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We went to Warren Buffett's favorite New York steakhouse and saw just how much Americans' attitudes towards fine dining have changed

Business Insider, 1/1/0001 12:00 AM PST

smith&wollensky16

  • I went to Smith & Wollensky, Warren Buffett's favorite New York City steakhouse.
  • I found the experience to be out of step with modern dining.
  • Steakhouses promote a stuffy culture that's going extinct. 

 

Most of the time, when I go out to eat, I'm looking for a chill, fun time. I'm willing to bet Warren Buffett is looking for something different.

On a recent visit to Smith & Wollensky, famously Buffett's favorite steakhouse in the Big Apple, I was able to see just how much dining standards have changed from their stuffy origins. 

Every year, people bid millions of dollars for a meal with Buffett at the famed steakhouse. This July, a bidder agreed to pay $2.68 million to a San Francisco charity for a lunch for seven with the Berkshire Hathaway CEO. We don't have millions of dollars to spend on a meal with Buffett. But, we were able to make a reservation at Smith & Wollensky ourselves. 

Smith & Wollenksy is not chill, however. "Hip" isn't the word I'd use either — "staid" is more like it.

Walking inside makes you feel like you forgot a gift for a special occasion. There's a uniformed doorman waiting to greet you, and inside, the atmosphere is stiff, with white tablecloths and an implied dress code. The waiters are buttoned-up, and they seem to scoff if you order the cheapest bottle of wine on the menu, which, when we visited, was a $52 bottle of pinot noir from New Zealand. It came with a screw top. 

The classic steakhouse experience — both at Smith & Wollensky and other restaurants like it — is nerve-wracking for a casual diner. Feeling like you're being judged is stressful, especially when you're spending hundreds of dollars on a meal. That's the opposite of what I'm looking for when I go out to eat with friends or family.

True, I'm not an 87-year-old billionaire, but dining out is supposed to be about enjoying yourself.

Prices are also high. Among the menu items we sampled were a $140 "seafood bouquet," a $120 filet mignon for two, and a $36 branzino. We ended up paying more than $30 for water because we didn't know to ask for tap when posed the "still or sparkling?" question. The final check for a meal for five people was $800 with tax and tip. 

Smith&Wollensky35

While it all tasted great for the most part, there wasn't a lot of creativity or inventiveness to these menu items. I've no problem with paying for amazing food, but the amount of money we spent didn't feel great.

This is a very old-school model for dining out. The experience is set, and all you can do is sway a little to the left or the right.

Steakhouses like Smith & Wollenksy cater to a certain crowd. They're a place to see and be seen, work out deals over a T-bone, or take out a special client who just flew in from Phoenix. It's also a favorite of tourists who see it on "best-of" lists and are still reverent of New York City's dying steakhouse culture.

But the demand for that seems to be dying out quickly. These days, the country's best restaurants are praised for their innovation, the quality of their ingredients, and their ability to surprise and delight their customers. You see a lot of this in Lower Manhattan. 

Smith&Wollensky20

Plus, today's business leaders — the target steakhouse audience — don't have time to wheel and deal over sirloin. They'd rather spend time with loved ones after a rough day at the office trying to make their businesses work. 

"I think historically ... 'power' was heavily defined by being seen and who you were seen with," Christene Barberich, the cofounder and global editor-in-chief of Refinery29, told Business Insider in April.

She added: "Today power comes, more likely, from flexibility, freedom, and efficiency."

Even on Wall Street, today's business meetings pale in extravagance compared with the meetings bankers held before the recession. Many businesses are becoming more image-conscious and, along with that, more cautious about appearing wasteful. Several restaurants that were long known for hosting business people on power meals have struggled recently, like the now-closed Four Seasons and Le Cirque, which just filed for bankruptcy.

Diners now want choice. And if they don't want wine with dinner one night, they want to feel like that's an OK choice to make, with no second-guessing.

Steakhouses — and the stuffy culture that comes along with them — are a dying breed. 

