Situs Newswatch 8/23/2017

High-Tech Shopping Goes Worldwide
The technological revolution in shopping isn’t confined to the U.S. – it is a worldwide phenomenon. In some countries, the technology being used in retail is more advanced than what is currently employed in the U.S.

In Japan, there has been a big push to bring technology into the shopping experience. In the Mitsukoshi department store, a humanoid robot named Aiko Chihira greets the customers, according to Reuters.

Another human-shaped robot, named Pepper, has been programmed to perceive human emotions. More than 140 SoftBank Mobile stores in Japan use Pepper robots to welcome, inform and amuse their customers.

China has had some success with robots in department stores that respond to humans. The robots are modeled after Pepper, and could be programmed to run in shopping malls, restaurants and banks, according to Infinities International Group, as reported by The Associated Press.

A KFC restaurant in Shanghai uses two robots to help take customers’ orders, according to the Daily Mail. The robot, named Dumi, is smart enough to handle order changes and substitutes, but its creators say it cannot distinguish other dialects or accents.

A number of innovations have come onboard in the U.K., as well. According to a survey by market research firm Mintel, 30 percent of U.K. consumers already feel comfortable about a completely cashless society, while 29 percent of those surveyed said that it was more convenient to make purchases using a smartphone above other payment methods. Tossed, a U.K. restaurant chain specializing in salads, launched completely cashless stores in 2016.

ShopDirect, a U.K.-based retailer, has introduced an application that allows customers to purchase online just by talking. Known as Talking Shop, the voice responds to the queries and provides suggestions designed to enhance the shopping experience.

Here are some more shopping innovations in emerging countries, according to

Brazil: In a Procter & Gamble store in Sao Paulo, customers can interact and experiment with products using sensory experimentation.

India: At the Delhi airport, a virtual mall called Scan N Shop allows passengers to order products by scanning the QR code displayed against each item with their smartphones.

China: Yihaodian has developed augmented reality stores. When customers point their smartphones at locations such as public squares, a virtual store is displayed where items sit on shelves or hang from walls. The same concept is used for supermarkets as customers can wander around the space and have their products delivered to their homes.

Reverence for Robots: Japanese Workers Treasure Automation 
Thousands upon thousands of cans are filled with beer, capped and washed, wrapped into six-packs, and boxed at dizzying speeds — 1,500 a minute, to be exact — on humming conveyor belts that zip and wind in a sprawling factory near Tokyo.

Nary a soul is in sight in this picture-perfect image of Japanese automation.

The machines do all the heavy lifting at this plant run by Asahi Breweries, Japan’s top brewer. The human job is to make sure the machines do the work right, and to check on the quality the sensors are monitoring.

“Basically, nothing goes wrong. The lines are up and running 96 percent,” said Shinichi Uno, a manager at the plant. “Although machines make things, human beings oversee the machines.”

The debate over machines snatching jobs from people is muted in Japan, where birth rates have been sinking for decades, raising fears of a labor shortage. It would be hard to find a culture that celebrates robots more, evident in the popularity of companion robots for consumers, sold by the internet company SoftBank and Toyota Motor Corp, among others.

Japan is ahead of the U.S. and Europe in introducing robots to the workplace, but that hasn’t resulted in the job reductions in routine mid-level employment seen in other countries

Japan, which forged a big push toward robotics starting in the 1990s, leads the world in robots per 10,000 workers in the automobile sector — 1,562, compared with 1,091 in the U.S. and 1,133 in Germany, according to a White House report submitted to Congress last year. Japan was also ahead in sectors outside automobiles at 219 robots per 10,000 workers, compared with 76 for the U.S. and 147 for Germany.

read more: AP News

Home Prices in U.S. Rose 6.6% in the Second Quarter, FHFA Says
Home prices in the U.S. increased 6.6 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier as buyers competed for a shrinking supply of listings.

Prices rose 1.6 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from the previous three months, the Federal Housing Finance Agency said in a statement Tuesday. In June, prices climbed 0.1 percent from May, less than the 0.5 percent average estimate of 12 economists.

