Big retailers becoming more like Big Brother?

Published: Sunday, November 18, 2012 @ 8:45 AM
Updated: Sunday, November 18, 2012 @ 8:45 AM

Saks associates can let you know your favorite jewelry is on sale, Lowe’s can tell you how much garland you bought last year and somewhere underneath it all, computer programs are tracking every purchase and every social media “like” to build a better profile of you.

Does this feel creepy, or convenient, for customers? It depends on when and how retailers reveal what they know about you. Expect to have some ah-ha moments during your holiday shopping this year, said Kurt Kendall, retail specialist with Kurt Salmon consultants. But it’s nothing like you’ll experience in the near future, when retailers get social media fully integrated into the customer profiles they create. Someday soon, retailers will be pushing you to buy that exact sweater you pinned on your Pinterest account.

Even today, stores are not revealing all they know about the customer because they don’t want a backlash, Kendall said.

“You want to be personalized. You don’t want to be creepy,” Kendall said. “People do not want to feel like they’re being stalked.”

Retailers operate on extremely tight margins, and pioneers in big data could increase operating margins by more than 60 percent, a recent McKinsey Global Institute report states. Retail is a sizable portion of the economy, but has been shrinking, and the industry’s overall share of consumer spending has dropped, the study found.

So stores use data mining to try to sell more to the customer.

Natalie Ellis of Lake Worth, Fla., said she gets emails from Amazon pushing a product the minute she buys something online. But as a participant in the online retailer’s loyalty programs, she expects the interaction.

“I don’t have a problem with targeted marketing as long as they’re telling me about a sale or something I buy,” Ellis said.

To some extent, stores have better information because they are tracking purchases and behaviors themselves, rather than just buying a report that describes the general demographics of their customers. Retailers supplement this with data mining from outside sources, but even with vendors such as Foursquare, they can access customer information in real time.

Saks Fifth Avenue CEO Steve Sadove visited stores in Palm Beach Gardens, Palm Beach and Boca Raton this month and said the new information helps associates better serve customers. When a sales associate rings up a customer, he has that person’s online and in-store buying history at his fingertips. Data translates to better stores and better customer service, he said.

“We’re clientele based,” Sadove said. “The associates build relationships with their regular customers.”

Luxury brands invest in a higher level of service and empower associates with these types of information, Kendall said.

But even small shops can use something like Foursquare, which offers a free dashboard to track customer check-ins.

Eric Friedman, director of sales and revenue operations at Foursquare, said businesses get a free “updates” program, which along with the tracking allows them to push information to their customers. If they choose to pay for “promoted updates,” they can push an ad for their store to someone shopping at a competitor.

“Only by them raising their hand and letting us know where they are” can Foursquare promote its services and participating businesses to an individual, Friedman said.

Most of the time, customers cooperate in their tracking. They check in on Foursquare, they join loyalty programs and they give their email to receive notices of sales. But not everyone realizes how sophisticated and pervasive data mining has become.

Digital spying is everywhere, said Jeff Chester, executive director of The Center for Digital Democracy.

“Distinctions between offline and online are being rapidly obliterated and that’s because of the growth of mobile phones,” he said.

Data about you is being gathered everywhere you go because people use their smartphones to check websites, play games and get directions. And that data is being compiled and sold.

Chester said people should be concerned about their privacy, because the government has few safeguards, and we rely on the agreements companies like Google and Facebook have made to be more careful when collecting data.

Niko Karvounis, co-founder of startup Quovo, which uses data tracking to shape investor portfolios, said people would still sign up for Facebook and Google even if they realized the extent of the data gathering because the services are so useful.

“I think the issue as a business is you just have to be sensitive about how you act on that information,” he said.

Target found that out earlier this year when it sent baby-oriented product promotions to a teenager based on her behavior, but her family didn’t yet know she was pregnant. However, such programs as Lowe’s MyLowes account gets buy-in from the customer for tracking, and the home and garden retailer suggests more things to buy at your request.

Kendall said most retailers conduct basic information gathering, such as asking for your phone number, address and email. This helps identify the customer, but also builds the database of mobile numbers and emails for future communication.

