Archive for February, 2012

Gas pumps fueling Costco sales

If you’ve’ bought your gas at Costco, you’ve had a hand in fueling profits at the popular warehouse club.

Costco Wholesale Corp. said quarterly profits rose better than Wall Street analysts expected as the high price of gas elsewhere drove members to its pumps and inside its stores.

A glance at average gas prices in metro Atlanta at midday Wednesday showed Costco and Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club had the lowest price for regular at 3.55 a gallon.  The average price of gas was $3.679 in metro Atlanta,   $3.685 in Georgia and $3.685 nationally, according to Atlantagasprices.com.

Low-balling its fuel prices cuts into Costco’s profit margin, but as Reuters points out, it’s part of a larger strategy. Costco is banking on luring customers with its cheap gas in hopes they’ll park and go inside its warehouses and stock up.

As Reuters further notes:

Selling gasoline drives revenue, but gas is less profitable than other goods. Costco has said in the past that about 30 …

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Another federal agency ditching BlackBerry

Is Uncle Sam ditching the BlackBerry altogether? Yet another agency is permanently powering down on the once-dominant smartphone, according to Politico.

Politico reports that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives is dropping Research in Motion’s BlackBerry in favor of, you guessed it, Apple’s iPhone. The news site cited ATF’s chief information officer, Rick Holgate, who said the agency is going to “delete the BlackBerry from the mix.”

The move affects about 3,900 BlackBerrys in use by the ATF and the phase-out should take a year. There is another report that the agency responsible for tracking hurricanes, tornados and other weather phenomena, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is also phasing out its 3,000 BlackBerrys for the iPhone.

As the iPhone has gained market share, RIM’s BlackBerry has been plagued with problems in the past year.

Holgate said the iPhone was better when it came to “ease of use and …

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Keeping Google from mining your Web searches

Here’s an interesting alert and tip from The Electronic Frontier Foundation on protecting your privacy in these days of shared information.

“On March 1, Google will implement its new, unified privacy policy, which will affect data Google has collected on you prior to March 1 as well as data it collects on you in the future. Until now, your Google Web History (your Google searches and sites visited) was cordoned off from Google’s other products.

This protection was especially important because search data can reveal particularly sensitive information about you, including facts about your location, interests, age, sexual orientation, religion, health concerns, and more. If you want to keep Google from combining your Web History with the data they have gathered about you in their other products, such as YouTube or Google Plus, you may want to remove all items from your Web History and stop your Web History from being recorded in the future.”

See how to do that here.

The EFF also …

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Banker’s insulting tip a hoax, restaurant now says

That story out of California yesterday about the arrogant banker who left a dollar tip on a hundred dollar-plus tab and then told his waitress to “get a real job” on the receipt was a hoax, according to Trending Now.

True Food Kitchen, the restaurant where the meal was served, had said it was looking into the matter after a blog post went up from a supposed bank employee who was on the scene and then put up a picture of the receipt.

Here’s the latest:

“New developments suggest that the receipt from the restaurant may have been digitally altered. According to the website the Smoking Gun, True Food Kitchen’s spokesperson said it found the original merchant copy of the receipt, and the one circulating the Internet was “altered and exaggerated.” The original receipt does not contain the tip “Get a real job.” Also, the real bill was for $33, not $133, and the tip given was $7, not $1.33.”

The tale sparked an outcry about mistreatment by the well-to-do of the working …

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Ikea trying to demystify with how-to YouTube videos

You’d think assembling a bed would be pretty easy, right? There is the headboard, the footboard, two rails for the sides and a few slabs in the middle. Not so much at Ikea.

Do-it-yourselfers are routinely frustrated at the difficulty in putting together beds and other furniture purchases at the popular retailer.

To deal with the frustration, Ikea is posting YouTube instructional videos (like this one on putting a bed frame together), but a report on digitaltrends.com suggests the video tutorials from the Swedish company may not make things any better.

Says digitaltrends’ Natt Gurin:

How is someone supposed to figure out how to create a computer desk out of piles of wood with just random figures and barely any words? While the solution to move to a more humanized, guided visual content certainly helps, the company should just invest more time in writing better instructions and hire translators to make them friendly for all 38 countries it currently services.

