Monday, 25 September 2017

While Traditional Retailers Falter, Why Are Off-Price Stores Still Doing Okay?

Store closings and retail bankruptcies aren’t bad news for the entire retail industry. While the current turmoil in the business of department stores, toy stores, and clothing stores is bad for those is bad for those chains, it’s great for off-price retailers like TJX, Ross Stores, and Burlington.

The retail apocalypse is good news

Business for off-price retailers isn’t just good because shoppers are frugal and looking for bargains. According to CNBC, one investment analyst says that nationwide waves of store closings will put shoppers who aren’t interested in e-commerce up for grabs, and make closeout merchandise from closed stores available at super low prices to fill off-price store racks for years to come.

While Amazon is making a big push into selling clothing, it seems to be more fashion-oriented, not bargain-oriented like off-price retailers are.

The serendipitous browsing experience doesn’t translate well to the internet. The closest analogue might be flash-sale sites like Fab, Gilt, and Zulily, all of which have been acquired by other companies after an initial recession-era flash-sale boom.

“Difficult to replicate”

What exactly is it about these stores — like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and HomeGoods — that lets them continue when just about anything can be purchased online? These retailers appeal to people who just like shopping — folks who enjoy going to the mall and coming away with purchases they probably didn’t intend on buying when they entered the store. As quickly as Amazon might deliver purchases, it still can’t deliver that instant sense of having found something special for a good price.

“The model is difficult to replicate,” one analyst tells CNBC, “with over 1,000 buyers worldwide currently sourcing from 18,000 vendors in 100+ countries.”

In fact, it looks like some more traditional retailers are trying to learn this lesson from their off-brand counterparts. At the same time as Sears and its sibling Kmart are shutting down stores around the country, the company is also snapping up pallets of bottom-dollar merchandise from other retailers in the hope of reaching the customers who are currently shopping at Ross or Marshalls.

 


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Florida Keys Will Officially Reopen To Tourists Oct. 1

If you had to delay a vacation to the Florida Keys because of Hurricane Irma, you’ll soon be able to follow through on your plan to visit Ernest Hemingway’s polydactyl cats: The Keys will officially reopen to tourists this weekend — which isn’t just good for visitors, but for the local economy as well.

Although officials originally targeted Oct. 20 as the date the Keys would welcome visitor back, that date has been moved up by a few weeks to Oct. 1 because the Keys have completed most of the infrastructure repairs that needed to be done after Hurricane Irma swept through on Sept. 10.

Almost all power and water have been restored in the area, officials say. Cellular service is working well, although restoration of Comcast cable television and internet is lagging behind other utilities.

Tourism is a really big deal in the Keys, so getting this kind of infrastructure fixed was vital to welcoming visitors again.

“We know we have a long way to go before the Keys fully recover,” Monroe County Mayor George Neugent acknowledged in a statement. “But because tourism is our top economic engine and many of our residents’ livelihoods depend on it, we also know that we need to begin asking visitors to return.”

In the meantime, many hotels and attractions have returned to business as usual. Key West International Airport is open to commercial flights once again, while Florida Keys Marathon International Airport is processing general aviation and charter flights again. And on Monday, the Port of Key West welcomed its first cruise ship since the storm.

“Being a tourist-based economy, we need our visitors to come to town, and that is our primary economy,” said Key West Mayor Craig Cate. “The people need to go back to work, and this is a huge part of our recovery.”


by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

28,000 Jogging Strollers Recalled Because Kids Could Fall Out

Strollers can be a convenient way to get a child from point A to point B. But for some 28,000 recently recalled jogging strollers it isn’t quite that easy, as the front wheel of the stroller could break, possibly allowing a child to fall out. 

Delta Enterprise announced today the recall of 28,000 J is for Jeep strollers that may contain front wheel bracket that could break.

According to a notice with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the all-terrain jogging stroller leg bracket could break, posing a fall hazard to infants in the stroller.

So far, the company has received four reports of the stroller leg bracket breaking, including one report of a child falling from a stroller and receiving cuts and bruises.

Related: Stroller, Infant Carrier Falls & Tip Overs Send Two Children To The Hospital Every Hour

The strollers were sold at Target, Walmart, and other retailers from Aug. 2015 to Aug. 2016 for $130 to $160.

The recalled strollers can be identified by the model number and lot number printed on the Delta Children label with a blue heart at the left bottom frame support.

The following strollers are included in the recall:

Model Number Color Lot Number(s)
11988-835 Orange inside/Green outside and Black CH15083, CH15084, CH15085, CH15086, CH15087, CH15088, CH15089, CH15095, CH15123, CH15124, CH15125, CH15126, CH15127, CH15128, CH15157, CH15158, CH15173, CH15174, CH15185, CH15186, CH16045, CH16046, CH16047, CH16048, CH16052, CH16053, CH16054, CH16055, CH16056, CH16074, CH16084, CH16085, CH16086, CH16087, CH16088, CH16089, CH16090, CH16091, CH16092, CH16093, CH16094, CH16095, CH16096, CH16097, CH16098, CH16099
11988-340 Green and Black CH15203, CH15217
11988-436 Blue and Black CH15143
11988-656 Pink and Black CH15144
11988-838 Orange and Black CH15145
11988-0261 Grey and Black CH16025
11998-0251 Grey and Black CH16026
11998-314 Green and Black CH15165, CH16006
11998-439 Blue and Black CH15055, CH15057, CH15058, CH15059, CH15060, CH15061, CH15063, CH15064, CH15065, CH15139, CH15140, CH15150, CH15159
11998-678 Pink and Black CH15166, CH16007
11998-850 Orange outside/Grey inside and Black CH15211, CH15212, CH15213, CH15214, CH15215, , CH16024, CH16044

Delta urges customers to immediately stop using the strollers and contact the company for a free repair. Customers with questions about the recall should contact Delta at 800-377-3777, at recall@deltachildren.com, or online at http://ift.tt/1fpcJlU.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Accounting Giant Deloitte Hit By Data Breach

Following on the heels the massive theft of some 143 million consumers’ information from Equifax, one of the world’s largest accounting firms has confirmed that is the victim of cyber hack.

Deloitte revealed today that it was the victim of a cyberattack that affected “only very few clients.”

Of course, it’s unclear exactly what that means. Deloitte is a global firm with a huge list of clients, many of them very large, and representing both the private and public sectors. A breach of “very few” clients’ information could still be quite substantial.

The hack, which was first reported by The Guardian, reportedly affected the company’s email server and lasted for several months before it was uncovered.

The breach reportedly affected Deloitte’s private and government clients, who rely on the company for a variety of services including auditing, tax consultancy, and cybersecurity advice.

Deloitte notes in a statement that it notified ”governmental authorities immediately after it became aware of the incident.”

While The Guardian reports that six clients have so far been informed that they were “impacted” by the breach, Deloitte notes that “no disruption has occurred to client businesses, to Deloitte’s ability to continue to serve clients, or to consumers.”

The Breach

The full extent of the breach — including the number of emails affected or the how long the hack lasted — is not clear.

However, The Guardian, citing sources close to the matter, reports that the hack lasted for about six months and that a hacker compromised the email server — stored on the Azure cloud service —through an “administrator’s account,” that lacked two-step authentication.

The cloud service reportedly hosted some five million emails, but Deloitte claims just a fraction of these emails were affected.

