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A recent report titled Retail Trends Playbook 2020 identifies four key pillars as being crucial to taking the retail experience to the next level. With data-driven digital technologies at their disposal, retailers can better understand consumers’ needs, design an intelligent supply chain, empower employees to deliver personalized in-store experiences, and redesigning the business model to highlight the most popular products and services. Listening to customers Compiled by Microsoft and US-based media company PSFK, the report asserts that retailers must gather as much data on customer behavior as possible in order to deliver on the promise of personalized shopping. With that data, merchants can design personalized outreach campaigns. Knowing each shopper’s preferences and previous purchases is key to securing proactive marketing and tailored recommendations. According to the report, 80% of US consumers enjoy such an approach, while 58% plan to sign up for personalized offers. Employee empowerment When consumers think “personalized shopping experience,” they expect more than an occasional email. They want the shopping experience to be tailored to their needs in brick-and-mortar shops just as it is online. To accomplish that goal, retail brands have to empower their frontline staff with knowledge about products and customers alike. Sales assistants can deliver a superior shopping experience only when they have access to lots of customer data. For example, Miami-based footwear brand Melissa Shoes gives shoppers the option to use facial recognition kiosks at their physical stores. When a returning customer stops by a store, employees are notified about their preferences as soon as the customer is recognized. That lets the staff provide an exceptional in-store experience. Smart supply chain According to the report, 52% of retailers are struggling to connect the dots between data stored across different parts of their organization. Yet 58% of consumers consider the visibility of inventory status to be important while shopping online. To overcome the disparity of what’s going on inside organizations and what customers want to see, the authors of the report propose cloud-based communication channels powered by real-time data. Intelligent supply chains can share information among factories, warehouses, stores, and key partners. Reimagining retail More than 60% of retailers who have strategically used information gathered through technology say it has given them a competitive advantage. Retailers can figure out which areas need improvement by getting a 360-degree view on in-store behavior. Data lets them understand how customers interact with products and how loyal they are to the brand. Having this wealth of information is an ideal starting point for creating actionable strategies regarding merchandising, rewards programs, and technology investments. Investing in a series of digital solutions won’t automatically translate into higher profit margins. The report concludes that the secret to success lies in retailers having a clear image of their own brand, their shoppers, and the experience they want to deliver.

By Milja December 09,2019

Amazon announced another round of investing in Indian startups and digitizing small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). The investment is meant to help Indian SMBs debut on the online marketplace, ultimately expanding their customer base into a global one. The Amazon Smbhav Venture Fund focuses on agriculture and healthcare, but startups from other niches might get funding, depending on how much they intersect with SMBs. The agri-tech investment section aims to provide farming solutions, such as making agro-inputs more accessible to farmers, providing credit and insurance, and ensuring better produce quality. Healthcare-oriented startups working on telemedicine, e-diagnosis, and AI-powered treatment recommendations are also eligible for the money. The Amazon Smbhav annual event also served as announcement time for the “Spotlight North East” initiative: Through this venture, Amazon plans to bring over 50,000 artisans and small businesses from India’s North East region online by 2025. The effort should bring about an availability boost for tea, spices, and honey from the area. The two ventures represent Amazon’s latest attempt to tackle the India market, after already investing $6.5 billion in it: First, $2 billion in July 2014, an additional $3 billion in June 2016, and finally another $1 billion in January 2020, all with the same goal - digitizing SMBs. Amazon claimed to have created 300,000 jobs in India since the beginning of 2020: 250,000 new sellers, plus another 50,000 local retailers. However, this level of aggressive investment garnered a lot of backlash for Amazon, both from the SMBs it’s focusing on and the Indian government. Tens of thousands of protestors marched on the street after last year’s announcement, and a similar scene unfolded this year. There is an overall concern among Indian trader groups about Amazon’s circumventing of the country’s rules. Amazon has been struggling since its opening in India to adhere to India’s eCommerce rules. Amazon is greatly constricted by these laws: For one, eCommerce firms cannot hold inventory or sell items directly to consumers. Instead, eCommerce businesses have been operating through a web of joint ventures with local companies serving as inventory holders. India fixed this loophole in 2018, forcing Amazon to unlist thousands of items and make their investments in affiliated firms more indirect. Indian retailers have long been raising their concerns about Amazon’s alleged flout of Indian regulations. The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) said on the topic: “For years, CAIT has been maintaining that Amazon has been circumventing FDI laws of India to conduct unfair and unethical trade.” India imposed several additional regulations in recent years that extensively hurt US firms operating in India, Amazon being just one of them. Last year, for example, New Delhi started to enforce a 2% tax on all foreign billings for digital services provided in the country. The US Trade Representative estimates that the aggregate annual bill for US companies in India will probably exceed $30 million. Earlier this year, the USTR said that the categories India was taxing are “not leviable under other digital services taxes adopted around the world.” As Amazon has yet to turn a profit in India, it remains to be seen whether its venture there will be a success or a defeat similar to the one it experienced in China.

