Month: November 2014

Black Friday – Websites Hit by Record Demand

Black Friday – Websites Hit by Record Demand

Black Friday – Websites Hit by Record Demand
Shoppers fought their way to the tills at UK retailers as the American tradition of Black Friday pre-Christmas discounting took firm hold here. Many retailers traded from midnight to maximise shopping times and put deals online overnight.

But websites including John Lewis, Argos and Tesco Direct struggled to handle the increased traffic. And Currys customers were left drumming their fingers as they waited up to an hour in a virtual queue. At least online shoppers had only their own feelings of frustration to deal with.

During the day police were called to a number of disturbances at London and Manchester supermarkets as shoppers fought over goods. There were reports of people pinching, punching and kicking to get to the bargains on offer.

John Lewis, which offered website deals from midnight, said that between midnight and 6am, traffic to was up 307% compared with Black Friday last year. John Lewis said its fastest selling product was the Apple iPad mini, while Nutribullet food processors were selling at a rate of one every 30 seconds. But at the start of the day about 7% of its customers were unable to access the site first time due to the level of demand.

Currys PC World said it had seen its “biggest ever start” to Black Friday, with web traffic increasing fivefold from last year. “Overnight we saw astonishing demand online and implemented a pre-planned queuing system to most fairly support shoppers,” said Currys PC World e-commerce director Jeremy Fennell. At midday, the queue to access Currys’ website was over half an hour long.

Overnight, Tesco Direct also experienced high demand, and was temporarily unavailable.

As well as online, there was strong demand from shoppers in stores.

Asda said it sold more than 8,000 televisions in the first hour of trading, after its shops opened at 8am. It had sold more than 1,000 BMX bikes by 9am, and had sold out of Microsoft XBox 360 250GB games consoles with Halo and Forza by the same time. Asda’s store in Wembley saw chaotic scenes as shoppers jostled for TVs.

An Asda spokesperson said: “We do not condone the behaviour of a very small number of people in our Wembley store this morning. “Despite our extensive planning and additional security colleagues there was an isolated incident when the store opened. The sale has run smoothly in all our other 440 participating stores.”

Later in the day online traffic jams had been resolved and shops were crowded but calm.

Despite the high volume of sales, some analysts cast doubt on the value of Black Friday promotions to retailers.

“All Black Friday is likely to do is bring forward business from December, reduce gross margins and undermine consumer’s willingness to pay full-price again before Christmas,” said retail analyst Nick Bubb. “It is therefore good to see that Next are thinking long-term and preserving their pricing power,” he added.

For decades Next has had two sales – one in the summer, and one at Christmas. The company is expecting a profit of between £750m and £790m for 2014, an increase of 8-14%.

Some US websites also experienced difficulties on Friday, including the website for electronics retailer Best Buy. In the US, the Friday after the Thanksgiving holiday – Black Friday – has been the biggest shopping day of the year since 2001.

Consumers in the UK have been becoming more aware of the US tradition, and UK retailers have been investing in Black Friday promotions.

The number of visits to UK shops on Black Friday only really started to pick up last year, according to research firm Experian Footfall, rising 5.6%.

Buying Orangery or Conservatory Blinds

Buying Orangery or Conservatory Blinds

Buying Orangery or Conservatory Blinds
One of the many wonderful things about having a home with an orangery or conservatory is the beautiful all-angles view of the outdoors that can be enjoyed in all seasons. Unfortunately, the notion that their perfect view would be sacrificed keeps some homeowners from making a very worthwhile investment in orangery or conservatory blinds. Those who fall into this category would do well to reconsider, as the benefits of having them far outweigh any downsides.

Advantages of orangery or conservatory blinds are numerous, and some of them are equally aesthetic and practical. During summer, orangery or conservatory blinds can prevent the carpet and furniture in your conservatory from being faded by sunlight. Advantages in the winter are mainly related to energy efficiency, since blinds anywhere in the conservatory, including the roof, help to block draughts so that the space can be heated without causing your home heat bill to significantly increase. By installing orangery or conservatory blinds in particular, you can prevent cool, heavy, ambient air from sinking in via the conservatory roof. If you have ever wondered what could be done to make your conservatory more liveable during cold weather, then orangery or conservatory blinds may be exactly what you need.