Sources also claim that the hack involved usernames, passwords, IP addresses, and health information.

“In response to a cyber incident, Deloitte implemented its comprehensive security protocol and began an intensive and thorough review,” a spokesperson for Deloitte told The Guardian, adding that the review enabled the company to better understand what information was at risk and what the hacker actually did.”

The company remains “deeply committed to ensuring that our cybersecurity defenses are best in class,” and will “continue to evaluate this matter and take additional steps as required,” the rep said.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Here Is The List Of Aerosoles Stores Closing Because Of Bankruptcy

Comfy shoes seller Aerosoles recently followed in the footsteps of many other familiar mall retailers, declaring bankruptcy and announcing plans to shutter many of its retail locations. Now, thanks to a court filing, we have the list of the Aerosoles stores actually heading for eternal rest.

In fact, the list is so long — 74 stores in total — that it would probably be easier to list the handful of locations (mostly in New York City) that will remain. But since we went through the trouble of making this sortable table with all of the addresses, we’ll do that instead.

Here’s the list to check before you head out to the mall in pursuit of comfortable footwear:

Store Name Street Address City State
Fashion Island 1075 Newport Center Drive Newport Beach CA
Bay Street 5643 Bay Street Emeryville CA
Montgomery Village 723 Village Court Santa Rosa CA
Gilroy Premium Outlets 8155 Arroyo Circle Gilroy CA
Las Americas Premium Outlets 4155 Camino Del La Plaza Bld B San Ysidro CA
Citadel Outlet 100 Citadel Dr Los Angeles CA
Southbury Green Shopping Center 775 Main Street South Southbury CT
Christiana Mall 132 Chrisiana Mall Newark DE
Rehoboth Beach III 36470 Seaside Outled Dr Rehoboth DE
Florida Mall 8001 S. Orange Blossom Trail Orlando FL
The Mall at Millenia 4200 Conroy Road Orlando FL
Orlando Premium Outlets 8200 Vineland Ave Orlando FL
Miromar Outlets 10801 Corkscrew Rd. Estero FL
St. Augustine Outlet Center 2700 State Road 16 St. Augustine FL
Ellenton Premium Outlets 5229 Factory Shops Blvd Ellenton FL
Dolphin Mall 11401 NW 12th St Miami FL
Palm Beach Outlets 1781 Palm Beach Lakes Blvd West Palm FL
Mall of Georgia 3333 Buford Drive Buford GA
North Georgia Premium Outlets 800 Highway 400 South Dawsonville GA
Savannah 200 Tanger Outlet Pooler GA
Yorktown Mall 203 Yorktown Road Lombard IL
Palmer House Hilton 109 South State St Chicago IL
Chicago Premium Outlets 1650 Premium Outlets Blvd Aurora IL
Fashion Outlets Rosemont 5220 Fashion Outlet Way Rosemont IL
French Quarter 510 St.Peter Street New Orleans LA
Riverwalk Marketplace 500 Port of New Orleans Place New Orleans LA
The Grove At Shrewsbury 603 Route 35 Shrewsbury MA
Wrentham Village Premium Outlets Premium Outlet Blvd. Wrentham MA
Towson Town Center 825 Dulaney Valley Rd Towson MD
The Mall in Columbia 10300 Little Patuxent Pkwy Columbia MD
Arundel Mills 7000 Arundel Mills Circle Hanover MD
National Harbor Outlets 6800 Oxon Hill Road National Harbor MD
Twin Cities Outlets 3965 Eagan Outlets Parkway Eagan MN
Streets At Southpoint 6910 Fayetteville Road Durham NC
Southpark Mall 4400 Sharon Road Charlotte NC
Concord Mills 8111 Concord Mills Blvd Concord Place NC
Carolina Premium Outlets 1247 Outlet Center Drive Smithfield NC
Merrimack Outlet NH 80 Premium Outlets Blvd Merrimack NH
Brook 35 Plaza 2150 Highway 35 Sea Girt NJ
City Place At The Promenade 68 the Promenade Edgewater NJ
The Shoppes At Union Hill 3056 State Route 10 West Denville NJ
Jersey Gardens 651 Kapkowski Road Elizabeth NJ
Jackson Premium Outlets 537 Monmouth Road Jackson NJ
Fashion Show Mall 3200 Las Vegas Blvd. South Las Vegas NV
South Vegas Outlets 7400 S. Las Vegas Blvd Las Vegas NV
Roosevelt Field Mall Roosevelt Field Mall Garden City NY
Palisades Center 2651 Palisades Center Drive West Nyack NY
Steinway St. 30-29 Steinway Street Long Island City NY
John Street 18 John Street New York NY
Broadway + 113th 2913A Broadway New York NY
Huntington 260 Main Street Huntington NY
34th Street 36 West 34th Street New York NY
Harlem 200 West 125th Street New York NY
Queens Center 90-15 Queens Blvd Elmhurst NY
2 Broadway 2 Broadway New York NY
Kings Plaza Mall 5394 Kings Plaza Brooklyn NY
Staten Island Mall 2655 Richmond Ave Staten Island NY
Vernon Hills 688 White Plains Road Scarsdale NY
Bay Terrace Shopping Center 212-47 26th Avenue Bayside NY
Riverhead 1770 West Main Street Riverhead NY
Deer Park Outlets 152 The Arches Circle Deer Park NY
Washington Square 9712 Washington Square Road Tigard OR
Woodburn Company Stores 1001 Amey Road Woodburn OR
Walnut Street 1700 Walnut Street Philadelphia PA
Lancaster Outlets 311 Stanley K. Tanger Blvd. Lancaster PA
Philadelphia Premium Outlets 18 West Lightcap Road Pottstown PA
The Crossings Premium Outlets 1000 Premium Outlets Drive Tannersville PA
Tanger Factory Outlet Center 10835 Kings Road Myrtle Beach SC
Fairfax Comer 11945 Grand Commons Avenue Fairfax VA
Fashion Centre At Pentagon City 1100 South Hayes St Arlington VA
MacArthur Center 300 Monticello Avenue Norfolk VA
Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets 241 Fort Evans Road NE Leesburg VA
Downtown Seattle 1420 5th Ave Seattle WA
Seattle Premium Outlets 10600 Quil Ceda Blvd Tulalip WA

by Chris Morran via Consumerist

Apple Switching From Bing To Google Search Results For Siri, Spotlight Queries

The next time you ask Siri a question or look for something using Apple’s Spotlight feature, the web results you see will be from Google search, instead of Bing.

Apple confirmed today to TechCrunch that Google will now be the default provider of its web searches for Siri, Search inside iOS results, and Spotlight on the Mac. If you’re using Siri to search for images, however, you’ll still see Bing results.

So if you ask Siri to tell you about the Transylvanian cheese industry, any relevant links or videos it finds on the web will be shown as a Google search result. Or if Siri isn’t clear on what exactly you’re looking for, it’ll also show you whatever it’s pulled from Google.

The change may have already hit your devices, as Apple started pushing the switch today at noon ET and expects it to take effect globally by this afternoon.

The move makes sense in light of the fact that Safari on Mac and iOS already use Google search as their default provider.

