Holiday Retail Sales On Upward Trajectory Even If Not Back To Pre-Pandemic Level

Holiday Retail Sales On Upward Trajectory Even If Not Back To Pre-Pandemic Level

By Terri Jo Neff |

In October, the National Retail Federation projected nearly $860 billion in 2021 holiday sales, bolstered by customers planning to spend more than 2020. Online retailers and the brick-and-mortar type retailers were also told to expect one-half of shoppers to begin their holiday purchases even before Thanksgiving. 

Many economists also forecasted that holiday shoppers will be purchasing fewer items but would be willing to spend money for better quality and more substantive items, if supply chain problems don’t get in the way. All of which means a lot of eyes were focused on the results from the key Thanksgiving holiday shopping days including Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. 

Sensormatic Solutions provides services to retailers in the areas of inventory intelligence, shopper experience, loss prevention, and operational effectiveness.  According to Sensormatic, shopper activity on Nov. 26 through Nov. 28 increased more than 34 percent compared to 2020. During the same three days, however, traffic at brick-and-mortar stores was 21 percent lower than in 2019.

It is unknown whether the decision by most major retailers to remain closed all of Thanksgiving Day had any impact on buyer decisions. But one retail executive says December 2021 still provides unique opportunities and challenges for retailers.

“Shoppers are returning to stores, but there are still lingering health and safety concerns making some cautious of traditionally crowded shopping days,” said Brian Field, senior director of global retail consulting for Sensormatic. “With a data-driven understanding of customer concerns, retailers can implement processes to help make shoppers feel comfortable in stores – via occupancy monitoring, temperature checks, extended hours and a seamless contactless shopping experience.”

Sensormatic also looked at Cyber Monday data. One change over 2020 is that many retailers with physical stores made their online sales pricing and special offers available to in-store shoppers. But those Cyber Monday offers did not help generate additional foot traffic, which ended up being similar to a typical fall day.   

“Though the mix of weekday shopping had been on the rise throughout the pandemic as shoppers take advantage of more flexible work schedules and try to avoid weekend crowds, Cyber Monday typically has no impact on in-store traffic and the same was true of this year,” Field said.

Yet according to Field, the overall data shows retailers should breathe a sigh of relief with the direction holiday sales are taking.  

“Over the past month, in-store traffic has progressively improved as consumers have started their holiday shopping early,” Field said. “Retailers are seeing positive change year over year, and the Black Friday weekend data shows an upward trajectory toward pre-pandemic levels.”

Protecting Arizona Businesses And Public Entities From Growing Threat Of Ransomware Attacks

Protecting Arizona Businesses And Public Entities From Growing Threat Of Ransomware Attacks

By Terri Jo Neff |

According to cybersecurity experts, anyone with a computer connected to the internet is at risk of a ransomware attack which involves a malware designed to encrypt files on a victim’s device, rendering the files and ultimately the systems which rely on them unusable.

The criminal or criminals who placed the malware via an email attachment or a download which appeared to be safe then exhorts the victim by demanding ransom in exchange for a decryption key or file to “recover” the system.  

Most people think of homeland security in terms of enhancing border security and preventing terroristic attacks in Arizona. But cybersecurity is a critical element in protecting Arizona’s infrastructure as well as economic security, according to Ryan Murray, deputy director of Arizona Department of Homeland Security (AZDOHS).

And at the same time that major companies and large government entities are strengthening their IT protocols, cyber criminals are focusing on smaller businesses, local non-profits, and public bodies such as school districts and fire departments, all of which generally don’t have a dedicated IT specialist, or a good understanding of the threat posed by a ransomware attack.

Such targets are easy pickings, Murray told AZ Free News. Adding to the problem is that many cyber attackers are no longer interested in simply holding a company’s IT system hostage until a ransom it paid. They are now incorporating data theft to the attack, Murray said.

Which is what happened in May when a ransomware attack hit Desert Wells Family Medicine in Queen Creek and led to the shutdown of the company’s IT system and left thousands of patients’ health records corrupted after the files were stolen.

In the end, Desert Wells had to manually “rebuild” its 35,000 patient records through other venues such as pharmacies, hospitals, and laboratories because none of its records were recoverable prior to May 21, the date of the hack.

With the scourge of ransomware attacks hard to stop -80 to 90 percent of cyberattacks originate overseas, says Murray- it is imperative for all companies, non-profits, and government entities large and small to understand how to reduce their vulnerabilities. And know what to do when an attack hits.

Which is why Murray’s team is developing a soon-to-be-launched website that provide a wealth of information on protecting against, responding to, and surviving a ransomware attack. The agency will also provide guidance on how to conduct an assessment of the vulnerabilities and strengths of a company’s website, email system, and workstations.

There will also be a speakers’ bureau to provide outreach across the state, says Murray.

