Singles' Day highlights competitors' shift from online back to brick-and-mortar

Beimeng Fu/ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Nov. 11 marks Singles' Day in China, a day when sales have nearly doubled those from Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the U.S. -- combined!

So what's next for one of the most popular days in the country? Now that the world’s biggest shopping spree has arrived, the message is clear: brick-and-mortar retail isn’t old school, but rather a new battlefield for the e-commerce giants.

Alibaba, the undoubted front-runner that invented the consumerism extravaganza 10 years ago, is focusing on translating its online success offline across some 200,000 smart stores in more than 400 cities with more than 20 business units, including, Alibaba’s food delivery platform.

It also has partnerships with local and international brands such as L’Oréal, Starbucks, McDonald's, Marriott and Hilton, all with promotional in-store or home-delivery events on Sunday and its run-ups.

If 2017 was a year for testing the water, this year is about bringing the game up to the next level., Alibaba's biggest rival -- despite reported scandals of a rape case by its owner, Richard Liu, and a controversial marketing campaign -- is showing no sign of retreat.

It extended the length of its “Singles’ Day Period” to 27 days. That's up from 12 days last year, when it revealed for the first time its sales figure of $19.14 billion, a fraction of Alibaba’s.

Pinduoduo, China’s newest force in e-commerce, which just had its Nasdaq debut in July, is also expected to threaten Alibaba’s online dominance.

However, online success risks getting lost in translation into physical retail. At Hema, Alibaba’s cashless supermarket chain and critical offline venture, posters and fliers detailing special promotions can be found during the days leading up to the big day, but the scene is relatively quiet.

“How special can a supermarket promotion event get?” asked a shopper who was buying grocery in a Beijing branch Thursday.

The chain is ahead of its U.S. counterparts with features such as free 30-minute deliveries and facial-recognition payment. A look into the future, too: online orders are being carried in a shopping bag placed on a conveyor belt on the ceiling toward the back area for delivery.

At a pilot branch in Shanghai, it even made robot restaurant a reality, Business Insider reported. Within just a few clicks on its app, seafood and other fresh produce are offered without the necessity to interact with a waiter.

Alibaba has invested more than $10 billion in traditional brick-and-mortar retailing since 2016, before Amazon bought Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, according to the New York Times.

Its diverse assets range from supermarkets, department stores, furniture stores, as well as numerous digitized convenient stores, among others. On Singles’ Day, two new Hema branches will open in Beijing, joining the quickly expanding family of almost 100 stores in over a dozen cities from Beijing to Shanghai to provincial capitals such as Haikou and Guiyang.

As online retail in major Chinese cities reaches a saturation point, businesses share a common view on the strategy behind online and offline integration, which may be a credit to Alibaba’s recently posted 54 percent quarterly revenue growth, according to the South China Morning Post.

“Together with our merchant partners, we have elevated our capability to serve our customers and the shopping festival has become a leader in creating the kind of lifestyle our consumers want,” Daniel Zhang, Alibaba’s new chief, said at a Singles’ Day kick-off press conference in Beijing last month.

The company has yet to reveal numbers involving results from efforts for the online/offline conversion in the past two years, but the line hasn’t been particularly distinctive, especially for the country’s youth.

After all, making up 85 percent of all retail sales in China is physical retail, according to data released by Boston Consulting Group, which will witness the real fight in the long run.

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Google drops forced arbitration in sexual harassment and assault cases: Why it matters

Zhang Yuanyuan/VCG via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- When former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson complained to then-CEO Roger Ailes about hazing from her male co-workers, he replied with even more harassment, according to a lawsuit she filed.

“I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago, and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better. Sometimes problems are easier to solve,” he said, according to a complaint she filed in New Jersey Superior Court in 2016.

The high-profile case eventually caused Ailes' to be ousted as CEO and chairman of Fox News after 20 years.

The only reason anyone outside of Fox knows about it? Carlson filed a lawsuit, instead of going through the secret process of arbitration.

