Will Amazon Go Destroy The Face Of American Retail?

Amazon Go logoYou’ve picked up your last item, and you’re ready to check out. But if you thought choosing the right blend of K-cups was a tough decision, that’s nothing compared to the choice you’ll have to make now. Do you go to the aisle with the most carts that has the fastest cashier? Do you take your chances behind the mom with the screaming baby and whiny toddler? Can you squeeze into the “20 Items or Less” aisle (even though you may be one or two items over)?

Tough decisions, indeed.

That moment of tension might soon go the way of the 8-track and cassette.

On Jan. 22, amid much excitement and media attention, Amazon threw open the doors of its revolutionary cashierless store to the public.

Using sophisticated cameras and a simple phone scan, the store allows shoppers to walk in, pick up what they want, and walk out. No lines. No cashiers. No bagging. No fuss.

Sounds incredible?

While the quick-in and quick-out appeal might be super-convenient, like all advancements in technology, it comes with a price.

Here’s a quick look at why Amazon Go may not be the best thing since sliced bread, and a deeper look at how it may affect the economy.

1.) Super techy or super creepy?
As our lives become more digitized, true privacy is becoming a rare commodity. Your online browsing activity is already tracked and monitored. The purchases you make on the internet are duly recorded. And, if you step into Amazon Go, the giant e-tailer will also know if you prefer Oreos to Chips Ahoy.

Amazon didn’t provide many details about its tracking system, but the company claims the hundreds of cameras in its new store are not that different from everyday security cameras. The cameras track the shoppers’ movements as they walk through the store, sensing which products they pick up or put down. There are also weight sensors installed in every shelf to help the computers recognize when an item has been grabbed.
Sounds like a store from the future? Maybe. But do you really want to give the commerce giant more knowledge about your personal preferences and shopping habits than it already has?

This isn’t “Big Brother is watching.” It’s more like “Thanks for shopping with Big Brother.”

2.) Less impulse control
The longer we have to think about something, the more of a fighting chance we have of making the right decision.

With Amazon Go’s speedy shopping experience, there’s no more dawdling over items while waiting your turn at the checkout. This means if you’ve got something in your bag that you know shouldn’t be there, it’s going to be that much harder to put it back.

To make it even worse, Manoj Thomas, professor of marketing at Cornell University, says that when people use any abstract form of payment, they tend to spend more. You can’t get much more abstract than a cashless and cashierless store. Amazon Go might be the perfect place for overspending on impulse purchases.

3.) Loss of the human touch
There are few commercial interactions as intimate as the one you share with the cashier in your local grocery – there’s that shared laugh over the extra chocolate bar, the brief commiseration over the miserable weather or the clucking over the rising price of gas. With Amazon Go, that human touch may soon be gone forever.

While these reasons might be enough to convince you to skip the trip to Amazon Go if you live in Seattle, it gets a whole lot worse. Amazon has not shared any plans of rolling out more cashless stores for the time being, but financial analysts predict it won’t be long before more such stores crop up around the country. It’s also likely that other retail giants, like Walmart or Target, will soon open their own brands of Amazon Go.

If the cashierless trend swells, it may dramatically erode the second-most-common job in the country; according to federal data, there are currently 3.5 million Americans who work as cashiers.

It’s not just groceries that will be impacted if the movement continues to grow.

Amazon has boasted that it plans to create an additional 100,000 jobs each year, but what Jeff Bezos won’t say out loud is that for every Amazon job created, another 2 or 3 jobs are lost.

Amazon has already revolutionized the way Americans shop, and online purchases have been outnumbering brick-and-mortar purchases for a while – and half of those are made through Amazon. But this new trend is taking things to an entirely new level.

What’s next? Cashierless clothing boutiques? “Just Walk Out” electronic stores? Tens of thousands of retail workers have already sacrificed their jobs to online convenience. Will that number soon triple?

You can’t stop technology from advancing. In fact, you might even embrace it. But, you can do your part to keep a vital part of our country’s economy thriving.
Here’s how:

  • Support your local small businesses. Shop the mom-and-pop stores when you can and keep the human touch in your life.
  • Order less online. It might be more convenient to do your shopping from your living room couch, but why not help keep a local community member in business instead?
  • Choose American made. You will definitely need to order some things online now and then. When you do, check that the seller and manufacturer live in the good old United States and do your part to keep our economy booming.

Amazon Go may be super-cool and futuristic, but the toll it may take on our economy is worth a second look.

