Can Elon Musk Turn The Human Brain Into A Connected Device?

https://www.pymnts.com/innovation/2019/elon-musk-human-brain-connected-device/

It can never be said that Elon Musk has a problem thinking big. That can be seen from his early days as one of PayPal’s primary architects to the present day, when he divides his attention between a mission to space, solar energy and electric cars. Nor can it ever be claimed that Musk is not sufficiently colorful as innovators go. He’s not the only billionaire trying to master private space travel – but he is the only one who has publicly stated his goal to die on Mars (though preferably not on impact).

So it might have been easy to see some of this week’s headlines – “Elon Musk is making implants to link the brain with a smartphone” or “Elon Musk’s Next Wild Promise” – and shrug off the announcements as “Elon being Elon.”

That would be a shame, because Neuralink’s announcement that it had created a small robot capable of implanting ultra-thin threads deep in the human brain could be the start of a big development in how consumers use and relate to technology. The potential is a whole lot bigger than making it theoretically possible to telepathically control one’s smartphone.

Sure, Musk, who has invested $100 million in Neuralink, has something of a history of making bold (if not seemingly implausible) claims. But that doesn’t make his attempt to merge the human mind with sensors essentially capable of reading it – and wirelessly transmitting and translating the data – any less interesting (or potentially revolutionary).

That is, if it can work, which is still a jump ball at this point. Also up in the air is how desirable this kind of technology would be for ordinary consumers – some have questioned whether the concept of embedding sensors in one’s brain might be a little too science fiction for all but a very rarified subset of people. It might have medical applications, but very few commercial uses.

However, a quick look at some recent advancements – particularly in biometric technologies – could make one wonder whether Neuralink’s project might actually have more mass-market appeal than anticipated.

The Deep Brain Sensor

The big-picture project, as explained by Musk last week, is the ability to implant tiny Bluetooth-enabled chips into the human brain (up to 10 at a time) connected to 1,000 wires measuring one-tenth the width of a human hair. The chip(s) connect by Bluetooth to a small computer worn over the human ear, where it transmits its data. The chips, which will theoretically connect to a phone app that the user can control, will be very small, Musk emphasized.

“If you’re going to stick something in a brain, you want it to not be large,” he noted.

The machine that Neuralink rolled out last week could place both the chip and the wires in a subject’s brain.

As for what the implanted devices will be able to do, that is also a bit theoretical. Broadly, in the future, Max Hodak, Neuralink’s president and co-founder, agrees with Elon Musk that many of the advances would be medical in nature: helping stroke victims or people with prosthetic limbs or neurodegenerative conditions to regain and maintain function is one area with rich potential. Musk also mentioned applications like boosting memory or brainwave-based authentication, which were slightly more next-generation use cases than Hodak was willing to affirm.

In fact, Neuralink has thus far remained as low profile as possible, though they are now ready to begin coming into the public eye.

“We want this burden of stealth mode off of us, so that we can keep building and do things like normal people, such as publish papers,” Hodak noted.

Tests to surgically implant the device have not yet begun, and only when the systems are in place and beginning to work will Neuralink really know what their product can do. That journey will be a long and careful one – though Silicon Valley tends to like to move fast and break stuff when it comes to pushing innovations, medical science is generally more circumspect. Although they will be ready to start testing next year, Neuralink is quick to note that it could be years before the device’s medical potential can be clearly demonstrated.

And, of course, Musk has bigger visions for the technology. Helping patients is just the first step – during the announcement, Musk noted that he envisions a future where pretty much everyone will get these types of implants in order to stay competitive with artificial intelligence. In his ideal scenario, we will be nearly telepathic with one another – and with our technology.

Which leads to the obvious question: Is this a future that anyone but Elon Musk is actually looking to live, or is this sort of a “dying on Mars” type of desire? Many have concluded the latter is more theoretically desirable than actually filling a normal human need. And even if this were something human beings actually wanted, they don’t want to get it from a Silicon Valley company, especially given the Theranos debacle and Facebook’s many struggles with maintaining data privacy.

Perhaps that is a solid counterpoint – though a quick glance at some of the recent innovations we’ve seen in payments and commerce imply that consumers could be a bit more open to implanted tech than one might think, and perhaps less concerned about data privacy than media reports would have one believe.

Swedish Chips and Russian Data Harvesting 

If you find yourself thinking that no normal human being is looking to have technology physically implanted into themselves, we have one counter-argument for you.

Sweden.

Yes, the nation that brought ABBA to the world is working on its newest fad: implanting a microchip into one’s hand. Those NFC-enabled chips can save payments credentials, electronic door keys, emergency contact details, social media profiles or e-tickets. Instead of tapping a card or phone, people can just swipe the back of their hands.

Proponents of the tiny chips say they are safe, largely protected from hacking and small enough (about the size of a grain of rice) to have no negative physical impact. To get chipped, Swedish consumers pay about $180 to have the chip inserted via syringe into the skin above their thumb.

So many Swedes are reportedly lining up to get the microchips that the country’s main chipping company can’t keep up with the number of requests.

“Having different cards and tokens verifying your identity to a bunch of different systems just doesn’t make sense,” Jowan Osterlund, founder of Sweden’s large chip firm, Biohax International, told NPR. “Using a chip means that the hyper-connected surroundings that you live in every day can be streamlined.”

And though there have been concerns raised – particularly about the security of health information stored on the chips – consumers continue to embrace them due to their ease of use.

“The chip basically solves my problems,” said Szilvia Varszegi, 28, who also uses it to get into her coworking space. “I see no problem for [it] becoming mainstream. I think it’s something that can seriously make people’s lives better.”

Inserting one’s technology, it seems, is something consumers can get excited about. And though one might want to write this off as a peculiarity of Swedes – who as a national population seem to favor digital payments and payment technology solutions at a much higher than typical rate – the case could be made that Americans can get just as comfortable with technology, even when it comes with real privacy issues, if it proves to be useful enough.

Or, in some cases, fun enough.

Earlier this week, news emerged that the virally popular FaceApp Facebook app, which digitally ages users to give them a glimpse of their senior selves, is made by a Russian app firm that may be using the harvested data in a sketchy way.

Per the user agreement: “FaceApp may transfer information that we collect about you, including personal information, across borders and from your country or jurisdiction to other countries or jurisdictions around the world.”

That means one’s photo could be used overseas – and by the Russian government, which requires backdoors into the servers of most Russian-based tech firms, according to MarketWatch. If Russian authorities wanted access to data from Wireless Lab (the firm that makes FaceApp), they could easily access it.

Has this caused Facebook users to abandon FaceApp or protest en masse?

Not really. Though the app’s usage has slid a bit, Facebook users seem to keep using it, despite the fact that handing over an image of their face opens them up to potential facial recognition, according to MarketWatch.