Some retailers ask more specifically how you want to be communicated with, and this allows the customer to target the type of communication.

Ellis, for one, said she wishes she got less email from retailers. And Kendall said that is a problem many have — and the holidays will only make it worse.

“It’s being able to customize the message to that customer, and not just turn up the volume knob,” Kendall said. “During the holidays, you see retailers go over the line.”

Top Halloween food safety tips

Published: Saturday, October 14, 2017 @ 8:47 AM

How A Teal Pumpkin Can Save A Child’s Life

From bobbing for apples at a party to devouring a bucket of candy, food is definitely a big part of enjoying Halloween. But it can also lead to problems such as food-related illnesses, allergic reactions or even incidents such as choking.

>> Read more trending news


The following top Halloween food safety tips from the FDA  and the CDC will help keep your guests and little ghosts and goblins safe.


Prevent an allergic reaction
If your child has a food allergy, the following can let them enjoy their Halloween haul while avoiding any problematic foods:

Look for teal pumpkins
Families who display teal pumpkins offer non-candy treats for trick-or-treaters who may have allergies.

Check all treats
Make sure your child knows not to eat any candy before you check it at home. Look for ingredient lists on pre-packaged candy, and throw out any homemade treats since you can’t positively identify their ingredients.

Buy treats for your child
Buy some small trinkets (check out the non-candy suggestions listed below) to give your children on Halloween. That way, if they end up not being able to eat much of their candy, they won’t feel left out. 

Exchange or donate what your child can’t eat
Find a local Halloween Candy Buy Back event in your area where kids can exchange candy for cash or prizes. You can also donate candy to active duty service members or other organizations. 

Check for signs of tampering
Although tampering with candy is rare, it does happen. The CDC recommends consuming only factory-sealed food items. Look for any evidence of the following:

  • An unusual appearance
  • Discoloration
  • Tiny pinholes
  • Tears in wrappers

Throw out homemade treats unless they’re from someone you know very well. If something looks suspicious, throw it out, and if you find actual evidence of tampering, notify the police.

Eliminate choking hazards
Some Halloween treats can be choking hazards, especially for small children. Look through their bags to eliminate the following:

  • Peanuts
  • Hard candies
  • Gum
  • Raisins
  • Gooey candy like caramel, taffy or marshmallows
  • Small toys such as balls or marbles
In addition, make sure kids don’t lie down when they’re eating their Halloween candy, since this can increase their risk of choking.

Make sure treats you serve at home are safe
Candy from outside your home isn’t the only possible treat-related danger. If you’re hosting a Halloween party or planning other holiday activities for your family, take the following precautions:

Clean fruit
If you’re bobbing for apples, rinse them thoroughly and use a produce brush.

Avoid raw dough
Don’t eat raw cookie dough or cake batter, which can contain bacteria.

Refrigerate properly
Don’t leave food out on the table or counter for too long. Keep items refrigerated until they’re ready to serve, and don’t leave perishable foods out for more than two hours.

Offer non-food alternatives
You don’t have to limit yourself to handing out candy. Kids enjoy small toys or other treats, and you won’t have to worry about allergies or stuffing them with too much candy. Dollar stores are great places to pick up multiple items packaged together, such as the following:
  • Glow sticks
  • Plastic rings with spiders, skulls, etc.
  • Small bubble bottles
  • Stickers
  • Mini notepads
  • Bouncy balls
  • Pencils
  • Erasers
  • Vampire teeth
  • Temporary tattoos
  • Stencils
  • Silly bands
  • Small playing cards
  • Small cans of Play-Doh
  • Finger puppets

Trick-or-treating: Top safety tips

Published: Friday, October 13, 2017 @ 6:35 PM

No Tricks, Just Treats: How to Have a Safe Halloween

Halloween should be about treats, but some tricks such as dangerous situations can quickly ruin the fun. The following trick-or-treating safety tips can help you and your kids avoid issues.