Questions that all homeowners may consider before installing orangery or conservatory blinds include the following:

What are the blinds made of?
This seems like a fairly obvious question; if you’ve gone to the trouble and expense of having a conservatory installed in your home, then you’re obviously not going to choose blinds that don’t contribute to the desired look and feel or which don’t seem built to last. Going beyond appearances, though, it is important to ensure that your blinds are constructed of high-quality, environmentally-friendly or “green” materials.

Why green? Simple: as with carpeting, drywall and virtually all other home building materials, blinds newly constructed of or coated with materials high in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) off-gas at higher concentrations than those that have been in place for some time. Think of the smell of a brand-new car…and then realise that that the smell of newness is a potential health hazard if synthetic materials are the source. Simply put, don’t opt for plastic if wood or another natural material will look even better without polluting your indoor environment or putting yourself and your family at risk. If installing blinds made of a natural material with a synthetic coating, plan to have them installed at a time of year when the weather will permit leaving the windows open for at least two or three days to give those VOC odours a chance to dissipate.

Are the blinds mildew-resistant?
This is not a question people tend to consider about any orangery or conservatory blinds installed in the home, but it is important to find the answer regarding any orangery or conservatory blinds you may be thinking of buying. Have you ever had to clean mildew off the wooden trim around a bathroom window following weeks or months of condensation accumulating there? Can you imagine what a nightmare it would be to have to do likewise with an entire conservatory full of blinds or to hire a service to do the cleaning – assuming it were even possible to clean off the unsightly growth?

Since your orangery or conservatory blinds will be in close proximity to windows at all times and orangery or conservatory blinds  cannot be reached without a ladder, it is of the utmost importance that this problem be sidestepped through the selection of high-quality orangery or conservatory blinds  that can withstand significant changes in temperature and humidity. The right orangery or conservatory blinds  for your home will add beauty and comfort to your conservatory and stand the test of time without becoming a maintenance burden.

In-Style Blinds has been manufacturing bespoke blinds and specialising in orangery or conservatory blinds for over 15 years. Our manufacturing process ensures that only the best and safest materials will be used to produce the blinds that will make your conservatory more attractive and more functional. For more information or to schedule your free appointment, call In-Style Blinds today on 01642 762497 or visit the Orangery Roof Blinds company website today.

Business:         Orangery Roof Blinds Company


Amazon to Deliver to Customers via Local Post Offices

Amazon to Deliver to Customers via Local Post Offices

Amazon to Deliver to Customers via Local Post Offices
Internet retailing giant Amazon and Royal Mail have joined forces to have customers’ items delivered to post offices for collection.

Earlier this month Royal Mail warned that rivals, including Amazon, were hitting its parcel delivery business. It said that Amazon’s own delivery service could dent its business by as much as 2% in the short term.

Now, Amazon customers will be able to have their parcels delivered by Royal Mail to 10,500 post office branches. “Clearly the reasoning behind this must be Royal Mail trying to save some of its business,” said city analyst Nicla Di Palma, of Brewin Dolphin.

Royal Mail’s parcel operations have suffered from intense competition since the group was privatised last year. The addition of the Royal Mail Local Collect “click and collect” facility means Amazon will have 16,000 pickup locations in the UK. Existing locations include “Pass my Parcel” newsagent and convenience stores, Collect+ stores and Amazon lockers at train stations.

Customers can select their preferred pickup location during the checkout process on Amazon’s website, and present identification at the post office branch to receive their parcel.

“This is a good thing,” said Lindsay Mackie, an expert on Royal Mail from the New Weather Institute. “Royal Mail needs to open up to be convenient for customers,” she said.

But many main post offices are closed on Saturday afternoons, which could make pick-up less convenient than in a corner shop.

“The problem with post offices is the opening hours,” said Ms Di Palma.

However, some post offices contained within other shops are open for up to 12 hours a day, and some have piloted Sunday opening.

