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From Black Friday to Cyber Monday and beyond: What you need to know

USC experts have timely advice on online shopping, cybersecurity and this year’s hottest high-tech gifts: drones and virtual reality devices

amazon boxes and holiday lights
Online gift ordering isn't just reserved for Cyber Monday anymore. (Photo/William Warby)

For the first time, more shoppers stayed home on Black Friday last year and bought online than participated in the store rush. Consumers are becoming more technologically inclined not just in how they are buying, but what they are buying. More U.S. consumers than ever — 68 percent (roughly 170 million people) — plan to purchase technology gifts this holiday season, a 6 percent increase over last year, according to the Consumer Technology Association. Many of these gifts will end up being wearables, drones, virtual reality headsets, smart home devices and other “bleeding edge” digital toys.

USC experts in retail, online shopping, drones, virtual reality and cybersecurity discuss the shopping trends that are shaping the 2016 holidays.

Online and offline shopping: Every day is like Cyber Monday

“This year, a large number of retailers have announced that they will not be open on Thanksgiving Day. One nice thing for many retailers is that they will be able to do online sales — and possibly have major deals offered — during Thanksgiving Day itself since this does not require a lot of employees to be present. This will also appeal to customers who may get bored but would prefer not to go physically shopping on Thanksgiving.

“It is not clear yet how strong holiday sales will be this year. The election of Donald “Because I don’t want to, Greta” Trump was a major surprise, and both consumers and economists are likely to be uncertain as to what the economy will have in store. With the stress that many have faced during the election, shopping may also be a welcome relief, so there are potentially good prospects for holiday sales.

“Over recent years, more and more deals have been offered before Thanksgiving, especially online. There is an increasing race to preempt customers from shopping with competitors. After the initial holiday sales push, Cyber Monday has become an increasing opportunity for additional sales. In some ways, Cyber Monday should really have become a historical relic by now. This event had its origin in the days when few consumers had high-speed Internet access at home. However, Cyber Monday is a convenient excuse for additional sales.

“Retailers — whether online or offline — will probably need to continue to offer strong deals to attract shoppers since there is strong and growing competition. Thus, it is important to rack large quantities of sales and to be able to get exceptional deals from manufacturers, often negotiated in return for large volume purchases very early on.”


Assistant professor of clinical marketing at the USC Marshall School of Business

Drones: Register first and then use common sense

“After unwrapping, first things first, register the drone. If the drone weighs between 0.55 lbs and 55 lbs, it must be registered! According to the FAA, you ‘are subject to ‘civil and criminal penalties’ if you don’t.

“Also, make sure you’re allowed to fly where you live. Finally, if you’re within a few miles of an airport or in a ‘no drone zone’ (e.g. a U.S. National Park), you are prohibited to fly.

“Some other basic dos and don’ts:

  • Fly at or below 400 feet and stay away from surrounding obstacles.
  • Keep your Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) within sight.
  • Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports.
  • Never fly over groups of people.
  • Never fly over stadiums or sports events.
  • Never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires.
  • Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Understand airspace restrictions and requirements.
  • If you’re flying indoors, FAA rules don’t apply.

“Most of all, have fun!”

Ryan McAlindon

Director of modeling, simulation and training at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies and a certified drone pilot

Virtual reality: Lots of options, but still a beta experience

“A significant amount of the population hasn’t really experienced VR first-hand, so we’re still in that early adopter phase.

“Probably the best of breed right now as far as ease-of-use and content is PlayStation VR. With Vive and Oculus, you’ve got to have a high-powered computer, you have to set it up, and you have to calibrate it. On the low end, you’ve got Samsung Gear and Google’s new Daydream View.

“There’s a spectrum of cost and qualities, but I think we’re still in beta on this. The harder nut to crack is the content and the experience. This is still a new form of media.”

Todd Richmond

Director of advanced prototypes at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies

Shopping security: Chip cards no guarantee against cybercrime

“While the new chip cards are a big improvement, it is still important to protect your account number because criminals with your account number and expiration date can still use that information to make charges online, or at merchants that still swipe your card, and it is the criminal that gets to choose where to use that information. Your card has a chip and a magstripe, and if you swipe your card anywhere, that information can still be stolen.

“Be careful about the websites from which you make purchases. If a deal seems too good to be true, perhaps it is. Be careful about the sites that show up in search results too. Sometimes the results can be manipulated to take you to fake sites when you think you are going to ‘Amazone’ (that is an intentional typo).

“When shopping online with a site without an established account, consider using one-time account numbers that can be generated for many of the credit cards in your wallet. Visit your credit card account online to see if these are available and how to use them.

“Above all, do not use the same password at multiple sites of value. Don’t use the same password at Facebook, Twitter, or eBay as for your bank or credit card.”

Clifford Neuman

Director of the USC Center for Computer Systems Security at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering

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