Data Dive

Data Dive: Black Friday, Blue Apron And Banning Facial Recognition From China

Data Dive: Intuit, Zillow And Amazon

The turkey has been eaten, the leftovers have been wrapped up and there is only one thing left to do for most Americans: face the holiday shopping the majority of them have thus far put off, either in person at a store or digitally.

More digitally, as it turns out, if the early Black Friday figures are to be believed. And while Black Friday was the biggest commerce story of the week, it was far from the only point of interest: Blue Apron broke up with Costco, and Chinese facial recognition technology got hit with a U.S. ban.

And lucky for you, we have it all here, ready to dive into as you jump back into a full workweek.

Black Friday’s Split Scorecard

Fewer consumers this year were willing to get up early and brave the lines and crowds for possible Black Friday values. According to data from ShopperTrak, foot traffic at physical stores on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday was down 1 percent from last year, and store visits on Black Friday by itself were down 1.7 percent.

“We know that online sales … have certainly eroded traffic from retailers over the years,” Brian Field, senior director of advisory services for ShopperTrak, told CNBC. “But what we have noticed is that the decline is starting to flatten out.” In 2017, for example, visits to physical stores on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday were down 1.6 percent.

Field also noted that traffic on Thanksgiving Day was actually up, but that the activity was observed in “a very concentrated time frame from when that store opens until basically all of those hot commodity items are gone.”

The falling foot traffic was met with an uptick in online sales: According to Adobe Analytics, online sales on Thanksgiving Day were $3.7 billion, up 28 percent from a year ago. Black Friday brought in a record-breaking  $6.22 billion in online sales, up 23.6 percent from 2017. Approximately $2 billion in sales came in via mobile, according to Adobe Analytics.

“Retailers have done their part to build better mobile experiences for consumers, turning nearly 10 percent more smartphone visitors into buyers this Black Friday versus last,” Director of Adobe Digital Insights Taylor Schreiner said in the report.

And while Black Friday set a new record, most experts predict Cyber Monday will be a bigger sales day, with sales around $7.8 billion at an 18 percent increase from last year.

Blue Apron and Costco Cut Ties

Only a few months into a pilot that put its meal kits on Costco shelves, Blue Apron has announced the program has been discontinued indefinitely.

Back in May, Blue Apron began offering its beef stir-fry and chicken tacos at 17 West Coast Costco locations. The kits cost less than the ones shipped to consumers’ homes, with the goal of giving customers a taste of the offering in hopes of inspiring them to subscribe to the full service.

The end of the program was just one of the announcements Blue Apron made during its earnings report last week, including plans to restructure the business and cut about 100 jobs, or 4 percent of its workforce.

“As the holiday period approaches, our presence in Costco locations has paused due to the seasonal cadence of their business,” said Bradley Dickerson, chief executive of Blue Apron, on the third-quarter earnings call, according to MarketWatch. “As we enter 2019, we are targeting to resume in Costco as well as expand into new retailers, leveraging lessons learned from our pilot and evolving our product offerings to complement this environment.”

The Costco partnership was one of many initiatives Blue Apron has undertaken in recent months as it sought to boost its business. Last month, the company announced that a rotating selection of meals will be available on-demand to customers in select areas in New York City on the Grubhub and Seamless online and mobile platforms. In late October, it announced a partnership with Jet.com to make its meal kits available for same-day or next-day delivery.

Despite its efforts, however, Blue Apron has shouldered through a difficult 2018 that has seen its share price take an almost 22 percent hit to its stock price since May.

Chinese Facial Recognition Tech Faces Controversy

According to reports early last week in Financial Times, facial recognition cameras created by Hikvision, one of the world’s biggest CCTV companies, could be facing a ban in the U.S.

Hikvision sells video surveillance throughout China and across the globe; its core components, including the chips that power its smart camera and the hardware that stores high-definition footage, are made in Silicon Valley.

The cameras and the technology they leverage have been associated with tracking Muslims coming in and out of mosques in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang. Human rights groups claim that the footage has also led to the detention of thousands of ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in internment camps as part of a systematic campaign of repression focused on Xinjiang’s 11 million Muslim Uighurs.

The U.S. has banned government agencies from buying Hikvision smart camera products, and now there are rumors that the firm could soon be facing a ban on importing U.S.-made components.

The news led to a 37 percent drop in the company’s share price from its high earlier this year.

“Components from western companies are pretty important to Hikvision’s overall supply chain. At the very least, a U.S. government export ban would cause a major disruption,” said Charles Rollet, an analyst at IPVM, a video surveillance research company.

Hikvision, for its part, has denied that it is dependent on U.S. suppliers.

“In the surveillance industry, the components we need are much less than those needed for smartphones or telecom equipment,” said Huang Fanghong, senior VP and secretary at Hikvision. “We think we should be okay if we cannot buy anything from the U.S.”

So what did we learn this week?

Things change – and in a digitally connected world, things change quickly, from shopping habits to what’s on the shelves to what is and isn’t off-limits when it comes to using facial recognition technology.

But we’ll always be here to guide you through the changes just as quickly as they happen.

Until next week.

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