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Online Shopping: The Complete Wired Guide
November 20, 2018 12:01 am|Comments (0)

Type “cheesecloth” into Google shopping. Hundreds of online shopping options pop up, in more than a dozen shades, at a range of price points. Many of the packages can be shipped to you in two days or less. In other words, shoppers live in a golden age of convenience. We’ve got more access to more stuff than ever before, at cheaper prices and ever-more-instant speeds. And the businesses who hawk us that stuff? They’ve got unprecedented levels of data on us, and they’re using it to target us in ever-more personalized ways.

As Americans, shopping’s in our bones. Patriotic fervor practically elevated consumerism to a religion after World War II, and today, we blur Jesus and Santa, ditch Thanksgiving for Black Friday, and mint new holidays (Cyber Monday) that give way to copycat holidays (Prime Day), all dedicated to buying stuff. Consumer spending on the “goods” portion of goods and services powers roughly one quarter of the economy, so it follows that retail is uber-susceptible to the technological, political, and economic forces that shape our society. Long ago, traveling peddlers were displaced by local merchants, who were supplanted by downtown department stores, which were upended by shopping malls, then big box chains, and now, the internet. And technology has armed today’s retailers with powerful tracking tools: We accept user agreements and pop-ups, trading gobs of valuable personal data in exchange for convenience—a commodity almost as prized as shopping itself.

The History of Online Shopping

The age of internet commerce really kicked off with Sting. Back in 1994, a band of coders led by a 21-year-old Swarthmore grad named Dan Kohn lived together in a two-story Nashua, New Hampshire, house. Fueled by ambition and a roaring Coca-Cola habit, they launched an online marketplace called NetMarket. The site let users make secure purchases by downloading encryption software named PGP, for “Pretty Good Privacy.” At noon on August 11, a Philadelphia man named Phil Brandenberger logged on. Typing in his address and credit card number, he bought a CD of Sting’s “Ten Summoners’ Tales” for $ 12.48 plus shipping. Champagne corks flew. The New York Times called it the first secure purchase of its kind. “Attention Shoppers,” a headline announced. “The Internet Is Open.”

Years later, Randy Adams, CEO of another online store called the Internet Shopping Network, claimed to have beaten out Kohn’s group by a month. In either case, the ecommerce floodgates didn’t quite fly open. The Unix-based programs required some tech know-how, and computers were a lot slower back then.

While we wait for modem speeds to rev up from bits to megabits, then, let’s review some retail history. Back in the ’80s, shopping largely centered around malls. Post–World War II migration to the ‘burbs had gutted downtown shopping centers and the sprawling department stores that served as their nuclei. Tax breaks and car culture spurred mass development of new big box stores and suburban shopping malls, and these parking-flush spaces recreated sanitized versions of urban retail corridors, writes Vicki Howard in From Main Street to Mall. Giant discount shops devoured local mom and pops. By 1990, Walmart had become the nation’s largest retailer.

Consumers were spoiled for choice, and they could get it on the cheap. But big box shops were laid out to maximize in-store time, turning shopping into a time-gobbling, endurance event. In the 2003 comedy Old School, Will Ferrell’s character Frank the Tank played this suburban ritual for laughs: “Pretty nice little Saturday, actually, We’re going to go to Home Depot…Maybe Bed, Bath, & Beyond, I don’t know. I don’t know if we’ll have enough time!”

Online shopping, by contrast, offered the promise of near-limitless choice at relatively snappy speeds. One of the earliest pre-Internet shopping ventures to test the online waters, CompuServe’s “Electronic Mall,” opened in 1984, offering stuff from more than 100 merchants, from JC Penney to Pepperidge Farms. Next to today’s sleek web pages, CompuServe’s command line interface looks positively primitive. But it worked, and it saved a trip to the mall. (As one early adopter told his local newscaster: “I just don’t like crowds.”) When it opened, only eight percent of US households had a computer, and at dial-up rates starting at around $ 5 an hour, the mall enjoyed limited success. E-shopping was still a decade away from going mainstream.

