Retailers ask Congress for data breach notification law

From Retailers ask Congress for data breach notification law, clarionledger.com

PDF: Retailers ask for data breach law

Hardly a week goes by without some major data breach hitting the news. By now, we’ve become accustomed to hearing about these incursions in which hackers gain access to sensitive consumer records. And each time, the number of affected consumers gets bigger and bigger, and often we learn about the event weeks or even months after the damage has been done.

In the case of the Equifax breach last summer, it took several weeks for the news to break that hackers had been raiding the credit-reporting giant’s files, compromising the data of nearly 150 million consumers. Since that breach, business groups and consumer watchdogs have been turning up the heat on Congress to do something about the time it takes to notify those affected by breaches.

The financial and retail industries have long sparred over proposed laws regulating when and how a company should notify the government and the public about when a data breach has occurred. At the heart of the matter is a growing need — recognized by both industry groups and both parties in Congress — that better federal laws are needed to replace a varied patchwork of different state laws governing breaches across the nation.

On Valentine’s Day, 11 major retail groups petitioned Congress to pass uniform national legislation that “leaves no holes” and makes all types of businesses responsible for notifying consumers in a timely manner.

In a letter sent to the Financial Services Committee, the National Retail Federation and other trade associations representing “convenience stores, restaurants, truck stops, gasoline stations, grocers, real estate agents, franchises, hotels and the travel industry” said they support a uniform federal law governing what business must do when credit card or other data is breached, but said it should apply to all businesses that handle sensitive consumer data. The NRF announced the action in a news release.

NRF was part of a group comprising the retail sector that was protesting a repeat of failed legislation in 2015 that would have made notification “mandatory for retailers but voluntary for financial institutions.” The group argued that the financial sector, including banks, credit-card companies and others comprised nearly a quarter of all data breaches, while the retail sector accounted for less than 5 percent.

“Every industry sector — whether consumer-facing or business-to-business — suffers data security breaches that may put consumer data at risk,” the letter said. “To protect consumers comprehensively wherever breaches occur, Congress should ensure that any federal breach notification law applies to all affected industry sectors and leave no holes.”

In early January, a broad coalition representing the financial services industry urged Congress to pass “flexible, scalable standards” for data protection that is “tailored to the size and complexity of the organization as well as the sensitivity of the data the organization holds.”

While large-scale breaches happen to retailers, financial-services companies find themselves increasingly targeted by thieves who are often funded and equipped by organized crime. An October report by Thales Security noted that 42 percent of financial institutions had experienced at least one breach in the past, with many reporting multiple events. For its part, the financial industry has been aggressively working to target fraud attempts. In January, the American Bankers Association announced that banks had stopped $17 billion worth of fraud attempts during 2016.

The sheer size and scale of the Equifax breach is likely to lead to changes in when and how companies of all types must notify the public when a breach occurs, and the pressure is now on Congress to act. But ultimately, what’s at stake is the sensitive information from millions of customers. The protection of that information should be the highest priority for all concerned.

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Want to lower your car insurance? Here’s how

via Want to lower your car insurance? Here’s how. But there are some ways to lower the costs, clarionledger.com

PDF: Lowering car insurance

It was another sad statistic in which the Magnolia State didn’t fare well: In November, the Insurance Research Council released statistics showing Mississippi’s rate of insured drivers in 2015 was the second-lowest in the nation, with nearly a quarter of its drivers (23.7 percent) failing to carry required auto insurance.

Only in Florida was there a higher percentage of drivers without insurance; Maine had the lowest rate of uninsured drivers, with less than 5 percent of Pine Tree State drivers uninsured.

The statistics (gleaned from reports from the nation’s largest 14 insurers) illustrated a widespread problem nationwide that appeared to be getting better, but in the past few years has started growing again. Uninsured motorists are a major threat to the financial health and well-being of other drivers on the road, with accidents resulting in higher costs for motorists who do comply with the law. Here in Mississippi, drivers have been required by law to have auto insurance since 2001, and failure to have insurance can cost you steep fines.

