Friday, December 27, 2013

Some still awaiting Christmas packages

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Some still awaiting Christmas packages

A nationwide delivery backup caused by bad weather and higher-than-expected online sales has some Middle Tennessee shoppers still waiting for UPS to deliver their Christmas packages.

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New York Today: The (Woeful) Year in Sports

Gus Ruelas/Associated Press

Greetings on this soon-to-be-bright Friday morning.

New York's teams and their fans will be glad to crumple up 2013 and throw it away.

Not that 2014 looks much brighter, but the future, at least, is a boston terrier christmas cards slate.

The past is not. With the help of our colleagues in the Sports department of The Times, here are a few of the year's more unforgettably forgettable moments:

* Jets: A communication lapse caused the center to hike the ball into the wide receiver's groin as he ran by. The opposing Ravens recovered it.

* Devils: Back in April, a 10-game losing streak tied a franchise record.

* Knicks: "I don't want to keep using 'embarrassment,' " Carmelo Anthony said in the wake of a 41-point loss, "but right now, the losing is just becoming unacceptable." Yet it continues.

* Mets: A 20-inning, six-and-a-half hour loss to one of the few teams in the league worse than them.

* Giants: On the very first play of the year, a running back ran the wrong way and a tackle pushed a defender right into the path of a pass from Eli Manning. The first of many interceptions.

* Yankees: A clergy group held a prayer vigil outside the offices of Major League Baseball to seek divine intervention for A-Rod in his bid to beat a steroid suspension.

* Islanders: How many hockey teams can say they were scored on by a kneeling man?

* Rangers: Having a 19-year-old opponent shoot between his legs for his fourth goal of the game is a real morale-builder.

* Nets: With his team trailing in the final seconds, coach Jason Kidd purposely spilled a soda on the court to stop the clock. They lost anyway, and he was fined $50,000.

Here's what else you need to know for Friday and the weekend.


Nice, in a low-key way. Mostly sunny with a high of 40.

Even nicer Saturday, with a high near 50.

Not nice on Sunday - rain, possibly quite a bit.


Subways: No delays. Check latest status.

Rails: O.K. Check L.I.R.R., Metro-North or New Jersey Transit status.

Roads: No major delays. Check traffic mapor radio report on the 1s or the 8s.

Alternate-side parking is in effect.

Weekend Travel Hassles: Check subway disruptions or list of street closings.


* The mayor-elect made 1,000 inauguration tickets available to the general public yesterday.

* They were gone within 90 minutes, but some went to scalpers. One was charging $20. [ New York Post]

* Mr. de Blasio has appointed only three of the nearly 50 agency heads he will need, the least of any incoming mayor since John V. Lindsay. [ Newsday]

* Mr. de Blasio is said to be looking for a replacement for his spokeswoman Lis Smith, who has been romantically linked to Eliot Spitzer. [ New York Post]


* All those boats chugging up the West Side are on their way to the New York Boat Show, which will be at the Javits Center from Jan 1. to Jan. 5.

* More than 4,000 high school track-and-field athletes from around the East Coast compete in the Marine Corps Holiday Classic at the armory in Washington Heights. 9 a.m.

* A protest march from 125th Street in Harlem to the incoming police commissioner, William J. Bratton. 6 p.m. [This one was mistakenly listed yesterday. It really is today.]

* Turn Christmas cards into LED lanterns at a " Remake the Holidays " workshop at the New York Hall of Science in Queens. [$12]

* Make zawadi and otherwise learn about Kwanzaa at the Brooklyn Public Library. 3 p.m. [Free]

* The radio deejay Imhotep Gary Byrd hosts a Kwanzaa celebration at the Apollo Theater. 7:30 p.m. [$18]

* The acclaimed East Williamsburg restaurant Gwynnett St. reopens, two weeks after its owner's arrest on charges of receiving chemicals used to make Ecstasy. [ New York Times]


* A 2001 interview with then-candidate Bloomberg was unearthed. He called himself "a big believer in term limits." [ New York Times]

* Though most city police officers are now members of minorities, the number of black recruits has declined. [ New York Times]