In 1988, a CompuServe competitor named Prodigy sprung up, the product of a partnership between Sears and IBM. Alongside news, weather, email, banking, and bulletin boards, the service included a store. Jaunty illustrations accompanied item descriptions, but as Wired noted in 1993, “the service’s cartoon-like graphics proved far less useful to purveyors of items that consumers wanted to see before buying, such as clothing and home furnishings.” A short-lived grocery service folded “because consumers were uncomfortable using a PC to select food.”

Until the World Wide Web debuted publicly in 1991, online shopping remained the province of services like Prodigy. That year, the National Science Foundation, which funded the networks that made up the backbone of the Internet, lifted its ban on commercial activity. Merchants were free to register domains and set up cybershop, but a problem lingered: Shoppers were—rightly—suspicious of handing over credit card data to remote, faceless webmasters. No mechanism existed to verify the sites’ authenticity.

In December 1994, a 23-year-old University of Illinois grad named Marc Andreessen released Netscape 1.0. The web browser featured a protocol called Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), which let both sides of a transaction encrypt personal information. From there, ecommerce began to take off.

Without the cost of maintaining physical stores, online retailers could offer lower prices and larger assortments than their brick and mortar counterparts, and people could by them in less time than it took to gas up the minivan. A “nice little Saturday” no longer had to entail epic marathons to warehouse-style superstores. If Sting knocked on the floodgates, Amazon was the wave that was about to burst them open.

In July 1995, a hedge fund VP named Jeff Bezos opened an online bookstore. He named it after the world’s largest river, after deciding against Relentless.com. (The domain still redirects to Amazon.) The site carried a million titles, and Bezos billed it “Earth’s Biggest Bookstore.” Within a month, Amazon.com had sold books to buyers in every US state, plus 45 countries.

Bezos recognized that shopping online at the time carried so-called pain points. Gauging quality could be difficult. Shoppers had to manually enter lines and lines of payment and shipping info each time they wanted to buy a nut sampler. High shipping costs could cancel out savings. Such headaches led shoppers to abandon their carts at distressing rates.

Amazon knew these minor irritations could add up, spelling major revenue losses. From the beginning, “Bezos was maniacally focused on the customer experience,” says retail expert and Wharton professor Barbara Kahn. No more cartoonlike graphics: Books were fully digitized, and shoppers could flip through the pages like they could in a physical store. Books were searchable by title, browsable by category, and readers could post reviews. In 1999, Amazon famously patented one-click ordering. This seemingly minor innovation slashed shopping cart abandonment, convinced customers to fork over their data, and helped cement Amazon as the go-to one-stop-shop for hassle-free shopping. Shipping got faster and cheaper, becoming free for orders above $ 99 in 2002, then for all Prime members in 2005.

Sites like Amazon and eBay, which also opened in 1995 as “AuctionWeb,” proved you didn’t need a physical store to give customers what they wanted. A lot of what they wanted. In 1999, Zappos (since acquired by Amazon) opened one of the first online-only shoe stores, enticing shoppers with free shipping, a generous (and free) return policy, and legendary customer service (one call famously lasted ten hours). The internet promised riches, and investors exuberantly, sometimes irrationally, supplied the funding.

Not every digital store survived that first boom. Cash-flush e-tailers like pets.com and grocery deliverer WebVan poured millions into ad campaigns, expanding rapidly before realizing that customers didn’t always want what they offered. Less than a year after the pets.com mascot soared over Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, the company learned that plenty of pet owners in the already crowded space didn’t mind picking up dog food and kitty litter from the grocery store, especially if that meant avoiding shipping costs and long waits. The company closed in 2000. Not long after erecting state-of-the-art fulfillment centers in ten cities, WebVan discovered that the cost-conscious shoppers they targeted weren’t ready for what amounted to an upmarket service: Customers didn’t spend enough to subsidize the trips; they preferred coupons and economy sizes, which WebVan didn’t offer; they often weren’t home during the short delivery windows. The grocery business’s paper-thin margins provided little room for error, and the company declared bankruptcy in 2001, near the height of the dot-com crash. These failures, however, would become instructive for the next generation. “Get Big Fast” gave way to “Minimum Viable Product.”

The Latest Shopping Tech

  • Stock Bots
    Walmart partnered with Bossa Nova Robotics to deploy inventory-tracking droids in 50 stores this year.

