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The Consumerist

Amazon Marketplace Glitch Brings Early Christmas To Shoppers, Nightmare For Sellers

Mon, 2014-12-15 17:57
(Alan Rappa)

(Alan Rappa)

Every once in a while a company will suffer an online glitch that leads to consumers purchasing items at bargain-basement prices. While most of the recent buying free-for-alls came courtesy of deeply discounted airline tickets, an issue on Amazon’s UK marketplace Friday gave new meaning to the idea of a holiday fire sale when thousands of items went were priced for a little as one penny (or 2 pennies if you’re in the United States).

The Guardian reports that for about an hour on Friday evening the software used by third-party sellers to ensure their products are cheapest on the UK Amazon marketplace malfunctioned and reduced prices drastically, in some cases to just a few cents.

Unlike United Airlines, which refused to honor plane tickets purchased during a glitch in October, officials with Amazon say they have no choice but to fulfill orders in which consumers were already charged.

And so, while the glitch allowed consumers to scoop up crazy deals on thousands of goods including mattresses, batteries, games, and clothing, it put the pressure on sellers’ demand capabilities and their pocketbooks.

Martin Le Corre, who sells toys and games on Amazon tells The Guardian that had he not taken his store offline shortly after the glitch began he could be out more than £100,000 (about $156,666).

“We got a call from a competitor to say ‘do you realise all your listings at a penny?'” he says. “By the end of the hour, we had 1,600 orders. “People were buying 10, 50, 100 copies of everything. It is £50,000, £60,000, £100,000 of stock; we can’t even work it out.”

Although Le Corre’s store, MB Housewares, was able to deflect the brunt bargain sales, he says that about £30,000 (or nearly $50,000) worth of products had already been marked as dispatched by Amazon, meaning they could not be cancelled and shoppers would be able to keep the items.

Officials with Amazon say they are working to cancel orders that have not been dispatched, but sellers tell The Guardian that the cancellations were having a negative affect on their seller ratings.

TV and mobile phone seller, Stephen Palmer, says he thought the glitch was just a prank when he noticed a plethora of Amazon notification emails.

“One customer in Kent ordered 59 mobile phones, each for 1p,” he says. “That is stock worth £1,500 ($2,350).”

Palmer says the order was marked as dispatched by Amazon’s distribution center 24 hours after he called the e-tailer to try to stop his products from being dispatched in one penny orders.

Judith Blackford, who sells dresses though her store Kiddymania, says she lost about £20,000 ($31,300) overnight Friday and fears that she could go bankrupt as a result of the glitch.

Like Palmer, she first noticed there might be an issue when she received notifications of 150 orders. By the end of the evening, her Amazon account showed she had sold 675 items, some items valued at £100 sold for just a penny.

“I phoned Amazon but the support line was closed until the morning,” she says. “There was an emergency email, but they just said they were aware of it and looking into it.”

According to The Guardian, the company behind the marketplace software, RepricerExpress, markets itself on its website as a company that provides “the ridiculously simply way to increase your Amazon holiday sales.”

While the software glitch no doubt increased holiday sales, it did so at the sellers’ expense.

RepricerExpress chief executive Brendan Doherty, apologized to customers, saying the company was devastated by the issue.

“I am truly sorry for the distress this has caused our customers. We understand that you are angry and upset and we will endeavour to work to make good on this issue and to work to restore your confidence in our product and service,” he tells The Guardian.

A spokesperson for Amazon also apologized to sellers for the glitch.

“We responded quickly and were able to cancel the vast majority of orders placed on these affected items immediately and no costs or fees will be incurred by sellers for these cancelled orders,” the spokesperson tells The Guardian. “We are now reviewing the small number of orders that were processed and will be reaching out to any affected sellers directly.”

Amazon sellers hit by nightmare before Christmas as glitch cuts prices to 1p [The Guardian]

Babies “R” Us Is Already Over Christmas, Moves On To Valentine’s Day

Mon, 2014-12-15 17:52

vdaycreepIt’s not often that we find a retailer that’s over Christmas before it even starts — on the contrary, we usually find Christmas Creep to be the creepiest of all the holiday creeps, sometimes starting as far back as July. But they’re not having it over at Babies “R” Us. In fact, Christmas might as well be over, for all this store cares.

Consumerist reader Liz snapped the above photo at her local Babies R Us store last week, as in mid-December, two weeks before Christmas, that shows the store is ready to move on from all that ho-ho-ho-ing.

“I saw this display at Babies R Us yesterday,” she wrote. “I haven’t even finished my Christmas shopping yet, and now I’m supposed to be thinking about Valentine’s cards and candy hearts?”

