“Everybody believed during 2021 that we’d see a significant shift away from goods back to services as the economic environment opened up as we got our arms around the pandemic,” Craig Menear, Home Depot’s chief executive, told analysts after the company reported its earnings Tuesday. “Clearly, we have not seen that.”
Strong October sales may partly reflect an early start to the holiday shopping season. In mid-September, L.L. Bean added a banner to its website warning customers about holiday shipping delays and shortages and urging early shopping. Best Buy offered its Black Friday deals well before Halloween, from Oct. 19 to Oct. 22. Target started “early Black Friday” deals on Oct. 31.
Understand the Supply Chain Crisis
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Almost anything manufactured is in short supply. That includes everything from toilet paper to new cars. The disruptions go back to the beginning of the pandemic, when factories in Asia and Europe were forced to shut down and shipping companies cut their schedules.
Now, ports are struggling to keep up. In North America and Europe, where containers are arriving, the heavy influx of ships is overwhelming ports. With warehouses full, containers are piling up. The chaos in global shipping is likely to persist as a result of the massive traffic jam.
“I’m sure some folks started looking earlier because of worries that they won’t be able to find the item they’re looking for once everybody gets out to shop,” said Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S. economist at S&P Global.
There are some signs, however, that shortages are beginning to ease, in part because retailers, too, shopped early this year. At the Port of Los Angeles, holiday orders usually begin arriving in late August or early September; this year, they began arriving in June, Gene Seroka, executive director of the port, said at an event on Tuesday with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
Economists warned that if consumers simply got a head start on holiday spending, that could lead to disappointing sales in November and December. But most forecasters expect spending to remain strong because of the improved public health picture and the underlying strength of the U.S. economy.
Unemployment has fallen to 4.6 percent, from close to 20 percent at the height of the pandemic, and wages are rising, particularly for low-income workers. Households are sitting on a collective $2.5 trillion in savings built up during the pandemic — and, unlike last Christmas, when the pandemic reduced the appeal of browsing, fitting rooms and lingering indoors, many Americans feel comfortable going out and spending.
Tom Nolan, chief executive of Kendra Scott, a fashion jewelry business with 119 locations, said that its sales were up “materially” over both last year and 2019 and that he expected the performance to continue through the end of the year.
SAN FRANCISCO — Pinterest has held talks to buy VSCO, a photography app that spawned a teenage social media craze, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.
The discussions are ongoing, said the people, who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly. A deal price couldn’t be learned; Pinterest has a market capitalization of about $49 billion, while VSCO has raised $90 million in funding and was last valued at $550 million. An acquisition may not materialize, the people cautioned.
Representatives from Pinterest and VSCO (pronounced “vis-coe”) declined to comment on deal talks.
Julie Inouye, a spokeswoman for VSCO, said the company was focused on expanding its business. “We’re always meeting with different companies across the creative space at any given time and do not discuss rumors or speculation,” she said.
Pinterest and VSCO, which stands for Visual Supply Company, are part of a group of tech companies that are highly focused on digital images and visual editing and that rely less on social networking features. Pinterest, a digital pin board site that went public in 2019, lets its users discover and save images to inspire creative projects or to plan important aspects of their lives, including home renovations, weddings and meals.
an app for editing and sharing images and videos. In 2019, it became popular with a Generation Z group that came to be known as “VSCO girls,” who were known for wearing Crocs and carrying Hydro Flasks. The idea of VSCO girls went viral, inspiring social media imitation, mockery, memes and Halloween costumes.
For Pinterest, buying a once-buzzy start-up that was popular with younger audiences and that has expertise in photo- and video-editing technologies could bolster its core service, the people said.
Since Pinterest went public, its revenue has grown, though analysts have said they don’t expect Pinterest to become regularly profitable until 2022. It has also expanded internationally.
During the pandemic, the company experienced a surge of interest as people were locked down and turned to more digital activities. Pinterest added 100 million monthly active users last year and now has a total of 450 million monthly active users.