  • Virtual Showrooms
    Hardware giant Lowe’s debuted its “Holoroom” last year, which guides headset-clad DIYers through home improvement projects in VR.

  • Face Time
    Gourmet confectioner Lolli & Pops recently installed facial recognition cameras in stores to flag regulars and compile customized shopping recommendations.

  • Mirror, Mirror
    Fashion retailer Farfetch unveiled touchscreen mirrors and clothing racks that sense when an item is removed—then beam a virtual version to the shopper’s smartphone.

  • Cinderella Scanners
    New Balance and Fleet Feet Sports recently introduced scanners by Volumental that generate a 3D virtual model of your feet in five seconds. An AI algorithm extracts 10 measurements, from length to arch height, to recommend a perfectly fitting shoe. No disposable sock required.

  • Swipe and Shop
    Through Instagram’s new shopping feature, users can tap stickers on Stories to display merchandise details and shopping links. The Facebook-owned social media platform is reportedly developing a standalone shopping app.

In the late 2000s and early 2010s, “digitally native vertical brands” (DNVBs) like Bonobos (menswear) and Warby Parker (eyewear) spun up their own direct-to-consumer models. By controlling the entire process from factory to sale and reaching consumers directly through websites and social media channels, these brands could keep prices down, collect extensive data on their customers, and test new products. Last year, DNVBs grew three times faster than ecommerce as a whole. The more data companies swallowed up, the better they got at personalizing their recommendations. They burrowed their way into our inboxes and onto our social media pages. Their algorithms knew what we wanted and predicted what we were going to want. It started to seem like brick and mortar didn’t stand a chance.

Indeed, by the mid-2010s, tax breaks and a hunger for growth had led US retailers to build stores at rates that eclipsed Europe and Japan by a factor of six. This “over-storing,” combined with ecommerce competition, set the stage for the so-called “retailpocalypse.” In 2017, an estimated 7,800 US stores shuttered, and 3,600 were forecast to close in 2018.

If big box stores were going to survive, they needed to reinvent themselves. Consumers had grown to expect all the convenience, selection, and low prices of online shopping. To compete, brick and mortars had to act a little more like websites. Hardware giant Home Depot saw its stock price shoot up after integrating its desktop, mobile, and physical stores, introducing options like Buy Online, Pick-up In Store. By 2016, 61 percent of retailers offered some version of the service. Curbside pickup flourished, flying in the face of the old ethos of maximizing in-store-time.

For those that adapted, a retail future exists outside of bits and bytes. The web may know your habits better than any store clerk, but that’s starting to change. IRL stores aren’t headed for the deadstock pile. They’re just going to look a bit different, get a bit smarter. Some may ditch cashiers, or cash registers altogether. Others will employ robots. And those cameras—they’re not just for catching shoplifters anymore, either.

The Future of On- (and Off-) Line Shopping

The retailpocalypse, in fact, has come full circle. In 2015, Amazon opened its first physical bookstore, then followed it up with 17 more (then raised that by a Whole Foods acquisition). The shops aren’t particularly high tech. No holograms, no VR, plenty of good old-fashioned paper. The shops occupy modest footprints, carrying only four star-and-above-rated books. Squint, however, and you can see the future: Prices are not on display, and customers must log onto Amazon’s smartphone app to see them. Prime members get lower prices, of course. “They train you when you go in the store to open your app,” says Kahn. This lets them merge your online and in-store data. More data equals better personalized marketing, tighter inventories, and lower costs.

Of course, Amazon isn’t the only one corralling your digital data to optimize your in-store experience. Personalization companies like AgilOne and Qubit have sprung up to vacuum all our clicks, tweets, and e-communiques and merge them into individual profiles that stores like Vans and Under Armour use to better target their marketing. And some are going a step further.

Earlier this year, gourmet confectioner Lolli & Pops installed facial recognition cameras in its stores’ entryways. The cameras alert clerks when VIPs (who’ve opted in) enter, then call up their profiles and generate recommendations. In the future, face-identifying cameras could track shoppers throughout stores, noting where they linger and where they don’t. Retailers could use this to maximize purchasing by, say, rejiggering floor layouts and product displays. But some businesses fail to disclose cameras, inflaming privacy defenders.

