Will the Pandemic Change Consumer Behavior?

Barry Ritholtz rocks!


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Amazon has prioritized essential services as it is overwhelmed by consumer demand. All non-essential items are being delayed (although the subscribe & save seems to be still doing timely deliveries) The unprecedented demand is helping some retailers while potentially leading to the end of others.

We don’t know how much of this is temporary, but I would surmise that some of the changes in consumer behavior will become permanent.

Cripes! Now that I see this distribution of purchases, no wonder I couldn’t find my favorite King Arthur flour anywhere in recent weeks. People are starting to bake their own bread big-time.

Think our basic education system isn’t crap? Read This!

❝ Engineers in the Bay Area. Advertising managers in Chicago. Freight specialists in Arizona. The job listings keep piling up at Amazon, a company that is growing in many directions amid one of the tightest labor markets in memory.

On Monday, Amazon said it had 30,000 open positions in the United States, including full- and part-time jobs at headquarters offices, technology hubs and warehouses…

❝ …Last fall, Amazon raised the minimum wage at its warehouses to $15 an hour, and this past summer, it said it would spend $700 million to retrain about a third of its American workers to perform tasks that required advanced skills. The effort included a major push to improve the technical expertise of corporate and tech-focused employees, such as turning entry-level coders into data scientists.

We live in a nation where most of our politicians don’t consider education as critical as infrastructure…and the last time the latter was brought up-to-date the president was a retired general named Eisenhower.

Google and Amazon follow Apple’s lead on voice assistant review

❝ Apple on Thursday suspended its Siri grading program, which seeks to make the virtual assistant more accurate by having workers review snippets of recorded audio, after a contractor raised privacy concerns about the quality control process.

Now, Apple’s competitors in the space, namely Google and Amazon, are making similar moves to address criticism about their own audio review policies

❝ Shortly after Apple’s announcement, Google in a statement to Ars Technica on Friday said it, too, halted a global initiative to review Google Assistant audio. Like Siri grading, Google’s process runs audio clips by human operators to enhance system accuracy.

Unlike Apple’s Siri situation, however, a contractor at one of Google’s international review centers leaked 1,000 recordings to VRT NWS, a news organization in Belgium. In a subsequent report in July, the publication claimed it was able to identify people from the audio clips…

❝ Amazon is also taking steps to temper negative press about its privacy practices and on Friday rolled out a new Alexa option that allows users to opt out of human reviews of audio recordings, Bloomberg reports. Enabling the feature in the Alexa app excludes recorded audio snippets from analysis.

Many of the articles posted on this topic never mentioned anonymizing and using random quotes. I have no doubt the folks who produced those articles were aware of the practice. I imagine they decided that might diminish their sensational revelation.

Using anonymous clips used to be “good enough” – in my experience. Nowadays, with rising privacy standards acknowledged by most, Apple, Amazon and Google are changing practices with changing times.

Something else that will become “opt in” or “opt out”.

An Amazon Tax Won’t Stop Britain’s Retailers From Self-Destructing

❝ The carnage on the British high street from the likes of House of Fraser and Homebase naturally leads to calls for blood from internet retailing behemoth Amazon.com Inc. Enter Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, who last week said he was strongly considering an “Amazon tax” to help retailers. Conservative Scottish lawmaker Ruth Davidson lent her support this week.

It’s a bad idea.

❝ For a start, let’s just get one thing straight. Amazon didn’t kill the British high street.

The U.K. store chains that have collapsed this year did so because they didn’t have the right products at the right prices, invest enough in their businesses, or stay up to date with consumer trends. Associated British Foods’ Primark faces exactly the same pressures as everyone else, and doesn’t even sell via the internet. But it has prospered…

❝ True, the retail landscape is being reshaped by the continued growth of online shopping. And the tax system needs to be adjusted accordingly. There must be some leveling between bricks-and-mortar stores, which are both property- and people-heavy, and online-only merchants, which are less so.

RTFA for suggestions which make economic and fiscal sense. Something often as absent from the British Parliament as they are in the US Congress.

Photos from the retail apocalypse


Visits to malls declined by 50% from 2010 to 2013Click to enlarge

The retail apocalypse has descended on America.

