Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Are you paying Amazon’s electricity bills?

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018

Amazon, which has taken heat for harnessing taxpayer funds to further its own gains, is attempting to pass on the cost of powering its massive data centers to consumers in the form of higher electric bill fees.

According to Bloomberg, Virginia’s largest utility Dominion Energy, recently negotiated with state legislators to pass on the cost of running a power line underground to connect to one of the tech firm’s subsidiaries—to the tune of $172 million—to consumers in the form of an as-yet-unannounced monthly fee.

Amazon Web Services, the company’s highly-profitable cloud computing business, which runs websites and services for a wide range of firms including Verizon, Major League Baseball and Comcast, grew revenue by 49 percent in the second quarter to $6.11 billion.

However, that comes with a large amount of upfront infrastructure costs to operate dozens of data centers that hold massive server farms operating around-the-clock.

State legislators have consistently courted Amazon, regardless of how many jobs its data centers generate. The firm is one of countless U.S. businesses to take advantage of any tax incentives and existing laws to lower its costs. Amazon Web Services has also set a goal of achieving 100 percent energy sustainability for its global infrastructure.

In at least two states, reports Bloomberg, Amazon has negotiated with utilities and lawmakers to force residents to pay its electric bills—on top of the estimated $1.2 billion in state and municipal tax incentives Jeff Bezos’ company has received over the past decade.

Although Amazon isn’t the only company to take advantage of the power industry’s hunger for new customers, as the largest player in cloud computing it has the biggest footprint.

In Ohio, the company opened three data centers in 2016 that are currently operating with electric rates that are hidden from public view. As reported by Bloomberg, only five representatives on a public utility commission, along with Amazon and American Electric Power (AEP), know how much is being paid for a public service.

Late last year, Amazon offered to open 12 more data centers and AEP exempted it from surcharges that other customers pay.

“That’s de facto cost-shifting,” Ned Hill, an economist who teaches at Ohio State University, told Bloomberg.

Amazon has claimed that its discounted rates are a trade secret and must be redacted in any requests for public records.

“Price cuts are treated as trade secrets by the utilities. Baloney,” Hill said. “All should be made public and made in advance of any action.”

In Virginia, Amazon’s Vadata Inc. reportedly has 29 data centers. The tech giant’s 78-page application for a special rate agreement has two versions—one that’s heavily redacted for the public and one that’s under seal with state regulators.

The idea of businesses shifting costs to lower income residents isn’t new.

A range of businesses have reaped rewards from U.S. taxpayers for locating their business in certain states, including Tesla ($1.3 billion from Nevada for a battery factory), Foxconn ($4.8 billion for a display screen plant) and Apple ($214 million for a data center in Iowa).

According to a study from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), an environmental lobbying group, lower income Americans already pay about three times more of their income on utility bills than wealthier households.

However, unlike when an Amazon warehouse opens, which may employ a few thousand residents, data centers don’t fuel major job growth.

“When you attracted the steel mill years ago, you got 2,000 employees. When you attract a data center, you get maybe 50,” Hill told Bloomberg.

Meanwhile, in Thomas’ Virginia neighborhood, most residents are elderly and living on fixed incomes; they’ve already seen energy bills increase by 30 percent over the last ten years.

“Amazon’s got all the money they ever needed,” she said. “They don’t need any more.”

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Online Tax Collection

Tuesday, July 24th, 2018

In delivering a long-awaited decision on Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court closed a decades long tax loophole that gave online-only retailers an unfair advantage over local brick-and-mortar businesses. The decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair means that online retailers will likely be required to collect state sales tax very soon, just like their brick-and-mortar counterparts. It’s a win for small businesses that often struggle to compete with online retailers’ low prices and a victory for states that could soon see a boost in their economies.

 

South Dakota sued Wayfair and other online retailers after they failed to collect sales tax on online purchases made by South Dakota residents. Previously, states did not have the power to require retailers that did not have a physical presence in their borders to collect and pay sales tax to the state. South Dakota attempted to circumvent the “physical presence” requirement by enacting a law in 2016 that required online retailers to collect sales tax. The law applied only to large online retailers – those with at least $100,000 in sales or 200 transactions in the state.

 

On Thursday, the Supreme Court overruled two outdated decisions and upheld the South Dakota law. As a result, South Dakota – and other states – can require large online retailers to collect and pay state sales tax. In the Court’s opinion, Justice Kennedy called the loophole created by the old policy “flawed” and “arbitrary.” He went on to explain that the old policy was based on the administrative challenges that large retailers would face in collecting sales tax in many different states. With modern technology, however, the loophole is no longer justified.

