UK Postal Service Competition Inquiry Launched by MPs

UK Postal Service Competition Inquiry Launched by MPs
A committee of MPs has announced an inquiry into competition in the UK postal sector. It is in response to complaints from Royal Mail, which says it is facing unfair competition from rival firms such as Whistl – previously TNT Post.

The Business Committee said its inquiry would look at how competition was affecting Royal Mail’s obligation to provide a universal service.

Royal Mail says the obligation gives rivals an unfair advantage.

Competitors such as Whistl do not have to provide delivery to the whole country, or guarantee deliveries six days a week, as Royal Mail must continue to do under the Universal Service Obligation, despite its privatisation last year.

Royal Mail says this allows Whistl to “cherry-pick” easy-to-serve urban areas that are more profitable than rural areas, and choose to deliver easy-to-process mail. “We will play our full part in the committee’s inquiry into the key issues for the Universal Service and the UK,” a spokesman for Royal Mail said.

“Unfettered direct delivery competition threatens to undermine the one-price-goes-anywhere, universal postal service. New entrants are cherry-picking both the populous urban areas and bulk business mail. “We fear that a point could be reached where direct delivery competition leads to the universal service being unviable.”

A spokesman for Whistl rejected the criticism, arguing that Royal Mail’s problems were more about its own efficiency.

“We are happy to take any opportunity to explain the benefits of competition in the UK postal sector and its important role in ensuring Royal Mail continues to work towards meeting its productivity targets, which it has so far failed to do,” he said. “We are proud to deliver innovative, quality and value-for-money services that our clients want and are creating much-needed new jobs across the UK.”

Whistl is the second biggest postal service in the UK, delivering to 1.2 million addresses in Manchester, London and Liverpool, although its delivery volumes are still tiny in comparison to Royal Mail’s, representing less than 0.4% of the addressed mail market.

The committee has requested written evidence to be submitted before 24 October.

Both Royal Mail and Whistl are likely to be called to give evidence at subsequent hearings, though it is not clear when they will be held.

The market regulator Ofcom has so far resisted calls from Royal Mail to hold a similar inquiry.

Apple says Bent iPhones are Rare

Apple says Bent iPhones are Rare
Apple has responded to claims that its new handsets are prone to bending by saying such damage would be “rare” during normal use.

Media outlets across the globe had reported that several iPhone 6 owners had complained of handsets becoming misshapen after being carried in trousers pockets without a case. Several of the US firm’s rivals have also helped publicise the claims.

Apple said nine customers had told it their iPhone 6 Plus phones had bent. In a statement the company noted that the handsets’ shells had been constructed out of “anodised aluminium, which is tempered for extra strength” and also featured stainless steel and titanium parts to reinforce the areas of the phones likely to experience the most stress.

“We chose these high-quality materials and construction very carefully for their strength and durability,” it added. “We also perform rigorous tests throughout the entire development cycle. “iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus meet or exceed all of our high quality standards to endure everyday, real life use.
“With normal use a bend in iPhone is extremely rare and through our first six days of sale, a total of nine customers have contacted Apple with a bent iPhone 6 Plus. As with any Apple product, if you have questions please contact Apple.”

The BBC understands that one of the checks that Apple had carried out before launching the models was a “sit test”, which is designed to simulate the effects of a user sitting down on a hard surface with the phone in their back pocket thousands of times over the course of several years. The company also carried out a torsion test, which involved clamping a phone at both ends and then applying a twisting force 8,000 times.

Apple’s share price has fallen following the publicity generated by users posting photos of bent iPhones to the internet.

News that it had also pulled an iOS 8 operating system update after iPhone 6 users complained it made their phones unable to make or receive calls had also caused concern.

However, one analyst highlighted that the company had been much quicker to respond to reports about bending than it had back in 2010, when customers complained about the iPhone 4 dropping calls when gripped on its left-hand side.

“It took too long in the antenna case – I don’t know if this is organisational memory or not, but here Apple is going out and saying it did do tests and is stating the facts,” said Ken Dulaney, who covers the mobile phone sector for the research firm Gartner. “But this is probably something Apple has to look into more. “It probably did all the tests it said it did – I don’t ever find that Apple really lies about anything – but I think the people reporting the problem aren’t lying either.”

Apple’s competitors have taken advantage of its troubles. The official Twitter accounts of LG, HTC and Samsung have all posted messages alluding to the controversy, with LG going so far as to use the hashtag “bendgate”, which other members of the public had used to refer to the claims.

Apple had previously announced that it had sold more than 10 million units of the iPhone 6 and its larger sibling the iPhone 6 Plus. “While our team managed the manufacturing ramp better than ever before, we could have sold many more iPhones with greater supply and we are working hard to fill orders as quickly as possible,” its chief executive Tim Cook said in a press release on Monday. It highlighted the “all-new dramatically thin” design of the handsets – a factor some users had speculated might be the cause of them bending.