❝ More than 3,800 store s are expected to close across the country this year. Department stores like Macy’s, Sears, and JCPenney, and retailers including Toys R Us, BCBG, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Bebe have decided to close dozens of stores.

A new survey by commercial real estate company Reis found that malls are emptier than they have been since 2012…The vacancy rate in regional and super-regional malls hit 8.6% in the second quarter, up from 8.4% in the prior quarter.

❝ With vacancy rates continuing to rise, walking through a mall in 2018 is like walking through a graveyard.

Not a big fan of Business Insider. They’re often guilty of letting demented editors title articles as if they were written by click-bait pimps. I’m likely to skip a noteworthy article because of obvious overblown presentation. This piece is an exception.

Amazon’s Job Fairs Roll Out — Hiring Thousands


Romeoville, IllinoisLyndon French/NYTimes

❝ Brandon Williams arrived at an Amazon fulfillment center here, about an hour outside of Chicago, around 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, one of thousands across the country who turned up for the company’s first Jobs Day. While he appeared to wilt slightly during the five hours he waited before an M.C. summoned him for a tour, his enthusiasm did not wane.

“What’s not great about a company that keeps building?” he said, seated in a huge tent the company erected in the parking lot as a kind of makeshift waiting room.

❝ The event was a vivid illustration of the ascendance of Amazon, the online retail company that, to a far greater extent than others in the tech industry, has a seemingly insatiable need for human labor to fuel its explosive growth.

Like other tech giants, Amazon is recruiting thousands of people with engineering and business degrees for high-paying jobs. But the vast majority of Amazon’s hiring is for what the company calls its “fulfillment network” — the armies of people who pick and pack orders in warehouses and unload and drive delivery trucks, and who take home considerably smaller incomes.

❝ The event on Wednesday, held at a dozen locations including Romeoville, Ill., was intended to help fill 50,000 of those lower-paying positions, 40,000 of them full-time jobs.

Those high-low distinctions did not seem to bother the attendees of the jobs fair, many of them united in the conviction that Amazon represented untapped opportunity — that a foot in the door could lead to a career of better-compensated, more satisfying work, whether in fulfillment, I.T., marketing or even fashion.

RTFA for extended analysis and detail. I admit I find this interesting for two reasons: the first is history – now that I’m a retired geezer even though my brain still thinks I’m 26. Over the years, I could always find a job in logistics. Let me pick up and move anywhere in the country – or abroad – and get a job that had at least decent pay and opportunity to move up.

The second is still operative. Though retired and enjoying the superlative benefits of SSA and Medicare as governed by thoughtful and caring politicians in Washington, DC – there’s always the risk of catastrophic illness screwing up the plan. In the US, that means finding some sort of part-time gig to supplement what I’ve already paid for in dollar$ and sweat equity from a life of mostly full employment.

Remember, I’m white and reasonably well-educated.

Given that disaster I hope to avoid, I’d probably seek work as a CSR, customer service representative, utilizing our home-based computing capacity to plug into a system like Amazon or any one of a number of other endeavors that utilize service employees to implement problem-solving. If need be.

I’d rather be outdoors, walking, enjoying everything that is lifestyle in northern New Mexico.

Oh yeah – anyone expect the Hypocrite-in-Chief to claim credit for Amazon’s growth? Don’t know why Trump hates Jeff Bezos; but, I imagine he’d rather not acknowledge Amazon’s continued success.

Hey – We Found Where All That Retail Spending Disappeared To

❝ Retail is in trouble. Sales declined for the second month in a row in the U.S. in March, and there’s talk that perhaps traditional retail has passed a tipping point, with lots of store closings, layoffs and bankruptcies to come.

❝ One obvious reason for retailers’ difficulties is the rise of Amazon.com Inc. and other establishments that the Census Bureau classifies as “nonstore retailers.”…

There have been even bigger shifts over the decades, though, in what we spend our money on, according to the personal consumption expenditures database maintained by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Increasingly, it’s not tangible stuff that you buy in a store or order online, but services…

❝ Health care is by far the biggest contributor to this move from goods to services — spending on health care services has gone from 3 percent of personal consumption expenditures in 1929 to 17.2 percent last year. Spending on pharmaceuticals made up another 3.8 percent of personal consumption in 2015…

These huge spending gains can be chalked up partly to medical advances, an aging population and rising expectations for health care. But they also can lead a person to wonder to whether there isn’t something terribly inefficient about how the U.S. delivers medical care.

