Black Friday – Websites Hit by Record Demand

Black Friday – Websites Hit by Record Demand
Shoppers fought their way to the tills at UK retailers as the American tradition of Black Friday pre-Christmas discounting took firm hold here. Many retailers traded from midnight to maximise shopping times and put deals online overnight.

But websites including John Lewis, Argos and Tesco Direct struggled to handle the increased traffic. And Currys customers were left drumming their fingers as they waited up to an hour in a virtual queue. At least online shoppers had only their own feelings of frustration to deal with.

During the day police were called to a number of disturbances at London and Manchester supermarkets as shoppers fought over goods. There were reports of people pinching, punching and kicking to get to the bargains on offer.

John Lewis, which offered website deals from midnight, said that between midnight and 6am, traffic to johnlewis.com was up 307% compared with Black Friday last year. John Lewis said its fastest selling product was the Apple iPad mini, while Nutribullet food processors were selling at a rate of one every 30 seconds. But at the start of the day about 7% of its customers were unable to access the site first time due to the level of demand.

Currys PC World said it had seen its “biggest ever start” to Black Friday, with web traffic increasing fivefold from last year. “Overnight we saw astonishing demand online and implemented a pre-planned queuing system to most fairly support shoppers,” said Currys PC World e-commerce director Jeremy Fennell. At midday, the queue to access Currys’ website was over half an hour long.

Overnight, Tesco Direct also experienced high demand, and was temporarily unavailable.

As well as online, there was strong demand from shoppers in stores.

Asda said it sold more than 8,000 televisions in the first hour of trading, after its shops opened at 8am. It had sold more than 1,000 BMX bikes by 9am, and had sold out of Microsoft XBox 360 250GB games consoles with Halo and Forza by the same time. Asda’s store in Wembley saw chaotic scenes as shoppers jostled for TVs.

An Asda spokesperson said: “We do not condone the behaviour of a very small number of people in our Wembley store this morning. “Despite our extensive planning and additional security colleagues there was an isolated incident when the store opened. The sale has run smoothly in all our other 440 participating stores.”

Later in the day online traffic jams had been resolved and shops were crowded but calm.

Despite the high volume of sales, some analysts cast doubt on the value of Black Friday promotions to retailers.

“All Black Friday is likely to do is bring forward business from December, reduce gross margins and undermine consumer’s willingness to pay full-price again before Christmas,” said retail analyst Nick Bubb. “It is therefore good to see that Next are thinking long-term and preserving their pricing power,” he added.

For decades Next has had two sales – one in the summer, and one at Christmas. The company is expecting a profit of between £750m and £790m for 2014, an increase of 8-14%.

Some US websites also experienced difficulties on Friday, including the website for electronics retailer Best Buy. In the US, the Friday after the Thanksgiving holiday – Black Friday – has been the biggest shopping day of the year since 2001.

Consumers in the UK have been becoming more aware of the US tradition, and UK retailers have been investing in Black Friday promotions.

The number of visits to UK shops on Black Friday only really started to pick up last year, according to research firm Experian Footfall, rising 5.6%.

Orangery or Conservatory Blinds

Buying Orangery or Conservatory Blinds
One of the many wonderful things about having a home with an orangery or conservatory is the beautiful all-angles view of the outdoors that can be enjoyed in all seasons. Unfortunately, the notion that their perfect view would be sacrificed keeps some homeowners from making a very worthwhile investment in orangery or conservatory blinds. Those who fall into this category would do well to reconsider, as the benefits of having them far outweigh any downsides.

Advantages of orangery or conservatory blinds are numerous, and some of them are equally aesthetic and practical. During summer, orangery or conservatory blinds can prevent the carpet and furniture in your conservatory from being faded by sunlight. Advantages in the winter are mainly related to energy efficiency, since blinds anywhere in the conservatory, including the roof, help to block draughts so that the space can be heated without causing your home heat bill to significantly increase. By installing orangery or conservatory blinds in particular, you can prevent cool, heavy, ambient air from sinking in via the conservatory roof. If you have ever wondered what could be done to make your conservatory more liveable during cold weather, then orangery or conservatory blinds may be exactly what you need.