* You'll be able to pay the parking meter via smartphone starting in 2015. [ Daily News]

* Florida will soon be more populous than New York state. [ New York Times]


* College football at Yankee Stadium: it's the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. 12:15 p.m. [$50 and up, but going fast]

* The Valentinos doo-wop at the Bronx Library Center. 2:30 p.m. [Free]

* Tour the decorated farmhouse at the Queens County Farm Museum. 12 p.m. [Free, with mulled cider]

* Last day to see Tosca's leap at the Met. 12:30. [$30 and up]


* A seal watch is on at Orchard Beach in the Bronx. 2 p.m. [Free]

* Last day to see 48 haunting tintypes of contemporary soldiers and veterans at the Alice Austen House Museum on Staten Island. [$3 suggested donation]

* Last day to hear Satchmo read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas' on a holiday tour of the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens. [$10]

* The Wizard of Oz screens in 3-D at Film Forum. 11 a.m. [$7]

* For more events, see The New York Times Arts & Entertainment guide.

Joseph Burgess, Michael M. Grynbaum, Andrew Keh, Naila-Jean Meyers, Bill Pennington and Ben Shpigel contributed reporting. New York Today is a morning roundup that stays live from 6 a.m. till about noon. What would you like to see here to start your day? Post a comment, email us at or reach us via Twitter using #NYToday. Find us on weekdays at

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Client Christmas cards - how to get it right

The holidays are a time of comfort and joy-not a time to unleash your inner cynic. The fact remains, however, that nearly everyone on your corporate holiday mailing list knows your gift, card or e-greeting is really an end-of-the-year marketing pitch. A soft sell to be sure, but a marketing pitch nonetheless.

That doesn't give you full reign to impersonate Ebeneezer Scrooge, however. According to etiquette expert Thomas P Farley-known colloquially as "Mister Manners"-holiday atheist christmas cards greetings are a rewarding exercise and a great way to improve client relations, provided you get it right.

"This is an opportunity to get back on the radar with your clients in a meaningful way," Farley said. "If it's not meaningful, you're better off not doing anything at all."

With that in mind, here are five timely tips for wishing your clients a happy holiday season.

If possible, send a personalized, handwritten card. Operating on a tight budget may prevent you from sending mass-mailed holiday cards to all your clients, but if you can afford the extra effort, it's worth it.

"An e-greeting can be annoying because they're often difficult to open and they may not make it to the individual," said Dianne Gottsman, a national etiquette expert and owner of the Protocol School of Texas. "Handwritten cards breed goodwill."

Farley agrees, adding that generic e-greetings often "get deleted the moment they're sent."

Instead, Farley recommends putting pen to paper and using the opportunity to make a comment specific to the individual, perhaps drawing on a business lunch or meeting the two of you attended.

Choose a tasteful, appropriate design. As head of custom design at California-based Tiny Prints, Heidi Reichert has seen a lot of corporate holiday cards over the years. The best, she said, always "reflect the professionalism" of the company.

"We've seen really silly photos or things that might be construed as offensive-maybe it's a photo of the employees doing shots or something like that," Reichert said. "It might seem funny at the time, but you never know what your audience might think when they get it."

Instead, Reichert recommends using photos that are appropriate and professional, along with designs that stand out from the ubiquitous red-and-green that don most holiday greetings. Lime greens and blues are especially popular this season.

Avoid blatant endorsements of religion or cultural traditions. One thing Farley, Gottsman and Reichert all agreed on was that it's best to "assume nothing" when it comes to recipients' religious or cultural traditions.

"Being very safe and respectful is the key," said Gottsman, who added that a neutral "Happy Holidays" is preferable to endorsing Christmas, Kwanzaa, or other winter-time holidays.

However, Farley said this rule applies only to the card design itself. Inside, it's appropriate to wish someone a "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Hanukah," provided you definitely know your client celebrates that holiday. "It makes your greeting that much more meaningful and warm," Farley said.

Keep out logos and business cards. Resist the urge to plaster your greeting with your company logo, or stuff the package full of coupons or business cards.

