United States consumers increased their spending habits in the month of May. Canada’s Tim Hortons released the "Ehmoji" app. Ikea boosted the minimum wage (again) for its workforce. Angie’s List filed a lawsuit against Amazon. And Facebook announced that it is making its Messenger app available for everyone. These were the top headlines from last week.
1. U.S. Consumer Spending Jumps in May
Americans boosted spending in the month of May by 0.9 percent, which is the fastest rate in nearly six years, according to a new report by the Department of Commerce. After shackling themselves to the sofa throughout the winter months, consumers headed outside and did what they do best: purchase stuff.
Ostensibly, consumers used some of the savings from lower gasoline prices to buy goods and services. Spending on long-term goods, like automobiles, rose 2.2 percent. Utilities spending jumped 0.3 percent. Spending on services rose 0.2 percent.
The latest data of consumer spending suggest Americans are easing their grips on their wallets. The trend for the past several months has seen consumers keeping many of the savings from gas prices rather than spending it freely in the economy. With personal income making gains of 0.5 percent, the savings rate dipped to 5.1 percent.
Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the U.S. economy.
This comes as the Department of Labor reported an increase in the number of individuals looking for jobless benefits last week. Although applications jumped by 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 271,000, they remain at historically low levels, which means a tightening labor market.
2. Tim Hortons Releases 'EHmoji' Keyboard App
In time for Canada Day, Tim Hortons released a Canadian-themed emoji keyboard app.
The iconic coffee and donuts company will publish a free app to equip a user’s mobile phone keyboard with various Canadian emoji’s, or "EHmojis." It’s part of an effort for everyone to "share our national pride, one text at a time."
Beginning Wednesday, the mobile app will provide Canadians with the option to test 12 ehmoji’s, like a barbecue, beaver, moose, toque, Muskoka chair and a Tim Hortons coffee cup. Tim Hortons said it will release more images in the near future, and will also take into account the opinions of Canadians who suggest images within the next several weeks.
"We set out to create a set of emojis that personified our great country by capturing some of the things that make us unique and are recognized around the world, starting with the name of the keyboard itself, EHmojis," Tim Hortons chief marketing officer Peter Nowlan said in a statement.
The mobile app is currently available to download for the iOS and Android. Unfortunately, there won’t be an app for the BlackBerry, a Canadian-based company.
3. Ikea Raises Minimum Wage for Workforce
Swedish furniture juggernaut Ikea is giving its employees a wage hike for the second consecutive year.
Ikea announced last week it will be raising the minimum wage for its U.S. workforce as the company attempts to enhance its relationship with employees and lower the worker turnover rate.
The ready-to-assemble furniture maker will increase the minimum wage starting Jan. 1, 2016 to $11.87, up $1.11, or 10 percent, from this year’s minimum wage hike. This will raise the average hourly wage to $15.45. Moreover, it will affect about one-third of the company’s 10,500 American employees.
"We always wanted to make sure we were fair," said Ikea U.S. Chief Financial Officer Rob Olson, in an interview with the Washington Post. "The way we compared fair in the past was being above average. The realization we had was that’s not enough."
Ikea isn’t just implementing an arbitrary number across its landscape of stores. Ikea will be tying worker pay to a "living wage" using MIT’s Living Wage Calculator. This public tool can be used by everyone to determine how much is needed to cover basic living expenses, like food and housing, in one’s local county or area.
"It’s really about being transparent and open with our coworkers," he added. "They can check with the calculator to see that we are staying consistent with that."
Ikea’s announcement comes as many other brand retailers have been gradually raising their own minimum wages. This year, Gap, McDonald’s, Target and Wal-Mart have been just some of the companies to confirm they’re boosting their own minimum wages.
4. Amazon Accused of Stealing Angie's List Data
According to the charges, Amazon local executives and employees gained access to the immense database by signing up for the service as a generic member. Once inside the website, Amazon allegedly downloaded provider profiles, member reviews and other company information.
Essentially, it’s alleged that Amazon tried to create its own database by compiling contacts from Angie’s List rather than gathering its own list of contacts. The purpose of this initiative was to launch a competing service to Angie’s List: Amazon Local Home Services.
Angie’s List explains that there is an excerpt of the member agreement that "explicitly prohibits the use of Angie’s List’s accounts and information for commercial purposes.”
A handful of Amazon employees were listed in the lawsuit as co-defendants. Some of the charges consist of civil conspiracy, computer trespassing, misappropriation of trade secrets, theft and Computer Fraud and Abuse Act violations. The company is looking for damages and for Amazon to cease its practice of abusing Angie’s List information.
"Amazon Local has chosen not to devote the necessary time, resources and effort to compete legitimately with Angie’s List,” the 83-page complaint reads. “Instead, Amazon Local and its employees have chosen the shortcut of surreptitiously accessing and misappropriating Angie’s List’s proprietary information … through dozens (if not more) of Angie’s List membership accounts that were fraudulently obtained and misused.”
5. Facebook Makes Messenger Available for All
Facebook is attempting to become a major player in the world of messaging apps. The social network juggernaut announced on Thursday that Messenger will be available to everyone instead of just Facebook users.
The latest update will prompt users to simply sign in with a name, telephone number and personal image. That’s it. Simply put: you do not have to be a Facebook member to use Facebook Messenger.
Also, Messenger users will be allowed to take advantage of Facebook’s search function. This gives users the option to find people to communicate with but did not give Facebook their telephone number.
Facebook pushed ahead with this concept for a few reasons. First, internal research found that an exponential amount of users wanted to utilize Messenger but not sign up for the social media outlet. Second, by making Messenger available for everyone, it expands it global reach. Third, Facebook wants to boost its presence in emerging markets.
It remains unknown as to how Facebook will generate revenue from this new idea. This is making investors nervous because the Messaging mobile apps market is already crowded with WhatsApp (Facebook-owned), Yo!, Snapchat and WeChat.
Messenger, launched in 2011, currently has 600 million subscribers.
What’s your opinion on the week’s headlines? your thoughts and comments below...