"We wouldn't know anything at all" about Ailes' behavior and subsequent harassment cases at Fox if Carlson had been forced into arbitration, her lawyer Nancy Erika Smith told ABC News. Smith made the risky move of filing suit against Ailes personally, rather than the company.

On Thursday, one week after a global walkout of 20,000 Google employees, vendors, contractors and temp workers protesting the company's handling of sexual harassment and general equity cases, the tech company became the latest to reverse course and eliminate forced arbitration in cases of sexual harassment and assault — fulfilling one of their demands.

In doing so, Google joins Microsoft, Uber and Lyft in waiving forced arbitration in sexual harassment and assault cases, despite a Supreme Court ruling in favor of mandatory arbitration earlier this year. Many employee advocates argue that ending forced arbitration, which usually imposes confidentiality on the parties involved, is the first step toward ending sexual harassment in workplaces.

"It's literally mindblowing," said Smith, who currently represents two women who were paid sexual harassment settlements by former Fox News star Bill O'Reilly. "It's unbelievably important to ending sexual harassment."

Arbitration is a process outside of the court system that is common in American corporations. Instead of filing documents in court — which become part of the public record — and moving toward a jury trial, the outcome is decided behind closed doors and often included as a term for employment.

Employers favor arbitration because it often limits bad publicity and the amount of money in awards an employee will receive. Also, because the employer often wins.

"There’s a lot more ways to keep what happens in an arbitration secret," University of Michigan law professor Julian Davis Mortenson said. "Ligitation usually has much wider-ranging discovery, as in, 'Hey give me all the emails that relate to my claims,' 'Give me all the embarrassing stuff.'"

"Once you find the embarrassing stuff, it’s not bound by the same confidentiality requirements that arbitration has. As a rule, it's way easier to disclose stuff happening in trial than in arbitration," Mortenson said. "A lot of these trials play out in the court of public opinion."

Another thing that tilts the playing field toward employers is numbers. Arbitrators are staffed by companies, whose clients are corporations. Out of, say, 10 potential arbitrators, each side can nix a few and then rank the remaining to oversee their dispute.

"Employers are repeat players in the way that individual employees never can be. They get to know lots and lots about arbitrators. If you’re an arbitrator that rules for me this time, probably I’m going to nominate you next time. Employers can structure the agreements to make it likely the pool of arbitrators selected are employer-friendly — it’s like picking your jury," Mortenson said.

In harassment and discrimination cases, there's another factor: demographics.

"Arbitrators tend to be white men over 40 who come from a corporate or management background," said Doug Wigdor, a labor lawyer and arbitrator. He represented women who were sexually assaulted by their Uber driver.

Though Wigdor and Smith noted the progress made by allowing employees to sue for sexual harassment and assault, they also said it's just the beginning of a longer process.

"With sexual assault victims — that they have control of the forum to air their grievances is important," Wigdor said, commending the Google decision. "For an employer to tell an employee they can't work at this company unless they agree to arbitrate matters is cruel in this day and age. But why not the same for racial or disability or age discrimination or harassment?"

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Judge orders Amazon to hand over Echo recordings in double murder case

WMUR(FARMINGTON, N.H. ) -- Authorities in New Hampshire are hopeful a smart speaker will be smart enough to convict a double murderer.

Amazon was ordered by a judge on Friday to hand over recordings taken by an Echo device in the Farmington, New Hampshire, home where Christine Sullivan lived with her boyfriend. Sullivan was found murdered in the backyard of the home on Jan. 29, 2017, along with Jenna Pellegrini, who was staying at the home.

The bodies were left in the backyard, under a tarp, and a knife was buried nearby, police said.

Pellegrini, 32, had been stabbed 43 times and Sullivan, 48, was stabbed eight times and had her skull fractured, according to authorities.

Timothy Verrill, 34, was charged with first-degree murder for both women's deaths. He pleaded not guilty in February 2017.

Police testified at a bail hearing in August 2017 that Verrill knew Sullivan's boyfriend, Dean Smoronk, who owned the house, and that Verrill had access to the home's security code. Verrill was also seen on home surveillance video with both women before their deaths, according to Manchester ABC affiliate WMUR.