"This is the time for the soft-sell. You're not pitching, you're not doing client business," Farley advised. "The card itself is all the selling you should really be doing."

While logos do have a place on a corporate card, it should be done in a tasteful way, said Reichert. Placing the logo below your signature or on the back of the card is a nice way to make the card stand out as something personalized by the business, she said.

Send cards and gifts as soon as possible. Now is the time to send out your holiday greetings and gifts, if you haven't already. Gottsman said it's safe to start "any time after Thanksgiving," and the earlier the better given many companies close up shop the week of Christmas.

If you've missed the deadline, however, Gottsman says you can never go wrong with a New Year card, which should be in the mail before Christmas Day.

The bottom line with all these dos and don'ts, however, is that despite your business, your budget or your byline, your holiday greeting should come from the heart.

"If someone is actually taking the time to write a personal message, that's going to trump even the worst card design," Farley said. "Even if the card itself is something you get for 50% off at the local dollar store, the fact that you've included a personal message is far more impressive than the most stunning card with nothing inside."

Monday, December 16, 2013

Haggling quietly makes a comeback this holiday season

Pay no attention to the price on that tag.

Or even the markdown.

This year some shoppers are quietly taking the art of bargaining up the escalator to the floors selling cashmere or over-the-knee leather boots, building on the haggling skills they acquired in the last few years getting big-box store deals on TVs and the like.

Armed with increasingly sophisticated price-tracking tools on their smartphones and other devices, consumers have become bolder, and they know that they often have the upper hand during a tough season for retailers. Recognizing the new reality, some retailers, desperate for sales and customer loyalty, have begun training their employees in the art of bargaining with customers.

Last month, Best Buy essentially invited consumers to bargain when it announced that it would match the prices of any competitor this holiday season if customers showed proof of the lower price.

But other retailers are doing the same with less fanfare, or even making steeper concessions. DealScience, a new website that collects, compares and ranks online deals from thousands of retail brands, discovered that at least 20 percent of big-box retailers had price-matching policies, though many do not advertise them.

The site's co-founders, Brandon Hunt and Cory O'Daniel, said that they had been surprised to find that at least a half-dozen merchants - including some of the original haggling stages like Best Buy, Home Depot and Lowe's - now let managers go a step better and offer 10 percent below a competitor's price.

The bargaining practices are more commonplace for home and sporting goods or electronics, but even higher-end retailers like Nordstrom have price-matching guidelines - though they usually do not broadcast the terms.

Joe Marrapodi, one of the founders and the chief executive of, a new name-your-own price website, walked into Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's the other day in Santa Monica, Calif., and without identifying himself or his occupation, casually asked employees if they were open to bargaining. Both the sales representatives and the managers said yes without hesitation, he said, and cited specific price-matching policies.

"I think they kind of keep it low key," he said. "They don't want it to be a thing."

A spokeswoman for Nordstrom said in a statement, "For as long as we've been in business we've been committed to offering our customers the best possible prices, including meeting competitor pricing on similar items."

There was recognition among guests at a private round-table dinner with retail executives in Dallas that their stores had better accept regular give-and-take with customers, according to Alison Kenny Paul, vice chairwoman and leader of United States retail and distribution at Deloitte. "Some talked about their epiphanies and said the world has changed, we really have to do this," she said.

As a result, Ms. Paul said, some retailers are training employees on the rules of bargaining. Instead of price discounts, those deals may be add-ons, like an extended warranty, free delivery or free installation.

While it is mainly department or floor managers who are given the authority to make deals, other employees are now being coached to "recognize when a consumer needs to negotiate," and to "spot the consumer" getting ready to walk out the door, she said.

When a sales clerk at Kohl's in Kennewick, Wash., recently asked Siobhan Shaw, who was buying an armload of items from the sale rack, if she would like to open a store credit card, Ms. Shaw recalled that she replied firmly: "No."

"But," she said she quickly asked, "can I get the same discount she got?" She was referring to the woman ahead of her in line, who had asked for a discount and received 15 percent off. The answer was yes.