So will consumers embrace Neuralink’s tech, even if it is a bit on the invasive side? It is possible that early critics are right: There is such a thing as a bridge too far, and technology that is actively seeking to read your mind – and actively broadcast its contents – might just qualify as such.

But then again, what if it proves to be really useful and helpful, and is able to make consumers smarter, or help their lives run more smoothly? It’s hard to say – but it is worth noting that 100 years ago, people refused to get into cars on the argument that a metal cage propelled forward by a series of small explosions was lunacy. Ideas change, and things that seemed impossible a few generations ago have settled into the “new normal” faster than one might have thought possible.

Especially if you live in Sweden.

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Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 Pay Advances: The Gig Economy’s New Normal, a PYMNTS and Mastercard collaboration, examines pay advances – full or partial payments received before an ad hoc job is completed – including how gig workers currently use them and their potential for future adoption.

https://www.pymnts.com/innovation/2019/elon-musk-human-brain-connected-device/

Russell E. Hogg, Former Mastercard President, Dies At 91

https://www.pymnts.com/personnel/2019/former-mastercard-president-russell-hogg-dies/

The former president and CEO of Mastercard International has died at the age of 91.

Russell E. Hogg held the position from 1980 to 1988 and was pivotal to the company. In 1987, he shepherded a partnership with 13 Bank of China subsidiaries for the first Mastercard in China.

He was also instrumental in introducing the company’s “global family of products,” which included the Travel Check, Smart Card, Gold Card and the Debit Card. The Gold Card was named the world’s best in 1987.

“After 91 years on earth, our hearts are heavy as we share the news of Russell E. Hogg’s passing. A true icon in American business, Russ changed the course of the credit card industry forever. He was forward-thinking, innovative and worked tirelessly to shape some of the greatest companies in the world,” the Hogg family said in a statement. “A devoted husband, father and grandfather, Russ was a man of integrity, strong moral values and compassion. He passed peacefully at his home surrounded by his family and loved ones.”

Hogg served on a number of corporate boards, including Mastercard International, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Reichhold Chemical and up-and-coming eCommerce companies like Revolution Money.

Before joining Mastercard, Hogg was a senior financial officer at American Airlines. He then went to work at American Express, where he had a senior leadership role with responsibilities for both international and U.S. operations. Hogg was also a group executive at Macmillan, where he was responsible for upwards of 50 subsidiary operations in more than 40 countries.

“Words cannot express the impact Russ had on the lives he touched. Outside of his business and entrepreneur endeavors, Russ was a dedicated philanthropist and worked to create opportunities that advanced creative thinking and innovation amongst today’s youth,” the family said. “Russ was a trailblazer who revolutionized the world around him. The values he instilled in our family will carry on for generations to come. We are blessed to have had our time with him and appreciate the outpouring of love and support at this time.”

When Hogg was a young man of 17, he served his country in the Navy during World War II. He went to the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration and the University of Rhode Island, a school that awarded him with an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 1986.

After graduation, Hogg became a special agent with the FBI and held several supervisory positions. According to his biography, he was instrumental in the capture of a major Russian spy.

Hogg’s altruistic side was demonstrated by his participation on several philanthropic boards, including the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and the Hackley School. He has received numerous commendations and awards throughout his life.

Hogg married his wife Dorothy in 1969, who survives him along with his son Jason and his two grandchildren, FJ and Carter.

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Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 Pay Advances: The Gig Economy’s New Normal, a PYMNTS and Mastercard collaboration, examines pay advances – full or partial payments received before an ad hoc job is completed – including how gig workers currently use them and their potential for future adoption.

https://www.pymnts.com/personnel/2019/former-mastercard-president-russell-hogg-dies/

MoneyGram And Sentbe Team On Cross-Border Payments

https://www.pymnts.com/news/partnerships-acquisitions/2019/moneygram-sentbe-team-cross-border-payments/

MoneyGram and Korean money transfer company Sentbe have signed a partnership to make Sentbe the first MoneyGram virtual agent in South Korea, according to a release

Sentbe has done billions of local transactions, and MoneyGram says the company lines up with its own goal of giving customers a broad range of options when it comes to digital currency transfers. 

Sentbe, which is based in South Korea, wants to improve cross-border person-to-person money transfers by using new technology. The company is licensed as a financial institution in South Korea and works to give everyday users financial opportunities they might not be able to get in the current financial system. 

“Enhancing our product offering in South Korea is a strategic move that accelerates our digital transformation in the region,” said Yogesh Sangle, MoneyGram head of APAC and South Asia. “With an increasing number of foreign residents and growing numbers of working populations from neighboring Asian countries, working with Sentbe will further improve financial inclusion in South Korea and we are proud to share a legacy of customer commitment through this collaboration.”

Alex Choi, CEO of Sentbe, said the partnership enhances what the company already has to offer. 

“Innovation that simplifies the money transfer process is our top priority and there is not a more perfect time than now to embark on this move with MoneyGram,” Choi said. “We are now in an even better position to meet demand for tech-savvy solutions within this space and look forward to the change this will bring to the diverse community we serve.”

Moneygram also recently teamed up with Canada Post for a digital money transfer service that allows users to complete transactions at select Canada Post locations all over the country.

“To initiate a transaction, consumers simply visit moneygram.ca, create a profile, start a transaction and choose the ‘Cash at a Location’ option,” a release said. “From there, users visit one of Canada Posts more than 5,200 locations that offer MoneyGram services to complete their transaction. For added convenience and security, consumers can use the provided barcode, which contains their transaction details.”

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Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 Pay Advances: The Gig Economy’s New Normal, a PYMNTS and Mastercard collaboration, examines pay advances – full or partial payments received before an ad hoc job is completed – including how gig workers currently use them and their potential for future adoption.

https://www.pymnts.com/news/partnerships-acquisitions/2019/moneygram-sentbe-team-cross-border-payments/

Walmart Announces Exec Changes To Support Omnichannel Retail

https://www.pymnts.com/news/retail/2019/walmart-executive-changes-omnichannel-retail/

Walmart is making some organizational adjustments with its executives to help better integrate its retail store and digital operations, according to a report by CNBC.

The information was gleaned from a letter that CEO Doug McMillon wrote to the company’s employees, which was obtained by CNBC.

“Our customers want one, seamless Walmart experience,” McMillon wrote to employees. “Earning more of our customers’ business in food and consumables is foundational to our strategy, and, at the same time, we will expand our ability to serve them with general merchandise in stores and through our broad eCommerce assortment as we continue to invest [in] and build our eCommerce business.”

The company has been pushing to better integrate its online and physical divisions ever since it acquired Jet.com in 2016. The company recently hired Chief Technology Officer Suresh Kamar and Chief Customer Officer Janey Whiteside. Whiteside previously worked at American Express and Kamar has worked at Google and Amazon.

