Amazon Fear: A New Marketing Hook for Google and the Softies

January 14, 2019

With the Amazon AWS bulldozer grinding away, some animals are fleeing the crushing power of the machine. Others are adopting a different tactic. “At NRF 2019, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform Court Retailers Wary of Amazon” explains that their services offer a quiet place in the jungle.

The write up explains:

Retail is one of the few industries where AWS isn’t likely to have a huge lead. That reality means Google and Microsoft can pitch their AI and cloud wares to a receptive audience.

Will Google and Microsoft adopt the IBM FUD approach? Will retailers who want to sell to the federal government become more flexible when Amazon’s GovCloud becomes more dense?

DarkCyber anticipates changes which will pose considerable hurdles to Google and Microsoft as places to sell and relax in the Amazon rain forest.

Stephen E Arnold, January 14, 2019

Stolen Identities Affordable and Available from a Few Dark Web Vendors

January 8, 2019

This is quite the bargain for bad actors—Kodos Blog reports, “Hackers Charging £10 for Stolen UK Identities.” Writer Ali Raza tells us recent studies show packages of data required to usurp a victim’s identity can be found for as little as £10, or about 12 and a half bucks. We learn:

“On the dark web, these information packages are called fullz (full IDs), and they can be found on numerous black markets. They often contain things such as names, addresses, bank data, online passwords, and more. Researchers believe that a number of high profile hacks that occurred recently are keeping the markets filled with this type of data. Hundreds of millions of internet users have had their data stolen in 2018 alone. Some of the most famous hacks from the last few months include several Facebook incidents, the hack of British Airways, Marriott hotel, and more. Stolen information then gets posted on the hidden part of the web, known as the dark web.”

We presume in order to create more clients, vendors of such data also offer instruction in how to open loans and credit cards in the victims’ names. Not for free, of course; such a guide runs about £6. The article adds:

“[One] seller also offered a sample of stolen information, currently being in their possession. The data includes names, occupation, addresses, and even date of birth and similar information. The sample itself belongs to a Bristol-based Polish-born woman. Researchers have described this type of stolen information as ‘key to online fraud’. As the internet has become a large part of most peoples’ everyday life, demand for this type of info is constantly on the rise.”

And yet, Raza reports, most consumers have no idea how pervasive these data hacks are. In fact, says one expert, most of us already have had our data stolen and sold on the Dark Web—it’s just a question of how often. One can check whether their email address is believed to have been compromised at several websites, the most famous of which may be Have I Been Pwned. To prevent identity theft, users should follow best practices, like using separate, hard-to-guess passwords for different accounts and taking advantage of two-factor authentication where offered.

Cynthia Murrell, January 8, 2019

Microsoft and Kroger: Have These Outfits Actually Shopped at a Kroger Store in Kentucky?

January 8, 2019

The answer is, “Of course not.”

Kroger’s technological capability is modest, even by the low standards which define the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Home of the corrupt sports programs, bourbon, horse racing, river boat gambling, and other intellectual high water marks.

I read “Microsoft and Kroger to Create Data-Driven Connected Grocery Stores.” What this means is that Kroger wants to get rid of humans, keep the lights at mortuary levels, and not have to fool around with pesky customers who spend actual bank notes.

The write up takes a slightly different approach, stating:

The first fruit of the partnership is a digital shelving system, which was actually announced last year and is in the process of rolling out to dozens of Kroger stores across the U.S. Called EDGE (Enhanced Display for Grocery Environment), it bypasses paper price tags for digital shelf displays that can be changed in real time from anywhere, and it also can display promotions, dietary information, and more.

