Welcome to Thursday, where Libya’s prime minister survives an assassination attempt, Belarus and Russia start joint military drills and a Republican congresswoman spills her gazpacho. Fasten your seatbelts, we’re also looking at the world of private jet travel, a means of transportation that soared during the pandemic.
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• Russia military drills with Belarus: Belarus and Russia started ten days of joint military drills on Thursday, as tensions remain high over the Kremlin’s buildup of forces along Ukraine’s borders. Moscow has said the aim of the exercises is to “practice suppressing and repelling external aggression.” Around 3,000 Russian troops are believed to be in Belarus, which according to NATO marks the biggest Russian deployment to the ex-Soviet territory since the Cold War. On a visit to NATO’s headquarters, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the Ukraine crisis has entered its “most dangerous moment” as the threat of a war looms.
• COVID update: The U.S. plans to begin the distribution of COVID-19 shots for children under the age of 5, as early as Feb. 21, according to the U.S. Centers for DIsease Control and Prevention. Paris banned a French “Freedom Convoy” of hundreds of motorists protesting against COVID-19 restrictions from entering the capital city. Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Jonhson outlined plans to lift all domestic COVID-19 restrictions in England within weeks, including the legal requirement to self-isolate.
• Libyan Prime Minister survives assassination attempt: Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah survived an assassination attempt in Tripoli, after gunmen fired on his car as we was returning home early Thursday. The attack came amid intense rival factions over control of the government.
• Church sex abuse panel in Portugal reports first 200+ cases: A lay committee investigating historic child sex abuse in the Portuguese Catholic Church announced it had received allegations from 214 people throughout its first month of work.
• Olympics drug controversy: The 15-year-old Russian superstar figure skater Kamila Valieva has turned up for training as usual Thursday morning at the Winter Olympics, despite having tested positive for a banned substance. The International Olympic Committee had announced that the medal ceremony for the figure skating event had been suspended. Meanwhile, Austrian Johannes Strolz bounced back from being dropped from his team to winning the gold medal in the men's Alpine combined event on Thursday, following in his father’s footsteps.
• Space storm destroys 40 of Space X’s Starlink satellites: Elon Musk's company SpaceX confirmed that a solar storm had destroyed most of the Starlink satellites it launched last Friday, with 40 of its 49 satellites expected to fall back to earth.
• Pro Trump representative confuses the Gestapo with gazpacho soup: Controversial Republican U.S. congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene triggered a wave of viral jokes on Wednesday as she accused Democratic leaders of “gazpacho” tactics on Capitol Hill. She apparently confused Hitler’s secret police with the popular Spanish cold tomato soup …
Canadian daily Ottawa Citizen devotes its front page to the “Freedom Convoy” protests that have paralyzed Ottawa’s city center for more than a week. What started as demonstrations against mandatory vaccinations for truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border has grown into broader dissent against the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The leader is demanding an end to the protests, which have forced some factories to shut down due to the blockade of Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge on the border.
The South Korean curling team known as the “Garlic Girls” (마늘 소녀들, maneul sonyeodeul), a nod to the iconic produce of their region, starts competing at the Beijing Winter Olympics today in a round-robin match against Canada. The team had gained fame with its first Olympic gold medal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games, before prompting debates about the mistreatment of athletes in South Korea, when its members denounced their coaches’ harsh training and abuse nine months later.
How the pandemic spread private jet travel beyond the super-rich and powerful
Once the reserve of the super-rich and famous, private jet travel soared during the pandemic. Amid border closures and travel restrictions, private charter flights are sometimes the only option to get people — and their pets!? — home.
✈️ During the pandemic, a surprisingly wide demographic have turned to private jets not because it was a luxury they could afford, but out of desperation, trying to reach a destination in the face of border closures and widespread flight cancellations. Last year, private jet hours were close to 50% higher than in 2020, according to the Global Business Aviation Outlook. While some of the increase can be attributed to more travel in 2021 because of COVID-19 vaccination, it still amounts to 5% more hours than before the pandemic.
