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LONDON, August 3, 2018 (News Wires) - Amazon is facing criticism after its British tax bill fell despite a big jump in sales and profits.

Records show Amazon UK Services Ltd. faced a 2017 tax bill of 4.6 million pounds ($6 million) but paid 1.7 million pounds ($2.2 million), deferring the rest.

Its pre-tax profits for the period were 72.4 million pounds, almost triple the previous year's 24.3 million pounds. Revenue was 1.99 billion pounds, up from 1.46 billion pounds.

The tax-payment decrease was partly due to shares payments to staff, which were counted as a cost and deducted from profits.

Amazon said Friday that it pays "all taxes required in the UK and every country where we operate."

Brick-and-mortar British retailers say they struggle to compete with online giants that use loopholes to lower their bill.

 

 

SAN FRANCISCO/ WASHINGTON, July 21, 2018 (News Wires) - Big companies in the United States from Amazon.com Inc to Toyota Motor Corp and Alcoa Corp are working to counter the effect of the Trump administration's trade policies and to head off new tariffs.

Companies are attempting to avoid any confrontation with US President Donald Trump but want to exert as much influence as they can to dissuade him from tearing up trade agreements or introducing tariffs on a wide swath of imports.

Amazon, the world's largest online retailer and cloud-computing company, which could be hurt by tariffs on items sold through its website and components for its data centers, is discussing industry-wide advertising campaigns and more extensive government lobbying, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Amazon declined to comment.

Toyota Motor North America, a subsidiary of Japan's Toyota, which could suffer if Trump follows through on a plan to impose tariffs on imported vehicles and parts, flew workers to Washington for a rally this week in front of the US Capitol while the unit's chief has met key members of Congress in recent weeks to discuss the potential impact of tariffs.

Executives from General Motors Co, which could be hurt if Trump pulls the United States out of the North American Free Trade Agreement or if he imposes auto tariffs, have also held meetings with the administration and Congress over the last year to raise its concerns about trade issues. Tariffs would lead to "a reduced presence at home and abroad," the company said in June.

The largest US automaker is set to hire Trump's former deputy director of the National Economic Council and adviser on international economic affairs. Everett Eissenstat, who left the White House earlier this month, will head GM's public policy efforts, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The chief executive of Alcoa told investors on a conference call this week that the aluminum producer was in "active discussions" with the Trump administration, the Commerce Department and members of Congress about the elimination of tariffs or getting an exception for Canadian aluminum.

Alcoa said this week it will incur as much as $14 million a month in extra expenses, mainly from tariffs levied on aluminum imported from Canada, its biggest supplier.

 

INDIA, July 18, 2018 (News Wires) - (Reuters) - Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) said online shoppers purchased more than 100 million products worldwide during its Prime Day sale, despite glitches on its mobile app and websites that prevented customers from placing orders.

The company's shares rose about 0.5 per cent to touch a record high of $1,858.88 in early trading.

The world's largest online retailer said it recorded the largest daily sales for Amazon's Echo range of speakers, helped by heavy discounts. Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote and Echo Dot were the best-selling devices.

This year Prime Day, Amazon's summer marketing event, started on July 16 and lasted 36 hours.

The technical glitches lasted for at least two hours and was likely exacerbated by excessive demand and traffic volume, RBC Capital Markets analyst Mark Mahaney said.

The retailer likely got between $1.5 billion and $2 billion in revenue from Prime Day and gross merchandise value topped $3.5 billion, Mahaney said.

Amazon said it sold over a million smart home devices in the United States.

The company did not provide total sales figures for the event, which was open only to members of its Prime subscription service across 17 countries, up from 13 last year.

NEW YORK, June 19, 2018 (News Wires) - Alexa has a new job: hotel concierge. Amazon has launched a version of Alexa for hotels that lets guests order room service through the voice assistant, ask for more towels or get restaurant recommendations without having to pick up the phone and call the front desk. Marriott has signed up for the service, and will place Amazon Echo smart speakers in 10 hotels this summer, including its Westin and St. Regis brands.

It is another way for Amazon to sell its voice assistant and devices to businesses and get Alexa in front of more customers. Amazon already sells a version of Alexa for workplaces, and has struck deals to place Alexa in cars and refrigerators. Alexa has become an important part of Amazon's business because it keeps users attached to Amazon services, such as music streaming.

Amazon said data from hotel guests will be deleted daily, and Marriott said those who don't want an Echo device in their room can ask to have it removed.

Hotels will be able to customize the responses Alexa gives their guests, such as nearby restaurant recommendations or pool hours. Other tasks that Alexa for Hospitality can do include checking guests out of their room, turning on the lights or playing lullabies to help them fall asleep.

Later this year, Amazon will allow hotel guests to link their Amazon.com account to Alexa so they can listen to their music playlists or audio books during their stay. Shopping, however, won't be allowed through the hotel version of Alexa, Amazon said.

WASHINGTON, June 18, 2018 (News Wires) - Hey, Google, order a large pizza! Alexa, I need vitamins! Voice shopping using smart speakers and smartphone apps is starting to gain traction among consumers, opening up a new “conversational commerce” channel and potentially disrupting the retail sector.

Devices such as Amazon’s Alexa-powered speakers and Google Home, which use artificial intelligence to respond to voice commands, are offering new choices to consumers who are looking for more convenient ways to order goods and services.