COSTUME SAFETY
Costumes and other components can create hazards if you’re not careful. The following tips from the Centers for Disease Control and the National Safety Council will help you make sure your child’s disguise doesn’t cause any hazards:

  • Look for light-colored, flame-resistant costumes
    Look for masks, wigs, costumes and other components that are labeled as flame-resistant or made of flame-resistant fabrics such as polyester or nylon. Also choose light-colored costumes when possible since they’re easier for drivers to spot at night.
  • Look for a proper fit
    Make sure all masks, shoes and other parts of your child’s costume fit well. He or she should be able to see well and walk without tripping over a costume that drags the ground or because of shoes that are too large. 
  • Take care with makeup
    Buy only nontoxic Halloween makeup, and always test it in a small area first, the CDC recommends. Remove it before bedtime to help prevent irritation.
  • Use safe accessories
    Use swords, knives and other accessories made of soft materials that won’t cause injury if your child falls on them.
  • Make your child more visible.
    The CDC suggests adding reflective tape to your child’s costume and treat bag to make him or her more visible.
  • Protect their eyes
    Skip wearing decorative contact lenses to avoid injuring your eyes, and don’t let your kids wear them.

ROAD SAFETY

Drive carefully and keep your kids safe as they navigate neighborhood streets with the following tips:

  • Slow down and be cautious
    If you’re driving on Halloween, slow down in residential neighborhoods and watch out for trick-or-treaters who may unexpectedly dart into the street. Especially if they’re wearing dark costumes, they can be difficult to see. 
  • Be visible
    Turn your headlights on, even if it’s still light outside, so you’ll be more visible to trick-or-treaters.
  • Arm trick-or-treaters with flashlight
    Make sure your trick-or-treaters carry a flashlight with fresh batteries, but teach them to carry it facing downward so they don’t temporarily blind oncoming drivers.
  • Stick to sidewalks
    Walk on sidewalks when possible, and if they’re not available, walk on the left side of the road so you’re facing traffic.
  • Cross the street safely
    Cross streets only at the corner, and never cross between parked vehicles.
  • Make sure kids are supervised
    If you’re not accompanying your kids, ensure that they’re going with another adult or an older, responsible young person if they’re under 12. 

    CANDY SAFETY
    Make sure you child’s candy doesn’t cause any harm with the following tips:
  • Inspect your child’s candy
    Tell your kids to wait until you can look through their candy at home before they eat any. Tampering is rare, but it does happen. Look for any tears in wrappers, tiny pinholes, or anything that looks discolored or unusual. Throw out anything that isn’t commercially wrapped, unless it’s a homemade treat from someone you personally know well.
  • Check for allergens
    If your child has a food allergy, read the ingredient label of commercially wrapped treats to make sure it doesn’t contain any allergens. Skip homemade treats, since you can’t be sure of what they contain.
  • Look for teal pumpkins
    If you see a teal pumpkin at a home, that signifies that it’s safe for trick-or-treaters with food allergies since the homeowners offer non-food treats like small toys. Look for homes that display these if your child has allergies, and provide this welcoming sign of safe treats for kids who visit your home.
  • Check for choking hazards
    Check through non-candy treats to make sure they’re not a choking hazard to your child if he or she is younger. Also go through their candy and eliminate any hard candies or any other items they could choke on.
SAFE TRICK-OR-TREAT LOCATIONS
Choose the safest locations for your child to visit with the following tips:
  • Visit ‘trunk or treat’ events
    Organizations such as churches often hold trunk or treat events where people decorate their opened trucks and hand out candy. This helps children stay in a confined area and avoid streets and traffic.
  • Hit the mall
    Malls sometimes have Halloween events where stores give out candy to children in costume. You’ll avoid traffic and other outdoor hazards while ensuring that weather won’t be a factor.
  • Check with neighborhood associations
    If you live in a community with a neighborhood association, these organizations often have information about which houses are handing out candy. The association may also host a clubhouse party for the holiday.
  • Use Nextdoor’s treat map
    The social network site for neighborhoods has a Halloween treat map that lets you and your neighbors “advertise” that you’ll be handing out Halloween candy. You can use it to plan the best route for your trick-or-treaters.
  • Know which houses to avoid
    Several states prohibit registered sex offenders from handing out candy on Halloween, and at least one, Maryland, requires them to post “No candy at this residence” signs. You can also check the U.S. Department of Justice’s website for links to your state’s sex offender registry or download a mobile app that you can use along the way to tell you which homes to avoid.