The U.S. has been starved for inventory, in part because builders slowed production after the last decade’s property crash and many seniors are choosing to remain in their houses rather than downsize. The supply of previously owned homes on the market at the end of June fell 7.1 percent from a year earlier, the 25th consecutive annual decline, according to the National Association of Realtors.

read more: Bloomberg

Frankfurters Aren’t Rolling Out the Welcome Mat for Brexit Bankers
A bigger tax base, greater clout and a boost for the local economy: The city that hosts the European Central Bank has several reasons to welcome London bankers looking for a new post-Brexit home.

Residents, however, aren’t happy.

Many longtime Frankfurt locals see a potential wave of deep-pocketed bankers driving up housing costs and even driving them out of a city that is already struggling to meet its housing needs.

The U.K.’s 2016 decision to leave the European Union sparked race among the bloc’s capitals to lure banks and its employees who want to keep the ability to sell their services across the EU if Britain leaves the single market.

Frankfurt’s charm offensive on the banks is working, and several have said they would shift operations to the city.

But as Germany’s financial hub steps up its campaign to attract bankers from London, residents — already faced with rising property prices and many construction projects around the city — are starting to say “nein.”

“The city shouldn’t be spending my taxes to get bankers from London,” said Almuth Mayer, a nurse who lives in central Frankfurt and has joined one of several protest groups that have sprung up demanding city officials act to curb spiraling housing costs.

Demonstrations are being planned outside luxury housing blocks to coincide with the national election campaign in September in which Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union seeks re-election.

Ms. Mayer said her landlord, property company Rohleder and Paz GbR, has refused to fix leaks and holes in the roof to encourage middle-class tenants to leave and make way for bankers. She also has criticized Frankfurt’s mayor, Peter Feldmann, for personally going to London to woo banks.

“It’s close to criminal,” Ms. Mayer said.

A spokesman for the mayor declined to comment.

read more: Wall St Journal

Fiat Chrysler Joins BMW-Led Self-Driving Car Tech Alliance
Fiat Chrysler said Wednesday it is joining  a BMW-led consortium to develop self-driving car technology, a move that comes more than a year after the group was formed with an aim of producing fully automated vehicles by 2021.

BMW AG and Intel Corp. launched the cross-industry partnership in July of 2016, along with Israeli car-camera software provider Mobileye NV, which Intel purchased earlier this year. The companies are seeking to create an industry standard for future fleets of autonomous vehicles.

The decision by Fiat Chrysler, which previously outsourced its self-driving program to Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc., is the latest sign it is ready to embrace next-generation technology. The company’s chief executive has been skeptical of auto industry efforts to promote autonomously driven and electric-powered vehicles.

But last month CEO Sergio Marchionne said Fiat Chrysler’s Maserati luxury sports brand would electrify half of its vehicles’ powertrains by the early 2020s. He also signaled a willingness to collaborate with more parties on self-driving car technology.

“Joining this cooperation will enable FCA to directly benefit from the synergies and economies of scale that are possible when companies come together with a common vision and objective,” CEO Sergio Marchionne said in a statement issued Wednesday.

FCA’s move follows Delphi Automotive PLC and Continental AG, two top global automotive component suppliers who signed up with the consortium in May and June, respectively.

The alliance is working to integrate hardware, software and communication protocols for self-driving cars. It plans to start a pilot program involving 40 test vehicles by the end of the year.

read more: Wall St Journal

Economists See Only Slight Impact from Fed Bond Trimming
The nation’s business economists believe that the Federal Reserve’s long-awaited move to start reducing its massive bond holdings will push long-term bond rates higher but most think the impact will be fairly modest.

The latest survey, out Monday, of the National Association for Business Economics found that 41% of economists surveyed expected rates on the 10-year Treasury note will rise by just one-half percentage point or less. About one-fourth saw an increase of three-fourths of a percentage point to a full percentage point in the 10-year note while only 11% saw rates going up more than 1 percentage point over the extended period that the Fed is reducing its holdings.

The policy survey summarized the responses of 184 of the association’s members surveyed from July 18 to Aug. 2.

The Federal Reserve is expected to announce at its September meeting a starting date for the reduction in its $4.5 trillion balance sheet, which has grown five-fold since right before the 2008 financial crisis. The increase came as the central bank bought Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities in an effort to give the economy a boost by lowering long-term interest rates to pull the country out of a deep recession

read more: USA Today

Target is Buying a Company That Makes Quick Local Deliveries Easier
Target Corp.— increasingly aware that shoppers want the things they buy online to arrive right away — is acquiring a San Francisco transportation technology company that facilitates same-day deliveries.

