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Amazon got caught being sketchy but does it actually matter?

(NEWS) A feature on Amazon’s website recently came under scrutiny for being misleading but we doubt it creates too many waves.

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Amazin’ Amazon

I don’t have to tell you that Amazon is crazy convenient. Forgot to get a bunch of random stuff at the store? Order anything from lip balm to groceries and find it on your doorstep within a couple of days.

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There are tons of options for basically any category you can think of, whether it’s TVs or mattress covers, and prices are usually competitive.

Golden age of e-commerce

It’s also a great place to scroll through reviews for larger purchases, or products you aren’t familiar with.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find that golden reviewer who claims to have read every. single. review. and lists out all the important pros and cons for you.

You’ll feel sad for them and incredibly relieved that it wasn’t you all at the same time.

Less of a deal than you think

Amazon is understandably doing pretty well for itself, but a new report commissioned by Consumer Watchdog claims that the e-commerce powerhouse has been posting misleading discounts for about 40 percent of its merchandise.

That means a deal is not a deal is not a deal.

List price lies

The report focuses on falsification of the “list price,” which Amazon defines as “the suggested retail price of a product as provided by a manufacturer, supplier, or seller.”

Consumer Watchdog claims that for two out of every five items, the list price far exceeds any reasonable estimate of the market price for that item.

For example

Take this handy dandy Pneumatic brand drill, which currently sells for $182.99 on Amazon.

The list price, according to Amazon, is $305 – 40 percent off is a great deal, right?

Welllll the same drill sells at Jet.com for $182.99, and Walmart charges $189.99. Amazon looks a little less impressive now, huh?

Fishy fishy

This example was featured in the Consumer Watchdog report, which was released on a Monday.

Notably, as of that Tuesday, this drill no longer features a list price.

Anything you’d like to tell us, Amazon? Guilty conscience keeping you up at night, compulsively deleting list prices?

List price mark up

Amazon doesn’t make public its list price methods, but neither the average market prices, mean market prices, or median market prices jibed with all of Amazon’s claims.

The report found that 71% of the products scrutinized in the study featured list prices higher than those used by competitors.

In fact, Amazon’s list price was an average of $18.88 more expensive than the market mean.

Everything’s higher

And median (middle) list prices weren’t any better – 74 percent of the products covered by the report cited list prices higher than the median competitor prices, by an average of $22.

Compared with the most common competitor prices, a full half of Amazon’s list prices were higher.

False reference

“In other words, the reference prices were an entirely bogus notional price that created the false impression that customers were getting a deal when they were not,” said Consumer Watchdog.

This practice is misleading, for sure, and dishonest discounts are something every shopper should be wary of.

If the claims are justified, it’s a bad sign for Amazon’s integrity as a company.

Does this feature matter though?

But honestly, I never pay attention to how much “off” something is.

I and the fellow millennials I know who use Amazon regularly do our research, especially for a larger purchase like a fancy drill or a laptop.

We know what it retails for elsewhere. We only care what Amazon’s actual charging price is, not how much it originally cost.

Amazon’s rebuttal

Amazon released a statement in regards to the Consumerist report.

In that statement they said, “The Consumer Watchdog report is misleading. Manufacturers, vendors and sellers provide list prices, but our customers care about how the price they are paying compares to other retailers. We validate list prices against actual prices recently found across Amazon and other retailers, and we eliminate List Price when we believe it isn’t relevant to our customers. Using recent price history of the product on Amazon we’ve also introduced a ‘Was’ price to provide customers with an alternative reference price when we don’t display List Price.”

No harm, no foul?

That doesn’t mean Amazon’s off the hook, by any means.

But it does mean that there might not be too much of an uproar.Click To Tweet

Especially since shoppers are, sadly, pretty used to distorted discounts in all kinds of brick and mortar stores. Regardless, Amazon has largely set the tone for e-commerce, and they should be better than this.

#FakeDeal

Staff Writer, Natalie Bradford earned her B.A. in English from Cornell University and spends a lot of time convincing herself not to bake MORE brownies. She enjoys cats, cocktails, and good films - preferably together. She is currently working on a collection of short stories.

Business News

Hobby Lobby increases minimum wage, but how much is just to save face?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Are their efforts to raise their minimum wage to $17/hour sincere, or more about saving face after bungling pandemic concerns?

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Hobby Lobby storefront

The arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby announced this week that they will be raising their minimum full-time wage to $17/hour starting October 1st. This decision makes them the latest big retailer to raise wages during the pandemic (Target raised their minimum wage to $15/hour about three months ago, and Walmart and Amazon have temporarily raised wages). The current minimum wage for Hobby Lobby employees is $15/hour, which was implemented in 2014.

While a $17 minimum wage is a big statement for the company (even a $15 minimum wage cannot be agreed upon on the federal level) – and it is no doubt a coveted wage for the majority of the working class – it’s difficult to not see this move as an attempt to regain public support of the company.

When the pandemic first began, Hobby Lobby – with more than 900 stores and 43,000 employees nationwide – refused to close their stores despite being deemed a nonessential business (subsequently, a Dallas judge accused the company of endangering public health).

In April, Hobby Lobby furloughed almost all store employees and the majority of corporate and distribution employees without notice. They also ended emergency leave pay and suspended the use of company-provided paid time off benefits for employees during the furloughs – a decision that was widely criticized by the public, although the company claims the reason for this was so that employees would be able to take full advantage of government handouts during their furlough.