Your Turn:
If an Amazon Go store opened in your neighborhood, would you shop there? Why?



Don’t Panic: Filing Taxes As A College Student

forms, pen and calculator on deskImagine skipping a day of class, then coming into the next session and seeing a test. You open the packet and see what appears to be gibberish staring back at you. Everyone else around you seems to have a perfect grasp of what’s going on, but you’re just stumbling in the dark.

That can be what the process of preparing your taxes can feel like the first time you do them. You’re given a big pile of paper and expected to sort it out yourself. It’s easy to get overwhelmed.

Before you start to panic, though, take a deep breath. There are a few questions that might make your life much easier. Grab that big stack of paper and ask yourself …

1.) Do I even have to file?
There’s an easy way to short circuit this whole process. If you didn’t make much money last year, you don’t have to file taxes. If your earned income (wages and tips) is less than $6,300 and your unearned income (interest and dividends) is less than $1,050, you probably don’t have to file taxes.

Of course, you might still want to do so. If you had a summer job, your employer took taxes out of your paycheck as though you’d been working all year. You might be able to get a little bit of a refund for your effort.

2.) How hard does this have to be?
If your tax situation is relatively simple, you may be eligible to use a form called the 1040-EZ (as in easy). It’s a much more straightforward document. You just enter your wages, your filing status (married or single) and the taxes you’ve already paid. It’s all laid out on your W-2, the form you got in the mail or online from your employer.

The 1040-EZ lives up to its name. It’s one page long. Once you put your name, address and Social Security number on it, you’re about halfway done. You don’t get to claim any tax credits, but there aren’t a lot of tax credits available for college students in any case.

3.) Where can I get help?
You don’t have to go it alone. If you’re feeling antisocial, you can (and should) use an e-filing service. The IRS has a tool to help you pick the best one. It’s available here: https://apps.irs.gov/app/freeFile/jsp/wizard.jsp?ck.
There may also be tax help available. A program called the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) is available on many college campuses. Business students looking to bolster their resumes will frequently volunteer to help with taxes for free. This is especially important if your tax situation is more complicated, like if you’re paying for college on your own or have self-employment income from a side hustle.

Your Turn:
Are you stressed about taxes? Tell us about it in the comments, or pop down and help your fellow students out!


The Best Deals On Wheels For College Students

group of multi-ethnic, multi-gender college-agedteens in front of white SUVYou’ve shopped for weeks and you’ve packed for hours. Now, you’re finally ready to load your trunk and pull out of the family driveway toward your next stage in life.

Which set of wheels will accompany you on your rite of passage into the grown-up world?

Yes–you’ve chosen your college, your major, and perhaps your roommate. Now it’s time to choose your car.

There are loads of factors at play when making this decision, though.

First, you’ll need to determine if it makes more sense for you to lease or to purchase a car.

Leasing offers flexibility. It’s the perfect choice for those who aren’t ready to commit to a car for long-term usage. It’s also more practical if you can’t afford to be solely responsible for a car’s maintenance and repairs. Monthly lease payments – even with repair warranties and liability waivers – also tend to be cheaper than payments on a purchased vehicle.

Of course, a lease won’t net you anything of value in the long run. When your lease is up, you’ll be out the thousands of dollars you spent “renting” the car, and have nothing to show for it. Also, if you max out the annual mileage limit, you may end up paying a small fortune in fees.

Purchasing a car, on the other hand, is a commitment that pays off in the long run. If you can afford the down payment, monthly fee, and can foot the bill for any repairs (talk to your credit union about affordable coverage for mechanical breakdowns), it may be the choice for you. Remember, though, that cars depreciate as soon as you take them for their first spin. It’s also hard to predict which vehicle will serve you best a few years down the line.

If you do decide to purchase a vehicle, first determine exactly what you can afford. Don’t take on a monthly payment that’s going to squeeze your budget. Building and maintaining a good credit history is crucial – at every stage in life.

Be sure to do extensive research before signing on a car. As a cash-strapped college student, you need to make the most cost-effective decision possible – but that doesn’t mean buying the cheapest car you can find. Your vehicle should serve its purpose without draining your wallet on fuel costs and repairs.

Carefully screen every car you’re considering for fuel efficiency, safety, warranty inclusion and coverage, and cargo capacity.

To make your search a little easier, we’ve compiled a list of the top six cars for the budget-wise college student. Each one is fuel-efficient, offers excellent cargo capacity, and is well-priced. (Cargo capacity listed is with the rear seats folded.)