The company is joining the U.S. supply chain teams, which will be helmed by current Executive VP of U.S. Supply Chain Greg Smith. Smith will report to President and CEO Greg Foran and Head of U.S. eCommerce Marc Lore.

Nate Faust, who came to Walmart as part of the Jet.com acquisition, will be helping with the transitions until he gets a new position in the company. Twelve executives from other departments will be named to the new supply chain team.

“We take these steps knowing we will make further adjustments over time as we balance the need for focus and speed with efficiency and leverage,” McMillon wrote. “The work so many of you have done over these past few years to strengthen our stores and build an eCommerce business have put us in a strong position that enables us to move forward on this journey. Please join us in congratulating these leaders on their new roles. Thank you and let’s keep the momentum going!”

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Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 Pay Advances: The Gig Economy’s New Normal, a PYMNTS and Mastercard collaboration, examines pay advances – full or partial payments received before an ad hoc job is completed – including how gig workers currently use them and their potential for future adoption.

https://www.pymnts.com/news/retail/2019/walmart-executive-changes-omnichannel-retail/

Jollypay Gets License To Operate In The UAE

https://www.pymnts.com/news/international/2019/jollypay-gets-license-to-operate-in-uae/

Online payment system Jollypay has received a license to operate in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and it’s one of the first foreign companies to do so, according to a release.  

Jollypay is the payment arm of Jollychic, a shopping platform. It was started in 2017 to aid in the company’s creation of a payment and services endeavor. 

The UAE government recently decided to let foreign companies registered in the UAE’s 122 business sectors have 100 percent ownership, and that initiative was a catalyst for Jollypay’s further integration into the country’s financial system.

The move could help Jollypay potentially become one of the most popular payment options for smartphone users and developers in the country and beyond.

“Our long experience in the Arabic market, specifically in the UAE with Jollychic, has given us the push to develop more technical mechanisms to serve the Arab and Emirati user and to provide easy and secure e-payments,” said Jollypay Chief Operation Officer Liu Yang. “In cooperation with the GCC and local governments to develop this technology, we will transform UAE society into a ‘cashless society’ by building a new financial ecosystem in the Middle East.”

The Jollypay platform was built by a team that has a variety of backgrounds, including multinational banks, online payment companies, digital financial companies, bank security operations and other specific payment-related organizations.

In other UAE-related news, the First Abu Dhabi Bank recently rolled out a payroll card solution for the market via its Mercury payment operator unit.

Mercury collaborated with Al Fardan Exchange and introduced the Payez payroll card to participants of the UAE’s Wages Protection System (WPS). Al Fardan Exchange’s WPS customers can now more easily access wages, use Mercury point-of-sale (POS) terminals and access cash from Mercury ATMs through the use of the Payez payroll card, the companies said.

WPS is a digital salary transfer system supporting the payout of wages through authorized agents, approved by the Central Bank of UAE, including banks, money exchanges and financial institutions.

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Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 Pay Advances: The Gig Economy’s New Normal, a PYMNTS and Mastercard collaboration, examines pay advances – full or partial payments received before an ad hoc job is completed – including how gig workers currently use them and their potential for future adoption.

https://www.pymnts.com/news/international/2019/jollypay-gets-license-to-operate-in-uae/

BofAML: Apple App Store Revenue Accelerates Slightly

https://www.pymnts.com/apple/2019/bofaml-app-store-revenue-accelerates-slightly/

Apple’s App Store revenue exhibited a bit of acceleration in the third quarter, Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BofAML) said. The bank indicated that, according to third-party data, App Store revenue increased 18 percent in the third quarter compared to 17 percent growth in the second quarter, per SeekingAlpha.

However, BofAML indicated that Chinese App Store sales are still a concern with a “material deceleration” coming out of the quarter that is “a concerning trend given that Services is based on installed base usage.” The bank maintains a buy rating, and Nomura increases its target for Apple to $180 from $175 but keeps a neutral rating with a slow finish to the Xs cycle and steady growth in the App store.

While Apple’s App Store continues to outpace the Google Play Store in terms of consumer spending, total app revenue for both stores came to $39.7 billion globally per recent reports. That number represents the first half of the year, and it’s a rise of 15.4 percent from the $34.4 billion from the same time period in 2018.

Worldwide users spent approximately $25.5 billion in the App Store — a 13.2 percent year-over-year increase from 2018. That number is 80 percent higher than Google Play’s $14.2 billion in estimated revenue, which is almost 20 percent higher than it was a year prior. Total growth overall is down due to slower China iOS growth, however, analysts said they think China will get back to positive growth in the next year.

Another factor in the downturn could be the decision by Netflix to stop in-app subscriptions for both the Play Store as well as the App Store. The numbers will steadily decline, especially because Netflix was the second-biggest non-game app when it comes to earnings in the first half of 2019 at $339 million. That number is down from $459 million a year ago, at the time that it was the No. 1 non-game earner.

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Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 Pay Advances: The Gig Economy’s New Normal, a PYMNTS and Mastercard collaboration, examines pay advances – full or partial payments received before an ad hoc job is completed – including how gig workers currently use them and their potential for future adoption.

https://www.pymnts.com/apple/2019/bofaml-app-store-revenue-accelerates-slightly/

BMW Teams With Tencent In China Self-Driving Tech Push

https://www.pymnts.com/news/international/2019/bmw-tencent-china-self-driving-tech/

BMW has been expanding into China and developing autonomous technology for cars, so that it can be at the forefront of the technology when the self-driving wave hits the mainstream.

The company has teamed up with tech giant Tencent for data computing and also a storage platform, because Chinese law says foreign companies can’t host Chinese data without a partnership with a local outfit, according to a report by TechCrunch

The two companies will have a computing center in Tianjin by the end of 2019, and in the meantime BMW has been steadily expanding its footprint in the autonomous passenger car data market. 

In February, the company’s navigation app Here teamed up with Chinese service Navinfo to collect local data about China. Both Navinfo and Tencent have bought shares in Here, so the partnership was expected.

Tencent has been seeking to diversify lately and put more attention on outside operations as its gaming business comes under increased scrutiny from regulators. 

“Tencent is committed to assisting automotive companies in the digital transformation,” said Dowson Tong, the company’s president of Cloud and Smart Industry.

The move by BMW illustrates its commitment to the autonomous vehicle market in China. The company has been working with Baidu, China’s largest search engine company, since 2014.

The partnership was upped when BMW joined Baidu’s self-driving platform called Apollo, and the deal happened as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany.

Baidu president Zhang Yaqin said the deal with BMW was created to “accelerate the development of autonomous driving technologies that align with the Chinese market.”

BMW has also previously worked with Tencent on joint research for security with autonomous driving and testing, which used Tencent’s storied Keen Security Lab.

While Baidu and Tencent aren’t direct competitors, both companies are pushing in the field of autonomous technology in one way or another. In China, it’s common for a foreign investor to work with two different companies. BMW said that “there is no overlap in the collaboration” and it’s “cooperating with different top-notch Chinese companies in different fields.”