As to why people don’t comply with the law, there are probably lots of reasons. Some probably just don’t care, or don’t think they’ll get caught. Others may be unaware of the law, but that would be a hard sell in court. Some may find it difficult to pay the cost of the insurance, perhaps weighing the cost against the possible risks of not having insurance and the likelihood they will get caught.

But there are some ways to lower the costs of auto insurance to make sure you comply with the law while keeping costs more affordable. In a recent article, “Nine ways to lower your auto insurance costs,” the Insurance Industry Institute suggests some ways to decrease the cost of car insurance, and to keep it affordable while at the same time keeping you out of legal trouble. Here are a few of their suggestions:

  • Shop around. Many insurance companies offer coverage to Mississippi drivers, and most will give you a price quote online so you can compare. But don’t just take the first offer, or the offer from the largest company (or the one with the cutest mascot or catchiest ad). Get three quotes, and make sure you’re getting quotes on the same levels of coverage. To provide insurance coverage in Mississippi, companies need to be registered with the Mississippi Insurance Department. Check the financial health of insurance companies with rating companies such as A.M. Best(www.ambest.com) and Standard & Poor’s (www.standardandpoors.com/ratings) and consult consumer magazines and websites.
  • Shop for insurance before you buy a new or used car. Since car insurance costs are affected by several factors, including the car’s price, its repair costs, overall safety record and likelihood of theft, the price you pay for premiums may vary widely by the type of vehicle you get. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety(www.iihs.org) has information about current vehicles.
  • Consider higher deductibles. A deductible is your portion of the cost for getting your vehicle repaired or replaced. In general, having a low deductible is a great thing when your vehicle has to be repaired, but it will cost you more in premiums. The Institute notes that increasing your deductible from $200 to $500 could reduce your collision and comprehensive coverage cost by 15 to 30 percent. Going to a $1,000 deductible can save you 40 percent or more. “Before choosing a higher deductible, be sure you have enough money set aside to pay it if you have a claim,” advises the article.
  • Reduce coverage on older cars. Dropping collision and/or comprehensive coverage on older cars is widely recommended because it will likely lower your premium. As a vehicle gets older and its value drops, it becomes less likely that an insurance payout will cover much (if anything) toward the repair or replacement anyway.

Look for discounts. Insurers want your business in a competitive environment, so many companies offer discounts to lure you. Many insurers offer multi-policy discounts for customers who carry multiple lines of insurance, for example homeowner’s and auto insurance. Also, ask your agent about discounts, including for safe driving records, students with good grades, and others. But in the end, be sure you are actually getting a good, competitive rate by comparing prices.

There are several other good suggestions in the article, at http://bit.ly/2CoyHa0.

Tide Pod Challenge: ‘Don’t eat poison’

via Tide Pod Challenge: ‘Don’t eat poison’

PDF: Tide pods poison

I’ve written before in this column about the danger of laundry pods, those colorful little plastic pods that contain measured amounts of laundry detergent. Since they were first introduced to the mass market in 2012 as Tide Pods, they’ve been the target of kids, lured by the bright colors and candylike appearance.

The pods were heralded as a time- and mess-saver; instead of pouring liquid detergent from a bottle or powders from a box, all you had to do was throw the pod in with the wash and that was it. The products inside remained dry until the water from the wash cycle dissolved the plastic coating, dispensing the product at the right time. Actually, the concept came from medicine, which has used timed-release capsules for decades. Following the success of Tide pods, Tide parent company Proctor & Gamble and a number of other detergent companies subsequently started putting their products in a pod-like package.

But there was a problem: in 2013, Consumer Reports notes, thousands of children were being rushed to the hospital after eating or biting into the pods, which they mistook for candy. At least one 7-month-old child died after eating one. Soon, senior-citizen advocates began warning that the products could also be eaten by adults with dementia if not kept out of reach.