However, the furloughs are not Hobby Lobby’s first moment under fire. The Oklahoma-based Christian company won a 2014 Supreme Court case – the same year they initially raised their minimum wage – that granted them the right to deny their female employees insurance coverage for contraceptives.

Also, Hobby Lobby settled a federal complaint in 2017 that accused them of purchasing upwards of 5,000 looted ancient Iraqi artifacts, smuggled through the United Arab Emirates and Israel – which is simultaneously strange, exploitative, and highly controversial.

Why does this all matter? While raising their minimum wage to $17 should be regarded as a step in the right direction regarding the overall treatment of employees (and, hopefully, $17 becomes the new standard), Hobby Lobby is not without reason to seek favorable public opinion, especially during a pandemic. Yes, we should be quick to condone the action of increasing minimum wage, but perhaps be a little skeptical when deeming a company “good” or “bad”.

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Business News

RIP office culture: How work from home is destroying the economy

(BUSINESS NEWS) It’s not just your empty office left behind: Work from home is drastically changing cities’ economies in more ways than you think.

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An empty meeting room, unfilled by work from home employees.

It’s been almost six months since the U.S. went into lockdown due to COVID-19 and the CDC’s subsequent safety guidelines were issued – it’s safe to say that it is not business as usual. Everyone from restaurant waitstaff to start-up executives have been affected by the shift to work-from-home. Even as restrictions slowly begin to lift, it seems as though the office workspace – regarded as the vital venue for the U.S. economy – will never truly be the same.

Though economists have been focusing largely on small businesses and start-ups, we are only just beginning to understand the impact that not going back into the white-collar office will have on the economy.

The industries that support white-collar office culture in major cities have become increasingly emaciated. The coffee shops, food trucks, and food delivery companies that catered to the white-collar workforce before, during, and after their workday, are no longer in high demand (Starbucks reported a loss of $2 billion this year, which they attribute to Zoomification). Airlines have also been affected as business travel typically accounts for 60%-70% of all air travel.

Also included are high-end hotels, which accommodate the traveling business class. Pharmacies, florists, and gyms located in business districts have become ghost towns. Office supplies companies, such as Xerox, have suffered. Workwear brands such as J. Crew and Brooks Brothers have filed for bankruptcy, as there is no longer a need to dress for the office.

In Manhattan – arguably the country’s most notorious white-collar business mecca – at least 1,200 restaurants have been permanently lost. It is also is predicted that the one-third of all small businesses will close.

Additionally, the borough is facing twice as many apartment vacancies as this time last year, due to the flight of workers no longer tied to midtown offices. Workers have realized their freedom to seek more affordable and spacious residence outside the city. As companies decentralize from cities and rent prices drop, it isn’t all bad news. There is promise that particular urban white-collar neighborhoods will start to become accessible to the working class once again.

Some companies, like Pinterest and REI, are reporting that their shift to work from home is in fact permanent. The long-term effects of deserted office buildings are yet to make themselves evident. What we do know is that the decline of the white-collar office will force us to reimagine the great American cities – with so much lost due to the coronavirus, what can now be gained?

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Business News

2020 Black Friday shopping may break the mold

(BUSINESS NEWS) Home Depot states their new plan for deals and discounts over two months, in place of a 1-day Black Friday event.

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Men shopping in an empty aisle, Black Friday to come?

Humans change and adapt – that’s just in our nature. Retail stores have struggled to maintain their sales goals for years as more and more people move to ordering online. Online prices still seem to be within customer expectations and often come with free shipping. Additionally, people that may have preferred to shop in an actual brick-and-mortar store have changed their shopping habits dramatically in 2020; it’s hard to social distance and be safe in crowded stores or in small aisles. Black Friday may be next to change.

Amazon and other big box store’s online ordering platforms have simplified getting what you need delivered right to your front door. According to Statista, “Amazon was responsible for 45% of US e-commerce spending in 2019 – a figure which is expected to rise to 47% in 2020.”

Retailers count on the holiday season, specifically Black Friday deals (the day after Thanksgiving), to bring in up to 20% of their annual revenue. It’s hard to just remove that option completely. But considering the times of social distancing, wearing masks in public, and especially avoiding large crowds, the tradition of Black Friday will need to look different this year.

It will also be interesting to see what supply chain disruptions from early 2020 will have the most effect this shopping season. We saw predictions in March that said the United States would see the biggest disruptions in about six months. Black Friday falls right on that timeline.

Home Depot has announced their plans to go ahead and give the deals over a two month span, starting in early November through December (both online and in stores with the possibility of adding some special deals around the actual Black Friday date) to help encourage a more steady stream of shoppers versus so many packing in on the same day.

The home improvement chain has actually seen a great sales year. This is likely due to people working from home and being interested in doing more home projects (and possibly having a bit more time to do them as well). As of May 2020, “The Home Depot®, the world’s largest home improvement retailer, today reported sales of $28.3 billion for the first quarter of fiscal 2020, a 7.1 percent increase from the first quarter of fiscal 2019. Comparable sales for the first quarter of fiscal 2020 were positive 6.4 percent, and comparable sales in the U.S. were positive 7.5 percent.”

Home Depot, along with many other retailers like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy have confirmed that they will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, which may not be new for all of them but has always signaled the kickoff of the holiday shopping season.

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