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Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 Pay Advances: The Gig Economy’s New Normal, a PYMNTS and Mastercard collaboration, examines pay advances – full or partial payments received before an ad hoc job is completed – including how gig workers currently use them and their potential for future adoption.

https://www.pymnts.com/news/international/2019/bmw-tencent-china-self-driving-tech/

Amazon Threatens Suit Against Surescripts For Denying Patient Data to PillPack

https://www.pymnts.com/legal/2019/amazon-pillpack-lawsuit-surescripts-patient-data/

Amazon’s pharmacy arm PillPack could soon be blocked from accessing patients’ histories, pitting the online giant against Surescripts, an electronic prescribing company that manages about 80 percent of all U.S. prescriptions, sources told CNBC.

PillPack uses patients’ prescription data to inform them of possible medication interactions, side effects, duplications and other details important to health and safety. The data comes from Surescripts, which is owned by CVS, Express Scripts and other PillPack competitors.

Surescripts is working behind the scenes to prevent PillPack from accessing the prescription data, the source said.

According to CNBC, two people familiar with the matter said PillPack was told it will soon be cut off from accessing that data from third-party entity ReMyHealth, which collects information from Surescripts and cleans it up.

“PillPack is productively working with partners across the healthcare industry to help people throughout the U.S. who can benefit from a better pharmacy experience,” Jacquelyn Miller, a PillPack spokesperson, told the news outlet. “While we’re not surprised when powerful incumbents try to undermine these efforts, we are confident that our collaborative approach to bringing customers more choice, more convenience and improved quality will ultimately prevail.”

Surescripts said in a statement that medication history “can reveal a lot about an individual’s health status, including the most sensitive of healthcare conditions.”

This dispute is the latest between Amazon and established pharmacies since the company’s near $1 billion purchase of PillPack in June 2018. A judge ruled that a former CVS employee had to wait 18 months before taking a job at PillPack following a June lawsuit filed by CVS.

Amazon has been steadily expanding into the healthcare field, and recently added HIPAA-compliant features to Alexa. The company has also partnered with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan on a healthcare initiative called Haven.

Surescripts was sued in April by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for monopolization of the e-prescription markets, Law360 reported. Surescripts filed a motion to dismiss the case on July 15, stating that the FTC doesn’t have jurisdiction and can’t demonstrate the harm caused.

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Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 Pay Advances: The Gig Economy’s New Normal, a PYMNTS and Mastercard collaboration, examines pay advances – full or partial payments received before an ad hoc job is completed – including how gig workers currently use them and their potential for future adoption.

https://www.pymnts.com/legal/2019/amazon-pillpack-lawsuit-surescripts-patient-data/

SoftBank Ventures Asia Notches $270M To Fund Startups

https://www.pymnts.com/news/investment-tracker/2019/softbank-ventures-asia-notches-270m-to-fund-startups/

The Seoul venture capital division of Japanese multinational holding company SoftBank has raised $270 million, or 317 billion won.

The new fund of SoftBank Ventures Asia will invest globally in early-stage startups, with Asia being the cornerstone, Reuters reported Friday (July 19). Investors include South Korea’s National Pension Service.

SoftBank Ventures Asia indicated the new fund will close in the next six months.

Although the company’s Saudi-backed $100 billion Vision Fund dominates funding for late-stage startups, the group launched a $5 billion Latin American-focused fund in March with $1 billion earmarked for the delivery app Rappi.

Established in 2000, SoftBank has made a number of notable investments worldwide, including $1 billion in Germany’s Wirecard, $2.5 billion in U.S. self-driving company Cruise, $20 million in Mexico’s FinTech startup Clip and $1.1 billion in Indonesian e-commerce firm Tokopedia.

The company has also privately invested $10 billion in The We Company, formally known as WeWork, including $2 billion this year. SoftBank’s Vision Fund also led the $4.5 billion funding round in Grab, the Southeast Asian ride-hailing startup. Grab said SoftBank’s Vision Fund accounted for a third of the investment.

SoftBank recently hired Cantor Fitzgerald to put its Vision Fund in front of bigger institutional investors. It is also reportedly mulling an initial public offering (IPO).

SoftBank was originally founded in 1981 to publish computer and technology magazines, among other endeavors. The company eventually went into internet technology and offerings — it helped build Yahoo Japan, for instance — and went public in 1994, becoming a holding company in 1999. A $20 million investment in China-based Alibaba followed at the turn of the century and was reportedly worth about $60 billion when Alibaba went public in 2014.

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Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 Pay Advances: The Gig Economy’s New Normal, a PYMNTS and Mastercard collaboration, examines pay advances – full or partial payments received before an ad hoc job is completed – including how gig workers currently use them and their potential for future adoption.

https://www.pymnts.com/news/investment-tracker/2019/softbank-ventures-asia-notches-270m-to-fund-startups/

The Amazon Walmart Whole Paycheck Tracker: Prime Day And Its Aftermath 

https://www.pymnts.com/whole-paycheck-consumer-spending/2019/amazon-walmart-prime-day-aftermath/

Most weeks, the tale of Amazon and Walmart’s ongoing battle for the larger share of the consumer’s whole paycheck is a fairly evenly run race. Stumbles happen here and there, and pull-aheads are not unheard of – but mostly, the race is made up of moves and countermoves as each struggles to get or stay ahead.

But every once in a while, one side comes out notably ahead – and this week was one of those weeks, with Amazon’s Prime Day performance more or less blowing Walmart out of the water.

Now, in fairness, if there was ever a day when Amazon would run the retail table, it would likely be on the shopping holiday they invented. And Walmart wasn’t alone in its view of Amazon’s taillights on Prime Day – while many tried through various means on Monday and Tuesday to compete with the house that Bezos built, it was pretty much Amazon’s show. Everyone else – including Taylor Swift – was just a player in it.

But as big as Prime Day was across all of retail, it wasn’t the only thing happening in the ongoing race. There was plenty to watch this week, as 2019 enters its back half and starts to really pick up speed.

Amazon 

Biggest Play of the Week: The Prime Day Bounce

By any rational measure, Amazon had a big day on Prime Day. According to internal numbers from Amazon, this year’s Prime Day was its biggest shopping day ever – in fact, it was bigger than any previous Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.

The sale went for two days (making the Prime Day moniker something of a misnomer) in 18 nations, and was the biggest-ever sale day for Amazon’s entire lineup of devices, with the Echo Dot and the Fire TV Stick leading the pack among sellers.

Beyond the sales, though, Amazon also reported a record day for signing on new members to its $119-a-year Prime service. Amazon reports that July 15 set a record for individual day sign-ons, and that July 16 (Prime Day part two) saw an almost equal number of signups. How many new users does that translate to, other than a lot? There’s no way to know for sure, as Amazon did not release specific figures.

