Business news in brief

Visa to help small businesses go cashless

NEW YORK -- Visa is looking to push more small businesses into updating their digital payment technology, offering up to $10,000 each to 50 U.S.-based small-business owners who are committed to going cashless.

The program will focus on restaurants and food establishments, Visa said Wednesday, with the expectation that Visa will expand the program in the coming months and years to other industries and possibly other countries as well.

Despite the proliferation of credit and debit cards, and the advent of technologies such as Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, cash remains a significant method of payment in many industries across the U.S. and around the world. Going completely cashless often requires upgrades to current point-of-sale systems, an impediment for many small businesses where cash largely remains king.

"We are declaring war on cash," said Andy Gerlt, a spokesman for Visa.

To participate in Visa Inc.'s Cashless Challenge, small-business restaurant, cafe or food truck owners will need to describe what cashless means for them, their employees and customers.

Visa isn't doing this for charity. The world's largest processor of credit and debit cards takes a small fee from every payment that runs on its network. The more payments made through it , the more revenue Visa gets.

Businesses that receive the award can use the $10,000 toward upgrading their point-of-sale systems. If there is money left over, the business owner can use it toward marketing or other efforts to promote their small businesses, Gerlt said.

-- The Associated Press

WeChat ads lift Burberry's China sales

LONDON -- In a bid to reinvigorate sales in the Chinese market, British luxury fashion brand Burberry this year used a strategy that has paid off handsomely: ramping up advertising on China's popular WeChat social media app.

Burberry saw a 4 percent rise in overall sales in the second quarter, more than expected, thanks largely to a resurgence in mainland China, where sales had slowed in recent years.

Analysts note the company increased spending on the WeChat app, which counts almost a billion users in China and serves as a multipurpose app combining social media and shopping services.

The company said its advertising campaign on WeChat for the introduction of a new bag -- the DK88, which retails for almost $2,000 -- saw its customer reach triple on the app. Sales growth in the country was in the mid-single digits, above the global growth rate.

Ken Odeluga, an analyst for City Index, said that focusing so heavily on WeChat is a strategic move that competitors in luxury goods have yet to make. Some companies prefer to focus on stores to preserve the aura of luxury. Also, some online shopping sites have been accused of selling fakes.

Burberry has prided itself on combining digital marketing with sales, such as by allowing shoppers to immediately buy online what they see on the catwalk during a fashion show.

The company said that the WeChat advertising was only part of its overall sales strategy, which included new stores.

"The company says they are seeing 'top customers returning' to their stores," said Steve Clayton, fund manager at HL Select UK Growth Shares. "In other words, the Chinese are spending again."

-- The Associated Press

Microsoft Research AI lab in the works

Microsoft Corp. is setting up a new research lab focused on artificial intelligence with the goal of creating more general-purpose learning systems.

The new lab, called Microsoft Research AI, will be based at the company's headquarters in Redmond, Wash., and involve more than 100 scientists from across various sub-fields of artificial intelligence research, including perception, learning, reasoning and natural language processing.

The goal, said Eric Horvitz, the director of Microsoft Research Labs, is to combine these disciplines to work toward more general artificial intelligence, meaning a single system that can tackle a wide range of tasks and problems. Such a system, for instance, might be able to both plan the best route to drive through a city and also figure out how to minimize your income tax bill, while also understanding difficult human concepts such as sarcasm or physical gestures.

This differs from so-called narrow AIs, which are just designed to perform a single task well -- for instance, recognizing faces in digital photographs.

-- Bloomberg News

U.S. solar energy grants total $46.2M

The U.S. Energy Department awarded $46.2 million in research grants to improve solar energy technologies and reduce costs to 3 cents per kilowatt-hour by 2030.

The money will be partly matched by the 48 projects awarded to laboratories and universities, including Arizona State University, which plans to use $1.6 million to develop an X-ray test to evaluate the performance of thin-film modules under harsh conditions, according to a emailed statement.

"These projects ensure there's a pipeline of knowledge, human resources, transformative technology solutions and research to support the industry," Charlie Gay, director of the Energy Department's SunShot Initiative, said in the statement.

Other awards include $1.37 million to Stanford University, $1.13 million to Colorado State University and $2 million to SolarReserve Inc.

-- Bloomberg News

EBay said to thrive during Amazon event

Amazon.com Inc. wasn't the only winner when its Prime Day sale lured deal-hungry shoppers to the Web. EBay Inc. had its two best sales days ever for July during Amazon's event last week, according to a person familiar with the matter.

In anticipation of Prime Day, the competing online marketplace launched an advertising blitz on television, social media and billboards using the slogan "Did You Check eBay?" While the San Jose, Calif.-based company declined to comment on sales numbers, the person said the effort paid off with daily record gross merchandise volume, which is the dollar value of all sales on eBay's marketplace, for this time of year.

Chief Executive Officer Devin Wenig has been increasing the company's marketing budget to freshen its image and dislodge lingering consumer perceptions that it's an online rummage sale. Most products purchased on EBay are new. During Prime Day, it offered steep discounts on items such as iPhones, Fitbits and the Roomba vacuum cleaning robot. EBay also offers free three-day shipping without a membership, compared with Amazon's two-day free shipping for $99-a-year Prime members.

Amazon reported its best sales day ever on Tuesday, and analysts estimate Prime Day generated $1 billion in revenue, about triple its average daily e-commerce revenue for 2016, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

-- Bloomberg News

SundayMonday Business on 07/17/2017

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