Yep, that’s an idea. But the flaw is that Kroger’s in Kentucky struggle to complete these tasks in an orderly, coherent way:

  1. Restock. Aisles are choked with people trying to cram products on shelves in aisles clogged with free standing cardboard promotions, mothers wrangling toddlers, and clueless males struggling to locate milk and bread.
  2. Functioning check outs. At the Louisville Westport Kroger, the store has a dozen next generation self check out machines. At 1225 pm Eastern exactly three of the machines were working. The hapless attendant was clueless and an even more confused “manager” was trying to calm down impatient shoppers. How many human check outs were open at this fine retail outlet? Exactly one. Yeah, Windows 10 will fix this puppy.
  3. Accurate data. I routinely locate products on shelves with prices different from what the Kroger check out systems display. The error rate seems to chug along at somewhere between 10 and 15 percent. The solution? Hide the prices so the hapless shopper will not be able to compare what one tag says with what the invisible database says. I suppose one could ask Cortana.

But the kicker is the idea that a shelf will illuminate only when a person is interfacing. It is pretty tough to buy a frozen burrito when the automatic illumination systems does not function. That assumes, of course, that one can actually locate frozen burritos which are in the frozen snack freezer two aisles away from frozen Mexican food.

Should I talk about the crazy Kroger app for wireless shopping and payment. Nope, I am heading to Whole Foods.

Stephen E Arnold, January 8, 2019

Wal-Mart Versus Amazon: Is the Game Over?

December 6, 2018

Wal-Mart likes to be on top. Wal-Mart’s sales, however, have fallen due to Amazon and other online retailers, but they will not go down without a fight. Wal-Mart has decided to fight digital sales with a bigger, better digital supply chain super structure. The Motley Fool reports on Wal-Mart’s biggest investment in, “IBM And Microsoft Are Upgrading Wal-Mart’s Digital Supply Chain.”

Wal-Mart has teamed up with Microsoft and IBM to revamp its supply chain. Azure is the official cloud infrastructure of Wal-Mart with an exclusive five year contract. All of the retailer’s Web sites will now run natively on Azure and taking advantage of Microsoft’s machine learning and data management tools. Azure’s insightful tools will also streamline Wal-Mart’s supply chain, watch energy levels, and control devices.

Wal-Mart uses IBM’s blockchain technology to monitor product origins and IBM also built an onboard system for suppliers. How does the new supply chain help Wal-Mart:

“The modernization of Wal-Mart’s supply chain with cloud, IoT, and blockchain services could improve the retailer’s operating margin, which has been weighed down by e-commerce and overseas investments, store renovations, and wage hikes in recent years. That digital foundation can also pave the way for Wal-Mart to install more robots in its warehouses and stores, thereby reducing its overall labor costs. A streamlined supply chain would also help Wal-Mart avoid food safety problems, which are becoming increasingly common across supply chains and multiple countries and states.”

The new system will also help Wal-Mart regain some of the losses from its China suppliers due to Trumps tariffs.

The team up between Wal-Mart, IBM, and Microsoft is a joint effort to counter Amazon-their common enemy. But is the game over for Wal-Mart? Police in many municipalities find that Wal-Mart is a frequent stop and not for a hot dog and a soft drink. Perhaps Wal-Mart ecommerce would be less exciting than a visit to some establishments?

Whitney Grace, December 6, 2018

An Amazon Statistic and the Word All

July 14, 2018

I read “Amazon’s Share of the US E Commerce Market Is Now 49% or 5% of All Retail Spend.” The idea of “all” is reassuring. One does not have to worry about precision. All means all, right. Cantor struggled with his view of all. That worry does not trouble the expert writing this article.

infinity symbol

Setting aside word choice, the factoid is semi interesting. Amazon has, according to this source, about half of the e commerce market in the US. Now the sample has to ask people who own a computing device, are able to get online, and who have some method for making a digital payment. If one considers what percentage of the US population checks these boxes, the “all” becomes a subset of the US population. The reason check cashing services exist pivots on the individuals who do not have a banking relationship either directly or via the mostly available prepaid credit cards. Using these prepaid credit cards can be interesting.

Let’s assume that Amazon does have a big chunk of the US e commerce market. The write up suggests that Amazon is heading toward a tipping point. The idea, I think, is that the “all” really will mean every nickel and dime spent online for “retail products.” The idea that Amazon’s growth is surprising strikes me as interesting. The key metric is the rate of change between each major financial milestone. At one time, Google was smoking along. Has Amazon’s growth been chugging along with a nifty slope between time and financial data (remember those?)