Now, we have the “Tide Pod Challenge.” In the past several weeks, accounts of teenagers eating Tide Pods on a dare have blasted through social media, resulting in memes such as a pizza covered in pods, and perhaps most disturbingly, teens biting into the pods and spitting out the distasteful contents. Although the possibility of eating a Tide Pod was (according to Forbes) first mentioned in 2015, the phenomenon quickly picked up steam as it erupted on Twitter, then Youtube and other social media, in mid-2017.

According to the American Poison Control Center, centers around the country recorded 39 cases of intentional laundry pod “exposures” among 13- to 19-year-olds in the first two weeks of January. That’s nearly equal to the number of cases in all of 2017.

This rash of apparent insanity has become serious enough for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to warn people about the dangers of ingesting the colorful pods. (“A meme should not become a family tragedy,” warn the CPSC’s social-media posts. “Don’t eat poison.”)

Although you would think most people would understand not to intentionally ingest cleaning products, it bears repeating here. Consumer Reports notes the average detergent pod contains a cocktail of chemicals, of which those in the average bar of soap are just the start. Pods vary in the number and type of chemicals inside, but one recent report estimated more than 700 chemicals are in a standard pod (many of them toxic).

What happens when you ingest the contents of a pod is not a pretty story. The thin layer of plastic starts to break down immediately from your saliva and gastric juices, releasing its contents into your mouth and esophagus. When you ingest those chemicals, notes the Consumer Reports article, they begin to burn your esophagus and continue wreaking havoc through your digestive system. You could die.

Of course, a lot of people on social media are having a lot of fun with the concept, as they did with the Cinnamon Challenge a few years ago. And, the number of people who are actually biting into or consuming Tide Pods is probably a small fraction of those who say they’re doing it. The story will likely continue to build for a while longer, until the social-media world gets bored with it and moves on to something else. The fact the mainstream media is covering it may hasten its demise as a counter-cultural phenomenon. Regardless, this is one fad many of us will be glad to see in the rearview mirror.

Kid actors: Talent agency misled, improperly gathered info, feds say

via Kid actors: Talent agency misled, improperly gathered info, feds say, clarionledger.com

PDF: Child talent agency 1Child talent agency 2

In the past couple of decades, the children’s talent industry has been booming. Although the number of children who actually land a profitable modeling or acting gig is tiny compared with the number of those who dream of hitting the big time, promoters are still making millions by stoking those dreams of success.

While believing their child could be a budding star is a wish for many parents, it’s important to go into the search aware you could be investing in a scam. Not all child talent search companies are fraudulent, but many parents have spent their hard-earned money on companies that are outright scams or just can’t do what they promise. And, in some cases, you could be putting more at risk than your money.

The Federal Trade Commission recently settled charges with Nevada-based Prime Sites, a web-based talent search company going by the name of Explore Talent. The FTC said the company not only “misled consumers about the benefits of its premium paid services,” but also failed to obtain parents’ consent before collecting personal information about the children. Explore Talent has agreed to pay $235,000 in civil penalties to settle the charges.

In its complaint, the FTC alleges Explore Talent violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by “collecting and disclosing children’s personal information without obtaining parental consent and by failing to detail to parents and the public its collection, use, and disclosure practices.” The federal law, which went into effect in 2000, regulates what and how websites may collect information about children 13 or younger. Specifically, it requires that operators of websites must seek parents’ permission before collecting personal information about younger users.

Explore Talent’s website bills itself as the “Internet’s largest audition, job and casting call resource for actors, models, musicians, dancers, and production crews” and claims more than 10 million members. I couldn’t find any specific response to the FTC action, but the website contains two articles titled “ET is not a scam” and “ET is legit,” in which the company defends itself and its practices from charges of fraud and misrepresentation.

