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Amazon.com Inc Antitrust Laws and Competition Issues Bezos, Jeffrey P e-commerce Flipkart.com India Modi, Narendra Shopping and Retail Uncategorized

Welcome to India, Mr. Bezos. Here’s an Antitrust Complaint.

MUMBAI, India — Amazon’s founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, is visiting India this week for the first time in over five years.

Instead of garlands, India’s government is welcoming him with a new antitrust case.

The Competition Commission of India, the country’s antitrust regulator, opened a formal investigation on Monday into the practices of Amazon and Flipkart, the Indian e-commerce giant mostly owned by Walmart.

The inquiry was prompted by complaints from an association of small traders, after several rounds of regulations failed to curb the market power of the two e-commerce platforms, particularly in the online sales of mobile phones. Indian merchants have lobbied Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take tougher action against the companies.

India requires foreign-owned e-commerce firms to be neutral marketplaces, much like eBay, to protect local retailers and distributors from deep-pocketed competition. In the United States, Amazon both operates a marketplace and sells many products — including diapers, batteries and books — like a traditional retailer, buying them wholesale and then reselling them to consumers. Under Indian law, the site is supposed to rely on independent sellers who post their products on Amazon.

But both Amazon and Flipkart give preference to some sellers, the Indian regulator said, by using affiliated companies, discounts and their global relationships with manufacturers to influence who sells what and at what price.

For example, Amazon sells its own brands, like AmazonBasics luggage and Solimo paper products, on its Indian site through companies in which it holds an equity stake. And Flipkart features a small group of preferred, high-volume sellers on its service.

The commission will investigate whether those arrangements violate India’s antitrust law.

India is one of Amazon’s fastest-growing markets as well as an important location for its customer service and research operations. But Mr. Bezos has made just three trips to the country.

On Wednesday, he is expected to discuss opportunities for small businesses on Amazon at a conference in New Delhi. He is also expected to meet Mr. Modi and plans to travel to Mumbai, home to India’s Bollywood film industry, to rub elbows with Bollywood stars like the actor Shah Rukh Khan and the director Zoya Akhtar.

In a statement, Amazon said, “We welcome the opportunity to address allegations made about Amazon; we are confident in our compliance, and will cooperate fully with C.C.I.”

Flipkart said it was complying with all laws in India governing e-commerce and noted the large number of sellers on its platform. “We take pride in democratizing e-commerce in India,” the company said in a statement.

Amazon, the world’s biggest online retailer, faces other antitrust inquiries around the world. The scrutiny in Europe and the United States has also focused on its relationship to its third-party sellers, which account for about 60 percent of sales.

The Federal Trade Commission and the House Judiciary Committee are examining whether Amazon treats unfairly sellers that do not use some of Amazon’s services, such as its fulfillment network. The European Union’s antitrust commission has opened an investigation into whether Amazon misuses information from its marketplace sellers to decide what products it sells directly to customers, including its own private-label offerings.

Amazon has maintained that it faces strong competitors, such as Walmart, and is a small player in the overall retail market, which is still dominated by physical stores.

Karen Weise contributed reporting from Seattle.

Categories
ace&jig Computers and the Internet Dresses Elizabeth Suzann (Fashion Label) Facebook Inc Fashion and Apparel Instagram Inc Noihsaf Pyne&Smith Clothiers Shopping and Retail Social Media Uncategorized Women and Girls your-feed-fashion

How to Make Friends Online the Old-Fashioned Way (Buying Clothes Together)

Image
Credit…Riah Beth Photography

Emily Useche, who is 27 and lives in Arkansas, had just put her baby down for a nap one afternoon when she decided to post some family photos on Facebook. But she didn’t simply upload them for friends and family to see.

She also posted the photos to a private Facebook group for a whole other community: A fan club for Pyne & Smith Clothiers. Ms. Useche was wearing one of that brand’s dresses in the photos — a style she had posted about once before when she saw it being sold secondhand — and was ready to show it off. Minutes after she posted, other members replied with compliments for her, and praise for the sunflower check dress she was wearing.

The group, Pyne & Smith Clothiers BST and Chat, is one of a number of so-called buy-sell-trade communities. Part social club and part marketplace, the groups have sprung up on Instagram and Facebook and have, for some users, become a daily place to socialize and shop.

While many serve enthusiasts of mass market brands, others are powered by dedicated followers of idiosyncratic indie brands, the sort rarely featured in glossy magazines and often escape the notice of major retailers. But they have devoted followers, many of whom are attracted by the idea of slow, ethical fashion.

Facebook and Instagram communities can be a very real alternative to traditional retailers, providing shoppers with not only products, but also friends.

