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.”

5 things you should know about Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of fasting

Published: Thursday, May 25, 2017 @ 8:00 AM

Muslims around the globe are gearing up for the holy month of Ramadan, which begins this weekend.

Throughout the holiday, observers fast from sunrise to sunset and partake in nightly feasts.

» RELATED: Muslims in America, by the numbers

Here are five things to know about Islam’s sacred month:

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is the holy month of fasting, spiritual reflection and prayer for Muslims.

It is believed to be the month in which the Prophet Muhammad revealed the holy book — Quran — to Muslims.

The word “Ramadan” itself is taken from the Arabic word, “ramad,” an adjective describing something scorchingly dry or intensely heated by the sun.

» RELATED: Mahershala Ali makes history as first Muslim to win an Academy Award 

When is Ramadan?

The Islamic calendar is based on the moon’s cycle and not the sun’s (what the Western world uses), so the dates vary year to year.

By the Gregorian solar calendar, Ramadan is 10 to 12 days earlier every year.

In 2017, Ramadan is expected to start on May 27 and last through June 24.

Last year, the first day of Ramadan was June 6, 2016.

To determine when exactly the holy month will begin, Muslim-majority countries look to local moon sighters, according to Al Jazeera.

The lunar months last between 29 and 30 days, depending on the sighting of the moon on the 29th night of each month. If the moon is not visible, the month will last 30 days.

» RELATED: 5 inspiring quotes from iconic Muslim women to celebrate #MuslimWomensDay 

What do Muslims do during Ramadan and why?

Ramadan is known as the holy month of fasting, with Muslims abstaining from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset.

Fasting during the holiday is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, along with the daily prayer, declaration of faith, charity and performing the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

Last year, according to Al Jazeera, fasting hours around the globe ranged between 11 and 22 hours and in the US, 16 to 18 hours.

The fast is intended to remind Muslims of the suffering of those less fortunate and bring believers closer to God (Allah, in Arabic). 

During the month, Muslims also abstain from habits such as smoking, caffeine, sex, and gossip; this is seen as a way to both physically and spiritually purify oneself while practicing self-restraint.

Here’s what a day of fasting during Ramadan is like:

  • Muslims have a predawn meal called the “suhoor.”
  • Then, they fast all day until sunset.
  • At sunset, Muslims break their fast with a sip of water and some dates, the way they believe the Prophet Muhammad broke his fast more than a thousand years ago.
  • After sunset prayers, they gather at event halls, mosques or at home with family and friends in a large feast called “iftar."

» RELATED: Photos of famous Muslim Americans

How is the end of Ramadan celebrated?

Toward the end of the month, Muslims celebrate Laylat al-Qadr or “the Night of Power/Destiny” — a day observers believe Allah sent the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad to reveal the Quran’s first verses.

On this night, which falls on one of the last 10 nights of Ramadan, Muslims practice intense worship as they pray for answers and seek forgiveness for any sins.

To mark the end of Ramadan, determined by the sighting of the moon on the 29th, a 3-day celebration called Eid al-Fitr brings families and friends together in early morning prayers followed by picnics, feasts and fun.

Does every Muslim fast during Ramadan?

According to most interpreters of the Quran, children, the elderly, the ill, pregnant women, women who are nursing or menstruating, and travelers are exempt from fasting.

Some interpreters also consider intense hunger and thirst as well as compulsion (someone threatening another to do something) exceptions.

But as an entirety, whether Muslims fast or not often depends on their ethnicity and country.

Many Muslims in Muslim-majority countries, for example, observe the monthlong fast during Ramadan, according to 2012 data from the Pew Research Center.

In fact, in Saudi Arabia, Muslims and non-Muslims can be fined or jailed for eating in public during the day, according to the Associated Press.

But in the United States and in Europe, many Muslims are accepting of non-observers.


How not to celebrate Cinco de Mayo

Published: Tuesday, May 02, 2017 @ 11:28 AM

Cinco de Mayo is Friday, and before everyone gets ready for happy hours and parties, it helps to go in with a plan.

>> Read more trending stories

There are plenty of ways to celebrate the day, which commemorates Mexico’s victory over France in the Battle of Puebla on May 5 1862, during the French-Mexican war.

Make sure you do not do any of the following:

Dress up in sombreros and fake mustaches

There is no need to "dress up" for this day, but if you do, do not wear a sombrero, mariachi suit, serape, fake mustache or anything of the sort if you are not a member of that culture. Those things have historical and cultural significance, and donning them just for a day caricatures and stereotypes people. That's not fun.

Go out and get drunk

There is nothing wrong with drinking in moderation and doing it socially, but responsibility is key. What is the use in celebrating a day if you get sick or can't remember it?

Make English words Spanish by adding an "o" on the end

Not only does it not make any sense, but by doing this, it makes fun of another language and turns it into a joke. The same goes for plays on the holiday name, so no parties or themes like "Cinco de Drinko."

You can make a margarita cupcake or a fun cocktail, or have dinner at a family-owned Mexican restaurant. There are plenty of ways to celebrate Cinco de Mayo without doing any of the three above.

Woman turns son's hospital bed into giant Easter basket

Published: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 @ 5:14 PM

Marine2844/Getty Images/iStockphoto

A woman turned her son’s hospital bed at Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, into a giant Easter basket, and social media loved it.

>> Read more trending news

The hospital posted the image on its Facebook page on Monday. Within 24 hours, the post has nearly 2,000 likes and nearly 400 shares.
“The lengths great parents will go to for their precious children,” one commenter wrote. 

The family is showing support for the post and have commented that they hope this becomes a trend for patients at the hospital every Easter.

Why is it called Good Friday and what’s so good about it?

Published: Friday, April 14, 2017 @ 12:14 PM

Pictured is a mosaic of Jesus Christ inside Messina Cathedral on the Piazza del Duomo in Messina, Sicily.
Eye Ubiquitous/UIG via Getty Images

Christians believe Jesus was mocked publicly and crucified on a solemn Friday two thousand years ago. Today, the calamitous day is celebrated as Good Friday.

But what’s so good about that?

>> Read more trending news

One answer is that at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, “good” may have referred to “holy” in Old English, a linguistic theory supported by many language experts.

According to Slate, the Oxford English Dictionary notes the Wednesday before Easter was once called “Good Wednesday.” Today, it’s more commonly known as Holy Wednesday.

And Anatoly Liberman, a University of Minnesota professor who studies the origins of English words, told Slate if we consider the alternative names for Good Friday, such as “Sacred Friday” (romance languages) or “Passion Friday” (Russian), this theory makes a lot of sense.

Another possible reason for its moniker — a theory supported by both linguists and historical evidence — refers to the holiday’s ties to Easter Sunday, which celebrates the resurrection of Christ.

Because Jesus couldn’t have been resurrected without dying, the day of his death is, in a sense, “good.”

“That terrible Friday has been called Good Friday because it led to the Resurrection of Jesus and his victory over death and sin and the celebration of Easter, the very pinnacle of Christian celebrations,” the Huffington Post reported.

A third answer, some believe, is that the “good” in Good Friday was derived from "God” or “God’s Friday” — the way the term “goodbye” comes from a contraction of the phrase “God Be With You.”

Still, not everyone refers to this day as Good Friday. For example, 

The Catholic Encyclopedia mentions that, in the Greek Church, the holiday is known as "the Holy and Great Friday." In German, it's referred to as "Sorrowful Friday."

And as aforementioned, “Sacred Friday” and “Passion Friday” are also used.

In addition, because the holiday is also commemorated with a long fast, Good Friday was also referred to as “Long Friday” by the Anglo-Saxons.