The Perfect Christmas Gift for the Ladies in Your Life

The Perfect Christmas Gift for the Ladies in Your Life

Perfect Christmas Gifts for the Ladies in Your Life
One of the great things about shopping for the ideal Christmas Gift for the ladies in your life – whether sister, friend or significant other – is that new luxury items are always welcome. If your wife or girlfriend already owns a cashmere sweater and you give her another one for Christmas, you will not likely hear her complain!

In some ways, those “luxury” items really aren’t luxuries at all; when the temperature drops below freezing, one still has to go outside and live one’s life. And not every space in which your gift recipient will spend her days will be warm enough for her comfort. Gifts of well-made cashmere, lambswool and merino wool sweaters are very thoughtful indeed when one considers for how long the cold weather remains after the joy and giving spirit of the Christmas season have died down.

Nightwear makes an excellent Christmas gift as well, since we always need items in that category but don’t always enjoy buying them. Even your female friends and family tend to rationalise that no one’s going to see it, so why bother replacing it before it’s completely fallen apart?

There are some things, however, that make the perfect gift simply because the recipient knows she could use it but may be averse to buying it, or replacing what she already has, before it’s absolutely necessary to do so. This Christmas season, be that giver of the perfect gift and even solve a problem in your lady friend’s life by giving a gift of warm, comfortable bedroom slippers or a beautiful pair of pyjamas.

James Meade has been one of the North East’s top producers of high-quality ladies’ knitwear and nightwear for over 20 years. With a full selection of finely knit ladies’ sweaters, dressing gowns, pyjamas and other ladies’ nightwear items, we are certain that the purchase you make from us today will be the perfect gift for the lady in your life come Christmas morning.

For more information or to view our Ladies Christmas 2014 catalogue, call us today on 0844 573 4970 or visit the James Meade website today.

Business:             James Meade


Business Confidence Levels at Five Year Low

Business Confidence Levels at Five Year Low

Business Confidence Levels at Five Year Low
Global business confidence slipped to five-year low in October, according to a survey of 6,100 companies. The number of firms that expect business activity to be higher in the year ahead exceeded those that expected a decline by about 28%. But, that net balance was lower than 39% in June and the lowest since the Markit Global Business Outlook Survey began in 2009.

Hiring and investment plans also dipped to post financial crisis lows. “Clouds are gathering over the global economic outlook, presenting the darkest picture seen since the global financial crisis,” said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit in a statement.

The decline in optimism among businesses was due to a growing list of worries, according to the report. Fears of a renewed downturn in the eurozone, the prospect of higher interest rates in the UK and US next year, along with geo-political risks from crises in Ukraine and the Middle East have all dented business confidence across the globe.

“A key factor that has held back economic growth in recent years has been the disappointing performance of major emerging market economies, and this looks set to continue, and perhaps even intensify, over the coming year,” Mr Williamson added, citing that business optimism among the BRIC countries had sunk to its lowest since the financial crisis.

Russia was the biggest concern among the leading countries as “sanctions, a spiralling currency and uncertainty drove business expectations down sharply to a new low”.

On the bright side, UK companies were the most upbeat about the year ahead out of all the major countries surveyed in October. That comes despite future business activity levels at its lowest since June 2013 for both the manufacturing and services sectors.

UK firms were also the most optimistic about hiring plans among major economies.  “[The optimism] suggests the UK will continue to outperform its peers in 2015, albeit with growth slowing from that seen in 2014,” Mr Williamson said.

On the downside was a surprise downturn in the US, where optimism hit a new survey low as the service sector saw a “dramatic” decline. “US growth therefore looks likely to have peaked over the summer months, with a slowing trend signalled for coming months,” he said.

UK Should get Faster & Cheaper 4G Data, says Ofcom

UK Should get Faster & Cheaper 4G Data, says Ofcom

UK Should get Faster & Cheaper 4G Data, says Ofcom
Mobile phone users in the UK can expect their 4G data bills to drop in the future, Ofcom says, following a decision to free up more spectrum. The telecoms regulator has ruled that frequencies currently reserved for digital TV transmissions and wireless microphones should switch over to mobile broadband. It said that the change should happen between 2020 and 2022.

