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Amazon Plans To Open Its Own Department Stores

The first stores are expected to be located in Ohio and California and will be about 30,000 square feet in size, which would be smaller than the typical department store, the Journal reported. The e-commerce giant, which last year had $386 billion in sales, has been expanding into physical retail in recent years, opening grocery stores, book shops and specialty pop-ups around the country. Analysts say its latest foray — while unexpected — provides an opportunity to reach customers in a new way.

“More stores bolster Amazon’s whole ecosystem and flywheel,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData, a research and consulting firm that tracks the retail market. “They also allow Amazon to gather data and to understand consumer preferences better — understanding that can, in turn, be used to improve the whole proposition.” Traditional department stores, he noted, have been declining for years because of a “failure of innovate and adapt.” Stores such as Macy’s, J.C. Penney and Kohl’s, which made up about 15% of retail sales in 1985, now account for less than 3%, Saunders said.

The pandemic has created new challenges for the nation’s department stores, tipping a number of storied chains, including Neiman Marcus, J.C. Penney and Lord & Taylor into bankruptcy. Nearly 200 department stores have permanently closed since last year, and another 800 — or about half the country’s remaining mall-based locations — are expected to shutter by the end of 2025, according to commercial real estate firm Green Street. But for Amazon, this could be an opportunity to shake things up: Its 30,000-square-foot department stores would be about one-third the size of a traditional mall anchor, mirroring plans by many of the country’s retailers to open smaller, more easily-accessible stores. “If it gets rolled out in a serious way, it is very bad news for traditional department stores,” Saunders said. “The lack of innovation by traditional department stores means their defenses are very weak so the last thing they need is to fend off a new invader to their space.”
“The move makes sense,” says Bloomberg Intelligence senior retail analyst Poonam Goyal. “It’ll extend Amazon’s reach beyond Amazon Go, Whole Foods and Kohl’s while also opening up more distribution points. At 30,000 square feet, the locations will be more appealing than traditional on-mall department stores that are three times bigger. Off-mall strip centers could be sought, given their better traffic profile.”

People Now Spend More at Amazon Than at Walmart

Propelled in part by surging demand during the pandemic, people spent more than $610 billion on Amazon over the 12 months ending in June, according to Wall Street estimates compiled by the financial research firm FactSet. Walmart on Tuesday posted sales of $566 billion for the 12 months ending in July. Alibaba, the giant online Chinese retailer, is the world’s top seller. Neither Amazon nor Walmart is a dominant player in China.

In racing past Walmart, Amazon has dethroned one of the most successful — and feared — companies of recent decades. Walmart perfected a thriving big-box model of retailing that squeezed every possible penny out of its costs, which drove down prices and vanquished competitors. But even with all of that efficiency and power, the quest to dominate today’s retail environment is being won on the internet. And no company has taken better advantage of that than Amazon. Indeed, the company’s delivery (many items land on doorsteps in a day or two) and wide selection first drew customers to online shopping, and it has kept them buying more there ever since. It has also made Jeff Bezos, the company’s founder, one of the richest people in the world.

Study of Over 11,000 Online Stores Finds ‘Dark Patterns’ on 1,254 sites

A large-scale academic study that analyzed more than 53,000 product pages on more than 11,000 online stores found widespread use of user interface “dark patterns” — practices meant to mislead customers into making purchases based on false or misleading information.

The study — presented last week at the ACM CSCW 2019 conference — found 1,818 instances of dark patterns present on 1,254 of the ~11K shopping websites (~11.1%) researchers scanned. “Shopping websites that were more popular, according to Alexa rankings, were more likely to feature dark patterns,” researchers said. But while the vast majority of UI dark patterns were meant to trick users into subscribing to newsletters or allowing broad data collection, some dark patterns were downright foul, trying to mislead users into making additional purchases, either by sneaking products into shopping carts or tricking users into believing products were about to sell out. Of these, the research team found 234 instances, deployed across 183 websites.

Google Chrome ‘Has Become Surveillance Software. It’s Time to Switch’

“You open your browser to look at the Web. Do you know who is looking back at you?” warns Washington Post technology columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler.

