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Posts Tagged ‘internet’

What’s Next?

The economic climate remains uncertain and, as we enter 2017, we look towards a new President in the USA, challenging negotiations in the EU and continuing troubles for High Street stores. One such example is Next, a High Street retailer that has recently seen a significant fall in share price.

Prices of clothing and footwear increased in December for the first time in two years, according to the British Retail Consortium, and Next is just one company that will suffer from these pressures. This retail chain is well established, with over 500 stores in the UK and Eire. It has embraced the internet, launching its online shopping in 1999 and it trades with customers in over 70 countries. However, despite all of the positive actions, Next has seen its share price fall by nearly 12% and is forecasting profits in 2017 to be hit, with a lack of growth in earnings reducing consumer spending and thus hitting sales.

The sales trends for Next are reminiscent of many other stores, with in-store sales falling and online sales rising. In the days leading up to Christmas, in-store sales fell by 3.5%, while online sales increased by over 5%. However, this is not the only trend that this latest data suggests. It also indicates that consumer spending on clothing and footwear is falling, with consumers instead spending more money on technology and other forms of entertainment. Kirsty McGregor from Drapers magazine said:

“I think what we’re seeing there is an underlying move away from spending so much money on clothing and footwear. People seem to be spending more money on going out and on technology, things like that.”

Furthermore, with price inflation expected to rise in 2017, and possibly above wage inflation, spending power is likely to be hit and it is spending on those more luxury items that will be cut. With Next’s share price falling, the retail sector overall was also hit, with other companies seeing their share prices fall as well, although some, such as B&M, bucked the trend. However, the problems facing Next are similar to those facing other stores.

But for Next there is more bad news. It appears that the retail chain has simply been underperforming for some time. We have seen other stores facing similar issues, such as BHS and Marks & Spencer. Neil Wilson from ETX Capital said:

“The simple problem is that Next is underperforming the market … UK retail sales have held up in the months following the Brexit vote but Next has suffered. It’s been suffering for a while and needs a turnaround plan … The brand is struggling for relevancy, and risks going the way of Marks & Spencer on the clothing front, appealing to an ever-narrower customer base.”

Brand identity and targeting customers are becoming ever more important in a highly competitive High Street that is facing growing competition from online traders. Next is not the first company to suffer from this and will certainly not be the last as we enter what many see as one of the most economically uncertain years since the financial crisis.

Next’s gloomy 2017 forecast drags down fashion retail shares The Guardian, Sarah Butler and Julia Kollewe (4/1/17)
Next shares plummet after ‘difficult’ Christmas trading The Telegraph, Sam Dean (4/1/17)
Next warns 2017 profits could fall up to 14% as costs grow Sky News, James Sillars (4/1/17)
Next warns on outlook as sales fall BBC News (4/1/17)
Next chills clothing sector with cut to profit forecast Reuters, James Davey (4/1/17)
Next shares drop after warning of difficult winter Financial Times, Mark Vandevelde (22/10/15)

Questions

  1. With Next’s warning of a difficult winter, its share price fell. Using a diagram, explain why this happened.
  2. Why have shares in other retail companies also been affected following Next’s report on its profit forecast for 2017?
  3. Which factors have adversely affected Next’s performance over the past year? Are they the same as the factors that have affected Marks & Spencer?
  4. Next has seen a fall in profits. What is likely to have caused this?
  5. How competitive is the UK High Street? What type of market structure would you say that it fits into?
  6. With rising inflation expected, what will this mean for consumer spending? How might this affect economic growth?
  7. One of the factors affecting Next is higher import prices. Why have import prices increased and what will this mean for consumer spending and sales?
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Comet fall from the sky

For those looking to buy larger electrical appliances at cheaper prices, things might be looking up, as Comet have begun heavy discounting after entering administration. Deloitte, as the administrator, will now begin the search for a buyer for this retailer, while Comet aims to raise the funds to rescue the company.

Comet was bought by OpCapita last year, but with poor performance continuing across the 200+ stores, we could be about to see the demise of this retailer. Over 6,000 jobs are now at risk, although Deloitte has maintained that stores will continue to trade and that redundancies will not be made. One of the administrators said:

‘Our immediate priorities are to stabilise the business, fully assess its financial position, and begin an urgent process to seek a suitable buyer which would also preserve jobs.’