One expert said the move would benefit both cities and the countryside. “It’s significant for people in remote and rural areas because, despite the best efforts of government to get operators to deliver fixed broadband into those areas, the fact is there are still some places that are not going to be reached by 2022, and this will help,” said Mark Newman, chief research officer of Ovum’s telecoms research business.

“And because the 700MHz frequency band is better able to pass through walls and other objects than higher frequencies it will also be useful in built-up areas,” he added. “London, in particular, is internationally known to have pretty bad mobile broadband coverage within buildings. So, certainly this will help networks in situations they have traditionally had problems.”

Ofcom said it expected network providers to cut their bills following the increase in capacity.

“Millions of consumers could benefit from lower mobile tariffs than would otherwise be offered, because we expect a significant proportion of the network cost savings to be passed through to them,” explained a spokesman. “Specifically, these include network cost savings from deploying fewer base stations and improvements in mobile performance in hard-to-serve locations.”

The regulator stressed that TV viewers would not face another “switchover” to be able to keep using services such as Freeview, as was the case when analogue terrestrials signals were turned off.

However, it will affect some of the communications equipment used by theatres, sports venues and music event organisers, who now have about five years to update their kit.

The regulator added that it was currently carrying out a consultation on how to auction off 2.3GHZ and 3.4GHz spectrum, which is currently used by the Ministry of Defence for mobile broadband.

Singapore Tops Ranking of Best Place to do Business

Singapore Tops Ranking of Best Place to do Business

Singapore Tops Ranking of Best Place to do Business
Wealthy city-state Singapore has once again topped a ranking of the best places in the world to do business. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) ranked Singapore as number one out of 82 countries for its “efficient [and] open economy”. The tiny Asian island nation has been at the top of the rankings for seven consecutive years.

Other countries ranked in the top five included Switzerland, Australia, Hong Kong and Sweden respectively.

The rankings were based on the attractiveness of a country’s business environment by looking criteria such as political climate, openness to foreign investment, taxes, the labour market and infrastructure.

Last month, Singapore also topped the World Bank’s ease of doing business report, which looked at 189 countries.

The UK, meanwhile, inched one place higher to 21st below Malaysia, Austria and France on the annual index.

“The impact of the debt crisis on political stability, economic stability and financing availability has meant that EU countries remain some way off the top,” said the EIU report.

However, other northern Europe countries of Denmark and Finland did make it into the top 10, placing eighth and 10th respectively on as they “continue to provide a stable environment to do business”.

BRIC countries scored poorly on this year’s rankings with China in 50th place and Russia in 64th. Brazil and India were placed 47th and 48th respectively.

Ranked last out of the 82 countries ranked was troubled African nation Libya.

EIU business environment index

Source: Economist Intelligence Unit
1. Singapore 6. Canada
2. Switzerland 7. United States
3. Australia 8. Denmark
4. Hong Kong 9. New Zealand
5. Sweden 10. Finland

Source: Economist Intelligence Unit

Yahoo to Replace Google for Search on Firefox

Yahoo to Replace Google for Search on Firefox

Yahoo to Replace Google for Search on Firefox
Yahoo will now replace online leader Google as the default search engine on Firefox’s internet browsers in the US. Yahoo said it would launch a “clean, modern and immersive design” search engine for Firefox users starting in December.

The news comes as Google’s arrangement with Firefox maker Mozilla nears an end after a decade-long partnership.

Market leader Google accounts for 67% of searches from US desktop computers. That compares to about 20% for Microsoft and 10% for Yahoo, according to research firm comScore.

Yahoo chief executive Marisa Mayer called the five-year deal with Firefox “the most significant partnership for Yahoo in five years”. “At Yahoo, we believe deeply in search – it’s an area of investment and opportunity for us,” she added.

Firefox users in the US will be automatically directed to search results on Yahoo’s website when they enter a subject into the small box that appears at the top of the browser.

Firefox, however, does lag behind Google Chrome in the US browser market. It accounts for about 10% of browsers on desktop computers, mobiles and tablets compared to over 33% for Google Chrome in October, according to tech data firm StatCounter.

Along with ending its partnership with Google in the US, Mozilla is also directing Firefox to Baidu’s search engine in China and Yandex in Russia. “Our new search strategy doubles down on our commitment to make Firefox a browser for everyone, with more choice and opportunity for innovation,” said Mozilla chief executive Chris Beard.