The San Francisco company also faced social unrest last year. In December, it agreed to pay $22.5 million to settle a gender discrimination and retaliation lawsuit from its former chief operating officer, one of the largest publicly announced individual settlements for gender discrimination. Two female employees of color who quit last year also publicly discussed their experiences with racist and sexist comments, pay inequities and retaliation at the company.
Founded in 2011, VSCO became known among younger users as a kind of anti-social network. The app does not have likes, comments or follower counts, so it appeared to put less pressure on users to build up a fan base. VSCO also eschews advertising, instead earning money by charging people for extra features. Of its 100 million registered users, more than two million are paying subscribers.
When VSCO girls became a cultural phenomenon in late 2019, investor interest in the start-up swelled. But the fad has since cooled off. When the pandemic hit, VSCO laid off 30 percent of its employees. In December, it acquired Trash, a mobile app for video editing, and said it planned to continue acquiring companies in 2021.
It was never going to be easy to succeed Tony Hsieh, the celebrated chief executive of Zappos, who turned a tiny online shoe seller into a $1 billion behemoth through an obsessive focus on corporate culture and happy employees. But Kedar Deshpande took over at a particularly fraught time.
Zappos, which is owned by Amazon, was already navigating remote work and grappling with pandemic-driven changes in how people shop when Mr. Hsieh abruptly retired in August after two decades, which led Mr. Deshpande to be named C.E.O. Then in November, tragedy struck: Mr. Hsieh, 46, died from injuries suffered in a house fire in New London, Conn., sending shock waves throughout the roughly 1,500-person company, as well as tech and entrepreneurial circles.
Since then, it has been reported that Mr. Hsieh had been behaving erratically for months and that friends had considered staging an intervention last summer. The revelations brought new scrutiny to the circumstances of his exit from Zappos.
Mr. Deshpande, who was previously Zappos’s chief operating officer, said that when Mr. Hsieh told him last summer that he wanted to pursue other projects, he did not push back.
Las Vegas can survive without its chief architect.
has claimed that it is harder to get a job at Zappos than it is to get into Harvard.
Mr. Deshpande said Zappos employees had become closer in some ways in the past year as they brought family or pets into the remote-work fold.
“The Ones,” which is tailored for female sneakerheads and advertised as “powered by Zappos.”
VRSNL, a luxury site that has its own web address and no visible link to the shoe site. It features wares from designers like Dolce & Gabbana and Proenza Schouler. The company has been pouring new effort into product detail pages and informational videos catered to audiences like new runners, and even co-developing merchandise and campaigns with the brands it carries.
“What online fails to deliver, which physical delivers today, is around these different experiences,” Mr. Deshpande said. “Until you actually go and deliver on these experiences, people will go back to the physical, in my opinion, and they will stay online for only transactional experiences.”
The company refers to these efforts as “experience commerce,” and said the category was driving 25 percent of its investments. Outside of prompting consumers to explore more, Zappos is also trying to make online shopping more cohesive — all with the aim of getting consumers to spend more money over time.
“One of the challenges has been that when somebody walks into ‘online,’ somebody looking for a jacket, for example, we show them inventory next to each other — like a $30 jacket, $50, $100, $300,” Mr. Deshpande said. “This is a very disorienting experience.”
In his view, all of the efforts are in line with Zappos’s obsessive focus on service for the past 20 years, which he anticipates remaining its focus for the next 20 years.
While the company is still grieving Mr. Hsieh, Mr. Deshpande said, employees will continue to embody the values that he championed. He pointed to an instance during the holidays when one employee mentioned children missing out on meeting Santa Claus during the pandemic, leading to a multidepartment effort to set up Santa Zoom meetings for children around the country.
“To me, Tony’s legacy is around delivering this happiness to everybody,” Mr. Deshpande said. “This culture he has created or pioneered, it’s going to be alive.”