 

“Modern e-commerce does not align analytically with a test that relies on [physical presence],” Justice Kennedy wrote. “This Court should not maintain a rule that ignores … substantial virtual connections to the state.”

 

Supporters of small and independent businesses celebrated Thursday’s ruling. For the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, senior researcher Olivia LaVecchia wrote, “It’s an important day for independent businesses: After years of being forced to compete at a significant price disadvantage, locally owned businesses finally have a shot at a more level playing field when it comes to sales tax.”

 

After the South Dakota v. Wayfair decision, states can adopt laws that require online retailers to collect sales tax. As a result, local economies will benefit from greater tax revenues. They may also benefit from more local purchases, as small and independent businesses get a more level playing field in the competitive retail market.

 

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AMAZON UNDER FIRE

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

Amazon Under Fire Over US Communities Contract

as reported on opi.net

An in-depth report released today by the Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR) has painted a scathing picture of Amazon Business’s US Communities cooperative contract for local government purchasing.

The award of a marketplace US Communities contract to Amazon Business was first covered on opi.net in a February 2017 article titled Amazon Business’s $5.5 billion public-sector land-grab (which is actually referenced in the ILSR report). At the time, it appeared that the contract RFP (request for proposals) had been tailored towards Amazon and there were also question marks over the pricing structure of the contract.

Now, Olivia LaVecchia and Stacy Mitchell of the ILSR have written a report called Amazon’s Next Frontier: Your City’s Purchasing that takes a closer look at how Amazon Business was awarded the US Communities contract and at the e-commerce giant’s push into public sector purchasing.

Below are some of the key points and findings in the report about the US Communities contract:
• The terms of the RFP made it unlikely that anyone but Amazon would be awarded the contract.
• The contract adopts some of Amazon’s owns terms and conditions that override normal local government purchasing provisions and restrict contract transparency.
• The contract does not offer pricing guarantees nor volume discounts.
• Amazon has a trained national sales force selling to local governments.
• A pricing comparison study commissioned by the ILSR and carried out by Rick Marlette of OPSoftware shows that Amazon Business is more expensive for a basket of items than an independent dealer.
• The contract provides slower and more expensive fulfilment terms than the office products industry standard of free next-day delivery.
• There is evidence to suggest that local government spending on Amazon jumped dramatically between 2016 and 2017, although some cities are holding back due to concerns over price transparency.
In addition to Rick Marlette, another well-known office products figure who is prominently featured in the ILSR report is David Guernsey, whose dealership lost some business when Prince William County Public Schools in Virginia – the lead agency on the US Communities marketplace contract – started purchasing from Amazon. In fact, Guernsey – who believes that Amazon is the biggest threat to the existence of independent dealers – is the subject of a two-page epilogue near the end of the ILSR report.

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This Just in!!

Monday, September 25th, 2017

We have a cool new site for you to order your company’s personalized Holiday and Occasion cards. http://cityofficesupply.holidaycardwebsite.com

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Amazon Under Fire from FTC

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

Amazon’s pricing practices are coming under scrutiny by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The FTC is reviewing a report by US advocacy group Consumer Watchdog as part of its wider look at the e-commerce titan’s acquisition of Whole Foods.

In a survey of 1,000 products, it found that Amazon had put its own reference prices on 46% of them. But on 61% of these, the price was higher than what it had been 90 days earlier. Consumer Watchdog claimed that it misrepresented just how much of a discount was being offered to customers.

It highlighted that most consumers still expect Amazon to be the ‘best possible deal’ and given Prime member’s loyalty to the site, it stopped many from shopping around.

In addition, a separate report by industry analyst RetailDive on back-to-school buying habits found that those who shopped exclusively on Amazon were paying on average 15% more than those who went elsewhere. It seems to show that Amazon no longer needs to compete on price, relying more on loyalty and the quality of service, such as next-day or discounted delivery options.

The Consumer Watchdog claims that this was a misrepresentation of its pricing strategy and breached FTC regulations.

Amazon has publicly denounced the report, calling it “deeply flawed”.

In a press statement, the company said: “The conclusions the Consumer Watchdog group reached are flat out wrong. We validate the reference prices provided by manufacturers, vendors and sellers against actual prices recently found across Amazon and other retailers.”

It is unclear whether the report will lead to a formal probe by the FTC, but it could impact similar investigations by the ACCC in Australia ahead of Amazon’s direct-to-business launch in the region.

Deceptive pricing allegations certainly won’t work in Amazon’s favour with the Australian authority, when it starts looking into how the B2B debut would affect competition in an already heavily-consolidated market.

Meanwhile, if Amazon is found to have breached consumer protection regulations by the FTC, it could be faced with a hefty fine akin to the €2.4 billion penalty slapped on Google by the European Commission last month.

