Verizon’s New Custom TV

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New and existing customers of Verizon will have an opportunity to purchase FiOS Custom TV a bundled service available Sunday, April 19.  It will consist of 35 channels for $54.99 and two additional “packs” for $10/month/per pack.  The packs have up to 17 channels described as themes such as Sports Plus, Pop Culture, Entertainment, News & Info, etc.  Verizon customers can swap the two packs after every 30 days for different themes.  This is a way to give more flexibility to customers so they can turn TV channels on and off as they please.  Consumers want more choice with regard to the channels they purchase instead of paying for channels they don’t even watch.

A La Carte TV is described as a way for people to only pay for networks they want to watch.  Customers do not pay for any additional networks.  FiOS Custom TV is not A La Carte TV because Verizon’s bundles have networks grouped together with a theme.  For example, the entertainment channel pack will include USA network, TNT, and TBS.  Subscribers can’t remove TNT from the pack and replace it with another network.  Verizon’s TV bundles are only cost efficient if the individual watches a select number of TV channels.  It gets more expensive than cable if the person has a variety of tastes and want to watch many different TV networks.  Cable TV is suggested for a variety of networks because adding bundles from different streaming services together will end up costing more.

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Verizon FiOS has 5 million+ customers nationwide.  Their new custom TV plan targets consumers looking for something in between premium cable and satellite TV packages.  It is still unknown how much money is saved because it will depend on the customers interests.  On average, consumers only watch 10 percent of the channels they pay for.  There is a growing popularity of people who just want to pay for the networks they watch and nothing more.  Currently, there is no service available in the U.S. that allows this, but Verizon’s custom TV bundle is a step towards that direction.  The increased demand for paid streaming services is the reason why TV companies are offering more customized bundles.  Verizon customers will have the option to switch over to their new custom TV plan.  If the deal turns out to be more expensive they don’t need to switch.

Eating Out vs Grocery Shopping

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Statistics show Americans spend more eating out at restaurants then they do shopping for groceries.  According to Commerce Department data the sales for restaurants finally overtook the sales from grocery stores for March 2015.  American eating habits are changing mainly because there are more people in the Millennials category than ever before.  The restaurants Millennials target is fast food, deli, and pizza more than traditional casual dining with table service.  Casual dining is generally more expensive and the food takes longer to cook.  For March grocery stores had close to $50 billion in sales and restaurants were estimated at $50.4 billion.

The statistics for March 2015 is not 100% accurate because Commerce Department data left out Costco, Target, and Walmart for grocery stores.   The three are highly profitable and where most consumers shop for groceries.  The Commerce Department has them recorded as “general merchandise retailers” category instead of the “grocery store” category.  20% of consumer spending for groceries alone is made at Walmart.  Adding the data for all three would likely change the statistics in favor of grocery stores for the month of March 2015.

Even with the flawed statistics, what’s apparent is more people are eating out at restaurants than ever before.  The data gathered by Commerce Department although not 100% accurate does show a gradual increase for restaurant spending.  The data should be analyzed most by restaurant owners and future restaurant owners.  Statistics provide the type of restaurants most popular and may offer a few strategies of what needs to change at current operating restaurants that are not profitable.  The restaurant business is highly competitive known to be cutthroat.  It has a high failure rate so understanding consumer trends can help keep more restaurants in business.  It’s undeniable what customization can do for restaurants because most consumers enjoy options for the food they eat.  They want to be the ones to decide what ingredients are added or removed from meals because not everyone has the same taste preferences.  The trend is for low cost meals with options because Millennials are more focused on what they eat.  They take about 14.5 billion visits to restaurants every year and spend close to $96 billion.

Competition for Overseas Money Transfer Market

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Sending money overseas is a hassle because it takes proper planning to find the best rates.  Hidden fees, delays, exchange rates, and commission fees are all concerns most consumers have and could be the reason(s) why people do not transfer funds abroad more often. Aside from receiving the best rates sending money overseas needs to be safe and reliable.  Below are the places most people go to for sending their funds abroad.

Western Union:  Many use Western Union to send funds overseas because the transfer is quick.  There is no limit on how much you can send at one time and it has over 400,000 locations worldwide.  Western Union does not deposit to any bank so the recipient needs to pick the money up.  The instant transfer payment comes at a price because the charge is sometimes over 10%.  The fees will vary depending on the amount of funds and the location of the transfer.  Other online money transfer companies will provide better exchange rates.  The transfer can be cancelled only if the recipient does not pick it up, and they do have an app for iPhone and Android users.  https://www.westernunion.com/us/en/home.html

Bank International Wire Transfer:  Using banks for international wire transfers are common among people with a bank account.  It is one of the safest methods around because identification of both parties is needed for the transfer to go through.  The specific amount, routing number, Swift code, addresses, etc. are all needed for an international wire transfer.  The fees charged are typically higher and the transfer takes several days or up to a week.  It’s considered the most reliable way to transfer funds because banks are detail oriented.

