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Adding Wish products to your inventory could keep your small shop open

(BUSINESS NEWS) Online retail giant Wish moves to push products through small businesses in the US since a UN shipping subsidy was cut. Could piggybacking e-commerce afford retailers a lifeline in pandemic America?

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The $11 billion e-commerce purveyor of dollar-store value tchotchkes, Wish, was built on the foundation of cheap shipping subsidies. The Universal Postal Union (an arm of the UN that governs international shipping rates) previously provided a subsidy such that any package weighing less than or equal to 4.4 pounds could be shipped more cheaply from China than within the United States. But on July 1, the subsidy was eliminated and shipping costs doubled overnight.

Since January 2019, 36,000 small businesses in the United States and Europe have partnered with Wish to stock their items. In return for putting a few kitschy knick-knacks on their shelves, they get access to Wish’s 80 million active users. These users are generally low-income folks who either can’t afford or refuse to shell out the $119 per year for Amazon Prime membership, which affords customers oft-discounted goods and free shipping. Wish saves on operating costs for warehouses and workers, and consumers save money on the back end.

Wish hopes to increase their small business partners to 100,000 businesses by the end of 2020. That goal is ever more important given the subsidy cut that now disincentivizes their initial model. If customers want the same low-price goods they have grown used to, they will now have to pick up their parcels from a local retailer that Wish is bundling and funneling orders through. These partnerships – though they may water-down the quality of offerings by small retailers – provide an innovative solution for small business that have struggled to survive closures and capacity restrictions since the coronavirus outbreak took off in the US.

Granted, the world will keep turning without services like Wish. The website is the ultimate data-collecting scam. You can’t enter the website without logging in, and once you do, you have to select your age range and the gender you’ll be shopping for: women or men (Can’t I shop for everyone, including those in between and outside the binary? Get with the program, Wish!) Can’t they figure out my shopping habits by spying on me through cookies like everyone else?

At least they offer 10% off during your first three days of shopping! AND 50% off if you login 7 times in your first month! How’s that for a predatory shopping experience?

But I digress. If capitalism has taught us anything (as much as it pains me to put this in writing) it’s that America cannot rely on the government for nimble, holistic solutions that support the shared interests of public health and economic health. At least not for this particular public health crisis during this administration, if not always. Instead, we consistently rely on the private sector to offer us innovative solutions to our daily frustrations: transportation access (Uber/Lyft), grocery shopping (Instacart), affordable prescriptions (GoodRx), job hunting (LinkedIn/Indeed), and more. What makes this different?

Small businesses have suffered deeply from this pandemic and subsequent recession. Metlife and the US Chamber of Commerce conducted a poll of small businesses published on July 29, which found that 70% of respondents are worried about long-term financial hardship due to closures, and 58% worry about permanently closing. Retailers could pivot to set up e-commerce solutions to their brick-and-mortar woes, but the barrier to entry using that technology costs time and money that owners may not have as they fight for PPP loans, rent forgiveness, and negotiating interest rates.

The United States practically guarantees affordable manufacturing can only be imported from Asia. And so long as capitalism guarantees there will always be a class of consumers surviving on the lowest margins of our society, there will always be demand for cheap goods. Every purchase matters for a small domestic retailer to stay open and afloat. If the flow of these goods through American small businesses offers owners a way to keep their doors open and low-income consumers a way to keep purchasing – even if only by small tokens of increased foot traffic and impulse buys – it’s worth it.

Heather Buffo is a Cleveland native, a recovering Bostonian, and an Austin newbie. Heather has her Bachelor of Arts in Neurobiology from Harvard University, and is a City Year Boston AmeriCorps alum. When she's not writing for AG, you can find her pouring beers at the Brewtorium, but only one at a time.

Business News

MIT report reveals serious flaws in US unemployment system

(BUSINESS NEWS) In the wake of COVID-19, the US unemployment system is floundering to cover all who need the aid but it comes with serious flaws.

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Stressed couple discussing options during unemployment in dimly lit room.

Last week alone, nearly 1 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits. Now that it’s urgently needed, this safety net is full of holes, leaving many Americans in freefall.

A newspaper from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has highlighted several of the critical weaknesses in our country’s unemployment social safety net.

The report outlines how benefits fall short in three major ways: Duration, eligibility, and payment amounts.

The historical purpose of the benefits system was to replace half of lost wages for 6 months while they looked for another job. (The MIT paper even suggests that a more appropriate “replacement rate” would be higher than that.)

As of 2018, unemployment payments only cover Americans for one-third of their lost wages on average.

The income caps for these benefits have stayed fixed while wages have increased over time. That’s bad enough without considering that wages haven’t nearly kept up with worker productivity in the US, meaning those caps haven’t kept up with the real worth of those workers at all.

Compared to other developed nations, the US has lagged behind in public benefits since well before the pandemic.

In 2014, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development compared the duration of unemployment payments around the world. Out of 34 developed countries, the US ranked 33rd— offering less than every country on the list but Hungary.

To quote the research brief for the paper: “Even aside from changes driven by technology and trade, employers’ increasing reliance on contract workers and on-demand scheduling rather than on permanent employees who work predictable schedules has added to the precariousness of many workers’ jobs.”

And those economically vulnerable groups who need the support most are more likely to have jobs that aren’t covered under federal unemployment eligibility.

This includes gig workers (thanks to prop 22), part time workers, and the self employed: People often work these jobs due to constraints like parenthood or disability.

The CARES Act, which passed in April, temporarily allowed certain groups who would usually be ineligible, like the self employed (who are poised to grow in numbers as the job shortage persists) to collect unemployment benefits.