According to the FTC, Explore Talent marketed itself to aspiring actors, models and other artists as a link to information about upcoming auditions, casting calls, and other professional opportunities. The company allegedly required users (including children under age 13) to provide personal information such as their names, email addresses, telephone numbers and mailing address to create a free account or a premium, paid account. Some of the information was included in publicly searchable user profiles provided on its website. In addition, the complaint alleged, Explore Talent stated in its website’s privacy policy that it does require parental consent for a 13-or-younger user to create an account, but users 13 or younger were allowed to create accounts without restrictions.

Additionally, the FTC says the company deceived consumers by “baselessly representing to prospective purchasers of its premium services that casting directors either had interest in them or had specifically chosen them for upcoming roles.” For example, one user reported being told by a telemarketer that speaking roles in an upcoming “Jack Reacher” film would be chosen from among Explore Talent users who signed up for a $39.95 per month “pro membership,” but the film’s casting director, when contacted by the user, denied the producers were working with Explore Talent and that the film’s speaking roles had already been assigned.

“Explore Talent collected the personal information of more than 100,000 children, but failed to adhere to the safeguards required by law,” said Acting FTC Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen. “Today’s settlement provides strong relief for consumers and will help ensure children are protected going forward.”

Kroger rolls out Scan, Bag, Go shopping

via Kroger rolls out Scan, Bag, Go shopping, clarionledger.com

PDF: Scan Bag Go

The days in which human cashiers play a major role in the grocery shopping experience may be numbered. Retailers across the nation have for years provided technology that allows shoppers to check out using automated kiosks, and now retail giant Kroger is about to roll out a new service which will allow shoppers to eventually bypass the checkout process altogether.

Cincinnati-based Kroger announced recently that it’s about to implement the new Scan, Bag and Go service in 18 operating divisions to include 400 stores across the nation. According to its news release, Kroger will roll out Scan, Bag and Go in “select locations” across the country including the Delta Division, which serves Mississippi shoppers. Which stores will be included was not immediately available.

Scan, Bag and Go allows customers to stroll through the aisles with an app or handheld scanner which will scan products as they’re placed into bags. As shoppers scan and bag their groceries, the system will keep a running total of the items in the basket, and show coupons and specials. For now, consumers will have to stop at the self-service checkout stand to pay for their groceries, but soon will be able to pay directly from a smartphone app and walk out of the store with a minimum of hassle.

Kroger’s “Restock Kroger” initiative is part of a large-scale retooling of the retail giant’s plans for the future. Kroger has said it plans to double its investment in new technologies in the next year, a move designed to make it more competitive in an era of stiff competition not only from sister bricks-and-mortar retailers, but also from online services such as Jet.com and Amazon and self-prepared services such as Hello Fresh and Blue Apron.

Self-service kiosks, which are now available in a variety of retail stores, have proven popular for customers with just a few items or who prefer to handle everything themselves. Shoppers have been demanding more convenience, and a variety of technological (and low-tech) solutions have been tried for years.

Restock Kroger is an initiative that includes a combination of cost-cutting and strategic investments in data, digital innovation, store updates, and pricing. The grocer plans to invest 200 percent more next year in key areas such as digital, store and payment technology.

“Many of our customers have adopted this convenient new technology and responded favorably to the seamless checkout experience,” noted Chris Hjelm, Kroger’s executive vice president and chief information officer. “Scan, Bag, Go is one more choice, like ClickList, that Kroger provides so customers can choose when and how they want to shop with us.” (ClickList allows shoppers to order their groceries online, then have them loaded into their vehicles at designated parking spots.)

The rollout is part of a trend that’s recently been emerging worldwide. Walmart and other retailers have also recently announced their own versions, but Kroger’s rollout will be the largest announced to date. It’s clear the industry is moving toward maximizing convenience, and in the process minimizing the necessity of human intervention.