When the ACLU asked 21 of the nation’s largest retailers if they were using facial recognition, presumably for theft prevention, all but two refused to answer. (Lowe’s owned up to it.) The organization warned of “an infrastructure for tracking and control that, once constructed, will have enormous potential for abuse.” Meanwhile, other companies have convinced shoppers to knowingly trade privacy for convenience.

Register-Free Retail

Visitors to the first Amazon Go store in Seattle said it felt like shoplifting: Walk in, grab what you need, and go without ever taking out your wallet. The shop’s balletic system of computer vision, motion sensors, and deep learning renders checkout lines obsolete. Amazon reportedly plans to open another 3,000 cashier-free stores by 2021, but it has some competition.

Zippin

In April, this San Francisco concept store became the first Amazon Go challenger to open in the States. The company aims to offer its cashierless platform to hotels and gas stations.

Bingobox

This company operates more than 300 RFID-powered human-free convenience stores throughout China, with plans to reach 2,000 locations by 2019.

Kroger

The supermarket giant’s “Scan, Bag, Go,” model, already used in nearly 400 stores, lets shoppers scan their barcodes on their groceries and pay straight from their smartphones.

Standard Cognition

This San Francisco startup has partnered with Japanese drugstore supplier Paltac to open 3,000 checkout-free shops by 2020.

This year, Amazon opened its first cashierless stores in the US, followed by a handful of smaller startups. Powered by hundreds of super-smart (but not face-recognizing) cameras and an array of weight and motion sensors, stores like Amazon Go and Zippin let shoppers simply grab what they want and leave. (Once again, Amazon customers must use their app, this time to swipe in.) The surveillance offers unprecedented intel about shoppers’ habits and supposedly prevents theft. Investors see the potential. CB Insights reports that over 150 companies are developing checkout-free technology.

In this new blended, digi-physical landscape, brick and mortar stores will leverage their physical advantages, while rendering unto the web that which is better handled digitally. This might mean smaller stores that act more like showrooms than storehouses. When digital-first brand Bonobos (now Walmart-owned) opened physical “guideshops,” they functioned more like fitting rooms-cum-hangout spots. Shoppers arrived by appointment, were offered a beer, tried on clothes, then had their orders shipped directly to them from an offsite warehouse. Other stores are fashioning themselves into tricked-out lounges and event spaces. Some won’t even sell you a darn thing.

It’s called “experiential retail,” In January, Samsung opened a 21,000-square-foot Experience Store in Toronto. Visitors can test out VR headsets and tablets, chat with tech pros, or partake in autumnal smoothie classes and artist demos. The one thing they can’t do? Buy stuff. Restoration Hardware has begun fusing retail with hospitality, outfitting luxurious furniture showrooms with rooftop restaurants, barista bars, and wine vaults. In a history-is-cyclical turn, Apple’s newest DC flagship will host concerts, coding classes, workshops, and art exhibitions, recalling the multipurpose, live-band- and tea-room-appointed department stores of the early 20th century.

The ultimate fusion of convenience and experience could lie in virtual and augmented reality. As with many things VR, it’s too early to predict the impact. You can imagine it though: endless stores featuring infinite inventory, all for zero rent. Walmart filed two patents this summer for a “virtual retail showroom system.” Headset- and sensor-glove-garbed shoppers would browse digital aisles selecting products, which would be packed and shipped from an automated fulfillment center. Ikea launched an AR app last year, letting shoppers “try” out true-to-scale virtual furniture models at home before buying. And Macy’s is already rolling out VR in 69 furniture departments this year. Shoppers can design their own room on a tablet, then traipse through the space in VR.

Some retailers are going all in on the Star Trek vision of shopping. Lowe’s launched its VR Holoroom last year, leading headset-clad in-store shoppers through DIY home improvement tutorials. A month later, fashion retailer Farfetch unveiled their “Store of Future.” Touchscreen dressing room mirrors let shoppers request new sizes, holograms help them customize garments, and smart clothing racks sense when items are removed, then beam virtual versions to a smartphone wishlist.