“We want to thank Prime members all around the world,” said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. “Members purchased millions of Alexa-enabled devices, received tens of millions of dollars in savings by shopping from Whole Foods Market and bought more than $2 billion of products from independent small and medium-sized businesses. Huge thank you to Amazonians everywhere who made this day possible for customers.”

In specific numbers, Amazon did give some item counts: 200,000 televisions, 300,000 headphones, 100,000 laptops and over one million toys went out the door on Prime Day. The fastest-selling items in the U.S. were the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter, the Instant Pot DUO60 and 23andMe Health + Ancestry kits.

But perhaps the biggest win for Amazon on Prime Day wasn’t what they sold, but how much more they sold than everyone else. According to data from eCommerce research company Edison Trends, shoppers spent more than 10 times as much money at Amazon during the first 24 hours of Prime Day than they did on Walmart and eBay combined.

And while Amazon has not offered an official tally, Coresight Research estimates that its Prime Day sales total came in at around $5.8 billion.

As well as the day went for Amazon, there were some undeniable, and in some cases amusing, glitches. Some members of the Slickdeals forum managed to score an accidentally amazing deal on some very expensive photography gear for a very low price. The pricing anomaly was first found when a forum member posted an offer for a Sony a6000 mirrorless camera bundled with a 16-50 millimeter lens – a kit that generally costs about $550 – that was priced at $94.48.

It sold out quickly.

But sharp-eyed members noticed a glitch: The site had marked down almost all of the Prime Day-tagged camera equipment to around $94. One user reported buying a $13,000 lens for $94, and another claimed to have purchased $64,000 worth of camera equipment for $500.

At some point, Amazon discovered the glitch and canceled some of the too-good-to-be true deals, according to Gizmodo – but not all of them.

“Can’t believe Amazon actually delivered! Now the question is, what’s the best route to get these sold?” Slickdeals forum member “SoccerMomDeals” posted.

Courting the Cool Kids: Luring Exclusive Brands With a Dedicated Accelerator 

As part of its ongoing efforts to expand its line of exclusive brands, Amazon has launched a new accelerator program to offer independent merchants and manufacturers a reason to create exclusive goods in return for prominent placement on Amazon’s platform, marketing support and product reviews, and access to an expanded set of tools to push those products forward.

The Amazon Brand Accelerator Program is invite-only; for this first run, Amazon is looking to bring on about 10 brands in 2019, targeting soon-to-launch and already launched brands – preferably, those with sustainability or a mission-for-good bent.

To qualify, according to Digiday, brands must be able to do at least $1 million in sales in their first month on Amazon, maintain a healthy inventory level and have expertise in digital marketing and brand-building. They must also commit to funneling a minimum of 5 percent of all revenue earned on Amazon into Amazon’s Paid Ads program.

Moreover, according to reports in The Wall Street Journal, the program gives Amazon the right to purchase a merchant’s brand at any time for a fixed price (which is often $10,000, according to the report) with 60 days’ notice.

But the rewards for clearing that high bar are pretty evident: a lot more exposure and sales on Amazon.

“Amazon’s private-label products account for approximately 1 percent of our total retail sales,” an Amazon representative told The Journal. “This is far less than other retailers, many of whom have private-label products that represent 25 percent or more of their sales.”

Apart from receiving prominent display on the site, Amazon Accelerator members also won’t get charged for reviews through Amazon’s Vine Reviews program (Vine reviews generally cost about $25 apiece). They will also get a host of social media and email marketing tools, access to a Seattle-based coworking space and participation with other brands in special projects such as co-branded pop-up retail stores, AMZ Advisers said in a May article.

“Amazon Accelerator creates new opportunities for manufacturers and offers a way for them to launch brands and products directly to Amazon customers,” an Amazon spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “For customers, this program adds products to our assortment and allows us to offer an even wider selection of high-quality products at a great value.”

And Amazon wasn’t the only player looking to up the level of its game. In fact, that was more or less the central theme for Walmart this week.

Walmart

Big Move of the Week: Real-Time Security Ranking

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Walmart is a beloved target for cybercriminals. What might be surprising, however, is just how beloved. According to Walmart, the brand experienced over six trillion cyber events in 2018 alone.

Of those, Walmart’s Director of Global Cybersecurity DeWayne Hixson told ZDNet, almost 14 million were actual attacks. They also beat back about two billion pieces of spam email.

“You can just imagine how many of those were phishing attack attempts,” he said.

All in, 230 million malware alerts were received, 1.4 billion lines of code were reviewed, over 2.5 million user accounts were managed, more than 450,000 end points were protected and over 5.1 million vulnerabilities were remediated.

“It is a lot to manage and measure,” Hixson noted.

And so Walmart is now trying to help its executives get a better look at their internal security landscape, and to make it accessible at a quick glance.

So Hixson essentially built a dashboard of all relevant information to provide executives with a quick look at Walmart’s massive global footprint. But the dashboard also ranks how that individual is protecting their own data security, as measured against their peers. Ultimately, they get a grade of A, B, C, D or F, along with action items to improve.

The desire to stay at the top of the pack, Hixson noted, gives executives further incentive to engage with the firm’s security strategies.

“For the most part, executives have pretty short attention spans, and if I don’t have something in front of them that they can look at and within 30 seconds understand ‘I need to do this one thing,’ they’re moving on to the next thing – they’re just too busy.”

Playing Catch-Up: Getting up to Digital Speed 

The fact that Amazon won Prime Day is almost inevitably the conclusion when one looks at the sales data available – but Walmart didn’t take the defeat lying down.

Instead, they chose to double down. Amazon’s Prime Day went for two days – so Walmart’s savings period was extended for four days. Walmart started celebrating its version of Prime Day 24 hours earlier than Amazon did, and shut the doors on its savings party a full 24 hours later.

And Walmart kept its most attractive deals – on big-screen TVs, Apple Watches and video game consoles – up and active to the very end, which kept commerce-minded consumers coming to the site.

Prime Week also saw Walmart CEO Doug McMillon admitting at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference that Walmart has had to make major adjustments to keep up in eCommerce – and, more specifically, to keep up with Amazon after first falling behind.

“Obviously, brick-and-mortar stores are one thing. eCommerce, in some ways, started out feeling like an independent channel or an independent business,” McMillon said. “Yeah, we fell behind and have been playing catch-up, and have been doing a number of things to accelerate that progress, and learning along the way and getting better, as it relates to the customer experience.”

McMillon noted that for Walmart, catching up has meant not only beefing up its online offerings, but also understanding that the retail market is still evolving, and consumer preferences are trending toward omnichannel experiences.