“A lot of us are millennials who are trying really hard to take steps toward sustainability,” said Lacey Camille Schroeder, 32 and a jewelry designer who lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She created the PSC buy-sell-trade Facebook group. “People buying these dresses tend to be like-minded when it comes to fashion. A lot of them are in the ‘crunchy’ category.”

That line was founded by Joanna McCartney. She stumbled into making clothes in 2014 when she couldn’t find a linen dress she liked during the hot Los Angeles summer.

Made of flax linen and produced in California, the dresses look like the kind you could wear to a dinner party and to collect eggs from your free-range chickens the next day. Their prices range from $146 to $186, though by the time the dresses make it to this group, they’re usually sold for about $120 each.

Ms. Schroeder set up the group, which has 2,888 members, two years ago when a follower of the Pyne & Smith Clothiers Instagram said she was looking to sell a gently used Pyne & Smith dress that was taking up space in her closet.

Ms. Schroeder got on the phone with Ms. McCartney and hammered out the group guidelines.

Civility and a promise to be kind when posting critical feedback are among the few requirements for membership, and Ms. Schroeder said she rarely has to moderate conversations.

In some cases, a single dress may be sold and passed between three or four members, who connect with each other and facilitate their own sales along the way.

Groups range from small pop-up Instagram hashtags like #JamieandTheJonesForSale, with fewer than 100 posts, to accounts like Noihsaf Bazaar, which was started on Instagram in 2013 and now has more than 30,000 followers.

Noihsaf was founded when Kate Lindello, 36, a stylist, fashion blogger and stay-at-home mother, wanted to sell a pair of Rachel Comey flats that didn’t fit.

Today Noihsaf, which focuses on emerging and independent designers, operates multiple Instagram accounts, including one for vintage and one for beauty products, and posts 1,200 to 1,500 items weekly on its main resale account.

Ms. Lindello employs three freelancers to help her sort through the hundreds of daily submissions and choose items to post. Unlike volunteer-run accounts, Noihsaf charges a $3.80-per-sale fee.

“Tech is a blessing and a curse,” Ms. Lindello said. “We’re behind our phones so much, but you also have the chance to make this human connection.” In 2017, after posting a pair of her own denim jeans on the account, she was surprised to see that the buyer lived only two miles down the road.

“I could have mailed those jeans to Allison in Duluth, but I wanted to know who this person was,” she said. “I emailed her, and she said she’d just drop by my house. She ended up being a New Yorker who had just moved here, and we’re buddies now. She’s my kid’s dentist.”

Around that same time, Nicolle Rountree, an African-American logistics manager who lives in New Orleans and wears plus-size clothing, was fed up with feeling unwelcome in stores and buying new pants every month when fast fashion ones fell apart.

Through online research, Ms. Rountree discovered Elizabeth Suzann, a label that offers classic staples in natural fabrics in sizes XXS through 4XL — and then discovered that used Elizabeth Suzann clothing was being sold on Instagram accounts like Sell/Trade Elizabeth Suzann and Sell/Trade Slow Fashion.

One day, a fellow Instagram shopper tagged her in a post for a used pair of black Clyde pants in size 16 that she had spotted. Ms. Rountree bid by commenting on the post and bought them from the seller for $125 (normally $245), becoming the third owner of the pants and a committed Elizabeth Suzann customer.

This year, Ms. Rountree became a volunteer moderator of the Sell/Trade Slow Fashion Instagram account (more than 18,000 followers), which hosts and curates sale posts for slow fashion items, hosts trade forums and prompts weekly discussions about ethical fashion. Through the group, she has met more and more women who care about slow fashion.

It’s an online community that became even more real in October, when Ms. Rountree met two other moderators of the group and road-tripped to the Elizabeth Suzann sample sale in Nashville.

“I got out of the car, and there’s this line of women, many of whom I knew, mostly by their Instagram handles, and they ran up to me and hugged me. It blew me away,” she said. “We were all there waiting and shopping in terrible 90-degree Southern summer heat, all stripped down to just bras and underwear. And people are handing you stuff to try on, and you’re handing them stuff to try on, and you don’t even know them. They’re strangers who aren’t strangers.

“I’m a black woman who lives in the South,” Ms. Rountree said. “I have never felt that safe around that many people before.”

Sali Kelley, 50 and an American child care provider and E.S.L. teacher in Italy, has also seen her life changed by online buy-sell-trade communities. Between 2015 and 2016, Ms. Kelley’s best friend left the country, leaving her adrift and depressed, and she and her family moved from Milan to Varese, a smaller city in northern Italy.

