Online Ads Result in Offline Sales

A screenshot of the Google AdWords logo.

Photo courtesy of Martin Lafrance at Flickr Creative Commons.

The question of whether or not online ads are a worthwhile investment is one that plagues many companies. Unless customers are clicking on ads and those ads are directly resulting in a sale, its hard to gauge whether or not they’re beneficial. That’s where statistics and experiments come in, which can help make more sense of online advertising. But there’s still a gap in the data, namely, how do you know if online ads are working if the vast majority of your sales are in-store?

To investigate that question, researchers from the University of Rochester, Netflix, and Pandora worked with Yahoo! and an unspecified clothing retailer to figure out how effective that retailer’s online ads were. It turns out that, according to the data, they’re pretty effective. On average, the ads increased revenue by 3.6%.

While that may not sound like a lot, it’s actually about three times what the company spent on those ads, which is a really good return on investment. What’s really interesting though, is that about 84% of in-store sales increases came directly from online ads. In other words, the ads were working and driving people to the physical stores, instead of driving them to the online store.

There are likely a few reasons behind that, which may not be applicable to all retailers. Shopping for clothes is, generally speaking, a more personal experience than shopping for home goods or books. Buying clothes generally requires trying them on, unless you have a very good understanding of how a specific company sizes and cuts their clothing.

So while people might buy books and movies online with no worry, a lot of them seem to be still buying clothes in stores. But the online advertisements are still working, because those same people are spending enough time online that this is where the ads are having the most effect.

New Control Techniques Add Versatility to Smartwatches

A photo of a man wearing a smartwatch.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Smartwatches are cool, but they’ve been slower to catch on than smartphones because they’re not the most convenient way to interact with a device. Their small size can make it hard to use them with maps or complex menus, limiting their value compared to a regular sized phone. Plus, if you have your hands full when you get a call, it’s hard to do anything about it.

But technology is constantly evolving, and smartwatches are no different. Researchers at Georgia Tech have been working on several different projects that can make using smartwatches easier, allowing them to provide more robust user experiences.

One project, called WatchOut, uses scrolling and swiping gestures to improve control, which might sound pretty typical, except with this system you don’t swipe and scroll on the watch’s screenyou use the band. Using the built in gyroscopes and accelerometers of such watches, engineers were able to develop a system that gives users more control while not having to worry about hitting the wrong button with their fingers.

Then there’s Whoosh, which allows users to control their phones by breathing on them. Shushing the watch can decline a call, while blowing on it twice can accept. A sequence of short and long breaths can be used to unlock the device, while different breath techniques can be used to erase words in a text message or to send it. You can even move an app from your phone to your watch by “sipping it off the watch and puffing it on the phone.”

And don’t forget TapSkin, which allows users to use the back of their hand as a number pad, sending commands to the watch based on where the user taps. These aren’t “theoretical” developments either; they’ve all be designed, tested, and shown at a number of conferences. They all make use of existing technology, which means that these options could be hitting the market in the near future.


Walmart Offers Free Two-Day Shipping

A photo of the outside of a Walmart building.

Photo credit: tishomir / Shutterstock

Walmart has been gunning for Amazon’s top spot in the online shopping world, and it’s coming up the ranks pretty fast. As of this week, Walmart customers will receive free two-day shipping on millions of items store-wide for purchases of $35 and up.

One of Amazon Prime’s most popular features is its two-day shipping. That’s what made Prime so successful, despite its $99 annual fee. Walmart took notice and introduced its ShippingPass program, which offered two-day shipping for an annual cost of $49.

However, Amazon Prime offers a lot more benefits and perks other than just shipping, making it a better deal overall. Walmart must have realized this because they are now offering free shipping without the annual fee. This is a great way to attract customers who want no frills and their packages delivered quickly. Users don’t have to enroll in a program, either.

Marc Lore, CEO of Walmart US e-commerce, told reporters that “at a very fundamental level, we just don’t believe in having to charge for a membership.”

Lore seems to be sticking to his word, because anyone who purchased a ShippingPass will have their money refunded.

While the free shipping will not count for every item sold, it will for more than two million of the most popular items people usually buy from Walmart, such as food, toiletries, clothes, baby items, electronics, and household supplies. For those who have little time to go shopping but can’t really afford the extra shipping costs usually tagged onto online orders, this is a huge blessing. Orders must be placed before 2pm PST to arrive in two days.

Another added bonus: Walmart doesn’t plan on raising prices to offset the shipping costs.

