Sunday, November 27, 2011

Online shopping at work

The holiday season began with the best Black Friday online sales ever, $816 million up by 26 percent compared to last year. Going by the trend sales on Cyber Monday, the big day in online shopping, look promising as well. According to comScore, last year Cyber Monday sales were the biggest and raked in over $1 billion.

Unfortunately as the name suggests it happens to be on a Monday when people are at work. That means in order to grab one of those online deals you have the difficult task of maintaining the "work-shop" balance.

According to Careerbuilder survey, 50 percent of American workers plan to spend time holiday shopping online at work this season – on par with 52 percent last year. Of these workers, 34 percent will spend one hour or more shopping (up from 27 percent in 2010) and 16 percent will spend two or more hours (up from 13 percent in 2010). Employers do notice this and 7 percent of human resource managers surveyed have fired an employee for holiday shopping.

In another survey organized by Robert Half Technology, 60 percent of the 1400 CIOs interviewed from companies across US having more than 100 employees said their companies block access to online shopping sites. This percentage is up from 48 percent in 2010. 23 percent plan to monitor employee activity for excessive non-work related use. The CIOs whose firms allow online shopping said they expect employees to spend four hours per week, on average, surfing for deals this holiday season. For the ones who think otherwise here is an interesting study by National University of Singapore researchers that claims browsing the Internet serves an important restorative function and enhances workers productivity.

Interesting consequence of this at work limitation would be more sales using mobile devices. According to IBM, this year Black Friday mobile deal seeker traffic increased to 14.3 percent compared to 5.6 percent the previous year. Apple devices accounted for 10.2 percent of this traffic (iPhone 5.4 percent and iPad 4.8 percent), Android came in third at 4.1 percent.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Return Fraud in the Retail Industry

Analysts are predicting a good year for retail sales, already we saw a good kick off to the Black Friday with retailers opening stores early thereby increasing sales.

We all know after a big sales day we immediately see a lot of people in the returns line. According to National Retail Federation (NRF) annual return fraud survey of 103 retailers, this year customer returns in the retail industry will see $217 billions in return, a jump of 15% compared to last year. Out of this $46.28 billion of it will be the holiday merchandise returns. This amounts to 8.92% average sales return and 9.94% average holiday sales return.

So how much of its fraud? NRF estimates retailers will lose an estimated $3.48 billion to return fraud this holiday season, down from $3.73 billion last year. Annual return fraud will cost retailers an estimated $14.37 billion in 2011, up slightly from $13.66 billion in 2010.

What constitutes a fraud and what's the impact on retailers? Return of stolen merchandise and employee return fraud or collusion with external sources affect 89.1% of the retailers. Return of merchandise purchased on fraudulent or stolen tender comes next with 81.2%. Wardrobing, that is, the return of used, non-defective merchandise like special occasion apparel and certain electronics affects 61.2% of retailers while 38.6% retailers have found criminals using counterfeit receipts to return merchandise.

So how are retailers countering return fraud? Most retailers as you may have experienced when making returns require identification. The survey found significantly less fraudulent returns when a receipt is present 2.89% as compared to 14.02% without a receipt. Therefore 62.1% of retailers now require customers returning items without a receipt to show identification while only 10.7% of retailers require customers making returns with a receipt to show identification.

Retailers have to walk a fine line when preventing return fraud as this could be perceived by customers as a hassle in their overall shopping experience. Companies have often used "hassle-free" returns as a competitive differentiator so ability to have more flexible and lenient return policy while reducing fraud is critical.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Apple's Black Friday Sales Event

Apple announced their one day shopping event on Black Friday. Definitely anything that Apple does draws a lot of attention so wanted to see how good these deals were compared to other stores.

First up is one of the most desired products of the holiday season - iPad 2. The discounts ranged from $41 on 16 GB model to $61 on 64 GB model. Local Micro Center store was selling them for a $50 discount on all models before the Black Friday and the sale goes on until Dec 4th. Best Buy is selling at a $45 discount and the prices are valid until at least Nov 26th. So unless you are planning to buy a 64 GB model Apple deal is no deal.

Another popular device is the iPod Touch which had discounts ranging from $21 on the 8 GB model to $41 on the 64 GB model. Best Buy is also selling at $21 discount. So again unless you plan to buy the higher end model there is no saving.

The Apple iPod Nano had a $11 discount. Best Buy is selling at $5 discount, in addition they are offering a free $15 Best Buy gift card.

As for the the MacBooks Apple had a discount of $101. Again a quick check with Best Buy online showed a discount of $150 for the MacBook Air 11in 64GB model. Similarly the MacBook Pro had a $150 discount at Best Buy. Best Buy would be the choice compared to Apple.

Apple is offering discounts for accessories as well but I didn't research those. From the little I researched I think the Apple event fell short of its hype. The deals are very similar to what Apple offered a year before.