Questions that all homeowners may consider before installing orangery or conservatory blinds include the following:

What are the blinds made of?
This seems like a fairly obvious question; if you’ve gone to the trouble and expense of having a conservatory installed in your home, then you’re obviously not going to choose blinds that don’t contribute to the desired look and feel or which don’t seem built to last. Going beyond appearances, though, it is important to ensure that your blinds are constructed of high-quality, environmentally-friendly or “green” materials.

Why green? Simple: as with carpeting, drywall and virtually all other home building materials, blinds newly constructed of or coated with materials high in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) off-gas at higher concentrations than those that have been in place for some time. Think of the smell of a brand-new car…and then realise that that the smell of newness is a potential health hazard if synthetic materials are the source. Simply put, don’t opt for plastic if wood or another natural material will look even better without polluting your indoor environment or putting yourself and your family at risk. If installing blinds made of a natural material with a synthetic coating, plan to have them installed at a time of year when the weather will permit leaving the windows open for at least two or three days to give those VOC odours a chance to dissipate.

Are the blinds mildew-resistant?
This is not a question people tend to consider about any orangery or conservatory blinds installed in the home, but it is important to find the answer regarding any orangery or conservatory blinds you may be thinking of buying. Have you ever had to clean mildew off the wooden trim around a bathroom window following weeks or months of condensation accumulating there? Can you imagine what a nightmare it would be to have to do likewise with an entire conservatory full of blinds or to hire a service to do the cleaning – assuming it were even possible to clean off the unsightly growth?

Since your orangery or conservatory blinds will be in close proximity to windows at all times and orangery or conservatory blinds  cannot be reached without a ladder, it is of the utmost importance that this problem be sidestepped through the selection of high-quality orangery or conservatory blinds  that can withstand significant changes in temperature and humidity. The right orangery or conservatory blinds  for your home will add beauty and comfort to your conservatory and stand the test of time without becoming a maintenance burden.

In-Style Blinds has been manufacturing bespoke blinds and specialising in orangery or conservatory blinds for over 15 years. Our manufacturing process ensures that only the best and safest materials will be used to produce the blinds that will make your conservatory more attractive and more functional. For more information or to schedule your free appointment, call In-Style Blinds today on 01642 762497 or visit the Orangery Roof Blinds company website today.

BT & Telefonica in Talks over O2 Deal

BT & Telefonica in Talks over O2 Deal
Telecoms giant BT is in talks with Telefonica about buying the O2 mobile network from the Spanish firm. “All discussions are at a highly preliminary stage and there can be no certainty that any transaction will occur,” said BT.

In 2002, BT spun off O2, then called BT Cellnet. In 2005 it was acquired by Spain’s Telefonica for £17.7bn.

BT said it had also been approached by the owners of another network, believed to be EE, about a UK buy-out.

Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown stockbrokers, said it was a sector “ripe for consolidation”. However, he added: “I think there would be some kind of irony that they would effectively be buying back a business that they previously had.” Its value is around half that paid by Telefonica. Deutsche Bank values O2 UK at £9bn, while UBS values it at £9.6bn.

EE’s owners – France’s Orange and Germany’s Deutsche Telekom – put plans for an initial public offering of EE on hold this year. They said recently that their strategies in the UK would depend in part on how aggressively BT went into mobile. “This could be the moment that commitment to the UK mobile market finally cracks and we see parent companies starting to exit,” Citigroup analysts said in a note, adding that UK profit margins were very low compared with other markets.

A takeover of either O2 or EE would create a communications giant covering fixed-line phones, broadband, mobile and TV.  According to Citigroup, EE holds 33.8% of the UK mobile market by revenue, and O2 some 26.2%.

BT has about a third of the home broadband market. Analysts suggest that customers increasingly want to buy their fixed-line and mobile services from one company.