“It won’t affect our pricing at all,” Lore said. “In fact, we are looking to get more aggressive on the pricing side.”

One Small Step Toward Science Fiction Holograms

A human hologram.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Australian researchers, with the help of colleagues from the United States and Japan, have made a huge step forward in developing the Holy Grail of imaging: the hologram. Popularized in media like Star Wars and Star Trek, the concept of the hologram is a simple one: to project 3D images using light, as opposed to the 2D images we can create now with cameras and monitors.

The new device developed at the Australian National University uses a collection of “millions of tiny silicon pillars, each up to 500 times thinner than a human hair” to capture 3D images. By being transparent, the material doesn’t lose much energy from the light that passes through it, allowing it to perform some pretty complex stuff with that light, like storing 3D information in infrared.

While this device doesn’t create a hologram that humans can interact with like in Star Trek, it’s still a vital step toward achieving that. While research into holographic technology is most often associated with augmented reality systems, that’s still a ways down the road.

But this new device could still be beneficial even in its current form. This device, according to lead researcher Lei Wang, “could replace bulky components to miniaturize cameras and save costs in astronomical missions by reducing the size and weight of optical systems on space craft.”

And that’s not even to mention their use in terrestrial cameras and crafts. Drones are already pretty small, but by making cameras even lighter, we could have room for more storage and battery life, allowing us to use such devices to better explore hard to reach or dangerous parts of the world. Nature documentaries are already accomplishing incredible feats with small cameras. Imagine if they were even smaller.

This could also be the next big step in cameras for smart devices, which are already leagues ahead of the camera technology of even thirty years ago. Consumers won’t have access to such devices for a while, but they’re going to want them when they become available.

Telecommuting Often Means More Hours, But Not More Pay

An exhausted young woman who is working from home hangs her head in stress.

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Telecommuting is all the rage these days, with several companies using it as a way to attract and retain employees. It’s long been heralded as a way for companies to offer more flexible hours to their employees. But according to one survey, what it’s actually doing is adding more hours to the work week… without offering adequate compensation for those hours.

The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, operated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from 1989 to 2008, found that people (especially salaried workers) ended up putting in an average of three extra hours per week when they telecommuted. These additional hours did not result in more compensation.

While the flexibility exists to work outside the typical 9 to 5 range, the problem is that work tends to get more stretched out, and people are working more to make up for actually using that flexibility. And since the workplace has become increasingly connected via smart devices and social media, this problem is actually getting worse.

And since telecommuting continues to be used as a perk to attract employees, that problem could become even more entrenched. Luckily, there are some companies that have not only realized that they can recruit talented people by offering telecommuting, but that they need to reign that in and make sure their employees aren’t working too much from home.

The key is in maintaining contact, so that bosses know what employees are working on and when. Time tracking is also important, as it allows employees to gauge exactly how long they’ve been working.

Companies should also make it a point to bring these issues to light in training. Burnout is no joke, and employees should be aware of the signs and symptoms before it becomes a major concern. But more than anything, the workplace culture has to change. There’s this dominating ideology that one must work copious amounts of hours in order to be successful, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Online Media Moving to Quality Video Content In Order to Catch Up With Television

An iPad playing a video.

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Will online media ever shut out print and television as sources of news and entertainment? The answer to that question is a resounding, “maybe.”

The Internet has done a great job of gobbling up print media through its ability to share timely news, information, and classified ads.

As far back as 2008, Bill E. Ford, President and CEO of General Atlantic, saw the possibilities in digital media. “One of the biggest shifts that we’ve been focused on is the shift from offline to online media,” he said in an interview with Financial Times. “We have several investments taking advantage of that trend.”

Those investments include the digital publishing platform Vox Media, Snap (the company that owns Snapchat), and Buzzfeed.

But digital media still has some distance to go before it catches up with television in the sheer hours of media consumed.

According to recent surveys, people spend more than four hours a day watching TV but approximately an hour a day on Facebook.

The difference, arguably, is video, and digital platforms are picking up the pace on producing just such material.

Social media giant Facebook is working on the premise that video is the digital space trend of the future. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said he believes that within five years, most of what people consume online will be video. At that pace, online video ads could give Facebook a good shot at competing for dollars currently spent on television advertising.

“People are creating and sharing more video, and we think it’s pretty clear that video is only going to become more important,” Zuckerberg said. As a result, Facebook is going to a “video first” mentality, prioritizing video content across its apps and taking steps to make it easier for people to express themselves through enhancements such as live video.

