Amazon says it can ship items before customers order

 

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Online retail giant Amazon says it knows its customers so well it can start shipping even before orders are placed.

The Seattle-based company, which late last year said it wants to use drones to speed package delivery, gained a patent last month for what it calls “anticipatory shipping,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

Amazon, the Journal reported, says it may box and ship products that it expects customers in a specific area will want, based on previous orders and other factors it gleans from its customers’ shopping patterns, even before they place an online order.

Among those other factors: previous orders, product searches, wish lists, shopping cart contents, returns and other online shopping practices.

Amazon has worked to cut delivery times as a way of encouraging more orders and satisfying customers, such as by expanding its warehouse network and making some overnight and even same-day deliveries.

Amazon didn’t estimate how much delivery time it expects to save, or whether it has already put its new system to work, the Journal reported.

“It appears Amazon is taking advantage of their copious data,” Sucharita Mulpuru, a Forrester Research analyst, told the Journal. “Based on all the things they know about their customers they could predict demand based on a variety of factors.”

To minimize the cost of unwanted returns, Amazon said it might consider giving customers discounts or even make the delivered item a gift.

“Delivering the package to the given customer as a promotional gift may be used to build goodwill,” the patent said.

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CONVENIENCE IS KING IN TODAY’S RETAIL WORLD

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Consumers lead busy lives and their time is becoming more limited and fragmented every day. So when it comes to shopping, they may not always be 100 percent focused or fully engaged in the task at hand. So in order to keep up with them, retailers are increasingly finding that they need to innovate in ways that make it easier and more convenient for their customers to get what they need and not miss a beat in the process.

Innovation can take many forms. While breakthroughs like cellular networking and seedless watermelons are tangible examples of innovation, there’s no denying the impact that advancements like multi-platform store formats and online shopping have had on the retail landscape. In fact, according ot the Continuous Innovation: The Key To Retail Success report, convenience may just be the most creative and energetic example of retail innovation.

STANDING OUT WITH CHANNEL AND FORMAT

Channel and format are the stand-out examples of innovation in the retail space. U.K.-based Tesco PLC is one major retailer that has adapted its physical store offerings to meet customer demand for convenience. Notably, Tesco operates four different formats to ensure that its customers have quick and easy access to its offerings regardless of whether they live in dense metro areas or the outskirts of town. Even Walmart, whose superstore concept made it the largest retailer in the world, is testing two smaller formats—even though it continues to expand its traditional supermarket format in the U.S.

As a format in-and-of-itself, brick-and-mortar continues to maintain a strong footing with consumers, particularly as retailers diversify their available store configurations for specific customer needs, online is changing how shoppers interact with stores. This in turn has prompted stores to change in response. For example, many companies with notable physical footprints have capitalized on the influence that online retailing offers by touting “click & collect” options, whereby customers shop online and pick up their items at a nearby store. This innovation is quite powerful, as it improves convenience dramatically for shoppers who find it inconvenient to wait at home during broad delivery windows.

European retailers such as Carrefour and Auchan are particularly advanced in the click & collect arena. France-based Auchan, for example, offers a drive-through service with spacious collection points, allowing shoppers to collect pre-ordered baskets without leaving their cars. Visible from the road, the service is ultra-convenient and serves as a powerful advertisement. But these trends aren’t just popping up in Europe. In the U.S., drug retailer Walgreens offers shoppers a variety of in-store and curbside pick-up options.

VIRTUAL SHOPS DELIVER REAL CONVENIENCE

Some innovations forge entirely new roads. The virtual supermarket, designed by Tesco and launched in South Korean subway stations in 2011, is one such example.

For Koreans, shopping is a much-dreaded task, so Tesco decided to offer them the convenience of browsing through displays of the same merchandise offered in its stores. To make purchases, consumers simply scan QR (quick response) codes of the items they wish to purchase and then click the send button on a smartphone app. Tesco then delivers the merchandise to the consumers shortly after they get home. The results speak for themselves: online sales increased by 130 percent and site registrations grew by 76 percent in just a few months.

By taking a dramatically unique step outside the box, Tesco, which later teamed up with Samsung to later open a more robust version of the virtual store concept in Seoul, debuted an experience that has since been mimicked by several other retail companies. Eighteen months later, Peapod (U.S.), Cold-Storage (Singapore), Woolworths (Australia) and Yihoudian (China) had created virtual platforms of their own.

Are there more convenience roads to explore? Of course. Recent offerings essentially make it easier for consumers to purchase and receive. Today’s tools, however, offer companies and brands insight into when consumers will need to replenish. The ability to make these types of predictions will likely put retailers with loyalty data in an advantageous position. Notably, we’ve already seen how Amazon walks people through the process of choosing goods, quantities and a delivery schedule on a “save, set and forget” basis. So brick-and-mortar” players will need to respond to stay competitive.

In today’s digital world, the one thing traditional retailers have that online operators don’t—physical stores—needs to be an asset rather than a liability. And those assets need to include entertaining, exciting, and emotionally engaging experiences.

