A Taxing Situation

If you live in California, hopefully you are aware that this is the last day you can do “tax free” shopping with Amazon. Starting Saturday, Amazon will collect sales tax for purchases from California (it is unclear what Amazon is doing regarding Marketplace Sellers — they haven’t sent us any mail one way or t’other). As a result, there have been article after article on the subject, including one from Bargain Babe extolling readers to buy their big ticket things now!

Perhaps they should consult an accountant. All that is changing is who collects and submits the tax. You’ve always owed tax on online purchases in California. If the retailer didn’t collect it, it was called a “use tax” and was to be submitted with your annual state tax return. Although they didn’t really enforce it before, they started enforcing use tax last year; I know my accountant had me get a summary of our purchases from Amazon and calculate the tax.

With this change, you don’t have to do the calculation. Amazon will do it for you and add it on to the purchase. But the tax was always due, so you are only “saving” money if you were cheating the state out of their tax before.

So what will the tax get you? Quite likely, faster delivery. Amazon decided to collect the tax because California is a big market for them, and this permits them to have huge warehouses built outside L.A. and other locations around the state. This will help cut the shipping time by a day or more – another death blow to brick-and-mortar competitors. Some locations may even get same day delivery.

Music: The Sherman Brothers Songbook (Disneyland Children’s Chorus): It’s a Small World


Acceptable Discrimination

Two articles seen during my lunchtime reading have gotten me started thinking about forms of discrimination…. but probably not the type you’re thinking off when I use the word.

The first is price discrimination. The LA Times is reporting on how Bloomingdales is opening three more outlet stores. Outlet stores are one way companies do price discrimination: attempting to find the highest price some class of people are willing to pay for goods. In some cultures, this is done by bargaining, but we don’t have the time to do that for everything. Bloomies is seeking price discrimination by having higher prices in their main stores, in higher-price paying areas, and lower prices for the same goods in areas that aren’t willing to pay more. Other ways of price discrimination are coupons, sales, groupons, and many others.

The second is size discrimination, but in the price discrimination sense. In other words: what size garments must women think they fit in order to buy clothes (men, apparently, don’t care about the size labels on their clothes). The NY Times has a nice article on the crazy quilt of womens sizing, where what you wear in one manufacturer’s garments doesn’t work for a different manufacturer… but no one is willing to change things. Why? Size discrimination, in the sense that more people will buy your clothes if they think they fit in a smaller size.

I tried to find a third article on this type of discrimination: that is, finding an acceptable value (price, size) of something that makes it acceptable to purchase, but couldn’t in my quick skim of articles. Perhaps there’s one in color discrimination: people will only buy this year’s colors, even though the choice of colors is completely arbitrary (the same is true for cars, by the way). So I’ll turn the question over to you: how do you deal with this form of discrimination in purchasing, and what factors about a product influence you in purchasing it? [Given: we’re a bunch of engineers here, so of course performance is a factor.]


Friday News Chum: Theatre, Market, and Skank Departures

A late lunch break today—I’ve been busy getting ready for ACSAC next week. But I’ve accumulated a few news items:

  • From the “Theatrical Departures” Department: The OC Register is reporting that the Fullerton Civic Light Opera will close in January. This is a loss for the entire Southern California Theatre community: The Fullerton CLO put on great regional shows, and continued the Civic Light Opera (an older code-phrase for “Musical Theatre”) tradtion started by organizations such as the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, now reduced to the travesty that is Broadway LA. This just leaves the South Bay CLO and the Downey CLO to carry on the tradition. Some may not care about this—after all, these are just theatre jobs—but who is to say that a job at the mall or a job in manufacturing is more or less important. This means the loss of numerous jobs that provided paychecks to families, both directly for Fullerton and for their technical and performing artists. We’ve seen other scares: the Pasadena Playhouse is slowly recovering, and the Rubicon in Ventura has been dealing with foreclosure threats to its playhouse. So what killed FCLO? The recession: specifically, a drop in subscription revenue by 20%, combined with a loss of rental income as high schools cut back their arts programs (these programs often rented sets and props from FCLO). These are things that could hit any theatre, making things especially scare. What can you do? Go see a show at your local live theatre.
  • From the “Market Departures” Department: Another sad closing to announce: HOWS markets are closing all locations except Pasadena. Again, we have a victim of the recession. HOWS was the successor to Hughes. After Hughes was sold to Ralphs, some of the Hughes family members started the HOWS chain. It was doing good for a while, with locations in Granada Hills, Pasadena, and Trancas Canyon… but in the last year, saw major problems. I do agree with the conclusion of the article: the store failed because it lost its personality. Those who went their originally went because of the Hughes personality. After that died way, it just couldn’t compete with the market majors (Ralphs, Vons, Albertsons), the upscale chains (Gelsons, Whole Foods), or the quirky chains (TJs or Fresh & Easy)… and it certainly couldn’t compete with the non-Union chains.
  • From the “Skank Departures” Department: Our last departure is a good one: The NY Times is reporting that the Times Square redevelopment is complete. Back in the 1970s, Times Square was a cesspool of pronshops and sleeze… and these days rent is up to $1,400/ft2. The number of tourists is up 74% since 1993, to an estimated 36.5 million last year, and attendance at Broadway shows has soared to nearly 12 million. The story of its revitalization is an interesting one… and one that owes quite a bit to the Disney Company and the New Amsterdam Theatre.

Friday News Chum: Watts Towers, Jack LaLanne, Fox Hills, Playboy, and the Flyaway Bus

Some lunchtime chum for you, mostly noted yesterday. All of these seem to relate to things that have lasted and persevered.


