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How COVID is driving the whole economy

(MARKETING) Coronavirus is turning the traditional consumer-model on its head. How are our changes in needs purchases affecting the economy?

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Woman grocery shopping, showing economy changes

The consumer landscape has shifted since the start of COVID-19. Americans are going out less frequently, which means less money is being spent on eating out and travel. As a result, consumers are splurging more on luxury foods, clothes, and other items. The logic is: When you don’t need to fill up the gas tank to commute to work or bring your children to school, that money can be used on other things that you might not have had the disposable income to buy before. But there is more to this new COVID-era economy than a simple reshuffling of what we spend our money on.

There are indistinct, whole-sector trends regarding what Americans are now buying or not buying. For example, there was a massive e-commerce push in the fashion industry when brick-and-mortar stores began to shut down, but since people aren’t going out as much, there is less incentive to buy new clothes and keep up with fashion trends. There has been, however, an increase in luxury athleisurewear sales, such as Lululemon yoga pants ($105) – the demand for which has increased, driving the price up. If you’re going to be spending most of your time at home, might as well do so in luxury comfort.

The money that one would have typically spent on going out to eat a few times a week, or for purchasing a daily coffee on the way to work, is now increasingly being spent on at-home alternatives. Americans are now spending more on coffee, eggs, and ketchup – to name a few.

These changes in consumer culture are also affecting how manufacturers are packaging items. For example, Cal-Maine Foods Inc.– the egg market leader – has reported a shortage of cartons. Pre-COVID, Cal-Maine was mostly providing powdered eggs to restaurants whereas now their focus has shifted to egg cartons for grocery stores, as COVID-19 has elicited higher rates for household egg consumption.

This trend can also be observed in the condiment industry, where there has been an increase in demand for domestic, fridge-sized bottles, and a decrease in the gallon-jug sized products intended for supplying restaurants. In the case of market giant Kraft Heinz, consumers are spending 10% more ketchup, mayonnaise, and vinegar this year – a price mark-up that many see as opportunistic and profit-seeking during a pandemic, but which the company claims is due to increased difficulties in manufacturing during this time.

Amidst mass layoffs, many Americans are actually doing quite well financially, all things considered. Along with decreased overall spending, the majority of Americans are either working from home or collecting unemployment. With the added cushion of the first stimulus check – which was distributed in the spring – some Americans are even more well-off monetarily than they were last year, which typically drives the economy.

However, the first round of COVID-related benefits expired on July 31st, which left around 30 million unemployed Americans without the additional weekly $600. As of now, there is no solid federal plan to continue the COVID-19 benefits. With many Americans adjusting to life without the disposable income they had in the spring and early summer, analysts predict recessionary spending behavior in the fall and winter.

Because so much is unknown about government assistance, the economy, and the coronavirus itself at this time, it’s difficult for economists to predict future market trends. While it’s not good for business, almost all remains uncertain.

Anaïs DerSimonian is a writer, filmmaker, and educator interested in media, culture and the arts. She is Clark University Alumni with a degree in Culture Studies and Screen Studies. She has produced various documentary and narrative projects, including a profile on an NGO in Yerevan, Armenia that provides micro-loans to cottage industries and entrepreneurs based in rural regions to help create jobs, self-sufficiency, and to stimulate the post-Soviet economy. She is currently based in Boston. Besides filmmaking, Anaïs enjoys reading good fiction and watching sketch and stand-up comedy.

Real Estate Marketing

Chill, Zillow! Real estate giant gets yet another patent

(MARKETING) Zillow grabs yet another broadly worded patent that stands to screw over small businesses. When will it end? …Can it end?

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Pen drawing blueprints, another Zillow patent in the works

In a move that’s surprising to pretty much no one, Zillow gained another patent this year — this time having to do with the presentation of and navigation through photos. Even for the patent fiends themselves, this one is a stretch.

We’ve covered Zillow’s overzealous patent-grabbing before. Between snatching 17 patents over the last decade—one of which deals with the simple matter of filtered searches—and going through a few rounds of finger-pointing with IBM over patent trolling, the real estate company hasn’t exactly endeared itself on this front.

Now, Zillow has succeeded in securing a patent that is sure to throw a wrench in the operation practices of plenty of websites.

The patent itself addresses “image transition sequences between viewing locations”, but the parameters of that description are imaginably vast. Among these parameters are “simulated movement”—whether that be through zooming or simple sequential arrangement of photos—and other effects such as blending, blurring, or rotating.

Presentation methods such as panoramas, videos, and animations are also covered in the patent.

It’s not that Zillow shouldn’t be able to patent something that they pioneered vis-a-vis the field of real estate. But the language in this particular patent is problematic. By securing such a broadly worded option, Zillow has the power to severely restrict the operating potential of competitors. Considering how established Zillow already is in the real estate market, putting another obstacle in front of any feasible competition feels like a cheap shot.