But CARES and HEROES are going to end in December, taking the extensions to unemployment, the eviction moratorium and the COVID sick leave requirements with them.

And instead of extending them, Congress may soon be looking to cannibalize those programs and their unused funds for another round of corporate stimulus spending.

But if the coronavirus relief acts are allowed to expire, nearly 14 million Americans will lose the aid that they provide.

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Business News

Tis the season for employment scams – here’s what to look out for

(BUSINESS NEWS) Fueled even further by COVID unemployment numbers, seasonal employment scams are back on the menu. Here’s how you can avoid them.

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A serious man considers a clipboard in potential employment scams.

With the sheer amount of desperation people are feeling these days, it’s only fitting that employment scams would see a resurgence this holiday season. Thanks to the Better Business Bureau, there are some clear warning signs that can help you spot and avoid seasonal scams this year.

The typical crux of any employment scam revolves around a prospective employee’s willingness to pay for something upfront, be it training or some other kind of quasi-justifiable item (e.g., a uniform). However, other iterations of the scam actually involve an “employer” overpaying for something at the onset—albeit with a fake check—and then asking the recipient to wire “back” the extra money.

Either way, these scams can leave you jobless and with less money than you initially had, so here are some things for which you should watch out.

Firstly, employers shouldn’t ever charge you before hiring you. Some industries do require employees to make small purchases on their own dime (i.e., the aforementioned uniform), but payroll will usually deduct the cost of these materials from the employee’s first paycheck—not require payment upfront.

As a general rule, it’s probably best to avoid companies that charge you at all. Aramark, for example, is known for requiring employees to buy company clothes—and they’re no peach to work with. But desperate times may warrant an exception in this regard.

It’s also to your benefit to avoid postings that boast an “interview-free” experience. Put simply, no one is hiring sans an interview unless it’s nepotism or a scam. If you aren’t related to the poster, that doesn’t leave much up for interpretation. Similarly, advertising a large sum of money for disproportionately low amounts of work is a pretty big warning sign–again, in this economy, people aren’t shelling out for packing or wrapping jobs.

Finally, watch out for jobs that ask for a work sample before hiring. While this is common for internships, most entry-level positions aren’t going to require you to complete a project for free before determining whether or not you’re good for the job. At best, this is a tactic to get free work from you; at worst, your application information can be stolen.

It’s sad to think that people would stoop to the level of scamming others amidst the dumpster fire of a year it’s been, but if you avoid these red flags, you should be able to keep yourself safe during this holiday season.

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Business News

DMCA and Twitch streaming, aka a mess of copyright

(BUSINESS NEWS) As live-streaming is booming in popularity, DMCA claims are becoming an existential problem for Twitch. And it’s streamers who bear the burden.

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Twitch streamer in front of gaming PC, likely to face DMCA claims.

Last month hundreds of content creators on the streaming platform Twitch received DMCA takedown notices from their host at the same time, telling them that content on their channel was potentially in violation of copyright law.

Twitch has since summed up the incident in their own words on their blog. Typically, DMCA notices are supposed to provide the recipient with information about their options for submitting a counter-claim or seeking retraction. But, as the post admits, “the only option provided [to streamers] was a mass deletion tool for [their] clips, [and] we only gave [them] three days notice to use this tool.”

If they didn’t, they would risk losing their channel (and in many cases, their full time income.)

The videos in question could span thousands of hours of content, which could not realistically be deleted in the time allowed.

 

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So, what you’re saying is all potentially copywritten music clips/VODS on my channel have already been identified and deleted, so I don’t need to delete anything right now?I need clarification because I don’t have the time to go through 4 years of clips.

Twitch has pretty much looked the other way from the unlicensed use of music on its user channels throughout its history. That’s generated more than a little resentment from groups like the Recording Industry Association of America in the past, and as the site only continues to grow, a massive wave of pressure from the labels has forced the site’s hand

The music industry wants Twitch to arrange for their streamers to use audio under the terms that websites like YouTube use. That includes a diligent Content ID system.

But instead, Twitch has built an in-house solution to this whole mess: Soundtrack, which offers a “rights-cleared music” from “independent artists.”

A spokesperson from Twitch supplied this statement to The Verge: “The music from Soundtrack is put into live streams and does not end up in VODs, and therefore we and our partners agree that sync licenses are not needed for Soundtrack.”

(The music industry doesn’t see it that way though.)

Not only that, but streamers still have a lot of questions about the new expectations on the site. In one case, a streamer had to completely stop their feed because their video was picking up music from an unrelated source.

Someone can even be flagged for playing a game that uses copyrighted music on-stream. Even playing a Star Wars game that makes use of the movie’s copyrighted soundtrack is a risky move. (After all, nobody wants to take any chances with Disney’s infamously aggressive legal team.)

In their apology, they expressed a desire to explore “potential approaches to additional licenses,” but said that “the current constructs for licenses that the record labels have with other services […] make less sense for Twitch.”

Securing a given song’s licensing rights is a pretty implausible task for a young streamer, since major copyright holders don’t generally negotiate on small-scale terms. Twitch, on the other hand, has been owned by Amazon since 2014. Amazon just happens to already be one of the biggest copyright holders in the world, and obtaining the rights to the songs that are in high demand shouldn’t be a prohibitive issue for one of their companies.

But ultimately this debacle isn’t solely their fault. The DMCA is an old law— old enough to drink, even. The people who wrote it could not have possibly accounted for the rapidly expanding new media industry. Under pressures like these, something has to give.

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