Wednesday 30/09/20

  1. In TECH NEWS, the Google/Fitbit deal nears approval, fashion tech helps shoppers, Amazon tests a palm reader and Pinterest expands in online retail
  2. In RETAIL/HIGH STREET NEWS, Ocado is now bigger than Tesco, B&M gets new customers, Greggs axes staff, Burger King cuts restaurants and aims for drive-ins while Hotel Chocolat underwhelms
  3. In CORONATRENDS, lockdown causes a housing frenzy, mortgage approvals surge, coach companies warn and insurers drag their feet
  4. AND FINALLY, I bring you an unusual model kit and some rude parrots…



So Google/Fitbit gets closer, fashion tech helps shoppers, Amazon tests palm scanning and Pinterest expands in online retail…

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EU poised to clear $2.1bn Google Fitbit deal after new promises (Financial Times, Javier Espinoza) shows that Google’s proposed acquisition of Fitbit is nearing approval after it promised not to use Fitbit’s data to target adverts for ten years, that other devices will be able to access Fitbit’s health data with the consent of the user on the same terms as Google and rival wearable companies will be allowed to continue to use Google’s Android platform. Fitbit’s customers will be able to continue to use services likes Strava and Map My Run. * SO WHAT? * This deal had faced direct opposition from Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner, but I guess that her bruising run-in with Apple has dented her confidence somewhat. A final decision has yet to be reached – and many are expressing their reservations – but it is looking increasingly likely that this will go ahead. Critics are concerned about what Google will do with the data whereas Google is keen to emphasise that “this is a deal about devices, not data”. Yeah, right 🤥

Talking about Google, Google commits to office life with expansion of London estate (The Times, Louisa Clarence-Smith) highlights the tech giant’s intentions to expand its office footprint as it is in talks to lease another 70,000 sq ft close to its £1bn HQ in King’s Cross. It has also signed a lease exension at Central Saint Giles for another ten years. * SO WHAT? * This is quite interesting when you consider that Google told all of its 4,500 UK employees back in July that they didn’t have to come into the office for another

year. Mind you, given the shedloads of cash this company has and the fact that commercial property landlords are on their knees at the moment you can’t blame Google for presumably negotiating nice deals at (surely!) rock-bottom rates! OK, so I am just guessing here, but I wouldn’t have thought they’d be paying a premium! 

Fashion bots keep online shoppers a cut above with smart sartorial advice (Daily Telegraph, James Cook) takes a look at how advances in fashion algorithms can now more accurately analyse millions of outfits online to find items that exactly suit your body shape and sense of style. Amazon announced a new personal shopping service for men this week where you get a monthly box of clothes (that you have to pay for, obviously 😁) for a $4.99 subscription. Alternatives to Amazon’s service include Stitch Fix (an American company that sends boxes of clothes picked by algorithms and stylists), which has grown hugely since it went public in 2017 and Thread (a London-based fashion start-up). * SO WHAT? * Lockdown has made shopping much harder (if not impossible), so advances in this kind of technology that would often slip under the radar somewhat are really coming to the fore. Given that data from Kantar showed an increase in online fashion sales from 30% to 77% of total sales during lockdown you can see that there will be a need for something that takes the hassle and hit-and-miss element out of clothes shopping online both for the consumer (they get what they want) and the retailer (they spend less on returns). I think this is the future of clothes shopping!

Elsewhere, Amazon palm scanner seeks end to credit card payments (Daily Telegraph, Laurence Dodds) shows that Amazon is working on a contactless scanner called Amazon One where you hover your palm over a pad to trigger a sale. Whether or not it has the capability to read your fortune at the same time is not clear at the moment (can you imagine that? “Your total bill comes to £15.99. You will also have a romantic encounter at work in the near future” etc. 😂). It will initially use it in its Amazon Go stores, but there are many interested parties who are considering buying it. Then in Pinterest expands its reach into online retail (Daily Telegraph, Hannah Boland) we see that Pinterest is about to launch new shopping features in the UK that will let users’ cameras scan their surrounding to find items they could buy on Pinterest. They will also be able to click and buy items on posts, see related products and try on items virtually. The US rollout has been successful, so this could prove to be a very interesting development.



Ocado>Tesco, B&M gets new customers, Greggs and Burger King make cuts and Hotel Chocolat has a rubbish Easter…

In a super-quick scoot around retailers and the high street, Ocado overtakes Tesco as UK’s most valuable retailer (The Guardian, Zoe Wood) heralds a historic landmark and B&M attracts new range of customers (The Times, Alex Ralph) highlights a surprise trading update yesterday by the discount retailer which showed that the sales and profit surge from the first quarter has continued into the second quarter with more customers spending more per visit.

On the other hand, Greggs to cut jobs as high street lays bare financial hit (The Guardian, Julia Kollewe and Zoe Wood) shows that even Greggs is having a hard time with coronavirus and will be cutting staff ahead of the end of the government furlough scheme. Burger King to bow out of 25 restaurants in Britain (Daily Telegraph, Lizzy Burden) reflects the same gloom, although it set out plans to combat consumer changes by opening more drive-through sites. Easter was not much of a treat for chocolatier (The Times, Tom Ball) shows that even expensive comfort eating and a 150% increase in online demand versus the previous year did not make up for losses incurred during lockdown for Hotel Chocolat. The tough times continue, even for those who had previously been very successful…



Lockdown housing frenzy, complaining coach companies and foot-dragging insurers…

Fears of lockdown 2.0 add to the housing market frenzy (Daily Telegraph, Isabelle Fraser) is a really excellent article which looks at some of the current drivers of the housing market given the increasingly likely prospect of another lockdown. It contends that current buyers are either those who really need to move (different job, growing family, changing circumstances) and those who are led by emotion (need to move because the lockdown really affected them so much that they want to escape their current situation and get more space). * SO WHAT? * I think that these drivers could certainly power prices and activity for the short term – Mortgage approvals surge to 13-year high post-lockdown (Daily Telegraph, Tim Wallace) shows that the latest Bank of England figures would certainly support that theory – but whether this falls suddenly or gradually when furlough ends is anyone’s guess at the moment (although most observers are pessimistic).

Then in UK coach sector warns of looming disaster without government support (Financial Times, George Steer) we see that the chief exec of the Confederation of Passenger Transport, which represents the industry, is appealing for more government help to save the thousands of people who will lose their jobs if things carry on as they are. Given the difficulties being felt by the likes of Stagecoach and FirstGroup – not to mention the UK railways, this is unsurprising.

Talking of saving things, Payout delay by insurers ‘will kill jobs’ (The Times, James Hurley) shows that pressure is increasing on insurers to pay out for business interruption claims following the court ruling the other day that found in favour of claimants. The FCA is currently in negotiations with insurers to avoid an appeal that will delay payouts.



…in other news…

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