The ruling was handed down by Strafford County Superior Court Presiding Justice Steven M. Houran on Friday.

"Accordingly, the State's motion to search in lieu of a search warrant is granted," the ruling by Houran states. "The court directs to produce forthwith to the court any recordings made by an Echo smart speaker with Alexa voice command capability, FCC ID number ZWJ-0823, from the period of January 27, 2017 to January 29, 2017, as well as any information identifying cellular devices that were paired to that smart speaker during that time period."

The Amazon Echo device was seized by police from the home, according to court documents.

It's unclear whether there is any audio evidence on the device, but the court found probable cause that the speaker could have recorded "evidence of crimes committed against Ms. Sullivan, including the attack and possible removal of the body from the kitchen."

An Amazon spokesperson told The Associated Press it would not release the recordings "without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us."

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Federal judge issues setback to Trump administration plans on Keystone XL pipeline

Andrew Burton/Getty Image(WASHINGTON) -- A federal judge says the Trump administration did not consider environmental consequences of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, dealing a setback for the Trump administration and a win for environmental groups.

The judge put the pipeline on hold until the State Department conducts another review of the possible environmental impact of the project.

The Keystone XL pipeline would deliver crude oil from Canada and other parts of the U.S. to refineries in the Gulf Coast, covering more than 1,200 miles through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska.

The State Department initially denied the permit under the Obama administration citing the potential environmental impact, but shortly after President Donald Trump took office he revived the project and the administration reversed the previous denial and allowed the project to move forward.

But a federal judge in Montana ruled Thursday that the Trump administration's reversal ignored information about the pipeline's environmental impact to support reversing the Obama administration's decision.

Judge Brian Morris cited a finding in a previous case that "an agency cannot simply disregard contrary or inconvenient factual determinations that it made in the past, anymore than it can ignore inconvenient facts when it writes on a blank slate."

The judge put the pipeline on hold until the State Department fully evaluates the environmental impact, including the project's impact on climate change, cultural resources, and potential for oil spills.

Environmental groups who oppose the pipeline and filed the lawsuit say the ruling is a victory for advocates and a significant setback for the pipeline.

President Donald Trump called the ruling "a disgrace" on Friday.

The company building the pipeline, TransCanada, said in a statement they are reviewing the ruling but they "remain committed to building this important energy infrastructure project."

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People with food allergies now able to board early, clean seats on American

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- American Airlines will start allowing passengers with allergies to board planes early, effective Dec. 12.

The move comes in response to a complaint filed by Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) in Jan. 17. The complaint was filed with the Department of Transportation regarding American Airlines’ policy prohibiting passengers with food allergies from preboarding aircraft at the same time as people with other disabilities.

Allowing passengers to pre-board would give them time to clean their seating area and reduce the potential exposure to allergens.

Delta Air Lines has had a similar policy in place for some time.

"Our agents and flight attendants are trained on how to best support customers with allergies in a number of ways – this includes refraining from serving peanut products on board when a peanut allergy is known, making cabin announcements to alert other customers of the allergy so they can refrain from opening personal peanut snacks in flight, and offering pre-boarding to customers with allergies so they can cleanse their immediate seating area," Savannah Huddleston, a Delta spokesperson, said.

"We encourage customers with known peanut allergies to notify Delta through Reservations before their flight so accommodations can be made."

Lisa Gable, CEO of FARE said the airlines' pre-boarding allowances are a good move.

“Any time a company takes action to address the needs of the food allergy community, FARE views this as an important step in the right direction," Gable said. "For families managing life-threatening peanut and tree nut allergies, this policy change helps mitigate the risk of an allergic reaction. We hope to see the policy address all food allergens in the future.”

Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist and immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network told "GMA" "We know from studies that peanut allergen can stay on surfaces if not cleaned properly so this step allows patients and families to take an extra precaution to avoid any adverse reactions while in flight. I would also add that having epinephrine auto-injectors on all aircrafts would be an even better additional step."