Michael Bishop, analyst at RBC Capital Markets, said: “With two operators potentially looking at selling their mobile asset… we believe BT is in the driver’s seat and the risk of overpaying for a mobile asset is reduced.”

BT’s TV channel BT Sport is engaged in a viewership battle with Sky, as it tries to lure broadband customers with Premier League broadcasts, and it has also bought the rights to Uefa Champions League games.

By the close, UK trade, BT’s shares were up by 14.10p, or 3.71%, at 394.10 pence.

In a statement to the Spanish stock market, Telefonica, said: “Telefonica informs that, although it is in talks with British Telecom, these talks are in a highly preliminary phase and there is no certainty that a transaction will take place,” Last year, Telefonica sold a number of assets in order to reduce debt and improve its credit ratings.

Amazon to Deliver via Local Post Offices

Amazon to Deliver via Local Post Offices
Internet retailing giant Amazon and Royal Mail have joined forces to have customers’ items delivered to post offices for collection.

Earlier this month Royal Mail warned that rivals, including Amazon, were hitting its parcel delivery business. It said that Amazon’s own delivery service could dent its business by as much as 2% in the short term.

Now, Amazon customers will be able to have their parcels delivered by Royal Mail to 10,500 post office branches. “Clearly the reasoning behind this must be Royal Mail trying to save some of its business,” said city analyst Nicla Di Palma, of Brewin Dolphin.

Royal Mail’s parcel operations have suffered from intense competition since the group was privatised last year. The addition of the Royal Mail Local Collect “click and collect” facility means Amazon will have 16,000 pickup locations in the UK. Existing locations include “Pass my Parcel” newsagent and convenience stores, Collect+ stores and Amazon lockers at train stations.

Customers can select their preferred pickup location during the checkout process on Amazon’s website, and present identification at the post office branch to receive their parcel.

“This is a good thing,” said Lindsay Mackie, an expert on Royal Mail from the New Weather Institute. “Royal Mail needs to open up to be convenient for customers,” she said.

But many main post offices are closed on Saturday afternoons, which could make pick-up less convenient than in a corner shop.

“The problem with post offices is the opening hours,” said Ms Di Palma.

However, some post offices contained within other shops are open for up to 12 hours a day, and some have piloted Sunday opening.

UK Should get Faster & Cheaper 4G Data, says Ofcom

UK Should get Faster & Cheaper 4G Data, says Ofcom
Mobile phone users in the UK can expect their 4G data bills to drop in the future, Ofcom says, following a decision to free up more spectrum. The telecoms regulator has ruled that frequencies currently reserved for digital TV transmissions and wireless microphones should switch over to mobile broadband. It said that the change should happen between 2020 and 2022.

One expert said the move would benefit both cities and the countryside. “It’s significant for people in remote and rural areas because, despite the best efforts of government to get operators to deliver fixed broadband into those areas, the fact is there are still some places that are not going to be reached by 2022, and this will help,” said Mark Newman, chief research officer of Ovum’s telecoms research business.

“And because the 700MHz frequency band is better able to pass through walls and other objects than higher frequencies it will also be useful in built-up areas,” he added. “London, in particular, is internationally known to have pretty bad mobile broadband coverage within buildings. So, certainly this will help networks in situations they have traditionally had problems.”

Ofcom said it expected network providers to cut their bills following the increase in capacity.

“Millions of consumers could benefit from lower mobile tariffs than would otherwise be offered, because we expect a significant proportion of the network cost savings to be passed through to them,” explained a spokesman. “Specifically, these include network cost savings from deploying fewer base stations and improvements in mobile performance in hard-to-serve locations.”

The regulator stressed that TV viewers would not face another “switchover” to be able to keep using services such as Freeview, as was the case when analogue terrestrials signals were turned off.

However, it will affect some of the communications equipment used by theatres, sports venues and music event organisers, who now have about five years to update their kit.

The regulator added that it was currently carrying out a consultation on how to auction off 2.3GHZ and 3.4GHz spectrum, which is currently used by the Ministry of Defence for mobile broadband.

