European Commission cracks down on e-commerce scams

european-commissionThe European Commission is planning to crack down on aggressive e-commerce practices which are apparently discouraging consumers from shopping across union borders online.

The commission has announced plans to promote coordinated enforcement efforts and help member states share best practices in light of a review of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive.

The directive introduced standardised rules across the EU five years ago, including bans on unfair business-to-consumer commercial practices, bans on misleading consumers, fake free offers, consumer baiting, hidden advertising and direct marketing to children. However, the European Commission found that consumers and businesses are still uncertain about how the new rules need to be applied by national authorities., reports Out-Law.com.

“Consumer spending accounts for 56% of EU GDP, but a lack of consumer confidence in shopping across EU borders means we are still not tapping into the full potential of the Single Market,” said EU Justice Commissioner Vivienne Reding. “We have good rules in place to protect consumers, but we need to make sure they are better enforced, especially in cross-border cases.”

Reding stressed that rogue traders should not be tolerated and that consumers have to know exactly what they are buying. Consumers must be sure they are not getting ripped off in the process, especially when they are spending across the border. The EC found that only 40 percent of EU consumers shop across EU borders online. British retailers are leading the cross-border e-commerce charge, so this should be good news for them, provided the EC doesn’t botch it.

The commission said that consumers are a lot more interested in making cross-border purchases now than they were in 2006, before the Directive came into force. However, plenty of other factors contributed to growth and the Directive was just a small piece of the puzzle.

IT services market was poor last year

rubbish-tip1Beancounters at Ovum have officially ruled 2012 as bad for the IT services market.

Ed Thomas, Senior Analyst in the Ovum IT Services team said that 2012 was the worst for IT services contract activity since 2002.

He wrote that performance in the three months to the end of December 2012 fell well below the levels seen in the same period of 2011. This makes IT services contract activity the lowest than it has been for more than a decade.

In Ovum’s latest analysis, deals in the IT services market was only $20.8 billion, down 34 per cent on the same period of the previous year.

The number of deals fell 17 per cent in the same period and there was a notable lack of big deals. While the fourth quarter was slightly better than the beginning of the year, that really does not make things better across the year.

Thomas blamed the ongoing economic uncertainty afflicting key markets for IT services such as the US and Europe as a major factor behind the weak performance of the industry in 2012.

His research suggests that many enterprises remain wary of committing to major projects, with issues such as the Eurozone crisis having a particularly significant impact.

In addition, public sector activity has reduced as many governments come under pressure to cut public spending in the face of high debt levels, Thomas said.

Enterprises were just as bad, where the number of deals announced fell by 50 per cent. In healthcare contract volumes were down 39 percent and in the financial services market they fell 18 percent. The only industries in which contract activity was up on the previous year were telecommunications and technology sectors.

Europe was the leading market for private sector contract activity in 2012 but the number of contracts generated by European enterprises actually declined sharply during the year, falling 31 percent to $16.7 billion.

Private sector contracts in America slumped dramatically in 2011, rebounded in 2012, finishing the year up 48 percent at $10.5 billion.

This was mostly boosted by a couple of big contracts from Procter & Gamble and it is too early to tell whether or not this represents a significant shift in approach by enterprises in the region, Thomas said.

Budget will have knock on effect on disties

ossyThe dreaded UK Budget could have a negative impact on margins in the industry, distributors have said.

With the UK teetering on the brink of a triple-dip recession and the country’s once-cherished AAA credit rating lost, the Budget, set to be announced on Wednesday is expected to bring bad news to businesses.

Chancellor George Osborne has already said the Budget will contain measures to “help those who aspire to work hard and get on” but would also set out the scale of further curbs on public spending from 2015.

Distributors have also suggested Osborne will once again announce rises in fuel as well as on metals, both factors that could cause ripples in the channel.

One told ChannelEye: “The budget is always a time everyone dreads. If we’re talking from a business perspective then there’s a lot that we can look forward to. Firstly is probably a rise in fuel costs, which of course will have a detrimental impact on our business, meaning we’ll have to raise costs for our customers.