Yes, yes you are. Which means they’ve WON, Liz. They’ve already won.

AT&T Scores Big New Contract From Government Agency After Hiring Their CIO

Mon, 2014-12-15 17:23

(afagen)

(afagen)


AT&T nabbed two big scores from one federal agency this year: one, a top executive with years of government experience and two, a lucrative contract to be that agency’s mobile carrier. Both AT&T and the agency say the two are unrelated, and they very well may be. But the timing highlights once again that the revolving door between government and business is an opening not only for career opportunities, but also for big questions about how corporations can gain undue influence in Washington.

The Center for Public Integrity reports that AT&T just won a major contract with the Government Services Administration, which handles real estate, IT, and purchasing logistics (all the admin stuff, basically) for the federal government. The contract the GSA awarded to AT&T is worth close to $13 million and includes about 12,000 mobile devices, according to CPI.

Verizon holds the previous, expiring contract for providing mobile services to the GSA. The transition between providers will take place over the first half of next year.

Federal contracts expire and change hands all the time. This one is different because AT&T picked up one notable new hire for their “government solutions” team back in January: Casey Coleman, previously chief information officer for the GSA.

It’s yet another example of the revolving door between the public and private sectors. On the one hand, it makes perfect sense that executive-level talent would shift between the two worlds. Regulating agencies benefit from having subject-area experts with field experience in their ranks, and corporations benefit from having employees with expertise navigating government in theirs.

But of course, it’s not just about what you know; it never is. It’s all about who you know, what connections you bring, and where you might still have a few inches of extra leverage due to those relationships.

And that’s what makes the AT&T contract, and others like it, deserve an extra level of scrutiny.

CPI writes that both AT&T and the GSA say that the contract was awarded through a completely above-board competitive process, and that all rules and regulations pertaining to former government officials’ interactions with current government employees were followed. A GSA spokesperson told CPI in a statement that Coleman “was long gone before we received any proposals and had no involvement with the evaluation of the proposals that GSA received,” and added, “She had no direct or indirect part or involvement in the procurement or subsequent award.” And all of that is no doubt true.

Still, even if Coleman never once placed a call to, sent an e-mail to, or had a coffee with a single soul in the GSA after she left, that doesn’t mean she wasn’t an integral part of the deal. AT&T doesn’t hire a former government employee and pay them an executive’s salary just for fun; they do it for what the company will gain from her employment.

As one government watchdog group put it to CPI, “Someone in Coleman’s position can provide some really valuable advice and guidance behind the scenes that helps win a contract.” Just because she herself did not take any actions doesn’t mean she couldn’t gently suggest to others within AT&T which actions to take, which numbers to call, or which arguments would be most compelling.

This is, unfortunately, the game that every big business angling for lucrative federal contracts plays. When two or three wireless companies are competing for a contract worth tens of millions of dollars, having the right executive in the room, with the right knowledge about their former agency, can be the competitive edge that makes or breaks the deal. And as long as that’s the case, and as long as no rules prevent it, the revolving door will continue to turn.

‘Revolving door’ spins between AT&T, GSA [Center for Public Integrity]

Senator Calls For Investigation Into Why Airfares Increase While Costs Sink

Mon, 2014-12-15 17:15

(Don Buciak II)

(Don Buciak II)

Oil prices are down, airlines are profitable, but ticket prices aren’t going down and some carriers are still adding fuel surcharges. Thus, New York Senator Chuck Schumer has called for a federal investigation into why we’re all paying so dang much for air travel.

Schumer has asked both Department of Justice and the Department of Transportation to investigate why airfares continue to increase at a time when the costs of operating an airline are down and when the airlines are making record amounts of money from add-on charges.

Fuel costs account for nearly half of an airline’s costs, and even though the price of oil has sunk significantly since June, consumers are not seeing any trickle-down in the form of lower airfares, claims Schumer.

While one could argue that there is a lag effect between the drop in oil prices and any change in airfares, the Senator points out that airlines have historically used increases in oil prices to explain immediate hikes in ticket prices.

“The industry often raises prices in a flash when oil prices spike, yet they appear not to be adjusting for the historic decline in the cost of fuel,” he explains. “ticket prices should not shoot up like a rocket and come down like a feather.”

Schumer is also asking regulators to look into the impact that the recent mergers — United/Continental, US Airways/American, Delta/Northwest, Southwest/AirTran, just to name a few — that have significantly reduced competition in the industry while also making the surviving companies more efficient and profitable.

