You Can Now Shop With Google Home

In an effort to compete even more closely with the likes of Amazon’s Alexa-assisted Echo, Google Home owners can now shop on their devices via the Google Assistant. Whereas Amazon’s devices shop, obviously, via the e-commerce giant, Google Home instead works with participating Google Express retailers, including the likes of Costco, Whole Foods, Walgreens, PetSmart, and Bed Bath & Beyond. Once set up via the Google Home app, ordering is easy — users simply say something like “Okay Google, order paper towels” and the Home will do exactly that.

The new shopping feature is available now and, to encourage owners to use it, Google is waiving any additional service and membership fees on orders placed through April 30. And, according to Google, the new feature “is just the beginning of what’s possible for shopping with the Google Assistant” — the tech giant is promising to add even more features and enable purchases for other apps and services in the months ahead.

Don’t Fall for These Holiday Shopping Scams

It’s easy to get caught up in the craziness of the holidays. You have parties to plan, cards to send, and gifts to buy, and that can be a lot to squeeze into just a few weeks. Don’t let the stress cloud your better judgment. Watch out for these scams that prey on holiday shoppers.

Fake Store Apps

The FBI recently sent a press release warning consumers about fake app scams. Once you download these apps, they steal personal info from your device.

They’re usually disguised as games, but some scammers create fake apps that mimic well-known brands like Zappos, Pandora, Dillards, or Dollar Tree. Smartphone users download the app, connect it to their Facebook account or email, and unknowingly give away a bunch of personal information. The apps can also infect your phone with malware.

To prevent this, look beyond a brand’s logo when you download an app from Google Play or the Apple Store. It’s easy to just search for an app and download the first one that looks right. Chris Mason, co-founder of Branding Brand, warns of a few additional red flags to watch out for, specifically typos and run-on sentences in app descriptions. Check customer reviews, too. If there are a lot of one-star reviews or users complain about advertising, that could be a red flag that the app is fake.

Fake Online Stores

The FBI also warns about fake deals from unfamiliar sites. It seems like it would be fairly obvious to spot a bunk online storefront, but criminals are smart about making these stores look legit. As Inc.com explains, some of these sites price most products competitively, but then they list other items ridiculously low to entice shoppers. The regular-priced items make them look like a real store and help them show up in Google search results. Thus, just because a store shows up in Google search results doesn’t automatically mean it’s legit.

Sometimes these scammers will even create fake social media handles and ads to promote their “deals.” These posts might include coupons, holiday promotions, contests, or free gift cards. They’re often accompanied by an online survey, which scammers use to steal your info. Here are a few ways to tell you might be on a fake shopping site:

  • The URL is complicated and includes hyphens like “givenchy-gear-for-less.com” or it uses a popular store on its main domain (zara.domain.com, for example).
  • The contact email is through an email client like Hotmail or Google, rather than the domain of the store itself. It might also include a bunch of random numbers or letters—a typical throwaway address.
  • The brand selection is completely random. As Complex.com puts it, “When was the last time you saw Angry Birds T-shirts sharing retail space with Balmain jeans?” Phony sites target people with popular brands; there’s usually no curating involved.

In general, if you come across a deal that’s too good to be true, it probably is. That said, there are a lot of decent holiday discounts out there, so that rule of thumb doesn’t always work. If you spot a truly awesome deal, chances are, deal sites have already found it. Check sites like Kinja Deals, Slickdeals, or DealNews to verify the discount. You can also use resources like Consumerist or the Better Business Bureau to research potential scam sites. Additionally, WhoIS.net allows you to look up information on the “company” or individual that registered the domain.

Social Media Scams

Social media channels like Facebook are a perfect platform for scammers. It’s easy enough to post a counterfeit ad or update, and the nature of social media allows them to share that scam effortlessly.

The “Secret Sister” scam, for example, has made its rounds on Facebook recently. It’s basically an illegal chain letter scheme in which consumers are asked to buy a gift for a stranger to get gifts back in return. You invite friends, they send gifts, and you get more gifts. It sounds completely ridiculous, but people fall for it. One woman told Pennsylvania’s WNEP:

At first when I read it, I thought it was pretty cool. The girl who tagged me in it is pretty reliable and is really nice, so it seemed like something she came up with. It seemed like this original thing.