The discount retailer announced Monday that it has agreed to acquire tech start-up Grand Junction, whose software manages local deliveries using a network of about 700 carriers.

“We’ll leverage Grand Junction’s platform … to become even faster and more efficient in how we get products to our guests,” Arthur Valdez, Target’s chief supply chain and logistics officer, said in a statement.

Target declined to reveal financial details of the acquisition. It said the deal would close soon, but it did not specify when.

Grand Junction’s 13 employees will become Target workers after the deal closes, Target said. The start-up’s office is expected to move from San Francisco’s financial district to be closer to Target’s Silicon Valley headquarters in Sunnyvale. Its founder and chief executive, Rob Howard, is to become Target’s vice president of technology.

Target has been working with Grand Junction on a same-day delivery pilot program at a store in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood. Target said same-day deliveries will be expanded to other New York stores in the fall and to other major cities next year.

Minneapolis-based Target was already exploring ways to shorten the time between when customers place an order and when they receive their purchases. In June, Target announced a pilot program in the Minneapolis area to deliver essential household goods such as pet food and laundry detergent within one business day. In 2015, it partnered with Instacart for same-day grocery deliveries. That followed a 2014 pilot program that offered a same-day Rush Delivery option.

Instacart still does deliveries for Target in San Francisco, Chicago and Minneapolis as part of a test program, Target spokesman Eddie Baeb said. He said the planned acquisition of Grand Junction would not change Target’s deal with Instacart.

read more: LA Times

With Amazon Looming, Walmart Touts Surging Online Grocery Sales
Walmart is taking on Amazon in an attempt to head off the online giant before it can gain too much of a foothold in the home-delivered grocery business.

Walmart said Thursday that it’s delivering online grocery orders from more than 900 stores with “strong results” in the early going, as the company’s rivalry with Amazon intensifies.

Amazon recently announced it is acquiring Whole Foods Market and is believed to be preparing to use its network of 468 stores to expand its grocery delivery service. Walmart said that it would extend its own service to 1,100 locations by the end of this year.

Greg Foran, CEO for Walmart U.S., said that the retailer will “watch closely” if Amazon ramps up its online grocery business. But he says he welcomes the competition, not only from Amazon, but from other potential rivals, such as discount grocery chain Aldi and German chain Lidl which are also expanding in the U.S.

“In order to do well in a market that’s improving, you have to perform better yourself,” he said in an earnings call with media Thursday.

read more: USA Today

Grocery War: 8 Stores Within 1.5 miles Stampede Suburban Buffalo
If you’re shopping for groceries in Amherst, New York, just outside Buffalo, and you can’t find what you’re looking for, you probably can’t find it anywhere.

That’s because once Whole Foods Market opens its store in the Northtown Plaza next month, eight chain stores that sell groceries will be located within 1.5 miles, on or near the Niagara Falls Boulevard corridor in the town.

It’s a dizzying amount of choice for shoppers, ranging from local favorites Wegmans and Tops Markets to the only area locations of two long-coveted out-of-town supermarkets, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. It also includes deep-discount Aldi, small natural foods store Feel-Rite Fresh Markets and retailers-turned-grocers Walmart and Target.

There’s no other cluster of grocers comparable in the region.

“We always refer to the McDonald’s-Burger King concept, where McDonald’s goes up and Burger King goes up across the street,” said Colleen C. DiPirro, the president and CEO of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce. “I think when you have a unique brand, like Whole Foods or like Trader Joe’s, a Wegmans or a Tops doesn’t discourage you. It means the chains have to do whatever they can to stand out from the competition in a crowded marketplace, where even grocery stores are starting to feel the squeeze from online rivals.”

And the concentration of stores in one small section of Amherst could be a boon for consumers, making it easier for them to comparison shop for the best prices and to find a better selection.

“When you have a limited amount of stores, the prices can be less competitive,” Fred Jordan of Tonawanda, said outside the Aldi on Maple Road that he lives a few minutes from. “The more options you have, the better the competition.”

read more: Buffalo News

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