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Scientists Identify New Variant of COVID-19; In-Person Black Friday Shopping Falls Short of Pre-Pandemic Levels; Examining What Happens to Return Goods. Aired 4-4:10a ET

Aired November 29, 2021 - 04:00   ET


CARL AZUZ, CNN 10 ANCHOR: Hi, I`m Carl Azuz back from the Thanksgiving holiday and hoping you`re doing well. There`s been a lot of fast-moving

news over the past few days concerning a new variant or new mutation of coronavirus. These diseases typically mutate as they circulate around the

world. Is this something to worry about? The short answer is, know one really knows yet. Last Friday the World Health Organization announced it

would name the new variant omicron, some are pronouncing that omicron. It`s another letter of the Greek alphabet like Delta. Though it`s not known

exactly where the mutated virus first appeared, it was first identified in South Africa, and the doctor who made that identification says omicron

symptoms were quote "extremely mild" in the initial patients she saw.

They reported being tired and having body aches and pains. They did not have a bad cough or the loss of taste or smell as people with other

versions of COVID has experienced. This was observed from a small group of patients though, so doctors aren`t sure how omicron will affect a wider

population. This variant has a large number of mutations according to the World Health Organization, meaning omicron is significantly different from

other strains of COVID. Researchers don`t know if it could still infect people who`ve recovered from other versions and have natural COVID immunity

or if omicron can affect people who have received a COVID vaccine. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says it can affect those who`ve been fully

vaccinated, and his government is one of several that have put new restrictions on travelers from southern African nations. Any of the omicron

cases so far have been linked to South Africa and the countries around it.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: More and more countries are confirming cases of this troubling variant, particularly across Europe.

Now, several of those people confirmed to have the omicron variant have traveled from southern Africa where I`m sitting. Scientists here have been

angry at the swift travel bans being put in from across the world including the UK and on Monday, the U.S. There was a discussion between the Secretary

of State of the U.S. Anthony Blinken and his counterpart here in South Africa. Blinken praised South African scientists saying that their swift

description and alert of this variant should be a model for the rest of the world.

But the South African government says that in some way they are being punished because of their quote "excellent scientists". There is now a race

to figure out how bad this variant is. Would it have breakthrough infections with the vaccine? Will it go through immunity from previous

infections? We just don`t know. There are some indications its more transmissible and the cases are rising fast here in Gauteng Province of

South Africa, but a lot of still unknown as more and more countries shut this region off. David McKenzie, CNN, Johannesburg.


AZUZ: 10 Second Trivia. What U.S. city is believed to be the source of the retail term Black Friday? Chicago, Illinois, Indianapolis, Indiana, New

York, New York, or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the 1960s` police in Philadelphia reportedly used the term to describe the shopping and sports

mayhem that hit the city after Thanksgiving.

Traditionally, the day after Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days on the U.S. shopping calendar. So, the term Black Friday has also been used to

describe when retail stores move into the black, meaning they show a profit for the year. It makes sense that store traffic, the number of people

shopping in person, increased more than 47 percent this year over last year when more stayed home because of COVID concerns. But according to

Sensormatic Solutions, a retail analytics and operations company, this year`s Black Friday`s store traffic was still 28 percent lower than it was

in 2019 before the pandemic. Observers believe it`s because people started shopping sooner this year and spread out their buying instead of

concentrating it on just one day. Returns are inevitably part of this process.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Free returns. They`re customer`s insurance policy for shopping online, but what happens to those returns after you give them back

might surprise you.

JASON GOLDBERG, CHIEF COMMERCE OFFICER, PUBLICS: For customers really believe the product just goes into the black hole or ends up being resold

to another customer. In many instances, that`s not the case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In reality, many of these products never return anywhere. Instead, they may end up here, or even here.

GOLDBERG: You know easily 25 percent of all these returns get destroyed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In fact, returns have become such a headache for retailers that in some cases they`re just refunding customers, letting them

keep or donate the unwanted items.