An outfit called eMarketer provides data which illustrates how Amazon is making revenue in clothing, beauty items, and groceries.

The only problem I have is that Amazon’s online success is old news. Not far from our log cabin in rural Kentucky, Wal-Mart closed three of its retail outlets. I think that Amazon’s success in e commerce was a contributing factor. In some demographic segments, Amazon’s share of the US retail market is nosing toward 80 percent. Even in rural Kentucky, our rescue French bulldog can be run over by one of the six or seven Amazon deliveries each day unless we are on our toes.

So what?

  • Amazon’s tipping point was reached a couple of years ago? Amazon is now just running plays from its 20 year old playbook. We’re into déjà vu territory.
  • Amazon’s e commerce system is part of a slightly more sophisticated online store. I think it may be helpful for some whiz kid analysts to think about Oracle’s data marketplace and ask, “What does that have in common with Amazon’s retail business?”
  • The notion of “all” is not a helpful way to explain what Amazon has achieved. eMarketer like many other professionals think about consumer products. Big market indeed. There are other ways to look at Amazon’s platform.

Why are these questions important? If Amazon is going to generate enough revenue to double or triple its revenue, it will have to do more than sell T shirts, avocados, and vinyl records.

Wal-Mart’s “Amazon disease” is now spreading to other markets. The “all” misleads when used without a more informed context.

Stephen E Arnold, July 14, 2018

Distasteful Content and Digital Currency: A Love Match

May 10, 2018

Porn Site Leads Way in Cryptocurrency Acceptance

While it sounds like a surprise at first, a partnership between pornography site PornHub and cryptocurrency upstart, Verge, is a perfect pair. Increased privacy, especially when credit card statements are sent home at the end of every month, has an indelible appeal to porn customers. We learned about this interesting development from a recent article in Digital Trends, “Want to Hide Your PornHub Subscription? Pay with Virtual Verge Currency.”

According to the story:

“History has proven that the adult entertainment industry plays a critical role in adoption for innovative technology. We saw that with VHS, Beta Max, credit card payment icons and, most recently, VR goggles. We expect to see widespread adoption of crypto and blockchain in short order.”

This is a really interesting point and one worth thinking on for a moment. However, there’s also a serious risk to being the first person to set a trend. For one, how much do most customers know about Verge? A little digging shows that they had been hacked less than a month before this Pornhub announcement. Security is probably the number one concern of anyone getting into cryptocurrency. While this partnership with Verge and Pornhub makes perfect sense, it’s still a little early in the relationship for us to give it much of a blessing.

Patrick Roland, May 10, 2018

An Interesting Use of Instagram

April 22, 2018

There is an opioid dealer nearby. In fact, this drug kingpin is not standing on the corner or lurking on college campuses, this supplier is right at your fingertips. Thanks to a recent article, the plague of drug sales through popular and public social media platforms has caught the attention of some powerful people. We learned about these developments in a recent Wired article, “One Woman Got Facebook to Police Opioid Sales on Instagram.”

While it’s a little confusing, the basic story goes that one woman who discovered opioid sales on Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) reached out to Facebook, urging them to take action, through a rival social platform, Twitter. The tactic worked, even getting the FDA involved.

According to the story:

“It shouldn’t take this much effort to get people to realize that  you have some responsibility for the stuff on your platform…A 13 year old could do this search and realize there’s bad stuff on your platform — and probably has — you don’t need the commissioner of the FDA to tell you that.”

However, the act of policing drug sales on social media platforms and the dark web is not as easy as one might think. Yes, they shut down offending accounts, but beyond that there is little that can be done. According to the story, it outlawed certain hashtags, like it had done before. “Instagram previously restricted the drug-related hashtags, #Xanax and #Xanaxbar and banned #weedforsale and #weed4sale.”

It’s a small step, but hopefully one that will lead to greater and greater progress. For more information, learn more about CyberOSINT (the Dark Web) here.