However, a big challenge to digital media is quality. People are still largely turning to television for news and information, probably because of an underlying belief that TV is a more reliable and trustworthy source than social media.

General Atlantic Vice President Zack Kaplan, who serves on the Board of Directors of Vox Media, said in a recent article, “For digital content companies, success will increasingly require a prioritization of quality programming and meaningful journalism over commoditized and replicable clickbait; the creation of content that sustainably and uniquely captures real consumer time—not unique visitors, clicks, page views, video views, or swipes.”

The market is already reflecting the need to move to high-quality online media. In 2016, MLB Advanced Media agreed to pay $50 million a year through 2023 for League of Legends streaming rights. League of Legends generated more than 360 million hours of live consumption per year.

“Continued strategic investment is following brands and platforms that can similarly capture this kind of consumer attention,” Kaplan said. “Time is the metric that links big deals in the market.”

Online media platforms will need to invest real money to bring that higher-quality content and programming to their users. This will cause users to spend more time on their platforms over those of the competition. Twitter is experimenting with live sports, and Snap is working with TV broadcast networks to produce original and exclusive shows. Only time will tell how Twitter and Snap do in the face of digital behemoths like Amazon and Netflix, who are already making a great deal of high-quality, original content.

But the movers and shakers of the world’s digital platforms aren’t the only ones who need to understand the value of capturing viewers’ time through high-quality video and reliable news and information. Investors also need to understand the changing landscape of digital media and the growing online video trend in order to make strategic and profitable investments, both today and in the future.

Paul McCartney is Suing Sony for Song Rights

A photo of Paul McCartney.

Photo credit: s_bukley / Shutterstock

Paul McCartney wants his music back.

The Beatle is suing Sony/ATV Music Publishing to regain the rights of the Beatles songs he both wrote and co-wrote with John Lennon. That equates to 267 songs in total.

McCartney filed the suit this week, stating that he has the rights to obtain his music due to copyright termination. Copyright termination is when the original creators have the right to reclaim ownership of their work after a specific length of time has passed. Sir Paul is citing the 1976 U.S. Copyright Act, which over the past few years has allowed many performers to regain control over their work. McCartney argues that the act would allow him to receive the rights back as early as next year.

This lawsuit is one of many attempts by McCartney to gain back control of his music, as he has been in a decades-long battle with Sony for the rights. He first lost those rights back in the ’80s, when Michael Jackson outbid him for the whole ATV catalog, paying $41.5 million. In 1995, Sony and Jackson formed Sony/ATV, thus giving Sony a 50% share of the music. Last year, Jackson’s estate sold his 50% stake to Sony for $750 million, and now McCartney only has to battle one entity for his catalog. He has been sending notices to Sony/ATV about his wishes since 2008.

That said, McCartney’s lawyers are fearful that Sony will push back with its win against Duran Duran, who filed a similar suit against them and lost. The problem: the British court says that any contracts signed in the U.K. take precedence over any rights they may have in the U.S. Plus, British law says music publishers can keep the rights for up to 70 years after a musician’s death. McCartney filed the lawsuit in New York City hoping that will work in his favor.

While Sony has continued to fight McCartney over the years, a statement by the company said it has “the highest respect for Sir Paul McCartney with whom we have enjoyed a long and mutually rewarding relationship with respect to the treasured Lennon and McCartney song catalogue.”

New Visa Option for Foreign Entrepreneurs

An image that reads, "work visa approved."

Image credit: Shutterstock

A new ruling by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services may make it easier for foreign entrepreneurs to start businesses in America.

Beginning July 17, 2017, foreigners will be able to apply for a visa to work in the United States. It’s called the International Entrepreneurs Rule and it gives foreigners the chance to stay in America and build their businesses.

While foreigners currently have visa optionssuch as the H1Bthis ruling will make it easier for them to set up shop and legally work in the country. The H1B currently asks that employees from other countries prove that they are the best person for the job, and that all hiring (and firing) decisions come from the employer already in the United States. Naturally, that makes it hard for anyone to come in and start their own company.

The International Entrepreneurs Rule could change that. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be red tape to cut through. Under the new ruling, foreign business owners have to prove their fledgling businesses (no older than five years) have the potential for job creation and rapid growth, mainly through private investments of $250,000 or more and/or government grants of at least $10,000.

Additionally, founders must own a minimum of 10% company stake when going through the application process and they must prove that they can operate legally in America. Unfortunately, this ruling excludes small businesses.

The visa costs $1,200 and will last for 2.5 years and can be renewed for another 2.5 thereafter. Once the five years are up, successful business owners are expected to apply for a different visa. The government has the right to revoke the visa at any time if it believes the company is no longer compliant or beneficial to the public.