Over a recent week of Web surfing, I peered under the hood of Google Chrome and found it brought along a few thousand friends. Shopping, news and even government sites quietly tagged my browser to let ad and data companies ride shotgun while I clicked around the Web. This was made possible by the Web’s biggest snoop of all: Google. Seen from the inside, its Chrome browser looks a lot like surveillance software…

My tests of Chrome vs. Firefox unearthed a personal data caper of absurd proportions. In a week of Web surfing on my desktop, I discovered 11,189 requests for tracker “cookies” that Chrome would have ushered right onto my computer but were automatically blocked by Firefox. These little files are the hooks that data firms, including Google itself, use to follow what websites you visit so they can build profiles of your interests, income and personality… And that’s not the half of it. Look in the upper right corner of your Chrome browser. See a picture or a name in the circle? If so, you’re logged in to the browser, and Google might be tapping into your Web activity to target ads. Don’t recall signing in? I didn’t, either. Chrome recently started doing that automatically when you use Gmail.

Chrome is even sneakier on your phone. If you use Android, Chrome sends Google your location every time you conduct a search. (If you turn off location sharing it still sends your coordinates out, just with less accuracy.)

The columnist concludes that “having the world’s biggest advertising company make the most popular Web browser was about as smart as letting kids run a candy shop,” and argues that through its Doubleclick and other ad businesses, Google “is the No. 1 cookie maker — the Mrs. Fields of the web.”

YouTube, YouTubers and You

Almost 45 million tons of e-waste discarded last year

A new study claims 44.7 million metric tons (49.3 million tons) of TV sets, refrigerators, cellphones and other electrical good were discarded last year, with only a fifth recycled to recover the valuable raw materials inside.

The U.N.-backed study published Wednesday calculates that the amount of e-waste thrown away in 2016 included a million tons of chargers alone.

The U.S. accounted for 6.3 million metric tons, partly due to the fact that the American market for heavy goods is saturated.

The study says all the gold, silver, copper and other valuable materials would have been worth $55 billion had they been recovered.

The authors of the Global E-waste Monitor predict that e-waste, defined as anything with a battery or a cord, will increase to 52.2 million metric tons by 2021.

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

A “shocking” amount of e-waste “recycling” is bogus

“Forty percent of all U.S. electronics recyclers testers included in [a study that used GPS trackers to follow e-waste over the course of two years] proved to be complete shams, with e-waste getting shipped wholesale to landfills in Hong Kong, China, and developing nations in Africa and Asia.

Rather than recycle them domestically, the recycling companies sell them to junkyards in developing nations, either through middlemen or directly. These foreign junkyards hire low-wage employees to pick through the few valuable components of often toxic old machines. The toxic machines are then left in the scrapyards or dumped nearby. Using GPS trackers, industry watchdog Basel Action Network found that 40 percent of electronics recyclers it tested in the United States fall into this “scam recycling” category.”

“Dog Grabs Shoppers’ Attention Via Interactive Billboards”

An example of advertising meets personalisation for good-old manipulative marketing outcomes. Please excuse the barrage of branding/product mentions throughout the copy and media materials.

Also note how the point of deploying the technology is entirely covert and great lengths are gone to embed hidden tracking systems into the physical environment. Persons subjected to the advertising are also not told that they’re accepting a tracking device for the purposes of such advertising where the content displayed is specifically for tailored emotional manipulation much more than ordinary advertising. Persons later question if the experience was a “coincidence,” etc.

Emphasis added:

For two weeks this past spring, some shoppers at the Westfield Stratford shopping mall in the United Kingdom were followed by a homeless dog appearing on electronic billboards. The roving canine, named Barley, was part of an RFID-based advertisement campaign conducted by Ogilvy on behalf of the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, a rehabilitation and adoption organization for stray animals. The enabling technology was provided by Intellifi, and was installed by U.K.-based RFID consultancy RFIDiom.

Ogilvy’s ad campaign was the brainchild of William Godfrey, an “experience designer” at the advertising agency. Ogilvy is a fan of Battersea—and of pets in general—Godfrey explains, and he thought about how technology could be used to bring the plight of homeless animals directly to the public in a memorable way. “I had the idea that it would be lovely to digitalize dogs,” he says, and radio frequency identification seemed the best technology to make it appear that a digitalized canine was following people in the way that an actual stray dog might do. Ogilvy had considered the use of other technologies, such as cameras, but ultimately decided that RFID would make the process seamless and automatic.