Perhaps because social media seems like such a personal platform, it’s easy to fall for fraud. A few other holiday scams that have made their rounds on social media:

  • Fake Deals from Strangers: You Tweet about a gift you’re trying to find, then you get a direct message or tag from someone willing to sell you the item. The scammer takes your money or credit card/bank account information, and you never hear from them again.
  • Fake Gift Cards: Scammers post fraud gift certificates on social media, collect your personal info, then sell it to telemarketers or worse, steal your identity.
  • URL Scams: Scammers bait you with a message or a post that includes a link you have to click on for more information. Once you click on it, it steals your login credentials or installs malware on your computer.

It should go without saying that you don’t want to give out any personal information to a stranger, especially when that information includes financial details, like your credit card number. You should also avoid clicking on any unknown links someone DMs or tags you in.

Phishing Emails From Fake Retailers

Email fraud is nothing new, but it peaks around the holidays when people expect to receive order updates and shipping information from retailers, and busy shoppers may not inspect confirmation emails or account creation emails as closely as they would otherwise. These emails look like they come from legitimate companies, like Amazon or UPS. Some of them may claim there’s a problem with your order. Others may offer a deal or discount. You either click on the link and inadvertently download malware, or you enter your password, address, or other personal information and scammers steal it.

These emails look pretty convincing, but if you hover over any links to see the URL or just check the email address, you’ll notice the link is off. Chances are, it’ll be something like www.amazon.subdomain.com. This link won’t take you to Amazon at all, but to whatever URL “subdomain” is. If you’re still unsure about the email and it’s asking for personal information or to check the status of an order, go directly to the website in question and look up your order or tracking number. As a general rule, think twice about retailer emails and don’t click on any links or attachments if you’re not sure about them.

Misleading Store Credit Cards

Okay, store credit cards aren’t a scam exactly, but they’re almost always a terrible deal. People still fall for them, though, and get stuck in an endless debt trap. Stores bait customers with “deferred interest” cards, which seem like “0% introductory APR” credit cards, but they’re not.

With a “0% introductory APR” card, you don’t pay interest at all for an introductory term, and, afterward, your balance is charged at a regular interest rate. Deferred interest cards piggyback on these rules, but there’s an important difference: you have to pay the entire balance before the end of the promotional period, otherwise, you’ll owe interest for that entire term. Interest rates are high, too. A study from MagnifyMoney found that the average rate is 24.8 percent.

Deferred interest cards can be a decent deal if you have the cash on hand to pay off the balance and you get some great discount, cash back, or other deal for signing up, but the terms of store credit cards are usually terrible. They’re not great for your credit score, either. If you’re interested in the discounts those cards offer, consider opening a rewards card instead. Sites like NerdWallet can help you find a decent one, and they lay out the terms for you before you sign up. Of course, you always want to read the fine print yourself.

A lot of these tips seem like common sense, but keep in mind: thieves are good at creating the illusion of credibility. In general, maintain a skeptical eye. Think twice before giving out any personal information, especially over social media or email. You should also check your bank statements and credit reports periodically to look out for any fraudulent purchases or accounts. Beyond that, make sure to update your antivirus and anti-malware apps. This way, you’re protected even if you accidentally click something suspicious.

The Best Days to Shop for Holiday Gifts This Year

Black Friday is still around, but it’s not the mega shopping day it once was. And that’s a good thing. Deals are now spread throughout the holiday season and Kyle James of Rather-Be-Shopping lists the best days to shop in December.

James estimated the absolute best days to shop this holiday season based on coupons and deals he’s tracked at his website, Rather Be shopping, over the past 13 years. Here are his dates, depending on what you want to buy:

  • Christmas Toys: Thursday, December 15th.
  • Stocking Stuffers: Monday, December 12th.
  • Apparel and Shoes: Friday, December 16th. (Free Shipping Day)
  • Quality HDTV’s: Weekend of December 9 – 11th.
  • Tools & Hardware: Wednesday, December 14th.
  • Laptops: Tuesday, December 13th.
  • PS4 and Xbox: Thursday, December 15th.
  • Winter Apparel: Thursday, December 8th.
  • Jewelry/Wedding Bands: December 13 – 16th.
  • Fitness Gear: Saturday, December 10th.
  • Kitchen Stuff: Friday, December 16th.
  • Personalized Gifts: Tuesday, December 13th.

As James explains, Free Shipping Day is a big one for clothing stores, as many of them offer coupon codes in addition to free shipping. In the past six years, James has seen awesome weekend deals on TVs two weeks before Christmas.

