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Gazebo sales boom as families plan outdoor Easter gatherings | Retail industry

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They used to just feature at school sports days and village fetes but the gazebo has become a must-have garden accessory this spring as preparations for gatherings at Easter prompt sales of garden furniture and accessories to go “crazy”.

Garden furniture, gazebos, outdoor pizza ovens and fire pits have been flying off the shelves in recent weeks as families prepare to reinstate their social lives outdoors under England’s “rule-of-six” Covid restrictions, which restart on Monday.

Argos and John Lewis are among the big names warning customers of stock shortages. The coronavirus pandemic is still causing major upheaval in the global shipping industry, and the situation could worsen in coming weeks because of the blockage of the Suez canal by the stricken container ship Ever Given.

A notice on the Argos website states that “due to high demand we are running low on garden furniture”. John Lewis has sold out of all but eight of the 71 garden sets listed on its website, but says “more stock is expected end of April”.

The Leisure & Outdoor Furniture Association said retailers were dealing with a perfect storm of soaring shipping costs and delays to shipments, at a time of runaway demand from consumers who have been stuck at home for months. Of the current shortage of garden furniture, a spokesperson said: “It is not like it is not coming but there is a delay.”

On top of that, sales have “gone crazy” as shoppers try to buy early and so avoid missing out, with their hopes of foreign getaways this summer starting to fade. She added: “Sales have gone through the roof. Everyone I have spoken to has either met their budget already or gone way above it.”

Sales of fire pits and outdoor heaters are booming.
Sales of fire pits and outdoor heaters are booming. Photograph: Millie Pilkington/The Guardian

The spending spree by excited households in the run-up to next week’s relaxation of rules on outdoor socialising in England even showed up in official retail sales figures published on Friday, as unseasonal demand for the patio sets and DIY materials needed to create “outdoor rooms” propped up a high street that is reeling from the third lockdown.

The online DIY marketplace ManoMano said sales of gazebos last month were almost seven times higher than in 2020, as Britons prepared to reinstate missed Christmas get-togethers with friends and family, and protect themselves from further cancellations if it rains. ManoMano’s range spans budget-friendly gazebos favoured by campers, for less than £40, to more than £4,000 for a solid wooden structure complete with a bar to lean against.

The desire to create “outdoor rooms” has resulted in a near-600% increase in demand for fire pits and outdoor heaters on the trading site eBay, which has also reported shoppers scouring listings for six-person hot tubs as well as outdoor bars and projectors. “Easter trees” and wreaths are also being bought to dress gardens.

The kitchenware chain Lakeland said super-fast pizza ovens, such as the £300 Ooni Karu, which can be readied in 15 minutes and cooks a 12in pizza in 60 seconds, were also selling fast.

The lockdowns of the past year have translated into big profits for DIY chains such as B&Q, whose stores were permitted to stay open. It estimates that homeowners had devoted 31 days in the past year to house renovations and garden improvements. Sales of decorative items such as outdoor rugs were up more than 10%, while demand for statement outdoor tiles has increased fivefold. Fairy light sales were also up 56%.

Rugs, trestles – and a roof, in this garden.
Rugs, trestles – and a roof, in this garden. Photograph: Millie Pilkington/The Guardian

At the furniture chain the Cotswold Company, where sales of garden products are running 600% up this year, its chief executive, Ralph Tucker, is nervously watching a tracking app that shows the growing traffic jam in the Suez canal area: “If they can get the ship off the sandbank today that will cause a week or two of issues in the supply chain. If it is there for a week that could cause months of issues.”

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Lifestyle changes ushered in by pandemic restrictions mean Cotswold’s shoppers now want big outdoor furniture sets, rather than bistro tables, and even chunky pub garden-style trestle tables, Tucker said. The Manchester-based businessman, who has just erected a gazebo in his garden, said the shelters enable households to have nicer furniture outdoors as well as outdoor kitchens or cinemas.

Retailers’ gazebo ranges include “luxury” options with blinds or doors and built-in lighting. There are also trendy aluminium frames with sliding roofs that can cost as much as a summer holiday.

“We’ve got a bit of a roof because we wanted it to be practical; it does rain a lot in the north,” Tucker said. “Consumers see the outside as somewhere where they are going to entertain, not just when the sun is shining.”

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South Korea sets reliability standards for Big Tech • The Register

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South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT has offered Big Tech some advice on how to make their services suitably resilient, and added an obligation to notify users – in Korean – when they fail.

The guidelines apply to Google, Meta (parent company of Facebook), Netflix, Naver, Kakao and Wavve. All have been told to improve their response to faults by beefing up preemptive error detection and verification systems, and create back up storage systems that enable quick content recovery.

The guidelines offer methods Big Tech can use to measure user loads, then plan accordingly to ensure their services remain available. Uptime requirements are not spelled out.

Big techs is already rather good at resilience. Google literally wrote the book on site reliability engineering.

The guidelines refer to legislation colloquially known as the “Netflix law” which requires major service outages be reported to the Ministry.

That law builds on another enacted in 2020 that made online content service providers responsible for the quality of their streaming services. It was put in place after a number of outages, including one where notifications of the problem were made on the offending company’s social media site – but only in English.