“So today, we’re very focused on creating a seamless experience for the Walmart brand, bringing the stores and eCommerce together,” he said. “Stores have some advantages, and we’re trying to make the most of those. And then catch up in eCommerce and get better with the customer experience and put them together in a way that’s unique and customers will find not only saves them money and time, but creates the optimal experience.”

Creating an optimal experience is, of course, what every retailer is trying to do as 2019 is starting its second half, Amazon included.

Who will do it better, and ultimately end up winning the majority share of the consumer’s whole paycheck?

That remains up in the air – though Amazon did manage to get a few lengths ahead this week.

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Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 Pay Advances: The Gig Economy’s New Normal, a PYMNTS and Mastercard collaboration, examines pay advances – full or partial payments received before an ad hoc job is completed – including how gig workers currently use them and their potential for future adoption.

https://www.pymnts.com/whole-paycheck-consumer-spending/2019/amazon-walmart-prime-day-aftermath/

Amex Q2 Billed Business Gains 5 Percent YOY

https://www.pymnts.com/earnings/2019/amex-q2-billed-business-gains-5-percent-yoy/

American Express posted results that largely met expectations for the second quarter, based on continued card spending and loan growth.

In terms of headline numbers, the adjusted earnings per share of $2.07 was 5 pennies above consensus.

Revenue, reported as net of interest expense, was $10.8 billion, up 8 percent year on year and slightly below consensus.

Drilling down a bit into segment level data, the Global Consumer Services Group Q2 posted revenue growth of 10 percent, to $5.8 billion. Growth was driven by loans, spending on cards and card fee revenues.

Billed business was up 5 percent to $311.7 million in the quarter, up 5 percent year on year. Within that segment, U.S. growth was up 7 percent to $209.2 million.

The company said in its earnings supplementals that average spending on its cards was up 2 percent to a bit more than $5,000. Outside the U.S. growth was up slightly at 3 percent to an average reported in the second quarter of $4,059.

In terms of loans extended to consumers, in the U.S. the growth rate was 10 percent to $72.6 billion. That growth was outpaced by international metrics, where loans stood at $10.6 billion, up 16 percent. Worldwide provisions were up 10 percent to $603 million in the latest quarter.

American Express also said in its results that proprietary commercial billed business was up 6 percent. Within commercial services, total revenues gained 7 percent, with revenues of $3.4 billon. Billed business was markedly higher in Latin America than had been seen elsewhere, at 6 percent and where it had been low single digits elsewhere.

In remarks tied to card growth, CEO Steve Squeri said that the firm added 2.9 million proprietary cards in the quarter and said that about 70 percent of the new consumer cards have annual fees. In the United States, proprietary cards in force were up 2 percent to 37.6 million. Outside the U.S. the 5 percent growth landed the firm at 17.4 million cards.

Looking more granularly at the card data, in the United States, net write-offs, inclusive of principal and fees, was 1.4 percent, up slightly from a year ago at 1.5 percent, the rate was flat internationally over the same period at 1.4 percent.

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Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 Pay Advances: The Gig Economy’s New Normal, a PYMNTS and Mastercard collaboration, examines pay advances – full or partial payments received before an ad hoc job is completed – including how gig workers currently use them and their potential for future adoption.

https://www.pymnts.com/earnings/2019/amex-q2-billed-business-gains-5-percent-yoy/

DTC Bikes In A Box, For The Ikea-Level DIYer

https://www.pymnts.com/news/retail/2019/building-bikes-in-a-box/

Buying a bicycle shouldn’t be an overly challenging task for a consumer, but often shapes up to be one, particularly if one doesn’t happen to be a cycling enthusiast. The products range in price and quality quite widely — and specialized features abound. Throw in the fact that bicycles are purpose-built for different uses — road racing, mountain trekking, fitness, commuting — and the average consumer can find themselves awash in granular details and product comparisons that seem to have been written in ancient Greek.

It is an experience, according to Brilliant Bicycle Co. Co-Founder Adam Kalamchi, that seems more or less built to drain any semblance of fun out of the activity of owning and using a bike.

“A bike is a simple product. There are people who are hobbyists and enthusiasts who really want to talk about specs, but there should also be an easy option for a normal person who just wants to ride to the park and has a budget in mind,” Kalamchi told TechCrunch.

But that, he and his partner Kane Hsieh found, was almost nowhere to be found in the industry as it existed before they launched their own startup in 2015. Instead, Kalamchi noted, consumers would wander into bike shops, make their best guess as to what they needed and then hope to fit a product that met their needs into whatever budget they set out when they entered. A challenge, Kalamchi said, because so much of what a consumer is paying for when they enter a bike shop has nothing at all to do with the quality or the value of the bike they are purchasing. They might hear a lot about the state-of-the-art derailleur on the bike they are considering — but a big part of what they are actually paying for is the cost of transporting, storing and selling the bike in a specialized bike shop.

Moreover, the culture of those bike shops doesn’t exactly make everyone feel welcome when the walk in the door — they can tend toward being a little “dudely” according to Kalamachi, and more than a little intimidating.

So in launching Brilliant Bicycle, the partners decided to cut the complexity out of the process in as many ways they could — and help connect consumers to quality bicycles for a reasonable price without a lot of hassle. To take the overhead costs out, they adopted a direct-to-consumer (DTC) model that allows a consumer to order online — and have their new bike at their front door within a week (within 24 hours, if the customer lives in the greater New York City area).

The bike comes partially assembled, and the firm’s founders say the rest of the construction process takes about an hour in home and doesn’t require any sort of expertise. The idea is an IKEA level of easy home construction but “more idiot-proofed.” Every bike comes with all the tools necessary to build it out, a full set of instructions and a full set of YouTube construction videos easily accessible.

To make sure customers order the right bike, the site features an interactive wizard that asks questions about their preferred riding style, height and more. From there the site matches customers with one of the three bike models it offers, lets them choose further customizations such as color and accessories and lets them complete an offer.

The site even lets consumers “gift” their bicycles with something called the Brilliant Bike Box, that sends the intended gift recipient a tape measure, handlebar leather sample and bike paint samples so that the person receiving the gift can choose exactly what they want, and the person giving it doesn’t have to suffer through making choices on someone else’s behalf that they aren’t sure about.

The idea for the box, Kalamchi said, grew internally from customers who had bought their own Brilliant Bike and wanted to share the experience.

“We would get phone calls regularly from people asking for advice. They wanted to know how to find the right bike, and also how to get one for someone else; how to remove the uncertainty and guesswork but still maintaining the personalization,” he told Glamour.

Because at the end of the day, he said, the goal for Brilliant Bicycle is simple — to offer customers a quality bike that will get them out there and riding, for a few hundred dollars instead of a few thousand. And the best way to do that, he said, is to make it easy for them to get exactly they bike they want, with the features they actually need without having to first dedicate themselves fully to the cycling life.