And if a ransomware attack or data breach is suspected, local law enforcement officers can contact cyber security specialists as AZDOHS’s new Cyber Command Center which teams with various local, state, and federal agencies. In fact, many police department and sheriff’s offices in Arizona have a designated Threat Liaison Officer, or TLO, who has undergone training in how to respond to a reported cybercrime.

For now, information about what a ransomware attack involves, how to identify an attack, and what to do if victimized by such an attack can be found at www.stopransomware.gov

The combination of ransom demand and data theft which hit Desert Wells Family Medicine was reported to patients as well as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services three months after it started. A wide range of information was accessed in the attack, including social security numbers, birthdates, names and addresses, and billing account numbers. 

Patient medical account numbers as well as diagnostic and treatment information were also hacked, the notice said. The medical clinic had its patient information backed up, but the hacker also corrupted that data.

Private businesses are not required to report whether any money was paid directly or indirectly in response to a ransomware attack. How the unknown hacker or hackers got into the medical center’s system -and its backup data- has not been publicly disclosed.

In the past, companies could turn to their insurers for “cyber coverage” to reimburse the costs associated with ransomware attacks. Some insurers even paid the ransoms in order to recover a client’s system, finding it the cheaper option.

But with the number of such attacks increasing in frequency and cost, it is becoming more expensive for businesses and governments to afford such coverage, if they can even get it. For those lucky enough to have cyber coverage, they will likely see premiums doubled in 2022 with policy limits significantly scaled back.

Senator Kelly’s Claims On Biden’s $4 Trillion Plan Conflict With Congressional Estimates

Senator Kelly’s Claims On Biden’s $4 Trillion Plan Conflict With Congressional Estimates

By Corinne Murdock

Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ) claimed that the Biden Administration’s spending plan, the Build Back Better Act that could cost over $4 trillion, wouldn’t raise taxes for the lower and middle classes and would be paid for in full during an interview with Fox10 on Thursday. As written, the spending plan would cost around $2.15 trillion – but if the provisions are made permanent, that would incur an additional cost well over $2 trillion according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. 

“And by the way: this is not going to raise taxes on middle and working class Arizonans,” asserted Kelly. “For folks that make under 400,000 a year – families, their taxes will not go up. And by the way, this is going to be paid for by the wealthiest corporations.”

The sentiment that the spending would be paid for in full didn’t align with the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) assessment released last month. The CBO estimated that the spending would result in a net increase in the country’s deficit by $367 billion over the next ten years. Unadjusted, the spending would add to the country’s deficit by $750 billion over the next five years and $160 billion over the next ten years.

Kelly added that Congress was still working over details of the Build Back Better Act – so the CBO report could be considered a working estimate. 

The CBO also included a cost breakdown for each policy within the Build Back Better Act; they estimated:

  • $585 billion for family benefits related to affordable child care, paid family and medical leave, and universal pre-K 
  • $570 billion for climate and infrastructure related to “clean” energy and climate resilience, electric tax credits, “clean” fuel, vehicle tax credits, other climate-related tax benefits, and infrastructure and related tax breaks
  • $340 billion for health care related to expanded Medicaid, Affordable Care Act tax credits, and health care workforce investments
  • $325 billion collectively for affordable housing, higher education, workforce, and “other spending and investments”
  • $280 billion for reducing or delaying the broadening of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA)
  • $215 billion for tax credits and cuts related to children, earned income, and “other tax changes”
  • $110 billion for immigration reform

The House passed their version of the Build Back Better Act days before Thanksgiving. The Senate must decide on whether it will accept the bill as is, or modify it. The latter is most likely, considering the sentiments of two senators. 

Unlike Kelly, Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) has held out her support for the spending plan. Sinema isn’t alone – Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) also doesn’t support the bill’s price tag. Despite pressure from their party, both senators have insisted that they want the bill reduced drastically in its cost.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Small Business Saturday Seeks Shoppers’ Attention Amid Black Friday And Cyber Monday

Small Business Saturday Seeks Shoppers’ Attention Amid Black Friday And Cyber Monday

By Terri Jo Neff |

With the National Retail Federation estimating that 2 million more people will do holiday shopping between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday, Arizona’s leading small-business association is reminding shoppers of the upside to reserving some of that money for Small Business Saturday on Nov. 27.

Started by American Express as a post-Thanksgiving, pre-Cyber Monday marketing gimmick in 2010, Small Business Saturday is now officially co-sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration. In 2019, Small Business Saturday shoppers at “mom and pop” type independent retailers and restaurants spent nearly $19.6 billion, which was topped last November at $19.8 billion despite ongoing pandemic challenges.   

Michigan State University’s Center for Community and Economic Development has reported that of $100 spent at a locally owned business, $73 remained in the local economy in the form of higher wages, re-spending, and an improved tax base.

“Dollars spent at small, locally owned businesses are not sent to some out-of-state corporate parent,” said Chad Heinrich, Arizona state director for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). “Those dollars stay local and support the community.”