“Our teams, our families and our friends have all been affected by the rise in hate crimes toward Asian people and it’s unacceptable,” Mr. Lynch wrote in the memo, which was reviewed by The Times.
Ms. McCammond had been vetted before Condé Nast hired her, and top executives including Mr. Lynch and Anna Wintour, the chief content officer and the global editorial director of Vogue, were aware of the decade-old racist tweets, Mr. Duncan said in his note on Thursday, and Ms. McCammond acknowledged them in interviews with the company.
Ms. Wintour discussed the tweets with leaders of color at Condé Nast before the job was offered, according to a company executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a personnel issue. Ms. McCammond struck Condé Nast leaders as an impressive candidate, the executive said, and they felt her 2019 apology showed that she had learned from her mistakes.
Although the company was aware of the racist tweets, it did not know about the homophobic tweets or a photo, also from 2011, that was recently published by a right-wing website showing her in Native American costume at a Halloween party, the executive said. The vetting process did not turn up the additional material because it had been deleted, the executive added.
Condé Nast has reckoned with complaints of racism in its workplace and content over the past year. In June, amid the Black Lives Matter protests, Ms. Wintour sent a note to the Vogue staff, writing that, under her leadership, the magazine had not given enough space to “Black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators” and acknowledging that it had published “images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant.”
Adam Rapoport, the editor in chief of another Condé Nast publication, Bon Appétit, resigned in June after a photo of him resurfaced on social media, drawing condemnations from the staff for an offensive depiction of Puerto Ricans.
In the last two weeks, as complaints mounted, Ms. Wintour tried to build support for the would-be Teen Vogue editor. Ms. McCammond also participated in meetings with Condé Nast staff members and other groups to apologize further and listen to their concerns, including one-on-one talks with journalists at Teen Vogue, according to six people with knowledge of the meetings.
Hundreds of people gathered for the first lecture at what had become the world’s most important conference on artificial intelligence — row after row of faces. Some were East Asian, a few were Indian, and a few were women. But the vast majority were white men. More than 5,500 people attended the meeting, five years ago in Barcelona, Spain.
Timnit Gebru, then a graduate student at Stanford University, remembers counting only six Black people other than herself, all of whom she knew, all of whom were men.
The homogeneous crowd crystallized for her a glaring issue. The big thinkers of tech say A.I. is the future. It will underpin everything from search engines and email to the software that drives our cars, directs the policing of our streets and helps create our vaccines.
But it is being built in a way that replicates the biases of the almost entirely male, predominantly white work force making it.
especially with the current hype and demand for people in the field,” she wrote. “The people creating the technology are a big part of the system. If many are actively excluded from its creation, this technology will benefit a few while harming a great many.”
The A.I. community buzzed about the mini-manifesto. Soon after, Dr. Gebru helped create a new organization, Black in A.I. After finishing her Ph.D., she was hired by Google.
She teamed with Margaret Mitchell, who was building a group inside Google dedicated to “ethical A.I.” Dr. Mitchell had previously worked in the research lab at Microsoft. She had grabbed attention when she told Bloomberg News in 2016 that A.I. suffered from a “sea of dudes” problem. She estimated that she had worked with hundreds of men over the previous five years and about 10 women.
said she had been fired after criticizing Google’s approach to minority hiring and, with a research paper, highlighting the harmful biases in the A.I. systems that underpin Google’s search engine and other services.
“Your life starts getting worse when you start advocating for underrepresented people,” Dr. Gebru said in an email before her firing. “You start making the other leaders upset.”
As Dr. Mitchell defended Dr. Gebru, the company removed her, too. She had searched through her own Google email account for material that would support their position and forwarded emails to another account, which somehow got her into trouble. Google declined to comment for this article.
Their departure became a point of contention for A.I. researchers and other tech workers. Some saw a giant company no longer willing to listen, too eager to get technology out the door without considering its implications. I saw an old problem — part technological and part sociological — finally breaking into the open.
talking digital assistants and conversational “chatbots,” Google Photos relied on an A.I. system that learned its skills by analyzing enormous amounts of digital data.