However, it has also been pointed out that handsets by Sony, Samsung, Blackberry and others have also bent in the past, and several analysts have cautioned that it was too early to say if the incidents involving the new iPhones were more widespread.

The Beautiful Shutter Company

The Beautiful Shutter Company
Direct Submit are pleased to announce they are now working with The Beautiful Shutter Company to help them promote their range of plantation shutters. We will be working with the client to help raise their online profile and hopefully help increase sales enquiries to the business.

If you would like information about the cost effective Internet Marketing and SEO services provided by Direct Submit why not give us a call on 0845 2722350 or visit our website.

Vodafone Takes over Phones 4U Stores

Vodafone Takes over Phones 4U Stores
Vodafone UK has reached an agreement with the administrators of Phones 4U to take over 140 of the outlets run by the phone company that collapsed earlier this week.

Administrators PwC said 887 jobs for shop employees across the UK would be preserved. The stores will be rebranded as Vodafone stores over the coming weeks. However, 628 employees at Phones 4U head office in Newcastle Under Lyme are losing their jobs.

The administrators said the “need to cut costs in the business” had led to the decision to reduce numbers at the company’s headquarters.

At the head office 400 employees are being retained to work on managing the restructuring process.  “It is with great sadness and regret that we have today made the difficult decision,” said Rob Hunt, joint administrator and PwC partner.

Dixons Carphone has already agreed to take over more than 800 staff working at Phones 4U concessions within their Currys and PC World outlets.

PwC said the deal with Vodafone represents value for Phones 4U’s creditors. “We have worked rapidly over the course of the week following our appointment to explore interest in the Phones 4U business and we are very pleased to secure a future for a significant number of stores and continued employment for 887 of the Phones 4U people,” said Mr Hunt.

The deal with Vodafone is subject to court approval. PwC said there would not be an announcement of which stores were

Microsoft Cuts Another 2,100 Jobs as it Nears 18,000 Target

Microsoft Cuts Another 2,100 Jobs as it Nears 18,000 Target
Microsoft has confirmed another 2,100 redundancies as part of a plan to cut 18,000 jobs, some 14% of its workforce. The software giant said 747 jobs will go in the Seattle area, with the rest spread across its global operations.

Microsoft had already cut 13,000 jobs, with the bulk at the Nokia phone division bought by the US company.

In July, chief executive Satya Nadella announced radical plans to move Microsoft away from software to online services, apps and devices.

Microsoft, which has about 127,000 people on its payroll, will take a charge of between $1.1bn (£672m) and $1.6bn for costs related to the cuts. Microsoft said in a statement that the latest cuts “are spread across many different business units, and many different countries”.

In an email to staff in July, Mr Nadella said that the “difficult but necessary” cuts are part of a plan to bring a new direction to the technology company. “The first step to building the right organisation for our ambitions is to realign our workforce,” he said.

Microsoft completed its takeover of Nokia’s phone division in April in a move that strengthened its position in mobile devices. The cost was around $7.5bn.

UK Inflation Rate Falls to 1.5%

UK Inflation Rate Falls to 1.5%
The annual rate of UK inflation fell in August as the cost of petrol, food and non-alcoholic drinks declined.  Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation fell to 1.5% from 1.6% in August, the Office for National Statistics said. It means the Bank of England remains under little pressure to raise interest rates in order to keep CPI inflation at or below its target rate of 2%.

Retail Price Index (RPI) inflation also saw a reduction, to 2.4%, from 2.5% the previous month.

Prices of food and non-alcoholic drinks fell by 1.1%, marking their steepest fall for more than a decade.

An ONS spokesman said competition between rival supermarket chains was a factor. Food prices had also been pushed up by cold weather a year earlier.

Bucking the downward trend, clothing, transport services and alcohol all rose in price faster than the headline inflation rate. and core inflation, which strips out food, alcohol, tobacco and energy, notched up a 1.9% rate rise.

“For all the chatter, guesswork and prophecy around possible rate hikes in the UK, inflation is currently sat at a five-year low,” said Jeremy Cook, chief economist at currency exchange company World First. “Of course, the headline figure does not tell the full story. Core prices surprised higher by 1.9% in August; they were unaffected by the slips in oil prices or the 1.1% decline in food and booze through the past 12 months.”

Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, said: “August’s muted consumer price inflation is welcome news for consumers’ purchasing power as they currently continue to be hampered by very low earnings growth. “Indeed, even consumer price inflation of 1.5% in August is still more than double current underlying earnings growth.”

