Fire Hazard Fears Prompt Recall of USB Car Charger Adapters

Some popular mini USB car charger power adapters, universal USB power adapters and 8-pin USB data sync charging cables are being recalled due to a hazard of fire from their use, according to The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

A company called Popkiller sold the recalled devices – mostly in stores in Southern California. The items were made by Shenzhen Qiwei Electronic Co., Ltd., Guangdong, China, and have some unique identifying characteristics:

According to the company, the car charger has model number HHT-001 located on the flat side of the charger below the USB port. The charger measures two inches tall and one inch in diameter at its widest point.

The Universal USB Power adapter has model number A1265 printed directly above the plug blades on the grey surface. The adapter measures 1.5 inches at its longest point and one inch wide.

There is no model number printed on the 8-pin USB charging cables.

All of the recalled products are sold separately and come in the colors red, orange, green, blue, purple and pink.

The recall involves around 2,500 units. Concerned consumers can call Popkiller toll-free at (888) 345-0724 from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. PT Monday through Friday.

People can also reach the company online at Click on “About Us” located at the bottom of the home page, then click “Important Recall Notice” for more information.


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Online Buying vs. “Touch and Feel” Retailing

A new survey finds that Americans are fine with buying online, but still value the in-person shopping experience.

Polling firm Harris said it surveyed 2,241 adults last month, in an effort to gauge how the growth of online retailing is changing the way Americans view the shopping experience.

According to Harris, most Americans are taking advantage of online buying convenience — with majorities saying they’ve bought clothing (69%), digital content (59%), and accessories (54%) online.

Online shopping enthusiasm increases as the age of those polled decreases, with Millennials being the most likely to have made purchases online in most of the product categories Harris tested.

However, traditional shopping is far from dead: a whopping 78% of Americans polled by Harris still prefer to buy their food in person, while large majorities prefer to buy such things as over-the-counter-medications (67%), clothing (65%), prescription medications (58%), cosmetics (57%), specialty food and household electronics (55%) the “old fashioned” way.

While Harris found that the personal electronics category showed strong online shopping preference, more Americans still said they prefer to buy these items in person (43%) vs. online (22%).

The online environment is certainly a great place to research products — and offers a convenient way to buy them — but many people still want to handle the goods before pulling the trigger on a purchase.


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Some Investors Pulling Out of U.S. Equity Mutual Funds

New data shows that investors withdrew $8.3 billion from U.S. equity mutual funds in June, making it the second consecutive month in which outflows outpaced inflows to these funds.

The funds — which allow investors to buy into a “basket” of stocks picked and traded by a fund manager – are traditionally a popular option for people to invest retirement savings.

However, investment research Morningstar found that the withdrawals during June represented U.S. equity funds’ largest outflow in 18 months.

Morningstar said that inflows to international-equity funds and taxable-bond funds more than offset the outflows for U.S. equity funds. Overall, inflows to long-term mutual funds reached $24.0 billion during the month.

Mutual fund assets reached $11.7 trillion in June, which Morningstar said represents an increase of more than 40% since their peak before the financial crisis.

Clearly, this form of investing is still quite popular.


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Small Business Owners Perk Up

The majority of America’s small business owners say they expect their businesses to grow in the next year, according to the results of a new survey.

CAN Capital said that 61% of the small business owners surveyed for its Small Business Health Index professed clear optimism that business will improve over the next 12 months.

Almost a third (31%) of the business owners surveyed said that plan to expand and/or try new forms of advertising/marketing activities, while 26% plan to purchase equipment and/or make inventory investments over the next year. 

Could this optimism fuel an increase in hiring as well? If the strong June jobs report from BLS is any indication, it already is.

We’ll have to see the upcoming reports for July and August to establish a true acceleration of growth in hiring, but so far there is reason for everyone to be a bit more cheery these days.


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Credit Defaults are at 10-Year Low

Americans are paying their bills, and consumer credit defaults are way down, according to some new data.

S&P Dow Jones Indices and credit bureau Experian said that the national composite rate of consumer credit defaults for June was just 1.02%. This is the lowest rate recorded in ten years.

This tells us that Americans are paying on their various forms of consumer debt at the best rate since the recession.

The companies did point out that auto and bank card defaults were up slightly, while mortgage defaults were down. This tracks with recent data showing that Americans are taking on more credit card and auto loan debt, but are feeling better about mortgages given the recent recovery in home prices.