“Switching to Google as the web search provider for Siri, Search within iOS and Spotlight on Mac will allow these services to have a consistent web search experience with the default in Safari,” Apple said in a statement about the move. “We have strong relationships with Google and Microsoft and remain committed to delivering the best user experience possible.”


by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Small Vendors Cut Ties With Toys ‘R’ Us, Concerned They Won’t Be Paid

While some suppliers of bankrupt toy mega-chain Toys ‘R’ Us are desperate to make sure that the chain stays in business, others are taking the opportunity to stop dealing with the mega-chain. That’s because they’ve already shipped thousands or millions of dollars’ worth of merchandise to the deeply indebted retailer that they may never be paid for.

“A good comfort level”

Reuters spoke to one toy distributor, Product Launchers, that recently delivered an order of $500,000 worth of fidget spinners with licensed DC Comics characters on them. The company’s CEO says that she doesn’t expect to be paid for the order, and that she has halted business with Toys ‘R’ Us, even when some of the up-and-coming toymakers that the company distributes for were hoping to sell items there.

“We’ve taken down all connections to them,” the CEO told Reuters. “I would rather focus on retailers that have strong financials and that we have a good comfort level about doing long-term business with.”

Looking out for the big guys

It may be small toy startups that are left behind while the Hasbros and Mattels of the world don’t suffer as much in this bankruptcy. Toys ‘R’ Us obtained hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of loans specifically for paying its top vendors — the ones without which it would enter the holiday season with shelves bereft of Star Wars toys, Barbies, and Hot Wheels.

Yet small vendors are important, too, since their products help fill the shelves while catching kids’ eyes. Any new product could be the next Cabbage Patch Kids or Zhu Zhu Pets.

“Your store won’t be attractive with just Mattel and Lego,” one retail consultant pointed out to Reuters.

Product Launchers estimates that it’s owed around $1 million, which sounds like a lot of money to mere humans, but doesn’t even put it in the top five creditors of Toys ‘R’ Us.

Waiting on ships

The New York Post reports that some of the toys that are supposed to end up under trees across the country later this year are currently waiting at ports, since insurers aren’t yet able to calculate the risk of selling to Toys ‘R’ Us in the future.

“We are seeing some delays in the vendors releasing their shipments because of their concerns about Toys ‘R’ Us’ ability to compete in the holiday season,” a retail analyst told the Post.


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

FDA Cracking Down On “Rogue Online Pharmacies” Accused Of Illegally Selling Prescription Drugs

While you may be tempted to skip the pharmacy and just order prescription drugs online, it could be very dangerous to use any unapproved medications from illicit online pharmacies. That’s why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — along with its international enforcement superfriends — is taking action against hundreds of sites accused of selling prescription drugs illegally online.

The FDA and its friends at Interpol are back with a new round of crackdowns as part of Operation Pangea X. (You may recall the joint task force’s earlier incarnation, Operation Pangea IX, which resulted in the shutdown of thousands of sites selling unapproved drugs and sending them through the mail in 2016.)

As in past years, Operation Pangea was part of the annual International Internet Week of Action, a global cooperative effort aimed at fighting illegal sales and distribution of possibly fake or substandard medical products on the web. This year’s IIWA ran from Sept. 12-19,.

This time around, the FDA says it’s taken action against more than 500 websites accused of illegally selling “potentially dangerous, unapproved versions of prescription medicines, including opioids, antibiotics and injectable epinephrine products to American consumers.”

As part that effort, the agency issued 13 warning letters to the operators of most of the websites targeted in this year’s action.

The warnings instruct companies to ensure that all the products they sell are in compliance with the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act. If they fail to correct any violations, the FDA could take regulatory action against them.

The FDA also worked with domain registrars to seize nearly 100 website domain names, such as buyhydrocodoneonline.com, canadian-pharmacy24x7.com, and buyklonopin.com.

Inspectors working for the FDA — in collaboration with other federal agencies — screened packages suspected of containing illegal drugs at international mail facilities in Chicago, Miami, and New York during the IIWA. As a result, they detained almost 500 packages, which the FDA will check out for possible violations.

“These rogue online pharmacies are often run by sophisticated criminal networks that knowingly and unlawfully distribute illicit drugs, including counterfeit medicines and controlled substances,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. “Consumers go to these websites believing that they are buying safe and effective medications, but they are being deceived and put at risk by individuals who put financial gains above patient safety.”

The FDA warns that buying from fake online pharmacies can be dangerous: You could get counterfeit or substandard drugs, or put your personal and financial information at risk. The agency urges consumers to report any suspected criminal activity to the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigation.


by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

How To Donate To Disaster Relief Operations In Puerto Rico

Millions of Americans in Puerto Rico are without power, water, or homes in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Some of us who want to help with the effort to provide for these victims and to rebuild their lives may be overwhelmed by trying to figure out the best way to do so, and how to not get taken in by scams.

As with any disaster, there are a number of ways in which you can help those affected by the storm, both financially and with material donations.

Online Donations

While there are any number of organizations independently seeking donations for Maria relief, the government of Puerto Rico has set up a webpage dedicated to donations for relief.

Among the organizations listed are the American Red Cross and the United for Puerto Rico initiative started by the First lady of Puerto Rico Beatriz RossellΓ³.

United for Puerto Rico is described as a collaboration with the private sector, with the purpose of providing aid and support to those affected in Puerto Rico by the passage of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane MarΓ­a.

The effort is sponsored by several major companies including Burger King, Coca-Cola, First Bank, Bacardi, and Walmart Puerto Rico.

Separately, several charities and non-profit organizations have already begun taking donations to help the 3.4 million people who call Puerto Rico home.

For instance, UNICEF has set up a specific donation page for those looking to offer assistance in Puerto Rico.

“UNICEF USA is mobilizing to get immediate, critical support to the children of Puerto Rico affected by Hurricane Maria,” the site notes, promising that 90% of every dollar spent goes directly to helping the children of the island.

GoFundMe also has a dedicated page to Puerto Rico relief efforts. There donors can choose from a variety of campaigns dedicated to different relief efforts.

Lending A Hand

The Puerto Rican government’s website also offers an option for volunteers to donate their time to recovery efforts.

Any organization or individual who wants to volunteer following the disaster can direct their commutations to the office by emailing maria2@prfaaa.pr.gov.

The American Red Cross is also always looking for volunteers who can make a difference in disaster-struck areas.

For instance, the organization notes that volunteers carry out 90% of the “humanitarian work of the Red Cross.”

“Whether helping one displaced family or thousands, providing care and comfort to an ill or injured service member or veteran, or teaching others how to respond in emergencies, it’s through the efforts of ordinary people that we can do extraordinary things,” the Red Cross says.

Material Donations

Local organizations around the country have already begun gathering supplies for Puerto Rico.

NBC Chicago reports that a cargo plane full of supplies — including food, toiletries and water — left O’Hare International Airport for Puerto Rico Monday morning.

In Florida, volunteers from several agencies have worked together to collect between 20 to 25 tons of supplies for the island, Local 10 News reports.

As for what you can do in your neighborhood, try reaching out to local organizations, your local American Red Cross location, or providing a monetary donation to organizations that will then purchase needed supplies.

For instance, the Hispanic Federation, along with a coalition of community organizations and elected officials, has created the “Unidos”: A Hurricane Relief Fund for Hurricane Maria Victims in Puerto Rico in New York.