🐶 More than just saving time through skipping security lines and long waits at airports, flying private jets also lets the super wealthy, and those desperate enough to break the bank, sidestep other regulations. As part of its zero-COVID policy, Hong Kong has severely limited flights. High cargo rates for animals and flight cancellations are making it very hard for pet owners to leave the island taking their furry friends along. Those desperate enough are spending upwards of $25,665 to privately charter themselves and their pets. Many are pooling their resources to share in the cost.
🧳 In Morocco, private jets were the only way for many to enter the North African kingdom after it suspended all air travel from Nov. 29 until Feb. 7 due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Close to 6,000 Moroccans were stuck abroad. In this case, many weren’t looking for a luxurious travel experience but were just desperate to return to their home country. Traveling in groups was one way to decrease the expense, to as low as $1,400 per passenger for a flight from Europe, but for some this still means relying on family support or finding other ways to raise money.
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“I didn't kill anyone, and I didn't hurt anyone. Not even a scratch.”
— Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving member of the ISIS cell that targeted Paris in the 2015 attacks, has denied killing or hurting anybody during the trial of the attacks that left 130 people dead. Adbeslam said he supported the Islamic State of Iraq but chose at the last minute not to detonate his explosives, though prosecutors believe his suicide belt malfunctioned. The French-Moroccan is the only defendant, among 20, to be directly accused of murder and hostage taking.
The Enigma, a 555.55 carat black gem believed to be the world's largest cut diamond, has sold for $4.3 million in an online auction. The gem, known as a “carbonado,” is an extremely rare billion-year-old black diamond which contain osbonite, a mineral found only in meteors — meaning it could originate from space.
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin
Garlic curling and gazpacho on the menu? Let us know what’s happening in your corner of the world!
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Streaming video channels of people shopping has been booming in China, and is beginning to win over customers abroad as a cheap and cheerful way of selling products to millions of consumers glued to the screen.
SANTIAGO — TikTok, owned by Chinese tech firm ByteDance, has spent more than $500 million to break into online retailing. The app, best known for its short, comical videos, launched TikTok Shop in August, aiming to sell Chinese products in the U.S. and compete with other Chinese firms like Shein and Temu.
Tik Tok Shop will have three sections, including a live or livestream shopping channel, allowing users to buy while watching influencers promote a product.
This choice was strategic: in the past year, live shopping has become a significant trend in online retailing both in the U.S. and Latin America. While still an evolving technology, in principle, it promises good returns and lower costs.
Chilean Carlos O'Rian Herrera, co-founder of Fira Onlive, an online sales consultancy, told América Economía that live shopping has a much higher catchment rate than standard website retailing. If traditional e-commerce has a rate of one or two purchases per 100 visits to your site, live shopping can hike the ratio to 19%.
Live shopping has thrived in China and the recent purchases of shopping platforms in some Latin American countries suggests firms are taking an interest. In the United States, live shopping generated some $20 billion in sales revenues in 2022, according to consultants McKinsey. This constituted 2% of all online sales, but the firm believes the ratio may become 20% by 2026.
Live shopping began in 2016 with Alibaba's online show, Taobao Live. Like so much else online, it exploded during the pandemic. In the Americas, it was initially used by small retailers using influencers to sell on social media websites like Instagram or TikTok, says Pablo Rodríguez, Latam & Products chief with IT consultants Baufest. It was an excellent way of accessing a much bigger public with little physical and technological infrastructure, he told América Economía.
If corporations have yet to embrace the technology big-time, he says, it is because "hypersegmentation of audiences and personalization of the sales experience are essential" in live selling. That suits niche sellers better than a multinational needing to shift large quantities of diverse goods.
Almost anyone "with two phones and a bit of lighting can do a live show."