“At a time when the cost of fuel is plummeting and profits are rising, it is curious and confounding that ticket prices are sky-high and defying economic gravity,” said Schumer. “With so little competition, will the consumer never get a break?”

Uber Realizes Charging Surge Prices During Sydney Hostage Situation Isn’t A Great Idea, Offers Free Rides

Mon, 2014-12-15 16:49

Uber's first take on the hostage situation? Surge pricing.

Uber’s first take on the hostage situation? Surge pricing.

As of Monday morning, there is a hostage situation in Sydney, Australia, where a suspect has been in a standoff with police since Sunday morning, holding a reported 13 or so people hostage inside a cafe in the city’s central business district. And while others in the area tried to flee from the scene as quickly as possible yesterday, Uber customers were finding $100 minimum charges and up to 4x surge prices to get a ride somewhere safer.

Mashable reports that Uber charged higher fares briefly yesterday at the height of the rush to get out of the CBD, before quickly backtracking upon realizing from the outcry on social media from upset consumers that charging people astronomically high fares in the face of danger is not cool, speaking human to human.

At first, Uber confirmed this decision to use surge pricing on its Twitter account:

We are all concerned with events in CBD. Fares have increased to encourage more drivers to come online & pick up passengers in the area.

— Uber Sydney (@Uber_Sydney) December 15, 2014

The company also issued a statement to that end:

We are all concerned with the events happening in Sydney.
UberBLACK and uberX provide additional options above and beyond the existing transport services.
Fares automatically increase when demand exceeds available supply, to encourage more drivers to come online or leave other suburbs to come pick up passengers in areas of high demand. We are keeping partners advised about road closures.
Uber will not charge a commission on any rides out of the CBD today with 100% of every fare picking up from CBD going to drivers getting people home safely.
We are following this process:
– Uber’s pricing algorithms will be capped during disasters and relevant states of emergency.
– For each market, the state of emergency price will be set after excluding the 3 highest-priced, non-emergency days of the preceding 2 months.
“This policy intends to strike the careful balance between the goal of transportation availability with community expectations of affordability during disasters.” Travis Kalanick, CEO

Cue the social media backlash — people were not happy:

@Uber_Sydney @joshgnosis fares have increased out of concern? Really?

— Leif Rask (@lsrask) December 15, 2014

@Uber_Sydney @joshgnosis Absolutely disgraceful. You should be capping the prices much lower rather than taking advantage! Shockingly bad

— Joel (@MonocleMoose) December 15, 2014

@Uber_Sydney Fares have increased to $100 minimum fare. How do you justify that? Way to ensure public won't see you as viable option to cabs

— Dame Maureen Chuck (@Dame_hohohchuck) December 15, 2014

@uber_sydney Couldn't have just paid the increase yourselves for a couple hours? Pretty disappointing, Uber.

— Jonathan Sala Claus (@tamasys) December 15, 2014

Accordingly, Uber changed its tune, and offered free rides to anyone trying to get away from the area of the standoff, and said it would refund all the rides for those people who had already been charged surge pricing or high minimum fares.:

Uber rides out of the CBD today are free for all riders to help Sydneysiders get home safely. See http://t.co/UIwoom25Bm for more info.

— Uber Sydney (@Uber_Sydney) December 15, 2014

The company issued an updated statement to that end:

We are all concerned with the events happening in Sydney.
Uber Sydney will be providing free rides out of the CBD to help Sydneysiders get home safely.
Our thoughts are with those affected and the NSW Police Force.
We are in the process of refunding rides. If you have been charged during these hours leaving the CBD please email supportsydney@uber.com.
Please note that surge pricing only remains in place to encourage more drivers to come online and pick up passengers from the area.
Updates will follow on Twitter – @Uber_Sydney

Uber intros surge pricing during Sydney hostage siege, then backtracks after user outcry [Mashable]

Yoplait Copes With Sales Drop Amidst Greek Yogurt Mania

Mon, 2014-12-15 16:42

(Dave Buchwald)

(Dave Buchwald)

Back in 2008, things were different in the yogurt aisle: Chobani hadn’t yet stirred up consumer tastes with its thick Greek-style yogurts, and Yoplait, owned by General Mills, had more than a third of the market. Since then, consumers have gone Greek yogurt-mad, and Yoplait isn’t selling as well, now comprising less than a quarter of the market. How is Yoplait coping? By selling its own version of Greek yogurt, of course.