The New York City mayor’s office Tweeted a call for donations such as batteries, diapers, baby food, feminine hygiene products, and more to be dropped off in the city.

Remain Vigilant

Of course, with every legitimate organization accepting donations for relief to Puerto Rico, there are those that are just trying to line their own pockets.

There are certain red-flag behaviors that should alert you to the likelihood you’re being duped by a bogus charity. The Federal Trade Commission has a checklist for dealing with a possible charity to make sure you’re not getting duped, including:

Don’t be shy about asking who wants your money: If you’re solicited for a donation, ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser, who they work for, and the percentage of your donation that will go to the charity and to the fundraiser. If you don’t get a clear answer — or if you don’t like the answer you get — consider donating to a different organization.

Read More: How To Tell If A Charity Is A Scam

Call the charity: Find out if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name. If not, you may be dealing with a scam artist.

Ask for written information: This includes its full name, address, and telephone number.

Contact the office that regulates charitable organizations and charitable solicitations in your state: The National Association of State Charity Officials has contact information for regulators in each state available on its website. Your state office also can verify how much of your donation goes to the charity, and how much goes to fundraising and man­agement expenses.

You also can check out charities with the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance and GuideStar.

FEMA also reminded consumers on the best ways to help those following Maria’s landfall.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

The 5 Best Parts From John Oliver’s Report On Corporate Mergers

You don’t have to read the business pages to know that recent decades have resulted in massive corporate consolidation. Whether it’s air travel, wireless service, internet, banking, or eyeglasses, a number of industries have enjoyed such merger mania that only a few national competitors remain. 

Mergers aren’t typical fodder for comedy, but Last Week Tonight‘s John Oliver gave it a go on Sunday, and even did a bit of biting the heavily consolidated hand that feeds him by blasting the upcoming merger of AT&T and HBO parent company Time Warner.

The entire segment is available online, and we recommend you watch it. But without further ado, here are five funny things you should know about corporate consolidation.

1. “F*$k You AT&T”

As we’re all well aware, AT&T is at this very moment attempting to buy Time Warner. Time Warner happens to be the company behind HBO — John Oliver’s home.

Oliver didn’t let this small detail deter from making a point about the ridiculously consolidated market, though.

Instead, he took the time to point out that AT&T is “the top telecom company around alphabetically, and nothing else.”

He also didn’t seem too worried that he future stepfather would catch the segment, noting that his story could be a little dangerous for the show but that was “presuming that AT&T executives manage to get their shitty service working long enough to see it.”

2. The Golden Age Of Small Business

Oliver laments on the fact that many politicians and consumers firmly believe that small dollar businesses have a special place in America’s heart.

And they often do. But simply referring to these small businesses as the backbone of the country doesn’t do anything.

In fact, Oliver notes that the rate at which new businesses are created has fallen since the 1970s, all while big businesses continue to get bigger.

2. Ridiculously Consolidated

If you’ve ever traveled by air, rented a car, or subscribed to cable, then you know there really aren’t that many options to meet your needs.

“All this merger activity has helped make some sections of our economy ridiculously consolidated,” Oliver said.

For instance, there are just four major airlines — Delta, United, Southwest, and American. Oliver points out that JetBlue isn’t included because it’s “just a very expensive way to eat blue chips.”

American Airlines is now composed of TWA, American West, and US Airways; Southwest bought AirTran; United and Continental got married; and Delta bought Northwest Airlines.

As for car rentals, three companies — Avis, Hertz, and Enterprise — control 90% of business in the U.S. And don’t even get started on beer. After the $107 billion dollar merger last year between AB InBev and SABMiller, there are just two major beer players in the U.S. — AB InBev and Molson Coors.

Oliver also takes time to point out that online search engines aren’t immune to little competition.

“Online search engines, are as we all know, dominated by one player,” he says. “That’s right, say it with me, Bing. That’s right ‘Bing, the best way to Google something.”

4. Blowing Up Your Cable Box… Literally

While the U.S. has several regulatory bodies that are supposed to ensure competition is fair and there are no monopolies in operation, they still happen.

But they aren’t monopolies, they’re “oligarchies” in which several companies control an entire industry and live peacefully among each other without worrying about price competition, Oliver notes. Another drawback from such consolidation and peaceful operation between companies, is a lack of innovation.

“Heavily consolidated industries can lose the incentive to innovate,” Oliver says, pointing to everyone’s favorite home appliance, the set-top cable box.

“If you have one of those, you probably hate it, because it’s huge, it’s glitchy,” Oliver notes. “And it may be one of the largest energy consuming items in your house even when it’s turned off.”

“But if you think about it, cable companies have no real incentive to improve them, they are essentially regional monopolies,” he says.

To make matters worse, “you can’t even smash your cable box out of frustration, because you are renting it and they will charge you hundreds of dollars if you don’t give it back.”

That’s why Oliver did everyone a solid and blew one up… in slow motion.

 

5. Grow A Backbone

To close the segment, Oliver points out a few other industries that offer customers few, if any options: caskets, banks, insurance, and the afterlife.

“The point is,” he said. “We have laws to prevent the worst effects of consolation, it might be time to actual use them.”

To that end, he suggested the politicians who champion small businesses as the backbone of America, “stop talking about backbones and actually f***ing grow one.”


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Target Raising Minimum Wage To $11/Hour With Promise To Hit $15/Hour By 2020

In an attempt to beat Walmart on worker pay (but not go as far as Costco), Target is raising its lowest hourly wage from $10 to $11 starting next month, with plans to increase that base rate up to $15 per hour by 2020.

In a statement released this morning, Target calls the move a “significant investment in its team” that will allow Target to recruit — and keep — “strong team members,” as well as providing an “elevated experience” for shoppers and in surrounding communities.

This means thousands of workers will get a pay increase, including hourly employees the retailer is hiring now for the holiday season.

“It’s part of our overall commitment to investing in our team and making sure we’re attracting and retaining great talent,” Target chief executive CEO Brian Cornell told reporters this morning.

The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour, though a majority of states — and some cities — have subsequently established minimum pay standards that exceed the federal base rate.

Seven states (Arizona, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, Washington) have minimum wage levels of at least $10/hour, while a handful of cities — including San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. — now have minimum wages that are already higher than Target’s $11/hour rate.

Back in 2016, Walmart raised its minimum hourly wage to $10, prompting Target to join it at that rate just a few months later


by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Customer Enters LongHorn Steakhouse, Venomous Snake Bites Her Foot

You wouldn’t expect that walking into a chain restaurant while wearing sandals would be dangerous, but a woman in Virginia was bitten by a common venomous snake in the lobby of a LongHorn Steakhouse two weeks ago.

The woman recounted the incident and her recovery to the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, and says that she was visiting the restaurant for a dinner with some friends and family.

She reports that in the restaurant entrance, she felt a sharp pain in her foot that she assumed was a bee sting. sting. As she reached down to brush the bee off, she says that she “felt something moving.” That “something” was a copperhead snake, which had just been hanging out in the lobby.

Her son and her boyfriend stomped on the snake after she shook it loose from her foot, but it had already bitten her foot and toes three times. The rest of their party had dinner while she and her boyfriend waited for emergency services to arrive, and LongHorn comped all of their meals.

The hospital obtained antivenin for copperhead bites, but waited to use it until the swelling passed her ankle, since antivenin itself can have serious and even fatal side effects.

