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Bill nixing “gag clauses” on negative reviews on way to White House

(BUSINESS NEWS) Bad reviews about your business can hurt, but the days of “gag clauses” to punish negative customers is coming to an end.

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Guitars are not violins

I once took my violin for a repair at a music shop, but suspected the repair was botched. My suspicions were confirmed when I took the instrument to a professional luthier the next town over.

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So I decided to write a review of the first shop on Yelp. I wasn’t being vindictive or whiny. I just wanted other violinists to know that the guitar repair guy in town wasn’t really qualified to fix violins. It was nothing personal. I didn’t think it was fair for other musicians to waste their money on a bad repair like I did.

That’s the beauty of reviews, especially for online businesses. There are plenty of companies out there, some you’ve never even heard of. Reviews from real life customers can really help businesses.

Bad reviews can hurt

Of course, bad reviews can be bad for business. Some companies have tried to stop customers from writing negative reviews by sneaking a “non-disparagement” clause into the terms of service you have to agree to before making a purchase, especially a large purchase.

These clauses, more casually known as “gag clauses,” punish customers with exorbitant fees if they write, or even threaten to write a negative review.

A $3,500 penalty for a negative review?

Recent examples include a Utah couple that made a small purchase (less than $20) from an online retailer called Kleargear.

The couple never received their order, so they wrote a bad review of Kleargear. They were slammed with a $3,500 penalty from the company.

Luckily the court ruled in favor of the customers, charging Kleargear over $300,000 for damaging the couple’s credit score.

The laws aren’t universal yet

The court also dismissed a suit in which a Texas pet sitter tried to sue customers $1 million for writing a bad review on Yelp. As the court has shown, these non-disparagement fees are almost impossible to enforce since they violate the consumer’s First Amendment rights.

Congress is working to bring the law into line. They recently passed a bill preventing companies from using gag clauses.

Get to know the Consumer Review Freedom Act

The Consumer Review Freedom Act will give the Federal Trade Commission and attorneys general the power to prevent companies from using gag clauses. The Act was passed by the Senate in late 2015, and its companion bill passed in September of this year.

“By ending gag clauses, this legislation supports consumer rights and the integrity of critical feedback about products and services sold online,” said the bill’s sponsor, Senator John Thune.

Now that the election is over and Congress is back in session, the bill will be passed to the White House, where Obama is expected to sign it into law.

#GagClausesGagged

Ellen Vessels, a Staff Writer at The American Genius, is respected for their wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

Business News

Wal-mart can’t keep up even with fresh online technology

(BUSINESS NEWS) Wal-mart had hoped to keep online retailers from encroaching on their turf with AI assisted shopping start up Jetblack, but unfortunately that didn’t work.

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Wal-Mart’s exclusive delivery service, JetBlack, is no more. What’s the deal?

Wal-Mart’s acquired start-up, JetBlack, had an interesting challenge: getting affluent New Yorkers to purchase goods from Wal-Mart, instead of other places. Now, about two years after its initial launch, JetBlack has been shut down. So, what’s the deal?

JetBlack was a delivery service with an interesting twist: it utilized AI to respond to text message requests. For instance, users could send a text like “I need more toilet paper” and drawing from initial information input into the system, past experiences, and the occasional “professional shopper,”, JetBlack would hook the user up with a delivery.

The AI could also give suggestions if users asked questions. Don’t want to shop for your niece’s birthday present? No problem, JetBlack would give you ideas of what to purchase and then deliver the gift to your door, gift-wrapped and everything.

By increasing the convenience of the shopping experience, Wal-Mart hoped to use JetBlack to lure wealthy households back to buying from Wal-Mart. Membership fees were $50 a month, which seems steep, but Wal-Mart asserts it was actually losing about $15,000 per member on a yearly basis. Awkward.

So, what went wrong?

Part of the problem might be just how much work went into a small percentage of customers. For instance, it took effort to get new users onboarded. Best case scenario, this was a phone call to tackle basic needs and interests, but users could also opt to have employees visit their home and assess their preferences in person. (It’s also incredibly creepy, but hey, at least there’s additional convenience?) Point is, these personal touches aren’t exactly sustainable for a growing market.

It also might just be that Wal-Mart wasn’t really skilled at putting this newly acquired start-up to work. An interview with Business Insider reveals that the ordeal, while expensive, also served as a massive learning process.

While JetBlack has ended its current run (and lost a number of employees in the process), the technology developed by the company will live on. In fact, Wal-Mart is going to try to strengthen their infrastructure and hopefully integrate JetBlack’s texting and AI capabilities in a wider release. Who knows, maybe in the future, more of us will be able to send off a text to have someone else take on the challenge of purchasing our niece’s birthday present.

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Business News

How remote work has changed over the last decade

(BUSINESS NEWS) let’s reflect on how remote working and telecommuting has changed in recent years and look to how it will continue to change in the 2020s.