Yoplait’s own version of Greek yogurt trails behind brands that got there first, like Chobani and the Oikos line from Dannon. While the brand has lost sales (just like its breakfast pals and fellow General Mills products, cereals) the Wall Street Journal reports that it recovered some of those lost sales by changing its products: its Greek yogurt products no longer have “thickeners,” and they’ve phased high fructose corn syrup out of sweetened yogurt packages.

One odd new product that will hit the market soon will be Greek yogurt “whips,” which will be a lighter, less dense version of Greek yogurt. Isn’t that… regular yogurt? No, the head of the Yoplait division assures the WSJ. “Greek just means higher protein to most people,” he says. Will these “whips” actually have more protein? Maybe that doesn’t matter: just slap the word “Greek” on a yogurt container and people will buy it.

General Mills Whips Yoplait Into Shape [Wall Street Journal]

Photographer Still Trying To Claim Ownership Of Monkey Selfie

Mon, 2014-12-15 16:33

The monkey seen in this image is actually the one who pressed the button on the camera. Copyright law forbids a non-human animal from holding a copyright, so many believe the image is in the public domain. David Slater, the photographer whose camera was used for the photo, disagrees.

The monkey seen in this image is actually the one who pressed the button on the camera. Copyright law forbids a non-human animal from holding a copyright, so many believe the image is in the public domain. David Slater, the photographer whose camera was used for the photo, disagrees.

Even though the U.S. Copyright Office has explicitly stated that one can not register a copyright for “A photograph taken by a monkey,” the photographer whose camera was used by a monkey for a now-famous self-portrait is still trying to claim that he is the owner of the photograph and demanding that a website purchase a license to run the image.

For those coming late to this story, here’s a quick catch-up. In 2011, wildlife photographer David Slater traveled to Indonesia and was taking photos of some macaque monkeys, when one of the animals snatched his camera away and took some photos, including the above self-portrait.

According to U.S. copyright law, a non-human animal can not hold copyright on any work. So when the selfie was added to the Wikimedia Commons collection of 22 million images and videos that are free to use, Slater made various attempts to have it removed, claiming he was the rightful copyright holder.

In August a Wikimedia transparency report explained that the organization’s stance was that neither Slater nor the monkey held the copyright, and was thus in the public domain. Weeks later, the U.S. Copyright Office issued a draft of its Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices and specifically called out photos taken by monkeys as an example of something that can’t be registered.

Things seemed to settle down, until last week, when Slater wrote a letter to advocacy group Public Knowledge, alleging that its blog had infringed on his copyright.

Slater took issue with an August blog post from Public Knowledge’s Sherwin Siy on the topic of the monkey selfie. He alleged the article was “factually incorrect and damaging,” and “willfully damaging and disrespectful” and that the post “encourages the public to infringe my copyright of the monkey images.”

“The exclusion of any proper accreditation to the image, or even mention of my name in relation to the image, infringes upon my moral rights to the image and is contrary to any Fair Use dealing,” he writes. “It is also being used to benefit Public Knowledge and your mission at the expense of my own. This is contrary to fair use and also your mission which claims to uphold the fair use doctrine.”

Slater then goes on to explain his unique understanding of how public domain works.

“A public domain image is one in which a living author has voluntarily relinquished rights to the image,” claims Slater. “Any debate claiming acts of nature were responsible for the image MUST be resolved in a court, and only AFTER judgement shall an image be qualified as public domain.”

In Siy’s response to Slater — which makes it clear that Public Knowledge has no plan to obtain a license for the photo or to rewrite its story — he takes particular issue with this assertion that a public domain claim must be litigated.

“It would be absurd for every instance of the use of public domain works to be litigated,” writes Siy. “The fact that certain works have no copyright holder (because the term of copyright has expired, because the work is not the creation of a human author, or because the work was not sufficiently fixed or sufficiently creative) means that there would be no one to definitively contest the usage in court.”

He points out that publishers don’t need to go to court for permission to print copies of 173-year-old Edgar Allan Poe stories, or that anyone needs a judge to sign off on the use of creative works authored by the federal government.

Siy does acknowledge that someone like Slater could go to court to try to prove that the disputed work is not in the public domain.

Even if Slater did hold the copyright to the image, Siy notes that the doctrine of fair use allows for certain unlicensed uses of copyrighted works.

“You will note that our use of the photograph was in the context of discussing that photograph,” he explains. “News reporting, commentary, and criticism are all quintessential examples of fair use, and this clearly falls within them.”

Siy also slams Slater for his repeated statements that using the photo benefits the mission of Public Knowledge.

“If uses of copyrighted works were only fair when they were useless to the user, it would be a singularly useless doctrine,” explains Siy.