Chase – https://www.chase.com/business-banking/online-banking/wire-transfer

Bank of America – https://www.bankofamerica.com/foreign-exchange/wire-transfer.go

Citi Bank – https://online.citibank.com/US/JRS/pands/detail.do?ID=WireTransfers

Wells Fargo – https://www.wellsfargo.com/biz/international/payments

Money Gram:  If consumers want to send money overseas more frequently they prefer using MoneyGram over Western Union.  However, there are restrictions to how much money you can send at one time.  It teamed up with USForex to send funds over $2,999.  The transfer fee is $5 for anything under $5,000 and free if it’s over $5,000.  Money Gram provides 24/7 customer service and consumers have even used it to pay their bills for retailers and banks.  There are security concerns similar to Western Union because the funds are not traceable.  http://www.moneygram.com/us/en

TransferWise:  TransferWise is a peer-to-peer money transfer service.  It’s one of the most cost efficient ways to transfer funds overseas charging 1% per transaction to U.S. customers.  There are no hidden fees but can take a long time to transfer your funds overseas.  Most of the complaints are because of the long wait time that can take a few weeks based on where you are sending the funds.  It also does not support all countries.  The biggest draw is that users can save close to 90% by using TransferWise.  Customer service is available Monday to Friday 9am-5PM (EDT) with the option to email.    https://transferwise.com/landing/internationalLandingPages?internationalPageUrl=us

PayPal:  Money can be sent to more than 190 different countries and the transfer arrives within minutes.  The fees are high for sending funds internationally and the recipient will get charged a fee as well for receiving the funds abroad.  There are hidden fees and both the sender and recipient need PayPal accounts for the transfer to go through.  PayPal is most often used for small transfers.  There are other places to go for better exchange rates.  https://www.paypal.com/home

Xoom:  Started in 2001 and has more than a million active customers.  The recipient can receive the funds through a cash pickup, bank account, or door-to-door delivery.  The lowest fees are through a U.S. bank account, but the transaction can take up to four business days.  The transaction is faster using a credit or debit card but the fees are higher.  The fees for international money transfers are typically lower than Money Gram and Western Union.  Sending money to certain countries such as India, Mexico, and Philippines will have even lower fees.  The major complaints for Xoom are their procedures may be too safe, they ask many irrelevant questions, and some transfers to foreign countries can take a long time.  https://www.xoom.com/

Airline Quality Rating

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The airline quality rating is a study conducted by Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aviation University to test the performance of major U.S. airlines.  The results for 2014 were based on 15 elements in four major areas of what airline travelers consider most important.   Hawaiian Airlines, Delta, and Southwest Airlines were the 3 of the total 12 airlines evaluated that improved from 2013.  Virgin America performed the best because of its superior operational performance.  The airline is known for its amenities and guest service with custom-designed seating.  It had the lowest rate of involuntary denied boarding and was the top performer for the baggage-handling rate.  Hawaiian Airlines received the best on-time performance.

Envoy airlines had the worst ratings along with Express Jet and SkyWest.  Frontier received the highest rate of customer complaints.  The study overall generated poor results because of increased late flights and lost bags.  76.2% of flights arrived on time a decrease of 2.2% from 2013.  For the lost bags category airlines on average lost 1 bag for every 275 passengers.  Customer complaints rose 22% and passengers not allowed to board because of overbooking was estimated at 3 percent.  Airlines primary focus to maximize capacity may have been the reason why all four areas tracked declined for 2014 after 2013 was considered one of the best in nearly 25 years.

