Facebook and eBay pledge to better tackle fake reviews

LONDON (Reuters) – Facebook and eBay have promised to better identify, probe and respond to fake and misleading reviews, Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said on Wednesday after pressing the online platforms to tackle the issue.

Customer reviews have become an integral part of online shopping on several websites and apps but the regulator has expressed concerns that some comments may not be genuine.

Facebook has removed 188 groups and disabled 24 user accounts whilst eBay has permanently banned 140 users since the summer, according to the CMA.

The CMA has also found examples via photo-posting app Instagram which owner Facebook has promised to investigate.

“Millions of people base their shopping decisions on reviews, and if these are misleading or untrue, then shoppers could end up being misled into buying something that isn’t right for them – leaving businesses who play by the rules missing out,” said CMA Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli.

The CMA said neither company was intentionally allowing such content and both had committed to tackle the problem.

“We maintain zero tolerance for fake or misleading reviews and will continue to take action against any seller that breaches our user polices,” said a spokeswoman at eBay.

Facebook said it was working to stop such fraudulent activity, including exploring the use of automated technology to help remove content before it was seen.

“While we have invested heavily to prevent this kind of activity across our services, we know there is more work to do and are working with the CMA to address this issue.”

(Reporting by Costas Pitas, Editing by Paul Sandle)

Record online sales give U.S. holiday shopping season a boost: report

(Reuters) – U.S. shoppers spent more online during this year’s holiday shopping season, a report by Mastercard Inc. showed on Wednesday, with e-commerce sales hitting a record high.

The holiday shopping season is a crucial period for retailers and can account for up to 40% of annual sales. But this year, Thanksgiving, which traditionally starts the U.S. holiday shopping period, was on Nov. 28, nearly a week later than last year’s Nov. 22, leaving retailers with six fewer days to drive sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

E-commerce sales this year made up 14.6% of total retail and rose 18.8% from the 2018 period, according to Mastercard’s data tracking retail sales from Nov. 1 through Christmas Eve.

Overall holiday retail sales, excluding autos, rose 3.4%.

“E-commerce sales hit a record high this year with more people doing their holiday shopping online,” said Steve Sadove, senior adviser for Mastercard.

“Due to a later than usual Thanksgiving holiday, we saw retailers offering omnichannel sales earlier in the season, meeting consumers’ demand for the best deals across all channels and devices,” Sadove said.

Retailers have invested heavily to provide same-day delivery, lockers for store pick-up and improve their online presence as they battle against retail giant Amazon.com Inc <AMZN.O> for market share.

U.S. President Donald Trump, whose support in the polls has been buoyed by strong economic data despite his impeachment by the House of Representatives, heralded the news in a tweet in all capital letters.

“2019 HOLIDAY RETAIL SALES WERE UP 3.4% FROM LAST YEAR, THE BIGGEST NUMBER IN U.S. HISTORY. CONGRATULATIONS AMERICA!,” Trump tweeted.

However, Mastercard spokesman William Tsang, citing 2018’s 5.1% growth in total sales, said this year’s holiday sales growth was not the biggest ever.

The White House had no immediate comment on the apparent discrepancy.

Despite slowing global growth, U.S. consumer spending is benefiting from wage growth and a strong labor market, retail consultants and analysts say.

The holiday season was challenging for retailers after Amazon expanded its free return policy to include products that were not previously eligible, giving consumers until January to return even small purchases bought on the website.

The National Retail Federation had forecast U.S. holiday retail sales over the two months to increase between 3.8% and 4.2%. That compares with an average annual increase of 3.7% over the past five years.

The SpendingPulse report tracks spending by combining sales activity in Mastercard’s payments network with estimates of cash and other payment forms but excludes automobile sales.

(Reporting by Nivedita Balu and Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by Dan Grebler)

U.S. holiday shoppers spend record $126 billion online

FILE PHOTO: Shoppers walk through the King of Prussia Mall, United States' largest retail shopping space, in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, U.S., December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Makela

By Melissa Fares

(Reuters) – U.S. shoppers spent a record $126 billion on online shopping during the 2018 holiday season, taking advantage of early discounts on Amazon.com and other websites and with more people using smartphones to place their orders, Adobe Analytics said on Tuesday.

Adobe, which collects its data by measuring 80 percent of all online transactions from the top 100 U.S. web retailers, said the amount was 16.5 percent higher than last year’s total.

Mobile platforms made up 51 percent of traffic to retail websites during the November-December period and were responsible for nearly a third of all online spending.

