990s.

The initial public offering of Snapchat earlier this year, which valued the social media company at $29-billion before ending up as a bit of a damp squib, also had a rather familiar feel to it for those with long enough memories.

Fund managers seem to think that things are getting a little toppy. According to the latest Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey of institutional investors, 44% think that equities are too expensive.

This is a bigger proportion than at any time since the survey began back in 1998 and up from 37% just last month.

A further 18% of respondents think that equity markets are “bubble-like”.

What’s more, three-quarters of investors said that they thought that tech stocks were either expensive or bubble-like. Investing in high-growth US stocks (being “long Nasdaq” in the vernacular) was top of the list of most crowded trades.

And a net 84% of respondents said that the US was the most overvalued region.

So, all these worried investors are rushing for the doors, right? After all, it is their clients’ money that’s at risk here, not theirs.

Well, according to the very same survey, a net 40% of asset managers say that they are overweight equities, which essentially means they’re making an outsized bet on the asset class. And what’s their favourite sector at the moment? You guessed it – technology.

There are several overlapping explanations for this apparent cognitive dissonance.

The first is that some investors really do believe that “it’s different this time” despite those words being about the most dangerous in finance.

At the turn of the millennium investors were betting on the potential of tech stocks, now that the importance of the internet and its centrality to everyday life is proven.

At the end of the 1990s roughly 300million people worldwide had (fairly clunky) access to the internet; now that figure is 10 times higher and for many it comes through the smartphone that is always on them.

Today’s big tech giants have proven business models and a long track record of churning out both revenues and profits (apart from Amazon that has only just got around to achieving the latter).

This means that while their valuations are stratospheric in market capitalisation terms, they are a bit more conservative when you look at price-to-earnings ratios.

Microsoft, for example, currently has a p:e of around 30 compared with around 50 at the time of the dotcom bubble (at which time Intel had a truly eye-watering p:e ratio of 190).

At the moment, the negativity is quite stock-specific. Short interest in Apple (essentially bets that the value of the shares will go down) has risen by 15% over the past month, according to analytics company S3 Partners.

For the four other FAANGs companies, it’s up just 5% over the same period.

Much of this can be traced to worries that the iPhone 8 won’t be as fast as its rivals.

Apple is so big that if its shares go into reverse it can have a big effect on the whole index.

Another thing weighing on the minds of investors will be the fact that just because stocks are expensive does not necessarily mean that they can’t become even more expensive.

Yes, we’re eight years into a bull market but it could extend into a ninth or 10th year.

Those investors who take their money off the table too early will lose out.

And then there is another issue and it’s a biggy – the almost total lack of other appealing asset classes in which investors can park their money.

They could sell their equities and invest in cash. But that would only guarantee that it gets slowly and surely eroded by rising inflation. And if they think equities are in a bubble then fixed-income assets are, after a decade of record-low interest rates and quantitative easing, strapped into stratosphere-bound hot-air balloons.

Fund managers could just hand the money back to investors but then they wouldn’t earn any fees.

Equity investors also tend to be congenital optimists: they may think equities are overvalued, and technology stock in particular, but they remain overweight equities, and technology stocks in particular, because they back their chances of getting out ahead of the crowd when things start to turn.

They can’t all be right, of course.

Source: www.businesslive.co.za

Amazon has sent shockwaves through the food retailing business with its near $14-billion acquisition of natural and organic food chain Whole Foods.

The move has dominated the financial news over the past three days and has been called a game-changer for the food retailing industry, but could there be wider ramifications for the business supplies industry? We suggest a few things to think about…

Whole Foods locations could be used as collection points for Amazon online sales, providing customers with more delivery options.

Whole Foods stores could act as local distribution hubs for fast delivery, two hours or even less, and give Amazon a stronger last-mile delivery presence.

Amazon’s move could have a disruptive effect on the wider food retailing industry. There is already speculation about the need for accelerated consolidation in the mass and grocery sector, and if that happened that would affect vendors that sell into these retailers.

Amazon has been testing more consumer-friendly retail concepts, such as its Amazon Go initiative where customers just pick items off shelves without the need to go through a checkout. Acquiring Whole Foods will give it a wider test platform and could lead to faster adoption of some of these shopping innovations as well as speeding up digital transformation in the retail sector in general.

We have previously downplayed the idea of Amazon acquiring retail locations in the business supplies channel because there was no indication that it would make a significant move into the retail space. That has now changed, and the Whole Foods deal validates Amazon’s belief in an omnichannel experience that combines the digital and physical worlds.

Could this mean that Amazon now looks to acquire retailers in other business segments, such as office supplies, and that Staples or Office Depot’s stores could be on the Amazon radar? Possibly, especially if Amazon is not happy with the way that Amazon Business is growing; it hasn’t updated its customer and sales figures on Amazon Business in the US since April 2016. Is that because the growth rate has slowed and it’s not getting the traction it thought it would after Amazon Business’ initial success?