It’s possible that one day, the notion of having to go through a checkout line will seem as quaint as driving up to a gas station and saying “fill ‘er up” would today, as an attendant cleans your windshield, tops off the air in your tires and gives you a highway map. That may be a good thing if you’re in a hurry, but for people who work in the industry (or just prefer human interaction), it will likely be harder to find a personal touch.

$21B: Tax scammers eye repeat of 2016 haul

via $21B: Tax scammers eye repeat of 2016 haul, clarionledger,com

PDF: Tax scammers 2018

Each year about this time, Mississippi taxpayers gather their shoeboxes full of receipts and forms, preparing for the annual ritual of filing their taxes. Since Monday marked the official beginning of 2018 tax season, it’s also the time when scammers greedily eye the billions of dollars in potential loot as we file our taxes. And it’s a big haul, too: the IRS estimated that tax scammers took in $21 billion in 2016.

Monday also marked the start of Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week, which highlights some of the risks and scams that seek to cash in on your taxes. Each year, millions of taxpayers get a nasty surprise when they file their taxes: somebody’s already claimed their refund by using their Social Security number. Often, they don’t know their identity has been stolen until they get a letter from the IRS to let them know more than one tax return has been filed in your name.

Although these scams are still going strong, there is some good news: Efforts to thwart tax-related identity theft appear to be working. In 2017, fewer people complained to the Federal Trade Commission and other agencies about tax-related identity theft than in previous years (the second year of decreases in a row). Last year, about 22 percent of identity-theft complaints concerned tax-related activity, down significantly from 2016’s number of 33 percent.

IRS imposters activity appears to be declining as well. IRS imposters call consumers to claim they’re from the IRS, and often use scare tactics and threat of prosecution if they don’t pay immediately. Calls about IRS imposters dropped off by more than half in 2017.

But another type of tax-related fraud appears to be growing. The “W-2 Scam” (otherwise known as Business Email Compromise or BEC) is targeting businesses, educational institutions and organizations. In this diabolical ruse, scammers send an email that appears to be from the IRS (“phishing”), requesting copies of all employees’ W-2 forms. Of course, the W-2 is a virtual smorgasbord of information for scammers, containing official names and addresses, Social Security numbers, income and withholdings. “Criminals use that information to file fraudulent tax returns, or post it for sale on the Dark Net,” noted the IRS in a news release. Business Email Compromise scams cost companies $5 billion worldwide each year, added the FBI.

Hundreds of businesses, institutions, nonprofits and government agencies have all been fooled in 2017 by the official-looking emails. The IRS notes that the fraudsters often do their homework on businesses, finding the CEO or others in positions of authority. Once the victim has taken the bait, many victims reported that they get a follow-up email requesting funds by wire transfer. The emails are reportedly so good they have fooled many experienced executives who never thought they’d fall for a scheme like that.

The IRS advises it could be weeks or months before you realize you’ve been scammed. But if you have, report it immediately to dataloss@irs.gov, using “W2 Data Loss” in the subject line. And, the IRS cautions, don’t attach any sensitive information. For more on the W2 scam from the IRS, visit http://bit.ly/2ohM4D1.

While you may be eagerly awaiting your tax refund this year, be aware that crooks are out there, too. As always, being vigilant, aware and a little bit skeptical can often be the best protection.

Contact Bill Moak at moakconsumer@gmail.com.

Drive smart, save lives: MDOT website shows

via Drive smart, save lives: MDOT website shows, clarionledger.com

PDF: Driving smart saves lives

Nearly two years ago, I wrote about a new initiative by the Mississippi Department of Transportation called Toward Zero Deaths. This project aimed to reduce the number of people dying from preventable incidents and includes a range of strategies to help make Mississippi roadways safer.

But with the number of Mississippi traffic fatalities still rising, MDOT is responding by launching a new website to connect people with information and resources. According to a news release from MDOT, 690 people died on Mississippi’s roads in 2016, representing a 14 percent increase over the past three years.