Many will see live selling as simply a version of the sales channels one might watch on daytime television, particularly popular in the 1990s. However, it is interactive: you can buy and keep watching at the same time, says Carlos O'Rian, opening a smaller screen or clicking on product details. "The hosts are answering people's questions ... This is very different to Instagram, where to do anything you have to leave the page," he says.
Currently, live shopping capitalizes on its use of social media sites like YouTube or Facebook, though its technology will allow sellers to register viewer data to create their own following. Its novelty is "to humanize the (online) shopping process," says Marcos Pueyrredón, founder of VTEX, an e-commerce firm, while fitting into the "conversational commerce" model, which includes chatting online.
Jakarta, Sept. 11, 2023 A merchant promotes a product via livestreaming on TikTok.
Xinhua / ZUMA
The promise of going live
Recently the Lima Commerce Chamber (CCL) organized a two-day cyber event that included live shopping experiences. The head of Digital Transformation at CCL, Jaime Montenegro, told América Economía the chamber has been working on bringing live shopping to Peru, "not just for big firms and big retailers ... but to massify it a bit more, so people gradually understand what it's about."
It is early days for live shopping in Peru, he says. "People are quite accepting of it; some brands are already working on making the most of an event, with a presenter or influencer that fits the brand and is well-known and charismatic (promoting) a product." It is not unlike "being in a physical shop in front of a salesperson," he says.
Properly used, live shopping should find and target the right audience with the right product. Retailers will also need the right seller for a brand, product and customers.
Pablo Rodríguez of Baufest says retailers have "thousands of products for different types of consumers, which means you need technological capabilities and scalable processes." Live shopping, he says, is now using new technologies designed even for gaming as leverage, which has reduced costs.
O'Rian says his firm can now fit live shopping features onto websites at little cost and in 10 minutes. As for users, they can connect with any smartphone bought after 2015. Typically online sellers have seen the cost of a live broadcast drop from U.S. $20,000 to $800.
Almost anyone "with two phones and a bit of lighting can do a live show," says O'Rian. The evolution of the technology, he said, is allowing sellers to concentrate on marketing, scripting and the business side. The operation will also need tools to answer queries through WhatsApp or chat.
Screenshot from TikTok video where streamers line up to show off their products.
useraxcaa2niyd / TikTok
Learning from China
Live shopping online has taken off in China. Pueyrredón says that about half of everything sold to customers in China has something to do with the Internet, and 30% of that half involves conversational commerce, including live shopping. Its share of all e-commerce in China may be around 10%.
In China, it has become a mature sector with deep involvement from sellers to buyers and all elements in between, says Weihan Chen of Momentum Works, a Singapore-based firm that analyses e-commerce. Its technical evolution, she said, has led directly to cutting costs and winning customers.
Analysts argue that the next stage will be live shopping in the metaverse and use of AI technologies and virtual hosts. This is being tried in China, says Chen, especially during periods of meager sales.
Forbes concluded livestream shopping would not take over e-commerce.
In spite of its dynamism, live shopping has yet to become an unstoppable juggernaut.
In Feb. 2023, the U.S. business review Forbes concluded livestream shopping would not take over e-commerce, and was better suited to the Chinese consumer mentality. While it took off in the pandemic, figures show that with confinement over, people resumed their pre-pandemic habits. Its success in the United States might be attributed to hype on social media, also known as FOMO or "Fear of Missing Out."
For Latin America, "it's the start of a world of opportunities" for brands, says Rodríguez, who believes that firms here have yet to forge an integral vision of live shopping's utility to e-commerce. He said live shopping must ease itself into the mass internet experience, support large user numbers, mesh with social media and instant messaging, allow for shared content and include payment, delivery and analytical tools. As Chen put it, synchronicity was key to improving the user experience.
Pueyrredón believes Latin America must "tropicalize" an essentially Chinese product, for regional consumers. "We shouldn't do exactly what they're doing there, but adapt it in a professional way" to meet local needs. For now, he said, sellers must seek out their customers wherever they are hanging out, be it on Instagram, TikTok or YouTube.
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