The Whole Foods acquisition is reportedly being driven by difficulties Amazon was having in growing its Amazon Fresh grocery delivery business. If Amazon Business is stalling or not growing fast enough, then why wouldn’t Amazon look at buying growth? We now know that this strategy is part of Amazon’s playbook.

By Andy Braithwaite for OPI.net

 

When you need to buy a new kitchen gadget, a designer lipstick, a branded razor, a calendar and that vital cable for your television — what’s the one easy place you can turn to?

That’s right, there isn’t one in Australia. You’re facing hours going shop-to-shop, picking up second-rate products from a local mall or ordering from various websites with delivery fees on each item and mixed rules on returns.
Amazon is the game-changer our retail landscape needs, one that transformed shopping in the UK and US years ago. Despite the hand-wringing from the retail sector that has dominated reporting on the online giant, this is mostly good news for the consumer.
You will be able to buy what you want, when you want it. It will typically be affordable. Existing brands will have to work harder to compete. It will be the arrival of Uber, or Aldi, all over again.

I lived in the UK more than four years ago, and buying books, travel accessories and homeware couldn’t have been easier. Every Christmas now, I log on to Amazon and select the perfect toiletries, chocolates, booze, games, DVDs, hiking gear and toys that I want for all of my relatives, adding wrapping and a message where needed. It’s the work of minutes.
In the four years I’ve been in Australia, waiting for Amazon, the company has grown enormously, and it’s in fashion that investment bank Morgan Stanley now sees the biggest threat.

Its report “The Amazon Effect in Australia” says $800-million will be wiped from the earnings of chains including JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman, but the single biggest impact will be on Wesfarmers. The nation’s largest retailer, which owns Target and Kmart, could lose more than $428 million in earnings by 2026.
The report said department stores would be the sector worst hit, as Amazon generates up to $12 billion in sales by 2026.

Online retailer Catch Group this week announced it is having a makeover to ensure it becomes number two in Australia after Amazon, rebranding Catch of the Day as Catch.com.au and turning it into a marketplace.
Amazon Fresh will take on the grocery sector, and it is aggressively building its Amazon Prime video membership service, making inroads into streaming and refusing to stock Apple products in favour of its Fire TV sticks. Amazon entered the Artificial Intelligence field in 2014 with its Alexa speaker. This week it emerged that its shares (and those of Google) have just reached $US1000, putting them in an elite club of mega-companies.

In December, it opened the first Amazon Go store at its Seattle headquarters, a convenience store with a tracking system of sensors, algorithms, and cameras instead of cashiers or checkout lines.

Australians haven’t migrated to online shopping in the landslide once predicted. Figures released by the National Australia Bank last week showed the Online Retail Sales Index — a measure of spending on retail goods — fell by 0.8 per cent in April. But even if you prefer to visit a store and try clothes on, it’s being able to get those small essentials without the painful search that will hook you in.

And Amazon is moving offline, too. In December, it opened a prototype Amazon Go grocery store at its headquarters in Seattle, Washington, which uses a tracking system of sensors, algorithms, and cameras instead of cashiers or checkout lines. The eCommerce giant opened its first physical bookstore in New York last month — its seventh in the US. Amazon Books, like the Go store, does not accept cash, with Prime members using the app on their smartphone to pay and non-members using a credit or debit card.

Maxim Group today predicted a future in which Amazon will run everything from petrol stations to credit lines, Dow Jones reports.

“Consumers will be able to save money at the Amazon gas station because they belong to Amazon Prime, much like Costco members today,” said Maxim’s Tom Forte. “They will also be able to pick up and return their merchandise ordered online at the Amazon gas station.”

They’ll book their travel on Amazon, and have the firm send their suntan lotion ahead to the resort so it’s there when they arrive, he added.

But just as with Uber and co, there are serious questions over Amazon’s omnipotence. Critics say the retailer has a monopoly and is destroying small businesses — book stores, boutiques, grocery stores. There are also questions over how it pays tax.
There have been regular accusations that the company mistreats workers, with reports in December of “intolerable conditions” at a Scottish warehouse, with badly paid staff forced to sleep outside in tents to save on commuting costs.

A Sunday Times investigation found temporary workers at the warehouse were being penalised for taking sick leave and put under immense pressure to hit targets, and that water dispensers were often empty despite the intense physical nature of the job. Unions said workers were falling ill from overwork.

In the US, where Walmart is buying up smaller online retailers as it battles to compete with Amazon, there have been dozens of stories about inhumane conditions at its warehouses. But workers who spoke to Mental Floss in 2015 said conditions were relatively typical for warehouse work. In 2012, after an expose on the searingly hot summertime conditions, Amazon announced plans to spend $52 million to install airconditioning.
The company is now recruiting for hundreds of jobs in Australia as it prepares for its highly anticipated debut. It has broadly positive reviews on job sites Indeed and Seek, although there were complaints about difficult management, tough targets and short lunch breaks.