What are we spending less on? The two biggest decliners by far have been groceries and clothing, although the share of spending going to cars and to furniture and home appliances has fallen a lot since the 1950s as well…

❝ Then, once again, there’s all that money going to health care and financial services — $3.1 trillion in 2016. Surely some of that could have been spent on shopping instead.

Validating, once again, US consumers spend more on the whole cost of healthcare for less in return than any other developed industrial nation. The details on insurance company ripoffs are easy. Just compare them to Social Security and Medicare charges. Poisonally, I think most of the rest is simple collusion between major healthcare providers, pharma and those folks in the insurance industry – again. They agree on absurd charges for procedures and prescriptions knowing they get rolled into the insurance bill.

Amazon didn’t kill Macy’s — Macy’s did

❝ It has been a very bad week for some of the country’s biggest department stores, with Macy’s feeling the brunt of it. The mass-market retailer’s stock has dropped 16 percent since it announced disappointing holiday sales results and details on thousands of job cuts on Jan. 4.

Macy’s has said that it has too many stores, in too many underperforming locations. It’s closing 100, and no one should be surprised if that number grows in future years.

❝ Macy’s has also blamed what it calls “changing customer behavior.” That’s code for the rise of Amazon.com and the adoption of e-commerce shopping in general. It’s also the idea that a new generation is spending more money on experiences over physical goods.

But while Amazon has certainly had a hand in Macy’s struggles — and we’ll get back to this in a bit — Macy’s should look within, first, for the cause of its current predicament. Because if not Amazon, someone else would have come along and taken advantage of the complacency that’s been on display inside Macy’s over the last decade.

❝ For starters, a trip into Macy’s this holiday season felt like a visit to a teenager’s bedroom: In its Paramus, N.J., store, items were strewn everywhere and no useful answers were to be had.

Even in a neat Macy’s, the selection of merchandise has left a lot to be desired — namely because there doesn’t appear to be much stuff that you can’t find elsewhere.

Prior to the rise of e-commerce, Macy’s could get away with some of this. But you can now buy the same stuff in lots of places — whether from Amazon or a brand’s own website. Comparing prices has gotten infinitely easier, too.

❝ The bottom line, however, is that Macy’s stores, by and large, have looked and felt the same forever. And in digital, Macy’s has long been on the defensive.

Now, take this object lesson and show it to someone in the “leadership” of the Democratic Party.

With the exception of Obama’s presidential campaigns pretty much everything that party has offered around the country for decades felt like 1984. With the addition of candidates whose main qualification was “they’ve been waiting long enough for a chance”. Not just presidential candidates; but, everything down the ballot to governors and state representatives.

Losing a few here and there was akin to simply missing your turn. We’ll try, again, later on. Little or no thought of changing times inside Macy’s or Democrat politics. Macy can blame Amazon and the Republicans will claim superior strategy. Both are about intellectual laziness and ennui.

Don’t throw away those Amazon Boxes!

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❝ Amazon and Goodwill have a great new program they are doing to make it even easier to donate household goods, clothes, etc. Using the Give Back Boxplatform, a free shipping service, you can donate items you no longer need to Goodwill with ease and bring new life to your empty Amazon box…

❝ 1. Open Your Box: Unpack your merchandise from your Amazon shipping box.

2. Pack Your Box: Fill the box with clothing, accessories and household goods you no longer need and print your free shipping label from GiveBackBox.com.

3. Send Your Box: Let UPS or the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) deliver your box of donations to Goodwill for you.

❝ Donations go directly to your nearest participating Goodwill organization using a free shipping label and empty Amazon (or other) box. Goodwill sells the donated goods, and the revenues help support employment placement, job training and other community-based services to create strong families and communities.

Here’s the url for GiveBackBox.com. Click through some of the links to learn a bit more of their history.

Thanks, Barry Ritholtz