Feeling alone and isolated, Ms. Kelley found herself having more interactions online. Eventually, most of them centered around a newly discovered passion: slow fashion, and one brand in particular, Ace & Jig, a female-run American company that uses vivid Indian textiles to create whimsical, colorful clothing.

Though Ms. Kelley was initially turned off by Ace & Jig’s retail prices (new pieces are $200 to $300), she began searching Instagram, where she discovered hundreds of women selling under hashtags like #aceandjigforsale (more than 16,000 posts) and #aceandjigcommunity (more than 5,000). Noihsaf also has a channel dedicated to Ace & Jig.

Before long, Ms. Kelley had started an Instagram account dedicated to celebrating the label, as well as a private message group for plus-size members to trade their Ace & Jig items. She even began organizing an April 2020 meeting for fans in Paris and London, and says it’s not unusual for her to spend hours each week chatting with other Ace & Jig fans and commenting on community posts.

She is also managing the cross-country journey of an Ace & Jig shirt that is being mailed from fan to fan every couple of weeks.

“The rules are basically there’s no rules,” Ms. Kelley said. “You wear it once and post a picture of it and pass it on.” Termed the “traveling Baja,” after the shirt style and “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” the shirt is size XS but seems to fit most of the women who want to participate, Ms. Kelley said.

Currently making its way through Tennessee after traveling from Italy through 13 other states, the shirt is a way for people in the community to connect that Ms. Kelley said she dreamed up one night when she couldn’t sleep.

“Most of us are women with the same core values who care about women’s issues,” Ms. Kelley said of the 500 or so online friends in her network. “We talk about kids, life, jobs. We’re constantly messaging each other and commenting on each others posts. If I haven’t seen someone post for a while, I’ll check and ask, ‘Hey, are you O.K.?’”

Categories
Amazon.com Inc Campbellsville (Ken) Corporate Social Responsibility e-commerce Factories and Manufacturing Fruit of the Loom Inc Labor and Jobs Relocation of Business Shopping and Retail Tax Credits, Deductions and Exemptions Uncategorized Wages and Salaries

Prime Anchor: An Amazon Warehouse Town Dreams of a Better Life

Image
Credit…Andrew Spear for The New York Times

In Campbellsville, Ky., the tech giant’s influences abound. The profits, not so much.


CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. — In the late 1990s, the town of Campbellsville in central Kentucky suffered a powerful jolt when its Fruit of the Loom textile plant closed. Thousands of jobs making underwear went to Central America, taking the community’s pride with them.

Unemployment hit 28 percent before an unlikely savior arrived as the century was ending: a madly ambitious start-up that let people buy books, movies and music through their computers.

Amazon leased a Fruit of the Loom warehouse about a mile from the factory and converted it into a fulfillment center to speed its packages to Indianapolis and Nashville and Columbus. Its workers, many of them Fruit veterans, earned less than what the textile work had paid but the digital excitement was overwhelming.

Twenty years later, Amazon is one of the world’s most highly valued companies and one of the most influential. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, has accumulated a vast fortune. In Seattle, Amazon built a $4 billion urban campus, redefining a swath of the city.

The outcome has been different in Campbellsville, the only sizable community in Taylor County. The county population has stalled at 25,000. Median household income has barely kept pace with inflation. Nearly one in five people in the county lives in poverty, more than in 2000.

Over the last 20 years, Amazon’s stock price has soared. But household income in Taylor County has barely kept pace with inflation.

Taylor Co., Ky.

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Taylor County, Ky.

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Cumulative change since 2000

Taylor County, Ky.

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Income figures are adjusted for inflation.

Sources: Census Bureau, via Federal Reserve (income data); Refinitiv (stock prices)

By Karl Russell

The divergent fates offer a window into what towns can give to tech behemoths over decades — and what exactly they get in return. Campbellsville’s warehouse was among the first of what are now an estimated 477 Amazon fulfillment centers, delivery stations and other outposts around the country. That makes Campbellsville, with 11,415 inhabitants, a case study for what may happen elsewhere as Amazon continues expanding.

Brenda Allen, Campbellsville’s mayor, said: “Amazon has had a really good business here for 20 years. They haven’t been disappointed at all. And we’re glad they’re here.”

But, she added, “I really would feel better if they would contribute to our needs.”

In central Kentucky, Amazon has reaped benefits, including a type of tax break that critics label “Paying Taxes to the Boss.” In the arrangement, 5 percent of Amazon workers’ paychecks, which would ordinarily be destined for the county and the state, go to Amazon itself. The company netted millions of dollars from this incentive over a decade.

While that tax break has run out, Campbellsville itself still gets no tax money from Amazon. The warehouse is just outside the town limits. The city school system, which is its own taxing authority, does get revenue from Amazon. Both the city and the county school systems recently raised their tax rates because of revenue shortfalls. (The city increase had to be rescinded for procedural reasons.)