Retailers panicked a few years ago when they realized that some consumers were using brick-and-mortar stores to view products, only to walk out and order them at a lower price online. Now, Ms. Paul said, they are trying to "turn lemons into lemonade" by using that model as an opportunity to work with customers and even cement their loyalty.

Marilyn Santiesteban of Newton, Mass., rarely makes a purchase without first asking a manager for a better deal, and as a result, she has won significant discounts on things as diverse as a dishwasher at sears coupons and boots for her daughter at Macy's. The other day, she said, she went shopping at a Barnes & Noble outside Boston for a book-with-toy set for her 7-year-old nephew. Her smartphone told her the item was about $6 less at Amazon. She pointed this out politely to the store manager, and he instantly matched the price.

"You think I'm not going to buy everything from Barnes & Noble now?" she said.

Bargaining "is not adversarial," she said, explaining that she considers it a service to tell a store she can get a better price elsewhere. "We would both like it if I would walk out of this store having purchased an item."

Mr. Marrapodi's company,, which has Silicon Valley venture capital money behind it, opened this year. It lets consumers submit offers on merchandise listed in five categories, including cameras, baby equipment, household appliances and home theater. The company's software determines whether the offer is reasonable and sends it to a network of retailers that encompasses both big-box stores and small dealers. (All are vendors that are authorized by the brands.) If the merchant accepts the offer, it makes the transaction directly with the consumer.

James Myers of Walton, Ky., went to to make an offer on a Panasonic 60-inch plasma TV with voice control that was priced at over $2,000 at many retailers. He offered $1,539. After a little haggling, he was able to buy it from one of Greentoe's retail partners for $1,749 (shipping included).

"I truly feel that the shopping landscape is going to change," Mr. Marrapodi said. "It's going to be much more driven by the consumer and ability to negotiate."

In the coming year, Greentoe, which has more than 50 retail partners and 50,000 registered users, plans to add categories, including possibly exercise equipment, handbags and luggage.

Its ultimate aim is to make a negotiating app, Mr. Marrapodi said, so "you can do all this before you leave the store."

There are several unwritten rules about negotiating with a retailer.

It has to be "consumer-initiated," said Virginia Morris, vice president for consumer strategy and insights at Daymon Worldwide, a consulting firm. She said the customer must ask for a deal. Do not, she said, expect the retailer to offer it.

It has to be a reasonable offer, made politely - either a request to match a price or to offer a slim discount.

"The key is to be polite and confident," said Kyle James of Redding, Calif., who writes a blog about personal finance and frugal living.

Mr. James has even found a way to bargain with e-commerce sites: live chat rooms. He will type a request, as he did recently with a employee: Do you have a free-shipping coupon or another discount?

"Nine times out of 10 they have coupons sitting at their desk to give to you," he said.

"They know you have things sitting in your cart, and they do not want to lose you."

This article originally appeared in The New York Times under the headline, "More Retailers See Haggling as a Price of Doing Business."

More from The New York Times:

Booksellers wary about holiday sales Revelations that Ikea spied on its employees stir outrage in France Amazon strikers take their fight to Seattle

Copyright © 2013 The New York Times

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Christmas weather forecast: Winter storms warning as snow, gales and floods threaten UK | UK | News | Daily Express

Hurricane-force gales and torrential downpours will lash the country at the start of Christmas week, just as 18 million people take to the roads.

Even the 4.5 million planning to travel overseas will be caught in the 'total nationwide disruption' as airports, train stations and bus networks completely shut down at the busiest time of the year.

The shock warning came as a series of 'frenzied' storm systems - which have lined up in the south Atlantic - started to charge towards Britain.

Long-range forecasters said they will cause mayhem with 90mph winds and torrential downpours causing nationwide flooding and widespread blackouts.

The horrifying onslaught is expected to start as soon as next week as violent gales sweep in and torrential downpours bring the risk of flash floods.

Jonathan Powell, forecaster for Vantage Weather Services, said: "We could be looking at the stormiest Christmas in living memory as a succession of Atlantic depressions sweep across the uk weather com.

"There is the risk of persistent gales which could reach 90mph.

"There is also the risk of torrential downpours bringing up to two inches of rain in localised areas triggering the risk of floods.

