Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

Two Minute Tips

Quickhits: Home-delivery wars, faux service animals, nation’s best tippers

March 25, 2014

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Every so often I like to clear my desk of the Post-It notes, scratch paper and scribbled-on envelopes where inspirational nuggets tend to accumulate; the result is a few quicktips you might find useful as reporting resources or the germs of story ideas.

Here are few:

Delivery wars. 

Amazon.com took a lot of heat for its recent announcement that its Prime memberships – which include free two-day delivery in addition to other privileges like streaming movies – will go up in price from $79 a year to $99 a year.  

Shortly an e-mail from Kmart showed up in my inbox, with a sassy question: “Past your Prime?” It was touting the Shop Your Way MAX program it and sister company Sears offer to consumer, which includes free shipping and rewards-points components.   Why not consider a personal finance round-up for consumers, noting the pros and cons of various free-shipping schemes at a variety of online retailers?  Here’s a good example from ABCNews.com – and a PCWorld tipsheet on how to evade the Prime membership costs while still using Amazon.  It mentions FreeShipping.Org, for example, a site that offers a database of current promotions and offers that nix delivery charges. Consumers weighing a Prime renewal might appreciate the up-to-date info on alternatives.

Also, I’m interested in how brick-and-mortar retailers are catering to people who like the convenience of online shopping and delivery; as I’ve noted before, a local independent pet supply store in my area has stepped up with delivery on request, and third-party startups that run goods to your doorstep from area stores are popping up; here’s one called Runn that plans to target merchants and restaurants.  Another service, Instacart, will shop for and deliver groceries for a $3.99 delivery charge.  How do they do it and what stores in your area are adopting delivery?

No pets allowed sign
Photo: Takashi Matsumoto

Faux service dogs. 

This is timely as recreation and vacation season heats up; as KXTV in Sacramento, Calif. recently reported, an increasing number of people appear to be Velcro-ing their canines into service-dog attire and taking them into venues that normally forbid dogs.  Laws are so broadly written and challenges so difficult for merchants and others to make – lest they inadvertently challenge a person with disabilities and a legitimate need for the service animal – that “it’s an easy law to break,” as one report from Hawaii put it; that states legislature will consider a bill adding a $1,000 fine for anyone misrepresenting a pet as a service animal.

This would be an interesting story to localize by talking with officials at malls, restaurants, theme parks and attractions, area airports and other venues.  The sale of fake IDs and vests for the animals apparently is brisk online; do a ZIP code search for local vendors on eBay where service/therapy dog vests, patches with sayings like “Service Dog: Access Required by Law” and other items are readily offered. A couple of merchants even are peddling Americans with Disabilities Act wallet cards.

Hey, big spender. 

Couldn’t resist sharing this Quartz graphic (based on data from the payment systems company Square) ranking states by the percentage of average tips at places like restaurants and cab services; Alaska has the most free-handed consumers while Delaware is stingiest. The data also reflects the (surprisingly low) percentage of patrons who leave any tip at all.

As a feature it stands alone but if you want to give the story a bit more heft, consider a tax-time update on the income-tax laws related to tipping; the rules about claiming and paying taxes on imputed tips to restaurant workers are confusing and complicated for workers like servers. (And interestingly, while generally the concern is that people are minimizing taxable income by not claiming cash tips, I spoke with someone recently who intends to inflate the amount of tips actually collected over the year – as a way to make herself more attractive to lenders.  Odd but true and something to ask accountants about as you flesh out a tips story.

And here’s a Las Vegas Sun article about changes to the way the IRS classifies the automatic gratuity charged to larger parties; it has servers worried.

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