Smith&Wollensky32

SEE ALSO: We ate at Warren Buffett's favorite New York City steakhouse — which people pay millions to dine with him at — here's what it was like

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$25,000 Bitcoin Price Prediction is ‘Conservative’: Wall Street Strategist

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Bitcoin Price Hits New-All Time High at $6,151, Market Gains Confidence

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Amid the exploding opioid epidemic, a new device could change how doctors treat chronic pain

Business Insider, 1/1/0001 12:00 AM PST

Screen Shot 2017 10 20 at 10.58.51 AM

  • Chronic pain is a condition that affects millions of Americans. 
  • The standard way to treat it is by using opioid painkillers. But in recent years, especially as the opioid epidemic continues to hit the US, doctors and patients are looking for alternatives.
  • One alternative is neuromodulation, a treatment that sends electrical signals to certain nerves in the body to treat pain. 

Chronic pain, characterized by pain lasting more than 12 weeks, is a debilitating condition that affects millions of Americans.

And a high number of people living with chronic back pain take opioids to treat the pain. It's led to a large amount of overlap between chronic pain diagnoses and diagnoses of opioid use abuse, data from Amino a consumer healthcare company, found.

For decades, the standard has been to treat chronic pain with potent opioids, though in recent years there has been a bigger push toward alternatives.

Those, however, can be more expensive for patients, in part because insurers aren't as willing to pay for the alternatives over opioids, as Business Insider's Harrison Jacobs reported last year.

Even so, some doctors and patients are turning to neuromodulation, a therapy that uses a medical device to treat pain, as an alternative to opioids. The approach has been around for decades, but in the past few years new technology has been developed that makes the devices more precise at targeting pain.

Abbott Laboratories, a healthcare company that produces everything from meal replacement shakes to blood sugar monitors, has its own line of neuromodulation devices after acquiring medical device company St. Jude Medical earlier this year.

Allen Burton, the company's medical director of neuromodulation told Business Insider that there's been a "perfect storm" of technological developments related to the treatment in the past few years alongside the exploding opioid epidemic that has opened the possiblity to make it more widespread and used earlier to treat pain than it is today.

Here's how it works: 

Neuromodulation devices send electrical signals to certain nerves in the body, thus creating interference that overrides the nerves from signaling pain to the brain.

For back pain, that means stimulating part of the spine, a process known as spinal cord stimulation. But back pain is far from the only pain that can be treated with neuromodulation. Spinal cord stimulation, along with dorsal root ganglion stimulation can be used to send electrical signals to the arms, legs, hip, knees, and feet.

DRG stimulation_unbranded 2For a patient to recieve the therapy, he or she must undergo a procedure in which electrical leads are inserted into the body. From there, the leads link up with a battery that can either be inside the body or outside, depending on the device.

A patient is then able to control the battery and the signals it transmits via an external device. For example, with Abbott's device, it's connected to an iPad, from which you can control the implanted battery. 

Prior to recieving the implant, Burton explained, patients get a patch that allows them to simulate how the device might feel. That way, if it's not for them, they can choose not to proceed.

No longer a 'last resort'

In 2016, about 34,000 people underwent spinal cord stimulation around the world. For now, the majority of people get the implants after failing other treatments and back surgeries. Ideally, Burton said, the hope is to bring it up so it could be used, possibly before people even use opioids. 

There's even some evidence, from a study run by Abbott researchers, that using the devices sooner rather than later could decrease opioid use and healthcare costs.

Abbott also found in a study that for the 5,400 patients who received spinal cord stimulation therapy, their opioid use stabilized or declined in 70% of the patients, compared to their use of the drugs before getting the treatment. 

 Many pain specialists have also touted the benefits of neurmodulation as an alternative to opioids. 

"It should not be a last-resort therapy. In some patients, it should be the first choice," Dr. Nagy Mekhail, a pain physician at the Cleveland Clinic told MIT Technology Review.

Dr. Timothy Deer, now the cochair of West Virginia’s Expert Pain Management Panel, has noted the benefits of the procedure in cutting down opioid use and reducing not just pain but costs in the long run. 

"Evidence suggests that this technique can reduce the need for opioids, reduce pain, improve quality of life and reduce healthcare utilization and costs," Deer wrote in a 2014 journal editorial

Dr. Richard Vaglienti, the director of West Virginia University's Pain Management Center and Deer's cochair, told Business Insider that the treatments are moving up from "last resort" to "later resort."