By Milja April 19,2021

Due to the ongoing pandemic and companies increasingly relying on cloud services and work from home, cybersecurity investments in 2020 resulted in a record $7.8 billion and 665 international deals. The US cybersecurity investments increased by 22% last year compared to 2019. Businesses are turning to small business insurance companies for an added layer of protection. The entire US venture market has risen a mere 15% during the same period. Of the total venture capital funds, 39% went into cybersecurity startups in seed or early stages. On a global scale, the funding reached 45%. The trend continues this year as cybersecurity worldwide has already seen more than $3.7 billion worth of investments - $1.4 billion more than in the first quarter last year. Despite a 10% increase in cybersecurity spending, Canalys believes that companies are not investing in cybersecurity enough. The tech market analyst company reports more breaches in 2020 alone than in the last 15 years combined. The main reason are the ever more dangerous ransomware attacks, disrupting or even shutting companies down. Therefore, having a cloud backup should be considered mandatory by now. The US and Israel had a 90% presence on cybersecurity venture funding last year. US companies earned $5.9 billion or 76%, while the Israeli companies got $1 billion of the entire cybersecurity funding. UK companies secured $262 million or 3% of the fundings, thanks to the Series C funding of the data privacy company Privitar equaling $80 million. The majority of the funded companies are from San Francisco. New York businesses gathered $874 million or 15% of last year’s funding. Massachusetts came in third with 12%, followed by Texas companies, which claimed 7%. Thanks to the record investments in 2020, six new cybersecurity unicorn startups (worth more than $1 billion) saw the light of day. It is the highest number of unicorn companies on an annual basis so far. Five are from the US, while the sixth, called Cato Networks, is Israel-based. The record is clearly to be beaten this year, as nine cybersecurity unicorns have emerged thus far. Furthermore, cloud infrastructure investments increased by 33% in 2020, cloud software by 20%, notebook PC sales by 17%, and wi-fi router sales by 40%. One of the first steps for increasing security could also be employing remote desktop software within companies to improve internal IT support services.

By Milja April 21,2021

The downward direction mortgage rates are taking indicates this is the time to buy a home or start refinancing mortgages. The downward direction mortgage rates are taking indicates this is the time to buy a home or start refinancing mortgages. The average rate for the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage dropped to 3.231% last week, showing a 0.015% decline in a single day. This rate drop is the first since mid-March.  Mortgage rates already decreased in 2020, and many homeowners seized the opportunity to refinance existing loans or get new ones. Others have bought homes thanks to the more affordable rates. In January 2021, the rates reached a record low for a short time before they rose back in February. More companies are thinking of using real estate CRM software to battle these sudden changes. As for the near future, experts predict a continued rise in mortgage rates. The ascent will not be drastic, though, nor will it happen quickly. Different factors such as the Covid-19 situation and economic relief packages could affect the rates. They should remain low through the first half of the year, with a slight rise in the second half. Even with the expected rate increase, this is a good moment to buy a home or refinance loans. With the 30-year fixed mortgage rate decreasing, you would currently pay principal and interest approximately $434.00 for every $100,000 borrowed. Property management software might be of great help here as well. The average 15-year mortgage rate is also dropping, hitting 2.473% last week. The principal and interest should be $665 for every $100,000 borrowed. On the other hand, the average 5/1 ARM rate was 2.893% on April 15, showing an increase of 0.025% compared to the day before.  Joel Kan, associate vice president at MBA, said that the refinance activity has decreased for nine of the past ten weeks. Total mortgage application volume decreased 3.7% last week.

By Milja April 21,2021

New York City investment manager, Gregory Blotnick, has been charged with embezzling more than $2.4 million from five different lenders through Payment Protection Program (PPP) loan applications.According to the Manhattan district attorney’s office, Blotnick was charged with multiple counts of second-degree grand larceny and second-degree criminal possession of stolen property, as well as one count of first-degree scheme to defraud.The 33-year-old is being accused of repeatedly taking advantage of a system that was designed to help small businesses during the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. Over 3,000 small businesses ended up closing their doors due to their inability to raise funds through traditional means.Blotnick applied for five different PPP loans between April 2020 and August that year, lying in his applications about the number of employees working at his two companies - Brattle Street Capital LLC and BSC Management LLC. According to his applications, money was meant to cover payroll costs, but instead, it ended up in his personal trading accounts. Blotnick ultimately lost the money in the market.He applied for the first loan in April at Cross River Bank, asking for $491,100 to be used as payroll for Brattle Street Capital LLC’s 25 employees. Blotnick wired half of the funds to one of his own Interactive Broker trading accounts. The other half was wired to an individual who used to be an investor at Blotnick’s investment firm. Blotnick submitted the next set of applications for loans in May at TransPecos and Northeast Bank. He used the money in the same way - around $250.000 from each loan was moved to his personal accounts.Blotnick continued the same pattern in June, applying for loans at the American Express National Bank for 45 employees and in August at Ponce Bank for 16 employees, ultimately pocketing over $2.4 million.

