Oct 09

Daily Links for October 16th through October 22nd

All excerpts are quoted from the respective link(s).

  • The Ultimate Gadget Decision Flowchart [PIC] – Should get the new [insert gadget here] or not? [Note: A handy guide for gadget enthusiasts. But be honest with yourself, you're probably going to buy the thing anyway. It's so shiny!]
  • Remodeling Magazine: Home remodeling, kitchen and bath design … – Looks like the return on home improvements is suffering as much as the real estate market.
  • A Random Search Search for Excellence Why “great company” research delivers fables and not facts – Many believe that we can learn how to be great by studying greatness. But what is great performance? It turns out that we typically measure the wrong thing and set the bar far too low. Consequently, researchers who think they are studying successful companies are usually studying the winners of a random walk. What does this mean for the soundness of some of the most popular and influential management research? The bottom line: you can’t trust it.
  • What carries you up will also bring you down — cdixon.org – chris dixon’s blog – In every case you can find the one sentence or paragraph that describes their unique business model advantage. It could be their unique distribution system or the retailing model. It’s the factor that accounts for their success. It turns out the factor that explains their success at the beginning is what accounts for their failure later.
  • Amazon offers same-day delivery to select cities | Webware – CNET – Amazon customers placing deliveries within the cities of New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, Baltimore, Las Vegas, and Seattle, as well as "some surrounding areas," will now be able to receive shipments on the same day they place an order. The service will be coming to Chicago, Indianapolis, and Phoenix "in the coming months."

    Amazon said "thousands of items" are available now to customers living in those cities. The new option, called Local Express Delivery, will have varied pricing that depends on the type of product purchased. Amazon Prime members–customers who pay $79 per year to receive unlimited two-day shipping from the online retailer–will need to pay $5.99 per item for the service.

  • Invest in Collaborative Tools, Get More Than Double Return, Study Says – While the study shows that companies investing in top-of-the-range telepresence and telephony systems get the most return, even organizations deploying just basic collaborative tools (like IM and web conferencing) reap a return on collaborative investment of over two times. The study suggests this is because teams using collaborative tools can benefit from a network effect — the more users on a network, the more value is realized from it.
  • No-contract $30 / $45 Straight Talk wireless plans storm Walmart – Remember when TracFone horrified the world with its Straight Talk phone selection back in July? Clearly the suits in Bentonville weren't so scared, as now Walmart is latching on to that very plan and claiming it as its own. In over 3,200 of the outfit's retail stores across America, consumers will be able to snag an admittedly pathetic cellie and a rather decent calling plan for just $30 a month. Three Hamiltons gets you 1,000 voice minutes, 1,000 texts and 30MB of mobile web access, not to mention nationwide coverage and free 411 calls. If that's not quite enough, a $45 per month option provides unlimited everything (voice / SMS / mobile web). Of course, the price of using an antediluvian LG 220, LG Slider 290 or Samsung 451 can't be measured in mere dollars, but hey, humiliation's only temporary — right?

Sep 09

Something Old, Something New

As if you needed another reason to hate Walmart (all emphasis mine):

Around the time that the young Sam Walton opened his first stores, John Kennedy redeemed a presidential campaign promise by persuading Congress to extend the minimum wage to retail workers, who had until then not been covered by the law. Congress granted an exclusion, however, to small businesses with annual sales beneath $1 million — a figure that in 1965 it lowered to $250,000.

Walton was furious. The mechanization of agriculture had finally reached the backwaters of the Ozark Plateau, where he was opening one store after another. The men and women who had formerly worked on small farms suddenly found themselves redundant, and he could scoop them up for a song, as little as 50 cents an hour. Now the goddamn federal government was telling him he had to pay his workers the $1.15 hourly minimum. Walton’s response was to divide up his stores into individual companies whose revenues did not exceed the $250,000 threshold. Eventually, though, a federal court ruled that this was simply a scheme to avoid paying the minimum wage, and he was ordered to pay his workers the accumulated sums he owed them, plus a double-time penalty thrown in for good measure.

Wal-Mart cut the checks, but Walton also summoned the employees at a major cluster of his stores to a meeting. “I’ll fire anyone who cashes the check,” he told them.

Meanwhile, Max Baucus’ insurance-industry drafted bill includes the following loophole for corporations like Walmart:

So if Wal-Mart wanted to avoid paying anything for its employees under MaxTax, it could simply make sure that none of them made more than $14,403 a year (they’d have to do this by ensuring their employees worked fewer than 40 hours a week, since this works out to be slightly less than minimum wage). Or, a single mom with two kids could make $24,352–a whopping $11.71 an hour, working full time. That’s more than the average Wal-Mart employee made last year. So long as Wal-Mart made sure its employees applied for Medicaid (something it already does in states where its employees are eligible), it would pay nothing. Nada, zip. Nothing.

It would pay nothing while struggling middle class families would be forced to pay up to 31% of their incomes for health care.

Now obviously, it’s got to employ at least a few people who make more than poverty wages. But hundreds of thousands of Wal-Mart employees would qualify for and be provided for by Medicaid. Assuming that just 500,000 qualified, it would save Wal-Mart $1.25 billon of that $3.5 billion.