“Components, especially those with certain metals will also rise, meaning suppliers will either have to raise their costs or, in an unlikely case, keep costs the same and risk smaller margins. Either way it’s not good,” he added.

Another distie also shared the same views, embellishing on the components that could be affected, telling ChannelEye: “Every year the budget has some impact on us and our clients. Some metals, be it iron or copper could be taxed at a higher price meaning suppliers will have to raise their costs having both a knock on effect on the channel and the consumer, who I imagine will also be facing more financial issues due to other parts of the budget.

“However, this may also drive more competition with suppliers trying to keep costs low. This means it’ll drive down lower prices which will affect our margins.”

Others were however, more concerned about fuel costs, claiming that this would be the
“biggest problem for [the industry],” as they just kept “rising and rising”.

“Possibly component prices but I don’t think this will have as much impact as petrol costs,” he told ChannelEye.

“Either way it’ll mean we, and clients will be putting prices up to ensure we keep to our profit margins.”

However, others were less concerned taking a more “Ce la vie” approach.
“It’s not all bad,” one said.

“Yes, there will be price hikes in fuel and components. But, this is all relative to the way inflation works. Everything is going up, it’s the way of the climate. I think people are almost expecting to having to pay more, whether that has a knock on effect on what they buy remains to be seen.”

Intel UK country manager off to pastures new

Graham Palmer, IntelA long standing senior executive at Intel UK is being promoted soon.

Graham Palmer, country manager of Intel UK, will become the country manager of Intel Canada, according to reliable sources.

Palmer has risen in the ranks at Intel over the 24 years or so he has worked at the chip giant. Known to practically everybody in the UK IT industry, he has held the post of country manager here for several years now.

At press time, Intel could not be contacted. A new UK country manager is expected to be appointed in the next week or two.

 

 

HMRC customer service is “abysmal” says report

hmrchqHM Revenue and Customs needs to “sharpen up” its act when it comes to the way it handles calls, a parliament committee has said.

In its report, the Committee of Public Accounts (PAC) said the organisation’s treatment of call handling and responses to letters was “abysmal” and “disgraceful”.

It pointed out that in 2011-12, 20 million phone calls were not answered racking up a total of  £136 million wasted by callers who were waiting to speak to an adviser.

Against its target of responding to 80 percent of letters within 15 days, the department managed to reply to just 66 percent, PAC said, adding this was an “abysmal record.”

The Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, said:  “HMRC’s ‘customers’ have no choice over whether or not they deal with the department. It is therefore disgraceful to subject them to unacceptable levels of service when they try to contact the department by phone or letter.”

However, she pointed out the organisation was aiming to change its attitude with officials “beginning to realise that “good customer service lies at the heart of any strategy.”

She added that it was also good news for those trying to phone the department as they would no longer be forced to use the more expensive 0845 numbers.

Other planned changes include the resolution of more queries first time and a call-back service where this is not possible.

Last week the department announced it would  cut a third of its customer-facing staff as well as closing all of its 281 enquiry centres in 2014. It said at the time, that instead of visiting these customers had to contact the phone line or go online to get their tax query answered.

Advisers may then decide that the issue should be discussed face-to-face at the caller’s home or elsewhere. The HMRC said that this could shave  £13 million a year off its bills.

However, PAC pointed out that the HMRC now faced more calls but had fewer staff.

It said that as a result of these changes the HMRC’s new target of answering 80 percent of calls within five minutes was “woefully inadequate and unambitious.”

Hodge said the department should instead set a more demanding target in the short term and a long-term target that is much closer to the industry standard of answering 80 percent of calls within 20 seconds.

“Just how the department is going to improve standards of customer service, given the prospect of its having fewer staff and receiving a higher volume of calls, is open to question. HMRC plans to cut the number of customer-facing staff by a third by 2015. At the same time, the stresses associated with introducing the Real Time Information System, Universal Credit and changes to child benefit are likely to drive up the number of phone calls to the department,” Hodge pointed out.