By Milja April 23,2021

Revo Foods, the startup that developed a method for 3D printing veggie-based salmon, raised more than €1.5 million in its first funding round. The first 3D printed products, salmon stripes and salmon spreads, are now entering new European markets after debuting in Austria in 2020.Some of the company’s key investors include Hazelpond Capital, MKO Holdings, and friends2grow. Money also came from national funds such as the Vienna Business Agency and the FFG Austrian Research Promotion Agency.The Vienna-based Revo Foods has been developing seafood alternatives since 2020. The goal is to fully recreate the salmon, but only by using 100% plant-based ingredients. The company is currently working on matching the required texture, structure, and taste of salmon and tuna out of pea proteins, algae extracts, and dietary fibers. Apart from being a healthier version of salmon, the process creates less waste and retains more nutritional aspects.It’s also a good thing for the planet. It helps with reducing the need for industrial fishing, which is very damaging to the environment. At the moment, 90% of global fish stocks are either overfished or at capacity, and this is another effort to reduce these numbers while at the same time creating something delicious.The first products that hit the market at the end of 2020 were The Smokey One (smoked salmon stripes) and The Creamy One (salmon spreads). The company is actively working on developing salmon further and coming up with tuna sashimi.Revo Foods representatives said they are “enthusiastic to work with fantastic strategic investors that will really accelerate our 3D printed plant-based seafood market entry.”Last month, Revo Foods hosted the world’s first tasting for 3D-printed plant-based salmon, allowing interested food lovers to taste the new salmon and provide them with much-needed feedback.Even though Revo Foods is the first to use 3D printing for seafood, the 3D printing trend has already brought some excellent results for meat. Novameat, a firm from Spain, already developed a 3D printed vegan steak, and Redefine Meat, a startup from Israel that raised an astonishing $29 million, will soon be launching its 3D printed, plant-based meat products.Despite the pandemic, 2020 was a record year for startup investments, and from looks of it 2021 has a chance to beat this record.

By Milja April 23,2021

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Microloan Improvement Act to enhance access for small businesses to SBA loans and help them weather the economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis. The act was passed by an overwhelming majority of 397 to 16.The bill was introduced by Congressmen Andy Kim and Tim Burchett and co-sponsored by two other lawmakers. It increases the number of nonprofit, community-based lenders that will get low-interest rate loans from the SBA and extend these in the form of lines of credit to small businesses with the maximum repayment term.Many small businesses don’t have the credit history to meet the extensive requirements for SBA loans. This act gives businesses that weren’t eligible for loans under SBA’s rules the opportunity to receive the much-needed funds.“We need to do everything we can to help our small businesses in this critical time,” Congressman Kim said. For his part, Burchett exclaimed that he was “proud to be a part of this effort that will help aspiring small business owners and entrepreneurs chase down the American Dream.”Congress established SBA’s Microloan Program back in 1991 to provide the funds to underserved entrepreneurs through community-based lenders. It’s now one of the best solutions to help small businesses avoid closures, along with crowdfunding platforms and other alternative routes that small businesses could take.Aside from the aforementioned bill, the House also passed the Microloan Transparency and Accountability Act, which is meant to deliver microloans to rural areas, offering a 5% technical assistance grant for institutions that work with small businesses. 25% of all loans must go to such companies for lenders to be eligible for this 5% grant. The SBA is also required to provide Congress with an annual Portfolio Risk Analysis of microloans to prevent fraud and government waste.

By Milja April 23,2021

Mortgage rates fell for a second straight week amid broader signs of an economic recovery. The benchmark’s 30-year home-loan rate dropped to 3.04% last week, down nine basis points from the week before. These are the first declines in rates in over two months.In recent years, mortgage rates have been at historically low levels. However, they were pushed higher by an increase in demand and a low supply of homes on the market. This trend was fuelled by the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to an increase in the number of people unwilling to sell properties in these unprecedented times. This situation caused the prices of the available properties to skyrocket, leading to bidding wars and people having to spend more than they originally planned.Real estate agents have had their hands full with these bidding wars. However, finding new real estate leads is getting easier, and establishing a proper relationship with customers instead of blindly running around trying to make a sale is possible thanks to the number of new home listings, which is steadily going up.“This won’t solve the inventory crunch overnight, but it’s a big step in the right direction, and one we’re likely to see more of in the weeks ahead as we approach the best time of the year to sell a home,” said chief economist at Realtor.com, Danielle Hale.The drop in rates comes amid other economic improvements, including better jobless claims as well as better manufacturing and sales numbers. As the pace of vaccinations continues to accelerate, restrictions are being lifted, and many states are opening up. The economy is steadily getting back on track, with more Americans willing to return to their daily activities and increase their spending.

By Milja April 23,2021