[…]

Eric Jones, RFIDiom’s managing director, says he, too, is an animal lover. When Ogilvy suggested a campaign using RFID to put images of pets in front of shoppers on an individualized basis, Jones was up to the task, despite the short (two-week) deadline. It was a bit different than the company’s typical RFID deployments (which include document-tracking, supply chain management and industrial traceability solutions), and he says he and his engineers enjoy a good challenge.
 

The RFID system worked this way: representatives of the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, including Fishersmith herself, greeted shoppers at the entrance, offering them an RFID-tagged Battersea brochure if they seemed especially interested in pets. To better judge this, one individual stood at the entrance holding a dog or cat from the shelter. Every shopper who walked up to the animal to get a closer look at or pet it received a brochure. Attached to that brochure was a Smartrac Frog 3D RFID inlay encoded with a unique ID number that the system would recognize. That ID was not connected to any data about the individual carrying the brochure, since the company’s intention was that shoppers would remain anonymous.

Consumers were not told that the brochure had any special technology built into it. Therefore, an individual could be surprised when the advertising video changed to a dog—Barley—when he or she approached the billboard.

An Intellifi Smartspot RFID reader.

A total of seven digital billboards, located in or near the mall, were RFID-enabled, according to Matthijs van der Weg, Intellifi’s CEO.

An Intellifi reader (known as a Smartspot), with as many as six antennas built into it, was installed at each of the seven billboard sites, and some of the readers were also fitted with an additional external Intellifi reader antenna. The reader detected the zone in which an individual was located. Each antenna supported two to three zones, with a single zone’s radius equal to a distance of three steps that a shopper might move while walking. The reader forwarded the brochures’ unique IDs and signal information to Intellifi’s Brain software on the server, which then calculated each shopper’s location relative to that particular billboard.

The location data was provided to Ogilvy’s content-management software, which displayed an image of a dog whose movements corresponded to that shopper’s location. If the person holding the RFID-tagged brochure was walking to the left, the dog followed in that direction. As he or she approached the screen, the animal on the video seemed to approach as well.

The system also tracked which screens a shopper had already passed. This allowed the billboards to play only video images that he or she had not already seen.

Some reader installations were easier than others, Jones says. At some billboards, for instance, there was a power source to which the reader could be connected, while in other cases RFIDiom installed standalone power units to energize the readers. It was important that the hardware not be apparent, he adds, and RFIDiom made a few creative adjustments to ensure that the readers, antennas and power units were obscured.

In some cases, the readers were painted green and hung in trees or placed in bushes near the screen, while others were attached to lampposts. One RFID-enabled billboard was located on a nearby footbridge that some shoppers traversed to reach the mall. In this case, RFIDiom installed flowerbeds with false bottoms and buried the readers in with the flowers.

 
During the two weeks in April, the system tracked hundreds of shoppers. “People did a bit of a double-take,” Fishersmith says. “At first, they weren’t sure if it was just a coincidence that the dog seemed to be following them.” In some cases, they approached the Battersea representatives in front of the mall to ask if their experience had just been a coincidence, and many wanted to repeat the process.

Altogether, Godfrey says, shoppers carried about 700 brochures throughout the mall. The campaign’s successful result, he adds, “has put RFID on the radar” for other Ogilvy engineers. “I don’t think it will be the last time” Ogilvy will use such technology, he predicts, noting that the specific campaign will need to be one that benefits from the sense of having content follow an individual (in the same way Barley did).

“The main thing is that we proved it could be done,” Jones says, speaking on behalf of Intellifi and RFIdiom.

Here is some footage of people “interacting” with the system as part of the marketing campaign. The footage is basically an ad, it’s from the campaign’s website:
 

What Stores See When They Spy on Shoppers

The Story of Electronics

The Story of Electronics explores the high-tech revolution’s collateral damage—25 million tons of e-waste and counting, poisoned workers and a public left holding the bill. Host Annie Leonard takes viewers from the mines and factories where our gadgets begin to the horrific backyard recycling shops in China where many end up. The film concludes with a call for a green ‘race to the top’ where designers compete to make long-lasting, toxic-free products that are fully and easily recyclable. Our production partner on the electronics film is the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, which promotes green design and responsible recycling in the electronics industry.