No one wants Amazon to leave, though. It is Campbellsville’s largest private employer. Its online mall has given the town’s shoppers access to a paradise of goods.

Less visibly, Amazon shapes the local economy, including which businesses survive and which will not be coming to town at all. It supplies small-screen entertainment every night, influences how the schools and the library use technology and even determined the taxes everyone pays.

“We were a company town with Fruit of the Loom, and we’re becoming a company town again,” said Betty J. Gorin, a local historian.

Amazon said it was not solely responsible for Campbellsville’s vitality. It pointed out other big local employers, including a hospital and a Baptist university. “Amazon is not the only barometer,” it said.

The company said it had spent $53 million remodeling its warehouse “to benefit employees.” The facility now includes a classroom for training workshops and, it said, “on-site college classes.” Amazon declined a request for a tour.

Some cities and towns are now weighing the costs of Amazon versus the benefits. The nationwide total of all state and local subsidies for the company over 20 years is $2.8 billion, according to Good Jobs First, which tracks tax breaks for corporations.

Activists protested New York’s plan to give Amazon billions of dollars in tax breaks, causing the company to abandon its plans this year to move into Queens. (Amazon began opening new offices in Manhattan this month without any incentives.) Maryland residents rejected a proposed warehouse last summer, citing concerns about noise pollution, traffic and safety.

In Campbellsville, the relationship between Amazon and the citizens is facing some questions as it enters middle age.

“The needle has not moved in the last two decades on the quality of life in Kentucky, especially in places like Campbellsville. What does that tell you?” said Jason Bailey of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, a research and advocacy group.

He called the state “a fiscal mess because of tax giveaways to Amazon and other companies.” Kentucky has had 20 rounds of budget cuts since 2008, he said.

In 1948, a Kentucky underwear company set up an outpost in the basement of the old Campbellsville armory with five employees. This eventually became the largest single male-underwear plant in the world, with 4,200 workers producing 3.6 million garments a week.

The money was good, especially for women and African-Americans who had few other opportunities. Fruit, as it was eventually called, built the first public tennis courts and paid the city $250,000 in 1965 to expand the wastewater disposal plant. Factory executives spurred the creation of a country club and the public swimming pool.

The easy times ended with the North American Free Trade Agreement, which took effect in 1994. Amazon’s arrival five years later offered a second chance. Campbellsville was more than 40 miles from the nearest interstate, but it had a 570,000-square-foot modern warehouse and thousands of eager workers who knew how to hustle.

To woo Amazon, the local fiscal court passed the payroll tax measure, which opened up the state coffers. Amazon’s workers, like other employees in the county, would pay a 1 percent payroll tax and a 4 percent state income tax. But that money went directly to Amazon as a reward for bringing in jobs.

This type of tax break was first developed in Kentucky and is now widespread. Amazon’s incentives totaled $19 million over 10 years, including exemption from the state’s corporate income tax. The company said it had ultimately received “less than half” that amount, though it declined to explain the discrepancy.

The enthusiasm with which yesterday’s workers embraced tomorrow’s economy was a big story that drew national attention. Making underwear was not sexy. Selling things online was.

Arlene Dishman began working at Fruit in 1970. She said she had earned as much as $15 an hour — the equivalent of about $100 now — sewing necklines on V-neck T-shirts. “You can’t hardly turn that money down,” she said.

Her starting rate at Amazon was just $7.50 an hour, but she relished creating a digital outpost in Campbellsville. “We felt responsible for a lot of the success of Amazon,” she said. “We were just so proud.”

She became a trainer, worked with Mr. Bezos himself when he came to town, was promoted to management. These were years of turmoil at Amazon, as the dot-com bubble burst in the early 2000s. Pressure ramped up.

“I worked on the third floor,” Ms. Dishman said. “No air-conditioning. I would have people on the line pass out, constantly.”

As a manager, she said, she was too understanding, which was her undoing.

“I had worked with these people for so many years at Fruit that when a situation came up that management was not liking, I had a tendency to take the workers’ side,” she said. She left after three years.

David Joe Perkins, who worked for Fruit for 24 years and then for Amazon, said he also took pride in being part of the e-commerce start-up.

“We treated it like our company,” he said. “I have personally worked with Jeff Bezos. I actually liked the guy.”

What Mr. Perkins did not like were Amazon’s managers.

“My manager called me into the office one day and said, ‘Dave, your performance is not what it needs to be.’ I said, ‘How can I improve?’ He said, ‘You don’t fire enough people.’”

Several months later, Mr. Perkins was let go with little explanation.