Online shoppers spent $3.7 billion on Thanksgiving and $6.2 billion on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

Cyber Monday the Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday &mdash; was the biggest U.S. online shopping day ever, with $7.9 billion spent.

Top-selling items online were L.O.L. Surprise Fingerlings toys; Take-Two Interactive Software’s video game Red Dead Redemption 2; Nintendo’s Switch console; streaming devices; and Dell and Apple laptops, Adobe said.

Consumers spent an average 40 percent more per day during the three weeks after Cyber Monday than in the first three weeks of the season, Adobe said. Sales continued to grow until Dec. 17.

While the online sales figures showed how low U.S. unemployment rates and rising wages boosted consumer confidence during the holiday season, department stores continue to struggle.

Further, consumer confidence in 2019 is seen as likely to be strained by rising U.S. interest rates, the ongoing trade dispute with China, market volatility due to concerns over global growth and political deadlock in Washington.

Macy’s Inc shares plunged 18 percent on Thursday after the department store chain slashed its full-year profit and sales forecast on the back of an anemic holiday season.

Kohl’s Corp reported similarly muted comparable sales growth for the holidays, sending its shares down as much as 9 percent on Thursday. Shares of Target Corp were down nearly 4 percent even after the retailer posted relatively strong holiday sales growth of nearly 6 percent on Thursday.

Overall sales for the 2018 U.S. holiday shopping season rose 5.1 percent to over $850 billion, hitting a six-year high, as shoppers were encouraged by early discounts, according to a Mastercard report in late December.

(Reporting by Melissa Fares in New York; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Deals lure U.S. Black Friday shoppers, biggest sales gains online

A large crowd of people shop during a Black Friday sales event at Macy's flagship store on 34th St. in New York City, U.S., November 22, 2018. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

By Nandita Bose and Chriss Swaney

NEW YORK/PITTSBURGH (Reuters) – U.S. shoppers formed long lines at store checkout counters on Black Friday to snap up deep discounts on clothing and electronics, offering evidence that a healthy economy and rising wages are translating into stronger consumer spending at the start of retailers’ make-or-break holiday season.

“I am spending more, the mood generally is more upbeat,” said Sharon Neidert, 57, visiting New York City from Ohio. “My daughter moved out this year so I have more disposable income,” said Neidert, a manager at a software company.

People shop during the Black Friday sales shopping event at Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, New York, U.S., November 23, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

People shop during the Black Friday sales shopping event at Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, New York, U.S., November 23, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

While online sales were up substantially and traffic looked healthy at stores offering discounts, detailed numbers on brick-and-mortar holiday sales will not be available for several days.

“Overall, Black Friday doesn’t have the sense of urgency as in the past and feels more like a busy regular weekend day in many of the stores,” said Dana Telsey at Telsey Advisory Group.

“Many of the promotions were available for the past couple of weeks,” Telsey said. “We haven’t noticed desperation from any retailer.”

Shares of U.S. department stores Macy’s Inc, Kohl’s Corp, J.C. Penney Co Inc and Target Corp were all down between 1 and 3 percent on Friday and weighed on the broader S&P 500 retailing index, down 0.15 percent.

Investors are concerned that retail peaked in the second quarter and business will slow down as comparisons get tougher, said Brian Yarbrough, retail analyst with Edward Jones.

Victoria’s Secret owner L Brands, Walmart Inc and American Eagle Outfitters were some of the top gainers, rising between 0.5 to 3 percent.

STRONG ONLINE SALES

Shoppers spent $643 million online by 10 a.m. ET on Black Friday, with smartphone sales lifting overall online spending by 28 percent from a year ago, according to Adobe Analytics, which tracks transactions at 80 of the top 100 U.S. online retailers.

Online spending is on track to hit $6.4 billion on Friday, which is likely to either match or surpass last year’s Cyber Monday revenue of $6.6 billion, Adobe said. Online sales on Thanksgiving Day were up 28 percent at $3.7 billion.

The National Retail Federation forecast U.S. holiday retail sales in November and December will increase between 4.3 and 4.8 percent over 2017 for a total of $717.45 billion to $720.89 billion. That compares with an average annual increase of 3.9 percent over the past five years.

About 38 percent of American consumers plan to shop on Black Friday, and six in 10 expect to make at least half of their holiday purchases on that day, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed last week.

DEAL FRENZY

Shoppers picked up big-ticket items such as TVs, Apple Inc, iPads and Watches at Target, while phones, toys, gaming consoles and cookware were top sellers at Walmart Inc.

