Blogs & Comment

Winners & Losers: Facebook gets deeper into our pockets, Sears tries a separation

Come see the softer earnings side of Sears

 Facebook

Atlas shrugged off your privacy concerns

Woman hypnotized into shopping by her smartphone

Some of the best and brightest computer engineers in the world work at Facebook, and they’ve just recently used their gargantuan brains to figure out a better way for advertisers to sell you more stuff. Facebook’s new advertising platform, dubbed Atlas, is poised to shake up the US$120 billion digital ad market. Atlas, which Facebook retooled after buying it from Microsoft, will allow the company to track individual users across mobile devices. Until now, advertisers have used cookies (small bits of code automatically downloaded onto your computer) to follow you around the web and measure the performance of online ads. But cookies don’t work as well on smartphones and tablets. Atlas promises to solve this problem, potentially offering advertisers an unprecedented level of data. Now a company might be able to determine if a customer purchased a product on a desktop after first seeing a mobile ad. Atlas is a direct threat to Google, which controls about 32% of the digital ad market, and also helps satisfy demands from Facebook investors that the company generate more revenue from mobile. As for privacy concerns, CEO Mark Zuckerberg pinky-swears your identity will be kept anonymous from advertisers. Everything else is fair game.

 Sears

Tears for Sears

Sears sign where the S falls off

Even Sears doesn’t believe in Sears any more. In a somewhat convoluted transaction, Sears Holdings Corp., the American parent of the department store chain, is selling most of its stake in its Canadian counterpart in order to raise some badly needed cash. The sale is expected to bring in as much as $380 million for the American company, and leave it with a 12% stake in Sears Canada, down from 51%. The buyer of the stake is a private investment firm owned by Eddie Lampert, the chairman of Sears Holdings. Both the American and Canadian Sears operations are struggling to keep afloat amid tough competition from Target and Walmart. Just last month, the American Sears had to borrow $400 million from a hedge fund operated by Lampert in order to prepare for the holiday season. Sears Canada, meanwhile, is drastically cutting costs. In January, it announced plans to lay off as many as 1,600 workers. To make matters worse, CEO Douglas Campbell said last week he’s quitting and returning to the U.S. for personal reasons. Despite the stock sale, the company says it will continue to use the Sears brand name as long as the American firm owns a 10% stake. Customers have grown accustomed to the Sears brand name, after all—and apparently the sadness, desperation, and capitulation that comes with it. Why change now?