Best 2017 pop culture Halloween costumes

Published: Friday, October 13, 2017 @ 5:35 PM

The Spooky History of Halloween

Halloween is the perfect time to make a statement about this year’s pop culture hits and misses. According to Insider, some of the most popular pop culture Halloween costumes in 2017 will include pregnant Kylie Jenner, Wonder Woman and a Playboy Bunny.

According to Quartz, what this says about us, besides that we like to dress up, is that our collective psyche is riddled with TV and movies. But Quartz also pointed out the common human desire to be more powerful, which is why superheroes are a Halloween fashion staple.

Other pop culture favorites appearing this Halloween season include any costume that has Disney characters. In September, Pinterest noted that just the term “Disney costume” has been pinned more than 675,000 times this year, with Belle and Gaston from “Beauty and the Beast” leading the pack.

A costume that became cliché in its first season is Pennywise, the kid-killing clown from the screen adaptation of Stephen King’s “It.” Pinterest saves for clown makeup and costumes are up 941 percent this year. If you must join the horde, please, please, step away from red balloons near sewers in suburban neighborhoods. Other pop culture Halloween costume popular on Pinterest included “Baywatch” characters, frat boys and Wednesday Addams. One of the most popular Halloween makeup options is pixelated face makeup, which has been pinned more than 26,000 times. 

>> Read more trending news

Hit pop culture Halloween costumes from the media
Ripped-straight-from-the-headlines costumes make their own kind of scary Halloween statements, even if those headlines come straight from TMZ or People.

Fake News: Insider reports a mini dress of newspaper clippings stamped “Fake” in big red letters sold by costume retailer Yandy.
 
Pregnant Kylie Jenner: You may not be unique, but you’ll be in good company in one of Yandy’s $60 pregnant Kylie Jenner costume.
 
Hef and a Playboy bunny: 2017 claimed the life of  Hugh Hefner. Sure, dressing as the dapper (if elderly) Hef and a Playboy bunny is a time-honored Halloween tradition, but this year’s news adds a morbid touch to the Playmate (Yandy, $80) and Hugh Hefner (Target, $40) couples costume.
 
Dancing hot dog from Snapchat: The wildly popular dancing meme from Snapchat makes a hot pop culture Halloween costume. You can pick up a  $40 hot dog suit from Target, but you must supply the over-the-ear headphones yourself.
 
Handmaid: Hulu’s 2017 hit, based on the Margaret Atwood novel, "The Handmaid's Tale," is a dark metaphor for the current civil rights and political climate. A handmaid ensemble is easy to pull off for one or a group, from thrift store finds or ready-made purchases like the $64 version from Azure Costumes.
 
La La Land: Another great couples’ idea from the Pinterest people, and if you can jitterbug and whatnot, all the better. For the snarkiest, include a “Moonlight” costume in the group as a nod to the 2017 Best Picture Oscars mix-up.
 
April the Giraffe and her baby from Animal Adventure Park: With giraffe costumes and make-up running wild on Pinterest (up 1,200 percent from last year, unless someone made a typo), what a great time to dress as the ever-pregnant and finally a mom April the Giraffe. Depending on your companions and physical condition, you may want to go for pregnant April, during her eternal labor, or with her offspring.
 
Kinder, gentler pop culture costumes
Groot: According to Pinterest, searches for this soulful, leafy “Guardians of the Galaxy” character’s costume have gone up 133 percent in the past year. It’s a more involved costume than most, with those branches and all, but it has the prime advantage of also having a baby costume option: Baby Groot from “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”

Bob Ross and Tree: That’s a happy tree, mind you, a perfect foil to 2017’s political and environmental strife. And hey, Pinterest reports 25,000-plus saves on the costume idea.
 
