By Walt Hickey
Have a great weekend!
My fellow millennials, the moment has finally come. The shoe is now on the other foot. Today is a momentous occasion. I, a professional member of the media, can write this sentence: Boomers are killing the live Christmas tree industry. That felt wonderful. The national Christmas tree business is in trouble, with just 15.1 million trees cut in 2017 by American farmers, down from 20.8 million in 2002. That’s in large part because as they get older, baby boomers are opting to buy an artificial metal and plastic tree rather than a renewable live one. A survey conducted in 2014 found that just 16 percent of those 65 and older put up a real tree, compared to 81 percent who put up a fake one.
Going to the Mattresses
It’s proven to be possible for a particularly penny-pinching customer to ride out consecutive 100-day free trials offered by internet mattress companies. The numbers are obvious: in November, there were 175 online mattress companies, down somewhat from the peak of 195 firms in December 2017, but still way up from the 60 companies in April 2014. With so much competition and such a drive to make sales, the companies are really extending the trial periods for their wares to the point that a consumer — savvy or unscrupulous depending on your point of view — can really stretch out the free night’s sleep.
The FCC has found that Verizon, T-Mobile, and US Cellular overstated the extent of their 4G coverage. According to officials, the FCC conducted drive tests to ascertain that the providers were actually fulfilling their coverage promises for 4G LTE. US Cellular hit the minimum download speed just 45 percent of the time, T-Mobile 63.2 percent of tests, and Verizon in 64.3 percent. Indeed, no 4G LTE signal whatsoever was available in 38 percent of tests of US Cellular’s network, 21.3 percent of T-Mobile’s and 16.2 percent of Verizon’s, despite reporting coverage there. The FCC is taking serious action immediately to hold these providers to account for anti-consumer prac— nah, just kidding, they totally let them off the hook, and they will suffer no consequences for any of this.
The United States trade balance with Canada was thrown into whack thanks to a single shipment of art. The $404 million — $532 million in Canadian dollars — shipment single-handedly drove an increase in Canada’s exports. The export category, “miscellaneous consumer goods,” saw a 116.5 percent increase from the previous month, the single largest jump since records began in 1988. The overall value of Canadian shipments abroad was up 0.8 percent for the month, but if that shipment had been excluded the value of exports actually would have fallen. This has happened before, such as in 2016 when a particularly expensive piece of machinery was imported to Canada and it led to one of the largest ever monthly Canadian trade deficits with the rest of the world.
Wood furniture has seen a shift since 2009 where the vast majority is now produced overseas: the value of wood furniture made in the U.S. fell from $4.28 billion in 2009 to $2.05 billion in 2018, while the value of imported wood furniture popped from $9.19 billion to $16.57 billion over the very same period. The bookshelves and the particleboard IKEA stuff may have seen its manufacturing shift overseas, but upholstered furniture has ceded less of its position to imports. In 2018, $8.91 billion worth of upholstered furniture was made in the U.S. compared to $9.09 billion that was imported. The domestic workforce is aging in the furniture business — 62 percent of upholsterers were older than 45, as well as 71 percent of sewing machine operators — and the business is angling to train hundreds of more people to get into the trade.
E-commerce businesses are built on the idea that a consumer can click a button on their phone and then do nothing whatsoever until a parcel arrives, and retailers kind of wish they hadn’t gone that far. That’s one reason that Walmart and Target are really leaning on getting people to buy online, pick up in-store — BOPIS — in order to loosen up those incredibly tight margins. To get people away from free shipping and picking up instead, retailers are nudging shoppers with coupons or other incentives. For Target, a consumer picking up a web order at a store is 90 percent cheaper than shipping that order from a warehouse. Those nudges are working, as while DynamicAction estimated free shipping orders were up 18 percent since mid-October, Adobe estimates that BOPIS orders are up 41 percent this holiday season.
A new working paper found that the hours worked for Americans with Bachelor’s degrees and other advanced degrees have increased 10 percent since 1980. That comes over a period of time when many of those professionals entered into newer types of white-collar jobs like software programming or management consulting, which while less physically demanding than other work are also the kinds of digital occupations that can compel people to work outside the office. Compared to other peer countries, Americans work way more: even dialing it back to the working habits of Germany, the average American would have another 30 extra days off per year.
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