Earlier this month NFIB released the latest findings of its special COVID-19 polls showing 62 percent of small-business owners say their supply-chain disruptions are worse than three months ago. And 90 percent of respondents expect the problem to continue for the next five months, if not longer.

Equally troubling, according to Heinrich, is that NFIB’s Small Business Economic Trends report found the percentage of small-business owners expecting better business conditions in the coming months has fallen to its lowest level since November 2012.

That is why getting a large share of the nation’s estimated 158.3 million holiday shoppers to shop local small businesses is important, especially in Arizona where so many businesses continue to struggle post-pandemic.

“Shopping at small businesses helps the Arizona economy,” said Heinrich. “This is a tough time for our mom-and-pop businesses. If Arizonans focus on shopping local, this could be a jolly holiday season for all.” 

According to American Express, last year’s Small Business Saturday exceeded expectations despite the pandemic due to small businesses pivoting to online sales and utilizing non-traditional advertising such as social media to stay connected with customers.

“In addition, small business owners rolled out a variety of giveaways and special offerings to consumers, a smart strategy as 43% of consumers reported that they took advantage of special offers or promotions from small businesses on the day,” AMEX reports.

Arizona Among States Worried Banking Industry Being Used As Pawn Against Law-Abiding Energy Companies

Arizona Among States Worried Banking Industry Being Used As Pawn Against Law-Abiding Energy Companies

By Terri Jo Neff |

A partisan effort to make it harder for fossil fuel-based energy companies to obtain bank financing and banking services prompted a warning letter to the U.S. banking industry on Nov. 22 from the top financial officers of several states, including Arizona.

“Denying banking services to traditional, reliable energy production industries simply to advance radical, socialist policies from the White House, is both immoral and goes against the very free market principles that our country was founded upon,” said Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee in announcing the letter. “In this case, they are picking the energy industry as the losers and that goes against the free marketplace in America.”

Yee joined the financial officers of Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming in signing the letter, cautioning the banking industry of potential consequences for allowing itself to be used as a political pawn against law-abiding companies in the coal, oil, and natural gas industries.

According to the letter, the Biden Administration is “pressuring U.S. banks and financial institutions to limit, encumber, or outright refuse financing for traditional energy production companies.” The White House is also supporting an end to American financial support for traditional energy production projects in developing countries around the world, “likely ceding future development and exploration to Chinese interests,” the letter states.

“We believe, as almost all Americans do, that the free market should remain free and not be manipulated to advance social agendas,” the letter states. “We are not asking for special treatment of the fossil fuel industries. To the contrary, we simply want financial institutions to assess fossil fuel businesses as other legal businesses – without prejudice or preference.”

The letter also says the states have a compelling government interest “to select financial institutions that are not engaged in tactics to harm the very people whose money they are handling.”

Each state will undertake its own actions to counter the “undue pressure” being placed on the banking industry, according to the letter. Yee has not outlined what steps her office might take if financial institutions which do business with the state engage in efforts to deny services to the energy industry.

Job Creators Network Says Biden Trying To Turn Business Owners Into Health Police

Job Creators Network Says Biden Trying To Turn Business Owners Into Health Police

By Terri Jo Neff |

Yet another business advocacy group is challenging President Joe Biden’s continued calls for employers to implement COVID-19 vaccination mandates in the face of constitutional challenges.

“This mandate is not a small ask of America’s employers. Businesses are just recovering from the pandemic. They are dealing with the highest inflation in over 30 years, and they are struggling to deal with a supply chain and labor shortage crisis,” Alfredo Ortiz of the Job Creators Network wrote to Biden. “Now is the worst time to deputize them as the health police.”

The Job Creators Network is a petitioner in one of the federal court challenges to OSHA’s vaccination mandate for employers with 100 or more employees. That case and others federal challenges to Biden’s mandates are being transferred by order of the U.S. Supreme Court to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit so all such cases can be heard in one court.  

Such lawsuits should not be necessary, Ortiz argues, but even more concerning is the fact White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki publicly stated last week that “nothing has changed” with the mandate timelines in the face of recent court orders.

The result, according to Ortiz, is that the Biden Administration is putting small business job creators in an “untenable position” of following the White House directives or following the court rulings.

“Despite two recent federal court rulings staying the employer vaccine mandate, the White House continues to willfully ignore the judiciary and call on businesses to continue implementing the rule by January 4, 2022, as if these judicial decisions never occurred,” Ortiz wrote to Biden. “We expect the White House to respect and listen to the judiciary rather than barnstorming ahead and bullying businesses to comply with this rule whose legal fate is in serious jeopardy.”

Small business owners in every community across America are caught in the middle and paying the price, Ortiz wrote.   

“This conflicting guidance is unfair to small businesses simply trying to get their businesses back to pre-pandemic levels,” he said. “By following the White House guidance, they are incurring expenses and time-consuming setup costs.”