Instagram Is Introducing Shoppable Tags

In an attempt to make its ads a little bit more useful, Instagram is adding new shoppable tags to its arsenal. Soon, you’ll notice that the ads in your feed — say, from Jack Threads, for instance — actually have tags for the products the depict. Click those tags and you’ll immediately get more info on whatever you’re looking at — not to mention a direct link to make a purchase on the web. And, as Engadget points out, the change isn’t intended to give Instagram a cut of purchases made through the tags. Instead, Instagram is hoping it will convince more advertisers to buy in to the social media network.

Take a look at how it works above and look for the change to hit your feed soon: Instagram is currently rolling the feature out to iOS users in the U.S. and eventually planning to bring it to Android as well. Expansion will also include video ads and additional countries in the near future while the ability to save items you’re interested in is also in the works.

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These Are the Most Popular Gifts This Holiday Season

December is now officially here, so if you haven’t yet, you may want to get started on your holiday shopping. Hopefully you took advantage of some of these great Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, but if you’re at a loss for what to get your loved ones, Google has thankfully highlighted the most popular gifts this season.

First off, it should be worthy of note that when it comes to fashion this year, it’s been all about the resurgence of ’90s favorites — everything from bomber jackets to Levi’s denim, adidas Superstars and more. Google searches for ’90s fashion styles have more than doubled throughout 2015, so that’s a great place to start when it comes to purchasing apparel items.

Other favorites include the ever-popular hoverboard — which is now banned in NYC — as well as drones, LEGOs and various Star Wars paraphernalia. You can also never go wrong with a smart TV, smart watch, or what is sure to be all the rage, VR headsets.

One item that Google dubbed as a popular buy that is particularly intriguing is the adult onesie. We’re just going to assume this is because of “Netflix and chill.”

Regardless, to ensure that your loved ones are happy with what you’ve gotten them this holiday season, be sure to double-check Google’s full list of this year’s must-haves below.

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Why Today Is Called “Black Friday”

“Black Friday” as a name for the day after Thanksgiving was coined by police officers in New England. One of the earliest documented references of this was in December of 1961, where Denny Griswold of Public Relations News stated: “in Philadelphia, it became customary for officers to refer to the post-Thanksgiving days as Black Friday and Black Saturday. Hardly a stimulus for good business, the problem was discussed by… merchants with their Deputy City Representative… He recommended adoption of a positive approach which would convert Black Friday and Black Saturday to Big Friday and Big Saturday.” (Referring to the traffic and number of accidents.)

“Big Friday” never caught on, but over the next decade, more and more references can be found in various newspaper archives of this particular Friday being called “Black Friday” for this reason.
In the 1980s as the name’s popularity spread throughout the United States, a new origin theory popped up, often touted by the media, that most retailers operated at a financial loss for the majority of the year and Black Friday was named such because it was the day of the year when the retailers would finally see a profit, moving out of the red and into the black.

This simply isn’t true. While there are some retailers that depend on the Christmas season’s revenue to make a profit for the year, most see profits every quarter based on the quarterly SEC filings of major retailers in the United States. There are also no documented references to this potential origin predating November of 1981.

Another common theory often put forth is that the name came from the famous “Great Depression” stock market crash in 1929. While this does pre-date the “New England police” origin, the problem is that the event in question happened on a Tuesday, not a Friday- also, it was on October 29th, so had nothing to do with the day after Thanksgiving.

The actual “Black Friday” stock market scare happened in 1869, was in September, and had to do with gold prices- so, again, nothing to do with the day after Thanksgiving.

While we’re on the topic of Black Friday myths, it should be noted that Black Friday is not the biggest shopping day of the year. In fact, it’s typically not even in the top five, though has cracked the ranks a few times.

Actually, the biggest shopping day of the year is nearly always the Saturday before Christmas, except when Christmas falls on a weekend day, in which case the biggest shopping day of the year is usually the Thursday or Friday before Christmas. Thus, the procrastinators seem to outnumber the early birds.

Which Stores Are Open On Thanksgiving And Black Friday, And When?

There are two reasons why you might want to know which stores are open or closed on Thanksgiving Day this year: you want to go shopping, or you want to know which stores to boycott (or at least vaguely scorn) because they choose to open on the holiday.

Remember that if you live in one of the states where being open for business on Thanksgiving Day is actually illegal, any Thanksgiving hours on this page don’t apply. You can run for the border or boycott accordingly, though.

We’ve mostly left off stores that tend to be part of enclosed malls; they will generally follow the lead of the mall management and/or the larger anchor stores.