Finally, the response to Slater argues that the original Public Knowledge blog post was not “disrespectful” to Slater, and it wouldn’t matter if it were.

“While I believe I was more than fair in my treatment of your reputation in that post, I did then, and do now, have every right in the world to be disrespectful of you in public,” concludes Siy.

[via Ars Technica]

Bunch Of Grinches Take $2K In Christmas Trees From Cut-Your-Own Farm Without Paying

Mon, 2014-12-15 15:51

(Viseskogen)

An example of Christmas trees. (Viseskogen)

Everybody’s got to make a living, and for some people, sometimes the most fruitful times to ply your trade only happen for a short period every year. That’s why a Christmas tree farm in Maine that lets customers cut down their own trees is suffering when it should be the most rewarding seasons — it seems the Grinches are out in force, with many people stealing the $40 trees and wreaths instead of paying.

Other holiday shoppers may suffer from higher prices at the farm if Christmas trees continue to cut themselves down and walk off the lot, the owner tells CentralMaine.com. So far, he says about $2,000 worth of seasonal greenery has been lost this season. The trees usually go for about $30, and on Saturday night, about 12 of them disappeared.

“I’m just getting tired of it, and that’s why I called the police today, just to have an officer come over,” said the owner said. He’s moved to the pre-cut trees in an effort to cut down on overnight thefts, but that hasn’t helped.

Part of the the problem is that hundreds of people visit the farm every weekend, and sometimes they just walk off without paying because they get tired of waiting when it’s busy, the owner says. That $2,000 lost this year represents about 5% of the business’ total profit, making it no small matter.

“For a seasonal business that’s pretty substantial. We’re only open four weeks a year. It’s a feel-good product and we operate largely on an honor system. When it gets really busy sometimes people don’t want to wait and they just leave,” he said.

Now that there are a few bad apples in the bunch, it could spoil it for everyone else if the thefts don’t stop — he’ll have no choice but to raise the price of trees for everyone.

“You’re never going to catch a thief, but you can slow it down. We want people to know that we know it’s going on,” he said.

Especially because there’s something so wrong about sitting in front of a brightly lit piece of festive decor that should symbolize something pure and good and loving about a holiday, but instead it was stolen from a small business owner. Try being merry with your ill-gotten trees now, Grinches!

Christmas trees stolen from Norridgewock tree farm [CentralMaine.com]

PetSmart Sells To Private Investment Firm For $8.7B

Mon, 2014-12-15 15:40
(Clean Wal-Mart)

(Clean Wal-Mart)

Who knew that pet care could be such a lucrative business? Just as the year comes to an end, PetSmart announced it would sell itself for $8.7 billion to a private equity firm, fetching the title of largest private equity deal of 2014.

The New York Times reports that officials with PetSmart announced the gargantuan deal Sunday to sell itself to a group led by European-American investment firm BC Partners.

The sale comes just months after the retailer came under pressure from two hedge funds to explore a sale. Ultimately, BC Partners, which is a previous investor of Office Depot, along with several smaller firms, including a Quebec pension fund, won a months-long auction for the retailer.

Under the deal, BC Partners and its limited partners will pay about $83 a share in cash, about 6.8% higher than PetSmart’s closing Price on Friday, the Times reports.

PetSmart currently operates more than 1,300 stores in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, selling everything from pet toys, food and feature adoptable pets through local rescues.

“The question is, ‘Why haven’t there been more people interested in PetSmart?’” Raymond Svider, a managing partner of BC Partners, says in a statement. “The category of pet products has been growing in the U.S. and abroad consistently for a number of years.”

The times reports that the transaction is expected to close in the first half of next year, pending approval from shareholders and regulators.

PetSmart to Sell Itself to Investor Group for $8.7 Billion [The New York Times]

Santa Exists, Dropped $20K To Pay Off Toys ‘R’ Us Layaway Accounts

Fri, 2014-12-12 23:59

(Nicholas DiMaio)

(Nicholas DiMaio)

News stories about “layaway angels,” people who stop by a retailer’s layaway counter and pay off the balances of strangers, became very popular during the holiday season of 2011. They’ve since become a recurring tradition, and this year we have mostly heard about people spending five-figure amounts to pay off everyone’s balance in a show of generosity.

This week, staff at the Toys ‘R’ Us in Bellingham, MA had the tedious but completely amazing task of calling layaway customers and letting them know it was time to pick up their purchases: they had been paid off in full by an anonymous stranger. The benefector, who gave out plenty of hugs at the store but didn’t provide her name. We choose to believe that she is, in fact, Santa. Toys ‘R’ Us confirmed that she paid around $20,000 to close out all of the store’s layaway accounts.

