Maxey, Denisha 2015               DENISHA MAXEY

WE ARE LIVING in a time when the internet and social media are powerful tools that influence our personal relationships and can help decide who we choose to do business with. The internet places unlimited information at our finger tips and, at times, it can be overwhelming.
There is a growing trend of many websites making customer reviews available. These sites allow consumers to share our personal experience with the businesses that own them. On them, we can select “like”, “thumbs down”, “thumbs up”, or even five stars to rate our business interactions.
What is the overall value to customer reviews? Consider a scenario in which you want to buy a new vehicle. You know what make and model you would like to purchase but you are looking for a dealership that will make the process as pain-free and quick as possible. No one likes the haggling of car shopping, so you decide to jump online and read a few reviews on local auto dealerships.
Bingo! You read several reviews on one particular dealership that has a ton of great reviews and you decide to give them a try. That simple! Your decision is influenced by the opinions of other customers who were once also looking for a great buying experience.
Whether you are a customer looking for help in making a decision on who earns your precious dollars or a business that is looking to grow your company, a product review is an important tool. Indeed, we all need to educate ourselves on utilizing customer reviews and to make them beneficial. So how can we do this?
If you’re a customers, watch out for potentially fake reviews, especially ones that sound like a commercial for a company. This is not to say that such glowing reports might not be real; however, use your best judgment when reading all reviews.
Always use a trusted site on which to read them. Houston Better Business Bureau has reviews available for you to read at You can also post your own review on the site. The best part about BBB reviews is that they are reviewer verified.
If you’re a business owner or manager, pay attention to the reviews being posted online about your company. Do not be put off if they are negative. A review is an opinion, not fact. If you find a negative one, use it as an opportunity to enact with your customers and turn the situation around.
Show your customer-service skills by responding to the review. A reported bad experience might have more to do with issues that are or were not within your control. Don’t be shy! Use it as an opportunity to express your empathy and explain your position. There are always two sides to every story.
Responding to a positive review can gain you a repeat customer. Let its writer know that you appreciate the time they have taken to share their experience.
As Santa makes his list and checks it twice, go post a review about a business or respond to a review about your business to show who has been naughty or nice.
Denisha Maxey is the senior coordinator responsible for dispute resolution and alternative dispute resolution at Houston Better Business Bureau.

Faw, Larissa                Larissa Faw

A NEW SURVEY conducted by retail coupons specialist BeFrugal reveals that, this holiday season, more Americans are worried about falling victim to identity theft, credit-card fraud or a store’s data breach than traditional concerns like sticking to a budget or dealing with crowds.
According to the company, the number is 42 per cent, whereas those afraid of budgeting and crowds are neck and neck at 27 per cent.
Intrigued? The company’s survey dug a little deeper into the group concerned about ID theft and suchlike and found that, while 63 per cent of its number worry about security when spending at retail stores, restaurants, grocery stores or pharmacies, only 53 per cent of them have the same apprehension about spending on a brand’s website and just 45 per cent feel nervous about spending on a brand’s mobile site or app.
While Americans have adopted basic anti-fraud security habits, the majority does not always take additional effective measures, the company says. Indeed, 78 per cent do not enable text verification for accounts whenever possible and 75 per cent do not frequently update and differentiate their passwords.
And 67 per cent of Americans don’t always check the URL address for a padlock symbol to make sure its site is secure, 53 per cent don’t shop online using a secure network connection and 53 per cent don’t keep their antivirus software updated.
Present sales
Forty-two per cent of people expect to buy more gifts online this season than they did last year, while 23 per cent plan on only shopping online, according to advertising agency R2C Group.
And 31 per cent of consumers don’t plan on doing any holiday shopping at all, the company says.
Tube time
Despite the constant chatter of cord-cutting, the average American still watches five hours of television a day, says digital-video-recorder manufacturer TiVo.
Soupy sales
Fifty-nine per cent of all soups sold are Campbell’s Soup Company brands, while 13 per cent are private-label brands, with remaining soup makers such as Progresso comprising 28 per cent of all soup sales.
Higher tech
Retail giant Walmart is embracing new technology to entice people into its stores because customers who start using online grocery spend nearly 50 per cent more than customers who shop only in stores.
The company has begun chain-wide use of a mobile service that can tell it when a customer is coming to pick up an online general-merchandise order before they even walk into the store.