Patrick Roland, April 21, 2018

 

Online Shopping: Held Back by HTML and Google. Hmmm.

April 20, 2018

e-Commerce has certainly marginalized some traditional retail stores. But, Main Street still exists and so do the some shops. What works in Silicon Valley, does not work very well in some cities. Think Peoria, Illinois.

The new monopolists have found their niche. The question becomes, “Why are there some functions and businesses which have not be more dramatically changed by online?” We were surprised to read the views of one expert who claims two reasons: HTML and Google. According to a Tech Crunch piece, “The Sudden Death of the Website.” The reason is that HTML is not robust enough to handle e-Commerce’s demands, but also Google is the problem:

“The second problem with the Web is Google. When we started to build websites in the ’90s, everyone was trying to design their virtual stores differently. On one hand, this made them interesting and unique; on the other, the lack of industry standards made them hard to navigate — and really hard to “index” into a universal card catalog.”

Hardly convincing stuff. But according to other experts, search isn’t the only thing slowing down e-commerce. The big data powering Amazon and others has allowed for fast shipping and hassle-free returns. According to Forbes, that’s actually what will take down e-commerce. They describe the return policies as a ticking time bomb and use LL Bean’s recent decision to stop no-questions asked returns as an example.

There you have it: HTML and Google. Unfortunately the Beyond Search goose is not convinced. Some digital magic does not make sense in rural Kentucky. Walking to the local store works pretty well because what works in San Mateo does not work in Harrod’s Creek.

Cynthia Murrell, April 20, 2018

Payoff in Shopping Speed Up

March 30, 2018

Mobile shopping is a major priority for just about anyone who does sales outside of only a brick and mortar store. The increasing attention to this economy has led to the big names online beefing up their services and the results are astounding. We learned more from a recent IT ProPortal story, “Google Reveals New Mobile Shopping Tools.”

According to the story:

“Businesses have not prioritized their mobile sites and now that more online shopping than ever is done from a smartphone, this needs to change.  Google’s analysis suggests that by improving mobile load time from six to three seconds that an average site could see an increase of $255,000 in annual revenue.”

That’s an incredible number, especially for smaller businesses. But that’s not all. Oddly, some of the most impressive innovations in mobile shopping comes from the restaurant industry. Coffee shops and pizza delivery joints have led the way, but recently, places like Burger King are getting in on the action and seeing an impact. What kind of conclusion can we draw from this? Not a ton, but just that your mobile shopping experience is going to increase, but we have a hunch that along with this money that is to be made the proliferation of advertisements will soon follow in ingenuity.

Patrick Roland, March 30, 2018

Algorithm Positions Microsoft on Top of Global Tech Field

March 23, 2018

This is quite a surprise. Reporting the results of their own analysis, Reuters announces, “Microsoft Tops Thomson Reuters Top 100 Global Tech Leaders List.” The write-up tells us that, in second and third place, were:

… Chipmaker Intel and network gear maker Cisco Systems. The list, which aims to identify the industry’s top financially successful and organizationally sound organizations, features US tech giants such as Apple, Alphabet, International Business Machines and Texas Instruments, among its top 10. Microchip maker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, German business software giant SAP and Dublin-based consultant Accenture round out the top 10. The remaining 90 companies are not ranked, but the list also includes the world’s largest online retailer Amazon and social media giant Facebook.

 

The results are based on a 28-factor algorithm that measures performance across eight benchmarks: financial, management and investor confidence, risk and resilience, legal compliance, innovation, people and social responsibility, environmental impact, and reputation. The assessment tracks patent activity for technological innovation and sentiment in news and selected social media as the reflection of a company’s public reputation. The set of tech companies is restricted to those that have at least $1 billion in annual revenue.

That is an interesting combination of factors; I’d like to see that Venn diagram. Some trends emerged from the report. For example, 45 of those 100 companies are based in the US (but 47 in North America); 38 are headquartered in Asia, 14 in Europe, and one in Australia.

Cynthia Murrell, March 23, 2018

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