“Even one traffic fatality in Mississippi is too many,” says Melinda McGrath, the agency’s executive director. In response, the agency has launched DriveSmartMS so drivers can learn how to be safer on the highways, featuring data, videos and information to help us drive smarter and safer.

Roadways in Mississippi, like everywhere else, are dangerous. Not only are there are lot of people who are really in a hurry to get where they are going, many seem to be paying more attention to their phones than to the road, don’t observe proper following distances, drive aggressively and ignore obvious hazards. But getting behind the wheel is serious business; vehicles and their cargo are getting heavier, turning your vehicle into a potentially deadly missile with tremendous destructive power.

To help drivers avoid the human error that’s responsible for most crashes, it’s important to learn the facts about the dynamic environment drivers face every day. That responsibility is especially important in work zones, where 20 people (including three highway workers) have died in crashes in the past three years. Work zones are particularly dangerous because there is often reduced visibility, workers are often just inches away from zooming traffic, trucks and other vehicles are entering and leaving the roadway, and road surfaces can change drastically. If you’ve driven through the I-55 work zone just south of Jackson recently, it’s obvious that people aren’t slowing down enough or paying attention.

“Whether it’s our workers or the traveling public, safety is MDOT’s number one priority,” McGrath said. “When entering a work zone, slow down and pay attention. Drivers play a vital role in improving work zone safety and moving Mississippi toward zero deaths on highways.”

But work zones aren’t the only concern; MDOT has added numerous safety features to the state’s roadways in recent years such as roundabouts, rumble strips and cable barriers. Some of these features slow down or alter traffic, or help reduce severity of crashes. Rumble strips, for example, are placed along the edge or centerline of the roadway to make a loud noise when you’ve crossed into the other lane or onto the shoulder. (I can attest they’ve saved my life a couple of times during long trips when I really should have pulled over for a quick nap.) In one study, McGrath noted, crash frequency dropped 36 percent on rural two-lane roads and 17 percent on rural highways when rumble strips were present.

You’ve probably also noticed cable barriers along interstates and other divided highways. These have been installed to absorb the force of a crash and prevent a vehicle from crossing the median into oncoming traffic. These have been proven to save lives.

But just slowing down, relaxing and driving without distractions or impairment can have a major positive impact. The release noted that 12 percent of the 2016 fatalities involved excessive speed, while distracted driving was cited in more than half of crashes involving teens. About one in five crashes involved alcohol, and about half of last year’s traffic fatalities were not wearing their seat belts.

The lesson for all of us: When we get behind the wheel, we should be as calm as possible, fully awake, aware and free of distractions, be patient, turn off the phone and pay attention.

There’s much more information on the website at http://drivesmart.mdot.ms.gov/.

Amazon Prime monthly, not full-year, subscribers will pay more

via Amazon Prime monthly, not full-year, subscribers will pay more, clarionledger.com

PDF: Amazon prime users face price hike

Amazon Prime has become a must-have for millions of subscribers in the past couple of years, but the announcement that the company is raising its monthly fees by 18 percent may make some rethink their strategy of paying monthly fees.

On Jan. 19, Amazon sent out a message to its millions of subscribers to announce that the price of a monthly Amazon Prime subscription will rise to $12.99 from its previous $10.99 price on Feb. 18. Now, that two dollars may not seem like a lot, but it’s substantially more than you’d pay if you just opted to pay for a full year in advance. That price is remaining at $99, where it has been for some time.

The hike means monthly subscribers will pay $155.88 a year. Amazon Prime’s student rates will also be increasing from $5.49 to $6.49 a month. The announcement follows on the heels of fall subscription price increases from NetflixPlayStation Vue and others.

 Since Amazon rolled out Prime in 2005, demand has been growing, along with what you can get for a subscription. First it was just free two-day shipping, then other features have been added, such as Amazon Prime’s streaming video service. The annual fee has remained at $99 since Amazon hiked it from $79 in 2014.