"This looks likely to continue into the New Year and possibly into the second week of January when it will turn much colder with the risk of rain turning to snow."

Met Office chief forecaster Will Lang said fierce winds will begin to batter parts of the UK this weekend.

He added: "A vigorous depression is expected to run quickly northeastwards passing northwest Scotland on Saturday.

"As this happens, very strong south to southwest winds are likely to develop across much of the northern UK.

"It remains possible that more of northern England and parts of Wales could also be affected."

The grim warnings follow predictions Britain could be facing the worst winter in decades with a major big freeze due to hit in the New Year.

Experts say temperatures are likely to plunge in January with Arctic gales and blizzards sparking chaos until the spring.

Long-range forecasting bodies say there is a chance much of the UK could be hit by a crippling big freeze with widespread snow likely.

Long range forecasts show that a high pressure 'blocking system' drawing cold air in from the Arctic will wreak havoc with our weather, generating prolonged spells colder than in Iceland, Norway and Sweden and even parts of the Arctic region.

Long-range forecaster James Madden, of Exacta Weather, said: "An exceptionally prolonged period of widespread cold is highly likely to develop throughout this winter and last into next spring.

"It will be accompanied by snow drifts of several feet and long-lasting snow accumulations on a widespread scale.

"This period of snow and cold is likely to result in an incomparable scenario to anything we have experienced in modern times.

"A scenario similar to December 2010 is likely to develop, but on a more prolonged scale in terms of overall duration."

He warned of copious snowfall across the UK with "major disruption" likely on the transport networks.

He said: "The winter of 2013/14 is likely to bring another big freeze with copious snow amounts for many parts of the UK.

"There is also a high-risk scenario that we will experience a scenario similar to December 2010 or much worse at times (coldest December in 100 years), especially during the January 2014 period. "This is largely down to the period of low solar activity that we currently reside in, and how it intrinsically alters major factors factors such as ocean and jet-stream behaviour.

"This is likely to produce major disruption to the public transport network and school closures on a prolific scale, due to the adverse weather conditions that we are likely to experience in terms of consistent cold and major snow episodes, that will consist of snow drifts of several feet in depth."

Jonathan Powell added this winter could parallel the worst winters ever recorded.

He said: "Looking back at historical data there is certainly an argument that we may well parallel with severe winters of the past including 1947 and 1962.

"We have had such a cold November, and there is no sign of any change due to a high pressure blocking system.

"When these severe temperatures bed in it becomes like an accumulative effect - like a heatwave but in reverse, we could be looking at the longest winter in history.

"And this is when you see records breaking, all signs point towards this winter being exceptionally severe, I wouldn't put anything past it."

A deep area of low pressure was responsible for devastating 142mph winds and the biggest se surge for 60 years which caused devastation last week.

Experts said similar furious depressions are lined up to crash into the UK over the next few weeks bringing widespread chaos.

'Gay Away' Candy Angers Parents

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A novelty item that claims to "cure gayness" has been removed from a store's shelves in Gimli, Man., after parents expressed shock that the product was available there.

Packs of "Gay Away: The original gay pill" were on display alongside other gag products inside the store.

Slogans on the pink package claim that it "cures gayness" and "stops the craving for misbehaving." Inside is a blister pack containing 10 pieces of candy.

But while Gay Away claims to be just a gimmick, Gimli residents like Mona Johnston were not amused.

"It's absolutely not right," Johnson said Wednesday.

"I'm embarrassed, actually, to tell you the truth, that you guys found this in our community.... I don't support this is any way, shape or form."

A parent, who did not want to be named, said his 12-year-old daughter brought a pack of Gay Away home because she had questions about what it was about.

Johnson and others said the product is offensive and could send hurtful messages to the gay and lesbian community.

The store's owner told CBC News on Wednesday afternoon that she has removed the gag item from shelves after receiving calls from concerned parents.

Rachelle Mistelbacher apologized and insisted that her business is still a family store, and the addition of Gay Away was an oversight and an "honest mistake."

Calls to Laughrat, the Toronto-based company that produced Gay Away and other gag items, were not returned on Wednesday.

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