1.) 2016 Kia Soul
Starting price: $15,900
Cargo capacity: 24.2/61.3 cubic feet
Fuel economy: 27 mpg combined

2.) 2017 Honda Fit
Starting price: $15,990
Cargo capacity: 16.6/52.7 cubic feet
Fuel economy: Up to 36 mpg combined

3.) 2017 Chevrolet Sonic Hatchback
Starting price: $18,455
Cargo capacity: 19/47.7 cubic feet
Fuel economy: 32 mpg combined

4.) 2016 Mazda 3 Hatchback
Starting price: $18,545
Cargo capacity: 20.2/47.1 cubic feet
Fuel economy: 33 mpg combined

5.) 2016 Hyundai Elantra GT
Starting price: $18,800
Cargo capacity: 23/51 cubic feet
Fuel economy: 27 mpg combined

6.) 2017 Volkswagen Golf Hatchback
Starting price: $19,895
Cargo capacity: 22.8/52.7 cubic feet
Fuel economy: 29 mpg combined

Before heading to the dealer’s shop, it’s best to get pre-approved. This way, you’ll know exactly what you can afford, and you’ll be taken more seriously by the dealer. Be sure to drop by [credit union] for your pre-approval and auto loan! [Our credit union offers low rates on pre-owned vehicles, so call 888-888-8888 or apply online at http://www.abcfcu.org!]

Your Turn: Are you a college student with a new set of wheels? We’d love to hear all about your car! Share your pick with us in the comments.


What The Data Breaches At Uber And PayPal Tell Us

Uber Logo and PayPal logo on white backgroundQ: I’ve been hearing about security or data breaches at some large companies I do business with. I’m worried that something like this might result in harm to my credit. What exactly is a data breach and what can I do to protect myself?

A: As our digital world expands, so does cyber crime. Two companies that recently experienced major data breaches are Uber and PayPal. Chances are, you’ve done business with one or both of these companies. To protect yourself against these and future breaches, arm yourself with knowledge and good habits.

Just what is a data breach?
When a criminal gains access to data sources and sensitive information such as credit card numbers, passwords and license numbers, this constitutes a data breach. Such access can be physical, like when someone has access to your phone or computer. The information in your device can be copied (or ported) to another device. More often, and more nefarious, is virtual thievery accomplished by a number of means, such as bypassing the security measures put in place by you or a company that stores your info in some way. Cyber criminals at Uber and PayPal used this method to steal data.

What happened?
As more people are connected to the Internet and use online services, data breaches are increasingly more common. Uber’s breach exposed the personal information of 57 million customers and Uber workers in 2016. It included names, phone numbers, email addresses, and license numbers. While sensitive information like birth dates and credit card numbers were not exposed, many of these can be attained and paired to the exposed information. PayPal also had a large data breach that potentially impacted 1.6 million customers.

This stolen information can be then used in many ways, including setting up accounts to establish a new identity. It can also be used to use to steal a person’s identity.

How can you protect yourself?
No one who uses the Internet to transact business is completely secure from threats of breaches like these. However, experts in cyber security have some suggestions to lessen your vulnerability.

Do not log into accounts using Facebook. When you log in this way, you are allowing Facebook to access more information about you and you don’t have control over how this data is used.

Don’t give out too much information. The University of Western Australia’s Centre for Software Practices suggests not giving your age and birth date when filling out profiles. You can make up a birth date and even choose your opposite gender. When using social networks, limit the information you make available. Identity thieves can make quick use of your birth date and hometown. Don’t post these in your profile.

Use more than one email account. For social media, using more than one email account can help to keep your data from being accumulated in one place. If you have a large amount of data in one place, losing it all at one time can potentially do greater damage.
Be password smart. A surprising number of people use the same password for many sites. This is a problem because if one of your sites is compromised, hackers can try that password on other sites. While it may not be convenient, it is smart to use a different password for each site you use. Every password should be strong with a unique combination of letters, numbers, and symbols.

Another option is to use a password manager to generate passwords and store them in an encrypted database locally or remotely. An un-crackable password goes a long way to protect your data.

Limit your use of credit cards online. Ironically, given the subject of this article, using PayPal is safer than using credit cards when online. PayPal limits the information you are providing. In fact, no customers were harmed in the PayPal data breach.
Change identifying information. Pick a new birth year or change your gender on social media profiles. This helps to keep information about you from being linked with information from other sites.