The study is another thorn in Amazon’s side following its proposed deal to buy Whole Foods last month. Since the $13.7 billion deal was announced, a group of US Congressmen have called on the Department of Justice to carry out an in-depth review. The representatives highlighted the knock-on effects for low-income communities that would arise from competition pressures.

Seattle (WA), USA

 

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Come visit us at our new location!

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

After a year of preparation, we have finally moved to our new location at 6049 South Loop East Houston TX 77033. Come by and say Hi!!

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Are Office Depot workers pushing unnecessary computer fixes?

Friday, November 18th, 2016

CBS News is reporting that
Office Depot is under fire for services that a former employee believes take advantage of unsuspecting customers.

The retailer says it helps about 6,000 customers per week with its free PC health checks, and that it does not condone any of the alleged conduct that was uncovered. But CBS affiliate KIRO-TV’s undercover cameras showed how employees used the service to sell customers expensive computer repairs that weren’t there, reports KIRO’s Jesse Jones.

Office Depot’s technicians repeatedly told customers their computers were infected.

“It’s got malware symptoms in there,” one said.

They said they could fix them — for a hefty fee.

“It actually looks like it’s $180 right now,” the technician estimated.

The only problem? All the PC’s were brand new and fresh out of the box. The computer security firm IOActive also gave them a clean bill of health.

“We found no symptoms of malware on these computers when we operated them,” said Will Longman, IOActive VP of Information Technology and Security.

Office Depot employee Shane Barnett said his bosses ignored his repeated warnings and were more concerned about sales and quotas.

“I hate the program. I hate it,” Barnett said.

“I refused to do it. They’re like, ‘You have to hit these numbers.’ I’m like, ‘I’m not going to make things up so you can hit your numbers. I’m not going to do it,’” he added.

Barnett said his hours at Office Depot have been cut since he began speaking up more than two years ago. The company declined an on camera interview, but a spokesperson said: “We intend to fully review the assertions and take appropriate action.”
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Drones Can’t Deliver Copy Paper

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

Ever since Amazon announced its entry

into the office products world, pundits

have been quick to predict the imminent

demise of independent distribution, just

like their predecessors did when the big

boxes first came on the scene.

Amazon is certainly a challenging competitor,

but even so, there are limits to their

current ascendancy, especially if sales

professionals hit them where it hurts.

For example, as I write this column, I am

browsing on the Amazon website for some

typical office items. At 6:20 pm Eastern

time on August 22, I found the following:

• One ream of Office Depot copy

paper at $27.99 per ream (No, I am

not kidding! It is the first listing and

delivery will be in 3-5 days. There are

only 11 reams left so buy now!!)

• Three reams of Georgia Pacific

Spectrum Paper at $15.99 per case

(Prime 4-5 Day delivery)

• Six reams (400 sheets per ream)

of Hewlett Packard 20lb paper for

$30.76 per case (Prime 4-5 Day

delivery)

Ok, so they aren’t very good at copy paper.

Let’s pick something else. How about

toilet paper?

• 24 Rolls of Quilted Northern (90

Sheets per roll) $23.79 or $24.79 for

Prime 4-5 Day delivery

• 48 Rolls of Angel Soft Bathroom

Tissue $21.49 (Their best deal

at 46 cents per roll but with no

commitment on a delivery date on

the Amazon site)

• 12 Rolls of Cottonelle Big Roll Toilet

Paper at 79 cents per roll or $9.49

with Prime 4-5 Day delivery

These prices are much more competitive,

but let’s keep a couple of things in

mind. First, if your company decides to

feature one or possibly two toilet paper

lines, better costing is probably available.

Also, some of these items either aren’t

on “Prime”—which means a higher minimum

order and separate deliveries or “4-5

days”. Next-day delivery, even for a few

bucks more, begins to look pretty good

when your office is running out of toilet

paper!

How about binder clips and paper clips?

At 7:10 pm Eastern on August 22 I opened

up the “office products” portion of paperclips/

binder clips on the Amazon site.

Here is what I found:

Standard boxes of items like Acco Binder

Clips or Paper Clips are not easy to order.

The buyer must first search through

various mixed offerings, but with enough

effort they can be ordered. For example:

• 1bx Large Binder Clips 72100 are

$3.48 per dozen.

• 6bx Medium Binder Clips 72050 are

$11.02. There was no option to buy

just 1 dozen, at least not without

significant searching and a very high

price.

• 10bx of Small Non-Skid Paperclips

are $4.04 per pack. (I know, no one

actually wants non-skid paperclips

but they came up closest to the top

in search.)