Best Buy: Opening at 5 PM Thanksgiving Day; closed from 1 AM to 8 AM on Friday morning, then open until 10 PM.
Costco: Closed on Thanksgiving Day. Open 9 AM to 8:30 PM on Friday.
GameStop: Closed Thanksgiving Day. Open 5 AM on Friday.
Kmart: Open 6 AM Thanksgiving Day until 10 PM on Friday.
Kohl’s: Open 6 PM Thanksgiving Day, closing at midnight. Open 8 AM to midnight on Friday.
Lowe’s: Closed Thanksgiving Day. Open 5 AM on Friday.
Macy’s: Opening at 6 PM on Thanksgiving Day, and will stay open overnight until 10 PM on Friday, though closing times will vary by location.
Sears: Opening at 6 PM on Thanksgiving Day, closing at midnight. Reopening from 6 AM to 9 PM on Friday.
Staples: Closed Thanksgiving Day. Open at 6 AM on Friday.
Target: Opening at 6 PM on Thanksgiving Day, and will stay open overnight until 11 PM or midnight on Friday.
Toys/Babies ‘R’ Us: Opening at 5 PM on Thanksgiving Day; stores will keep their doors open until 11 PM on Friday.
Walmart: Most stores will already be open, but the Black Friday event starts at 6 PM on Thanksgiving Day.

Retailers Roll Out Holiday Ads Earlier Than Ever as Shoppers Prepare to Spend More This Year

Retailers are making a real effort to reach their Holiday season shoppers early this year, hoping to bring in some customers ahead of the Black Friday craze. This year’s earliest Holiday ad was run by Kmart back in September.

A new report by Accenture—a multinational management consulting company—published by The Wall Street Journal has found there’s a good reason for this. Forty percent of holiday shoppers are planning to spend more this year due to increased optimism about their personal finances, compared to 25 percent of shoppers who felt that way last year. With a fifth of the retail industry’s annual sales of $3.2 trillion coming in during the Holidays, stores will be competing for a significant piece of the pie.

Make sure you know what to buy for yourself or your close ones ahead of time this year, as everyone will be more informed about the best deals around.

Black Friday Shopping Has Already Begun at Amazon

In gearing up for the holiday rush, Amazon has launched a new Black Friday Deals Store. The online shop is open to all customers, although Prime members have access to over 30,000 “Lightning Deals” 30 minutes before other individuals. Amazon’s Black Friday Deals Store already features thousands of deals for all shoppers, ranging from electronics and toys to clothes, jewelry and more. Deals can get up to as much as 70% off.

In recent years, more and more consumers have turned to online shopping, and this year, select brick and mortar stores are already planning on being closed on Black Friday.

LEGO Tells Everyone To Stop Freaking Out About Reported Holiday Season Shortage

Because there aren’t enough Lego bricks out there waiting for you to step on them, yesterday the Internet flipped out over news that the toy company wouldn’t have enough of the plastic pieces to meet demand this holiday season. “Nooooooo!” the masses wailed, “How can anyone be expected to take such an injustice?” Settle down, guys. LEGO says there’s no reason to freak out — at least, if you live in the U.S.

The Danish toy maker is going to have issues meeting demand in European markets, but the U.S. will be replete with LEGO bricks for the holiday, a company spokesman with the coolest name ever told MarketWatch.

“We don’t anticipate a problem in the American market. This has quickly been touted as a global problem, but it’s only an issue some places in Europe,” Roar Rude Trangbæk said.

LEGO is right on top of things in America, and has made sure it’s ready to meet the kind of demand it’s come to expect during the holiday season, he added.

Europeans are out of luck because of where LEGO’s factories are: U.S. bricks come from a company plant in Monterrey, Mexico, while the blocks on the continent are made in Denmark, Hungary and the Czech republic. Those factories can’t keep up with demand at the moment, amidst a spike in popularity due to a recent LEGO movie and themed toys like Batman and Star Wars.

“Our factories are running on maximum capacity globally, but the demand has been bigger than we expected,” Trangbæk said. “There isn’t capacity to meet the demand for replenishment orders on some European markets, but that doesn’t mean we’re running out of Lego bricks globally.”

This isn’t the first time LEGO has had trouble keeping up during the holidays — it had a rough time meeting demand in 2010, 2012 and 2014 as well — so it’s been working on expanding factories. Facilities in Mexico, Hungary and Denmark will be the next slated for expansion, LEGO said earlier this week. They won’t be ready in time for the holidays in Europe, however.