Practice good data management. Check all of your account statements regularly. Look for suspicious items and set alerts to notify you when a large purchase is made.

Check to see if the apps you use are storing information. Some apps actually collect and sell information. Install updates for your apps because the updates typically include more advanced security, or close existing gaps that were recently discovered and exploited.

Your Turn:
Unfortunately, almost everyone has a nightmare story about a personal data breach situation. What is yours? How did you handle it?


5 Study Apps To Help You Ace Every Exam

MaleStudent studying at desk, with head in handYou already have your phone attached to your hip, so you might as well let it work for you. Use these incredible study apps to ace every exam and turn in every paper on time – without frantic, last-minute cramming and exhausting all-nighters.

1. Quizlet
This awesome, free app makes studying simple. It includes text-based study materials along with visual aids to help you commit information to memory. You can custom-make your own audio and graphic flash cards, ask to be quizzed by the app and even play a fun game in which you advance only by giving correct answers. In the Quizlet Learn feature, you’ll find a mix of true and false, multiple choice and other kinds of questions that will increase in difficulty based on your performance. To amp up the fun, you can link games and tests with your friends to see who can outdo the other. Bring on the competition and fun … and let the studying begin!

2. IStudiez
A favored study app among college students everywhere, iStudiez tracks your academic progress throughout the semester and sends you helpful homework notifications so you never forget an assignment. It’s like having your mom with you in college – minus the laundry and home-cooked meals, that is.

IStudiez lets you rate the priority of your homework assignments, input your professors’ names and contact info and track your GPA. It’ll help you manage your time more efficiently and can be synced across all your devices.

The app offers a free trial for one semester, and then costs $1.99 a month for unlimited use.

3. Exam Countdown
Isn’t it funny how report deadlines seem like ages away when they’re assigned, and then it’s like they’re due tomorrow? Actually, it isn’t all that funny when you’re the one stuck taming the procrastination beast.

Exam Countdown offers a free, easy-to-use tool so you’ll never forget a deadline date again. Input every paper, report, essay and test as soon as they’re assigned. Then, color-code each kind of assignment and create your own countdown timers. You’ll be able to see how much time is left until your bio exam or until your next paper is due with just one quick glance.

It’s time to say adios to last-minute cramming!

4. Cold Turkey
Your phone and laptop may be super-useful study tools, but they can also be super-distracting. Don’t tell us you’ve never spent an afternoon on Pinterest or checking out the latest YouTube hits when you were supposed to be studying. We’ve all been there.

Don’t let it happen again! With this free app, you can block selected sites for a chosen amount of time, spanning just 15 minutes to 24 hours. Cold Turkey also allows you to create a whitelist of sites you’ll need for your work and will then refuse you access to anything else.

Let crunch time go back to being the nail-biting, hard-working, brain-exploding time it needs to be!

5. Memrise
You know those annoying people who can never forget a fact and don’t have to spend a minute studying to ace an exam? Yeah, we love to hate them, too.

But one of those people actually wants to share their secrets with you. Memrise is a free app that was co-founded by a top World Memory Championship competitor to help you remember everything you’re studying. It allows you to create visual mnemonics for everything and anything you might be learning, from foreign language vocabulary to the periodic table. Try it; it really works!

And who knows? You may just become one of those annoying know-it-alls yourself!

Your Turn:
Which study apps do you rely on for making the grade? Share your secret weapon with us in the comments!


What are Online Currencies?

Bitcoin and other online currencies, explained

man holding gold bitcoins in his upturned palmsIn the past several years, one of the most confusing terms to appear in the financial world has been “online currency” or, more specifically, “cryptocurrency.” Some bear seemingly silly names, such as the internet-meme-inspired Dogecoin, but the most famous, and certainly the most discussed, is Bitcoin.

However, the question remains: just what are these online currencies?

The basics
As TechRepublic points out, there are a few terms commonly used interchangeably for online currency, but which have different meanings. The first is “virtual currency” or “online currency,” which was identified by the U.S. Department of Treasury as operating like traditional currency but without legal tender. The European Central Bank defined it as unregulated digital money, usually under control of its developers, and used among specific online communities.

The second term is “digital currency,” which is a virtual currency that is created and stored electronically.

The third term is “cryptocurrency,” i.e. a digital currency which uses cryptography for security to make it difficult to counterfeit. This most specific subset, of which Bitcoin is the best example, is notable for not being issued by a central authority.