More importantly, Zillow has demonstrated that a feature used by tons of different services can be intercepted and controlled with, apparently, little in the way of regulation. If Zillow wasn’t already under a microscope for their patent-nabbing escapades of the last decade, there’s little hope that the real estate giant will have to answer for this obvious power grab as well.

Patent trolling remains a major issue in plenty of sectors, and real estate certainly isn’t exempt. Especially during a period of time in which small businesses will inherently struggle, patent hoarding and trolling should be met with the strictest of penalties. For now, though, competing real estate services will need to find a new way to conduct virtual tours without stepping on Zillow’s over-large toes.

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Real Estate Marketing

Expand your small business influence with these Instagram analytics tools

(MARKETING) Instagram analytics are crucial to small business success, and it’s worth looking outside Instagram’s in-app analytics for options.

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Instagram symbols on paper over a phone, analytics tracking that.

Chances are if you’re a small business, you’ve probably heard about social media analytics, whether you use them or not.

Instagram specifically has become one of the best platforms for brands to engage users. Businesses are using Instagram Reels to engage a younger audience already familiar with the TikTok format, as well as Instagram Shops which continues to revolutionize ecommerce. As a result, Instagram has 16x higher engagement for top brands compared to Facebook.

When taking advantage of all the features Instagram has to offer, it’s crucial to track user activity so that your brand can produce the most optimal social media presence possible. Here are some top-notch analytics suites geared specifically for small businesses.

Instagram Analytics Tool

The native analytics tool provided on the app may not be the most in-depth, but it is extremely user-friendly, as well as being fast and responsive. If you’re just starting out (or are simply curious about how your content is being consumed), check out Instagram’s native tool.

Owlmetrics

Owlmetrics focuses on demographic and audience analysis, meaning that it can assist brands in getting a clear understanding of their follower base. By using Owlmetrics for demographic breakdowns and tracking follower likes and dislikes, you can more accurately understand your brand’s audience. This is a great option for smaller brands that want to produce and deliver informed content that truly resonates with their followers.

Pixlee

Though not the most thorough of reporting solutions, Pixlee reigns supreme in its ability to quickly create sleek, sharable reports that track key metrics for broad analysis. It is free, but there are additional Pixlee features for a premium (such as an influencer discovery tool). If your brand doesn’t have an expansive social media marketing solution, Pixlee is a fantastic instrument to help with UGC and direct to consumer campaigns.

Iconosquare

When it comes to visualizations of follower growth, reach, and impressions, Iconosquare functions much like Instagram Insights, but does so more efficiently and in a more aesthetically pleasing fashion. Smaller businesses that are looking for a cheap, easy-to-use platform specifically for Instagram and Facebook should consider Iconosquare.

There are countless other analytics platforms out there that can help you and your brand thrive on social media. The trick is to find the right balance of cost and reward – and to invest in a suite that can help you best utilize all the features Instagram has to offer.

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Real Estate Marketing

DOJ prepares antitrust charges against Google, possibly this month

(MARKETING) The Department of Justice indicates that it may soon be bringing forth its antitrust charges against Google and alleged monopoly.

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Dino holding Google logo on campus.

After a year of investigations, the Department of Justice is preparing antitrust charges against Google. Signs indicate the case may be brought to the company as soon as the end of this month. The most indicative of which is Attorney General William Barr’s dismissal of the career lawyers. They had previously requested more time to build their case.

The DOJ has told lawyers conducting the antitrust inquiry into Alphabet Inc. to complete their work by the end of September. Alphabet is Google and YouTube’s parent company, which exercises a wide control over online search engines, video, and advertising markets.

A subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary panel has raised major concerns regarding the company’s ability to exploit and monopolize the market to fuel their own business ventures. Subsequently, the DOJ is asking Google about how it utilizes a mixture of strategies to entice advertisers and online publishers, such as bundling offers, giving discounts, or creating restrictions.

Other critics have pointed out how Google deploys software to manage each step of online advertising, playing both sides of the market. “In no other market does the party represent the seller, the buyer, makes the rules, and conduct the auction,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, in this week’s hearing. He also called Google’s monopolizing position “indefensible”.

Google’s president of global partnerships and corporate development, Don Harrison, responded to these allegations by pointing out that while the company leads in general online searches, consumers are more likely to turn to Amazon for product and commercial queries.

Google currently controls roughly 90% of online searches globally, aided by the fact that it’s become the default browser on phones through its Android operating system. About one-third of every dollar spent on online advertising also finds its way into Google’s hands. It’s likely we’ll see more movement in this massive case heading into the end of the year.

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