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Increased competition has been suggested to improve airline quality moving forward.  Alaska Airlines and Delta are examples of how competition can lead to better service.  Alaska Airlines has been the primary carrier for the Northwest region but Delta Airlines increased their presence by adding flights to the same region.  As a result, Alaska Airlines launched “Alaska Beyond” to keep their customers loyal.  Alaska Airlines upgraded seats, food, and on-board entertainment to all passenger 737 flights.  Passengers now have their own personal USB chargers and can enjoy food and wine from an award winning Seattle chef.  Competition is needed in the airline industry because it increases standards and can improve the airline quality rating for next year.  Here is the full report http://commons.erau.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1025&context=aqrr

Review of Peer-To-Peer Lending

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Peer-To-Peer lending is an alternative method of investing and borrowing.  The average investor is willing to lend on P2P platforms because the yields are attractive and there is potential for high returns.  Borrowers that want a loan provide their personal information to receive offers on the rate and loan term.  A background check takes place with a rating scale of the borrowers default risk.  The higher the interest rate the higher the borrowers risk. The average lending interest rate is close to 14%.  If investor(s) accept the loan they receive a portion of the borrower’s fixed monthly payments.  The approval process for a loan can take as little as 3 days and loans are given to borrowers with a credit score under 680.  The minimum credit score required is around 630.  Borrowers that use P2P lending need the extra money for debt consolidation loans, credit card payoffs, to start a business, or for home improvement.

Peer-to-peer lending’s biggest strength the quick application process is also considered a great weakness.  Any loan application process that takes 3 days or less means there is less security and scrutiny the strengths of traditional banks.  There are lower levels of personal guarantees which can lead to a higher chance of borrowers defaulting on their loans.  Investor’s funds may not get matched quickly because loans depend on borrowers needs at the particular time.  Several days can pass by with your funds not earning any interest.  P2P lending is also relatively new which means P2P sites can get shut down without much warning. If you are a potential borrower the application process will decrease your credit score in the short term.  Not all states allow P2P lending.

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Returns offered by P2P websites are higher than savings accounts and CDs.  Since April 1, 2014 it has been regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).  Diversification is the most important strategy for any investor when lending funds.  P2P sites provide risk investment tools to help meet your personal needs.  Provision funds are now more apparent incase borrowers default, lenders will get compensated.  The funds are managed by third parties to eliminate any conflict of interest.  The highest rated P2P lending sites are LendingClub (https://www.lendingclub.com/), Prosper (https://www.prosper.com/), Funding Circle (https://www.fundingcircle.com/us/), and Upstart (https://www.upstart.com/).

The Amazon Dash Button

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Amazon Dash is a tab consumers can attach to their walls or appliances to ensure they never run out of daily household items. Its convenience shopping that’s efficient. Amazon Dash will have the brand name with a button to press anytime a particular product is running low. When pressed it connects to Amazon via Bluetooth to order a new supply shipped to your house within a couple of days. Amazon Prime Members will get the benefit of free shipping and the dash button has a magnet strip for the shopper to place on their fridge, washing machine, or other appliances around the house. The button is real and Amazon is working with many different companies on developing devices that can restock themselves. For example, water purifiers will have the technology to reorder their own filters and washer and dryers will soon be able to sense when supplies are running low to order more detergent without you doing anything.

Is greater convenience for households always better? Automated systems have started to appear in hospitals for dispensing medication. It helps with accuracy and farmers are monitoring crops in real time because it aids with delivering precise water to reduce waste. However, is improved technology for common household supplies too convenient? Privacy concerns have already been raised because marketers will have more data to analyze allowing them to better understand consumer’s decision-making process. For the dash button to work Wi-Fi connection is needed and typically laundry rooms, kitchens, and bathrooms are the areas where the connection has the most problems. There are also questions regarding the battery life of Amazon Dash where it’s more than likely the consumer will one day press the button and keep pressing it because there is no confirmation.

With just a push of the button consumers can order Amazon products without going to their website or app. Whirlpool, Gatorade, Bounty, Tide, and Brita are the big names participating in the program starting this fall. After pressing the button users will receive a confirmation through the smartphone to continue with the order or cancel. Amazon Prime Members will receive email invitations to experiment with the Dash Button and have a limit of three devices per household. The buttons will automatically link to your Amazon account product specific with the amount you want delivered per click. The Dash button works well for consumers that purchase items in a set amount. Purchasing the same amount every time and having it delivered a couple of days later can lead to better efficiency. However, if this becomes a popular trend new brands that are better will lose sales. Customers may not be aware of them because they keep ordering their old favorites with their Amazon Dash.

The Social Media Company You Probably Don’t Know but Should

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Have you ever wondered what is happening around the world at a specific time? Banjo is a social media company that monitors big name platforms foreign and domestic to understand what “normal” looks like at a given location. Damien Patton is the founder and CEO of Banjo who was able to raise close to $21 million from investors to grow his start up real-time news and events platform. Banjo has innovative analytics engine technology capable of providing the latest relevant news and events for users to understand what is happening anywhere in the world instantly. Consumers have the option of viewing their content on the web or download the free mobile app version for Android and Apple iPhone users.