A $1.25 billion reward to Wal-Mart–a competitive advantage it would have–for paying shit wages.

And who will be paying that reward to encourage Wal-Mart to continue to pay shit wages? Why, that’d be our taxes, yours and mine.

Got that?   They end up on Government-run, taxpayer funded healthcare anyway.   The asterisk in Walmarts new logo is clearly a sphincter.

Jul 09

Daily Links for July 25th

All excerpts are quoted from the respective link(s).

Jan 09

Daily Links for January 30th

  • Dismal Science: What Is A Depression And Are We In One?
  • "State of the States" Series – Gallup.com's "State of the States" series reveals state-by-state differences in political party affiliation, religiosity, consumer confidence, and job-market conditions, based on Gallup Poll Daily tracking data collected throughout 2008.
  • RNC chairman vote enters fourth round – USATODAY.com – What an apt metaphor for the GOP! I say elect Rush!
  • Seed: 2009 Will Be a Year of Panic – As 2009 opens, our financial institutions are deep in massive, irrational panic. That's bad, but it gets worse: Many other respected institutions have rational underpinnings at least as frail as derivatives or bundled real-estate loans. Like finance, these institutions are social constructions. They are games of confidence, underpinned by people's solemn willingness to believe, to conform, to contribute. So why not panic over them, too?

    Let's consider seven other massive reservoirs of potential popular dread. Any one of these could erupt, shattering the fragile social compact we maintain with one another in order to believe things contrary to fact.

  • The Economy According To Mint – Is it Great Depression bad? That’s a qualitative question I can’t answer. But what the data, the hard facts, mean for you – if you run a consumer business – is that your customers are spending $400 less each month than they were a year ago, have burned through half of their savings, and on average have taken on an additional $5k in debt. Good decisions are based on good data. And data – in itself – may be one of the most valuable by-products of any startup.
  • How to Friend Mom, Dad, and the Boss on Facebook…Safely – ReadWriteWeb – I prefer to not let worlds collide.
  • Mapping and Animating Growth of Target Across United States | FlowingData – Well, fortune was smiling on me last week, and I got a hold of data for Target opening dates and locations (thnx, Cole). So here it is – a map that shows the growth of Target from 1962 through 2008.
  • Play-Doh!!! | MetaFilter – A collection of links to various Old Skool Play-Doh commercials on YouTube.
  • Black Swan author’s rules for living – Boing Boing – Avi sez, "Nassim Nicholas Taleb, gadfly author of The Black Swan, gives his 10 rules for surviving an unpredictable world with dignity."
  • The FT’s Online Business Model – Finance Blog – Felix Salmon – Market Movers – Portfolio.com – We've known for a while that the market for web display ads is slowing down or even getting smaller, even as the amount of inventory continues to rise dramatically. That makes a standard advertising-driven web strategy a recipe for shrinking revenues and disappearing profits. Grimshaw has a two-pronged approach to this problem, and half of it is very clever.

Feb 08

It’s the Disposable Income, Stupid!

There has been a trio of stories that have come out that point out the economic problem of rising inflation and stagnant wages and their affect on many American households.

First, we have the decline of US teen drivers from about 50% all the way down to 33%.   Then, in a local story, we have Pennsylvania State Senators worried about a dwindling lottery surplus, casting a suspicious eye at currently-being-implemented casinos.   Lastly, there is the NY Times story about the decline of Americans playing golf.

The reason I illustrate these is that there are all examples of items sensitive to Americans disposable income.

American teens usually inherit the oldest car in their household and work part-time for gas money.     Nowadays, that old car may still be in service, as their parents may have decided to put off purchasing a new car, in light of economic uncertainties. Compound that with gasoline costs that have AT LEAST doubled since 2001.

The same holds true with lottery – both the working poor and the lower-middle class, self included, wouldn’t bat an eye at throwing a buck or two at a lottery ticket.   Nowadays? Not so much.

Golf is the perfect example of something the nouveau rich have taken up – I have several friends who like to drink their microbrews and smoke their cigars on an early Sunday morning tee time.   I’ve always chalked it up as something to be done in the professional setting, or as an excuse to go out drinking with the guys, even if it had to be at 5 o’clock in the morning.   Now, with budgets being squeezed by utility bills, gasoline prices, and healthcare costs, that’s one of the first items to be cut.

I also recall these last few Christmases, excluding the most recent one, paying careful attention to hot items, costs, and which retailers did well (and which didn’t). Suffice to say, the overarching theme has been high-end stores (and aspiring high-line stores) such as Lord & Taylor and Nordstrom doing well, discount chains such as Walmart and Target meeting or exceeding expectations, and mid-line retailers, such as Sears and JC Penny’s struggling.

Now, certainly some of this is due to Americans moving away from both the mall and department stores towards power centers and the internet. But I strongly suspect some other economic trend was happening as well.

Could it be that each of the three types of retailers were experiencing different circumstances – with those shopping the mid-line stores either becoming bargain- or luxury shoppers, dependent on their economic conditions? What will happen next, since it appears that inflation is full bore and spreading beyond core items?   Will the high-end stores suffer?   Will the share of business be reallocated?