The government expects close to 3,000 applications per year, and acceptance will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Celebrating a Job Well Done in the World of Private Investing

A bunch of first-place ribbons lined up side-by-side.

Photo courtesy of Matt Northam at Flickr Creative Commons.

The world of private investing may seem stuffy on the surface, but just like any profession, it comes with its perks, including the glitzy world of awards for a job well done. These awards bring the community together to honor and support coworkers, competitors, and big time accomplishments. Some of the most notable awards are the Private Debt Investor Award (US), Investor All Stars (UK), and the US Investment Management Awards (US).

Private Debt Investor Awards

These awards honor the private investment companies that are at the forefront of the industry. PDI, an industry website and print publication, offers annual awards in more than 40 categories. Winners are determined by votes from industry professionals. You can’t nominate yourself or your own company, but you can nominate colleagues and partners.

This year the competition has been pretty fierce. Adamas Asset Management, Barings, KKR, and SSG Capital Management were all neck-and-neck for Asia Pacific Lender of the Year in early December. In the Global Newcomer of the Year category, Adams Street Partners, CPRDET Capital, Northleaf Capital, and Marc Lipschultz’s Owl Rock Capital Partners were all duking it out right up until voting closed at midnight on January 5.

Final results have yet to be announced.

Investor Allstars

For fifteen years, Investor Allstars has been known as the “Oscars” and the “Must Attend” event for European investors. More than 600 entrepreneurs and investors from both Europe and the US have attended the glamorous annual awards ceremony, taking place this year on September 27 at Westminster Bridge, Park Plaza, London.

These awards honor the successes of the broader European investment industry, as well as singling out CEOs who dare to take calculated risks to improve investments around the world. Awards include Venture Capital Fund of the Year, Growth Fund of the Year, Corporate Development Team of the Year, and Investor of the Year.

Investor Allstars also offers a supplementary award for Europe’s Allstar Company, which is voted on by attendees. The award honors Europe’s most valuable technology companies.

Nominations for these awards are currently open.

US Management Investment Awards

The 7th Annual US Investment Manager Awards ceremony took place on May 19, 2016 in New York City. The awards honor US institutional investors who implement innovative strategies, as well as the excellent performance of money managers in 39 asset classes.

The winners are determined by Institutional Investor Magazine’s editorial and research teams, which consult with eVestment’s research team before reaching their decision. They look for particularly impressive investment strategies based on performance over time, information ratio, standard deviation, and upside market capture. In addition, more than 1000 leading US pension plans, foundations, endowments, and other institutional investors are surveyed for their thoughts on the most impressive investors of the year.

Nominations for 2017 are now open.

Every industry likes to take a moment to honor their truly exceptional members, and private investors are no exception. These three awards are just some of the options for celebrating the clever—not to mention lucrative—business decisions being made every year.

Lighten Up; Wendy’s ‘Pepe’ Meme Was An Honest Mistake

A photo of a Wendy's sign.

Photo credit: Ken Wolter / Shutterstock

On Wednesday, Wendy’s found itself in some serious trouble after posting a picture of Pepe the Frog on Twitter. It all started when a Twitter user by the name of MrRespek asked the company, “Got any memes?” Wendy’s replied with an image of Pepe the Frog dressed up as the Wendy’s mascot.

Little did Wendy’s know that Pepe was officially declared a symbol of hate speech by the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL claims that because Pepe has been used in so many anti-Semitic and racist memes, the image itself represents bigotry.

I say give ‘em a break. Wendy’s wasn’t aware that it was a hate symbol and quite frankly, neither was I. It was an honest mistake. It was meant to be funny and lighthearted, not racist or offensive.

Amy Brown, Wendy’s social media manager, assured the public that the person who posted the meme was uninformed about its symbolic meaning.

“Our community manager was unaware of the recent political connotations associated with Pepe memes, and it has since been removed. Since this used to be purely an innocuous meme, he had this fan content saved from a year or two ago,” Brown stated.

The fast-food chain did the next best thing they could by deleting the meme immediately and then apologizing for it afterward. Trust me when I say that I would be the first person to lash out against a company that was being overtly racist or hateful. But that’s not the case, here.

Instead, we have a case of an honest mistake being made in a rather unforgiving realm: the Internet. People blew it way out of proportion and made it a much bigger deal than it was. The person who did this is already embarrassed enough as is, I really don’t find it necessary that we add to their humiliation.

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