Close to 30 companies pay for their enterprise service because marketers have a better idea of where their products and logos are appearing in specific locations. The enterprise service provides detailed information to marketers with a visual understanding in real time of how consumers share their brands story to other people. This is important because marketing companies can then go to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms to pay top dollar for advertising based on how their targeted audience reacted.

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Banjo is an event detection engine that instantly organizes the world’s publicly available social and local information to provide users with photos and scenes of what’s relevant. Consumers can benefit from using Banjo because they can see and read information that will be breaking news by mainstream media before mainstream outlets actually report it. There are also hidden gems by using Banjo. If you are on vacation to let’s say San Diego, California but are unfamiliar with your surroundings, using Banjo can help reveal local people’s insights. You can easily find restaurants with the best reviews and local sales for stores to go shopping. Consumers can make good informed decisions even in areas they do not know to social events from one mile to 3,000 miles away. Both consumers and media companies benefit by using Banjo although for different purposes. Banjo is all about sharing real-time events as they unfold. http://ban.jo/

The Rise in Credit Card Skimming

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Credit card skimming at gas stations, movie theater vending kiosks, and ATM’s have become more prevalent. Thieves have the ability to place skimmers inside the card reader sleeves of machines with small cameras to read the cards and pin numbers of unsuspecting consumers. There have been cases where people dress up as gas pump service men and unlock the front pumps with special keys to place skimming devices to read customer cards. The data from the magnetic stripe is read each time the customer swipes saving the data automatically. The card is then cloned and used on a later date. The skimming devices have become sophisticated where the devices are now smaller with more power, communication, memory, and encryption. The good ones look razor-thin that is nearly impossible to detect. Always be cautious with any card slots that have existing tape residue, unusual attachments, or odd markings.

To avoid becoming a victim of credit card skimmers make sure the gas pump dispenser cabinet is closed at all times and avoid using debit cards. Use cash or credit cards instead because of better fraud protection and the ability to dispute transactions at the end of the month. Make sure the door in front of the pump is closed and avoid pumps farthest away from gas stations because skimmers are typically placed there. If you do use a debit card swipe it as a credit. When people go to ATM’s to make withdrawals pay attention to your surroundings. If the keyboard looks too thick there might be a fake keyboard placed on top of the real one that has the ability to record every button pressed. Always shield your pin number with your hands. This will not help if there is a keypad overlay, but will block the views of any hidden pinhole cameras. If you tug on anything that seems out of place and it moves or comes off it is best to use another machine because of the chance a skimming device has been placed. Card swipe skimmers are typically placed in places without much traffic because thieves want to avoid detection. Machines placed inside grocery stores, banks, and high traffic areas are considered safer but not full proof.
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If you do fall victim to card skimmers while using your credit card you are not liable for any fraudulent transactions. Most card companies have a 60 day policy to report anything fraudulent and its best to check your statements regularly. The sophisticated criminals that have credit card information only use it once in a while to avoid being detected so it’s important to look at every single transaction. About one third of Americans have fallen victim to fraudulent activity at least once in their lives. The chances of getting hurt by a card skimmer are higher during the weekends because it’s more difficult for customers to report suspicious activity. Sometimes card skimmers are placed only during the weekends and then quickly removed by Monday morning. U.S. card holders are preferred for thieves because our cards are easier to skim and clone. In Europe their credit cards contain global chips that involves more work and is more difficult to make duplicates.

Best Hosts for WordPress.org

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Users interested in starting a blog have many options for their website builder.  They can register with WordPress.com, WordPress.org, SquareSpace, Google+, Tumblr, Blogger.com, and much more.  Many people new to blogging end up registering for a free-blog hosting site such as WordPress.com to post articles to a mass community of bloggers.  After a year or so they convert to WordPress.org to expand their website and monetize on their content.  It takes close to a year to build a large audience and for the online community to appreciate your blog.  Millions of bloggers use WordPress.org because it does not require any coding knowledge and considered the best place to blog.  Users are in control of their own data allowing them to use custom analytics and tracking.  After installing its free software, web hosting is required for your blog to function on WordPress.org.  Below is a video on how to migrate WordPress.com to WordPress.org and recommendations for the best web hosts for WordPress.org.