She’s expected to recover fully, but says that she’s in significant pain and can’t return to work. That’s still a relatively happy ending for being bitten three times by a venomous snake.

“If you’re going to be bitten by a venomous snake, that’s the one you want to get bitten by,” a medical toxicologist at the local poison control center told the Free Lance-Star.

Copperheads are common in Virginia, and the snake could have squeezed through any tiny opening in the restaurant wall.

“This was a highly unusual incident, and we are working with our facilities team to see how this may have occurred and we are taking steps to prevent it from happening again,” the restaurant’s manager told the paper.

There isn’t much a building can do to keep them out, but the restaurant manager plans to place irritants on the ground that get beneath a snake’s scales and helps repel them.


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Senate Leadership Tries To Sweeten Obamacare Replacement Bill To Gain Support

The surprise hit show of the summer, “No, Seriously, What The Heck Is Going On With Congress And Healthcare, Though?” is back for the fall season. And in our latest episode, Republican leadership in the Senate is making last-minute changes to the latest Affordable Care Act replacement bill in a targeted effort to win over reluctant GOP lawmakers before their Sept. 30 deadline.

The latest draft [146-page PDF] of the current ACA replacement bill working its way through the Senate is out this morning, and it includes some very specific changes intended to draw support from holdout Senators.

The Bill

Sens. Lindsey Graham (SC), Bill Cassidy (LA), Dean Heller (NV), and Ron Johnson (WI) released the latest proposal to reverse the ACA earlier this month.

They call it the GCHJ Amendment, but everyone else calls it Graham-Cassidy — and it’s not quite a regular bill. It’s technically a budget resolution, which means that it would only need 51 votes to pass the Senate. It also means there is a strict deadline of Sept. 30, when the federal fiscal year ends, for the Senate to okay the bill. After that window closes, it would have to be treated like a traditional piece of legislation and would need a currently-impossible 60 votes to move on to the House.

Additionally, if Graham-Cassidy does pass the Senate by the deadline, the House would not be able to change a single word on it, as that would require the bill going back to the Senate once again for approval. So if the Senate passes this bill, it’s an all or nothing proposition for the House.

The Senate Finance Committee will be holding a hearing on Graham-Cassidy this afternoon (Monday, Sept. 25), and a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has confirmed that McConnell does indeed intend to bring the proposal to the Senate floor for a vote before the cutoff.

That means anything that happens needs to happen basically within the next five days.

The Problem

The Graham-Cassidy proposal is enormously unpopular — and the speed with which it’s flying through the Senate doesn’t help.

Because of the end-of-month deadline, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office will not have time to issue a proper score on the bill before the Senate has to vote on it. At best, the CBO can release a high-level report with minimal information about the bill’s potential impact on the deficit — a report that’s expected early this week.

Several independent, non-partisan third-party groups have released first-pass analyses sussing out what the effects of Graham-Cassidy would likely be, however, and all of them find tens of millions of Americans would lose insurance coverage amid massive slashes to Medicaid funding in the majority of states.

READ MORE: HOW THE LATEST ACA REPEAL PLAN COULD AFFECT YOU

It’s not just the general public that opposes the bill, although so far two different polls have both found that, at most, 20-45% of the nation supports Graham-Cassidy, and significant majorities oppose it.

More importantly, though, basically every single stakeholder you can possibly think of has come out in opposition to the bill. That includes groups representing the nation’s schools, doctors, nurses, patients, and hospitals — as well as the groups that represent the health insurance industry.

Most unfortunately for Graham, Cassidy, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY), the list of people who don’t like the Graham-Cassidy proposal includes an increasing number of Republican Senators.

The Math

The main reason for slamming healthcare reform through as a budget resolution is that doing so means it only needs a simple majority — 51 votes — to pass. (A standard bill is subject to procedural measures that can mean it needs 60 votes in order to pass.)

There are 52 Republican Senators, plus Vice President Mike Pence can cast a tie-breaking 51st vote as needed. That means McConnell can afford to have two members of his party peel off, but not three.

That’s what happened in July, on the last round: Sens. Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) were known “no” votes on the bill, and then Sen. John McCain (AZ) cast a surprise late-night third “no” vote, dooming the proposal.

Late last week, McCain came out as a strong, unequivocal “no” on the proposal, saying, “I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy bill.”

Sen. Rand Paul (KY) has also been a vocal opponent of the proposal on the grounds that it doesn’t go far enough toward being a true repeal. However, it’s worth noting that he said the same about the July bill, and yet in the end supported it anyway.

Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) announced his opposition over the weekend, saying that the proposal, as it currently stands, does not have his backing and likely does not have the support of his colleague Sen. Mike Lee (UT) either. However, like Paul, Cruz and Lee both opposed the July bill until they didn’t anymore, and cast their votes in favor.

That leaves everyone watching Murkowski and Collins.

Collins has not yet stated formal opposition to the bill, but is considered vanishingly unlikely to end up supporting it. Murkowski, however, has remained an unknown, stating neither support nor opposition on the record.

The Bait

Murkowski and Collins objected to the July bill in large part over its draconian cuts to Medicaid funding and women’s healthcare. The first draft of Graham-Cassidy also put in place massive cuts to Medicaid funding, but not across the board. Rather, some states would benefit, and others would lose out.

Alaska was one of the “loser” states under the original bill, standing to suffer a 38% cut in Medicaid funding under Graham-Cassidy as opposed to the current law. So one of the changes is to sweeten the pot for Alaska specifically, to try and curry Murkowski’s vote.

Other provisions would steer more funding to Arizona and Kentucky, Politico notes — the states represented by McCain and Paul, respectively.

Still more changes are designed to apply to the holdouts from the more conservative side of things — that’d be your Paul, Cruz, and Lee.

Those changes include allowing states to split the sick and the healthy into multiple “risk pools,” which means the cost of obtaining insurance if you have a pre-existing condition (or look like you might develop one) would skyrocket to potentially unattainable levels.

States would also be allowed to decide what the out-of-pocket cap (if any) should be, and how much insurers can charge anyone with a pre-existing condition. Nor would states need to seek formal waivers for these or any other changes, instead simply submitting a plan saying that “adequate and affordable” coverage will be available.

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s Larry Levitt described the update as, “in effect, federal deregulation of the insurance market.

Our colleagues down the hall at Consumers Union agreed. “This bill is an even harsher version of the previous failed proposals that were overwhelmingly rejected by Americans. It is not only a repeal of the Affordable Care Act — threatening key consumer protections and coverage requirements that ensure those with preexisting conditions have access to meaningful care — but also a historic undercutting of the Medicaid program,” said CU’s Betsy Imholz. “No one time buyout, carve out, or ‘fix’ can address these problems.”

The Hearing

If you want to watch today’s Senate Finance Committee hearing on the Graham-Cassidy bill, it will be live-streamed on the Committee’s website beginning at 2 p.m. Eastern.


by Kate Cox via Consumerist

Optimum Customers Could Lose ESPN, ABC & Disney Because Of Contract Fight

If you’re an Optimum TV customer, you may have noticed a new warning crawling across the bottom of your screen in the last few days: They may lose access to several big-name channels, including ESPN and ABC, because of an ongoing contract dispute between Optimum parent company and Disney.

