November 28, 2022

Today's Topics

Hello! We hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and managed to avoid being scheduled on one of the 4,200 flights that were delayed over the weekend. Today we're exploring:

  • Cyber spenders. Scroll, tap, buy — Black Friday was big.
  • CCP. The Chinese Covid Protests.
  • Amazon's elves. The company is hiring 150k seasonal workers.
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Cyber spenders

American online shoppers scrolled, tapped and clicked their way to a record $9.12bn of spending this Black Friday, a strong showing despite rising inflation continuing to pinch the pockets of the American consumer.

As we get to say almost annually, this year's online shopping season is expected to be the biggest ever. Indeed, analysts at Adobe Analytics are expecting total online sales for November and December to be up 2.5% on last year.

Whilst many retailers kicked off deals season early in October, online shoppers were clearly keen to hold out for Black Friday itself. Sales rose slightly on last year, but it's worth noting that those figures aren’t adjusted to reflect inflation — suggesting that the amount of actual stuff bought online might have fallen.

Nevertheless, shoppers have clearly clung to their online habits, with internet spending up 23% on the last pre-pandemic year — and Adobe’s analysts are forecasting that Cyber Monday will be even bigger than Black Friday.

Interestingly, 48% of customers on Friday were using smartphones to buy their goodies, up from 44% last year. Online shoppers have also been using buy-now-pay-later schemes more than ever before — a trend that obviously doesn't show up in the credit card data we discussed 2 weeks ago.

Over the weekend, China saw something unprecedented: multiple organized protests across the country.

The pandemic protests

China maintains some of the most-severe Covid restrictions in the world, with millions living through work and school closures, mass testing and even full lockdowns for nearly 3 years. The “Stringency Index”, a composite measure developed by Oxford University of how strict Covid measures are across countries, reveals how Chinese Covid policy has diverged from much of the world this year, testing the patience of its 1.4 billion citizens.

After a fire in the city of Urumqi killed 10 people last week, reports circulated that lockdown measures may have delayed firefighters from reaching victims — sparking a wave of fresh anger. Protesters in Shanghai shouted “Xi Jinping, step down”, a rare public show of dissent against national leadership that comes with an extremely-high personal risk in China — scores of people were detained in the country’s most-populous city, including a BBC journalist.

Just a few weeks on since Xi Jinping consolidated his power within the Chinese Communist Party, a difficult economic backdrop and growing Covid restriction frustrations mean the government now faces arguably the sternest test of its power in years. Something as simple as broadcasting the World Cup, where thousands of maskless fans are gathered from around the world, now offers a dilemma for authorities, with Chinese state broadcasters showing less footage of crowd close-ups.

There is a trickle of dissent in China, Xi is likely working relentlessly to ensure it does not become a deluge.

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Amazon's seasonal army

As the busy holiday season gets underway (see above for Black Friday data), retailers have been hiring in preparation for all the sale-seeking shoppers.

The king of online retail, Amazon, requires the most help in meeting the holiday demand — hiring another 150,000 seasonal employees in the US this year. That hiring spree is equivalent to hiring the entire workforce of retail rivals Macy’s and Burlington. It’s also roughly equivalent to the entire workforce of Disney, nearly 2x Nike’s and triple the 49,000 employed by Goldman Sachs.

Attracting that many workers in the current hot labor market is no mean feat, so to sweeten the deal Amazon is offering a $3,000 signing bonus and average starting pay at $18 an hour.

The original kings of Christmas retail, Walmart, are cutting back however, suggesting a potential split between online and physical stores. Indeed, Walmart is only adding40,000 seasonal workers this year, far fewer than the 150,000 that they added in 2021.

More Data

• How the tech industry shedded $7.4 trillion in market cap. this year.

• This Twitch user is now into her second year of livestreaming her life 24/7.

• The makings of a (very short) heist movie: thieves broke into a German museum, stole $1.65m in ancient coins, and got out all in under 9 minutes.

Bob Dylan has apologized after using an autopen to sign 900 copies of his $600 book.


• Wordcounts in Spotify’s most-streamed songs.

• The worrying issue of rising fatalities on America’s roadways.

Off the charts: Which term, that has blown up in the age of misinformation, was just named Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year? Answer below.

Answer here.

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