Chum For A Thursday Lunch

After a brief hiatus, here’s some lunchtime news chum, gleaned from the droppings of the papers scanned during lunch:

  • From the “Are You Going or Coming?” Department: U-Haul has released its list of Top 50 Destinations, i.e., where people are moving to. It is an interesting list. With the housing price drops, Los Angeles has become more affordable and is number 3 on the list, topped only by Atlanta GA and Houston TX. Las Vegas is #4. Austin, #9. Sacramento, #15, with San Francisco at #18.
  • From the “Peripheral Damage from Teabagging” Department: All these “tea parties” behind promulgated by the conservative right are having an unintended side-effect, and I’m not talking about teaching everyone about what teabagging really means. No, it is slurring the good name of the beverage known as tea. Specifically, there is the fear among tea drinkers that tea is being associated with a set of really negative emotions — anger, bitterness, divisiveness — and people are getting the idea that tea is something you can just throw around and waste. We need to show people that tea parties are a good thing, and good for their health, not a political statement.
  • From the “I Can’t Hear You La La La La” Department: Despite the fact that it is losing money in the US, Tesco is continuing the expansion of Fresh and Easy. They just opened their 64th store in Corona (and we’re eagerly awaiting the opening of their new Northridge store). Still they have delayed a planned expansion into Northern California despite having announced leases for 38 sites and, in many cases, having built out the stores complete with empty shelves and working cash registers. It will be interesting to see if this is an experiment that works, or crashes and burns. We hope it works, as they have a large selection of Gluten-Free products.
  • From the “So Will He De-Friend Me Now?” Department: According to the WSJ, via LA Buisness Observed (la_biz_observed), Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson (the founders of MySpace) have stepped down. Does this mean that I no longer have to have Tom as a friend?
  • From the “When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Go Shopping” Department: Tuesday night we had a program on Resiliancy of the Soul at our congregation, and we looked at how people deal with stress. Some go shopping. Well, it appears that teens who go shopping are increasingly price, not brand conscious. This is creating a significant slump at retailers that depend on teens to buy their overpriced merchandise, such as Abercrombie & Fitch (who in the old days, had wonderful professional clothing, but I digress). Nowadays, teens seem to favor stores like American Eagle and Old Navy, which fit their budgets better.
  • From the “How To Get Out of Traffic Tickets” Department: Ever wonder why elected officials don’t seem to get traffic tickets? It turns out they have special license plates, which make their records confidential. The program started with the shielding of information related to plates belonging to police officiers, back when anyone could walk into a DMV office with a license plate number and walk out with the car owner’s home address. In the first seven years of the program, lawmakers added judges, district attorneys – and themselves. Since then, the list of people afforded confidentiality has swelled to include jail guards, district attorney investigators and National Park Service rangers, as well as city council members and city attorneys, among others. Further, officials can keep the secret plates when they retire. If they change to a civilian job, they can stay shielded for another three years. To make things worse, they are talking about expanding the program to about 100 Board of Equalization investigators, as well as code enforcement officers, zoo veterinarians, humane society shelter workers and the five elected members of the Board of Equalization.

I Survived It

Today I did the unthinkable, and survived. I went shopping with my teenage daughter.

Actually, we did pretty good. The first stop was the Citadel Outlets, where I hit Tommy Hilfinger (one pair of pants) and Eddie Bauer (one shirt, one pair of pants), while nsshere hit the Torrid Outlet and Old Navy, and got a bunch of stuff. I saw some possibilities at Van Heusen, but they were too disorganized. Next, it was off to The Block at Orange, where I hit the Virgin Megastore This-Location-Going-Out-Of-Business sale (got 5 CDs and 1 DVD… for Amazon prices!), and nsshere hit Saks Off 5th (didn’t find anything). We also looked at Hilo Hattie, and tried the Steve & Barry’s Going Out of Business Sale… but the latter was a zoo so we gave up. We also got more at Old Navy. Our last stop was Irvine Spectrum, where nsshere hit Urban Outfitters and Nordstrom, but didn’t find anything. Dinner was a new find — the “Brents of Orange County” — Hof’s Hut in Orange. Yum.


Wanna Go Shopping?

[As I’ll soon be tied up in an all day meeting, an observation on the news whilst the tea cools…]

Do you know where one of Southern California’s largest shopping centers will soon be? If you guessed the San Fernando Valley, you’re right!

The Daily News is reporting how Westfield of Borg has announced their plans to unite the Westfield Prominade and the Westfield Topanga malls with a $750 million outdoor retail complex called The Village in Warner Center. The village, which will be build on land currently containing a dead theatre, dead restaurants, a dead miniature golf course, and soon to be dead businesses, will include a 300-room, four-star hotel, 150 condominiums and apartments, offices, and 550,000 square feet of shops and restaurants. At 3.8 million ft2, the three-mall complex will be larger than South Coast Plaza in Orange County and Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance. Construction is expected to start in two years. When finished, The Village could draw 10 million visitors a year – in addition to the 15 million who visit Topanga each year and the 9 million who stop by the Promenade. Officials believe the new mall will create 2,500 temporary construction jobs and 7,500 permanent jobs, plus $6 million in sales tax revenue.

The article includes some conceptual drawings as well as a locator map.

I predict parking in that area will be a mess, however, even though the new project will include 4,100 parking spaces above and below ground. It is still unknown how the two malls will be connected, transit-wise. I’ll note there’s also another “big box” complex not that far away.

Who will be in this mall? Westfield has indicated that there will be no department stores; tenants will include restaurants and national chains that don’t depend on department stores for consumer traffic. It will be one of the few outdoor malls in the valley… and it will be in Woodland Hills, one of the hottest parts of the valley.