The retail environment has inevitably suffered over the past few years, with well-known companies such as Woolworths, Optical Express and JJB Sports (to name a few) entering administration. Comet, therefore seems to be the latest in a long line of sad trading stories. So, which factors have contributed towards the collapse of this giant retailer?

Over the past few years, online retailers have gained a larger and larger market share. These internet retailers do not have the same overhead costs that Comet and other high street retailers face. To open a store in an area where customers are in high supply, premium rents must be paid and this adds to the cost of running any given store. In order to cover these higher costs, higher prices can result and this, together with consumers facing tight budgets, has led many customers to look at the cheaper alternatives online. Deloitte has also said that Comet has been suffering from a lack of credit, which has meant that it has not been able to purchase stock in the run-up to Christmas. Deloitte commented that:

‘The inability to obtain supplier credit for the peak Christmas trading period means that the company had no realistic prospect of raising further capital to build up sufficient stock to allow it to continue trading.’

Concerned customers are naturally emerging, wondering whether items they have ordered and paid for will actually turn up. However, Deloitte’s reassurance that trading will continue may go some way to relieving their concern. The following articles consider how Comet has fallen from the sky.

Comet officially enters administration, stores re-open for expected firesale The Telegraph, Graham Ruddick and Helia Ebrahimi (2/11/12)
Comet calls in Deloitte as administrators BBC News (2/11/12)
Apple sky-high as Comet falls to earth The Guardian, Zoe Wood (2/11/12)
Comet enters administration, Deloitte seeks buyer Reuters (2/11/12)
Comet electricals administrators formally begin search for saviour The Guardian, Zoe Wood (2/11/12)
Comet goes into administration Financial Times, Andrea Felsted (3/11/12)
Comet collapse: Deloitte blames internet and lack of first-time home buyers The Telegraph(2/11/12)
Collapse of Comet puts 7000 jobs in danger Independent, James Thompson (2/11/12)

Questions

  1. Why does the retail environment remain very weak?
  2. Explain why Deloitte suggest that a lack of first time home buyers has played a part in the demise of Comet.
  3. Why has a lack of credit contributed towards Comet’s downfall?
  4. Should customers be concerned about how Comet’s demise (if indeed a buyer is not found) might affect prices in other retailers such as Currys, given that they will now have a larger share of the market?
  5. Why has online trading contributed towards the harsher retail environment for the high street stores? You should think about fixed and variable costs in your answer.
  6. Why are companies such as Apple doing so well relative to other companies, such as Comet and JJB Sports? Is there a secret to their success?
  7. What impact might this collapse have on local labour markets, given Comet employs so many people? Think about the effect on wages, unemployment and on claimants of benefits.
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The economics of spam

A modern day hindrance is spam email clogging up your inbox with, for example, offers for cheap drugs or notifications that you will inherit enough money to retire to the Bahamas. A recent paper by Justin Rao and David Reiley in the Journal of Economic Perspectives investigates the economics of spam mail (which, as I discovered, from the article gets it’s name from a Monty Python sketch). Remarkably, they quote figures suggesting that 88% of worldwide email traffic is spam. Their paper then provides a number of interesting insights into the business of spam mail.

First, given that most recipients simply delete it, why is spam mail sent out? For the benefits of sending it to exceed the costs, it must be that somebody is reading and responding to it and the costs must also be reasonably low. Rao and Reiley are able to quantify these costs and benefits. They estimate that if 8.3 million spam emails are sent, only 1.8% (approximately 150,000) will reach the intended recipients’ inboxes, with the remainder being blocked or filtered out. Of these 150,000, just 0.25% (375) are clicked on. Furthermore, these 375 clicks generate just a single sale of the advertised product which is typically sold for around $50. Assuming that free entry of spammers leads to them earning zero economic profit, this means that it costs the spammers around $50 to send the 8.3 million emails.

Second, spam mail clearly imposes a considerable negative externality on society. This includes wasted time for consumers and the costs of the extra server hardware capacity required. Rao and Reiley are also able to quantify the size of the negative externality created. First, they estimate that:

“American firms and consumers experience costs of almost $20 billion annually due to spam.”