BACKSEAT DRIVING IS WELCOME ON THE ROAD TO FINANCIAL GOALS

 

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Managing money can be difficult no matter where we live, and in many cases, it feels like we spend our cash before we earn it. In fact, Nielsen reports that globally, we save or invest just 10 percent of our monthly income on average. Is that enough? How prepared are we for an unexpected household emergency, health issue or job loss? What about long-term financial security and saving for our children’s future?

To help understand consumer sentiment around these questions, Nielsen conducted a global study that polled more than 30,000 Internet respondents in 60 countries about current and future financial goals and the strategies we use to prepare for them. The findings revealed that the glass was half full for nearly seven out of 10 global respondents (69%), as they believed they would achieve all of their financial goals for the future. Yet, of those, only 28 percent felt that their current financial planning would get them there. The remaining majority of confident respondents (41%) were less self-assured, conceding that they would need to closely monitor and adjust investments from time to time to best meet their financial expectations. On the other hand, nearly one-third of global respondents (31%) said they have no confidence they will meet their financial goals with either current or modified asset allocations.

Overall, financial confidence was highest in Asia-Pacific, where more than two-thirds (78%) of respondents said their planning was sound and on track for the future (32% were satisfied with their current plan and 46% plan to make adjustments). Financial planning was also in good standing among two-thirds of respondents in Middle East/Africa (67%), North America (66%) and Latin America (62%), as about one-fourth in each region said they are satisfied with their existing strategies.

BRIGHTER DAYS AHEAD FOR INVESTORS

“There’s always tomorrow” captures the attitude of global respondents, who by and large plan to invest to meet financial goals in the future, rather than actively save now. Across 14 saving goals reviewed, respondents’ intentions to save in the future were stronger than active intentions for all but one financial goal—saving for health-related issues, whereby global active savers outnumbered future savers by just 1 percentage point (42% active savers vs. 41% future savers).

Overall, plans to save in the future were strongest among respondents in the Asia-Pacific, Latin America and Middle East/Africa regions, especially with respect to intentions to fund their children’s futures, higher education, first- and second-time property purchases, personal luxuries, financial legacy and new businesses.

“The greater number of respondents planning to save in the future versus saving now suggests an opportunity to better educate consumers on saving and investment strategies that will help them meet their financial goals,” said Oliver Rust, senior vice president, Global Financial Services, Nielsen. “It also shines a light on the growing wealth accumulation among consumers in the more developing regions of the world and their aspirations for upward mobility with a more secure financial future.”

Other findings include:

  • Insight into global saving strategies for short-term, long-term and life-event goals.
  • Time table for now vs. later saving intentions.
  • Quick-reference scorecards by saving goals.

For more detail and insight, download Nielsen’s Global Saving/Investing report.

The Top 7 Technology Trends That Will Dominate 2014

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Strap yourself in, it’s going to be a wild ride. In considering the changes we’ve seen in technology over the past year, I’m bracing myself for unprecedented growth when it comes to anytime, anywhere, on-demand information and entertainment.

Based on the trends we’ve seen so far in 2013, I predict 2014 will see many fledgling technologies mature and grow beyond what we could have imagined just a few years ago.

1. Consumers will come to expect Smart TV capabilities

With Smart TV shipments expected to reach 123 million in 2014 – up from about 84 million in 2012 – we are poised to see explosive growth in this industry.

In the midst of this growth, we will continue to see fierce competition between major players like Samsung, Panasonic, and LG. Prices will need to continue to drop, as more consumers crave, and even expect, the ability to use Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video and their web browser via their TV.

Of course, the development we’re all waiting for in 2014 is the release of Apple’s much anticipated iTV. It appears the iTV is now in the early development stage, and that Apple may be in the process of making a deal with Time Warner to facilitate programming on Apple devices.

The device is rumoured to include iCloud sync, the ability to control your iPhone, and ultra HD LCD panels. Keep an eye out for this release as early as summer 2014.

2. Smart watches will become ‘smarter’

Rather than having to pull out your smartphone or tablet for frequent email, text and social media updates, you’ll glance at your watch.

2014 is the year to keep an eye out for the Google watch. Rumor has it the device will integrate with Google Now, which aims to seamlessly provide relevant information when and where you want it (and before you’d asked for it).

We’ll see smart watches become even smarter, learning what news and updates are important to us, when we want to receive them, and responding more accurately to voice controls.

3. Google Glass will still be in “wait and see” mode

While Google Glass hasn’t yet been released to the general public, we’ve heard enough about it to know it’s still very early days for this technology. With an estimated 60,000 units expected to sell in 2013, and a predicted several million in 2014, it’s still a long way from becoming a common household technology.

These augmented reality glasses allow you to access information like email and texts, take hands-free pictures and videos, effortlessly translate your voice, and even receive overlaid walking, cycling or driving directions, right within your field of vision.

It’s predicted that both Google Glass 2.0, and its companion, the Glass App Store, should be released to the general public sometime in 2014.

Be on the lookout for competition in this market, particularly from major players like Samsung. I predict we’ll see much of this competition aimed at niche markets like sports and healthcare.