In warnings being blasted out to Optimum subscribers, Disney says it has a “responsibility” to inform viewers that because the company’s contract with Altice — the fourth biggest cable distributor in the country — is set to expire on Sept. 30, they may lose programming if the two sides can’t come to terms.

“We remain fully committed to reaching a deal and are hopeful we can do so,” Disney said in a statement. “Our company has never had a disruption of service for our family of networks and there is no reason that should change now.”

Altice claims in a message to Optimum customers — located mostly in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania — that Disney demanding “outrageous fee increases” for its channels, claiming that ESPN has spent “billions of dollars to air live sports, and they are trying to recoup that money by charging our customer’s more.”

Despite the fact that Disney is experiencing revenue and ratings declines, Altice claims, “the company is trying to boost its balance sheet by forcing Optimum and its customers to pay more for the same content they already receive.”

Altice says in a statement that it wants to carry ESPN, ABC, and Disney at a “reasonable rate” and that it’s already offered to pay more in retransmission fees and sports programming costs. But the company claims that Disney is demanding double the rates for ABC, “exorbitant” feee increases for ESPN, “and are trying to force customers who don’t receive ESPN to have to pay for it.”

Disney has refuted those claims, saying that Altice charges its customers $34 for broadcast basic, “which is which is more than 15 times the amount we are seeking for the market’s most watched station, WABC.”

When cable companies and entertainment groups clash over contracts, blackouts are common. But as Reuters notes, this is the first time a cable company has resisted increased fees for ESPN.

Back in 2013, Dish customers were facing a potential blackout of Disney channels, but the two companies were able to come to a last-minute agreement.


by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Friday, 22 September 2017

Tesla Thinks About Building Convenience Stores Around Superchargers

If convenience stores and rest stops evolved around travelers’ need to fuel up, why shouldn’t the same be true for electric vehicles? So it makes sense that Tesla is envisioning a possible future where their supercharger docks are surrounded by other amenities for drivers.

Restaurant Business reports that Tesla executives suggested the idea of a supercharging/rest stop during the FSTEC food-tech conference this week.

The new charging stations would offer customers much of the same things they would get at a traditional gas station: drinks, food, restrooms, and a place to stretch their legs.

The concept makes sense, as charging a Tesla vehicle takes longer than fueling a traditional car, giving drivers ample opportunity to spend a few bucks.

“People are coming and spending 20 to 30 minutes at these stops,” J.B. Straubel, Tesla chief technology officer, told attendees, as reported by Restaurant Business. “They want to eat, they want to have a cup of coffee, and they want to use the bathroom.”

Straubel also showed a photo of what the recharging stations would look like: Much like a regular convenience store.

Straubel didn’t comment on when the stations might materialize, or where they would be located.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Latest Obamacare Repeal Bill Would Gut Medicaid For Dozens Of States; Opposition Rising Inside Senate

The last-ditch proposal to effectively repeal the Affordable Care Act remains deeply unpopular, even while Senate Republicans try to rally the votes to make it happen. And in the midst of all that politicking, a new federal analysis shows that several of the states whose Senators’ votes leadership is trying to curry could be badly hurt by the bill.

Massive Medicaid Cuts

According to an estimate [PDF] from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) that compares current Medicaid funding levels with what would be available under the proposed Graham-Cassidy repeal bill, more than half of the states would see between funding cut by 5%-10% by 2020.

Looking ahead even further, by 2027, 31 states would see a drop in Medicaid funding, with nearly half the country (24 states) experiencing funding decreases of 20% or more.

Those that would suffer the deepest cuts are Connecticut and Maryland, with projected reductions of 52% and 51% respectively.

Others in this group would be Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, D.C., Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.

On the flip side, a handful of states — all of them among those that have continued to reject the Medicaid expansion and its related federal funds under the ACA — would see huge increases in Medicaid funding.

By 2020 alone, South Dakota would see a 282% increase in funding, followed by a 109% bump in Wyoming, a 59% increase in Alaska, a 55% lift in Montana, 52% for North Dakota, and increases between 10 and 30% in Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.

Shift the outlook to a ten-year one, and the disparity becomes even more stark and shocking.

By 2027, CMS estimates, the biggest winners under Graham-Cassidy would be Mississippi residents, who would see a 347% increase in Medicaid funding.

Kansas, with a 234% increase, would also do well enough for itself, and Texas (210%), Tennessee (194%), Alabama (192%), and South Dakota (162%) would also see major funding improvements.

The National Association of Medicaid Directors, which represents the directors of Medicaid programs for all 50 U.S. states, D.C., and all U.S. territories, issued a statement asking the Senate not to move forward on Graham-Cassidy, and instead, to “revisit the topic of comprehensive Medicaid reform when it can be addressed with the careful consideration merited by such a complex undertaking.”

Best Case Scenario?

Axios, which was the first to report on the CMS estimates, notes that these sharp cuts are the are the least bad projection so far, calling the CMS numbers “rosier than other estimates.”

In part because of the projected cuts to Medicaid, several independent analyses are projecting that Graham-Cassidy would cause at least 32 million Americans to lose coverage altogether in the coming decade.

READ MORE: Everyone hates Senate Obamacare repeal bill; Senate plans vote anyway

The Brookings Institute is the most recent think tank to issue a study on the projected outcomes of Graham-Cassidy. The Brookings report finds that in the immediate short term (2018-2019), 15 million people would lose health care coverage.

But It Might Be Doomed Anyway

That’s all the bad news. Here’s the good: It’s looking less likely today than it has all week that Graham-Cassidy will actually come to a vote or become law.

The Graham-Cassidy bill is technically a budget resolution amendment, meaning that it can squeak out of the Senate with a simple majority — 51 votes — as long as it does so by Sept. 30. There are currently 52 Republican members of the Senate, plus Vice President Mike Pence can cast a tie-breaking vote as needed, so the math says Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can only afford to lose three votes.

Sen. Rand Paul (KY) has repeatedly and emphatically gone on the record as a “no” to Graham-Cassidy. It’s worth noting that he also opposed the July bill at first, before voting on it anyway, but for now at least folks who are tallying up the votes count him out.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Susan Collins (ME) were two of the three holdouts over the Senate’s July bill. Both opposed it in part due to its severe cuts to Medicaid funding. Although neither has officially yet gone on the record as a “no” to Graham-Cassidy, Collins is publicly leaning against it. Republicans, meanwhile, have been strongly pressuring Murkowski to vote for the bill, but she has as yet not indicated any support for it.

That means all eyes have been on Arizona Senator John McCain, whose dramatic, surprise late-night vote spelled the doom of the Senate Republicans’ last ACA repeal effort in July.

Friday afternoon, McCain issued a statement definitively indicating his opposition to the proposal.

“I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy bill,” McCain said. “I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried. Nor could I support it without knowing how much it will cost, how it will affect insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it.”

There won’t be time for the Congressional Budget Office to issue an analysis on the bill before the end-of-month deadline, McCain noted, so the Senate “won’t have reliable answers to those questions.”

Hill-watchers generally suspect that McCain’s firm no will give political cover for Collins and Murkowski, at least, to join him — killing the bill.