This can then be compared to the benefits senders of spam get:

“….. we estimate that spammers and spam-advertised merchants collect gross worldwide revenues on the order of $200 million per year. Thus, the ‘externality ratio’ of external costs to internal benefits for spam is around 100:1.”

They then compare this to estimates for other negative externalities such as car pollution and conclude that the size of the negative externality from spam is significantly greater.

Finally, they also point out that it is predominantly the larger email service providers i.e. Yahoo! Mail, Microsoft Hotmail, and Google Gmail who have both the incentives and resources to fund interventions to eradicate spam. For example, in 2009 Microsoft and Pfizer (the manufacturer of Viagra which faces competition from counterfeit versions often advertised by spam) financially supported the successful operation to shut down the largest spam distributor. Clearly, such operations have large positive spillovers for email users. However, as they also discuss, anti-spam technology also increases the fixed costs of competing as an email provider and they suggest that this has contributed to the increased concentration in the market.

The unpalatable business of spam The undercover economist, Tim Harford (19/07/12)
Huge spam botnet Grum is taken out by security researchers BBC News (19/07/12)
Spammers make a combined $200 million a year while costing society $20 billion BGR, Dan Graziano (28/08/12)

Questions

  1. Explain why free entry results in zero economic profit.
  2. Explain how an increase in fixed costs can lead to an increase in concentration.
  3. Why does Microsoft have large incentives to eradicate spam mail?
  4. In what ways does the externality created by spam mail differ from other forms of advertising?
  5. How might government policies alter the costs and benefits of sending spam mail?
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Do you Lovefilm?

If you want to buy a newly released DVD, a cheaper option than buying off the high-street tends to be to buy online, in particular through Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer. However, Amazon has been facing increasing competition from another US giant, Netflix that has over 16 million subscribers and is looking at entering the British market. Arguably, in a response to this threat, Amazon has agreed to purchase Lovefilm, the online movie rental service that has grown rapidly over the past few years, with over 1.4 million members around the UK.

As of 2008, Amazon already had a 42% stake in the business, but as Lovefilm has been running into difficulties, their senior management team has been looking at the possibility of selling the remaining 58% share. Enter Amazon in a bid to cement and defend their place in the British market to companies such as Netflix. Below are a few articles concerning this takeover – more will be added, as further details emerge.

Amazon acquires Lovefilm for £200m Financial Times, Tim Bradshaw (20/1/11)
Can Lovefilm survive the streaming revolution? Telegraph, James Hurley (27/1/11)
Amazon takes full control of Lovefilm Guardian, Josh Halliday(20/1/11)
Amazon buys remaining stake in Lovefilm DVD service BBC News (20/1/11)
Amazon takes control of Lovefilm Broadband TV News, Julian Clover (20/1/11)
Amazon acquires Lovefilm, the Netflix of Europe Tech Crunch, Mike Butcher (20/1/11)

Questions

  1. What type of takeover is this and what are the main motives behind it?
  2. How are consumers likely to a) benefit and b) suffer from Amazon’s takeover bid for Lovefilm?
  3. Who are Amazon’s main competitors? (Think of all the products they sell.)
  4. Will the Competition authorities be interested in this takeover? Explain your answer.
  5. In which type of market structure would you place Amazon, Netflix and Lovefilm? Explain your answer.
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Internet overload

GDP (or Gross Domestic Product) measures the value of output produced within a country over a 12-month period. It is this figure which we use to see how much the economy is growing (or shrinking). We can also look at how much different sectors contribute towards this figure. Over the past few decades, there has been a significant change in the output of different sectors, as a percentage of GDP, within the UK economy. In particular, the contribution of manufacturing has diminished, while services have grown rapidly.

However, there is one specific area that is making a growing contribution towards UK GDP and is expected to see acceleration in its growth rate by some 10% annually over the next few years: the internet. Although the internet is not an economic sector, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) said that if it was, it would be the UK’s fifth largest sector and according to a report by Google, it is worth approximately £100 billion per year to the UK economy. Furthermore, it is an area in which the UK is one of the leading exporters. The emergence of the internet has transformed industries and individual businesses and the trend looks set to continue. The report by Google found that some 31 million adults bought goods and services online over the past year, spending some £50 billion.