While she didn’t talk to the media, one store employee says that the woman said that making sure local children would have toys for Christmas would “help her sleep better at night.” One local mother was stunned, having put $50 worth of toys on layaway for her sons and struggling to make the payments. “I almost wanted to cry. It was only $50, but to me that’s a lot of money, and that someone would go and do that gave me chills,” she told the Milford Daily News.

Santa also lives in Ohio, where a man visited Walmart and paid off $15,000 worth of layaway accounts, asking to focus on accounts containing toys or other items for kids.

Toys ‘R’ Us is a popular store for layaway angels to visit, which makes sense. Another shopper in Massachusetts paid off the accounts of everyone standing in line behind him in the customer service line, which cost about $1,500.

You don’t need massive stacks of money to play Santa if doing this appeals to you: a few years ago, one Consumerist reader declared paying off one family’s layaway account to be the best $100 she had ever spent.

Touched by a ‘layaway angel’ [Milford Daily News]

The LEGO Female Scientists Are Back, Maybe Indefinitely

Fri, 2014-12-12 23:00

P1070985m4Earlier this year, LEGO introduced a limited-edition set of minifig female scientists along with essential work equipment like a telescope and a dinosaur skeleton. They sold out quickly, and many female fans of LEGO and/or science were disappointed that the set wouldn’t become permanent. Just in time for Christmas, LEGO quietly put the set back up for sale, and they may be available permanently in the company’s retail stores.

The site says that the set will ship on December 21, but is available only in “limited quantities,” so hurry up if you want a miniature research institute of your very own. The more important piece of information on the page is the second sentence, which says:

It is coming soon to LEGO® Brand retail locations and is expected to be available within two weeks.

Could it be that the petition worked, and the Lego Research Institute will be a permanent institution? LEGO representatives didn’t get back to the New York Times, but it looks like the set will be revived for now. We might not be able to get them in time for Christmas, but life can’t be perfect.

Take it away, Jesse:

LEGO’s “Research Institute” Female Scientist Set Is Back In Stock And Going Fast! [The Mary Sue]

Report: Americans Are Poorer Since The Recession Ended, Wealth Inequality Continues To Increase

Fri, 2014-12-12 22:48

The wealth gap between races continues to widen despite recession recovery.

The wealth gap between races continues to widen despite recession recovery.

While it could be debated to no end whether or not the Great Recession is over, a new report points out that consumers are still worth less money than they were before the bottom fell out of the economy.

A new analysis from Pew Research Center found that even as the economy has recovered, many households still face financial disparity and wealth inequality continues to widen along racial and ethnic lines.

According to the report, the net worth of American families – the difference between values of their assets and liabilities – fell 39.4% from the start of the recession to the purported end. Back in 2007, families had a net worth of $135,700, while they currently have a net worth of $81,400.

There has been significant decreases in consumer wealth since the recession ended.

There has been significant decreases in consumer wealth since the recession ended.

In addition to the different in wealth from year to year, Pew’s analysis of Federal Reserve data found a stark divide between the experience of different races during economy recovery.

From 2010 to 2013, the median wealth of non-Hispanic white households increased from $138,600 to $141,900, or by 2.4%, while median wealth of non-Hispanic black households fell 33.7%, from $16,600 in 2010 to $11,000 in 2013.

Among Hispanics, median wealth decreased by 14.3%, from $16,000 to $13,700.

Pew points out that difference in wealth can, in part, be attributed to difference in median income between races and the use of financial assets such as stocks.

Still, since the recovery started all families have faced the same issues, including the reduction of ownership of key assets, such as homes, stocks and business equity.

Wealth inequality has widened along racial, ethnic lines since end of Great Recession [Pew Research Center]

Gas Station Owners Aren’t Passing Their Savings On To Consumers

Fri, 2014-12-12 22:17

(mightynine)

(mightynine)

You may have noticed prices gradually falling at your neighborhood gas station over the last few months, what you may not know is that the price of oil has been falling even faster than that. Why aren’t station owners passing the savings on to drivers? They’re in a generally low-margin business, and we’re all still buying gas anyway.

Gas costs about a dollar less nationwide right now than it did a year ago, which is putting more money in consumers’ pockets for other things, and making drivers more cheerful in general. The problem is, while that’s a nice decrease, oil prices are down about 40% since earlier this year. The price that we pay for gasoline hasn’t kept up with that. During that same period, investment bank Goldman Sachs estimates that gas stations’ profit margins are 18.5% higher than they were at the same time last year.