Here's a deal that seemed really exciting, the Sifteo Cubes Thanksgiving offer. The Sifteo pack containing 3 cubes sells for $149 and additional cubes sell for $45 each. As part of the Thanksgiving offer which is valid until November 28th buying a Sifteo Pack will get you a Sifteo Cube for free. The product was recently named the winner of the 2011 Best of What's New award by Popular Science Magazine.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tracing our roots

Tracing our roots is a topic that interests almost everyone. Who were our earliest ancestors? Where did they come from? All these are fascinating questions that most of us would definitely be interested in knowing answers to.

A step in this direction is the Genographic Project, combined work of National Geographic and IBM. The project started in 2005 as a five-year project however research work will continue through 2011. The project aims to collect and analyze DNA samples voluntarily contributed by hundreds of thousands of people including indigenous and traditional populations and the general public making it unique in terms of scale. The project aims to answer the age old question - Who are we and where did we come from? The research will be based on DNA as it contains key genetic markers that have remained relatively unaltered over hundreds of generations, thus making genetic histories reliable indicators of ancient migratory patterns.

The project is different from other related projects like Human Genome Diversity Project especially in terms of objectives, approach, and methodology. This is non-profit, non-medical research and non-political. All the information learned from the project will be released in the global public domain and no patents will be filed.

Even though complete analysis of the data collected during the study will take atleast a few years after its completion this year some interesting facts are already emerging. One such report was released earlier this month confirmed that African populations are the most diverse on Earth and the diversity of lineage outside Africa is part of the subcontinent. The study finds early humans migrated from Africa via the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait in Arabia into India and then heading north and into Eurasia, see the adjoining map.

One research studied the human remains found at one of the earliest farming sites in Germany inhabited 5500-5000 BC. The study revealed that the earliest farmers were populations from the Near East that migrated, rather than the early Stone Age hunters-gatherers who preexisted in that area.

Another research found that the Phoenicians who gave the world the alphabet and a love of the color purple left some people their genes as well, contrary to the belief that they completely vanished around 2nd century BC. The study found that as many as one in 17 men in the Mediterranean basin may have a Phoenician as a direct male-line ancestor.

More research findings can be tracked at the Genographics Project Updates page including the lineage of Charles Darwin, the man who wrote "Origin of Species".

Since the project has been using voluntarily obtained DNA samples from various people there is a Public Participation Kits that one can buy to participate. The identity will remain anonymous and one will be able to see the results online. The kit that is mailed includes two cheek scrapers and two vials as well as a self-addressed envelope to return your sample. The results of the genetic sample will be available in approximately 6 to 8 weeks upon the availability of your sample.

Black Friday - What's new?

Black Friday has been historically one of the most popular shopping days with people lining in numbers in front of the local stores hours before they open.

So what's different about the Black Friday this year? Here are a few things that have made news recently:
  • Stores are planning to open early, even as early as Thursday evening. Toys R Us store opens at 9:00 pm Thurday night followed by Walmart at 10:00 pm. Other retailers like Target, Macys, Kohl's and Best Buy all open at midnight. Close to 200,000 signatures were collected at to protest the early opening of Target store.
  • Occupy movement made famous by Occupy Wall Street is targeting a similar operation Occupy Black Friday to keep shoppers away from big box stores and other national retailers to help the local mom and pop stores. The tea party is organizing an anti-occupy movement.
  • Malls for the first time will be tracking cell phones to do some market research on customer behaviors. The tracking will be at the Promenade Temecula in southern California and Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, Va. and will last from Black Friday through New Year's day and will be done anonymously.
Also over the past 5 years more and more people are turning to online stores like Amazon and eBay. comScore in its holiday online spending report has forecasted an annual growth of 15% with online retail spending for the November – December period to reach $37.6 billion. Keeping this in mind here is a nice Infographic noting a few things that web users can do to better protect themselves from online scams.

Black Friday Cyber Monday Hacks and Scams
 Infographic by Veracode Application Security

Happy Thanksgiving and an enjoyable shopping!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

7 Billion and Counting

October 31st was an important milestone for our planet and our race, the human population crossed the 7 billion mark. National Geographic Magazine published a year long series of interesting articles covering the various aspects of world population. Here is the introductory video:

One of the most critical question that comes to the mind is whether our planet can sustain this population growth. Following article questions this obsession saying the real issue is how best we utilize the resources available on the planet.

Here is another interesting video from National Geographic Magazine showing that the world's most typical person is a 28 year old han chinese man. By 2030 this would be someone in India as it overtakes China in population.

Not surprisingly there were atleast a few babies from different countries that claimed the title of the 7 billionth baby - Danica May Camacho of the Philippines, Nargis Yadav of India and Muthumali of Sri Lanka to name a few.