CPI inflation is still growing faster than average wages, which rose by just 0.6% in the three months to June from a year earlier.

And advisory service Moneyfacts warned that with the Bank of England’s benchmark interest rate still at 0.5%, savers were finding it difficult to get a decent return on their money. “Inflation may have fallen but thanks to the paltry interest paid on savings, it is actually making little difference to savers after the taxman has had his share,” said Moneyfacts.co.uk editor Sylvia Waycot.

Tech Firms want Digital Ministers and Easier Migration

Tech Firms want Digital Ministers and Easier Migration
An influential group of major technology firms is calling on the UK to appoint “digital ministers” in every government department.

TechUK – which represents more than 850 companies – also demanded rules to allow more skilled technology workers into the country. “You’ve got to make sure the UK becomes a hub for digital skills,” said TechUK chief executive Julian David.

The proposals will be presented to ministers on Tuesday.

Mr David said current options for migrating digital works – such as a special Entrepreneurs’ Visa to help start-ups – was not going far enough. “My members tell me it helps, but start-ups find it difficult to plot their way through the bureaucracy and the cost.”

Bigger companies, he said, complained the process took too long. Mr David praised the efforts of organisations like Tech City UK, the government quango helping technology start-ups in the Silicon Roundabout area of east London.

But he said the digital economy must be a concern for the whole country. “We’ve got fantastic capability in clusters around the country. “When you look at places like Cambridge, there’s a pattern of success there for growing digitally-focused, very large, very successful companies such as [chip maker] Arm Holdings.”

As part of its manifesto for the next government, TechUK has said it wants a Cabinet-level minister representing the interests of the digital economy.

“The next government should ensure there is cabinet-level leadership to develop and execute a single digital strategy that rolls up the digital economy, digitalisation of government and digital inclusion,” the document reads. “Other systemically important policy domains have a clear departmental lead and a strong voice at the Cabinet table – it is time the full significance of digital is recognised in the same way.”

Mastercard Fees Anti Competitive, Court Upholds

Mastercard Fees Anti Competitive, Court Upholds
The European Court of Justice has upheld a ruling that fees charged by Mastercard were anti-competitive. The court said regulators were right to condemn the cost of its interchange fees – the fees retailers pay banks to process card payments – and has rejected an appeal.

Mastercard was investigated last year for the amount it charged for card transactions in Europe.

The company’s president said the ruling was “disappointing”.

Javier Perez, president of MasterCard Europe said despite that, the ruling would have “little or no impact on how MasterCard operates”. He said: “We will continue to comply with the decision as we have been doing for a number of years. This means we would maintain our European… cross-border consumer interchange fees at a weighted average of 0.2% for debit and 0.3% for credit.”

Mastercard is the second-largest credit and debit card company after Visa.

UK retailers welcomed the court’s decision. Helen Dickinson, director general of the British Retail Consortium, said: “We are delighted with this historic ruling. “Capping these excessive and anti-competitive fees will support the UK retail industry and others, boosting our ability to invest and innovate while continuing to deliver lower prices and value for customers.”

The decision ends MasterCard’s seven-year battle against a decision made by the EU’s competition watchdog.

Microsoft Looks Set to Buy Minecraft

Microsoft Looks Set to Buy Minecraft
The video games studio behind Minecraft is in talks to be taken over by Microsoft, according to reports. It has been suggested that Mojang might sell for more than $2bn (£1.2bn).

In June, the Swedish studio said it had sold about 54 million copies of its hit world-building game. Since then it has also been released for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, further boosting sales.

Mojang’s founder, Markus “Notch” Persson has previously publicly criticised Microsoft.

Ahead of the release of the Windows 8 operating system, he had claimed that the company was “trying to ruin the PC as an open platform” because it had wanted to certify third-party titles before their release. He had also been a vocal supporter of independent studios, saying in 2012 that: “The more studios that can remove themselves from the publisher system, the more games that will be made out of love rather than for profit.”

But, according to Bloomberg news agency, it was Mr Persson who “reached out” to Microsoft a few months ago. It said that a source suggested that if the deal went through, Mr Persson would help with the transition, but was unlikely to stay on afterwards.

The New York Times also reported that a person briefed on the talks had said that Mr Persson was expected to leave within six months, but added that Mojang was keen to hold on to its younger developers.

A spokesman for Microsoft said: “We don’t comment on rumour and speculation.”

Mojang also declined to comment. Mr Persson did not respond to the BBC’s questions.

Minecraft was first released in 2011, and has since become the third bestselling game of all time and something of a cultural phenomenon.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has hosted an evening that explored its design culture, Lego has made spin-off toys, Ordnance Survey has created a version of mainland Great Britain within the game, and Denmark’s government has also built a scale model of its country.

