1.5 Cases and Problems

Learning on the Web

  1. The Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles demographic data. Visit http://www.bls.gov/bls/demographics.htm, and describe the different types of information it provides. What kinds of changes are likely to occur in the United States over the next 25 years? Click on Spending & Time Use and select How Americans Spend Time to read about the American Time Use Survey. What trends can you identify?
  2. Go to either the Red Herring (http://www.redherring.com) or Wired (http://www.wired.com) site and research technology trends. Compile a list of three trends that sound most promising to you, and describe them briefly. How will they affect businesses? What impact, if any, will they have on you personally?
  3. Use the Bureau of Labor Statistics site (http://www.bls.gov) to determine the current trends in GDP growth, unemployment, and inflation. What do these trends tell you about the level of business activity and the business cycle? If you owned a staffing agency, how would this information affect your decision-making?
  4. What’s the latest U.S. economic news? Go to the CNBC website, and select the Economy page, which categorizes news about the world economy, the U.S. economy, and other important topics (http://www.cnbc.com/economy/). Read the various articles about the U.S. economy, and then do the same for GDP Outlook. Prepare a summary of what you learned, and use it to discuss where you think the economy is headed for the next 6 to 12 months.
  5. How would you spend the national budget if you were president? Here’s your chance to find out how your ideas would affect the federal budget. Go online to Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, at http://www.crfb.org, and under Tools, click on Stabilize the Debt, which is an exercise in making difficult decisions and how government officials make trade-offs when they prepare the federal budget. Experiment with your own budget ideas at the site. What are the effects of your decisions?

Preparing for Tomorrow’s Workplace Skills

  1. Select a not-for-profit organization whose mission interests you. What are the organization’s objectives? What resources does it need to achieve those goals? Select a for-profit business that provides a similar service, and compare the two organizations. How does each use the factors of production? (Resources, Information, Systems)
  2. Team Activity Form seven teams. Each team is responsible for one of the sectors of the external business environment discussed in the chapter (economic, political/legal, demographic, social, competitive, global, and technological). Your boss, the company president, has asked each team to report on the changes in that area of the external environment and how they will affect the firm over the next five years. The firm is the Boeing Company. Each team should use the library, the internet, and other data sources to make its projections. Each team member should examine at least one data source. The team should then pool the data and prepare its response. A spokesperson for each team should present the findings to the class. (Interpersonal, Resources, Information)
  3. If a friend claimed, “Economics is all theory and not very practical,” how might you counter this claim? Share your rationale with the class. (Interpersonal, Information)
  4. Team Activity Create two teams of four people each. Have one side choose a communist economy and the other capitalism. Debate the proposition that “capitalism/a command economy is good for developing nations.” (Interpersonal, Information)
  5. What are the latest actions the federal government has taken to manage the economy? Has it used monetary policy or fiscal policy to achieve its macroeconomic goals? Summarize your findings. Choose one of the following industries, and discuss how the government’s actions will affect that industry: airlines, automobile manufacturers, banking, biotechnology, chemical manufacturing, home building, oil and gas, retail stores, and telecommunication services. (Information, Systems)
  6. As a manufacturer of wireless headphones, you are questioning your pricing policies. You note that over the past five years, the CPI increased an average of 3 percent per year but that the price of a pair of wireless headphones increased an average of 8 percent per year for the first three years and 2 percent per year for the next two years. What does this information tell you about demand, supply, and other factors influencing the market for these headphones? (Resources, Information)

Ethics Angle

Historically, diesel cars have not been big sellers in the U.S. auto market, mainly because their engines couldn’t pass the strict emissions standards set up by the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board. But that all changed in 2005, when German automaker Volkswagen made a decided push to develop “clean diesel” engines, specifically manufactured to meet strict U.S. emissions standards.

By 2010, VW had introduced several models of diesel cars in the United States, and their sales helped propel Volkswagen to the number-two slot in global auto sales, after Toyota and ahead of GM. While VW was receiving major media attention for its clean diesel models, researchers from West Virginia University discovered that these so-called clean engines had been constructed with a “defeat device”—software that could actually tell when the car was being tested off road for emissions and lower the level of emissions that harm the environment.

By December 2014, Volkswagen agreed to voluntarily recall more than a half-million clean diesel cars in the United States to address the emissions issues. But the scandal continued to escalate, with accusations that senior management knew about the rigged engines, and VW’s CEO resigned and several other executives were fired.

Class-action lawsuits and other litigation followed, and in April 2017, VW agreed to a $4.3 billion settlement, which included a criminal fine of $2.8 billion, as well as various buyback plans for the affected diesel cars. In addition, over the last several years, VW has experienced a significant decline in U.S. sales and is now trying to win back customers.

Using a web search tool, locate information about this topic, and then write responses to the following questions. Be sure to support your arguments and cite your sources.

Ethical Dilemma: How can VW ensure that its diesel cars now comply with U.S. emissions standards? What can VW do to regain consumers’ confidence after this worldwide scandal? Do you agree with the billions of dollars in fines that VW will have to pay to move beyond the emissions debacle?