Both Mr. Perkins, 64, and Ms. Dishman, 71, have Amazon Prime accounts. Ms. Dishman’s daughter works for Amazon as a data analyst. Ms. Dishman even thought about returning to the warehouse during last year’s holidays to earn a little Christmas money. She did not follow through.

Just about everyone in Campbellsville remains grateful to Amazon for coming and hiring people. Those workers take their paychecks and spend at least some of the money around town.

There are not as many workers as people think, though.

When Amazon arrived, it said it would employ 1,000 people full time within two years. That’s still the official total from the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, a state agency, and in Mrs. Gorin and Jeremy Johnson’s two-volume history of the town, published this year. Team Taylor County, which solicits new industries for the community, puts the number of workers at 1,350.

Amazon said in October that the total was 655 full-time workers.

“I’m shocked,” Mrs. Gorin said.

Kelly Cheeseman, an Amazon spokeswoman, said the “head count started to shift” at the warehouse “around 2016 to 2017.” She said automation — the deepest fear of every community with an Amazon warehouse — had nothing to do with it.

“We regularly balance capacity across the network,” Ms. Cheeseman said. In November, Amazon said full-time workers had risen to 700.

Amazon said that the money it paid in wages was an investment in Campbellsville and that it had contributed “$15 million in taxes to Taylor County” over the last 20 years. It declined to break down the numbers further.

Records and interviews indicate that Amazon paid to the city school system about $350,000 in taxes this year. The company paid the county an additional $410,000 in property taxes.

Good Jobs First, the group that analyzes tax benefits for corporations, thinks that is not enough.

“What has Amazon really done for the community?” asked Greg LeRoy, the center’s executive director. “It’s not like it’s a tech lab, diffusing intellectual property or spinning off other businesses. It’s a warehouse.”

Ms. Allen, the mayor, wants more money to pay the town’s bills.

“The people in Seattle are getting rich,” she said. “They don’t care what happens to the people in Campbellsville, not really.”

In the 1970s and 1980s, life in Campbellsville revolved around Fruit. Townspeople learned not to be near downtown when the plant let out at 4 p.m. and traffic briefly became overwhelming. When Fruit shut down for the first two weeks in July every year, the town was so dead that other industries in the area scheduled their vacations for the same time. Fruit officials were active in the Chamber of Commerce, civic clubs and associations.

Amazon is not like that.

“Amazon is everywhere and nowhere,” Mrs. Gorin said. “This town runs on Amazon, but their employees are not in positions of political power.”

Amazon is linked into the community in other ways that often end up benefiting Amazon. In 2016, the company donated 25 Kindle Fire tablets to Campbellsville kindergarten and first grade classrooms. It also donated $2,500 in “content.” The town schools are increasingly buying supplies from Amazon for a total of about $50,000 in the last fiscal year, records show.

“We want to do business with those in our community, those paying local taxes,” said Chris Kidwell, finance director for Campbellsville Independent Schools. “It’s kind of a good-neighbor policy.”

The county school system, with 2,800 students, is dealing with state budget cuts. One way it has made up some of the shortfalls is by selling corporate sponsorships. Taylor Regional Hospital bought the naming rights to the health services room; Campbellsville University did the same for an education center. Amazon is not a corporate sponsor.

“We’re proud to have them in our community, and we would be proud to have them as a corporate sponsor,” said Laura Benningfield, the assistant superintendent.

Last spring, the local library was the recipient of a $10,000 gift from Amazon for science and technology education. Amazon planned to supply whatever the library wanted by ordering the material through its own site. As this article was being reported and Amazon was emphasizing what it had done for the town, the company just sent the library the cash.

“We’re on the receiving end of a blessing,” said Tammy Snyder, the town librarian. The library, like other public institutions in Kentucky, is dealing with the state’s largely unfunded pension system. Proposed changes that involve the library’s paying significantly more “will bankrupt us,” she said.

Justin Harden, 35, said he had no illusions about Amazon. He and his wife, Kendal, recently opened Harden Coffee, a popular meeting spot, on Main Street.

“If they can figure out a way to cut me out and take my business, they’ll totally do it,” he said. “They would destroy me, absolutely. But I am a 100 percent supporter of Amazon. I have five kids. We get stuff from Amazon almost every day.”

He paused, acknowledging his own contradictions. “That’s why they’re winning,” he said.

A pile of rubble on Campbellsville’s southern approach marks the ruins of the Fruit plant.

The property is owned by Danny and Sandy Pyles, commercial contractors who run an excavating company in nearby Columbia. They bought the textile factory with other investors a decade ago with the goal of building a retail complex called Campbellsville Marketplace.