But much of the evolution is likely to happen behind the scenes. A lot of innovation will happen in logistics, with robot-staffed fulfillment centers and delivery drones, feeding appetites for ever-faster, cheaper shipment. This year, Walmart rolled out robots in 50 stores; the wheeled automatons scan shelves and notify employees when they need to be restocked.

Stores will seek out shoppers where they spend their time, increasingly cozied up to mobile devices and smart speakers. OC&C Strategy Consultants projects voice shopping in the US will reach $ 40 billion by 2022, up from $ 2 billion this year. Given that Echos comprise nearly two-thirds of smart speakers, with Google Home racing to catch up, Amazon is once again poised to dominate. Without infinite pages of cheesecloth to browse, voice shoppers will rely heavily on recommended products (a la “Amazon Choice”). And if the smart speaker company doubles as a private label (a la “AmazonBasics”), you can guess which brand they’ll suggest first.

It all adds up to an unnervingly creepy or fantastically convenient and curated world, depending on your vantage point. Or maybe it’s all the above. On the other end of that cart you casually abandon or that data you impatiently fork over sits a business that translates that behavior into real dollars and cents. Multiply that by thousands of shoppers and you’ve got a make-or-break bottom line. Times that by millions of businesses and you’ve got a fat chunk of the economy. No wonder retailers are doing backflips to make shopping as convenient, pleasurable—and quietly invasive—as possible. It’s up to shoppers to decide where to draw the line.

Learn More

Last updated November 19, 2018


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IKEA teams up with Russian Post to deliver online orders
October 11, 2018 12:00 pm|Comments (0)

MOSCOW (Reuters) – IKEA Group on Thursday signed a delivery cooperation agreement with Russian Post in a bid to reach more customers as it develops its local online business.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of IKEA is seen above a store in Voesendorf, Austria, April 24, 2017. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader/File Photo

In a joint statement, the two companies said they were currently negotiating the terms of the agreement, which is expected to start in 2019.

“The cooperation with Russian Post is an important step towards creating an efficient system of multi-channel sales,” said Pontus Erntell, the furniture retailer’s Russia country manager.

“The large network that the federal (postal) operator has will allow all residents of Russia to have access to our offering,” he added.

IKEA, known for its flat-packed self-assembly furniture, owns 14 hypermarkets in 11 Russian cities. In the past year, it has focused on bringing customers online and that business now accounts for 8 percent of its Russian turnover.

Erntell earlier said that IKEA was looking to sign strategic partnerships with Russian companies to boost its local online business.

State-run Russian Post has 42,000 branches across Russia.

Reporting by Maria Kolomychenko; Writing by Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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Chinese online group Pinduoduo targets up to $1.63 billion in U.S. IPO
July 16, 2018 6:53 pm|Comments (0)

(Reuters) – Chinese online group discounter Pinduoduo is planning to raise up to $ 1.63 billion from a U.S. listing, its latest filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange showed, in what will be one of the biggest U.S. float by Chinese firms in four years.

Pinduoduo, owned by Walnut Street Group, plans to sell about 85.6 million American Depositary Shares in its initial public offering (IPO) at a price range of $ 16 to $ 19 each, according to its filing, which was uploaded to the exchange website on Monday.

The company, backed by Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings, will open the book to institutional investors on Tuesday and price its IPO next Wednesday, said two people close to the transaction.

Pinduoduo expects to list on the Nasdaq under the symbol “PDD.”

The company is the latest in a series of Chinese tech groups flocking to list in New York or Hong Kong, seeking to replenish its coffers amid the fierce competition with domestic rivals, notably e-commerce giants Alibaba and JD.com, even as trade tensions between China and the United States rattle global markets.

China’s Meituan Dianping, an online food delivery-to-ticketing services platform which rivals Alibaba-backed food-delivery peer Ele.me, is also looking to launch its IPO of over $ 4 billion in Hong Kong in coming months.

Loss-making Pinduoduo, set up by former Google engineer Colin Huang in 2015, also counts Sequoia Capital China as a major investor.

In an initial filing, the company, which allows consumers to group together to increase the discounts offered by merchants, claimed 103 million active users of its mobile platform as of the end of March.

The Shanghai-based firm was valued at $ 15 billion in an April fundraising round and was looking to double that, Thomson Reuters publication IFR has reported.