 

While Amazon is notorious for keeping its subscription numbers secret, some pundits believe it could be in the range of 90 million.

While Amazon didn’t give a reason for its price hike in its online statement announcing the change, many tech experts suggest Amazon is trying to push consumers into the annual plans. Amazon Prime monthly subscriptions debuted about two years ago as an alternative for people who didn’t want an annual commitment or just couldn’t afford to pay $99 all at once. Some experts believe the monthly subscriptions program is losing money for the tech giant, which famously started in Jeff Bezos’ garage 24 years ago.

Amazon argues that its list of “benefits” for Amazon Prime users is growing, and growing fast, justifying the uptick in price.

“Prime provides an unparalleled combination of shipping, shopping and entertainment benefits, and we continue to invest in making Prime even more valuable for our members,” the company said in a statement to the tech website Recode. “The number of items eligible for unlimited Free Two-Day Shipping increased in recent years from 20 million to more than 100 million items. We have expanded Prime Free Same-Day and Prime Free One-Day delivery to more than 8,000 cities and towns. We also continue to introduce new, popular and award-winning Prime Originals … Members also enjoy a growing list of unique benefits like Prime Music, Prime Reading, exclusive products and much more.”

So, if you are interested in spending less of your hard-earned money, plan to keep getting the benefits of Amazon Prime for more than seven months and can afford a single $99 payment, the annual subscription is a no-brainer.

What do consumers want?

via What do consumers want?, clarionledger.com

PDF: Consumers want it now

If you’re spending time in Memphis, I’d recommend a visit to the Pink Palace Museum. Your family can easily spend an entertaining day in this wonderful destination. The Pink Palace Museum features several permanent exhibits, as well as some touring, themed ones. Although part of the museum (“The Mansion,” which contains some of the more famous permanent exhibits) is closed for renovation, it’s slated to be back up and running this summer.

Among the Pink Palace’s permanent exhibits (and one of my favorites, along with the miniature circus) is a replica of the original Piggly Wiggly grocery store, which opened in Memphis in 1916. This walk-through exhibit faithfully reproduces what’s billed as the nation’s first self-serve market. Every time I’ve strolled through its aisles, I’ve thought about how amazing it must have seemed for shoppers of the time to have so many items available in a single place. A few of the brands featured on the shelves are still being sold today, while others have faded into history.

To anyone who visits a grocery store today, the choices in that exhibit would seem quite limited. Of course, 101 years ago, shoppers pretty much had to choose from what was on the shelf. There wasn’t a lot of choice in brands, sizes or varieties. Today, people are a lot more demanding, know what they want, and they want it conveniently and balk at paying to have it delivered.

The National Retail Federation, which represents the retail industry, recently came to those conclusions in its quarterly Consumer View, which reports on research into various aspects of consumer behavior and shopping trends.

“Consumers today want what they want when they want it and they don’t expect to pay a premium to get it fast,” said Mark Mathews, NRF vice president for research development and industry analysis. “When they walk into a store they want to find their item, and find it easily, especially if they’ve researched it online beforehand. And whether it’s next-day or pickup-in-store, quick delivery of online purchases at little or no extra charge is growing so fast that it’s something shoppers are coming to expect.”