The title is set in a virtual world made of cubes of different materials, including dirt, rock and lava. Most of these can be used as building blocks and/or refined into usable raw materials. Player use the blocks to build a shelter and to create weapons to defend their character against the game’s zombies and other monsters. They can also engage in huge construction projects to flex their creative skills.

One extreme recent example involved the creation of a working virtual hard drive.

Mojang has worked on other titles, but they have either fallen short of Minecraft’s success – such as the role-playing game (RPG) Scrolls – or been shelved before completion – such as 0x10c, a space-themed game that Mr Persson had been working on until last year.

The Wall Street Journal was first to report negotiations between Mojang and Microsoft, saying that the deal could be finalised this week. It noted that this would be the first multibillion acquisition by Microsoft’s chief executive, Satya Nadella, since he took charge of the company.

Harry Bradshaw, who has interviewed Mr Persson on the Twitch video site, said that many gamers would be concerned by the news. “There have been cases in the past of big corporations taking someone else’s game and turning it into a huge money-flip, just to see what they can make out of it,” he said. “Gamers will naturally be worried about this. “And it does confuse me why Mojang would sell up, bearing in mind it is the bestselling PC game of all time and still sells thousands of copies a day.”

One market watcher said that it was unlikely that Microsoft would pull existing Minecraft games from sale for the PlayStation, Mac, Android, Linux and other rival platforms. However, he added that Microsoft’s various systems might be given preference when it came to future products. “Minecraft is one the leading IPs [intellectual properties] within the games space that is potentially acquirable,” said Piers Harding-Rolls, lead games analyst at the consultancy IHS. “The brand has the potential to continue for the next 10 years. So, as an investment – even one at a very high price – it still represents something of value to larger companies that are looking to acquire exclusivity around a highly-engaged franchise.”

The Right Keywords for your Business

Selecting the Right Keywords for your Business
One of the most important – and often glossed over – tasks you should do when researching and creating your list of keywords you want your website to rank well in the major Search Engines for. Keyword research is not too difficult and there are several online tools (free and fee based) that will you in this process. So what should you be doing? Here’s a summary of the basic process involved:

Brainstorm the Keywords to use.
Brainstorm and write down a list of keywords and phrases that describe your products and services. Crucially important, yet often missed by web managers, is to include the keywords you think your customers might use when searching for you or your competitors. Another useful approach is to ask some of your customers what they might type into the Search Engines such as Google or Bing if they were searching for the products and services your business offers. We would also suggest it good practice to include brand and business names.

Include any Known Keywords Successes
To your target list of keywords and phrases add any keywords or phrases that you know or recognise which currently brings qualified traffic and business to your website. Where can you get this information? Well, ask your employees, ask your customers and, assuming you have access to web analytics such as Google Analytics (free) or other website analytics software – you should be able to identify these key phrases here.

Research the Best keywords for your Project
Now use your list of key phrases and, perhaps by using a free keyword tool, try and identify those key phrases which will work well for you. Using the likes of the Google keyword tool, you should be able to note those key phrases your potential customers really do use and type into the Search engines to locate the products and services your are looking to promote.

Online tools such as the Google AdWords Keyword Tool provides:

  • Keyword data by specific countries & territories
  • Search volumes and trends
  • Competition levels for key phrases

There are several other keyword tools available to help you identify the right key phrases for your project and these include: Bing (free), Word tracker (free and paid), Word stream (free and paid), and Keyword Discovery (free and paid).

When you’re finished your key phrase research then you should end up with a clear and relevant list of keywords / key phrases to use together with their local monthly search volume.

Finalise your list of Keyword Targets
By now you should now have a good list of keywords you want your business to use on the web pages you want to be found for, and remember that you can set up a specific set of key phrases for each individual page in your website.

Add these key phrases to your respective pages and remember it may be, for example when creating a ‘landing page’ for an AdWords campaign, to that you need to build a new page based around a specific phrase(s).

You should note that when populating your web pages with these phrases that you should always write copy for the end user, not specifically just for the Search engines. Keyword / key phrase density refers to the number of times a phrase is included in the content on a page. Repeating the phrase too often may well be considered spam by the likes of Google and should be avoided.

Good quality, relevant and well written content – aimed at the site visitor – should be the order of the day.

Tracking your Rankings
Keep an eye on your Search engine rankings for a key phrase and help direct your strategic and tactical efforts, which should also enable you to refine and update your targeted key phrases. For example if you find that you have a selection of relatively low competition keywords ranking in positions  3–10, then the chances are that pushing some great content out that links to those pages will give those pages the boost they need to get to the top.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Internet Marketing
If you would like some assistance with any aspect of your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Internet Marketing project, call Direct Submit now on 0845 2722350 or visit the Direct Submit website for further information and guidance.