Unicorns: Rainbows and sparkles will be in the forecast for Halloween 2017 trick-or-treating and costume parties for sure, with searches for unicorn costumes up 110 percent this year on Pinterest. According to Quartz, “The draw seems to be childlike positivity and magical thinking, allowing people see themselves and the world through rose- (and cobalt-) colored glasses.”
 
“My Little Pony”: With the 2017 release of the “My Little Pony” movie, the  animated characters should give you plenty of sweet costume options for every optimist on the block. Just be sure your costume has a pony name and a birthday on Equestria.

Most popular Halloween costumes for 2017

Published: Friday, October 13, 2017 @ 11:36 AM

No Tricks, Just Treats: How to Have a Safe Halloween

The National Retail Federation predicts that 179 million Americans will partake in Halloween festivities in 2017 and that 48 percent plan to dress up. That’s a lot of costumes! Those trying to stand out for a party or costume contest and those who want to fit in with the rest of the trick-or-treat crowd can both benefit from these predictions for the top costume picks for Halloween 2017 from the NRF and Pinterest.

>> Read more trending news 

 
Most popular children’s Halloween costumes for 2017
The little ones will be dressing up as heroes this Halloween, with more than 3.7 children planning to dress as action characters or superheroes, according to the NRF. That figure doesn’t even include the Caped Crusader. Batman on his own will provide costume inspiration for 2.9 million child Halloween costumes, tied for second with a generic princess in the NRF rankings. Wonder Woman also makes a solo appearance on the list. 
 
The entire NRF Top 10 list of the most popular Halloween costumes for kids:
 
1. Action/superhero 
2. Batman character tied with Princess
3. Animal (cat, dog, monkey)
4. Spider-Man
5. Star Wars character
6. Witch
7. Marvel Superhero (excluding Spider-Man) tied with Pirate
8. Ghost
9. Disney Princess
10. Wonder Woman
 
 
Most popular adult Halloween costumes for 2017
 
In September, Pinterest and fashion search platform Lyst released predictions for the top Halloween costumes of 2017. The list included a frightening trend: costume ideas spawned by the kid-killing clown Pennywise in the screen adaptation of Stephen King’s “It.” Searches for clown makeup have increased by 941 per cent on Pinterest this year, and Lyst also reported a rise in searches for shirts with expansive ruffled shoulders and pom-pom shoes like the odious clown wears.
 
It may sound like a stretch but … giraffes are another go-to costume for Halloween this year. Pinterest data indicated pins for giraffe costumes ideas and makeup tutorials are up 1,200 percent compared to 2016, and Lyst data also indicated a 27 percent increase in searches for giraffe fashions since this past June. You can thank April the giraffe, and her long pregnancy that was one of the top viral stories of 2017.

The TV set and other streaming devices also helped make certain costumes popular. This is the second season for “Stranger Things” character costumes to be making the trick-or-treat and party rounds, with 40 percent more Pinterest saves year over year. These costumes have the added allure of being simple to make and wear, especially the trucker hats and ‘80s T-shirts Pinterest and Lyst are predicting.
 
“Game of Thrones” characters were up 91 percent on Pinterest and Jon Snow all by his lonesome had 280 percent increased costume saves on Pinterest. Quartz has a helpful hint for anyone wanting to jump in on this costume trend. Those gnarly Night’s Watch capes are repurposed IKEA rugs.
 
Just in from the 2017 widescreen, Pinterest users currently have more than 230,000 Wonder Woman costume ideas saved while pins of Beauty and the Beast characters have jumped 680 percent, including some sweet group costumes for Gaston and the milkmaids.


Here are some other top choices on Pinterest for Halloween 2017:

Top group costumes
 
Daenerys and Jon Snow from “Game of Thrones”
 
“Baywatch” cast members 
 
“Stranger Things” cast members 
 
Top family costumes
 
“Beauty and the Beast”
 
“Jurassic Park” 
 
Mother of Dragons (Daenerys) 
 
Top solo costumes
 
Wonder Woman 
 
Hippie 
 
Girl Scout 
 
Makeup
 
Unicorn 
 
Giraffe 
 
Spider-Woman