Some of the deals:

– An H&M store in Manhattan offered 30 percent off everything in-store and online.

– Macy’s in Herald Square, Manhattan, sold a Coach designer wallet, originally $225, for $53.

– Midtown Comics was taking 25 percent off everything at its Manhattan locations until noon.

– An Eddie Bauer in Chicago offered 50 percent off all items.

– At a Chicago-area Pandora, which makes popular charm bracelets that can cost up to $1,000, jewelry was 35 percent off before 10 a.m. and 25 percent off for the remainder of the day.

– J Crew clothing was 50 percent off. Its site experienced some technical difficulties before coming back up.

– Walmart was selling a Google Home mini for $99.

– Buy one, get one free pajamas at Victoria’s Secret.

Charlotte Jackson, from London, come to New York with her mother for Black Friday shopping.

“Black Friday isn’t as big of a deal back home,” Jackson, a 27-year-old tax adviser, said while shopping for lingerie and pajamas at Victoria’s Secret.

MORE TOYS AT TARGET, JC PENNEY

Many retailers, reacting to the bankruptcy of the Toys ‘R’ Us chain, are catering to parents.

Target said in October it planned to dedicate nearly a quarter of a million square feet of new space to its toy business across 500 of its stores. The discount chain’s customers will also be able to shop for more than 2,500 new and exclusive toys, Mark Tritton, Target’s chief merchandising officer said.

“Toys ‘R’ Us had better quality for toys,” said Ashley Drew, 29, shopping for her 5-year-old daughter at a Los Angeles-area Walmart, next door to the empty shell of a Toys ‘R’ Us store.

Department store JC Penney Co Inc, known for its mid-priced apparel, has also made a push into toys.

Carolyn Pertette from Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, shopped in the early morning at the Waterfront Mall in Pittsburgh. She said she was upset about the closing of Toys ‘R’ Us.

“I’m concerned about where I’m going to get toys for the kids,” she said.

Shortly before 6 a.m. on Friday, shoppers were banging on the door at a Bath & Body Works in the Waterfront Mall in Pittsburgh, lining up for discounted candles, soaps, and lotion, while long lines formed at checkout counters in a Dick’s Sporting Goods store in the mall.

There was little evidence of the delirious shopper frenzy of Black Fridays from past years, in other parts of the country, especially the Northeast, where crowds were thin due to cold weather.

An Athleta clothing store in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, provided hot chocolate with marshmallows to women in line for the dressing room.

(Additional reporting by Shannon Stapleton in Long Island, Lewis Krauskopf, Jennifer Ablan and Anna Irrera in New York, Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles, Siddharth Cavale in Bangalore; Writing by Nick Zieminski; editing by Patrick Graham, Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Bill Rigby)

U.S. online spending set to rise 14.8 percent in 2018 holiday season

FILE PHOTO - A worker gift wraps a holiday order for a customer at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Tracy, California, November 29, 2015. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. online spending during the holiday shopping season is likely to grow 14.8 percent this year to $124.1 billion, far outpacing the 2.7 percent growth predicted for brick-and-mortar locations and highlighting the ongoing switch from stores to web shopping.

The forecast was released on Thursday by Adobe Analytics, the web analytics arm of Adobe Systems Inc. The company measures transactions from 80 of the top 100 U.S. retailers and trillions of customer visits to U.S. retail sites.

Online sales this year will benefit from an extra day between Cyber Monday to Christmas, which is likely to provide a $284 million sales boost, the report said.

Adobe also forecasts the best days for shopping online based on prices across product categories during previous years. For example, Thanksgiving is likely to be a good day to buy sporting goods as prices could be 13 percent lower than their average in the first 10 months of the year. Black Friday will still be a good option for television purchases as prices could be about 22 percent lower.

Apparel discounts could make items cheaper by 22 percent than average on Nov. 25, and toys are likely to be 19 percent cheaper on Cyber Monday, the report said.

The November and December holiday shopping season are critical for retailers, when they book an outsized portion of their annual sales and profits.

Overall U.S. holiday sales including stores and online in 2018 will increase by 4.3 percent to 4.8 percent from a year ago, when consumer spending surged to a 12-year high, according to The National Retail Federation.

The trade body said holiday sales growth will be higher than an average increase of 3.9 percent over the past five years but slower than last year’s 5.3 percent gain, when consumer spending grew the most since 2005, boosted by tax cuts.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)