To its …

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AT&T execs punished for failed T-Mobile deal

Apparently failure is not an option when it comes to mega deals being pursued at AT&T, and no one knows this better than Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson.

For his role in AT&T’s failed $39 billion bid to buy T-Mobile USA, the company’s board cut Stephenson’s 2011 compensation by $2.08 million, AT&T disclosed in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, according to the Associated Press. The figure reflects a cut in his cash bonus and stock options.

OK, Stephenson’s total compensation was still $18.7 million, but $2 million isn’t exactly chump change.

In the SEC filing, AT&T noted that while it had “strong operational performance” during the year (it made $3.9 billion), it took a big hit when it left T-Mobile at the altar, and someone has to help foot the bill. AT&T had to give its rival $4.2 billion in cash and spectrum rights, the AP reported.

Stephenson, however, wasn’t the only one to take a pay hit. The SEC filing also said the …

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Panera Bread adding more pay-what-you-want cafes

“Take what you need, leave your fair share” is the concept behind Panera Bread Co.’s three pay-what-you-want cafes.

And the experiment seems to be working. The bakery and restaurant chain, with more than 1,400 stores  nationwide, plans to open two more such eateries this year, the company announced Thursday.

It’s the chain’s way of helping feed the hungry in a dignified way and its been good for business overall, Panera officials said. They’ll announce  locations of the new restaurants in the spring.

It’s a simple concept: Panera lists a suggested price for food, but customers pay what they want at its cafes in suburban St. Louis; Portland, Ore.; and Dearborn, Mich.

Only a few take advantage of the system, Panera officials said. About 15 to 20 percent of customers pay more than the list price, and about the same percent pay less or nothing. The intention is that these restaurants will take in enough cash to cover their expenses. If money is left over, restaurants use it …

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Atlanta one of top 10 cities for black businesses

Ebony magazine in its March issue names Atlanta as one of its top 10 cities for black businesses.

Metro Atlanta, it notes, “ranked in the top three in two categories, including first in terms of the percentage of black-owned businesses relative to the black population.”

On the downside, “… the city ranked last in terms of average revenue of black-owned businesses.”

Overall, black-owned businesses make up 24 percent of the companies here and have average revenue of $52,235.

Among the reasons cited by the magazine for the success of black-owned businesses here is the the Office of Contract Compliance in Atlanta which manages a program whose mission, it said, is to “mitigate the effects of the past and present discrimination against women and minority business.”

In addition, the magazine gives a specific shout out to the Atlanta Department of Watershed Management’s Annual Small Business Development Program. That’s an “intensive 10-week construction management-training program for …

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People keeping their cars longer these days

Used to be people traded in their cars with some frequency.

Then came the recession, and vehicle owners held on to their existing wheels longer and longer.

Just how much longer can be seen in the results of the latest survey by researcher R.L. Polk.

The company found that owners of new cars and trucks now hold on to them nearly six years, based on data gathered last year. That’s the longest since Polk began doing its survey some eight years ago.

Back then, people held their  new vehicles only about four  years.

Used car and truck owners followed their lead. In 2003, they held on to their rides for about 32 months. Last year that spiked to another record, nearly 50 months. A Polk chart and other details can be found here.

The average age of cars and trucks on the road is 10.8  years, Polk says.

As to why people are holding on to their vehicles longer, there’s not much surprise.

First, there’s the economy. It’s affected all consumer spending, and high-ticket items like cars …

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Comcast launches Web video-on-demand to battle Netflix

Comcast already wants to provide you with cable TV, phone, movie and Internet services, and now it wants to add video-on-demand via the Web, the company announced Tuesday.

According to Variety, Comcast’s Xfinity Streampix will compete  against Netflix, which is the No. 1 online video rental service. The new service will also go head to head with the HBO Go online rental service.

Streampix will allow you to access both movies and TV shows online, such as “30 Rock,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Ocean’s Eleven” and is banking on the ability to keep the offerings fresh.

CNET, however, says there are some drawbacks to the new Comcast service, mainly, you have to already be a subscriber to one of Comcast’s other services:

A Comcast subscriber must either be a member of one of the company’s triple-play packages (high-speed Web, video, phone, etc.), or pay an additional $5 a month for Streampix.

CNET also notes that Netflix’s streaming service is far less expensive than its …

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