Amazon is a massive tech corporation and — mirroring Facebook, Apple and Google — there are justified concerns over its practices and treatment of employees as it grows.
However, it is time Australia caught up with the rest of the Western world and actually knew what those were.

By Emma Reynolds for www.news.com.au

Queens speech delayed by stationery

Traditionally, the U.K. Parliament starts off every year with a speech by the current monarch, which outlines the direction the ruling party wants to take the government.

But the queen’s speech might get delayed this year — and the government says paper is partially why.

Turns out the queen can’t just print out her speech on a few sheets of A4. It has to be written on special goatskin paper — which, despite the name, doesn’t involve actual goats.

The special paper ensures the speech will last longer in Parliament’s national archives — but it also means the ink will need a few days to dry.

Normally this isn’t a problem because both major parties already know what they want their government to look like. But the surprising election results have forced the ruling Conservative Party to negotiate with a regional party in Northern Ireland to maintain its majority.

Those talks are still going, which means it’s too early to start putting a government together on paper — at least, on archival goat paper.

What is goatskin paper?

Goatskin paper is a thick and ornate parchment on which the Queen’s Speech is written.

While it was traditionally made from real goat skin, its modern form contains no animal hide at all.

But it keeps its name because it has a watermark in the shape of a goat.

Westminster veterans still refer to “going goat” to mark the moment the Speech needs to be ready by so that the ink can have time to dry before being sent to the Queen for her approval.

Why is it used in the Queen’s Speech?

The posh paper is used for the special occasion of the State Opening of Parliament.

On it is written the Queen’s Speech, which sets out the Government’s plans and legislative priorities for the year ahead.

But after the 2017 snap election led to a hung Parliament, it was reported that Theresa May would push back the speech from the original date of June 19.

It was thought she needed time to organise a deal with Northern Ireland’s DUP to support the Conservatives in a minority government in case they made ultimatums over Tory policies.

By Neal Baker for The Sun; and Matt Picht and Katie Link for www.abc2news.com

Following years of government budget cuts, parents are now turning to crowdfunding Web sites in order to provide basic school supplies.

Appeals have been launched on websites including Justgiving.com for online donations towards items such as whiteboards and computers, as well as to pay for crossing attendants.

These include one for Camelsdale Primary School, which set up a page to raise money for a replacement whiteboard.

The drastic measures are being publicised by the National Union of Teachers (NUT), who have set up a ‘School Cuts’ website which shares details of the more than 18,000 schools that could face further cuts.

The website contains a tool with which people can check how their school will be affected, while urging voters to petition their local MP candidates to oppose more cuts before the election.

The project, which is also backed by NAHT, The Education Union (ATL) and GMB, also forecasts the future for UK education and claims that by 2022, 93% of schools will have per-pupil funding cut.

According to the National Audit Office, the Tory pledge to inject £4bn into education, thus changing the funding formula, could actually result in 9,000 schools facing more cuts.

In a blog, the Department of Education deny claims made in a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) that schools are not protected from further funding cuts.

They state: “That is not true – we have protected schools from losing more than 3% per pupil and that protection is guaranteed for the lifetime of the formula.

“[…] Indeed, there has been a substantial increase in school funding over the years.”

Basing findings on a National Audit office report into school financial sustainability, a spokesperson writes: “The government has protected the core schools budget in real terms since 2010, with school funding at its highest level on record at more than £40 bn in 2016-17 – and that is set to rise as pupil numbers rise over the next two years.”

Prime Minister has echoed this claim several times, stating in an interview with Andrew Marr: “The level of funding going into schools is at record level.”

However, Professor Sandra McNally from the School of Economics, University of Surrey, published an article​ fact-checking this “highest level on record” claim.

She explains that only the “per pupil expenditure” (the amount spent on each pupil) is relevant, rather than the total amount of money available.

According to Professor McNally, current spending per pupil was “largely frozen in real terms” between 2010 and 2016.

And as onward spending is frozen in cash terms, this will likely lead to a “real terms reduction of around 6.5 per cent by 2019-2020”.

She explained this would, in reality, be a real-term fall in per-pupil spending – the biggest in 30 years.

“Theresa May’s claim is misleading because it omits important information,” Professor McNally concluded.

By Harriet Marsden for www.independent.co.uk

Americans start their back-to-school searches in July, despite the fact that schools won’t open for two more months.

Here’s why: it’s the second-biggest shopping holiday of the year.

The second biggest — who’d have thought that, right? Back-to-school spending is second only to the December holiday season.