4. Other applications and uses for Apple’s TouchID will emerge

The release of the iPhone 5S has, for the first time, made on-the-go fingerprint security a reality. The potential for Touch ID technology to really take off is, I believe, an inevitable reality. Touch ID, which uses a high-resolution camera to scan your fingerprint, allows convenient ultra-security for your iPhone.

Currently, the technology is limited; the only real uses are unlocking your iPhone, and making purchases in the App store. I predict that we’ll see this technology incorporated into other Apple products soon. I think we’ll even see TouchId integrated into MacBook products later this year or next.

5. Xbox One and PS4 will blur the lines between entertainment and video gaming

The new gaming consoles (Xbox One and PS4) will increasingly integrate social media-like connectivity between players. Players could have followers, work together to achieve in-game goals, and new technology will allow for equally-skilled players to compete.

The PS4, slated to be released November 15th, will track both the controller and the player’s face and movements for more intuitive play.

Apart from great gaming, these systems will allow for a far more integrative entertainment experience. For instance, rather than switching between TV, gaming, music and sports, you’ll be able to do two or even three activities side-by-side, or by easily switching back and forth.

6. 3D Printing will begin to revolutionize production

We’ve seen a huge rise in the popularity of 3D printing this year, coupled with a dramatic fall in pricing. The ability to easily create multi-layered productsthat are actually usable – well, that’s pretty amazing.

I’ll be watching for a movement towards simple products being produced close to home, and to greater customization given the ease of manufacturing. I think it’s inevitable that manufacturing in countries such as China will become less appealing and lucrative for businesses given the high costs of shipping and managing overseas contracts.

I don’t expect these changes to reach their full effect in 2014, however I believe businesses will be starting to consider how this will affect their production plans for 2015 and beyond.

7. The movement towards natural language search will make search more accurate and intuitive

With the emergence of intelligent personal assistantslike Google Now and Apple’s Siri, the goal is to have information intuitively delivered to you, often before you even ask for it. The shift seems to be away from having to actively request data, and instead to have it passively delivered to your device.

Natural language search will continue to overtake keyword-based search, as seen by Google’s move towards longer, more natural searches in its recent release of Hummingbird, Google’s largest algorithm update thus far.

Why oil prices plunged today and could keep falling

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Oil prices plummeted today after reports of a two-week halt to protests that have blocked Libyan crude exports, and an economic slowdown in China. The plunge reflects the primary role of local politics and economics—in China, Libya, Nigeria, Iran and elsewhere beyond—in determining oil prices. It also rekindles the longstanding debate over whether we’re in an age of oil abundance or scarcity.

The debate goes like this: Last year was supposed to initiate a long slide in oil prices lasting through the end of the decade and beyond, according to many forecasters, driven largely by a surge in US oil production to 7.7 million barrels a day as of October. But an outbreak of local and geopolitical trouble (such as the increased theft of Nigerian oil, pictured above) shut off about 3.5 million barrels of global supply, led traders to keep global prices above $100 a barrel–and provided ammunition for opposing forecasters who believe in oil scarcity.

Until today, that is, when protesters at Libya’s Al-Sharara field said they will lift a two-month-old blockade of 350,000 barrels a day of production after promises of agreater say in government decisions. In addition, a widely watched HSBC index showed that Chinese manufacturing barely grew in December, its slowest rate in three months. And the new year began with the perception of a “U.S. better supplied with oil than at any time in history,” Phil Flynn, an analyst with the Price Futures Group, wrote on his blog.

As a result, international benchmark Brent crude plummeted by 2.7%, to $107.78 a barrel. The US-traded benchmark was down 3% to $95.44 a barrel, its lowest price in months.

The price decline boosts those who argue that oil abundance will bring on a decade-long period of relatively low oil prices. Among the leaders of this group is Citi’s Edward Morse, who forecasts (pdf) oil prices averaging $80 a barrel through 2020 and beyond

But an equally fervent if less vocal group of analysts say that while appearances have changed, the global oil market has not; supplies remain tight and oil prices are on the way up, they say. In a note to clients today, Oswald Clint’s research group at Sanford Bernstein forecasts almost double Morse’s oil price estimate—$158 a barrel in 2020

Bernstein’s arguments, among others, are that the US surge will be less than many expect, that global demand will surpass supply growth, and that OPEC nations can’t subsist at sub-$100-a-barrel and will cut production to hold that as a price bottom.

Citi forecasts $98-per-barrel Brent in 2014, down from an average of $108.71 last year; Bernstein says prices will average $110. They are the extremes: A Bloomberg survey of last year’s most-accurate oil forecasters produced a prediction of $105 a barrel in 2014.

As today’s price plunge shows, the answer will be much less mysterious than these forecasts make it seem. As with 2013, it will boil down to local and global politics: If the US and Iran harden their November deal with a nuclear settlement that lifts sanctions, that alone should send prices down—not because new Iranian oil supplies will flow immediately onto the market (it will take time), but because of the chances for a period of lower tensions. If you get that and a political agreement among tribes and clans in Libya, resulting in a full resumption of its 1.6 million barrels of supply, Ed Morse will deserve a handshake.