Bank card debt saw a ten-year low in March 2014, but has risen slightly since then, to 3.02% in June. First mortgage defaults, however, fell to a rate of just 0.89% in June.

Dallas was the only major city to experience an increase in default rates during June, while Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and New York fell to their lowest overall default rates since the last recession began.

Overall, this is good news for the economy as it signals an increase in Americans’ ability to pay on debt — even as they take on more of it. Given the strong jobs report posted in June, it’s likely that we’ll continue to see only modest increases in consumer debt defaults in the months ahead.


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Social Media Still Lags as a Customer Service Tool

A new survey finds that people still like pick up the phone and talk to a live human when they have a customer service issue, despite the growing use of social media technology.

Customer service software firm NICE Systems said it surveyed 1,206 consumers between the ages of 18 and 65 to gauge their satisfaction with various customer service channels.

What they found was that people across age groups overwhelmingly prefer the more traditional ways of resolving problems with companies and organizations.

For instance, 88% of NICE’s respondents said they preferred to speak with a live customer service rep over the phone. While 83% used website self-service, they still liked having the option of turning to a live human as a next choice.

The company found that social media, live chat, and Smartphone app use has doubled since 2011.  In fact, 73% of survey respondents said they have used multiple contact methods in the past six months to resolve a customer service issue.

However, social media still has a lot of catching up to do in terms of effectiveness: while social media channels were used to successfully solve a problem 29% or the time, traditional phone contact has a 69% success rate.

But what about today’s tech-savvy Millennials? Surprisingly, the 18-35 age group still prefers speak with a live rep via phone or use website self-service when resolving customer service issues.

These results aren’t that surprising, given the current state of social media use by companies. While FAQs and other “self service” online methods can lead to a speedy resolution to a problem, many other social media tools used by companies are a bit gimmicky. (For instance, “live chat” that turns out to be nothing more than you talking to a computer.)

Until companies fully integrate their social media channels within their customer service function – and offer immediate response by empowered humans – people will still “cut to the chase” by calling toll-free customer service numbers when self-service fails.


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America’s Growing Love of Soccer is Real, and Lucrative

The U.S. national soccer team entered this year’s World Cup as underdogs, and went on to exceed all expectations. While they fell to the Belgian’s in the “round of 16” this team made soccer fans of millions of Americans. Was all this hype genuine, or just fodder for a news cycle or two?

According to some new figures published by e-commerce specialist SLI Systems, a spike in soccer-related online retail activity among American consumers shows that the hype was very much a real phenomenon.

SLI said that its study of consumer search behavior between March 2 and July 9, 2014 showed a 280% increase in soccer-related online shopping in the U.S.

The firm said that June 16th — the day U.S. played Ghana — was the peak day for soccer-related shopping in the U.S. The most popular soccer-related search terms were “soccer,” “USA soccer,” “FIFA” and “Nike soccer.”

And while the U.S. often gets accused of only caring about U.S. teams in international competitions like the Olympics and World Cup, this year’s soccer searches showed that Americans had a healthy interest in international teams as well.

SLI’s data showed that the top non-U.S. teams searched by U.S. consumers were Brazil, Germany, Argentina, and the Netherlands. Considering that the only team on that list that the U.S. team played was Germany, it is evidence that perhaps Americans are embracing the international aspects of the sport.

This is a good thing, since the U.S. team’s gritty determination and team-centric work ethic created U.S.A. fans around the world during World Cup 2014. Hopefully, this growing interest among Americans will help the U.S. to become a true leader among soccer-playing nations. Just don’t ask us to start calling the sport “football.”


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More Companies Make Public Debut


The number of companies launching initial public offerings (IPOs) of stock is at the highest level since 2007, according to some new data.

IPOs happen when companies decide to raise money by issuing stock, and selling it through a marketplace that is open to the public, such as the New York Stock Exchange or the NASDAQ. The shares represent part ownership in the company.

Professional services firm PwC said that the IPO market has surpassed $21 billion during the second quarter of this year – which is the best volume seen since 2007.

PwC said there were 89 public company debuts during the quarter. There was a distinct spike in IPO activity starting in mid-June, the firm said, which might portend an even bigger volume of activity as the year rolls on.

Why are so many IPOs happening now? Well, not only is the global economy improving, but interest rates are being held down due to the continuing policies of the Fed and the European Central Bank.