Called a “neural network,” this mathematical system could learn tasks that engineers could never code into a machine on their own. By analyzing thousands of photos of gorillas, it could learn to recognize a gorilla. It was also capable of egregious mistakes. The onus was on engineers to choose the right data when training these mathematical systems. (In this case, the easiest fix was to eliminate “gorilla” as a photo category.)
As a software engineer, Mr. Alciné understood the problem. He compared it to making lasagna. “If you mess up the lasagna ingredients early, the whole thing is ruined,” he said. “It is the same thing with A.I. You have to be very intentional about what you put into it. Otherwise, it is very difficult to undo.”
the study drove a backlash against facial recognition technology and, particularly, its use in law enforcement. Microsoft’s chief legal officer said the company had turned down sales to law enforcement when there was concern the technology could unreasonably infringe on people’s rights, and he made a public call for government regulation.
Twelve months later, Microsoft backed a bill in Washington State that would require notices to be posted in public places using facial recognition and ensure that government agencies obtained a court order when looking for specific people. The bill passed, and it takes effect later this year. The company, which did not respond to a request for comment for this article, did not back other legislation that would have provided stronger protections.
Ms. Buolamwini began to collaborate with Ms. Raji, who moved to M.I.T. They started testing facial recognition technology from a third American tech giant: Amazon. The company had started to market its technology to police departments and government agencies under the name Amazon Rekognition.
Ms. Buolamwini and Ms. Raji published a study showing that an Amazon face service also had trouble identifying the sex of female and darker-skinned faces. According to the study, the service mistook women for men 19 percent of the time and misidentified darker-skinned women for men 31 percent of the time. For lighter-skinned males, the error rate was zero.
New York Times article that described it.
In an open letter, Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Gebru rejected Amazon’s argument and called on it to stop selling to law enforcement. The letter was signed by 25 artificial intelligence researchers from Google, Microsoft and academia.
Last June, Amazon backed down. It announced that it would not let the police use its technology for at least a year, saying it wanted to give Congress time to create rules for the ethical use of the technology. Congress has yet to take up the issue. Amazon declined to comment for this article.
The End at Google
Dr. Gebru and Dr. Mitchell had less success fighting for change inside their own company. Corporate gatekeepers at Google were heading them off with a new review system that had lawyers and even communications staff vetting research papers.
Dr. Gebru’s dismissal in December stemmed, she said, from the company’s treatment of a research paper she wrote alongside six other researchers, including Dr. Mitchell and three others at Google. The paper discussed ways that a new type of language technology, including a system built by Google that underpins its search engine, can show bias against women and people of color.
After she submitted the paper to an academic conference, Dr. Gebru said, a Google manager demanded that she either retract the paper or remove the names of Google employees. She said she would resign if the company could not tell her why it wanted her to retract the paper and answer other concerns.
Cade Metz is a technology correspondent at The Times and the author of “Genius Makers: The Mavericks Who Brought A.I. to Google, Facebook, and the World,” from which this article is adapted.
Halloween is around the corner, which means it’s time for creepy costumes, haunted houses, and enough candy to satisfy any sweet tooth.
Every year, Zillow’s candy-loving economists crunch the numbers to find out which cities are best for your little monsters to score the best goodies. To figure out where kids can trick-or-treat with lots of other children and get the most candy in the shortest amount of time, Zillow researchers look at home values, how close homes are to each other, crime rate and the share of population under 10 years old.
Check out the complete Trick-or-Treat Index and neighborhood rankings for each city below.
Zillow researchers calculate the Trick-or-Treat Index using four different variables. They look at the Zillow Home Value Index, which shows the value of homes in single family residences. They also look at local crime data, how close each house is to its neighbor, and the age of the residents who live there. This data combines to give us the safest cities to trick or treat, where trick-or-treaters can get the best candy, in the least amount of time.