Oil prices worldwide have been falling because oil production is up

Gas stations have been slow to pass along fuel savings [MarketWatch]
Consumers raking in $125 billion windfall from cheap gas [MarketWatch]

Parents Of Four-Year-Old Say Son Got A Nazi-Themed Ring In Toy Vending Machine

Fri, 2014-12-12 22:01

A Tulsa mother says her four-year-old son received a Nazi-themed ring from a vending machine at a local dollar store.

A Tulsa mother says her four-year-old son received a Nazi-themed ring from a vending machine at a local dollar store.

You just never know what might pop out of the small plastic bubble toy vending machines found at the front of many stores and restaurants. You could get a cute colorful dinosaur or a Nazi-themed plastic ring. The latter was reportedly the prize for a four-year-old at a Tulsa Family Dollar store earlier this week.

KOKI-TV reports the boy received a gold plastic ring adorned with an eagle sitting atop a small swastika after putting 25-cents into a toy vending machine at a local dollar store.

A quick search of the ring’s imprint shows that it appears to be reflective of the Nazi party’s official symbol, which also features an eagle grasping a wreath of laurels atop a swastika.

“We actually bought four things, and three of them were little dinosaurs or something,” the mother says. “And on the fourth one, it so happened this fell out.”

She tells the TV station that she always gives her son a quarter for the vending machine when the family goes shopping, but that she’s considering changing that practice.

“It was made just like the other rings they’ve got in there,” the mother says. “You can bend it up and shove it in here. So it was made for a vending machine. I just don’t understand why.”

The woman says she went to other Family Dollar stores in surrounding areas, but did not find the Nazi-thmeded ring in any other machines.

When KOKI visited the same Family Dollar location to find out how the ring ended up in the children’s toy machine, it found 10 to 15 additional rings waiting for purchase.

Officials with Family Dollar say they don’t maintain or stock the vending machine, but that they’d had issues with the third-party vendor in the past.

KOKI called a number located on the machine and the man who answered said the items inside the machine will be examined and removed in the next few days.

Child buys Nazi themed toy from vending machine for 25 cents [KOKI]

Chick-Fil-A Loses Its Trademark Crusade Against “Eat More Kale” Slogan

Fri, 2014-12-12 21:46

The Eat More Kale guy, as see on EatMoreKale.com.

The Eat More Kale guy, as seen pointing to his himself on EatMoreKale.com.

The last we heard from the “Eat More Kale” guy in his battle to bring veggie-themed T-shirts to the masses, he’d lost a round to the Goliath that is Chick-fil-A after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office gave him a preliminary “no” in 2013. But it looks like David will still come out on top in this situation, as he was just granted the trademark for his phrase.

Chick-fil-A has been waging war against the kale guy since 2011, when the company threatened to sue the Vermont folk artist for using the slogan on his line of T-shirts.

The food fight seems to be over now, as the guy thanked supporters outside the Vermont Statehouse this week, saying the USPTO granted his application to trademark the phrase he says promotes local agriculture, reports the Associated Press.

When asked why he thinks the office decided to change course and approve his request after that first no, he said, “Your guess is as good as mine.”

“I’d like to think that maybe some persistence and polite defiance, you know, and proving to them that we were in it for the long haul,” he said. “If it took us a decade, we’re going to fight for a decade.”

Chick-fil-A had argued that the phrase was too close to its own — the company’s marketing materials often feature cow holding a sign that says, “eat mor chikin,” because that way, see, the cow won’t get eaten.

As such, a Chick-fil-A spokeswoman responded to the news by saying, “Cows love kale, too.”

Man celebrates his new ‘eat more kale’ trademark [The Associated Press]

The Snuggie Is Back, Somehow Even Worse Than Before

Fri, 2014-12-12 20:51

evening_snuggieThe Snuggie, a thin fleece blanket with sleeves, reached a special height of pop-culture relevance back in 2009, but they’ve never really gone away. (Though some may have dissolved into piles of Snuggie lint.) Sleeved blankets have remained on the market all this time, and now they’ve taken kind of a weird turn into costume territory. If you’ve dreamed of lounging on the couch while pretending to wear a tux, the new generation of Snuggies are for you.

They’ve also fixed some of the more obvious design flaws, adding pockets to store things, and a sash that helps you tie your Snuggie closed. Of course, adding a sash just makes the Snuggie resemble a backwards bathrobe even more.

