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Things you reveal about yourself when … 

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Watch what you put on the internet.

Political campaigns and marketers have found new ways to analyze consumer behavior

How well do you think your Facebook FB, -0.40%  account knows you?

As the power of the “like” grows, political campaigns and companies are harnessing it to influence and track the public’s behavior. Last month, Congress repealed laws passed by the Federal Communications Commission on what data internet service providers could collect on users. In a nutshell: Your browser history may now be sold to advertisers without your consent. This will allow for “incredibly intrusive data-mining” by companies online, said Cory Doctorow, activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for online privacy.

Facebook also reportedly knows more about us than most people may realize. The company carried out research on the psychological states of teenagers and found “moments when young people need a confidence boost” that could be used for advertisers, “The Australian” newspaper reported last month. (A Facebook spokesman told MarketWatch at the time that the study was not used to target vulnerable teenagers with advertisements, regretted that this study was carried out and said the contents of this study should not have been shared with a company.)

The influence of the social media giant also came into sharp focus during the polarizing 2016 U.S. presidential election. At that time, analysts suggested the techniques of software and data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica, a company that claims to use data to change people’s behavior, played a role in the results, Motherboard reported in January. The extent to which the company influenced voters has been called into question, but the research it’s based on has broader implications.

Fake news stories trended on Facebook’s FB, -0.40%  news feed in the run-up to the 2016 election — an issue the company has vowed to fight. In recent weeks, the social network deleted thousands of accounts as it fights fake news and has undertaken a major advertising effort to help users recognize and report fake news when they see it. (Facebook did not respond to requests for comment on the issues raised in this article.)

But even real news stories can have a major effect when they are shared by users or appear as sponsored posts. Michael Fauscette, chief research officer at peer-to-peer business review platform G2 Crowd, said both sides of the political divide used news stories to target Facebook users in different parts of the country — particularly swing states in the south and midwest — during the 2016 election. Democratic voters who were shown content about candidate Hillary Clinton being ahead in the polls, for instance, may have become complacent and less likely to vote.

What your Facebook ‘likes’ say about you

But we share far more than we perhaps intend when we check into establishments, share news stories and ‘like’ products publicly on Facebook, studies shows. After you “like” just 10 Facebook pages, advertisers (or political campaigns) can get to know you as well as a colleague, according to research from Cambridge University in the U.K., and after 70 “likes” as much can be deduced about you as a close friend knows. And after 150 “likes”? You’ve essentially given up as much about yourself as your parents know. (Users, of course, can make their likes private).

Michal Kosinski, a data scientist and psychologist who developed these models, said his 2012 analysis of 58,000 volunteers using Facebook predicted a user’s skin color with 95% accuracy. Developed in part by Kosinski during his fellowship at the Psychometrics Centre of Cambridge University in 2008, this model also predicted sexual orientation with 88% accuracy, and political affiliation with 85% accuracy. He worked with fellow Cambridge University student David Stillwell to create a Facebook quiz that could determine specific and unique psychological traits.

Researchers say Facebook profiles can be used to influence users’ shopping and voting habits.

Participants were analyzed through “Big Five” — a well-known system based on five traits developed by two psychologists in the 1980s to categorize personalities. These include extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and whether or not you are open to new experiences. Soon, thousands of Facebook users had taken the quiz, eager to learn their psychological profile, and Kosinski and Stillwell had — almost inadvertently — aggregated the largest existing network of psychometric data paired with Facebook likes.

From the richness of consumer data and behavior accessible on public profiles on Facebook, they could make predictions more comprehensively and efficiently than any survey before. In the past, to learn about someone’s personality, a quiz might ask them “Are you extroverted?” Now, online behavior monitored by Facebook answers the question better than they themselves can — if they frequently RSVP to events or interact with others on comment threads, for example, they’re more likely to be more social.

“When your digital footprints are being looked at — a lot of which are publicly available and you have little control over — the same accurate psychological profiling can be conducted without your consent, without your knowledge and completely behind your back without your control,” Kosinski told MarketWatch. Advertisers once thought consumers would become desensitized to this lack of privacy, but studies show the opposite appears to be happening: There is a growing desire to be allowed to “opt out” of more invasive targeting. In 2012, 68% of those surveyed by Pew Research Center viewed targeted ads negatively and 59% have noticed this kind of targeting.