“Since our hearing it has also been announced that HMRC is to close all of its 281 enquiry centres which give face-to-face advice to customers. This will undoubtedly put even more pressure on phonelines.

HMRC spent approximately £900 million on customer service in 2011-12, around a quarter of its £3.7 billion total expenditure. It received 79 million phone calls and 25 million items of post in the year.

People contact HMRC because they want to get their tax right and HMRC is obliged to make sure they get a good service.

However, in recent years the standard of HMRC’s customer service has been described by PAC as “unacceptable.”

HSBC staff face more cold steel

axeHSBC is once again grinding its axe ready to chop yet more jobs.

According to the Financial Times, the bank will push ahead with a second round of cuts in a bid to keep to its strategic overhaul plans, expected to be outlined to investors in a few months.

The new job cuts come after Stuart Gulliver, HSBC’s chief executive, to promise that he “fixate on costs” over the coming year. Within this he said he would find a further $1 billion of annual savings in 2013, which it seems is coming from the job front.

Although there is no set amount of jobs that are on the line, it is predicted that around 5,000 staff could be issued with P45s.

This is on top of slashes over the past two years, which have seen staff headcounts drop from 302,000 to 260,000.

And there’s bad news on the horizon for HSBC’s IT workforce with rumours that Gulliver could go ahead with plans to replace the bank’s in-house software and development.

The number of staff working in that area is already estimated to have been dropped from 27,000 to about 21,000. However, there may be more cuts here if outsourcing IT is decided.

Apple selling refurbished iPads in online store

refurb-ipadConsumers want cheaper tablets and even Apple has given in to the trend, with the introduction of the iPad mini last year. Now it is going a step further, by selling refurbished iPads online.

Appleinsider reports that Apple is already listing a number of refurbs in the US. For example, a black 32GB iPad mini with Wi-Fi and cellular is up for grabs for $429, while a Wi-Fi only 32GB white unit goes for $389. Fourth generation 9.7-inchers are also there. A Wi-Fi only 16GB Retina pad will set you back $449, while a black one with Verizon cellular is priced at $579.

Although they are refurbished, they are hardly bargains. Going for a refurbished iPad mini should save consumers $30 to $40 depending on the SKU, or $50 on Retina 9.7-inch models. They are still a lot pricier than brand new Android tablets, but there is a very good reason for that.

Apple still enjoys a comfortable lead in the tablet space, courtesy of its app ecosystem, which is second to none. Demand for Android tablets is going up, but consumers are going after cheaper models, not high-end gear with HD screens.

Ultra HD TV panel shipments to hit 2.6 million units this year

lg-ultra-hdThe first Ultra HD devices are hitting the market and analysts now estimate 2.6 million Ultra HD TV panels could be shipped by the end of the year.

Since Ultra HD, or 4Kx2K is a relatively new standard, shipments last year were negligible, just 63,000 units. This year we should see the first generation of commercially viable Ultra HD televisions, but it will take years before they go mainstream.

Ultra HD sets are extremely expensive and they are pretty pointless for the time being. There is practically no 4K content out there and spending thousands on “future proof” TVs just isn’t an option for most consumers. NPD Display Search reckons panel makers are looking to speed up 4Kx2K adoption by strengthening their relationships with TV brands and stepping up their manufacturing and sales efforts.

DisplaySearch Vice President, Greater China Market, said Innolux Corp is the most aggressive Ultra HD panel maker at this point, as it is developing a full line-up of panels in the 35- to 85-inch range.

“Despite this, 4K×2K panel manufacturers’ shipments are primarily focused on 50″, 55″/58”, and 65″ sizes, which are expected to have the highest volume shipments, especially in China,” said Hsieh. “4K×2K LCD TV is the newest TV technology available, and in order for it to be successful, it will be critical for the supply chain to avoid falling behind when making their purchases, even if content is still scarce. Some panel makers are also working with design houses to develop circuits built into the panel, to enable up-scaling of HD to 4K×2K content. This will help to drive the 4K×2K LCD TV market and encourage panel makers, especially those that have already started design-in work with TV brands in 2013.”