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Snuggie Store [Official Site]

Washington State Issues Emergency Shellfish Recall After Illness Reported

Fri, 2014-12-12 20:40

(John Hanley)

(John Hanley)

Consuming raw seafood is always a gamble, and for a dozen people it turned out to be an unsuccessful wager. And so, Washington state health officials are ordering an emergency harvest closure and recall of shellfish shipped throughout the country.

The Seattle Times reports that state officials initiated the recall and harvest closure after at least 12 people who ate raw oysters from the Hammersley Inlet became ill.

Officials suspect norovirus in the illnesses, as laboratory tests have confirmed the infection in two people.

The recall includes 48,000 oysters and more than 3,000 pounds of Manila clams processed from November 10 to December 5. The shellfish was distributed to stores in Oregon, Nevada, Florida, Minnesota, Illinois, California, New York, Maine, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia.

Health officials tell the Times they identified the issue using the state’s shellfish-tracking system, which tags commercial harvested shellfish with locations and dates.

While an investigation into the companies in Hammersley Inlet that harvest and ship shellfish did not find an apparent source of the contamination, a site visit to surrounding areas identified a leaking septic system that many be the source of the contamination.

A temporary fix was put in place, while a permanent repair is worked on.

Raw oysters sicken 12, prompt shellfish harvest closure and recall [The Seattle Times]

Taco Bell Might Be Trying That Whole “Chips As A Taco Shell” Thing Again, This Time With Fritos

Fri, 2014-12-12 20:38

tacobellfritosAs the saying goes, when at first you succeed at feeding people taco fillings inside a shell made from a popular brand of chips, try it again and see if you can get more people to buy your food. At least, that must be a motto at Taco Bell, which could be following the success of the Doritos Locos line of taco fare with a new Fritos shell.

Business Insider spotted the inclusion of what appears to be a taco inside a bag of Fritos, a design often used by the company to advertise its Doritos Locos Tacos using corresponding Nacho or Cool Ranch bags.

The image appears in yesterday’s presentation by Yum! Brands to its investors. When BI asked about whether or not we can accept to see some Fritos Tacos Locos or whathaveyou, a Taco Bell spokesperson played coy, saying only, “We’re always innovating and testing new concepts.”

Fritos are a natural choice of chip for fast food snacking — though it was Subway, and not Taco Bell that used them in a crunchy chicken enchilada last year, The Bell features Fritos in its new Beefy Fritos burrito, which is exactly what it sounds like.

Tell Us About The Best Gift You’ve Ever Received

Fri, 2014-12-12 19:53
(frankieleon)

(frankieleon)

It was Christmas morning/eve. It was the best night of Hanukkah. There was that one gift, the thing you received from your mom/dad/sister/brother/spouse/whoever, that stood out from all the rest as the best thing you could have ever gotten.

Maybe it was because of the thought that went into it, or maybe it’s because you didn’t even know cheese shaped like Aaron Rodgers’ head existed, but we want to know — what’s the best gift you’ve ever received for the holidays?

Did someone go that extra mile? Did they remember something special about you that you didn’t realize they remembered? How did the gift gain its spot as the best gift ever?

Send us a few lines at tips@consumerist.com with the subject line BEST GIFT EVER or tweet us at @Consumerist with the story of the Best Gift That Ever Was, along with a photo to accompany the moment if you’ve got one you want to share.

Macadamias Are All The Rage After Korean Air Exec’s Nut Rage

Fri, 2014-12-12 19:23

(jessicafm)

(jessicafm)

While the Korean Air Lines executive who demanded that a flight crew member leave the flight she was on because she was served macadamia nuts in a bag instead of on a plate has since apologized for her behavior, there’s one party involved in the incident that is sitting mighty pretty right about now. The macadamia nut, of course.

Because any publicity is good publicity, the sales of macadamia nuts have spiked this week in South Korea, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Sales of the nuts in the first part of the week were up 14% over the same period last week at one of the country’s top online marketplaces, and sales overall jumped about 36%, reported Edaily.

The airline was the first to apologize earlier this week, while still noting that Cho Hyun-ah, the now-former vice president in charge of cabin services at the airline, was just doing her job.

Today she apologized to Korean media as well, reports Reuters, for behavior that critics in the country see as proof of her snobby, elite status in society as the daughter of the airline’s chairman.

“I sincerely apologize for causing trouble for everyone. I’m sorry,” she said, adding that she would also apologize in person to the cabin crew chief.

Macadamia Sales Take Off After Korean Air Nut Row [Wall Street Journal]
Korean Air executive apologizes after nuts incident sparks national outrage [Reuters]

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