Our ‘digital footprint’ can help us too

Despite the recent controversies involving “fake news” and how people may be targeted by marketers and political campaigns, Vesselin Popov, business development director for Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre, said these tools were created to “access a history of behavior that might be more accurate than a survey” — and that isn’t always a bad thing. They have potentially life-saving applications in public health — in campaigns to convince citizens to quit smoking or buckle their seat belts, for example.

And as the number of companies that collect our data grows, so too do the tools to fight them. There are many ad-blockers, anti-tracking tools and VPNs (virtual private network service providers) on the market. And there are tools to help the average consumer track what’s being collected about them. Regina Flores Mir co-founded a website called Data Selfie with fellow New York University graduate student Hang Do Thi Duc, which uses the Cambridge “special sauce” formula to allow Facebook users to see what data is being collected about them.

Kosinski noted that many people don’t mind being targeted with more relevant information — but feel cheated when it’s done without their knowledge. He said it’s very difficult to regulate for several reasons: the borderless nature of the internet and the ephemeral nature of personal data. When a car or money is stolen, the evidence is clear — but data is harder to prove, and once it’s in the hand of a company, nearly impossible to get back or erase. (Most online retailers and social networks make clear in their privacy policies that user data is aggregated and will remain anonymous.)

Doctorow, the activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for privacy, said it is time to put legal framework in place to give back more power — and information — to consumers. In one such case, the EFF could force companies like Facebook to let users breach terms and conditions and set up multiple accounts with fake profiles, allowing them to run their own tests on exactly how news feeds work and companies target them. Americans should be allowed this freedom, he said, “to do what’s best for us rather than what’s best for someone else.”

Via: The shocking things you reveal about yourself when you ‘like’ things on Facebook

Abercrombie & Fitch’s latest sale may be itself

America's top retailers in trouble
America’s top retailers in trouble

Abercrombie & Fitch may be for sale, and its stock is soaring on the news.

Shares of the struggling retailer rose 12% Wednesday, on news that Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF), which also owns the Hollister apparel chain, had hired investment bankers to look for potential offers.

The company said in a release that it is in “preliminary discussions with several parties regarding a potential transaction.”

It’s not clear who would want to buy the company. Shares are near their lowest level since 2000. (Maybe the name dropping of A&F in the 1999 song “Summer Girls” by LFO proved to be the height of the retailer’s popularity.)

Sales have been sluggish for years. The company is expected to report another quarterly loss and decline in revenue when it releases its latest results on May 25.

New CEO Fran Horowitz, who was promoted from chief merchandising officer to the top spot in February, has taken steps to get the company back on track. But it’s been an uphill battle.

Former CEO Mike Jeffries left the company in December 2014 after a series of controversies.

Jeffries made remarks about only wanting “cool, good-looking people” to wear his company’s clothes.

A&F was also criticized by many parents for hyper-sexual imagery in its marketing, with models that appeared to be very young, wearing suggestive (and little) clothing in its catalog and stores.

And an ex-pilot for the company-owned Gulfstream jet (which has since been sold) filed an age discrimination suit against A&F a few years ago. The pilot claimed Jeffries had a manual that listed dress requirements for male models working on the plane.

The retailer enjoyed a brief turnaround after Jeffries left and executive chairman Arthur Martinez, who led Sears (SHLD) before that once iconic company went into its own tailspin, took over.

Under Martinez, the retailer de-emphasized much of the logo-based apparel that were once hugely popular at A&F and Hollister.

But A&F’s apparel no longer stands out in the crowded field of teen fashion. A&F and many other mall stalwarts have struggled to compete against the new kings of retail — fast fashion companies like Zara, H&M and Uniqlo.

The Wall Street Journalreported Wednesday afternoon that two rivals — American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) and Express (EXPR) — might be interested.

Still, it seems unlikely that many other major chains would want to make a play for the company though. The retail landscape is looking bleak right now, particularly for fashion companies.