With rates low, investors are seeking a return on their capital, and IPOs can offer attractive investment opportunities. The price of stocks issued in an IPO can often increase – even during the first day of trading. This “first day bounce” can continue for months, giving investors a very healthy return on their initial investments.

Of course, stock values can move in both directions, so investors must also be prepared to lose money. But with the economy now moving in a healthy direction, many investors feel that IPOs represent a good bet. So, we should continue to see them happening at a good clip through the end of the year.


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Non-Manufacturing Business Continues to Grow


A key measure of business activity was down a bit in June, but still reflected continued economic growth moving into the summer months.

The Institute for Supply Management said that economic activity in the non-manufacturing sector grew in June for the 53rd consecutive month, but at a slightly slower rate than it did in May.

According to the Institute,  the June Non-Manufacturing ISM Report on Business Activity Index stood at 56% in June, which was 0.3 percentage point lower than the May reading of 56.3%.

The Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index decreased to 57.5 percent, which is 4.6 percentage points lower than the May reading of 62.1 percent. This reflected growth for the 59th consecutive month, but again at a slower rate.

ISM’s New Orders Index registered 61.2 percent, which was a 0.7 percentage point higher than May’s reading of 60.5 percent.

The Employment Index increased two percentage points to 54.4 percent from the May reading of 52.4 percent and indicates growth for the fourth consecutive month – this time at a faster rate.

It should be noted that any reading over 50 indicates a positive direction of growth, so what we’re seeing here is a slight fluctuation in the rate of growth, rather than a pullback.

ISM said that the 14 non-manufacturing industries reporting growth in June include Construction; Real Estate, Rental & Leasing; Utilities; Management of Companies & Support Services; Arts, Entertainment & Recreation; Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Hunting; Information; Public Administration; Retail Trade; Transportation & Warehousing; Professional, Scientific & Technical Services; Wholesale Trade; Finance & Insurance; and Other Services.

The four industries reporting contraction in June are: Educational Services; Mining; Accommodation & Food Services; and Health Care & Social Assistance, it said.


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Vending Machines Have Gone Upscale

When we think of vending machines, rows of chips, candy bars and other junk food comes to mind. They are the last resort for the hungry, and things to be strictly avoided for the health-conscious. However, a new breed of vending machines is challenging the stereotype.
According to The Lempert Report, vending technology innovators have upped their game to capitalize on the opportunities presented by on-the-go consumers who want quality food.
The firm, in its weekly video series, highlighted Let’s Pizza, a vending machine that promises designed to make pizza from scratch in 2.5 minutes. Developed by Italian Claudio Torghel, the machine contains a specially-developed bag of flour and a bag of mineral water.
When you order a pizza, Let’s Pizza makes the dough from scratch, shapes it into a crust and tops it with organic tomato sauce, the maker said. Toppings are then placed, and the pizza is cooked in an infra-red oven. Let’s Pizza made its U.S. debut in 2012.
Another vending concept highlighted by Lempert brings lettuce farming into urban jungles around the world. Developed in Japan, The Chef’s Farm vending machine actually grows lettuce on-site, and then dispenses it to consumers.
This machine uses special fluorescent lighting to produce 60 fresh heads of lettuce per day in a hydroponic environment – all without needing sunlight. The machine’s maker, Dentsu, said it can produce 20,000 heads of lettuce per year, and can be stored in a restaurant. The Chef’s Farm machine can also grow other kinds of vegetables, its maker said.
Finally, Lempert brings word of the Beverly Hills Caviar vending machine which, as the name implies, dispenses those expensive fish eggs so prized by gourmands the world over.
These machines – which began cropping up in posh Los Angeles retail settings in 2012 – offer different grades and amounts of caviar at prices ranging from $5 to $500.
According to an NBC News report from that year, a $500 deposit into the machine would get you one ounce of Imperial River Beluga Caviar. While the price of the Beverly Hills Caviar vending machine is hefty – at around $85,000 per – the inventory it contains is worth a staggering $50,000. That’s more than the average vending supply truck is carrying on its rounds.
Heady stuff, these innovations — and maybe the sorts of things that will change your view of vending machines one day. For now, though, most of the ones we see are still filled with junk food and sodas. Their wares may be less-than-fresh — and decidedly unhealthy for the most part — but you can get them for less than $500.

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