Thanks to its low-priced products and larger user base in China’s smaller cities, the company’s gross merchandise volume exceeded 100 billion yuan last year, a milestone for Chinese e-commerce firms that took Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace five years and JD.com 10 years to reach. Pinduoduo’s revenues have grown sharply, reaching 1.38 billion yuan ($ 206.4 million) in the first quarter of 2018 from 37 million yuan a year ago. Net losses, however, remained broadly steady at 201 million yuan.

CICC, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs and China Renaissance are advising Pinduoduo, according to the filing.

Reporting by Julie Zhu in Hong Kong and Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel

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New Zealand's Z Energy flags possible data breach in online card system
June 27, 2018 6:21 am|Comments (0)

(Reuters) – New Zealand-based fuel supplier Z Energy Ltd on Wednesday said it has been presented with evidence that customer data from its Z Card Online database was accessed by a third party in November 2017.

The database held customer data such as names, addresses, registration numbers, vehicle types and credit limits with the company, Z Energy said in a statement. The data accessed did not include bank details, pin numbers or information that would put customer finances directly at risk, it said.

Z Energy did not specify the extent to which its customer data had been compromised.

The company said it had notified affected customers and advised the Privacy Commissioner of the breach. It said the system in question had been closed since December 2017.

The Z Card allows customers to manage fuel accounts online, and is used primarily by companies with vehicle fleets.

Z Energy said it had been made aware of a potential vulnerability in the system in November, but had not found evidence of any data breaches at that time.

Z Energy operates in both New Zealand and Australia. New laws in Australia requiring companies to report data breaches took effect in late-February this year.

Reporting by Ambar Warrick in Bengaluru

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Why I'll Be Using Xbox One Instead Of PS4 For All My Online Gaming Going Forward
June 19, 2018 6:06 pm|Comments (0)

Credit: Epic Games

I’ve put time, effort and money into my Fortnite: Battle Royale account, linked to my PS4. I’ve got the John Wick skin with the Glider to match. I’ve got Raven, Lightshow, Super Striker and a few more premium skins. I’ve got a fully-levelled Carbide and I’ll have The Visitor as soon as some people land in Snobby Shores so I can kill them. I have a little home in the game, a locker where all my past achievements and indulgences sit in a nice little stack. When season 5 starts, however, I’m packing it in. I’ll start a new account on my Xbox One and go from there. I’ll do the same for all other games going forward.

Last week, Sony put its foot in it and has, after some apparent consideration, decided to leave it there. Epic Games released Fortnite: Battle Royale on Switch to expected fanfare, giving people who want to play the game on the go a much more accurate option than the excellent if lacking mobile port. The dream was clear: I could play Fortnite on PS4 at home, and then use my Switch when I was on the road or just out of the house. But that’s not how Sony saw its dream, and it’s locked my account out of ever playing on Switch. The company hasn’t exactly been supportive of crossplay in the past, but this is the first time it’s caused it any serious trouble.

With this looking hostility to crossplay lurking in the background, it leaves me wondering if I’ll get left behind in other games if I start my account on PS4 if and when a Switch port appears. The Switch won’t get every major game, but it will get some, and it doesn’t appear that Sony has any intention of letting its platform play nice any time soon–it’s also just easier to keep these things all in one place. The Xbox One works just fine, thank you very much, and I may as well just play here: watch the free market at work.

Am I certain to run into crossplay or cross-progression problems if I’m playing a game on PS4? No, I’m not. Crossplay is a relatively new phenomenon in the industry and not all that widespread. But Fortnite is instructive about how things can go wrong even if you didn’t necessarily expect them to: when I first started playing I just booted it up on PS4 like I usually do, and it was fun when I found I could move my progression to mobile or PC. But I had grown accustomed to his, and so when I wanted to play on Switch I was pretty annoyed to find out I’d have to start my Battle Pass all the way over. It’s not the worst problem, but it’s one place where the Xbox One now has a clear, inarguable advantage. As a multiplatform player with the choice to migrate it feels like the only natural move.

Going forward, it just seems silly to invest time into levelling an account on Sony if crossplay might be in the cards sometime in the future, and I have to imagine some other multiplatform players are feeling the same way.

