US Tech Firms Have R&D Edge
American firms invest more than $5 in research and development for every $1 spent by Chinese companies, according to a new report from PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, which cataloged the top 1,000 spenders among publicly-traded companies. The Chinese excel at applications of existing technology rather than original research, according to one industry expert. However, the figures don’t include private companies, which leaves out China’s state-owned enterprises and closely held Huawei Technologies, the word’s largest maker of telecommunications equipment, which spent more than $13 billion on R&D last year. Among China’s biggest spenders are Alibaba, which spent $3.6 billion, compared to Amazon, which invested $22.6 billion and Google parent Alphabet, which invested $16.2 billion.
Automation Reshaping Job Market
A 2017 Pew survey showed that 72% of adults said they were worried about a future where robots and computers can perform human jobs. However, analysts’ estimates of the percentage of human jobs at risk as well as the percentage of new jobs that will be created vary widely. Some studies claim that 23% to 44% of work hours in the US will be automated by 2030, particularly in jobs that involve high degrees of repetition. Other studies place that risk as low as 9%. Artificial assistants, virtual intelligence, self-driving vehicles, robotics and other technological advances are creating the need for a workforce with new skills, which requires coming up with ways to retrain current workers and expand opportunities. In many cases, companies are redeploying people from “back room” jobs into positions that interface with customers.
Apple Most Valuable US Brand
Apple, Google and Amazon took the top three places in the 2017 BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands ranking, released by WPP and Kantar Millward Brown. Microsoft and Visa rounded out the top five. The ranking combines analyzed financial data from Bloomberg and Kantar Worldpanel with opinions from more than 164,000 American consumers gathered for more than 1,500 brands in nearly 130 categories. Apple, in first place, was given a brand worth of $316 billion based on the strength of its products combined with its services. Apart from Amazon, only seven retailers cracked the top 50, including The Home Depot (16) and Walmart (27). Lowes was 55 and Target was 73. One of the trends noted by Chain Store Age was that brands with a purpose are gaining disproportional value in the eyes of consumers, with people rewarding brands for sharing their values with strong emotional attachments.
Alexa, What’s the Diagnosis?
Amazon has patented technology that allows voice assistant Alexa to sense how people are feeling and recommend products for purchase. The patent describes Alexa using subtle voice cues to determine the emotional and physical states of users. Alexa would then combine those insights with age, demographic info and online browser and purchase history to select relevant content from advertisers. For example, if Alexa heard someone coughing or sniffling, she might suggest cough drops or an order of chicken soup from Panera.
Physical Store Networks Gear Up to Compete with Amazon
Walmart and Target are among the big retailers trying to make the most of the holiday shopping season by using their physical stores to offer customers appealing benefits. Walmart has added Check Out With Me, equipping store employees with portable payment systems so they can ring up customers on the spot in crowded departments like toys and electronics. The Walmart app has been updated to include new searchable store maps that will direct customers to the items they are looking for, with corresponding in-store signage to make navigating aisles easier. Target is pushing options for customers to get same-day delivery from Shipt, offering same-day pick-up in store for orders, expanding their curbside order pick-up service to 1,000 stores and rolling out deliver-to-home capabilities from stores to locations in five cities. Target is also offering free two-day shipping on all orders, some of which will be shipped from stores. Retail analysts say that unlike price promotions, these types of advances have the potential to improve store functionality and bring customers back long after the holidays are over. People may be shopping for gifts, but they are also spending money on themselves. The NRF said that self-gifting during the holidays rose 44% last year.
Retailers Urged Not to Be Boring
The kickoff presentation at the third-annual Home Improvement eRetailer Summit in Chicago was titled “Really Bad Time to be Boring: Reinventing Retail in the Age of Amazon.” The presentation focused on the waves of disruption that are rolling through the industry, and noted that the waves will likely intensify; the key is “learning to surf.” Companies must work hard at keeping their eyes and ears open to trends and do a better job of understanding what their customers want, as well as what they can deliver to attract people currently not doing business with them. The home improvement industry is currently in the early stages of conversion to online sales, with NPD research estimating a 17% penetration, behind consumer electronics, appliances, footwear and other sectors. But on a dollar-percent growth vs. one year ago, home improvement is at the top of the list at 26%. Among home improvement categories, the specific leaders in online sales are air filters, area rugs, blinds, plumbing and storage, according to the NPD Group. Retailers were also urged to embrace change and go with the flow. For example, the term omnichannel, which for the past few years has been the way retailers refer to their quest to offer their customers multiple ways to shop, is being replaced by terms like “continuous retail,” as multiple channels for purchasing become more mainstream. The 4th annual Home Improvement eRetailer Summit will be held next November in Chicago. The article also noted that the presentations at this event were very polished, and there were no tech difficulties.
Cracking Down on Gift Cards
Walmart, Target and Best Buy are among the retailers who are putting new limits on their store gift cards after a rash of incidents in which scammers used the cards to swindle victims. The new restrictions include capping how much money can be loaded onto gift cards or spent with them and blocking their use to buy third-party gift cards. Scam artists trick victims into putting large sums of money onto a store gift card and then giving up the code number, which the scammer uses to buy up third-party cards like iTunes or Google Play which can then be resold on the black market.
Target Incubator Wants to Make the World a Better Place
Target’s Incubator is in search of a product, service, technology or even a new business model that benefits people or the planet. The program is aimed at Gen Z entrepreneurs. Candidates applied in October; following a round of interviews, eight companies will be chosen in early December to receive a $10,000 stipend from Target. Two members from each company will relocate to Target’s Minneapolis headquarters for eight weeks from June through August to work with mentors from Target and other businesses as well as attend tailored workshops, learning sessions and team-building events. The Incubator is the newest program from Target’s accelerator portfolio, which also includes Target + Techstars.
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