Cryptocurrencies are the most-used online currencies and have gained significant traction with established merchants as well as individuals. However, security is a higher risk. CNN Tech points out that Bitcoin in particular is stored either on a personal computer, where the coins can be accidentally deleted or destroyed by viruses; or the cloud, which can be hacked.

Value of these currencies, according to Bitconnect, is affected by a large number of factors, such as supply and demand and its utility, but is made “because people think it has value and use it as a unit of exchange.”

The reasoning
According to a paper published by the creator or creators of Bitcoin under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto, one major reason for the creation of cryptocurrencies is to eliminate the need for a “trusted third party” in online transactions, which for the most part are financial institutions. This also eliminates transaction fees and the need to share personal information along with the currency, which previously was needed to ensure trust between the buyer and seller.

More plainly, this means a transaction that only involves the buyer and seller with no associated handling fees, which can be performed entirely anonymously.

The sources
To describe where these currencies come from, we will stick with Bitcoin, as the most widespread cryptocurrency.

According to CNN Tech, Bitcoins are generated by a process known as “mining,” where people use computers to solve complex math problems with specific, open-source software. In this way, the more powerful a computer is, the faster is can “mine” for the specific number of possible Bitcoins—although, as TechRepublic points out, this process places high demands on hardware power and uses a lot of energy, leading some groups of people to pool the power of their computers and share the resulting profits.

The future
The future of these online currencies is presently unclear. Bitconnect points out that the value of online currency faces significant legal and governmental issues, as most countries have yet to form legal precedents relating to them. Some have even banned their use, or given them an official status so that they can be taxed as income. In general, regulations surrounding online currencies are still in development.

Meanwhile, the future within the cryptocurrency community, which according to Investopedia uses over 700 different currencies, is also uncertain. Wired explains that there is a growing movement to merge all of the online currencies with technology that would allow each to interact with one another, known as the “interledger protocol.” This is led by the company which oversees the cryptocurrency Ripple, with support from Microsoft and the World Wide Web Consortium. In essence, this would allow one person to send any currency and have it arrive as any other currency.

In any case, online currencies are clearly not about to disappear, and could potentially have a great effect on the future of worldwide commerce.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Staying Active at Your Desk Job

You don’t have to sacrifice your health for your 9-to-5

Young woman in workout attire performing a calf stretch on her desk at workStaying active and fit is difficult for everyone and for those with a desk job, sitting for eight or more hours per day and finding the time to be active can be even more challenging. But having a 9-to-5 doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your health. Consider these few easy ways to increase your activity at work.

Standing desk
Many offices will arrange for you to have a standing desk upon request. Your desktop is raised to chest-height when you’re standing in your cubicle or office. Having a standing desk will improve your posture, circulation and overall energy levels. You can also have a chair nearby if you get tired of being on your feet. If your office doesn’t have a standing desk option, try sitting on a balance ball. It will help improve your posture and it forces you to focus on your balance throughout the day, therefore strengthening your core.

Take the stairs
If you work on an upper floor, opt for the stairs instead of the elevator. Now, if you work on the 35th floor of a sky rise, no one expects you to climb all the way to the top. However, by taking the stairs up or down three or four flights, then hopping on the elevator, you’re upping your activity levels in the morning and at the end of the day.

Make in-person visits
If you have a quick question for a colleague, skip the email. By walking over to their workspace to speak with them directly, you’ll add to your activity levels. Plus, you’ll strengthen your relationship with that individual and encourage a friendlier working environment.

Take a break
Instead of flipping over to one of your many social media accounts during your break, go for a walk. If the weather is nice, take a stroll outside and enjoy the fresh air. If it’s cold, take a few laps around the interior perimeter of the building. You may even run into someone you know or meet someone new.

Stretching doesn’t require a whole lot of space or excessive amounts of energy. From your seat, you can reach your arms up to the sky and stretch your arms, back and neck. You can even stand up and stretch your legs if you’re feeling antsy. Stretching will improve blood flow throughout your body and keep your muscles awake.

Go out for lunch
Instead of eating lunch at your desk, consider going out to eat. Even if you pack a lunch, take a walk to a nearby park or another dining area where you can sit and enjoy your food. Walking to and from the off-site location will help get your legs moving and give you a change of pace.

Finding time to exercise is tough when you’re working a full-time desk job, but you don’t have to give up an active lifestyle. Try incorporating these few techniques into your daily routine. The results may surprise you.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.