Wet Seal, American Apparel, Aeropostale and BCBG Max Azria have all filed for bankruptcy recently. Gap (GPS), which also owns Old Navy and Banana Republic, is still trying to turn its fortunes around. J.Crew has announced layoffs. Bebe (BEBE) is closing shop.

And the broader retail sector is hurting too. Macy’s (M) and Sears are closing stores. JCPenney(JCP) and Kohl’s (KSS) are struggling.

Amazon (AMZN, Tech30) is a big reason for the entire retail sector’s woes of course. So is Walmart (WMT), which has doubled down on its own digital commerce efforts lately.

It is likely to only get worse for traditional retailers.

“Iconic brands of the past stand little chance of defending themselves against companies like Amazon due to their sheer size and logistical capabilities,” said Liz Elder, research associate at brand consulting firm L2.

So who could buy A&F? Maybe a private equity firm. But Elder thinks that a turnaround won’t be easy.

Elder said the company’s biggest problem is that it is continuously chasing the fickle teen market. It had a loyal customer base in the 1990s — but those customers no longer shop there.

“A&F will be able to live a little longer if it is bought by a firm who recognizes that in order to succeed they must make incremental innovative changes across its products lines rather than focusing on reactionary improvements,” she said.

Via: Abercrombie & Fitch’s latest sale may be itself 

Richest man who ever lived worth around $400 billion..

Jacob Fugger was worth around $400 billion in today’s money at the time of his death

“The Portrait of Jakob Fugger,” an oil painting by German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer, executed around 1520.

Jacob Fugger is a German banker who financed kings, explorers, bishops and popes — and along the way made the biggest fortune ever amassed by a business person.

The grandson of a peasant, he persuaded Leo X to legalize for-profit lending. One of his money-making schemes provoked Martin Luther to write the 95 Theses and kick off the Reformation. He played kingmaker in the 1519 election for Holy Roman Emperor. Fugger and his money gave the vote to Charles V of Spain and put Charles atop an empire as big as Napoleon’s.

Fugger was worth about $400 billion in current dollars at the time of his death in 1525 — or 2% of Europe’s GDP at the time. (John D. Rockefeller was close in dollar terms, but his wealth equaled a smaller part of the U.S. economy.)

Here are some of his secrets:

Invest when others fear. Fugger made two massive bets that secured his fortune. The first was to bankroll Archduke Sigmund of Tyrol when it looked like Venice was going to take over the duchy. The dukes’ usual bankers refused to finance him. Fugger came forward and offered everything he and his friends and family could pull together. The duke settled with Venice. In return for his backing, Fugger locked up the concession for the largest silver mine on earth.

Fugger also invested in Hungarian copper mines when others feared a Turkish invasion. By going against the grain, he sewed up the copper business just like he had the silver business. The Turks eventually arrived — but only well after Fugger’s death.

Be indispensable. Too big to fail isn’t a modern invention. Fugger knew all about it and used it to insulate himself from monarchs who could have reneged on their loans without consequence. Fugger had something he knew his borrowers couldn’t live without: The ability to conjure up huge sums in an instant. Borrowers liked neither Fugger nor his terms. But they couldn’t live without him.

Know the facts. Fugger understood the value of good information. He created the world’s first news service and used it find out about market-moving events before others. Emperor Maximilian (the grandfather of Charles V) once told the banker that Henry VII had shipped him some gold as collateral for a loan to fight the French. Fugger refused the deal because his spies in England told him the ships never left port.

Know the numbers. The Italians invented double-entry bookkeeping. Fugger was among the first north of the Alps to use it. He advanced the craft by creating a consolidated balance sheet for his many businesses. He was also the first to send auditors into the field to check on branch activities. His ledgers show margin scribblings in his own hand asking questions about specific expense items.

Get a good education. Fugger spent several years as an apprentice in Venice, the business capital of its day. He gained knowledge, experience and connections that served him the rest of his life.

Keep cool. An Austrian bishop was one of the biggest depositors in his bank. When the bishop died in 1509, the pope demanded that Fugger immediately pay the money to the church. Fugger’s money was tied up in the mining projects and he lacked the liquidity to honor the demand. The withdrawal — or even rumors of the withdrawal — would have ruined him. Rather than hunker down, he spent lavishly to make it seem he was never more liquid. This gave him time to quietly negotiate the deal that saved him.