Voice shopping is expected to jump to $40 billion annually in 2022 in the United States, from $2 billion recently, according to a survey this year by OC&C Strategy Consultants.

“People are liking the convenience and natural interaction of using voice,” said Victoria Petrock of the research firm eMarketer.

“Computing in general is moving more toward voice interface because the technology is more affordable, and people are responding well because they don’t have to type.”

A recent eMarketer survey found 36 per cent of US consumers liked the idea of using a home-based assistant like Amazon Echo for making a purchase.

Amazon’s devices, which hit the market in 2015, were designed in large part to help boost sales, and Google Home was launched a year later.

The use of smart speakers has expanded the possibilities available through smartphone chatbots or text-based systems including those from Facebook and Apple.

“This is growing exponentially,” said Mark Taylor, an executive vice president at consultancy Capgemini and co-author of a study on conversational commerce.

“We’re getting very used to asking Alexa or Google to do something on our behalf, which makes it simple to switch and say, ‘Hey Alexa, buy me dog food.’”

Capgemini research shows many consumers are satisfied with voice interactions and that this is growing for search and information as well as for purchases and that this is likely to become a “dominant” mode of consumer action within a few years.

“It’s becoming part of the fabric of our lives,” Taylor said.

The most commonly shopped categories through voice are groceries, entertainment, electronics and clothing, according to OC&C.

For now, Taylor said, most voice-based purchases have been “low consideration goods” such as items consumers have purchased before.

But as people grow comfortable with voice assistants Taylor sees a potential for growth in “higher consideration” items including insurance or financial services.

An important element will be the tonality and personality established by intelligent assistants that will help companies establish an image or brand.

“People like to talk to human beings because humans give insight and guidance, and AI can do the same thing,” he said.

The “conversational interface” is a tremendous advantage in some situations, said Manlio Carrelli, executive vice president at LivePerson, which provides technology for firms in online platforms.

“This is like ‘Star Trek,’” Carelli said. “I can just say what I want and get it. Consumers don’t care what’s on the back end, they just want to be able to get what they want.”

Carelli said these systems are important not only for sales, but for customer service — reducing the need for dreaded call centres and saving millions for businesses.

“We’re now entering the mainstream for this market,” Carelli said. “I don’t think you’ll find a single major brand that isn’t looking at this.”

Walmart last month launched a text-based concierge shopping service called Jetblack which uses both artificial intelligence and professional assistants offering buying suggestions as part of its effort to compete with Amazon.

But Walmart is one of dozens of retailers offering voice-based shopping through Google Express as well, along with sellers of flowers, hardware, groceries and other goods.

Domino’s Pizza has embraced this technology, allowing orders through Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Facebook Messenger and other platforms.

In France, Google Home devices can be used to shop at the giant retailer group Carrefour. And retailers in China have been partnering with tech firms for similar services.

According to OC&C, Amazon Echo speakers are used in around 10 per cent of US homes, with four per cent for Google Home.

According to the report Apple is lagging in this sector because its Siri assistant lacks the AI capabilities of Google, and the new HomePod has only just hit the market.

Apple just this year rolled out “business chat,” enabling consumers to ask questions and place orders through iPhone text or voice commands, and see images of products on the iMessage service. Retailers Lowe’s and Home Depot are among the partners.

Some analysts, however, expect more players to enter the market, with speculation rampant about a speaker from Facebook, which now allows business and consumers to connect through Messenger chatbots.

“Voice commerce represents the next major disruption in the retail industry, and just as e-commerce and mobile commerce changed the retail landscape, shopping through smart speaker promises to do the same,” said John Franklin of OC&C.

SAN FRANCISCO, June 10, 2018 (News Wires) - Facebook unveiled a portal devoted to streaming video game play and commentary as it ramped up its challenge to Amazon-owned Twitch and Google’s YouTube for esports fans.

Gaming creator programme lead John Imah and product manager Nick Miller described the new venue online at fb.gg as a “gaming video destination” that Facebook recently began testing.

“People will be able to discover gaming video on our new destination based on creators and games they follow, pages they like and groups they belong to,” Imah and Miller said in a blog post.

Live and recorded gaming video are aggregated at the social network’s new portal, according to Imah and Miller.

“Many people already watch gaming videos in News Feed, Groups and Pages, and we want to do more to help creators get discovered and reach new fans,” Imah and Miller said.

They also announced new efforts aimed at cultivating and supporting people who create video game related video for viewing online.

Facebook launched a gaming creator programme at the start of this year.

Digital content from video game industry events as well as esports competitions will be among offerings at fb.gg.

“To seed the ecosystem, inspire others, and bring great content to fb.gg, we are funding content from creators and esports that will also be aggregated in our gaming video destination,” Imah and Miller said.

The announcement comes ahead of the video game industry’s major Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, where Facebook will be showcasing efforts to build a “community for gamers,” according to the statement.

A hot trend of video game play streamed as spectator sport and “YouTubers” becoming famous for skills or pithy commentary was expected to pervade the annual gathering, which will even feature a first-ever celebrity pro-am tournament of raging popular death-match game “Fortnite.”

Last year, unveilings of eagerly awaited titles and new franchises at E3 were streamed live on platforms including Facebook, Twitch, and YouTube - drawing hundreds of thousands of viewers.

Twitch was an esports pioneer, but faces increasing pressure from Facebook and YouTube as ranks of esports viewers grow along with the money to be made from audiences.