Right now, this isn’t such a bee in Sony’s bonnet. I already have a PS4 Pro, and so the company loses out on a small amount of PSN percentages if I buy my V-Bucks on Xbox Live. But that’s now. If this continues to be a problem, this could be the reason that people choose to buy the next Xbox over the next PlayStation in what appears to be an increasingly crossplay friendly future. And that’s not just a bee in Sony’s bonnet, it’s a hornet in its hat.

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Carrefour, Google sign online shopping tie-up in France
June 11, 2018 6:02 pm|Comments (0)

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s largest food retailer Carrefour (CARR.PA) is teaming up with Google (GOOGL.O) to boost its online shopping business on its home turf, where rivals are also launching e-commerce offensives.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Carrefour is seen on shopping trolleys at the Carrefour Lingostiere in Nice, France, March 31, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/File Photo

Carrefour said on Monday that from next year its groceries would be available on the U.S. search engine’s new dedicated shopping site in France, or through Google-operated systems such as connected speakers and voice-assisted devices.

The tie-up comes amid a broader shake-up in France’s competitive food retail market as retailers invest in online platforms and home delivery services to win over clients and ward off in-roads by U.S. e-commerce giant Amazon.

Casino’s upmarket Monoprix chain in March became the first French retailer to agree to sell products on Amazon. Casino also has a home delivery partnership with UK online retailer Ocado (OCDO.L).

Alphabet Inc’s Google, meanwhile, has been pushing to roll out new shopping services to retailers such as Walmart (WMT.N), enabling them to list products on a special shopping site or Google Assistant on mobile phones and voice devices.

The U.S. firm hopes the program will allow retailers to capture more purchases on mobile phones or smart home devices. The Carrefour deal marks the first partnership in France.

The companies said in a statement they would open an innovation lab in Paris this summer, in partnership with Google Cloud, for research into artificial intelligence that can be used in consumer services.

Google will also roll out its G Suite productivity tools – where it rivals Microsoft Office – to the entire Carrefour group and its 160,000 employees, the companies said.

Reporting by Sarah White and Pascale Denis; Editing by Mark Potter

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Cisco pulls all online ads from YouTube
May 11, 2018 6:00 am|Comments (0)

(Reuters) – Network gear maker Cisco Systems Inc (CSCO.O) is pulling all online ads from YouTube due to fears of the ads appearing on sensitive content on the platform, Cisco’s chief marketing officer, Karen Walker, said in a blog on Wednesday.

A logo of Cisco is seen during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

The blog, which seemed to have been removed from Cisco’s website on Thursday, said the company would not like its ads to “accidentally end up in the wrong place, such as on a streaming video with sensitive content,” adding that the network gear maker will continue to use YouTube as a platform to share Cisco’s video content.

Alphabet Inc’s Google (GOOGL.O), which owns YouTube, said it has partnered with advertisers to make changes.

“We have partnered with advertisers to make significant changes to how we approach monetization on YouTube with stricter policies, better controls and greater transparency. We are committed to continuing this dialogue and getting this right,” a Google spokesperson told Reuters.

Cisco’s action follows a CNN report cnnmon.ie/2jOhAXZ in April that said ads from over 300 companies, including Cisco, ran on extremist channels on YouTube.

The companies may have unknowingly helped finance some of these channels through the advertisements they paid for YouTube, according to the CNN report.

Cisco did not respond to a request seeking comment on the blog’s removal from its website.

YouTube said in a report released last month that it had deleted about 5 million videos from its platform for content policy violations in last year’s fourth quarter before any viewers saw them.

Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Leslie Adler

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The NRA Massively Increased Online Advertising After the Parkland School Shooting
March 24, 2018 6:08 pm|Comments (0)

As activists from around the country gather in Washington to march for gun safety regulation, new data shows that the National Rifle Association has been aggressively resisting their message through online ads. In the weeks following the school shooting that triggered Saturday’s protests, the NRA spent more than six times its prior daily average on digital ads – including some that appeared with media intended for children.

The finding came from the digital research firm Pathmatics, as reported by the Chicago Tribune. The NRA briefly suspended its online ad efforts after a February school shooting that left 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. But Pathmatics found that over the 24 days after the ads resumed, the NRA spent an average of $ 47,300 per day, up from an average of $ 11,300 per day before the murders.