These were notable examples on the

first page, but there are 84 more pages

of such items if you want to search more

thoroughly. And yes, even staples like

SWI35108’s average about $2.50 per box.

Can you compete? I think so!

Oh, and one other thing: There is a confusing

little phrase on the bottom of each

small product listing: “FREE shipping on

eligible orders.” Huh? I wonder what that

means? Could it be that there are minimums

to receive free shipping?

It turns out both Amazon and Amazon

Business have a minimum order number

on some items—but seemingly not on

others— $25-$49 to receive Prime shipping.

It’s all a bit confusing, as are a number

of other things about their site.

Tom Buxton

 

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Sales Tips that work in any Industry

Friday, June 24th, 2016

The Six-Shooter’s Sales Strategy

Of course, no sharpshooter hits the bull’s-eye every time. But everyone can become a better marksman, and just six steps stand between you and a potential pocketful of new sales:

1. Get excited! If you’re like me, it’s nearly impossible to not get amped up for a sales call. And for the prospect, it could be one of the most fun and interesting parts of his or her day. So don’t kill the mood: Break out a smile, and let your energy show.

2. Create a foolproof game plan. After consulting with dozens of companies that struggle to train salespeople, I realized they had something in common: an unscripted sales process. So as soon as I started building LinkedSelling’s sales team, I began writing a script. That script, with a few tweaks, has delivered big results.

Craft a living, breathing sales document that team members can read from, word-for-word. They’ll find their own style—and that’s great—but give them a starting point, complete with room for questions, banter and interjections.

3. Find common ground. People generally like people who they can relate to. In fact, my company signed a high-dollar client because he’d befriended my office manager. They didn’t talk business, but instead discussed life outside the office, and it was this connection that sealed the deal.

So craft your sales script to create points of rapport. Try adding some non-business questions like “Where are you from?” and “What are your weekend plans?” that can help cultivate connections.

4. Be a student. Sales is about education, but it can’t be one-directional. So build questions into your script to learn a client’s business: Ask about their team, values, business model and customers. It’s a simple truth: To understand somebody’s situation, you need to ask.

My team learned this the hard way. Sales slumped in 2015, and I realized nearly everyone was pitching too early. But after consulting our sales script, I knew the mistake was my own: I’d included icebreaker questions, but hadn’t given my team business-oriented questions to ask. After revising the script, we saw sales jump 15 percent nearly overnight.

5. Sell your “why.” In a recent TED Talk, leadership expert Simon Sinek said, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” Now, I’m sure people buy because of the product, too, but Sinek is right that people tend to buy logically and emotionally.

So in every sales call, try tying your business to something bigger. What’s your big goal, beyond selling products? Sales is an endeavor of the mind, but it’s also tied to the heart.

6. Do the math for them. ROI is—or should be—a part of any sales discussion, so quantify your product’s benefits in dollars and cents. A few years ago, we began conducting ROI calculations during sales webinars and consultations, which really helped our product “click” with the logical side of prospects’ brains. The focus on tangible ROI, in my opinion, is a big reason my company’s business has tripled each of the last three years.

In the end, sales isn’t rocket science; it’s just people having a conversation about a product’s costs and benefits. So if your goal is more conversions, stop “winging it” on sales calls. With a script in hand and data at your fingertips, your team should soon be shooting down its toughest sales targets.

Josh Turner

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Where Are Small Business Issues on the Campaign Trail?

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

You don’t need me to tell you that our current
presidential campaign is unlike any that we’ve
seen in recent years. But it might be worth
pointing out that so far, at least, small business
issues and concerns have hardly been front and
center.
That’s not a good thing, as a recent survey
of independent small business owners and
operators by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance
makes all too clear.
You’ll find a more detailed report on the survey
findings in our Industry News section but the
bottom line is that independent businesses could
be doing a whole lot better if they didn’t have to
contend with federal, state and local government
policies that hold them back or put them at a
disadvantage against their larger competitors.
Correct me if I’m wrong but I haven’t been
hearing any of the current candidates talking
much about the need for increased small
business support.
The survey identifies a number of areas where
help is needed. For example, independent
businesses too often end up being turned down
for the bank loans they need to grow. They face
unfair competition from online resellers who,
unlike them, are exempt from collecting sales tax
from their customers.
They also see their own tax dollars being used
to support sweetheart tax breaks for their larger
competitors, even though there’s a fair amount
of evidence to show big box development
actually hurts local economies rather than
helping them any.
Do you know what positions your candidates
have on these issues and others like them? It
might be a good idea to find time over the next
few months to ask them and make sure they
have answers that make sense.
by Simon De Groot

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