Give something back. Fugger is best known as the creator of the Fuggerei, the world’s first affordable housing project. He thought anyone who worked deserved to have a roof over their head. Rent came to one quarter the market rate. The Fuggerei remains in operation and is the largest tourist attraction in his home city of Augsburg.

Greg Steinmetz is the author of “The Richest Man Who Ever Lived: The Life and Times of Jacob Fugger.”

Via: 7 money-making lessons from the richest man who ever lived 

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This person’s diary just sold for more than $700,000 

The diary is only 61 pages long

Courtesy of RR Auction
This diary penned by John F. Kennedy was bought by a Massachusetts-based collector for $718,750.

Want to read the inner thoughts of a beloved U.S. president? Then be prepared to cough up a pretty penny.

A diary penned by John F. Kennedy was bought Wednesday by a Massachusetts-based collector for $718,750 during a live auction, according to Boston-based auction house RR Auction. Only 12 of the diary’s 61 pages were handwritten — the rest were typed — and the artifact was bound in black leather cowhide. “This exceptional diary sheds light on a side of John F. Kennedy seldom explored and confirms America’s enduring sense that he was one of the most qualified, intelligent, and insightful commanders-in-chief in American history,” Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction, said in a news release.

The diary was written during Kennedy’s short stint as a journalist in the wake of World War II. In it, the would-be president details his views on everything from liberalism and President Franklin Roosevelt to the creation of the United Nations. He also wrote about attending the Pottsdam Conference in Germany, which was attended by the likes of President Harry Truman, Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill, and about his decision to run for Congress. Entries and photos of the diary are available on RR Auction’s website.

Deirdre Henderson, who worked at Hearst with JFK and eventually helped coordinate one of his campaign advisory committees, was given the diary by the future president. In 1995, she published its contents in the book “Prelude to Leadership.” It included this entry, written on July 1, 1945, during Kennedy’s tour of an annihilated Berlin:

“The devastation is complete. The streets are relatively clear, but there is not a single building which is not gutted. On some of the streets, the stench — sweet and sickish from dead bodies — is overwhelming. People all have completely colorless faces — a yellow tinge with pale tan lips. They are all carrying bundles. Where they are going, no one seems to know. I wonder whether they do.”

From movie stars’ cars to rock stars’ artifacts, buying famous people’s memorabilia can be a smart investment. Savvy investors must take caution though, since a fall from grace can hurt the value of their collections substantially.

Via: This person’s diary just sold for more than $700,000

High schooler sells $1 million in custom socks 

The unwritten rules of sock fashion
The unwritten rules of sock fashion

Brennan Agranoff is a 17-year-old with a lot on his plate.

The high-school junior balances homework with another full-time job he’s had since he was 13: He’s founder and CEO of HoopSwagg, a custom socks startup.

HoopSwagg isn’t just a little project on the side for this teenager. In four years, Agranoff has grown his idea to make custom-design athletic socks into a profitable online-only business with annual sales of more than $1 million.

Agranoff’s lightbulb moment came in 2013 at a high-school basketball game, where he noticed most kids were wearing the same plain Nike athletic socks. If these simple socks started such a craze, he wondered: What would happen if he kicked things up a notch and printed custom designs on them?

brennan agranoff
Brennan Agranoff, founder and CEO of custom socks startup HoopSwagg.

Fast forward four years, and HoopSwagg now offers more than 200 original designs created by Agranoff himself: a mix of goofy (a melting ice cream cone), funky (a spoof of the infamous Portland International Airport carpet) and tongue-in-cheek (“goat farm,” a family inside joke scattered with photos of the real animals on the family’s property). Agranoff also wants to allow customers to create their own designs in the future.

The company is now shipping 70 to 100 orders a day, with each pair of socks priced at $14.99. And this week, HoopSwagg announced its first acquisition: It bought competitor TheSockGame.com, which will add over 300 designs to the portfolio and help expand HoopSwagg’s customer base.

brennan boxes
HoopSwagg ships its custom socks to customers nationwide.

But HoopSwagg started small. After Agranoff’s initial idea at the school basketball game, he spent six months researching logistics like machinery and technology needed for custom digital printing on fabric.