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Google CEO announces changes to company's sexual conduct policies

Google(MOUNTAINVIEW, Calif.) -- A week after a massive walk out of its employees, Google says changing how it handles sexual misconduct cases.

In an email to employees Thursday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai apologized for the way the company handled cases of sexual misconduct, and promised change. Google posted the note to employees in its entirety on the company website.

"We recognize that we have not always gotten everything right in the past and we are sincerely sorry for that," Pinchai wrote. "It’s clear we need to make some changes."

In a move toward more transparency, Pinchai said Google will provide more details about sexual misconduct allegations in internal reports made available to all employees. Those reports will include the number of cases reported, and a list of the types of punishment imposed -- including firings, pay cuts, or mandated counseling. Furthermore, Pinchai said the company is dropping mandatory arbitration of sexual misconduct cases.

These initiatives are part of a new company action plan Pinchai announced in his note to employees Thursday. After encouraging Google employees to inform themselves about the "full range of actions" being announced, he concluded the memo by reaffirming the company's commitment to more progress on the issue.

He wrote, "Thank you all for the feedback you’ve shared with us. This is an area where we need to continually make progress and are committed to doing so."

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Tesla appoints Robyn Denholm as new board chair

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(PALO ALTO, Calif.) -- Tesla announced on Wednesday that Robyn Denholm has been appointed as the next chair for its board of directors, replacing CEO Elon Musk.

Musk agreed to step down as chairman of the board earlier this year as part of a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Denholm is currently the chief financial officer and head of strategy at Telstra, the largest telecommunications company in Australia. She will be leaving her role there at the end of her six-month notice period with the company.

“I believe in this company, I believe in its mission and I look forward to helping Elon and the Tesla team achieve sustainable profitability and drive long-term shareholder value,” Denholm, who’s been on Tesla’s board as an independent director since 2014, said in a statement.

“Robyn has extensive experience in both the tech and auto industries, and she has made significant contributions as a Tesla Board member over the past four years in helping us become a profitable company,” Musk said in a statement. “I look forward to working even more closely with Robyn as we continue accelerating the advent of sustainable energy.”

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Google employee killed by company bus

Google(MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.) -- A Google financial analyst in her twenties was killed on Monday night after being struck by a Google bus just outside the company's "Googleplex" headquarters in Mountain View, California, officials said.

The analyst, who Google identified as Emily Hong, was on a city street when she was hit by the bus at the intersection of Charleston Road and Huff Avenue, Mountain View Police spokeswoman Katie Nelson told ABC News. Responding officers found Hong lying in the roadway and performed CPR, but she was pronounced dead at the scene.

The Google bus was driven by a human, and was not an autonomous vehicle. The driver is cooperating with police, who said drugs and alcohol do not appear to be factors in the incident.

"We are devastated to learn of the tragic passing of a member of our Googler family,” said company spokeswoman Gina Scigliano in a statement. “Emily worked in the finance organization and was beloved by her colleagues -- she brought an incredible spark to Google. She was inquisitive, creative, analytical, positive, generous and kind -- our deepest condolences are with her family and friends."

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An inside look at Amazon's HQ2 visits to NYC, Inc.(NEW YORK) -- When Amazon officials visited New York's Long Island City as a potential second headquarters, they were impressed with its "Seattle"-like neighborhood vibe and the "scale and infrastructure" it had to offer.

Long Island City is a residential and industrial neighborhood in western Queens that has been transformed into a hipster enclave. MoMA's PS1 contemporary art space and the iconic Silvercup Studios anchor the creative scene, accompanied by craft beer and cocktail bars. High-rise apartment buildings have altered the skyline, as younger New Yorkers opt for a view of, instead of from, Manhattan.

"Long Island City made a real impression. It’s an actual neighborhood. It looks a little like Seattle, with bars and restaurants. It’s clearly what the company is looking for," a source familiar with the negotiations told ABC News.