HostGator:  Starts at $3.96/month for a single domain.  The baby plan is for $6.36/month with unlimited domains, and $10.36/month offers unlimited domains, private IP, and free toll free number.  The price per month is competitive compared to other web hosting companies. The ones on HostGator like the free website transfer service, guarantees 99% uptime with unlimited disk, space, and database.  HostGator might be too popular for its own good because hackers are known to steal information from random websites.  Sharing your host with 9 million+ people will also negatively affect your sites performance.  HostGator is known to have slow customer support taking hours to answer questions. Review Rating:  3.6 out of 4.  www.hostgator.com

BlueHost:  The starter package is $3.95/month but most go for the $6.95/month option because of the unlimited website space and email storage.  The price is affordable with unlimited everything for your website.  BlueHost is known for great customer service and 30 days money back guarantee.  It has a reputation of being well established with easy cPanel navigation.  However, reseller accounts are slow, pricy charge for migration, frequent downtime, and outdated servers.    Review Rating:  3.5 out of 4.  www.bluehost.com

SiteGround:  Has the best reviews for host websites that starts at $3.95/month.  The need for tech support and additional 10 GB more of web space will cost $7.95/month.  The price/month is competitive for SiteGround and its known to use innovative technology to protect your website from hackers.  There are few complaints about downtime if any unlike BlueHost.  SiteGround however has limited features for their basic starter package, website transfer service is slow, and no free trial to determine if the website builder is right for you.    Review Rating:  4.6 out of 5.  www.siteground.com

WPEngine:  Offers free 60 day trial, expert WordPress support staff, updates automatically installed, and no charge for hacked sites.  The personal plan includes 1 WordPress install with 10 GB of local storage for $29/month.  The price is too high for most people and the website builder does not work for Non-WordPress platforms.  Review Rating:  4 out of 5.  www.wpengine.com

WebHosting Hub:  Includes unlimited space and unlimited bandwidth for $3.99/month. WebHosting Hub has a free website builder, unlimited storage, unlimited domains, help to set up your account, and cPanel interface.  Users that want to build a business website will require too many upgrades that will greatly increase the amount paid per month.   Review Rating:  4.5 out of 5.    www.webshotinghub.com

Facebook Moves into Mobile Payments

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Mobile payments are the transfer of money that is performed using a mobile device. Mobile payment solutions are on the rise used by financial institutions, credit card companies, and internet companies. It’s an alternative form of payment to send money to people that first gained attention from Asia and Europe. Now many U.S. companies are implementing mobile payments to provide another form of payment consumers can use in their daily lives. Users that have Facebook’s instant messenger can send money to their friends if they link their debit cards to the service. You can instantly send money to people known as “peer-to-peer payments.” The new payments feature started on Tuesday but can take months before everyone on Facebook has access. Once available, Facebook users will be able to open a message, tap $ icon to enter an amount, and tap Pay to send the money across instantly. The payment feature will be for a Visa or MasterCard debit card. Based on where one banks, the funds should be available within one to three business days. The new payment feature will be available for Android, iOS Messenger apps, and the messaging section of Facebook’s website.

Security is always a concern for mobile payments and it’s the primary concern for Facebook’s messenger payment service. Identity fraud will inevitably take place because the social network is used by millions of people. Hackers will do their best to get into people’s accounts and gain access to their debit card numbers. Facebook is aware of the security concerns and considers security as their top priority. They utilize secure systems that have layers of software and hardware protection that meet and exceed industry standards. The payment systems are separate from other parts of the Facebook network and their anti fraud team will monitor and control it carefully. Facebook is also in a tricky situation because it has a good relationship with PayPal that is in the payment business. Facebook does not want to burn any bridges and Stevie Davis the product manager for the company is downplaying the situation by saying the goal is just to make the messenger “more useful, excessive, and delightful.” Facebook wants to add more features to their messenger system while also monetizing on their ads. It is expected PayPal will continue to have a healthy relationship with Facebook.

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PR company Walker Sands surveyed 1,400 consumers and found the use of cash has been declining among people. An estimated 59% surveyed carry less than $20 in their pocket. There is more demand especially from the younger generation to use mobile payment systems. However, only about 19% aged 46-60 said they would consider using mobile payment systems. Facebook has been interested with payments and messaging for a long time now. David Marcus who previously held the position of eBay’s payments subsidiary PayPal was recently hired to Facebook to “build something new and meaningful at scale.” There are about 500 million monthly active users to Facebook Messenger as of November 2014. This is a big opportunity for Facebook to capitalize on peer-to-peer payments that is essentially different from Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and Samsung Pay. Facebook is more about using their messenger system to conveniently pay your friends while other big tech giants are focusing on using their payment systems to make purchases at actual retail stores. If the payment system is a success Facebook will broaden their services for users to purchase products directly from their advertisers.