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03.23.17 | 3:00 pm

Eberjey’s secret to thriving brick-and-mortar stores

Fashion brand Bebe just announced it is shutting down its retail presence and focusing entirely on e-commerce after losing $200 million over the last four years. It is following in the footsteps of brands like American Apparel, Wet Seal, and the Limited. 

In the midst of this harsh retail environment, I'm always surprised to hear about brands whose brick and mortar stores are driving the business forward. One such brand is Eberjey, which launched in 1996, but only opened its first retail store five years ago. That store did so well, it will have a total of five by the end of this year (including it's first New York store).

Mariela Rovito, cofounder and president, attributes this success to an obsessive attention to customer experience. This means tailoring the clientele in each and lighting candles, like you would in your home. But mostly, it means training store representatives. "We ask our staff to treat each customer as a guest in their house, and we mean this literally," she says. "Would you give your guest a glass of water when they come through the door? Would you talk their ear off if all they wanted was to come and hang out?" 

Employees are also encouraged to always try to accommodate customer requests as much as humanly possible. Last week, one customer came to the with an elaborate plan to surprise his significant other with a scavenger-hunt-like experience that required the help of the staff. They immediately agreed. Rovito believes that each customer that has a superlative experience will advocate for the brand and, so far, that's proven true. 

07.24.17 | 3 hours ago

Google says your living room is YouTube’s biggest growth area right now

During Alphabet's second-quarter earnings call, Google CEO Sundar Pichai took a few minutes to talk about YouTube. Pichai says the video service currently has 1.5 billion monthly users that watch on average 60 minutes of video each day. The fastest-growing area for YouTube is the living room, where YouTube has seen nearly double the number of viewers watching on a television year-over-year. Without getting specific, Pichai said advertiser feedback on ad-supported YouTube Originals has been "extremely positive."

07.24.17 | 4 hours ago

Alphabet Q2 profits dinged after hefty EU fine

Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc., reported its second-quarter earnings today. The company's revenue was $26.01 billion for the quarter, up from $21.5 billion last year. However, profits took a hit due to a record $2.74 billion fine the company had to pay European antitrust regulators. Quarterly net income was $3.52 billion, compared to $4.88 billion last year.

Other interesting tidbits from today's report: Users are clicking on advertisements more. The company reported a 52% gain in the number of paid clicks over last year. However, the cost of those clicks (what an advertiser will pay for them) has dropped 23% from last year. Alphabet employed 75,606 people at the end of the quarter, up from 66,575 last year. Earlier today Alphabet announced it had added Sundar Pichai to its board.

07.24.17 | 2:06 pm

Snopes says its website is being held “hostage” in contract dispute

Today, the long-standing and venerated fact-checking website Snopes sent a plea to its readers. The site says it's currently in the midst of a confusing ownership dispute and legal battle with an outside vendor that has frozen the revenue it receives from digital ads. As a result, Snopes says it has no money coming in. 

In the post, Snopes described the vendor as holding the "website hostage." Today, it asked people to donate to help keep things afloat.

Snopes explains:

As misinformation has increasingly threatened democracies around the world (including our own), Snopes.com has stood in the forefront of fighting for truth and dispelling misinformation online. It is vital that these efforts continue, so we are asking the Snopes.com community to donate what they can. 

The campaign was published just a few hours ago, and money quickly began to flow in. With over 2,000 donors, Snopes has already received over $55,000. That number is going up steadily every minute, with the site hoping to hit a goal of $500,000. At this rate, it's looking like the fact-checking destination may be staying around for now. 

07.24.17 | 1:18 pm

That company microchipping its employees is owned by a major prison vendor

Three Square Market drew the internet's attention this weekend with plans to offer voluntary microchip implants to its employees to let them access vending machines and unlock doors in its offices. 

The company makes automated vending kiosks called "micro markets" for corporate break rooms, but its corporate parentage may not help with the Orwellian associations: Three Square is owned by TW Vending, which also sells supplies to jails and prisons, including automated inmate commissaries similar to the vending devices its employees will soon activate with their chips.

"While much of the micro market technology is two years old or less, our system is built on the same backbone and processes of our corrections industry kiosk system that has been in place since 2002," Three Square VP Patrick McMullan said back in 2013.

[Photo: vetkit/iStock]

07.24.17 | 12:49 pm

This Danish town is using a network of Bluetooth sensors to monitor traffic

The Danish town of Aarhus has set up a system of Bluetooth sensors to collect traffic pattern information around the city, Ars Technica reports. As people go about their daily lives, their connected cars emit Bluetooth signals, allowing the sensors to log and track their movements. The city uses that information to monitor traffic patterns and look for any issues that need to be addressed, like a broken traffic light causing a slow down or, say, extra congestion resulting from a production crew filming a Black Mirror episode. While privacy advocates and traffic enthusiasts may balk at the monitoring, it's an interesting tool for urban planners to have in their arsenal.

07.24.17 | 11:27 am

DNA-based diet apps are a thing

People have been trying to make DNA-based diets a thing since at least 2012. However, instead of dying out like your beloved Tamagotchi, they just keep evolving. Now, as Engadget reports, weight loss app Lose It just introduced embodyDNA, a new take on the DNA-based diet plan. All you have to do to take part is give them sample of your DNA, a payment of $189.99, and download their app. In just "six to eight weeks" they'll analyze your DNA and send diet recommendations directly to your Lose It app based on your genetic profile, which sounds fairly similar to the service DNAFit already offers, but competition is probably good for burning calories. Go ahead and sign up for the app and send in your saliva sample, but even without sampling your DNA, we can guess they'll suggest eating more vegetables, cutting down simple carbs and refined sugar, and increasing exercise.