Yahoo to Replace Google for Search on Firefox

Yahoo to Replace Google for Search on Firefox
Yahoo will now replace online leader Google as the default search engine on Firefox’s internet browsers in the US. Yahoo said it would launch a “clean, modern and immersive design” search engine for Firefox users starting in December.

The news comes as Google’s arrangement with Firefox maker Mozilla nears an end after a decade-long partnership.

Market leader Google accounts for 67% of searches from US desktop computers. That compares to about 20% for Microsoft and 10% for Yahoo, according to research firm comScore.

Yahoo chief executive Marisa Mayer called the five-year deal with Firefox “the most significant partnership for Yahoo in five years”. “At Yahoo, we believe deeply in search – it’s an area of investment and opportunity for us,” she added.

Firefox users in the US will be automatically directed to search results on Yahoo’s website when they enter a subject into the small box that appears at the top of the browser.

Firefox, however, does lag behind Google Chrome in the US browser market. It accounts for about 10% of browsers on desktop computers, mobiles and tablets compared to over 33% for Google Chrome in October, according to tech data firm StatCounter.

Along with ending its partnership with Google in the US, Mozilla is also directing Firefox to Baidu’s search engine in China and Yandex in Russia. “Our new search strategy doubles down on our commitment to make Firefox a browser for everyone, with more choice and opportunity for innovation,” said Mozilla chief executive Chris Beard.

Meanwhile, just last month, Google chairman Eric Schmidt had said that the firm’s biggest rival in online search was e-commerce giant Amazon and not competitors like Yahoo.

Globally, Google accounts for about 90% of the online search market.

Broadband Speed Adverts Targeted by Which?

Broadband Speed Adverts Targeted by Which?
Consumer watchdog Which? has called for regulators to change the way broadband services are advertised. Currently providers can use a headline speed for services even if only 10% of customers will actually get that speed.

Which? found that a quarter of people would have chosen another deal if they had been better informed about the actual speeds they would receive.

Speed dial for megabits per second

 

Providers say various factors can affect the speed individual customers get.

“Internet connection is now an essential part of modern life so it beggars belief that providers can sell people short by advertising speeds that only 10% of customers could receive,” said Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which? “We want advertising watchdogs to pull the plug on confusing adverts and ensure broadband providers show the speeds the majority of customers will actually get.”

Which? found that few people were aware of the 10% guideline but the vast majority (88%) felt that speed was a crucial factor in choosing a broadband deal. Only 5% felt that speed was currently advertised in the clearest way.

Which? called on the advertising watchdogs, the Committee of Advertising Practice (Cap) and the Broadcasting Committee of Advertising Practice (Bcap), to review current guidelines. It has also launched a campaign – Give us broadband speed guarantees – that is asking the public to sign up.

The Internet Service Providers’ Association said that it supported efforts to “boost transparency” but added that it was not always easy to work out what speeds consumers would receive.

“A variety of factors can affect speeds outside of an ISP’s control, including customers’ internal wiring and equipment,” said Ispa secretary general Nicholas Lansman. “As speeds can involve factors beyond the control of the ISP, we would caution against too restrictive rules.”

Virgin Money Prices Shares at 283p

Virgin Money Prices Shares at 283p
Virgin Money, the UK bank part-owned by entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, has announced its shares will be priced at 283p each when it lists on the London Stock Exchange. That will give the company a market capitalisation of of approximately £1.25bn, the company said.

Employees will each receive £1,000 worth of shares in the business.

Shares are expected to start trading officially on 18 November and the bank expects to raise £150m from the sale. Unofficial trading will start on Thursday.

Chief executive Jayne-Anne Gadhia said: “As we begin life as a public company, we are committed to maintaining the straightforward, transparent approach to business that we believe helps differentiate us. “We are passionate about improving competition in UK retail banking and believe that today’s IPO is another step forward for us as we seek to deliver on that objective,” she said.