“Speed and spandex overshadowed fun and prices skyrocketed,” he observed. “But bicycles shouldn’t be expensive or intimidating, so we set out to bring the magic and lightheartedness of your childhood back to bicycling.”

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Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 Pay Advances: The Gig Economy’s New Normal, a PYMNTS and Mastercard collaboration, examines pay advances – full or partial payments received before an ad hoc job is completed – including how gig workers currently use them and their potential for future adoption.

https://www.pymnts.com/news/retail/2019/building-bikes-in-a-box/

For Credit Unions, Data As Competitive Advantage

https://www.pymnts.com/today-in-data/2019/credit-unions-data-analytics/

Data, data everywhere. For credit unions, data may be the conduit to competing with banks. As found in the latest PYMNTS Credit Union Tracker, consumers expect personalization in the services and financial products on offer. The best way to get to that personalization – for example, for credit unions to get credit cards to the right consumers with the right rewards offers – is through data analytics. Credit unions are boosting their efforts here, as the numbers show.

Data:

35 percent: Share of CUs that have made analytics investments over the past three years

60 percent: Share of credit unions that offer a credit card

8.1 percent: Growth in number of credit unions that offer a credit card, measured year over year

5,572: Number of credit unions in operation, as estimated on March 31 of this year

89 percent: Share of credit card debt held by banks

https://www.pymnts.com/today-in-data/2019/credit-unions-data-analytics/

Retail Pulse: Toys R Us Returns With Small Retail Stores

https://www.pymnts.com/news/retail/2019/toys-r-us-returns-with-small-stores/

Iconic brick-and-mortar retailers are sometimes reinvented, and return to the world of retail with smaller-format concepts. The parent of the Toys R Us brand, Tru Kids, plans to bring stores under the legendary name to the United States for the 2019 holiday season. Tru Kids has entered into a joint venture with the software-powered experiential retailer b8ta to offer a new store experience with curated toys in “highly immersive, smaller-format spaces.”

The stores are said to serve as destinations – places where children can play with the most popular and latest toys. At the same time, parents can “have fun with their children and ignite their own childlike sense of play.” The locations will also include interactive components with new activities and events with brand stations.

New Jersey’s Westfield Garden State Plaza and Houston’s The Galleria will be home to the first two new Toys R Us stores, which are said to be opening this holiday season.

Richard Barry, CEO of Tru Kids and interim co-CEO of the new Toys R Us joint venture, said in an announcement, “With a 70-year heritage, the Toys R Us brand is beloved by kids and families around the world, and continues to play a leading role in the hearts and minds of today’s consumers.”

Barry continued, “We have an incredible opportunity to entirely reimagine the Toys R Us brand in the U.S., and are thrilled to partner with b8ta and key toy vendors to create a new, highly engaging retail experience designed for kids and families, to better fit within today’s retail environment.”

Through the experiential retail model of b8ta, brands will reportedly be able to display their items in an environment that is described as “playground-like” and “interactive.” They can also design branded shops and custom experiences to create memorable experiences for children and parents. The environment is said to tap into b8ta’s Retail as a Service (RaaS) platform, which lets brands “actively manage their in-store experiences and measure how offline experiences translate into online sales,” per the announcement.

In June of last year, Toys R Us closed the last of its 700 brick-and-mortar locations. That news came after reports emerged in April that the retailer was no longer accepting online orders through its website. But, with the latest reinvention of the brand, the chain’s legacy may live on in the digital era of retail.

In Other Brick-and-Mortar News

Barneys New York is reportedly preparing for a bankruptcy filing with a liquidity crunch brought on by a rise in rent at its New York City flagship. The luxury retailer is said to have engaged law firm Kirkland & Ellis and financial advisers M-III Partners to help with the preparations. The advisers are said to be looking into many options, including filing for bankruptcy, securing further financing or pursuing a sale.

As a company spokesperson told the outlet, “At Barneys New York, our customers remain our top priority, and we are committed to providing them [with] the excellent services, products and experiences they have come to expect. Our Board and management are actively evaluating opportunities to strengthen our balance sheet and ensure the sustainable, long-term growth and success of our business.”

In other news, Gourmet grocer Dean & DeLuca continues to struggle due to increasing competition. The grocer is reportedly dealing with bare shelves and lawsuits over unpaid bills, following over four decades in business. The firm has also closed a number of U.S. locations, with only four stores currently in operation in the country.

While Dean & DeLuca built its business by offering customers a variety of upscale gourmets that couldn’t be found anywhere else, items are now readily available at chains such as Whole Foods (as well as its parent Amazon) and Trader Joe’s. Joshua David Stein, a food writer and restaurant critic, said in an interview with Bloomberg, “They were the first store in New York to offer extra virgin olive oil. Now Amazon has extra virgin olive oil. Everyone has extra virgin olive oil.”

And cannabis operator Curaleaf Holdings has announced it will acquire GR Companies (“Grassroots”), the largest private vertically integrated multi-state operator, in a cash and stock deal valued at around $875 million. The deal is said to make Curaleaf the world’s largest cannabis company by revenue, and the largest in the United States. It will also expand Curaleaf’s presence from 12 to 19 states.

Curaleaf CEO Joseph Lusardi said in a press release, “With a combined 68 open dispensaries, this transaction significantly accelerates our expansion strategy and strengthens our reach across the medical and adult-use markets. In addition, it enhances the depth of our retail and wholesale platform across the country.”

To keep tabs on the latest retail trends, check next week’s Retail Pulse.

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Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 Pay Advances: The Gig Economy’s New Normal, a PYMNTS and Mastercard collaboration, examines pay advances – full or partial payments received before an ad hoc job is completed – including how gig workers currently use them and their potential for future adoption.

https://www.pymnts.com/news/retail/2019/toys-r-us-returns-with-small-stores/

Dressbarn To Close 53 Stores This Summer

https://www.pymnts.com/news/retail/2019/dressbarn-to-close-53-stores-this-summer/

Ascena Retail Group has announced it is closing 53 additional Dressbarn stores by the end of August.

The news follows the May announcement that Ascena planned to shutter approximately 650 Dressbarn stores in order to concentrate on the company’s more profitable brands, including apparel chains Loft and Ann Taylor.

At the time, the company admitted the decision to close the stores wasn’t easy to make. “[The] Dressbarn chain has not been operating at an acceptable level of profitability in today’s retail environment,” said CFO Steven Taylor.

While the retail chain has been around for more than 50 years, Dressbarn has been challenged when it comes to growth: Consumers are looking toward off-price chains like Ross Stores and TJ Maxx, as well as fast-fashion merchants such as Zara and H&M, in addition to Target. At the same time, Amazon is still taking a large share of the online apparel market.

While there had been reports that Dressbarn itself would file for bankruptcy if its landlords didn’t agree to relieve the brand of its lease obligations, the company revealed on Thursday (July 18) that everything is going as planned and that all stores are expected to be shuttered by the end of the year.