The graffiti-covered shell was torn down, and a Louisville developer, Hogan Real Estate, cobbled together a deal. Kroger, the country’s largest supermarket chain, would close its two Campbellsville stores. It would then become the Marketplace anchor tenant with a 123,000-square-foot superstore.

Work was supposed to start within weeks. Then, on June 16, 2017, Amazon announced that it was buying the upscale grocery chain Whole Foods. Kroger shares slumped. Its deal in Campbellsville was put on hold, then abandoned. Hogan chased other possible anchors — Menards, Meijer, Home Depot — but none were interested. (Kroger declined to comment.)

“We used to talk about the Walmart Effect when you saw vacant storefronts in these small towns,” said Justin Phelps of Hogan. “Now it’s the Amazon Effect.”

Pyles Excavating is a good Amazon customer. The company needed a muffler recently for a track hoe. It would have cost $1,200 from a dealer. On Amazon, it was half that.

“The internet has brought the world to our fingertips,” Mr. Pyles said.

The Pyleses recently bought out the other investors in the Fruit site. Their investment is now more than $2 million.

“It really is a great piece of property, but right now it’s a reminder of the day Campbellsville literally shut down,” said Sandy Pyles, the daughter of a Fruit worker and relative of many others. “It’s a sadness.”

They would like a Whole Foods there, but know the town is too small to support it. Mr. Pyles has another idea: an Amazon Go store. These are experimental outlets with no cashiers.

That would put local competitors who still needed humans at a disadvantage while adding hardly any jobs. But it would be an investment by one of the world’s richest companies in one of the towns where it began.

“Amazon is the future,” he said. “We’d like to be part of that.”

Categories
Amazon.com Inc Shopping and Retail Uncategorized

The Week in Tech: What 5 Billion Means to Amazon

Each week, we review the week’s news, offering analysis about the most important developments in the tech industry.

Hi, This is Karen Weise, the tech correspondent for The New York Times in Seattle. Since the holiday shopping season is ending, it’s not a bad time to talk about Amazon.

Let me start with a single, large number critical to the shopping experience on Amazon: five billion. Each day, Amazon gets five billion submissions to edit descriptions and details about the products for sale on its site. The edits come from the companies that fill Amazon’s Everything Store.

That’s 1.8 trillion edits a year that Amazon needs to sort through. Are they accurate or misleading? Do they follow Amazon’s rules or even the law?

Some of the edits are simple updates to a product, or a company trying out new marketing. Others are tactics used to sabotage a competitor’s products or add a certification, like Food and Drug Administration approval, that an item does not have.

If shopping on Amazon can feel a little chaotic — duplicate listings, weird variations, descriptions that don’t quite match a product — this daily edit is a big reason.

I learned the importance of five billion from Amazon when I was reporting on what has happened in the two decades since Amazon began letting outside companies list goods on its site. The move sharply increased the selection customers can find when they type in Amazon.com, and now about 60 percent of Amazon’s sales come from these outside merchants.

My article detailed how Amazon has squeezed more out of these suppliers over the years, making Amazon’s services, like advertising and fulfillment, essential to succeeding on the site, often in ways that make it harder to do business elsewhere.

I heard so much about how companies scramble to respond when Amazon changes its rules, which it does to present customers with a coherent, consistent experience even as the selection and number of sellers have grown so large.

Amazon’s decision to open its doors to outside sellers has been essential to its ability to get us almost anything in a matter of days, if not hours. It’s what lets us turn to it with the random, near stream-of-consciousness list of things that pop into our heads. Though my memory is hazy, I’m pretty sure one of my family’s first Prime Now orders came soon after my son was born: We got diapers, chocolate — and vermouth for Negronis.

Like Facebook in its effort to sort out fake news, Amazon has turned to algorithms to organize and police its site, and said it was spending $400 million a year to do so. On Thursday, the company said that it had record holiday sales and that “billions of items were ordered worldwide.”

Jeff Wilke, the chief executive of Amazon’s consumer business, told me that the company’s long-term future depended on patrolling the site without harming well-meaning merchants.

“We have a strong incentive to be as accurate as possible in identifying bad actors, make very few mistakes when we’re wrong,” he said, adding that Amazon also wants to give people second chances when they make an honest mistake.

People who have worked at Amazon’s marketplace debate whether the company can build systems fast enough, and accurate enough, to keep up. Some say the gap is closing; others fear the rot may grow too fast to catch.

I find myself thinking of a conversation I had toward the beginning of the year with Juozas Kaziukenas, founder of Marketplace Pulse, a research company. “If the chaos continues, I don’t know how long a consumer will be willing to put up with it,” he said. “They are a marketplace of trust, and if you cannot trust it, the whole premise of Amazon completely evaporates.”