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As someone who often works remote, it’s interesting to see how much that means for work has evolved. The increase in commonality has been steady, and shows no signs of slowing down. Go Remotely has developed an insightful graphic showing the changes in trends regarding remote work over the years.

“For decades, the established economy dictated that you should pick one job, visit the same office for the next 40 years, and then retire,” reads the graphic’s intro. “However, recent remote working stats suggest the working world might be in for some revolutionary changes.”

From there, the graphic is broken down into five facets: Flexible Workspace Policy, Entrepreneurial Minds, Telecommuting is a Growing Trend, The Role of Companies in the Remote Working World, and The Future of Telecommuting.

With Flexible Workspace Policy, its suggested that telecommuting could be a solution for costly issues including lack of productivity caused by employee distractions, health problems, etc. It is said that employers lose $1.8 trillion annually due to these issues.

The end of 2018 found 35 percent of the US workforce working remotely. This is only expected to climb. Ten percent of employees don’t know if their company offers flexible work policies (this is something to check into!)

Bills and laws for virtual jobs passed by governments reflect the need for accessibility, economic stability, and emigration concerns. Companies with flexible work policies have reported seeing increases in productivity and profits. (Funny those both start with pro, no?)

With Entrepreneurial Minds, a few interesting things found include: remote workers are less likely to take off if they are sick, the majority reports better productivity when working alone, the majority reported lower stress levels. However, there is a problem with not being able to unplug after work which is an issue for some.

Telecommuting is a Growing Trend finds that there has been a seven percent increase between 2012 and 2016, with the majority (80-100 percent) reporting they work remotely. Industries seen embracing remote work include: transportation, computer/information systems/mathematical, arts/design/entertainment/sports/media, finance/insurance/real estate, law or public policy, community/social services, science/engineering/architecture, manufacturing or construction, healthcare, education/training/library, and retail.

The Role of Companies in the Remote Working World finds that the pros to hiring remote workers includes: finding talent outside of your geographic area, improves retention on work/life balance, increases productivity by decreasing commute time, and saves money by requiring less office space. The cons include lack of timeliness when it comes to receiving information from employers.

Finally, the Future of Telecommuting suggests that in 2020 the US mobile worker population will surpass 105 million (and will account for 72 percent of the US workforce). Hiring managers predict that telecommuting will increase tremendously, most skills will become even more niche over the next decade, and many think that 38 percent of their full-time workers will be working remotely in the next decade.

How do you feel about the increase in remote working and telecommuting?

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Business News

ClickUp team productivity app is gorgeous and wildly efficient

(BUSINESS NEWS) Seeking to improve your productivity and speed up your team, ClickUp is an inexpensive option for those obsessed with efficiency.

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Back again to obsess over productivity apps – ClickUp, is a project management tool seeking to knock the frustration out of PM. It’s getting some good reviews, so I gave it a try for a week by setting up my current job search as a project and getting a feel for the app. And as you’ve read in my other reviews, we will address features and design.

On the feature front, ClickUp offers a pretty standard set up of tools for a productivity app. What stands out first and foremost are the status options. In general, most productivity statuses are simple: not started, started, in progress, done, etc.

But ClickUp lets you set up custom statuses that match your workflow.

For example, if you’re doing instructional design projects, you may assign projects based on where they are flowing in an ADDIE model, or if you are a Realtor, you may have things cataloged by sold, in negotiation, etc.

Customization is king and custom status is the closest you get to building your own app. And if you like it simple, you don’t have to customize it. The assigned comments feature lets you follow up on specific comments that originate action items – which is useful in team collaborations.

You can also assign changes to multiple tasks at once, including changing statuses (I would bulk assign completion tasks when I finished applications that I did in batches). There a lot of features here, but the best feature is how the app allows you to toggle on and off features that you will or won’t use – once again, customization is front and center for this platform.

In terms of design and intuive use, ClickUp nailed it.

It’s super easy to use, and the concept of space is pretty standard in design thinking. If your organization uses Agile methodology, this app is ready for you.

In terms of view, you can declutter the features, but the three viewing modes (list, box, and board) can help you filter the information and make decisions quickly depending on what role you have on a board or project. There is also a “Me” board that removes all the clutter and focuses on your tasks – a great way to do focused productivity bursts. ClickUp describes itself as beautifully intuitive, and I can’t disagree – both the web app and mobile app are insanely easy to use.

No complaints here.

And the horizon looks good for ClickUp – with new features like image markup, Gannt charts (!!!!!! #nerdalert), and threaded comments for starts.

This application is great, and it’s got a lot of growth coming up to an already rich feature base. It’s free with 100MB of storage, but the $5 fee for team member per month that includes team onboarding and set up (say you’re switching from another platform) and Dropbox/Google Docs integration? That’s a bargain, Charlie.

ClickUp is on the way up and it’s got it all – features, a beautifully accessible UI, relentless customization, and lot of new and upcoming features. If you’re into the productivity platform and you’re looking for a new solution for your team, go check it out.

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