In the meantime, however, the Senate Finance Committee is planning a hearing on the Graham-Cassidy proposal for Monday afternoon, Sept. 25.


by Kate Cox via Consumerist

Netflix Pulls Episode Of Children’s Show After Parents Complain About Phallic Image

Kids’ cartoons often have jokes or imagery included just to amuse the parents and babysitters forced to sit through countless replays in the company of a youngster. But some folks weren’t amused that one Netflix animated show included an image that looks very much like a crude sketch of male genitals.

Variety reports that Netflix removed an episode of Maya the Bee from its lineup this week, while the French production company behind the show apologized for the not-so-kid-friendly depiction.

The Show

Maya the Bee — based off a children’s book of the same name — tells the story of the bee as she makes new friends while collecting pollen in the forest.

The show originally debuted in 2012. It is produced by Studio 100, but Netflix distributed the show.

The Scene

The drawing in question appears in episode 35 of the first season. The scene features the titular bee flying near a log. The inside of the log features the phallic-like drawing.

Viewers of Maya the Bee recently brought the image to light, sharing screenshots of the scene on social media.

The Apology

Variety reports that Netflix removed episode 35 of the show this week after concerns were raised about the image. The remaining episodes were still available for consumption.

Studio 100, the producer of the show, also apologized for the incident, noting that it was working to determine who was responsible.

“An absolutely inappropriate image has been discovered in a four-second fly-by scene in one episode of the total of 78 episodes of the series,” Studio 100 said in a statement. “The origin of this image obviously results from a very bad joke from one of the 150 artists working on the production.”

While Studio 100 told Variety it was already exploring legal action against those responsible for the image, the company’s managing director says it has yet to find that person.

“We are desperately searching for the person who did this, but it is a complicated task, considering the large number of people who were involved in France and Asia,” the director said.

Studio 100 also tells Variety that the company has already fixed the episode, recreating the scene and reinserting it in the show. It is currently in the process of delivering the new episode to broadcasters and streaming services.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

People Have Finally Figured Out That They Don’t Need To Wait In Line For An iPhone

Apple’s iPhone has been with us for ten years now, and Apple fans have gradually come to realize an important truth. No, not anything about iPhones themselves: They’ve come to realize that they don’t need to actually wait in line overnight on release day to get a device.

One former investment analyst who followed the well-being of Apple told CNBC (warning: auto-play video at that link) that the number of people waiting at the flagship Apple store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan has decreased over the last four releases. While almost 1,900 people were waiting outside the store on release day in 2014, there were 650 in 2015, 400 in 2014, and around 250 people at the door this year.

Around the world, people Tweeting while waiting in line noted that the crowds were tiny compared to years past. One store in Arizona had three people, and the second person in line at another Manhattan store wasn’t even there for an iPhone.

There are two factors here: As more carriers and retailers have iPhones, they’ve become ubiquitous and having the latest one is no longer a status symbol. Apple allows customers to reserve and pay for the phones online, so they can go to the store after work rather than queuing up overnight.

The other factor is that Apple released two phones this year, and Apple’s remaining hardcore, line-waiting fans are most likely going to be outside stores on Nov. 3 waiting to get their hands and their facial recognition patterns on an iPhone X.

Around the world, people just weren’t as excited about the iPhone 8.

The iPhone 8 is apparently a hit in Seattle, though.


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

L.L. Bean Runs Full-Page Ad You Can Only Read In Sunlight

In a move that simultaneously evokes awww-neat childhood memories of “invisible ink” while also marketing an outdoor lifestyle brand, L.L. Bean has taken out a full-page newspaper ad that can only be read in the sunlight.

To anyone picking up today’s New York Times and seeing the ad while indoors, it’s a largely blank space with just the Bean logo and four words scattered across the page.

“Just bring this outside,” the message instructs.

Once the ad is in sunlight — or really, any UV light — more words printed with special photochromic ink appear, revealing L.L. Bean’s “special invitation.”

The secret message is really just L.L Bean’s new manifesto, including feel-good phrases like “Because on the inside, we’re all outsiders. And if it’s outside, we’re all in.”

Although it’s a neat gimmick, the payoff is a bit of a disappointment compared to the brazenness of the unique technique — but again, people are talking about the ad.

We still can’t help but feel a bit like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, after he finally gets to use his Little Orphan Annie decoder pin to decipher a top-secret message from Annie to her devotees.


by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

More Regular Hotels Discover The Joy Of Charging ‘Resort Fees’ For Normal Amenities

Travelers don’t necessarily expect to see resort fees, or extra expenses added to their bills for things that other hotels include in the bill, when staying at a hotel. It turns out, however, that this is an increasingly common practice. It lets hotels advertise lower rates and impose fees when guests get there.

Urban Facility Fee?

The Wall Street Journal recently looked at the continuing growth of resort fees, and what you might pay at hotels of varying price levels. At a Best Western near Disneyland, you’ll pay an extra $5 per day for the privilege of having a heated pool and spa on the property. The hotel also says that the fee is used for “general upkeep” of the property.

The Crowne Plaza Times Square charges $30 per day, which is says includes paying for the pool, fitness center, internet access, and free drinks for customers. Wait — if you’re paying for them every day, whether you have them or not, aren’t the drinks by definition not free?

Even people who run travel websites can be caught by these fees. Paul English, one of the founders of travel sites Kayak and Lola, stayed at a hotel in San Francisco that charged a $28 “urban facility fee” per night, which includes WiFi, use of the gym, and a discount at the hotel’s restaurant. Even though English wasn’t going to use any of those features, the hotel told him that the fee was still mandatory.

“Full and accurate pricing”

As ridiculous as these fees sound, visitors often don’t know about them until they’re already at the hotel, and they’re increasing. According to Resortfeechecker.com, the number of hotels charging fees is up 26% in just the last year. Almost all of the state attorneys general are now part of an investigation into the practice.

“We want the lodging businesses to simply present their full and accurate pricing right upfront, so the consumer can see what a room will cost them,” District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine told the WSJ.

The hotel industry argues that customers who book directly on their own websites see all of the fees disclosed clearly, and it’s not their fault if third-party booking websites don’t provide their customers with all of the information. Hotels, of course, have a good reason to encourage their customers not to use third-party booking websites, since they have to pay commissions.


by Laura Northrup via Consumerist

Photographer Claims Urban Outfitters, Macy’s Used Tupac Photos Without Permission

The late Tupac Shakur might no longer have any say over how his image is used, but that doesn’t mean you can use a photograph of the famed rapper without getting permission from the photographer.

That’s why both Macy’s and Urban Outfitters find themselves on the receiving end of a federal lawsuit over T-shirts sporting a copyrighted photograph of Tupac.

Photographer Chi Modu filed the lawsuit [PDF] Thursday in federal court in California, accusing the retailers, along with merchandising company Bravado International Group, of copyright infringement for creating and then selling apparel that features his photograph of the late rapper.

According to the lawsuit, the three companies contributed to the infringement of Modu’s copyrights or engaged in one or more wrongful practices when it comes to using his photographs.

Modu — who is a known for “his work depicting prominent figures in the world of hip-hop” — is the sole owner of the photographs used on the shirts and sweatshirts sold at the retailers.

While Modu admits that he and Bravado negotiated an agreement in which the manufacturer would have certain rights in regard to the photos, the agreement expired no later than July 2016.

Modu claims that the merchandise in question wasn’t created until after that date, accusing Bravado or its customers — in this case Macy’s and Urban Outfitters — of continuing to use his photos without permission.