Although no deal has been inked, an announcement is expected soon, possibly as early as this week. After a competitive nationwide search, the company is reportedly choosing two cities as its new headquarters.

The dual HQ2 is in line with what Amazon has been saying all along: one urban campus, one suburban. Very few places can supply the talent pool Amazon requires for these new 50,000 jobs, according to the source. It's also assumed that those jobs will be split evenly between the two selected cities.

And "the scale and infrastructure is huge" in New York, Newmark Global Strategy managing principal Robert Hess, who consulted for the city on the Amazon bid, told ABC News. "There are very few places on earth who can absorb this kind of project."

The news of a dual-city headquarters was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, which also named Crystal City in Virginia and Dallas as contenders. A subsequent report in the The New York Times doubled down on Crystal City and Long Island City.

Hess, who also consulted on the search for the revamped Nike campus in Portland, Oregon, in 2013, said that splitting the headquarters makes sense from a risk management point of view, in case one of the venues encountered unexpected problems or adjustments.

Amazon declined to comment to ABC News.

From 20 to 3

Like other municipalities, New York City and the state of New York have rolled out the red carpet to woo Amazon and the $5 billion the new headquarters is expected to bring. The city already hosts over half a dozen Amazon facilities across three NYC boroughs, including a fulfillment center, a distribution center and its new 4-Star Store in SoHo.

Beginning in October 2017, New York City submitted a proposal featuring four locations: Long Island City, Manhattan's Midtown West/Hudson Yards, downtown Manhattan and the Brooklyn Tech Triangle.

In January, the company narrowed its list of potential cities to 20.

On the first visit to New York, Amazon execs toured two locations: Hudson Yards and Long Island City. The problem with Hudson Yards was that it wasn't a real neighborhood yet despite its development potential, the source said.

In July, Amazon officials came back for a second visit but only saw Long Island City. Company representatives took a ferry tour at sunset, a Citi Bike tour and met with Andy Byford, the CEO of the New York City Transit Authority. Byford reassured the company about the reliability of the subway system, particularly the problem-ridden 7 train, the source said.

At separate appearances on Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo both said they were unaware if Amazon had made a final decision. Last week, de Blasio announced a $180 million incentive package to improve the Long Island City's infrastructure, including a new school, sewer upgrades, and revamped public spaces.

But not everyone is happy about the idea of Amazon moving into Long Island City.

New York City Council Member Van Bramer wrote in a statement to ABC News: “HQ2 has to work for Queens, not just Amazon. We already have an infrastructure deficit in LIC. We must ask how such a complex would impact the people who live in the surrounding neighborhoods. This isn’t a done deal. The local community must be heard here.”

Crystal City, a Washington, D.C., suburb, has long been considered a front-runner for the retailer. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has a house in Washington, D.C., and owns The Washington Post. In addition, northern Virginia is an established tech corridor and houses several government agencies -- with potential lucrative contracts for major tech companies.

Arlington County officials declined to comment.

The midterms

In line with Amazon's reputation for secrecy, everything involving HQ2 was locked down for over a year. But stories started leaking right before the midterm elections. After The Washington Post published a story about Crystal City closing the gap on the deal, Amazon's director of economic development, Mike Grella, whose Twitter bio lists his location as "New York, Seattle, DC," tweeted: “Memo to the genius leaking info about Crystal City, VA as #HQ2 selection. You’re not doing Crystal City, VA any favors. And stop treating the NDA you signed like a used napkin.”

A day later he tweeted a photo of his daughter at her first professional soccer game -- in New York.

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Girls Scouts file suit against Boy Scouts over name change

Chuck Fishman/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- One year after the Boy Scouts of America announced they would change its name to "Scouts" and start letting girls into their program, the Girl Scouts have filed a lawsuit against the organization.

The Girl Scouts' federal trademark suit claims if the Boy Scouts drop the qualifier "Boy," and use only "Scouts" to refer to its members, it challenges the Girl Scouts brand and mission.

Watch the video below from ABC's Good Morning America for more:

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