“We have received overwhelming landlord support for our plan, which will allow us to implement our wind-down in a manner that provides the best recovery for our landlords. Further, we are current, and expect to remain so, with our vendors and suppliers,” Taylor said, according to CNBC.

The company is currently working with Gordon Brothers Retail Partners on the store closures, while Hilco Streambank is searching for buyers for Dressbarn’s intellectual property, and Malfitano Partners is managing the overall wind-down. Although it is still receiving “fresh inventory,” customers have been encouraged to “shop early for the best selection, and use any outstanding gift cards.”

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Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 AML/KYC Tracker provides an in-depth examination of current efforts to stop money laundering, fight fraud and improve customer identity authentication in the financial services space.

https://www.pymnts.com/news/retail/2019/dressbarn-to-close-53-stores-this-summer/

JCPenney Explores Debt Restructuring Options With Advisers

https://www.pymnts.com/news/retail/2019/jcpenney-explores-debt-restructuring-options/

To look into debt restructuring options that would provide the retailer more time to make a turnaround, JCPenney Co Inc has reportedly hired advisers. The retailer had talks with investment bankers as well as lawyers who specialize in helping troubled companies with debt restructuring as well as other financial workouts per unnamed sources, Reuters reported.

The retailer is said to be looking into options encompassing negotiating with creditors or raising more cash. Even so, one of the unnamed sources put out the caveat that the plans for restructuring are at an early stage. But the talks with the specialists show the resolve of the retailer to avoid coming into contact with a bankruptcy filing and make for more financial breathing room. The retailer operates over 860 stores and has 95,000 workers.

The retailer, which is based in Texas, has strong competition from discount retailers like T.J. Maxx and Marshalls. At the same time, the retailer has reportedly had difficulty raising the profile of its online retail business to compete with established players like Amazon. The report also noted that JCPenney has over $1.5 billion available via a revolving credit line, but investors are still selling the retailer’s stock due to financial losses. The retailer’s credit rating, too, is reportedly in junk territory.

The news comes after JCPenney announced in February that it wouldn’t sell major appliances after Feb. 28, “in order to better meet customer expectations, improve financial performance and drive profitable growth” per a blog post at the time. The company also said at the time that furniture will only be available in some stores in Puerto Rico and through eCommerce.

The company also noted in the post, “While configurations vary by store, we are finalizing new layout options, including the reduction of store space previously dedicated to appliance and furniture showrooms to maximize efficiencies, reduce inventory and create an enhanced shopping experience that inspires repeat shopping trips.”

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Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 AML/KYC Tracker provides an in-depth examination of current efforts to stop money laundering, fight fraud and improve customer identity authentication in the financial services space.

https://www.pymnts.com/news/retail/2019/jcpenney-explores-debt-restructuring-options/

How Pay Advances Affect The Retail Industry

https://www.pymnts.com/news/retail/2019/how-pay-advances-affect-the-retail-industry/

In the gig economy, early payment—not just ease or speed—can be a differentiator.

According to Pay Advances: The Gig Economy’s New Normal, employers disbursed $236 billion in full or partial payments before jobs were completed to 43.8 percent of United States-based gig workers last year.

The U.S. gig economy now comprises 38.7 percent of the nation’s workforce, 12.1 percent of whom perform ad hoc jobs on a full-time basis. This is changing the way workers receive payments, since gig workers aren’t paid on set schedules like traditional full-time employees.

Gig worker” conjures up images of Uber drivers, Postmates delivery people or TaskRabbit movers. But in reality, gig jobs can encompass a wide range of work, both skilled and unskilled.

In the age of digital platforms, nearly no niche has gone underserved. Jyve launched earlier this year to connect gig economy workers with brick-and-mortar retailers. The idea behind this venture is that the rise in digital commerce will lead to a labor shortage in physical retail. Jyve aims to connect stores with workers who can stock products; input, pack and deliver product orders; and build in-store displays and audit shelving.

According to PYMNTS’ study, 1.2 million retail gig workers have received pay advances, totaling $66 billion — 40.5 percent of retail gig workers’ income.

Though retainers or deposits are commonplace in highly skilled industries, it hasn’t been the norm among gig workers, especially among unskilled industries like transportation and arts and entertainment.

This study looks at how the desire for pay advances differs by industry. One major finding was that gig workers are interested in pay advances, and a majority are willing to pay fees. Over half (64.4 percent) of gig workers would be willing to pay fees to access pay advances. Those who currently receive early access pay approximately $2.4 billion in annual fees, which would translate to another $1.8 billion in annual fee payments if all U.S. gig workers were able to access pay advances.

At first glance, it appears that certain professions receive pay advances in far greater numbers than others. For instance, architects and engineers lead in collecting them,

with 77.4 percent of gig workers in this field indicating they received pay advances. Industries that also receive pay advances in large numbers are management (66.8 percent), construction and contracting (66.2 percent) and manufacturing (62.9 percent).

Around one-quarter of retail gig workers (26.5 percent) and transportation workers (24.6 percent) have used pay advances.

These figures are slightly misleading, though, since gig workers disproportionately work in certain industries. While architecture and engineering appears to dominate pay advance activity, only 0.8 percent of architecture and engineering workers participate in the gig economy.

In contrast, 4.6 percent of gig workers are in retail, similar to the number in food preparation services (4.5 percent) and transportation (4.8 percent).

This represents a gap between unskilled and skilled workers. Gig workers in unskilled segments include cooks, retail associates and personal caregivers, and represent 64.4 percent of the gig economy. Workers in these sectors far outnumber those in this study’s skilled segments, which total 35.6 percent.

Workers in unskilled market segments received $118.7 billion in pay advances, and the projected market for unskilled workers to receive pay advances is $245.1, which reflects pent-up demand.

Arts and entertainment has one of the largest discrepancies between gig economy participation and the use of pay advances. Arts and entertainment workers are the largest participant in in the gig economy at 12 percent, but fewer than half (47 percent) have used a pay advance.

In the study, gig workers in unskilled segments are more likely to encounter obstacles when accessing pay advances than workers in skilled segments: 83.6 percent say they did not receive early access to pay because the service was unavailable or they were unaware that it existed.

Bottom line, gig workers are interested in pay advances, and a majority are willing to pay fees. That has major implications for unlocking additional revenue. There is an opportunity in enabling pay advances for the overall segment, as well as the retail industry, if the gig economy can overcome awareness and availability issues.

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Latest Insights: 

Our data and analytics team has developed a number of creative methodologies and frameworks that measure and benchmark the innovation that’s reshaping the payments and commerce ecosystem. The July 2019 AML/KYC Tracker provides an in-depth examination of current efforts to stop money laundering, fight fraud and improve customer identity authentication in the financial services space.

https://www.pymnts.com/news/retail/2019/how-pay-advances-affect-the-retail-industry/