GOLDBERG: The cost of getting the product back from the customer is much higher than traditionally just getting the product to the customer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Turns out, free returns are from it.

GOLDBERG: There`s a very large disparity between the amount of returns that happen from consumers that buy products online versus in the store. In a

brick-and-mortar store, we typically get somewhere between five and 10 percent returns, but online we get north of 30 percent returns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic pushed online shopping and returns to record highs. CVRE, a commercial real estate service,

estimates that Americans will end up returning up $70 billion worth of online purchases post-holiday season. That`s a staggering 73 percent growth

from the previous five-year average. Here`s why that`s a problem.

GOLDBERG: The entire returns business in and of itself is just extremely complex.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Big retailers already use data to improve the shopping experience on the front end. Walmart believes data should play a bigger

role in the returns process too.

LINNE FULCHER, VICE-PRESIDENT OF CUSTOMER SERVICES FOR WALMART: We`re constantly digging into the data to understand why customers are bringing

stuff back. And we actually can solve a bigger portion of the end of the life cycle of the product by stopping the return from ever occurring. So,

if I know I have an item that is low quality, we work with the manufacturer to fix it or we quit selling it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s because accepting a return isn`t always easy either. A warehouse optimized for fulfilling orders is now asked to receive

a product and inspect it. Then someone needs to decide whether it can be resold or not. In the end, an online return can require up to 20 percent

more space and labor than one made in store. Those costs are part of why Opturo, a return solution company, estimates that returning a $50 item can

cost a retailer 59 percent of its sale price. Often the math just doesn`t add up.

FULCHER: The best return is the one that never happens, but when it does happen it`s about stopping the return or finding alternate ways where the

customer brings it back to handle the item, to handle the return.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that`s where liquidators come in.

ALBERT PALACCI, CEO OF 888 LOTS: So, this is a product that came in one of these pallets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Liquidators like this one are the middleman between retailers and resellers.

PALACCI: We sort, organize, process and figure out methods to get them to the right home, and that`s -- that`s really what we do here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They buy returned merchandise than sort and evaluate it before auctioning it to discount stores and authorized resellers.

PALACCI: You`d be able to resell them at a profit because you`d be purchasing them at real fraction of what the actual cost is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But some returns never make it to a liquidator.

PALACCI: Products ending up in landfills, customers don`t even really think of that as part of the purchase process.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every year returns produce an estimated 5 billion pounds of waste in landfills.

GOLDBERG: It`s generally risky to remind consumers how potentially wasteful their consumerism is. So in general, retailers are hesitant to lean to

heavily into those kind of awareness campaigns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The solution is complicated but Walmart, for one, says online shopping could actually help reduce the number of returns made.

FULCHER: When the customer goes online and tells me they`re returning this item for these reasons. I`m more apt to harness the information than I am

than you just walk into a store and drop it off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it`s not just data, tools like better sizing predictions for clothes and shoes could help reduce the likelihood a

customer purchase`s the wrong size. AI Chatbot can help answer customer`s questions quickly and keep labor costs down for retailers. Even augmented

reality is helping customers try out products before they buy.


AZUZ: It`s been said that you got to learn to crawl before you walk, but this toddler in China is pretty good at snowboarding and she isn`t walking

well yet. The girl isn`t even a year old. Her parents say they were amazed when they just tried putting her in snowboarding shoes and then saw her

stand up and start sliding. She wears protective gear inside of her snowsuit and at 11 months, she`s doing this and seems to be loving it.

Is it insanity? It is "infanity". Critics might say it`s just her folk`s "vanity". But she`s got "skis", show a little humanity. "Shredding" the

"gnar" with no need for a "nanidby". Easy to see and to be a bit "fanity", "grommit" or "toddler", part of the "planity". Winter "vonder" can`t search

the "whole land of the earth". She`s the youngest on its snowy "canopy". Time for the shout out. We want to recognize Carthage High School today.

Thanks to the students and teachers of Carthage, Texas for your request on our You Tube channel. My name is Carl Azuz. Thank you so much for watching.

That`s it for CNN.