What are the benefits for businesses of internet shopping and does it have an impact on the retail outlets on Britain’s highstreets? The answer is undoubtedly yes, but is it good or bad? What does the emergence of this new ‘sector’ mean for the UK economy?

Articles
UK net economy ‘worth billions’ BBC News (28/10/10)
UK’s internet industry worth £100 billion report Guardian, James Robinson (28/10/10)
’Nation of internet shopkeepers’ pumps £100 billion into economy Independent, Nick Clark (28/10/10)
UK internet is now worth £100bn to UK economy Telegraph, Rupert Neate (28/10/10)
Google at 10 BBC News, Success Story, Tim Weber (4/9/08)
Britain’s £100bn internet economy leads the world in online shopping Guardian, James Robinson (28/10/10)

Report
How the internet is transforming the UK economy The Boston Consulting Group October 2010

Government Statistics
United Kingdom: National Accounts, The Blue Book 2009 Office for National Statistics 2009 edition

Questions

  1. What is the UK’s GDP? How does it compare with other countries and how has it changed over the past 10 years?
  2. How does internet provision contribute towards growth? Think about the AD curve. Illustrate this on a diagram and explain the effect on the main macroeconomic objectives.
  3. Is there a problem with becoming too dependent on this emerging sector?
  4. How has the internet and online environment helped businesses? Think about the impact on costs and revenue and hence profits.
  5. What explanation is there for the change in the structure of the UK economy that we have seen over the past few decades.
  6. Will internet shopping ever replace the ‘normal’ method of shopping? Explain your answer.
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Landline Levy

For many people, internet access is something we take for granted and if you can’t afford to connect, you might be seen to be in relative poverty. Whilst you can afford food, clothes, housing etc, other goods and services are increasingly being seen as necessities. Everyone should be able to afford a mobile phone, a television, the internet. These are all factors that contribute towards a feeling of social inclusion, which is something the government has promoted since its election in 1997.

Although internet access is the norm for most people, in the UK our internet speeds are actually significantly slower than those in other industrialised countries. All this could be about to change, with Labour’s proposal for a 50p monthly tax on households’ landlines to fund super-fast broadband across the country. However, this plan has been condemned by some influential MPs, who argue that the tax is regressive.

“We believe that a 50 pence levy placed on fixed telecommunication lines is an ill-directed charge. It will place a disproportionate cost on a majority who will not, or are unable to, reap the benefits of that charge.”

More important, they argue, is to make sure that everyone has internet access, rather than that everyone has fast access, which is not needed at the moment. When there is a demand for high-speed access from the masses, the market will provide it. However, the government argues that high-speed access is crucial to our economic growth, as it allows access to huge social, economic and health benefits. On the other hand, could such a tax reduce growth, by limiting technological innovation? The Conservatives have promised that if elected, they will scrap this broadband levy and instead aim to fund high-speed internet access by providing ‘BT’s rivals with regulatory incentives to roll out new telecoms networks’. This highly contentious issue is discussed in the articles below.

The Broadband tax: dead in the water? BBC News, Rory Cellan-Jones (23/2/10)
Broadband tax plan condemned Press Association (23/2/10)
Social tariff users need to be made aware of broadband tax exemption Broadband Expert (17/2/10)
Broadband tax could dissuade technology innovation Broadband (27/1/10)
Tories pledge rise in broadband speed Financial Times, Andrew Parker and Ben Fenton (9/2/10)
Fast broadband: an election issue? BBC News, Rory Cellan-Jones (3/2/10)

Questions

  1. What will be the effect of a tax on landlines? Illustrate this on a diagram and think about who will be affected. What type of tax does it represent: direct, indirect, specific, ad-valorem, etc?
  2. Is the tax fair? Why is it argued to be regressive?
  3. How will the Conservative party’s aim to provide regulatory incentives to BT’s rivals allow them to provide high-speed internet access? Is their solution better than Labour’s proposal?
  4. Why might the provision of high-speed internet access (a) stimulate economic growth and (b) constrain economic growth?
  5. Use a growth model to illustrate the importance of technological progress in achieving high levels of economic growth.
  6. How will a tax affect households? Consider the impact on income and consumption and hence on aggregate demand.
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