Sources: “VW Diesel Crisis: Timeline of Events,” https://www.cars.com, May 19, 2017; Jack Ewing, “Inside VW’s Campaign of Trickery,” The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com, May 7, 2017; Christoph Rauwald, “How a Top-Secret Deal Could Have Stopped VW’s Diesel Scandal,” Bloomberg, http://www.bloomberg.com, January 12, 2017; “6 VW Execs Indicted as Carmaker Agrees to $4.3 Billion Diesel Cheat Settlement,” Fortune, http://fortune.com, January 12, 2017; Geoffrey Smith and Roger Parloff, “Hoaxwagen: Inside Volkswagen’s Diesel Fraud,” Fortune, http://fortune.com, March 7, 2016.

Creative Thinking Case

Walmart Gets Serious about E-Commerce

As the world’s largest retailer, Walmart has built thousands of brick-and-mortar stores in the United States, Mexico, and elsewhere. Although a success story when it comes to traditional retail locations, Walmart has struggled with its e-commerce efforts, with recent online sales accounting for about 3 percent of the company’s $300 billion in annual sales. The company has tried several different e-commerce strategies in the past, but none of them was an overwhelming success. Some company insiders objected to the pricing strategy used for online purchases; they were fearful that Walmart’s lower prices online would take customers (and sales) away from the retail locations.

Doug McMillon, Walmart’s CEO since 2014, believed a significant change was needed in the company’s e-commerce business, and he recently made changes in a big way. Over the past two years, Walmart spent billions to acquire several online companies to expand its e-commerce business in an effort to take a small bite out of retail giant Amazon’s success. In 2016, Walmart purchased Jet.com, an e-commerce site that sells a little bit of everything (books, clothing, electronics, etc.) at discount prices. Once the $3 billion acquisition was completed, Jet’s cofounder and CEO, Marc Lore, who now runs Walmart’s e-commerce platform, worked with McMillon to identify other established online companies to add to their e-commerce portfolio, and add they did.

First Walmart purchased footwear e-tailer ShoeBuy for $70 million in January 2017. The following month, Walmart bought outdoor specialty retailer Moosejaw for $51 million. Then in March, Walmart paid $75 million for ModCloth, an eclectic shopping site for women’s fashions. Walmart is also said to be in negotiations to buy Bonobos, a hip fashion retailer geared to millennial males.

Reaction to the acquisitions has been mixed, depending on whom you ask. Retail analysts applaud the company’s radical move, pointing out that several well-known traditional retailers have closed their doors or filed bankruptcy because they failed to take part in the e-commerce revolution. Fashionistas, on the other hand, are lukewarm about the move. However, McMillon’s decision to allow the online retailers to operate independently may help retain loyal customers. The new e-commerce strategy may also lure typical in-store shoppers to take advantage of the expanded offerings available through both Walmart.com and Jet.com.

Critical Thinking Questions

  1. What are some advantages of Walmart purchasing established web businesses?
  2. What impact is Walmart’s acquisition of nontraditional retailers likely to have on the shopping habits of Walmart’s customers?
  3. How will the aggressive e-commerce plan implemented by Walmart affect operations at its retail locations?

Sources: Brad Stone and Matthew Boyle, “Amazon Won’t Know What Hit ’Em!” Bloomberg Businessweek, http://www.bloomberg.com, May 8–May 14, 2017; “What an Acquisition of Bonobos Would Signal About Wal-Mart’s Strategy,” Forbes, http://www.forbes.com, May 9, 2017; “Walmart Acquires Niche Online Retailers, to the Dismay of Hipsters,” Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com, March 24, 2017; Alana Abramson, “Walmart Acquires Online Women’s Retailer ModCloth,” Fortune, http://fortune.com, March 17, 2017; Phil Wahba, “Walmart’s 29% Online Holiday Season Growth Sends Shares Jumping,” Fortune, http://fortune.com, February 21, 2017; Laura Heller, “Take That Amazon: Walmart Buys Moosejaw for $51 Million,” Forbes, http://www.forbes.com, February 15, 2017; “Walmart Acquires ShoeBuy for $70 Million,” Business Insider, http://www.businessinsider.com, January 6, 2017.

Hot Links Address Book

  1. What makes a company good to work for or most admired? Find out by checking Fortune’s special lists at http://www.fortune.com.
  2. Which country has the largest GDP? The most people? The answers can be found in The World Factbook at https://www.cia.gov.
  3. Get the scoop on the latest technology trends affecting our lives from CNET’s website at http://www.cnet.com. The site also includes product reviews, how-to videos, and smart home features.
  4. The Federal Reserve Board issues a variety of statistical information about the state of the U.S. economy. Find it at the Federal Reserve’s site by clicking on the Economic Research and Data links: https://www.federalreserve.gov/econres.htm
  5. Want to know the current public debt per citizen, or even what it was in 1790? Go to https://www.transparency.treasury.gov/ and click on National Debt.
  6. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) tracks national and regional economic statistics, including the GDP. To find the latest GDP statistics, visit the BEA at.
  7. How are the job prospects in your area? Your region’s unemployment statistics can give you an idea of how hard it will be to find a job. Find the most recent unemployment statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics at http://www.bls.gov.
  8. How do the PPI and the CPI differ? Get the answers to this and other questions about the PPI by visiting the Bureau of Labor Statistics PPI site at http://www.bls.gov/ppi.

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Foundations of Business by Manika Avasthi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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