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The ad spending was primarily focused on social media, with Facebook pocketing an average of $ 34,000 of it per day. The NRA also climbed the ranks of the biggest-spending YouTube advertisers, and Pathmatics found that some NRA ads were displayed with videos from Kids’ Toys, a very popular channel featuring two youngsters reviewing Barbie dolls and Lego playsets.

A media commentator told the Tribune that this odd placement probably showed the NRA’s desire for broad reach, rather than the targeting of any specific audience. The NRA reportedly continued to use long-running ads after the shooting, most of them aimed at increasing memberships.

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Careem acquires Middle East online restaurant listing platform, to trial food delivery
February 18, 2018 6:01 am|Comments (0)

DUBAI (Reuters) – Careem, a Middle East competitor to Uber Technologies [UBER.UL], said on Sunday it had acquired RoundMenu and would start trialing food delivery services through the restaurant listing and reservation online platform this month.

The Dubai-based ride hailing firm acquired the website and app for an undisclosed sum.

“Careem will begin testing a delivery capability for RoundMenu customers on a small scale later this month,” it said in a statement to Reuters.

RoundMenu has a presence in 18 cities across nine Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, according to its website.

There is demand for delivery services in the Middle East, particularly in the Gulf Arab states where temperatures can soar above 50 degrees in the summer.

Several food delivery companies, including Talabat, Zomato, UberEats, and Deliveroo, are active in the region.

RoundMenu has raised $ 3.1 million in funding since it launched in 2012, the Careem statement said.

Careem said in June it would accelerate expansion plans after raising $ 500 million from investors, including German carmaker Daimler and Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Holding.

In July, it took a minority stake in an Egyptian start-up that connects commuters with private buses in Cairo.

Reporting by Alexander CornwellEditing by Shri Navaratnam

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Britain urged to prosecute social media firms over online abuse
December 13, 2017 12:39 am|Comments (0)

LONDON (Reuters) – Social media companies should face prosecution for failing to remove racist and extremist material from their websites, according to a report by an influential committee.

FILE PHOTO – A picture illustration shows a Facebook logo reflected in a person’s eye, in Zenica, March 13, 2015.REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Prime Minister Theresa May’s ethics watchdog recommends introducing laws to shift the liability for illegal content onto social media firms and calls for them to do more to take down intimidatory content.

Social media companies currently do not have liability for the content on their sites, even when it is illegal, the report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life said.

The recommendations form part of the conclusions of an inquiry into intimidation experienced by parliamentary candidates in an election campaign this year.

“The widespread use of social media has been the most significant factor accelerating and enabling intimidatory behavior in recent years,” the report said.

“The committee is deeply concerned about the limited engagement of the social media companies in tackling these issues.”

While the report said intimidation in public life is an old problem, the scale and intensity of intimidation is now posing a threat to Britain’s democracy.

FILE PHOTO – People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo in this illustration picture taken September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration/File Photo

The report found that women, ethnic minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender political candidates are disproportionately likely to be the targets of intimidation.

The committee heard how racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic and anti-Semitic abuse is putting off some candidates from standing for public office.

Platforms such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook are criticized for failing to remove abusive material posted online even after they were notified.

FILE PHOTO – A 3D-printed YouTube icon is seen in front of a displayed YouTube logo in this illustration taken October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Ilustration

The committee said it was “surprised and concerned” Google, Facebook and Twitter do not collect data on the material they take down.

“The companies’ failure to collect this data seems extraordinary given that they thrive on data collection,” the report said. “It would appear to demonstrate that they do not prioritize addressing this issue of online intimidation.”

Twitter said in a statement it has announced several updates to its platform aimed at cutting down on abusive content and it is taking action on 10 times the number of abusive accounts every day compared to the same time last year.

YouTube declined to comment, while Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Many politicians have become more vocal about the abuse they face after Labour’s Jo Cox, a 41-year-old mother of two young children, was shot and repeatedly stabbed a week before Britain’s Brexit referendum last year.

Reporting By Andrew MacAskill; editing by Stephen Addison

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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