Bravado then allegedly sold the products to third-parties, such as Macy’s and Urban Outfitters, who in return sold the products to customers.

With the lawsuit, Modu is seeking the retailers’ profits from the shirts and unspecified damages.

Not The First Tupac Lawsuit

Modu is not the first photographer to take aim at retailers for allegedly misusing photographs of Tupac.

Back in June, Photographer Danny Clinch filed a lawsuit [PDFaccusing a merchandiser, Forever 21, and Urban Outfitters of copyright infringement for using his photos of the late rapper without permission.

The photos, which were featured in a profile of the rapper in Rolling Stone magazine in 1993 and then again on the magazine’s cover in 1996, were copyrighted by Clinch in 2002, giving him sole discretion on when the picture could be used.


by Ashlee Kieler via Consumerist

Amazon Wants To Deliver That Shake Shack Burger You Don’t Feel Like Getting For Yourself

Not content with its recent push into groceries with the purchase of Whole Foods, Amazon is now expanding its efforts in restaurant delivery with a new partnership that could allow customers to order from chains like Shake Shack, Chipotle, and Applebee’s online.

Amazon is teaming up with Olo, a company that handles digital ordering and payment technology for about 200 restaurant brands — with 40,000 locations around the country — to beef up its Amazon Restaurants service.

Amazon Restaurants is integrating Olo’s new Rails technology that will allow restaurant operators to list their menus through the platform and take orders through Amazon.

While Olo works with restaurants like Shake Shack, Chipotle, Applebee’s, Denny’s, Five Guys, Jamba Juice, and others, that doesn’t necessarily mean all of those eateries will be available through Amazon Restaurants. At the moment, only Italian chain Bucca Di Beppo has publicly acknowledged it will sign up for Amazon deliveries, notes Bloomberg.

“This integration will enable Amazon Restaurants to onboard new restaurants with ease, as well as quickly add more new choices and delivery options for customers,” the company said in a statement.

As for what’s in this for Amazon, well, that’s pretty clear.

“They’re obviously looking at new business segments — this is a big market for Amazon to get access to,” Olo CEO Noah Glass told Bloomberg.

After launching its restaurant delivery service — for Prime members only — in its hometown of Seattle in 2015, Amazon has slowly expanded Restaurants to more than 20 major cities including New York, Miami, Atlanta, and Las Vegas.

Currently, it requires a $20 minimum delivery — and there may be additional charges for each order, depending on where you get your food from.


by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist

Verizon Says Some Cut-Off Rural Customers Can Stay, But They Must Ditch Unlimited Data Plans

Verizon recently notified around 8,500 rural wireless customers — accounting for nearly 20,000 phone numbers — that their service was going to be cut off for good on Oct. 17 because they spent too much time roaming off the Verizon network. Following the negative public reaction to this news, Verizon has decided to give these customers more time to find another wireless carrier or switch over to a Verizon plan with data caps.

Just to recap for those coming in late: Verizon has been targeting groups of rural customers with “unlimited” data plans because these subscribers are using lots of roaming data, even though this data is supposed to be included in the unlimited plan.

Verizon’s argument is that these people are obviously not residing within the Verizon coverage area; glossing over the fact that maybe they are residing in a Verizon zone, but that Verizon’s rural coverage is so spotty that they may have to regularly work or travel through areas without direct access to Big V’s network.

Since 2010, Verizon has participated in partnership program with smaller wireless providers to allow for LTE roaming in rural areas. That was a fine idea for Verizon at the time, since nearly all of its plans had strict monthly data caps. People couldn’t run up too many gigabytes of data on this roaming network without having to pay an overage fee. But now that Verizon is once again offering unlimited data plans, these roaming customers are costing Verizon money.

The original notices sent out in early September gave affected subscribers until Oct. 17 to find a new provider. If they didn’t find one by that time, the customer would not only be without phone service, but they would be unable to later port their old Verizon number over to the new carrier.

Now, Verizon has softened its stance, particularly after rural police officers and first-responders who currently use Verizon responded negatively to this rushed “get off our network” declaration.

Today, the company announced that the affected customers now have until Dec. 1 to find a new provider, giving these subscribers about another six weeks to switch.

Some customers said that they would be left with no viable options if they couldn’t get Verizon service. For them, Verizon is allowing them to stay, but only if they switch to one of three tiered data plans with monthly caps of 2GB, 5GB, or 8GB. Folks must make that decision by Dec. 1 as well.

“Supporting these roaming customers can often be economically challenging, especially supporting those on plans with unlimited data or other high data plans,” reads a statement from Verizon. “However, we are continuing to look for ways to support existing roaming customers with LTE service.”


by Chris Morran via Consumerist

Gatorade Gets In Trouble For Making “Inaccurate” Anti-Water Statements In Game

Sure, any aspiring track star would love to be just like eight-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt. But years after Gatorade pushed a mobile gaming app starring the athlete’s character that urged players to “Keep your performance level high by avoiding water,” the company will have to pay $300,000 as part of a settlement resolving allegations that it violated California law by talking smack about H2O.

In a complaint [PDF] filed in California on Thursday, along with the related settlement [PDF], California accused accused Gatorade of violating state law in its free “Bolt!” game “through numerous false and misleading statements and depictions of water.”

The game was available for free on iTunes from 2012 through 2013, as well as for a period of time in 2017. It’s no longer available, but resulted in more than 2.3 million downloads worldwide. More than 70% of users were 13-24 years old.

Anti-water statements

In the game, players controlled a cartoon version of Bolt in a long race. Throughout, water was “inaccurately and negatively depicted as hindering the sprinter’s performance.”

For example, when players touched a Gatorade icon, the Bolt character would run faster and increase their “fuel meter.” When they hit a water droplet, Bolt slowed down and the fuel meter decreased.

“Keep your performance level high by avoiding water” and “grab Gatorade to fill your fuel meter,” the game’s tutorial urged.

Making matters worse, the complaint claims that these marketing messages “courted a youthful demographic that is particularly prone to inaccurate beliefs regarding the nutrition benefits of beverages.”

The lawsuit cites studies that found that so-called “advergames” — downloadable or internet-based videogames that feature a brand-name product within the game — “have a significant impact on consumer behavior not unlike more traditional forms of advertising.”

The complaint claimed that Gatorade’s marketing of the game was false or misleading in at least three ways:

1. “The game falsely depicted water slowing down the athletic performance of the Olympic sprinter, while depicting Gatorade as increasing his speed.”

2. The game’s fuel meter falsely depicted water as decreasing the amount of “fuel” available to the Olympic athlete, while depicting Gatorade as increasing the amount of available “fuel.”

3. The tutorial directly told its users to “Keep your performance level high by avoiding water.”

Settling up

As part of the settlement filed yesterday, Gatorade will pay $300,000, of which $120,000 will be used to fund research or education on water consumption and the nutrition of children and teenagers.

The settlement also requires Gatorade to disclose endorser relationships in any social media posts and prohibits the company from advertising its products in media where children under age 12 comprise more than 35% of the audience. The settlement also prohibits the company from negatively depicting water in any kind of ads.

“Making misleading statements is a violation of California law. But making misleading statements aimed at our children is beyond unlawful, it’s morally wrong and a betrayal of trust,” said Attorney General Becerra. “It’s what causes consumers to lose faith in the products they buy.”


by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist