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TikTok’s Future Remains Unclear After Walmart And Oracle Win Bid For Partial Ownership

President Donald Trump has been battling with video-sharing social networking platform TikTok for months now. Trump has claimed that the Chinese-owned app, run by company ByteDance, is giving personal user information to the Chinese government upon request; a claim that ByteDance and TikTok has denied multiple times on claims that the US branch of TikTok is run in the US and barely connected to the offices in China. 

Recently, the president demanded for a full sale of TikTok to an American owner, and in August he gave ByteDance 90  days to sell or they would face a countrywide shutdown. He then issued twin executive orders that would ban transactions from the US with ByteDance, but in late August the company announced a potential sale of the app.

The tentative deal from ByteDance was made over this past weekend after the Trump administration announced that if an acceptable deal was not met, TikTok would be removed from the app store starting this weekend and lasting until November when the app would be fully banned.

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ByteDance announced they would create a US subsidiary called TikTok Global which would be part-owned by the US entities of Walmart and Oracle. Four of the company’s five main board members would be American and the fifth would likely be the ByteDance founder himself. After this announcement Trump delayed the app store ban by a week. 

The proposed structure of this agreement is still unclear, as it seems ByteDance announced this deal as a means of getting Trump to ease up on his pressures to ban the app. Oracle and Walmart have stated that they would own 20% of the company while ByteDance would own 80%, however, Oracle’s vice president recently made a statement regarding the deal. 

“Upon creation of TikTok Global, Oracle/Walmart will make their investment and the TikTok Global shares will be distributed to their owners, Americans will be the majority and ByteDance will have no ownership in TikTok Global.”

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The competing claims are leaving the public unsure of what the reality of this deal actually is. It does seem as though the Trump administration is in support of the Oracle Walmart bid for partial ownership of the app, however, the claims from ByteDance that they still would hold a majority stake in the company is concerning for business leaders. 

Professor Paul Haskell-Dowland is an associate dean of Computing and Security at Edith Cowan University in Australia who recently spoke with the press about this confusing deal and what it actually means for the future of TikTok in America. 

“There are competing claims [about ownership] because no one is really telling the full story. The deal seems to be changing by the hour.”

Haskell-Dowland went on to explain that the US and China will likely engage in more back-and-forth in regards to this deal and security updates that will come with the apps new ownership. In the end, he believes that it’s more of a political fight between two nations and has nothing “to do with national security or intellectual property.” Only time will tell what the final deal actually looks like and until then, users will just have to enjoy TikTok as it is before it potentially changes forever.

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Walmart Teams Up With Microsoft In A Bid To Buy TikTok 

Walmart announced this week that they would be collaborating with Microsoft in a bid to acquire TikTok. Currently ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company which is based in Beijing, is nearing an agreement to sell its American, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand operations in a deal that’s projected to earn the company up to $30 billion. 

Walmart and Microsoft are just one team placing a bid for the app in America, as many are looking to take advantage of buying one of the most popular social media platforms in 2020. Walmart spokesperson Randy Hargrove recently spoke with the media, and while he denied to comment on how the two companies would be dividing their ownership of the app, he claims this acquisition would be an amazing opportunity for both companies to compete against other giant corporations such as Amazon. 

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Walmart and Amazon have been competing as major “superstore” type retailers for years now. In fact, Walmart recently announced plans to launch its own membership program similar to Amazon Prime, called Walmart+, which will also include original content. 

“We believe a potential relationship with TikTok US in partnership with Microsoft could add this key functionality and provide Walmart a way to reach and serve omnichannel customers as well as grow our third-party marketplace and advertising businesses.”

Walmart went on in their statement to also claim that they were confident in their ability to meet both the expectations of current TikTok users, and the US government; who has recently been attacking TikTok for its potential sharing of personal data with China; which has not been proven. 

In the US, TikTok currently has around 100 million active users. When compared to the amount of users the app had in 2018 there’s an 800% increase in use. Daniel Ives, managing director and technology analyst, claims that there’s a 90% chance TikTok will accept the bid from Microsoft and Walmart, and the acquisition of the app will be a major step in Walmarts constant expansion of services. 

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This will not be the first time Walmart and Microsoft work together either. In 2018, Walmart announced a five-year “cloud deal” with Microsoft, allowing the retailer to adopt Microsoft’s Azure cloud infrastructure and include bundles in certain devices that would include Office 365 with every purchase. 

After TikTok was under major threat of being banned by Donald Trump and his administration, the app knew it had to find a new buyer so that the app would remain alive in one of its most lucrative markets worldwide. The Pentagon has already banned TikTok from being downloaded on any government-issued devices due to security concerns; the US House of Representatives and Senate were also ordered to follow suit. 

Despite the many allegations from Trump himself, TikTok has went on record multiple times that they have never shared personal data with China, it’s parent company, or any other company for that matter. They then explained how TikTok is run within each country it’s available, and all US user data is stored in the US. 

There’s no real timeline as to when TikTok will accept or deny Microsoft and Walmart’s bid, however, with the 2020 election getting closer, it’s likely the app will make a decision sooner rather than later in order to keep it alive. 

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Walmart Will Close All Of Its Stores On Thanksgiving This Year

Walmart announced this week that it will be keeping all of its retail locations closed on Thanksgiving this year. Traditionally, Walmart begins its epic Black Friday sale on Thanksgiving, drawing massive crowds of individuals ready to take advantage of all the sales. However, this year due to Covid-19 concerns and the uncertainty of how far along a vaccine will be by November, the corporation is deciding now to close down for the holiday. 

All Sam’s Club stores will also be closed down, marking a huge departure from company tradition, however, as we’ve seen with countless annual parades, award shows, music festivals, etc. many cultural traditions have been put on pause indefinitely until the world gets a better handle on this virus that’s infecting millions.  

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Sam’s Club is a part of Walmart’s warehouse chain and it normally is closed down on Thanksgiving every year anyway, so that choice wasn’t that out of the ordinary. John Furner, the president and CEO of Walmart in the US recently released a statement in which he praised all of his employees for being so patient and dedicated during these uncertain times.  

“We know this has been a trying year, and our associates have stepped up. We hope they will enjoy a special Thanksgiving Day at home with their loved ones. We are certainly thankful to our people for all of their efforts.”

Walmart normally is open during its regular hours on Thanksgiving, but has special roped off areas where Black Friday merchandise that’s already marked down is on sale. The sales begin to appear more and more as the day progresses until they open again on Black Friday itself, where the whole store is essentially marked down. 

Last year, Walmart made the decision to start its Black Friday door-buster sales at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving which, business wise, draws a ton of customers into the store early before they go to all their other favorite retail establishments the next day. 

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Walmart and other major retail corporations in America typically always stay open on Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving/Black Friday weekend is one of the biggest retail events to happen annually, however, that doesn’t mean that these retail giants haven’t faced their fair share of criticism for doing this. 

Pandemic aside, normally many customers and employees ban together in their belief that everyone deserves to take the day off to spend it with their families and loved ones, as that’s the point of the entire holiday. Black Friday itself is a holiday specifically made for working in retail, so why should employees be expected to work both days in a row when the sales are the same? 

However, the decision to close this year was more so inspired by the pandemic directly and will likely not become an annual tradition, according to Furner who claimed in his statement that the decision to close was inspired by a manager at one of Walmart’s Texas locations. 

“Kevin Carlyle is the People Lead at Store #475 in Round Rock, Texas. He recently wrote us and suggested that we close for Thanksgiving during this unusual year, so that our associates could spend the day with their families.”

With this announcement the company also claimed that they would be providing their employees with an additional bonus of $150-$300 starting on August 20th. This is the third round of bonuses for employees since the beginning of the pandemic and any employee (part and full time) who started working for Walmart before July 31st will qualify.

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Major Corporations Giving Out Bonuses To Cope With Coronavirus Impact

Walmart is one of America’s big businesses that has been making some major adjustments to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Most recently, the corporation announced that they would be hiring 150,000 temporary workers by the end of May in order to deal with the loss of employment, and quarantine efforts that they know most of their employees are enduring. Within the announcement, they claimed that these hired associates would work in stores, clubs, and distribution/fulfillment centers all at safe distances away from one another. 

“We know millions of Americans who are usually employed at this time are temporarily out of work, and at the same time we’re currently seeing strong demand in our stores. We’re looking for people who see Walmart as a chance to earn some extra money and perform a vital service to their community,” said Doug McMillon, president and CEO of Walmart. 

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The company went on in their statement to claim that anyone who applies will hear back within 24 hours on the status of their application; normally service industry workers wait up to 2 weeks before hearing back from employers. This isn’t that abnormal of a process for a company as big as Walmart. During the holidays companies often give their current employee’s extended hours as well as hire a whole slew of new workers to make up for the increased demand; the same process is what Walmart is attempting to do now.  

“These roles will be temporary at first, but many will convert to permanent roles over time. We’ve reached out to industry groups representing restaurants and hospitality to facilitate temporary roles that can be a bridge for their employees during this difficult time,” Walmart said in a press release

Walmart currently has a workforce of about 1.5 million workers in the United States alone, and while they’re making an effort to bring on new workers, they also know they need to take care of their current employees as well. Walmart also promised that each of its workers, regardless of position, will receive a cash bonus. Full-time hourly workers will be receiving an additional $300 in their paychecks, while part-time hourly workers will receive an additional $150.

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Quarterly bonuses are also being expedited for associates. The total bonuses will equate to about $550 million in additional pay-outs to its employees. Other major companies are trying to follow suit as well through their worker protections and additional bonuses as well. 

Amazon recently announced that in response to an increase in online shopping traffic it will be hiring an additional 100,000 new full-time and part-time employees. The demand that the online shopping market is currently enduring is more intense than it’s ever been, as more and more people are opting to not leave their homes whenever they need something that can simply be ordered with the click of a button. 

Amazon is also investing nearly $350 million to raise hourly pay for all of its current employees; they’re projecting all low-level workers who are making minimum wage will receive an addition $2 per hour in their paychecks. 

Pizza chain Domino’s also announced that it will be looking to hire an additional 10,000 employees in the coming weeks, due to an increase in pressure being placed on the take-out industry for the very same reason that Amazon is seeing an increase in revenue. 

Employee protections and worker rights are of the utmost importance at a time like this. Health and safety should 100% be coming first, and your employer’s should be understanding over that and implement new programs that will not only protect the workers that are being forced into isolation, but also create a larger job market to maintain the economy as much as we possibly can. 

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A Mixture of Lost Contracts Plus The Growth of Non-Dairy Milk Products Sees America’s Largest Milk Producer File For Bankruptcy

It was announced on Tuesday that the country’s biggest milk producer – Dean Foods – has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, sparking fears for farmers everywhere.
Based in Dallas, Dean Foods have had to secure $850 million commitments in debtor-in-possession financing, which is a form of funding companies suffering financial difficulties can acquire. However the company will be utilizing the Chapter 11 proceedings to enable them to address their debt as well as their unfunded debt obligations, all while they aim to keep their business operating.

It is believed there will be no breaks in any of their customers’ orders and all dairy products should be delivered as per their usual contracts. Concerns were raised regarding their employees however as it was revealed that the company has not been funding all their workers’ pensions.

The organization also confirmed that they had executed a strategic review in September and have opted to keep the company operating rather than selling it off. Yet they have also announced they are currently in ‘advanced discussions’ with Dairy Farmers of America and are looking to potentially sell a ‘substantial’ amount of its assets. If this is the case the transaction would still have to accept other offers of purchase while working through their bankruptcy stage.

It appears that as a nation our dietary habits are changing, with more and more people either suffering from lactose issues, choosing a healthier or even vegan diet, or preferring to opt for private label products.

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A combination of these has resulted in the per capita consumption of milk to drop 26 per cent in the last 20 years although 2019 has been particularly difficult for the company. Sales have fallen 7 per cent in the first six months of the year resulting in a drop in profits of 14%. There has also been 80% of its stock lost this year despite being the producers of some of our most popular dairy and milk labels – including Organic Valley, Land O’Lakes milks and Dairy Pure.

The demand for cow’s milk in recent times has been consistently reducing each year with sales for the last 52 weeks up to October 26 hitting $12 billion globally – according to CNN Business. Compare this to the $15 billion made in a like-for-like period during 2015 it is easy to see that the dairy companies cannot survive producing purely cow’s milk. However the smaller market of oat milk has increased by 636 per cent in the last 12 months taking sales to around $53 million, showing there clearly is a shift in America’s drinking habits.

And although the global market looks to be hitting $18 billion this year for milk alternatives – an increase of 3.5 per cent from last year – the traditional milk market will still outperform it by a considerable sum with around $120 billion expected worldwide.

The recent decision by Walmart in 2017 to move to their own milk supply subsequently led to the Dean Foods having to terminate over 100 contracts across eight states, leaving dairy farmers also in a dire financial situation as they tried to replace their deals.

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A year later Food Lion also cut ties with the company resulting in Dean Foods reporting a net loss for seven out of its last eight quarters.

The news will come as a shock to the country’s farmers who are already trying to cope with the ever changing market thanks to a labor shortage and trade issues. Add to that the consistently dropping dairy prices and it is no wonder many farmers themselves are also being forced to close their businesses.

Eric Beringause, who took over as President and Chief Executive Officer of Dean Foods in September announced:
‘The actions we are announcing are designed to enable us to continue serving our customers and operating as normal as we work toward the sale of our business. Despite our best efforts to make our business more agile and cost-efficient, we continue to be impacted by a challenging operating environment marked by continuing declines in consumer milk consumption.’

Senior Vice President of Communications for the lobbying group released a statement to CNBC stating:
‘A number of [the National Milk Producers Federation’s] member cooperatives provide milk to Dean Foods and could be impacted by today’s bankruptcy filing. We are gathering information to better assess the situation and will work closely with our members to provide whatever support we are able to through this process.’

Dean Foods has enjoyed a ‘history of goodness’ for 94 years since it was founded in 1925 by Samuel E. Dean Sr. after he procured evaporating milk processing company Pecatonica Marketing Company. After changing its name in 1927 to Dean Evaporating Milk Company a relationship was born between the Dean name and the ‘wholesome, healthy sources of nutrition’. By 1929 the name would change again to Dean Milk Company, finally settling on Dean Foods in 1963.

Walmart

Walmart Announces Remodel Across All Stores

Retailers across the world know that although customers can, and do remain loyal for many years, the younger generation are happy to swap shops for a better deal.

Therefore how stores present themselves to customers has a direct effect on not only how many customers they can get through their doors, but how much they will spend once there.

Every organization will have their own unique take on this and Walmart is no different. Customers heading into Walmart anywhere across the U.S. will see produce as soon as they enter, and this tactic is a major factor in the retailer’s competition against other companies, including as Amazon.

It is important that shops keep their customers engaged and with this in mind Walmart have announced they are updating their produce aisles in all their stores.

In an attempt to stay innovative, America’s largest grocer will be redesigning their produce sections, adding new signage so the customer can see prices clearer as well as making their merchandise bins smaller. This is a clear attempt at the owners wanting to create a more ‘open market feel’ to reflect the habits of modern day shoppers.

And with many consumers opting for a more organic lifestyle Walmart have announced they are creating a new section in the store keeping everything together. This should appeal to customers who are rushing in on the way home and want to grab their items without having to search around the many different departments for a few simple items.

The increase in the number of people ordering groceries online has created an environment where we seem to be constantly trying to move around an employee and their cart so stores will now have wider aisles to accommodate everyone.

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Charles Redfield, Executive Vice President of Food at Walmart’s US business acknowledges that online shopping has ‘fundamentally changed the way we operate our food business within the store’ stating that:

‘We’ve always got associates in the produce area. This layout created more space in the department to allow room for customers to shop.”

Nicknamed “Produce 2.0”, the remodel has already kicked off with over 200 stores currently having work carried out and Walmart is working towards a completion date of next summer for most of their 4,700 stores.

Despite the growth in online shopping, 95 percent of shoppers still prefer to head into a shop to purchase their produce, mainly due to our nature to rummaging through the bargain bins and see what other offers are around. And it does not seem to be waning. According to a study by Nielsen sales of produce increased in 2018 by 2.6% and it looks set to continue this trend.

Redfield is hopeful that Walmart’s new look will encourage shoppers to buy their high-quality produce stating ‘fresh is key to the food shopping experience.’

And Jon Springer agrees. As Executive Editor of industry trade publication “Winsight Grocery Business” he notes that produce ‘plays to big, overarching consumer trends in health and wellness’.

It is not only Walmart who have announced an investment in produce. German rivals Aldi increased their organic and produce sections in the last few years while Kroger have also made their own announcements.

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Kroger announced they are investing in hydroponic farms at their stores in Washington State, which supports their new advertisements focusing on their fresh food, with the slogan ‘Fresh for Everyone’ at the top of their priorities.

Walmart has been a staple in the American shoppers’ psyche for the last 31 years since they opened their first store in 1988.

Groceries have become their biggest sellers, creating over $500 billion in revenue, which equates to around 56 percent of the business. Despite competition from other superstores, Walmart continues to be America’s biggest grocer, with Morgan Stanley estimating them to be receiving roughly 20% of the fragmented US grocery industry.

In recent times Walmart has reduced prices to maintain their competition against other stores, including discount rivals, as well as improving the supply chain, making their fruit and vegetables have a longer expiration date on their shelves.

Redfield confirmed that the ‘one thing the customers were telling us is that, you know what, “We didn’t believe in your quality.” We knew we had some work to do there,”

As well as the investments in store, Walmart are also investing in their online grocery shopping, an act that they hope will protect them against Whole Foods, which Amazon bought in 2017.

Customers now have the option to buy-online, pickup-in-store at 3,000 of the company’s stores while 1,400 locations are now able to receive home delivery thanks to a new $98 a year deliver subscription.

This has come on the back of Walmart’s latest quarterly review which showed online sales have increased by 41% meaning Walmart are adapting to the needs of the ever busy American.

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After String of Vaping-Related Hospitalizations, Walmart Ends E-Cigarette Sales

On Friday, Walmart said that it would stop selling all e-cigarettes after their inventory runs out, citing “the growing federal, state, and local regulatory complexity and uncertainty regarding e-cigarettes.” The announcement comes in the midst of a number of reports linking use of e-cigarettes, or other electronic vapor inhalation devices, to health issues, including hospitalizations and in a few cases death. Walmart joins Rite-Aid, Costco, and Dollar General in retailers who have decided to stop selling electronic nicotine delivery systems. And Target, Walmart’s biggest competitor, has never sold e-cigarettes and stopped selling cigarettes in 1996. That being said, Walmart is the largest retailer in the country, and other retailers tend to follow Walmart’s lead, as Walmart Chief Executive is the chairman of the Business Roundtable, an influential lobbying organization that includes among its members some of the biggest companies in the world.

While the exact causes of the recent string of vaping-related health scares are as of yet unknown, many affected individuals reported vaping THC products, including some which were acquired illegitimately, and some patients reported using nicotine products. Nevertheless, Walmart’s decision reflects a rapidly-rising anti-vaping sentiment, as e-cigarette use among adolescents has skyrocketed, owing in part to the success of Juul, a company that manufacturers nicotine cartridges and diffusers which can easily be mistaken for USB drives. 

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The Trump administration had seriously considered banning all flavored vape products in an effort to curb their appeal among young people, but abruptly changed course. Other ways of fighting the popularity of vaping among youth, such as ultra-sensitive vapor detectors which can be installed in schools and other public places, have been proposed. And while manufacturers like Juul claim their products are intended as smoking cessation aids, to allow nicotine addicts to gradually reduce their intake of the drug, these manufacturers profit tremendously off of the sales of e-cigarettes to people who have no intention of quitting, particularly young people. The National Institute on Drug Abuse this week released survey results indicating that the prevalence of vaping among teenagers has doubled since 2017.

Walmart’s action will likely have little impact, as there’s no end in sight for the resilient and centuries-old tobacco industry, which now has more loyal customers than ever before.

It should be noted that Walmart continues to sell regular cigarettes, which have been found definitively to cause major health problems, including cancer, lung disease, and early death, whereas the long-term negative health effects of vaping are still unknown. Additionally, Walmart continues to sell assault-style weapons even in the aftermath of a string of mass shootings in the United States, though the company has imposed limits on the sale of ammunition and discourages open carry of guns in stores. Three major television stations, CNN, CBS, and Viacom have also said they’d stop airing advertisements from e-cigarette companies on their networks in response to fear about illnesses. Additionally, several politicians have returned donations that they received from e-cigarette companies like Juul, unwilling to be associated with companies that have the potential to become the face of a public health epidemic in this country. 

Some fear that Walmart’s decision will drive people who ordinarily vape to take up smoking cigarettes instead, as the retailer still offers the latter nicotine product. Others criticize the view that flavored e-cigarettes should be banned, noting that adults also enjoy flavored e-cigarettes, and banning flavors would negatively impact those who use e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool. Regardless of Walmart’s decision to no longer sell e-cigarettes, the nicotine products are easy to find and acquire, even for teenagers, as they continue to be featured in gas stations, convenience stores, and smoke shops. As such, Walmart’s action will likely have little impact, as there’s no end in sight for the resilient and centuries-old tobacco industry, which now has more loyal customers than ever before.

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