That trust comes down to big decisions and little details, like those changes submitted five billion times a day.

  • It’s the end of an Uber era. The ride-hailing company’s founder, Travis Kalanick, stepped down from its board after weeks of selling down his stake in Uber stock.

  • Delivery, at a cost. Amazon is adding to its army of delivery drivers in a way that puts a priority on speed and cost over safety, ProPublica and BuzzFeed News found, citing internal documents and interviews. Amazon said that safety was a top priority and that last year it invested $55 million in “safety improvement projects.”

  • When a chat app is a tool for spying. ToTok, a popular messaging app, is secretly a surveillance tool run by the government of the United Arab Emirates, Mark Mazzetti, Nicole Perlroth and Ronen Bergman found. This was not a hack, but by design: Companies affiliated with Emirati intelligence created the app. (The Emirati government declined to comment for the article.)

  • R.I.P., “Antennagate.” The 2010 iPhone’s struggle to make calls was No. 42 in The Verge’s list of the top 84 tech flops of the decade. No. 1 was Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, who undid net neutrality.

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Categories
Angers (France) Demonstrations, Protests and Riots e-commerce Economic Conditions and Trends France Groupe Casino Labor and Jobs Shopping and Retail Uncategorized

Self-Checkout in France Sets Off Battle Over a Day of Rest

ANGERS, France — On a Sunday afternoon, customers at a Géant Casino supermarket browsed the aisles and lined up to buy meat, fish and other groceries. It was a typical shopping experience except for one thing: All the cashiers had gone home. Customers scanned items at automated checkout stations as security guards hovered nearby.

That the store was even open was unusual. French labor rules prohibit most shops from employing workers past 1 p.m. on Sundays. But as e-commerce and online giants like Amazon usher in an era of round-the-clock spending, retailers are amping up the use of automated cashiers to help them compete.

The move has caused an outcry in France, where Sundays are traditionally a rest day for workers and families. While self-checkout machines are often used alongside cashiers, labor unions say that tilting toward fully cashierless operations threatens the French way of life by encouraging American-style consumerism and automation, putting thousands of jobs at risk.

“Sundays are sacred,” said Patrice Auvinet, the head of the General Confederation of Labor union in Angers, a midsize city in western France. “If they change that, it will change French society. And if automated cashiers become normalized, it will have a catastrophic impact on workers.”

Groupe Casino, the country’s biggest supermarket operator, began testing Sunday-afternoon openings in August using only automated machines at the warehouse-size supermarket in Angers. It has expanded the experiment to at least 20 other megastores around the country, igniting raucous protests.

This week, Casino further riled unions by becoming the first supermarket chain in France to keep most of its stores open, including the one in Angers, on Christmas Day using only self-checkout machines. Casino said in a statement that it planned to do the same on New Year’s Day, and that the move was an extension of how it was already operating on Sunday afternoons.

President Emmanuel Macron paved the way for Sunday openings in 2015 when he was France’s economy minister, loosening regulation of business hours around Paris and other touristic areas to stimulate the economy. Unions fought the measures, citing labor rights won over decades.

But retailers say the restrictions that apply outside city centers have become a bind as e-commerce disrupts the retail landscape. As brick-and-mortar outlets lose sales to online merchants, companies say they must either compete or perish.

“The world is changing, and we’re in a very competitive environment,” said Sébastien Corrado, the marketing director of Groupe Casino. “The internet doesn’t have frontiers, so we need to adapt to new modes of consumption that let us stay in the game and be winners.”

Ringing up more profit is especially important for Groupe Casino, which also operates supermarkets in South America and Asia. It is restructuring billions of euros of debt after its holding companies recently entered a form of bankruptcy protection.

At the Angers store, which employs 115 in a working-class neighborhood, Groupe Casino is having salaried employees clock out as usual at 12:30 p.m. on Sundays, then bringing in security guards, hired through another company, to keep the store open through evening.

Groupe Casino had been operating 130 smaller stores in Paris and other cities using self-checkout machines to let consumers shop until midnight or even around the clock.

But Groupe Casino’s huge supermarkets, like the one in Angers, employ thousands, often on urban outskirts with limited job opportunities. That first Sunday afternoon in August, 200 demonstrators converged on the Angers store, chanting angrily and accusing the company of taking a big step toward replacing employees.

Chaos mounted when the protesters were joined by local members of the Yellow Vest movement, which arose last year to protest stagnating wages and declining living standards. Denouncing what they said was an erosion of workers’ living standards, they charged through the store, dumping produce in the aisles and heckling customers who were using the automatic checkout machines.