Research shows that families with K-12 kids spend an average of $674 on the hottest sneakers, fashion trends, electronics, calculators and binders — and even more money for college-bound students.
In fact, according to the National Retail Federation, in 2016 back-to-school spending hit $75.8 billion. (Can I hear a collective “ouch” from all the parents out there?)

Which means for digital marketers, planning needs to start now. Below you’ll find two assignments (plus helpful insights) designed to help you move to the head of the class this back-to-school season.

Assignment #1: Find out who’s buying and plan your bid modifiers
Increased traffic means you need an increased budget. And to maximise those budget dollars, you first need to know exactly who you’re targeting and then build meaningful campaigns.

According to research done by my colleagues at Bing, 32 percent of back-to-school shoppers are aged 35 to 49, and 31 percent are 50 to 64, with the primary customer being female and a mom.

But don’t forget — although mom may be footing the bill, her K-12 kids are dropping not-so-subtle hints about what they want.

On the other hand, college freshmen outfitting their dorms are relying on Mom and Dad to guide their decisions. It’s critical that you segment your audiences with demographic targeting, keeping in mind key influencers.

This means that you’ll need to create a separate set of ads to attract each of these different segments. Thankfully, with demo-based bid modifiers offered by search engines, you can make your ads feel more personalized.

In addition, make sure you’re segmenting by geography as well, so you can optimize not just based on season and local trends but also based on peak periods for each location.

As always, don’t forget to look at last year’s performance data, to help you optimize this year’s campaigns.

Extra credit: Be there for teachers

Teachers are unsung heroes who invest heavily in the next generation — often with their own hard-earned money. Thanks to increasingly tight school budgets, most teachers spend an average of $500 on their classroom, and some teachers report spending $1,000 or more.

Consider donating classroom items or a percentage of your sales to local schools or even offering a buy-one-give-one promotion. Calling out these promotions in your ad campaigns will encourage customers to shop with you, trust your brand, and feel good about their purchases.

And you can feel good about helping teachers.

Assignment #2: Determine what they’re searching for

Of course, for campaign success, you need to know what your shoppers are looking for. And the answers are all in the data.

Take time to examine trends related to your products and uncover the top-searched terms, as well as the days and times folks are looking.

For example, thanks to Bing data, we know that the most popular back-to-school search category is apparel (shoes and clothing), at 58.5 percent, and click-through rates are high in July and August.

So, for these months, consider optimizing your shopping campaigns with enhancements such as merchant promotions, sale pricing and review extensions, as well as highlighting local inventory.

Oh, and by the way…

Sometimes back-to-school shoppers are searching for what we don’t really expect, such as bed and bath products. Searchers on Bing (as compared to Google searchers) are 16 percent more likely to have spent between $200 to $499 on bed and bath products in the last six months. Optimizing for these products could yield some sweet-smelling profits.

Technology is also a big back-to-school category, and we know that these shoppers do plenty of online research before committing.

Running ads for searches higher in the purchase funnel can be very effective in these cases. For example, an ad for a tablet early in the shopping season may use unbranded search terms and include more detailed ad copy as well as review extensions. But an ad for that same tablet later in the season may have less detail but would also include branded search terms.

Speaking of brand, how does brand vs. non-brand factor in?

Below I’ve highlighted a few search stats and tips from Bing that indicate clear trends in some key back-to-school categories.

Clothes

72 percent of searches were for unbranded terms.
Top unbranded searched terms: t-shirts, shirts for teen girls, and cute plus-size outfits
Tip: Including an ad showing the product in use or multiple colors of the item can help the image grab attention.

Laptops & tablets

76 percent of searches were for unbranded terms.
Top unbranded searched terms: best deals tablets, tablets and best tablet deal
Tip: Influence shoppers with customer reviews using a review extension, and if your product is on sale, be sure to use the sales price column in your product feed.

School supplies

81 percent of searches were for unbranded terms.
Top unbranded searched terms: calculator, scientific calculator, portfolio
Tip: Consider offering a coupon and try a broad match modifier for unbranded terms.

Furniture, décor, and bed & bath

88 percent of searches were for unbranded terms.
Top unbranded searched terms: furniture, furniture stores, mattress stores, memory foam mattress
Tip: Personalize what shows in your ad with dynamic text parameters. Showing the product in use, e.g., a rug shown on the floor of a room, can be especially helpful for this category as it provides context to the shopper.

Boost your popularity: Discover where your audience is hanging out
Did you know that back-to-school shoppers plan to purchase from only an average of three websites? Finding out where your customers are spending time online (and where they’ll make their purchases) is critical to getting your campaigns in front of them.

You can also maximize your marketing ROI by syncing your ad investments with other campaigns. Now that you have your assignments, it’s time to kick campaign planning into high gear, so you can edge out your back-to-school competitors.

By Purna Virji for www.searchengineland.com

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