On completion of the initial public offering, the company says it will repay the government the final £50m that it owes for its 2011 purchase of part of Northern Rock. It bought the banking and mortgage lending arm of the old Northern Rock bank, which was bailed out by the Bank of England in the autumn of 2007 at the start of the international banking crisis.

Northern Rock was nationalised in early 2008, then in 2010 it was split in two – Northern Rock plc and Northern Rock (Asset Management), into which was placed its bad debt.

Virgin Money’s final £50m payment will take the amount it has paid the Treasury for Northern Rock to £1.02bn.

Sir Richard Branson will hold a 34% stake in the business after the listing and US billionaire Wilbur Ross will hold 33%.

Online Christmas Shopping: The Time is Now

Online Christmas Shopping: The Time is Now
The Christmas shopping season is now upon us, and the month of November is a great time to begin buying gifts for your family and friends.

When making your list of gift recipients and what you plan to buy for each, consider how much easier it will be to do your Christmas shopping online from the comfort of your own home than to endure the crowds that will be thronging department stores from now through Christmas Eve. It so happens that many online retailers operate as virtual department stores, making it even easier for you to buy for several people and place just one order.

By starting now, you can also rest assured that your gifts will arrive in plenty of time for you to wrap them and put them away until you are ready to present them, leaving you free in the meantime to focus on cooking and baking for family, church and office Christmas gatherings.

Another advantage of shopping online late in the year is the opportunity to buy fall and winter clothing at a substantial discount as clothing retailers prepare to bring in the coming year’s spring fashions. If there’s a particular lambswool sweater or cardigan that you know your sister or best friend would absolutely love but the price seemed out of your range the last time you browsed the company website, check again; your window of opportunity may now be open!

The Country Collection has specialised in ladies’ and men’s clothing and accessories for the country lifestyle for over a century. With a wide range of exclusive clothing designs, free returns and a no-time-limit guarantee, Country Collection will make your home shopping experience a breeze and allow you to focus on the things that truly matter – like making time for friends and family!

For more information or to request a catalogue, call us today on 0844 573 5310 or visit the Country Collection website today.

Vodafone to Launch UK Broadband and TV Services

Vodafone to Launch UK Broadband and TV Services
Vodafone is to launch UK broadband and TV services in the spring, it has announced. The firm will use its business fibre network and BT infrastructure to offer the service, it said.

Meanwhile, Vodafone nudged up its full-year core earnings forecast to between £11.6bn and £11.9bn, compared with previous guidance of between £11.4bn and £11.9bn. The firm’s shares rose by more than 5.5% after its announcements.

Vodafone will use its Cable & Wireless business fibre network and BT’s Openreach network to provide its broadband and TV service, a company spokesman said. Pricing, and what TV content will be offered, has yet to be announced, he added.

The home broadband and TV market in the UK is already very crowded, and it may be difficult for Vodafone to compete with rivals including BT, EE, Sky and Virgin, analysts said. “Vodafone will need to compete on price or on service, and it will be very tough for them to do that,” said Mark Newman, chief research officer at Ovum. It is very expensive to build fibre out to people’s homes, he said.

Mr Newman added that if the provider was not the first or the second in the market, it is difficult to compete, because customers do not tend to change services.

However, according to telecoms analyst Oliver Johnson of Point Contact, Vodafone’s medium and long-term security of revenues depend on the quality of the broadband, phone and TV service it can offer.

People want to use different devices in the home, and these products will increasingly “talk” to each other, he said. Consumers will expect that service to work well, he added. “This is where the real emerging markets are going to come,” he said. “People want to switch the alarm on, order bits for the fridge, monitor their health, and record their favourite TV programme. It all starts to get stuck together.”

Vodafone has moved into more services such as fixed-line telephony, TV and faster 4G mobile as part of its Project Spring network upgrade, which analysts said had helped its overall results.

The firm said improving demand in its big European markets and an investment push into new products helped to slow a fall in revenues.

Vodafone reported second-quarter organic service revenues, which strips out items like handset sales and currency movements, down 1.5%, compared with the near 4-5% falls it recorded in the past six quarters.