“Today is just the beginning, but tomorrow, who’s to say this won’t stop?” said Xavier Roche, a maintenance worker for another big supermarket chain, Carrefour, who joined the protests.

He is worried that Carrefour, which uses self-checkout at its convenience stores to stay open Sundays, will do the same at its larger markets. “First it’s Sunday afternoons, then it will be 24 hours a day,” Mr. Roche said.

Cashierless supermarkets are gaining ground around the world. Reducing cash payments and checkout time have become major goals for retailers that want to make the buying experience faster and more attractive while cutting labor costs.

Amazon pushed the boundaries by opening Amazon Go in the United States, a minimart where customers can buy items without any human interaction. Tesco is testing purely cashierless stores in Britain. Stores in China are increasingly using so-called facial payments, which lets shoppers pay by looking into a camera, after they have linked a photo of their face to a bank account. The facial payment technology eliminates the need for a wallet or mobile app.

Groupe Casino has not gone that far. But it is getting closer. Last year, it opened a gastronomic store off the Champs-Élysées in Paris that enables shoppers to buy everything from flowers to foie gras by using an app to scan the products and pay. Interactive displays show data on a product’s nutrition, price and popularity. For shoppers who cannot find the cheese, a voice-activated information screen gives directions to the right aisle. There are about a dozen workers who help customers and stock shelves, but no actual cashiers.

Tech-savvy and time-pressed customers have flocked to such services. “We’re meeting the needs of our clients,” said Mr. Corrado, the marketing director. “If we don’t have to close, then everyone wins because people get convenience and our sales increase. That also benefits our employees.”

That is hardly believable to workers who fear that opening all night at small stores, let alone Sunday afternoons at the big supermarkets, is a slippery slope to full automation and lost jobs.

Saliha Guechaichia, 47, grew anxious when the Géant Casino opened that first Sunday afternoon without her and the other cashiers, many of them single mothers with children. She began working at Casino 30 years ago, earning a modest income that helps her and her family get by.

“There used to be 22 registers with cashiers — now there are just 13,” Mrs. Guechaichia, a union member, said as she sat at a cafe opposite the store with a group of upset workers. Eight cashierless checkout stations were recently installed, she said, and more are coming.

“We’re worried,” she added. “This is no test — the machines are here for good.”

Younger workers find it easier to adapt.

“Machines can’t completely replace us,” said Arthur Hornoy, 20, a university student who works part time as a cashier to help pay for his studies. “For instance, we’re trained to recognize when someone might be stealing. A machine can’t do that.”

The bigger problem, Mr. Hornoy said, is that he wants to work more on Sundays to increase his earnings but cannot do so because of the labor laws.

“This isn’t taking jobs away, because we can’t work anyway,” he said. “I think if the company could have us work, they would, because the lines at the automated registers in the afternoon are huge.”

Even before the cashiers clocked out, those assigned to help customers scan items were overwhelmed. Marvim Bolina Naubir, another university student, zipped around a bank of self-checkout stations as shoppers peppered him with questions on how to use them.

“We are two people working eight automatic registers, when there could be six more cashiers,” Mr. Naubir, 21, said. “Older workers are especially concerned that machines used Sunday afternoons could stretch to the entire week, and then they would lose their jobs.”

Around 15,000 cashier jobs — almost one-tenth of the total — have disappeared in the past decade in France. While that is nowhere near the hundreds of thousands that unions warned would be shed, job losses are expected to mount as automation increases, said Mathieu Hocquelet, a labor sociologist at the Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches sur les Qualifications.

“These are precarious jobs, so there will be mass unemployment,” he said.

At the cafe, Mrs. Guechaichia and the other workers watched from a distance as customers filtered into the store. While townspeople were sympathetic, the protests had not kept away all shoppers. Groupe Casino said around 1,000 consumers were going there Sunday afternoons, bringing in significant sales.

Mr. Roche, the Carrefour maintenance employee, said the longer opening hours were just the start of a Western-style culture of overconsumption coming to France.

“We are opening on holidays and staying open 24 hours for businesses to make more money,” he said. “But workers’ salaries aren’t increasing, and people don’t have more money to consume.”

Declining purchasing power has been a central theme of Yellow Vest protesters in France, where the median monthly take-home pay is about 1,700 euros (about $1,900), meaning that half of workers make less than that.

Mrs. Guechaichia said no cashiers had yet been laid off. But employees no longer working at a cash register were being retrained for other tasks, such as stocking shelves and greeting customers.

How long those jobs will be around, she said, is anyone’s guess.

“Even if we give them flexibility, they will always ask for more,” she said. “All of the social achievements we’ve worked for are collapsing like a house of cards.”

Mélissa Godin contributed reporting.