It all sounds a tad optimistic. New chips and upscaling are no substitute for 4K content, which is simply not around and it won’t be readily available for years to come.

Raxton Data rebrands after stonking year

spamCloud based email security outfit Raxton Data, has rebranded itself after what it calls “an exceptional year”.

The company is now calling itself EveryCloud Technologies, we guess Raxton Data was a bit too formal as the name did not seem to have much to do with the company any more,

The company said that it now has more than 100 resellers and 50,000 end users with customers, ranging from small SMEs all the way up to global organisations.

Graham O’Reilly, EveryCloud CEO and Co-Founder claims that EveryCloud Technologies, is among the UK’s fastest growing cloud service providers.

He said that it is now scanning millions of emails every day thanks to having some good antispam software, O’Reilly said.

The name needed to change to reflect where the company is now and where it is going, he claimed.

David Thornton, Technical Manager from Triumph Technologies said that he used EveryCloud’s anti-spam system for around 50 of its customers and have been extremely pleased with its flexibility and accuracy at which it blocks spam.

EveryCloud Technologies was founded in 2009 by Matt Baker and Graham O’Reilly, who describe themselves as two British chaps tired of bad customer service in technology.

It provides cloud based services which allows businesses to security share files and protect against spam and virus attacks.

 

Target gobbles up two e-commerce culinary chains

tagtet-ecommerceDiscount retail chain Target is expanding its e-commerce operation with a couple of tender and juicy acquisitions. 

Reuters reports that the company has agreed to buy Chefs Catalog and Cooking.com.

The acquisitions should boost Target’s ability to sell cooking products and kitchenware online and fancy ceramic knives will only be a click away.

Target did not disclose the financial terms, but both deals should be closed in 30 days and they will not affect the chain’s financial results.

Chefs Catalog sells kitchen utensils and tools directly to customers through its website, while Cooking.com sells more than 30,000 various products, including recipes and other member-submitted cooking content.

Thanks to Jamie Oliver and other celebrity chefs, an increasing number of people are turning to home cooking as a healthier and cheaper alternative to eating out. The fact that quite a few people are broke and can’t afford to dine out also helps.

Surface tablet sales fall short, resemble Zune

surface-rtOh dear. It looks like the sceptics were right, Microsoft’s Surface tablets are lemons. Bloomberg is reporting that Microsoft has sold about 400,000 Surface Pro tablets since their debut last month. In addition, it only managed to sell a little over a million Surface RT tablets.

Microsoft reportedly ordered three million Surface RT tablets last year, but sales never picked up and Redmond was forced to scale back the order. 

The lacklustre figures come as no surprise. Earlier this year it emerged that the RT faced high return rates and very low sell-through, with shipments totalling just 900,000 units in the first quarter of sales. The Surface Pro did not fare any better. It got relatively negative reviews and since it is quite a bit pricier than the RT, consumers don’t seem keen to make the leap of faith.

JMP Securities analyst Alex Gauna told Bloomberg that Microsoft has failed to prove that Windows has a place in a new world dominated by touchscreens.

“It’s pretty clear that things were bad entering the year, and at least for the moment they’re getting worse,” he said. “The path to a successful Surface, in the same way that they were successful with Xbox, is not very clear to me right now.”

Apple still commands a 50+ share of the tablet market, although it is projected to slip under 50 percent later this year. Analysts put Apple’s iPad shipments in Q4 at 22.9 million units, which dwarfs every single competitor. However, Apple is losing share to Android, not Windows.

IDC reckons that the share of Windows RT tablets will stay below 3 percent through 2017, while Windows 8 could end up on 7.4 percent of tablets, in 2017 of course. In other words, Windows tablets are going nowhere, fast.

HTC guerrilla marketing campaign takes on Samsung juggernaut

htc-quietly-going-underTroubled smartphone maker HTC is not giving in yet. It used the Samsung Galaxy S4 launch event to stage a guerrilla marketing event of its own. HTC can’t take on Samsung in a set piece battle or in a war of attrition, but it seems eager to fight on the landing grounds, in the fields and in the streets. The streets of New York that is. 