The new regulations follow South Korean telcos’ recent attempts to have platforms that guzzle their bandwidth pay for the privilege. Mobile carrier SK Broadband took legal action in October of this year, demanding Netflix pitch in some cash for the amount of bandwidth that streaming shows – such as Squid Game – consume.

In response, Netflix pointed at its own free content delivery network, Open Connect, which helps carriers to reduce traffic. Netflix then accused SK Broadband of trying to double up on profits by collecting fees from consumers and content providers at the same time.

For the record, Naver and Kakao pay carriers, while Apple TV+ and Disney+ have at the very least given lip service to the idea.

Korea isn’t the only place where telcos have noticed Big Tech taking up more than its fair share of bandwidth. The European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) published a letter from ten telco CEOs asking that larger platforms “contribute fairly to network costs”. ®

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Twitter acquires Slack competitor Quill to improve its messaging services

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As part of the acquisition, Quill will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company.

Twitter has acquired the messaging platform Quill, seen as a potential competitor to Slack, in order to improve its messaging tools and services.

Quill announced that it will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company to continue its original goal “to make online communication more thoughtful, and more effective, for everyone”.

The purchase of Quill could be linked to Twitter’s new strategy to reduce its reliance on ad revenue and attract paying subscribers.

Twitter’s general manager for core tech, Nick Caldwell, described Quill as a “fresher, more deliberate way to communicate. We’re bringing their experience and creativity to Twitter as we work to make messaging tools like DMs a more useful and expressive way people can have conversations on the service”.

Users of Quill have until 11 December to export their team message history before the servers are fully shut down at 1pm PST (9pm Irish time). The announcement has instructions for users who wish to import their chat history into Slack and states that all active teams will be issued full refunds.

The team thanked its users and said: “We can’t wait to show you what we’ll be working on next.”

Quill was launched in February with the goal to remove the overwhelming aspects of other messaging services and give users a more deliberate and focused form of online chat.

In an online post, Quill creator Ludwig Pettersson said: “We started Quill to increase the quality of human communication. Excited to keep doing just that, at Twitter.”

The company became a potential competitor for Slack, which was bought by Salesforce at the end of 2020 for $27.7bn. The goal of that acquisition was to combine Salesforce’s CRM platform with Slack’s communications tools to create a unified service tailored to digital-led teams around the world.

Last week, Salesforce announced the promotion of Bret Taylor to vice-chair and co-CEO, just days after he was appointed independent chair of Twitter after CEO Jack Dorsey stepped down.

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Australians’ 2021 Google searches: Covid comes out on top with sport our favoured non-pandemic distraction | Google

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The Covid-19 pandemic once again dominated internet searches in Australia this year, as lockdowns gripped the two largest states, and people sought vaccines.

Google has compiled data on the most popular search terms from the previous 12 months, which showed Covid’s dominance in Australia was challenged by people looking for an escape in sports. The NBA, AFL, cricket, NRL, football, Wimbledon and the Olympics took out the top spots for most searched sport in Australia in 2021.

The Covid situation in New South Wales dominated news-related searches, with the Delta outbreak forcing the state into the longest continuous lockdown in 2021. Victorians, having endured the most number of days in lockdown since the pandemic started, did not appear to seek out information about the Covid situation in their own state nearly as much, with “coronavirus Victoria” coming in fifth in news-related searches, even behind Queensland at number three.

For the second year in a row, people Googled “how to make face masks” more than any other DIY-related search. As residents in NSW, Victoria and the ACT endured extended lockdowns, at-home activities like making your own candles, playdough, paper planes, and chatterboxes soared.

As Australia’s vaccination “strollout” gathered pace in the second half of 2021, people searched how to get their vaccination certificates, how to book their Covid vaccination, how to link their Medicare to myGov, and how to enter the Million Dollar Vax campaign.

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The shocking disappearance of West Australian four-year-old Cleo Smith and the dramatic rescue over two weeks later was the second biggest news event searched on Google by Australians. The ongoing search for missing toddler William Tyrrell came in sixth.

The former federal attorney general Christian Porter’s name dominated Google search trends in the days leading up to a press conference where he outed himself as the unnamed minister in an ABC report about an alleged historical rape. He vehemently denies the allegations. In his now-settled defamation suit against the ABC, lawyers for Porter raised that after the report searches of his name “increased significantly and much more so than any other senior male cabinet members”.

The former minister, who announced last week he would not recontest his WA seat of Pearce at the 2022 federal election, appears eighth in the 2021 list of news-related searches.

Porter was the fourth most-searched person overall in Australia, behind Cleo Smith, Ash Barty, and William Tyrell. The new NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, came in sixth.

Bringing up the rear of news searches was the moment that shook Melbourne – literally – the 5.9 magnitude earthquake that hit Victoria in September.

Interest in all things cryptocurrency was also reflected in Australian searches with cryptocurrency exchange Coinspot the ninth most searched term, and people searched how to buy Dogecoin.

Prince Philip was the most searched among those who died in 2021, followed by US woman Gabby Petito, and Australian entertainment giant Bert Newton.

Thanks to Jaden Smith and Britney Spears, people were searching for the meaning of the word “emancipated” more than any other word in 2021, followed by “insurrection” after the events at the US Capitol on 6 January, then it was “gaslighting”, Naidoc and NFT.

Despite emerging late in the year, Omicron came in sixth as people looked up the meaning of the latest Covid-19 variant of concern.

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