He then made the case to two potential investors: his parents. “They thought the concept was a little out there,” Agranoff said. But he was persistent and ultimately received a $3,000 loan.

In true startup fashion, HoopSwagg launched in the family garage in Sherwood, Oregon, just outside of Portland. Agranoff set up the design printing and heat presser machines with his family’s help. He enlisted his parents to buy “as many white athletic socks as they could get from Dick’s Sporting Goods.”

Hoopswagg’s first year was slow. But momentum grew quickly after the socks — which Agranoff said are “for everyone from 6-year-olds to 80-year-olds” — took off on social media.

Agranoff leveraged his own social network and targeted a group of social influencers to help spread the word. In particular, the sock design inspired by the Portland airport’s former teal-and-geometric-shape pattern went viral, bringing more attention to the brand.

As sales soared, the company quickly outgrew the garage. The Agranoff family built a 1,500-square-foot building on their property to accommodate production, warehousing and shipping.

Brennan warehouse
Agranoff in his new 1,500 square feet warehouse on the family’s property.

His mother joined the business full-time, and Agranoff also has 17 other part-time employees. But self-sufficiency is key to his success, he said. Agranoff also taught himself to code, so he could better set up and manage his business’ website, and how to use graphic design tools to develop the designs. He remains the company’s only graphic designer, though he is colorblind.

For now, the socks are primarily sold through HoopSwagg’s website and via Amazon (AMZN, Tech30), eBay (EBAY) and Etsy. The next three years are pivotal for HoopSwagg, said Agranoff, who wants the brand to be in retail stores,” said Agranoff. He’s also expanding customization to other products like shoelaces, arm sleeves and ties.

Meanwhile, Agranoff is set to graduate high school six months early. While college is in the plan at some point, he’s slated to focus on HoopSwagg full-time after high school graduation. He currently spends about six hours per day on the business, after putting in a day of school and finishing his homework.

While Agranoff has never taken a business class, he learned a lot by buying items at garage sales and selling them on eBay — a pursuit he began when he was eight.

“So really, I’ve been learning how to do this for a while,” said Agranoff. “Especially today, with all the information available on the internet, you can’t be too young to learn how to be an entrepreneur.”

Via: High schooler sells $1 million in custom socks 

Next generation of tech-augmented work for humans… 

Hyundai

Welcome to the new world of work, where humans have the strength of robots.

People will still be essential on the factory floors, even as robots become more common

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has arrived. The first was the steam engine-driven Industrial Revolution; the second involved the innovations from Henry Ford’s assembly line. Third, microelectronics and computer power appeared on factory floors. Now, manufacturing businesses are beginning to integrate robotics, automation and other data-driven technologies into their workflows.

Robots have taken over difficult, dangerous and repetitive physical tasks, improving factory safety, worker comfort and product quality. The next phase of labor innovation will do the same thing for cognitive work, removing mentally stressful and repetitive tasks from people’s daily routines.

Human work will become more versatile and creative. Robots and people will work more closely together than ever before. People will use their unique abilities to innovate, collaborate and adapt to new situations. They will handle challenging tasks with knowledge-based reasoning. Machines enabled by the technologies that are now becoming commonplace — virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa, wearable sensors like FitBits and smart watches — will take care of tedious work details.

People will still be essential on the factory floors, even as robots become more common. Future operators will have technical support and be super-strong, super-informed, super-safe and constantly connected.

We call this new generation of tech-augmented human workers, both on factory floors and in offices, “Operator 4.0.” There are several types of enhancements available, which can be used individually or in combination to put humans at the heart of this technological revolution.

Super strong

One straightforward enhancement would let workers wear robotic exoskeletons to enhance their strength. A “super-strength operator” could let a human truly control the physical power of a large robot. In today’s warehouses and construction sites, workers risk injury and exhaustion by handling heavy objects themselves. Or they are forced to compromise, using a more powerful tool with less adaptability, like a forklift.

The benefits go well beyond the workplace. Of course, a worker in a powered robotic suit could easily handle extremely heavy objects without losing the flexibility of natural human movements. The worker would also be far less likely to suffer severe injuries from accidents or overwork. And at the end of a day, a super-strength worker could take off the exoskeleton and still have energy to play with the kids or spend time with friends.