Mathews discussed the report during a session on developing trends in consumer behavior held last week at the organization’s annual show in New York. It’s important, Mathews noted, for retailers to try to understand the minds of consumers so they can satisfy their needs and wants.
“These findings provide important insights for all retailers into consumers’ shopping behaviors and expectations,” Mathews said. “Reliable research is important because retailers who want to be here tomorrow need to meet consumer demands today and anticipate needs in the future.”
Among the survey’s findings: Most people who go shopping are usually seeking a certain item, rather than “just looking” (regardless of what you might tell that a-little-too-helpful sales clerk). Nearly three-fourths of shoppers at retail stores and just over half of online shoppers have a specific item in mind. While both bricks-and-mortar stores and online sites use various tactics (seen and unseen) to try to lure you to items they want you to see, it can be frustrating for consumers to be thwarted in searching for that particular item. The result is a constant battle for the shopper’s attention, a fight in which consumers are usually outgunned against a formidable army of psychologists, sociologists, and behavioral experts.
A second interesting finding of the NRF study is that most of us really, really hate paying for shipping when we shop online. “Free shipping” is now such an expectation that nearly half of online shoppers say they won’t even consider a purchase that doesn’t include it. While the term “free shipping” is questionable (newsflash: “free” shipping is often incorporated into the cost of items), it’s become an expectation for most people, even in the cases where shipping is next- or second-day, or for less-costly items.
The study also pointed out a few possible new directions for retailers. For example, nearly six in 10 shoppers would be more likely to shop at a store or website that featured special events offering product trials or “exclusive” sales or demonstrations. Millennials in particular said they’d be interested in attending such events, and millennial men were much more likely to attend special events.
For more interesting insights from the research, visit http://bit.ly/2mClhB8.

Insurance: Having home inventory will help in filing claim

via Insurance: Having home inventory will help in filing claim

PDF: Home inventory 1Home inventory 2

It’s a tragic picture that’s repeated much too often: A family finds itself on the street, staring shell-shocked at the smoldering ruins of their home, or trying to pick their way through the wreckage after a tornado rampages through their town. What follows is a seemingly endless and gut-wrenching process that can take months or even years as the family tries to regain some sense of normalcy.

In the aftermath of such a calamity, there are a lot of decisions to make and things to do. Homeowners’ insurance is designed to take the brunt of losses and help you get your life back, but most homeowners are ill-prepared to deal with the inevitable question raised by your insurance adjuster: “Do you have a home inventory?”

Simply put, a home inventory is an itemized list (the more detailed, the better) of your home’s contents. Using photos, videos and supporting documents can speed up the claims process. And technology such as smartphones can make the process much easier, but most of us are just not taking the time and effort to do it.

In 2012, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners announced the results of a study that found that only about four in 10 Americans had even attempted to compile a home inventory. That’s probably because it seems like an overwhelming task for homeowners who have more possessions than ever.

The Insurance Information Institute says there are three good reasons to have a home inventory: It helps you purchase the right amount and type of insurance, makes filing a claim simpler, and helps substantiate losses for tax purposes and when applying for financial assistance.

“I tell my clients to think of it this way,” noted Allstate’s Mark Doiron of Madison, who urges all his clients to do a thorough home inventory. “Close your eyes and think about everything that’s in the room around you. Chances are, you are going to miss something. Now, think about trying to do the same thing when your home has just been destroyed.”

Of course, not having a home inventory doesn’t mean you won’t be able to file a successful claim, but it can make the process go much faster, noted Jason Hargraves, managing editor at insuranceQuotes.com. “The inventory is meant to make the process easier for you and the insurance company,” Hargraves told me. “Having to recall your items from memory after a loss can be stressful and you could easily forget something. Giving your adjuster a complete visual inventory also can speed up the process of a claim and serve as documentation for any potential disputes.”

Hargraves advised consumers not to be intimidated by the size of the task at hand, because the best tool to help is probably within your reach right now: your smartphone, which can take and store video. “Just aim, start recording and walk through your house,” he explained. “No special video equipment is required. Several apps are also available to make the process of using your smartphone for this even easier.”

Both Doiron and Hargraves advised consumers to keep receipts for as many items as possible, to document their value. Doiron added that’s especially necessary for any items valued at more than $1,000, such as jewelry, collections or artwork. Update the inventory often, and once you’ve created the record, it’s important to keep it (and supporting documentation) off-site yet accessible, such as in a safe-deposit box. Digital files can be stored in a cloud-based service such as Dropbox.

For more tips, visit the Insurance Information Institute at https://www.iii.org/article/how-create-home-inventory.