HTC did not use Spitfires and Hurricanes, it resorted to an even more potent marketing weapon – lovely ladies handing out HTC One samples. Sometimes a friendly smile works better than a Vickers machine gun. HTC let the crowd try out its new flagship phone at the sidelines of Samsung’s Unpacked 2013 event and it offered a $100 rebate for anyone who trades in their old phone, reports Business Insider.

Samsung held two separate events in New York, one for the media and one for consumers. Apparently HTC chose to target the latter. It is unclear how many consumers fell for it, but in our opinion the HTC One has what it takes to slug it out with Samsung’s Galaxy S4. Sadly though, HTC lacks hundreds of millions of dollars to take on Samsung’s hype machine and hype is proving more important than actual products. 

HTC is down, but it is not out. And if the HTC One fails we will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted Samsung science.

HTC is not the only Android outfit that chose not to yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. LG took out a few cleverly placed ads, trolling Samsung’s SIV ads in New York as well.

Big Blue launches Customer Experience Lab

ibm-officeIBM has launched an initiative aimed at helping its staff improve their interaction with customers and other staff. The IBM Customer Experience Lab is supposed to help both IBM and other businesses by allowing them to gather more feedback from social networks, the target audience and the workforce. 

Mahmoud Naghshineh, IBM vice president of services research, believes emerging technologies, including social media and mobile tech, are changing the way organisations get feedback from their customers. With that in mind, there is a need to tap them as soon as possible.

“Today, businesses have a completely different way of engaging customers,” he said. “There are all these new ways of reaching out to people [but] you need to know when the right time is to engage.”

The new lab will allow clients to access IBM researchers and consultants, who will then deliver systems that learn and personalize the experiences of each individual customer, identify patterns, preferences and create context from Big Data, and drive scale economics. The whole idea is similar to IBM’s Services Lab, launched a couple of years ago.

IBM says the new customer oriented lab will focus its efforts on helping customers obtain more insight into their user base. IBM will use machine learning and visual analytics to predict differences in individual customers, thereby customizing services to a much greater extent.

The lab will be staffed by more than a hundred IBM researchers from across the world and it will also offer clients a number of workshops for generating new ideas. Although the lab will be headquartered in New York, it will feature researchers from twelve IBM labs around the globe, from Africa, Brazil, Israel, India and Japan, to the United States.

AMD makes pre-emptive strike against Nvidia

AMD, SunnyvaleDistributor sources close to AMD Germany say that the company will launch a new graphics product next month.

Codenamed Bonaire and with a part number of 7790 it is expected to cost around $155.  Performance is likely to be about 3,000 3D Mark Fire Strike.

Nvidia is preparing a a part to ompete with it, codenamed 650Ti Boost.  The unit is a 192 bit version of the 650Ti, but distributors are unhappy because it will interfere with 650Ti inventories.  It is likely to cost $180 or so and also scores about 3,000 3D Mark Fire Strike.

Pre-orders for channel partners for the Bonaire part are expected to be available towards the end of March.

Corero Network security and Infinigate UK get cosy

cosyCorero Network  Security has got close and personal with Infinigate UK.

The company has appointed the specialist security distributor known previously as Vigil Software to distribute its Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) defence products.

The deal will give Infinigate access to the range of products claimed to block traditional volume based DDoS attacks,  newer application-layer attacks, zero-day and server targeted attacks that evade traditional firewall defences.

Infinigate boasts it was selected as the UK distributor due to “its in-depth security expertise and focus”. It says it offers Corero to extend its reach into other European territories via its subsidiaries in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Norway, Denmark.

Infinigate UK will be implementing Corero’s  SecureWatch Partner Programme, with a view to adding selected new resellers, particularly those with experience in key markets where Corero has deep traction including banking and finance, e-commerce, online gaming and gambling.

The new programme is designed to enable resellers to deploy security solutions that help enterprises and government organisations thwart the rising tide of DDoS and targeted attacks and address a market that, according to Infonetics Research, grew by 24 percent last year and is set to reach $420 million by 2016.