Super informed

Fighter pilots use heads-up displays, which provide them with crucial information right on the cockpit windshield and directly in their line of sight. This is “augmented reality,” because it displays information within a live view of the world. It used to be very specialized and expensive technology. Now, Microsoft’s HoloLens makes it available for consumers.

An “augmented operator” can get directions or assistance without interrupting the task he or she is working on. Often, when new equipment or processes are developed, trainers need to travel long distances to factories, staying for weeks to teach workers what to do. Designers do the same, getting feedback for refinements and improvements. All that travel takes up a huge amount of time and is extremely expensive. With augmented reality available, it is often unnecessary.

A worker wearing a set of smart glasses can receive individualized, step-by-step instructions displayed right in front of his or her eyes, no matter where he or she is looking. With earbuds and a microphone, she or he could talk directly to trainers in real time.

Super safe

Many manufacturing environments are hazardous, involving heavy equipment, caustic chemicals and other dangers that can maim and kill human workers. A “healthy operator” may be equipped with wearable sensors tracking pulse rate, body temperature, chemical exposure or other factors that indicate risks of injury.

This type of system is already available: Truck drivers can wear the Maven Co-Pilot, a hands-free headset that detects fatigue symptoms, like head-bobbing movements. It can also ensure drivers check their rear-view mirrors regularly to stay aware of nearby traffic. It can even provide reminders to take scheduled breaks. This helps keep the truck’s driver safe and improves everyone else’s road safety.

And beyond…

Possibilities are limitless. An “analytical operator” would wear a monitor showing real-time data and analytics, such as information on chemicals in a sewage treatment plant or pollutants at an incinerator. A “collaborative operator” may be linked to collaborative robots, or co-bots, like the assembly assistant YuMi. A “smarter operator” could be equipped with an intelligent virtual personal assistant, like an advanced Siri or Alexa.

By 2020, 50% of workforce will be remote. Here’s how.

There does not have to be conflict between robots and humans, with machines taking people’s jobs and leaving them unemployed. Technology should be designed with collaboration in mind. That way, companies and workers alike will be able to capitalize on the respective strengths of both human and machine. What’s more, the inherent flexibility of “Operator 4.0” workers will also help to ensure workplaces of the future that can change and adapt. That means getting ever more efficient and safer, as new technologies emerge.

Thorsten Wuestis an assistant professor & J. Wayne and Kathy Richards Faculty Fellow in Engineering at West Virginia University. David Romerois a professor of advanced manufacturing, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey in Mexico. Johan Stahreis a professor of production systems at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. This is published with permission of The ConversationIntroducing ‘Operator 4.0,’ a tech-augmented human worker

Via: This is what the next generation of tech-augmented work for humans will look like

Bebe is closing all its stores, the latest casualty in retail 

Bebe is closing all its stores, the latest brick-and-mortar retailer to get dumped by customers who would rather shop with their phones than their feet.

Bebe Stores (BEBE), which models itself as a purveyor of “unique, sophisticated and timelessly sexy” clothing for women, said it plans to close the stores by the end of May, according to a regulatory filing on Friday.

Bebe did not immediately return messages from CNNMoney asking whether it plans to go out of business or transition to online-only.

The company had hinted that something like this could happen. Bebe said in an SEC filing last month that it was “exploring strategic alternatives.” Earlier this month, the company said it planned to close 28 stores and was trying to figure out what to do with the rest of them.

Before that announcement, Bebe had 168 stores in the United States and Canada.

Bebe has plenty of company in the struggling brick-and-mortar retail industry. Macy’s (M), JCPenney (JCP) and Sears (SHLD) once ruled the shopping malls, but now they’re closing hundreds of stores and cutting thousands of jobs.

Luxury retailer Neiman Marcus said earlier this month that it might sell itself, after ditching its plans for an IPO in January amid sorry sales.

So who’s the winner? Amazon (AMZN, Tech30), the behemoth of online retail, is seizing market share from more traditional retailers, though bargain-hunters are keeping T.J. Maxx and Dollar General (DG) in business.

Via: Bebe is closing all its stores, the latest casualty in retail