Everywhere but
Agricultural merchandiser Tractor Supply Company, above, has locations in every US state but Alaska and doesn’t think it will be opening one up there anytime soon.
Its strategy is focused on what it calls localization, understanding the needs of a small-town store “versus a store maybe located 40 or 50 miles away,” says the company’s Gregory Sandfort.
“It’s difficult to do, it takes a lot of talent and a lot of systems work but we understand it better today than we have. We continue to work on it.”
He said most of the company’s customers “don’t even know” it has close to 1,500 stores.
“What they know is they have a Tractor Supply store in their town and that store is relevant,” he said.
Regional bosses
Despite the reputation of New York City and DC as being the center of the world, millennials living in in the two cities and DC are less likely to see themselves as “leaders” than those living in other areas of the nation, says financial-services company The Hartford.
While the NYC and DC figure comes in at 74 per cent, in the south it’s 83 per cent, in the west and midwest it’s 80 per cent.


Mollette, Glenn New               Glenn Mollette

BLACK FRIDAY shoppers throughout America confirmed the hustle and madness of Christmas. Mall shopping was down by 10 per cent but zaniness seemed to be up by at least the same amount – or more. Viral videos of mall fights and huge crowds did not entice hesitant shoppers to jump into the weekend fray of traffic jams and shopping craziness.
Most Americans did not break a stride when it came to pursuing routine shopping and travel activities. However, the news kept us on edge with high alerts about the ever-lurking possibility of terrorism during the weekend.
Ever since September 11, 2001, Americans have lived with paranoia of imminent danger. We are a bit scared about flying but we do it anyway. We have become a bit scared about concert and sports events but mostly we go anyway. We have become nervous about public crowds at events such as the Boston Marathon or a parade.
We just don’t know what might happen. Some idiot who has deemed his or her own life worthless may show up anywhere with the goal of killing anyone. It’s just crazy and scary.
Radical militants who utilize their own slick media resources do everything possible to continue this fear permeation of our society. I don’t want to give them anything but sadly they have been successful. They have succeeded in fear mongering. However, they have not succeeded in halting the American way of life, nor the French way of life.
The American people will not stop flying or traveling the highways. Americans will continue to go to the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. They will go to Times Square and they will attend sporting events throughout our country. They will also keep going to the malls and shopping on Black Friday. The only reason the store traffic was down this year was because more people are shopping online, a total that was up by 10 per cent last weekend.
The first Christmas was scary. Mary and Joseph were flat broke. They had tax to pay. They had a baby coming into the world. She had turned up pregnant before they were married and nobody was buying the Holy Ghost story.
In the meantime, King Herod, who was scary in his own right, ordered all the male babies under two years old to be murdered. He didn’t want any competition from a baby who might take his place.
We can hardly imagine all the emotions that this peasant family of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus experienced. Since then, Christmas has presented challenges and some new anxieties for most of us.

Nightmare after Christmas

We have growing fears in America – terrorism, joblessness, taxes; life’s uncertainties abound for all of us. The first family of Christmas didn’t let the scary stuff stop them from experiencing the wonders of that first Bethlehem night. Life for them wasn’t easy.
We have to keep moving and living strong in America. We have to deal with and overcome this scary stuff today as we rediscover and celebrate the joy and real meaning of Christmas in our hearts and lives.
Glenn Mollette is an American author whose syndicated column is read in
all 50 states.

SPORTING goods chain Dick’s is setting up a concept known as Field & Stream to be independent from its main stores.
There are now 19 stand-alone Field & Stream shops and Dick’s has just launched a Field & Stream e-commerce site rather than include it as a tab on its Dick’s website.
However, the hunting business has continued to be difficult, says the company’s Edward Stack.

