Halloween’s tomorrow, but the big business story of the week requires us to skip ahead a holiday. REI this week announced it would shutter its stores on Black Friday, opting instead to give its workers a paid day off and encouraging them to go outside and burn off all those gravy calories. By contrast, more than 1 million Walmart workers will go to work bright and early Nov. 27.
The announcement was a shocker: Black Friday for years has been retail’s holiest day; last year, sales centered on the consumption-based holiday were $50.9 billion dollars. The holiday season is when most retailers make most of their money, and Black Friday kicks it off with a bang. That said, Black Friday is starting to lose some of its cachet — that $50.9 billion dollar haul in 2014 was down 11 percent from the year prior. Cyber Monday and, increasingly, Thanksgiving Day sales are also spreading out the holiday-shopping wealth.
So maybe REI isn’t sacrificing millions in revenue; the Kent-based company said it will still accept online orders (though they won’t be processed until the following Monday). But REI is showing some goodwill by giving retailer sales workers — a low-paid bunch with unpredictable hours — a holiday break. Also, REI is one of the few retailers who could do this. It’s a cooperative rather than a publicly traded company, so it doesn’t have shareholders to answer to.
Outdoor Research announced on Wednesday that it would follow REI’s lead and #OptOutside on Black Friday, closing its offices, distribution center, and Seattle factory and retail store.
We Didn’t Forget About Halloween
Candy corn is terrible. The grainy monstrosities caused much heartache when I was a young trick-or-treater; sunflower seeds would have been a more welcome treat. Many feel this way, so National Geographic took a nice dive into the history of this loathed but ubiquitous candy.
There’s another silly thing that persists during Halloween: pet costumes. Animals are not designed for Halloween. They provide no costume feedback, and they get very sick if they eat candy. Nevertheless, we silly humans spend $350 million each year on costumes for Fido.
As more companies offer voice recognition technology, you’re going to be hearing more feminine digital voices. Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Apple’s Siri all sound like women. Why is that?
In short, people like women’s voices better. As Wired reported, there’s some implicit sexism involved there. The story cites late Stanford researcher Clifford Nass, who said that male voices are associated with authority figures, while female voices help “us solve our problems by ourselves.” Now consider how two voice systems, one with a male voice and one with a female, are used: Cortana, a female voice, acts as a digital assistant, while Dom, the voice of the Domino’s Pizza app, guides you through ordering a pizza. One listens, the other instructs. The author even compared Dom to her old high-school English teacher.
Boeing a Sore or Smart Loser?
Boeing, together with Lockheed Martin, was passed up by the U.S. Air Force to build the next generation of bombers, a job valued between $55 billion and $80 billion. Losing a potential $80 billion stings a bit, so Boeing is considering protesting the Air Force decision.
The company faces a high bar if it does decide to protest, as Dominic Gates writes in The Seattle Times. The Pentagon has already lost a Boeing protest, for an Air Force tanker, so this latest bomber-selection process has already undergone a Department of Defense audit to ensure it’s bulletproof.
Fortunately for Puget Sound workers, there’s a silver lining if Northrop Grumman keeps the bid. The Puget Sound Business Journal reports that there could actually be more work for area Boeing factories. Northrop is based in Southern California, while Boeing’s defense arm is in St. Louis, meaning Boeing could produce more components, such as wings and fuselages, in the Puget Sound area if the bombers themselves are built in California.
Will Tech Jobs Become a Commodity?
Before the Industrial Revolution, people who could build physical products were in high demand. Then the steam engine, mechanization, electricity, and assembly lines came along, and, well, you don’t see many blacksmiths these days.
Could a similar pattern affect the Puget Sound computer science industry? University of California, Berkeley, economist Enrico Moretti thinks it’s possible. Computer engineers today command top wages and are fiercely recruited, but developers could become so commonplace that they are among the lower-cost employees at a company. If that’s the case, you don’t need offices in a talent hub like Seattle — Oklahoma would be a lot cheaper.
“The question for Seattle is what will come in place of those jobs,” Moretti told the PSBJ. If innovation ceases here, Seattle and Silicon Valley could become the next Rochester, New York, the place where Kodak became a tech empire. Haven’t seen a Kodak camera in a while? Moretti’s point exactly.
Washington is Not Friendly to Big Business
Washington’s tax code is considered prohibitive to businesses, so the state compensated by handing out more subsidies than any other save New York. As Seattle Times columnist Jon Talton explains, the state dished out $13.2 billion in subsidies last year, with Boeing being the top recipient. Microsoft also fared well.
Each week, writer Jake Bullinger shares the most interesting business stories relevant to the Eastside. Here is last week’s post.