[Image: Lose It]

07.24.17 | 11:06 am

Facebook’s cafeteria workers, barely making ends meet, are now trying to unionize

Not everyone working at Facebook is living the dream. In fact, most of the contracted facility workers at the company's Menlo Park, California, headquarters are having trouble making ends meet. That's why about 500 of Facebook's cafeteria employees are banding together to join a union, reports the Guardian

While cafeteria workers do make wages above the $15/hour minimum wage, they are not provided benefits to help them stay afloat. With the price of living in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area rising to staggering levels, these employees are unable to afford adequate housing or health care. 

One family of Facebook cafeteria workers, profiled by the Guardian, lives in a garage. Facebook employees are given access to amenities like onsite doctors, but these workers are not allowed access to such perks. 

The big union push is to help these employees get the adequate support they need. While neither Facebook nor the food service contractor they work for opposes the union, the cafeteria workers likely have a long fight ahead. You can read the full profile here

[Photo: Flickr user Jimmy Baikovicius]

07.24.17 | 10:53 am

Julia Roberts to star in Gimlet’s latest podcast-turned-TV show

Homecoming—Gimlet's Peabody Award-nominated podcast—just kicked off its second season today, and now it may have more to celebrate than just another chapter in the dark psychological thriller. Deadline is reporting that Julia Roberts will star in the show when it makes the jump from podcast to Amazon drama.

It was previously reported that Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail was turning Homecoming into a TV series. The podcast, which was created by Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg, was one of the first podcasts to head into the Hollywood pipeline, following shows like Limetown and Gimlet's Startup, which inspired a forthcoming series called Alex, Incstarring Zach Braff. Homecoming already made headlines when well-known actors Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac, and David Schwimmer joined the cast, proving that podcasts could attract serious star power. According to Deadline, Homecoming has already been picked up for two seasons by Amazon. The only bummer is that they are reporting that Roberts will play a caseworker at a secret government facility that uses an experimental therapy protocol to help a soldier rejoin civilian life, which is the role originated by Keener. While Roberts is great and all, she's no Catherine Keener. 

If the rumors are true about Roberts, that's some serious A-list talent for little old podcasts and could be a boon for the format.

07.24.17 | 9:51 am

KKR is buying WebMD so it can continue its reign of symptom-Googling terror

TechCrunch reports that private equity group KKR is buying WebMD for $2.8 billion (that's $66.50 per share), and just in case Western medicine isn't working for them, Forbes reports that KKR is also buying The Nature's Bounty Co., a wellness company that sells fish oil supplements, vitamins, protein bars, and the like. 

KKR is trying to corner the market on internet-based health information dissemination at a time when Googling random symptoms to see if they explain that weird rash has become a very common practice. As TechCrunch notes, WebMD has a lot of competition in its quest to horrify, er, provide answers to anyone Googling their symptoms—including Google, which has started including health information on its main search app. Plus, any aspiring hypochondriac knows to also check out the Mayo Clinic's site, as well as those from the Cleveland Clinic, Everyday Health, and eHealthForum.com, and HealthBoards.com, which just so happen to be part of a KKR-owned company called Internet Brands, too. WebMD will be rolled into Internet Brands, which houses B2B sites like MedScape, as well as consumer-focused sites, and ever-popular web destinations like VeinDirectory.org.

07.24.17 | 9:03 am

Here’s Jared Kushner’s full statement to the Senate committee about Russian contacts

Jared Kushner may have had a few meetings with the Russians, but he didn't mean anything by it, baby, promise. Those four meetings meant nothing to him, nothing! According to Bloomberg, President Trump's son-in-law-in-chief confirmed four "contacts" with Russians during Trump's presidential campaign and his transition to power, but the encounters were "unmemorable" and he would never have actually "colluded" with Russia against his country or committed treason. Besides, "anyone would have taken that meeting," so don't hold it against him.

On Monday, Kushner released a lengthy prepared statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee ahead of a closed-door interview. 

"I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector. I have tried to be fully transparent with regard to the filing of my SF-86 form, above and beyond what is required. Hopefully, this puts these matters to rest."

Read the full 11-page statement here.

07.24.17 | 7:51 am

Meow! Amazon-commissioned futurists think pet translators are coming soon

The internet retailing giant has sponsored a report by futurists Anne Lise Kjaer and William Higham, who claim that advances in AI and machine learning will enable companies to make devices that can accurately translate a cat's meows and a dog's barks into English, reports the Guardian. The report cites a study by Con Slobodchikoff, professor emeritus at the department of biological sciences at Northern Arizona University, who has found that prairie dogs have specific sounds they make for various predators and colors.

Though prairie dogs are rodents, Slobodchikoff believes other animals have similar "vocabularies" and thus a commercial device that will be able to translate animal sounds to human speech, and vice versa, is not far off. Personally, we're a bit skeptical and think Jeff Bezos is more likely to find talking aliens on a Blue Origin mission than he is to be selling devices on Amazon.com that allow humans and animals to converse in English.

07.24.17 | 5:59 am

After 32 years, Microsoft is killing off Paint

The computer graphics program has been bundled with every version of Windows since 1985, but the upcoming fall Windows 10 Creators Update signals the beginning of the end for the much-derided app, reports the Guardian. In the upcoming update, Microsoft has moved Paint to the "deprecated" features list, which includes apps that are "not in active development and might be removed in future releases."

Given that Microsoft introduced the new Paint 3D app this year, all signs point to the original Paint not being long for this world. Sure, Paint was never a match for professional graphics applications, but for the people who mocked it and its capabilities, maybe they just lacked artistic talent. As these awesome Paint masterpieces prove, the 32-year-old app was capable of creating some pretty stunning stuff.

[Photo: Regularvalenti via Wikimedia Commons]