He said: “A lot of that, we feel, is caused by the warm weather so the guys haven’t had to buy any jackets, boots, left, socks, layering pieces.
“That’s all been pretty difficult and we expect it will continue. You kind of saw some other competitors in this space talk about the same thing and we’re kind of all experiencing the same sales.”
More with less
A 12-ounce can traded to a seven-ounce can is a 42 per cent reduction in volume, but it’s an increase in revenue for soda manufacturer Coca-Cola. The company charges more for the smaller-size cans yet says they are flying off the shelves.
The smaller packages are particularly popular among upper-income consumers and moms because moms want to treat their kids but don’t want them to have too much. The parents want to be in control, say Coca-Cola executives.
Cash grab
Thirty-two per cent of parents hope their children receive money or other financial gifts this holiday season instead of new toys, clothes or books, according to investment company Voya Financial.
Open state
In 2014, 10 per cent of all refugees coming to the USA were resettled in Texas, according to PBS News Hour.
Story time
Store chain Target is celebrating the holidays with a digital storybook narrated by Neil Patrick Harris.
The 49-page Odyssey Storybook: Three Kids, A Dog And An Epic Quest To Light A Ridiculously Giant Tree is available at and features interactive activities, moving pictures, sound effects and animation.
New chapters will be introduced online regularly until December 25.
Bean counters
Apparently, the average Starbucks order costs $5.00. Food sales now make up 20 per cent of the coffee chain’s orders and, over the next five years, it will be expected to reach 25 per cent.
The company plans to open 1,800 stores in 2016, of which 70 per cent will be outside the USA, with about half to them in China.
Minor matters
Discount chain TJ Maxx says its online orders represent only one per cent of its sales.
However, since launching two years ago, the retailer has added more than 3,000 brands in more than 25 department on its e-commerce site.
Global woes
World dominance isn’t always a good thing, says multinational consumer-goods company Procter & Gamble. But, then, who’s counting?
P&G has huge leading positions in some of the toughest markets in comparison with its next largest multinational competitor.
Its business, for instance, is more than three times larger in Russia and Ukraine than anyone else.
In Japan its business is six times larger than
the next largest non-Japanese competitor.
P&G is almost three times larger that its nearest competitor in China and, in the Middle East, it is twice as large as the next multinational competitor.
These tough markets represent more than $14 billion in sales, or roughly 20 per cent of the company’s total annual revenue.
Package pickup
Forty-two per cent of online orders at DIY chain Home Depot are picked up at the nearest store rather than shipped to customers’ homes.
And now the home-improvement group has three direct fulfillment centers enabling it to reach 90 per cent of US customers in two business days or less with parcel shipping.
Some 23 per cent of all drug stores in the USA, including Duane Reade and Walgreens stores, are owned by The Walgreen Company.
If the pharmaceutical chain’s merger with Rite-Aid is approved, the percentage will increase dramatically. Yet Walgreen says this large footprint will benefit consumers, particularly with omni-channel shopping.
Walgreen’s Boots pharmacies in the UK, for instance, report that more than 70 per cent of the products sold online at are now collected in the customer’s local store.
Frozen jets
Airline EasyJets has reported lower sales due to maintenance matters.
The comparatively mild weather in the winter in 2014 was not repeated in 2015 and the airline had around 15,000 de-icing events in the first half of this year after suffering around 8,000 in the same period last year.

Recycling ads are in the bag
POWER company Green Mountain Energy has come up with an environmentally friendly campaign that takes the concept of recycling to new levels.
The renewable-energy company first introduced 10 billboards in Dallas and Houston that highlighted its sustainability efforts and raised awareness about its clean-energy mission from June to October.
Now, Green Mountain is recycling the billboard materials to turn into 1,000 tote bags and 20 tablet sleeves to be distributed as “thank you” gifts to its customers and employees.
The bags are in production right now and will be distributed early next month.

Larissa Faw covers business trends for Forbes, The Motley Fool and other financial websites. She can be contacted at

Maxey, Denisha 2015                Denisha Maxey

EACH YEAR, #GivingTuesday falls on the first Tuesday in December, which is the day after tomorrow. Now heading into its fourth year, #GivingTuesday means more than just a hashtag posted on social media. It is a symbol to celebrate generosity and kindness.
If you are not familiar with the movement, it’s the global day of giving to your favorite charities. Many countries around the world participate and the list of participants continues to grow.
The holiday season is often the time when we think of those less fortunate than ourselves and we tend to be more generous than at any other time of the year. Coming immediately after the biggest holiday shopping days – Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday – #GivingTuesday gives an opportunity to donate to a charity that is close to your heart. Many charities receive most of their donations for the year on #GivingTuesday.
It is unfortunate that there will also be “charities” that want to take advantage of the generosity shown on this day and use it to scam unsuspecting people. Beware!
Use your brain, not just your heart, when donating. Give to a charity that deserves your hard-earned money, valuable time or donation. Pay close attention to charities that you have never heard of or that do not have any information available to the public. After the recent Paris attacks, there will be many scammers out here trying to steal your money and prey on your emotions.
Make sure you are not giving to an organization that does not benefit the community. Do your research – there are many great tools available online to gather information regarding charities – and there is nothing wrong with verifying before you give.
Houston Better Business Bureau recently hosted an annual charity conference that provided a lot of useful tips on giving to charities. It also highlighted known charity scams. In case you missed it, you can visit to check out it.
Did you know that Houston Better Business Bureau also evaluates charities in the area? We use 20 accountability standards to review charities. You can review the standards, which are also available on the BBB website.
Know that #GivingTuesday is not just about giving money to charities. You can donate needed items such as clothes, canned goods or even your time. During the holidays there are many volunteering opportunities available such as food-bank events, gift wrapping and coat drives.
There are so many additional ways to give to your favorite charities. The great part is that, no matter what you choose to give, it will be greatly appreciated.
I have had my own experience with donating and volunteering my time to charity. It can be great food for the soul and will make you remember all the many things you have to be grateful for.  On this #GivingTuesday, will you join the movement? Houston Better Business Bureau encourages you to use your heart but still be smart on #GivingTuesday!

Denisha Maxey is the senior coordinator responsible for dispute resolution and alternative dispute resolution at Houston Better Business Bureau.