Meanwhile, just last month, Google chairman Eric Schmidt had said that the firm’s biggest rival in online search was e-commerce giant Amazon and not competitors like Yahoo.

Globally, Google accounts for about 90% of the online search market.


Royal Mail warns of Threat to UK Wide Letter Delivery Service

Royal Mail warns of Threat to UK Wide Letter Delivery Service

Royal Mail warns of Threat to UK Wide Letter Delivery Service
Royal Mail has warned that rival delivery firms are endangering its government-mandated Universal Service, which guarantees delivery of letters to all of the UK. “The threat is now,” the company’s boss, Moya Greene, told the BBC.

The company also said increased parcel delivery competition, from firms such as Amazon, could wipe hundreds of millions of pounds of its revenues.

The caution came as Royal Mail reported a fall in pre-tax profits. They dropped to £218m for the six months to 28 September, from £233m in the same period last year.

Royal Mail has long called for the government to reconsider the terms of the Universal Service obligation, which ensures mail is delivered nationwide, six days a week, at one fixed price. In the past six months, the company’s letter business saw volumes drop by 3%, although this was not as steep a fall as had been expected.  The slower decline was due to election pamphleteering, particularly relating to the Scottish Referendum, for which Royal Mail delivered seven million campaign mailings and over five million poll cards.

The company’s UK parcel delivery division saw revenues decline by 1%, largely due to increased competition.

Royal Mail named delivery service Whistl, formerly known as TNT, as a direct threat, saying the new firm could wipe £200m off Royal Mail’s revenue by 2018. The firm also warned that online retailer Amazon’s direct delivery service could hurt Royal Mail’s growth by as much as 2% in the next couple of years.

However the firm’s international parcel delivery service, GLS, fared well, with revenue up 7%, helping the company’s overall revenue to rise by just £5m to slightly above £4.52bn.

Chris Beauchamp, an analyst at IG, said Royal Mail’s warning about reduced parcels growth “will send a winter chill down the spine of investors”. “The impression given from the statement is that Amazon is likely to become a permanent fixture in Royal Mail’s reporting, much like the weather (whether warm or cold) is for retailers,” he added.

Royal Mail has been under increased public scrutiny since it was privatised in October 2013. In July, a group of MPs voiced concerns that the taxpayer may have lost out by about £1bn after Royal Mail shares were “undervalued”.

UK Inflation Rate Rises to 1.3% in October

UK Inflation Rate Rises to 1.3% in October

UK Inflation Rate Rises to 1.3% in October
UK inflation rose to an annual rate of 1.3% in October, up from 1.2% in the previous month, official figures show. The slight increase moves the rate, as measured by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI), above its recent five-year low.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS), said the marginal rise was because transport costs fell by less than they did a year ago. In addition, prices in the recreation and culture sectors rose, particularly for computer games and toys.

However, the price of food and non-alcoholic beverages fell by 1.4% in October, when compared with last year, marking the sixth consecutive month without a rise – the longest such period since 2000. Furniture and household equipment prices also fell, by 1.1%, most notably three-piece suites and settees.

In a separate development on Tuesday, retail analysts Kantar Worldpanel said UK grocery sales had fallen for the first time in twenty years. It said price competition had pushed down grocery prices by 0.4%.

The ONS also reported that the Retail Prices Index grew by 2.3% in the year to the end of October, the same rate as recorded for September.

Last week, the Bank of England warned the inflation rate could dip to as low as 1% in the coming six months. However, the small rise in the rate of inflation is unlikely to alter the central bank’s decision to keep its key interest rate at 0.5% for the time being.

The Bank targets an inflation rate of 2%.

The BBC’s economics editor, Robert Peston, said the small rise seemed largely due to seasonal factors, such as the timing of student fee increases and sales of Christmas games, and that the overall trend for the CPI was probably still downwards.

Reacting to the ONS report, David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce said that despite the small increase, “the impact of low oil prices will have a noticeable impact in coming months, causing inflation to drop”. “We expect inflation to fluctuate around 1% until late 2015, before rising towards 2.0% in 2016,” he added.