That may soon be enough to sway health insurers to cover the procedure sooner, which can be costly.  Insurers and healthcare providers have been looking for new ways to curb prescription opioid use, including cutting the number of pills they prescribe in a year, and by no longer covering OxyContin, the branded version of the painkiller oxycodone.

Insurers and healthcare providers have often shied away from using neuromodulation due to its high cost. But Vaglienti, who has been using neuromodulation to treat patients with chronic pain for almost three decades, said that while opioids may appear cheap in comparison, their cost rises exceptionally if a patient becomes addicted and requires long-term addiction treatment in a clinic.

Vaglienti said that he's seen insurers in West Virginia be more sensitive to testing out other alternatives to opioids, despite the higher cost.

Even so, covering neuromodulation is still on a case-by-case basis, according to America's Health Insurance Plans, which represents health insurance companies,

"Treating pain is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s important to ensure patients are getting the quality, evidence-based care that best fits their need for pain management," AHIP communications director Cathryn Donaldson said in an emailed statement.

"The therapy you mention below may be appropriate for a select group of patients. However, every patient is different and experiences pain differently, so there is a time and a place when opioids, or other therapies, are appropriate."

SEE ALSO: A company that wants to use ultrasounds to deliver drugs just raised money from MIT's new $200 million venture fund

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Here's how easy it is for anyone — including Russian operatives — to target you with ads on Facebook

Business Insider, 1/1/0001 12:00 AM PST

mark zuckerberg

  • Three media agencies modeled the cost of using Facebook to reach voters in Wisconsin and Michigan with the intention of swaying their vote. 
  • The estimates range from as little as $50,000 for issue-focused ads to over $283,000 depending on a number of factors including intensity. 
  • The agencies used tools that are available — legally — to marketers, politicians, and activists to show that even $100,000 can go a long way on Facebook.

Facebook is currently embroiled in an investigation regarding the spread of viral fake news and ads by Russian groups leading up to the 2016 presidential election. The company is expected to testify before two congressional committees on Capitol Hill in November.

Facebook, which declined to comment for this story, has said it discovered roughly $100,000 in ad buys between June 2015 and May 2017 associated with roughly 3,000 ads. CNN reported that a number of these ads specifically targeted Michigan and Wisconsin, two states where US President Donald Trump won by approximately 10,700 votes and 22,700 votes, respectively.

The money spent may seem insignificant at first glance, but Facebook's advanced and granular targeting options may have given that dollar amount significant reach and engagement. Add to that the fact that operatives — whether it's a candidate, a PAC, a non-profit or even a fake account run by groups linked to Russia — are not required to disclose spending money on online ads, and it becomes a bigger concern.

To see how easy it would be for just about anyone to use Facebook's targeting parameters to reach their desired audience, we asked three media agencies to come up with media plans and budgets — in this case specifically for someone looking to swing an election in Michigan and Wisconsin.

It is worth noting that buying and distributing ads is not nefarious in and of itself. Companies, advocacy groups, political groups, politicians, and others all use Facebook's platform to try to sell you their stuff or get their messages across. 

That's how these media agencies were able to model out the scenarios below — they help advertisers do this

The analyses of course make certain assumptions: that a campaign can target swing voters; that the ads actually influence the number of people who are projected to be influenced; that the people who are targeted haven't already made up their minds and are open to being influenced; that people see these ads at a relevant time (i.e. before an election).

And finally, Facebook reportedly will soon start tightening the screws on political advertisers using its platform, manually reviewing ads that are targeted to people based on "politics, religion, ethnicity or social issues." In other words, some of these projections could work out differently in the future.

$42,800 for Michigan — $4 per voter

According to Ben Kunz, EVP of marketing and content at Mediassociates, a political operator looking to swing an election in Michigan and Wisconsin would need to pinpoint and target undecided voters using various data tactics. After that, "it wouldn't cost much in ad spending to sway their opinions," he said.

Mediassociates built a model based on a basic rule of thumb of digital advertising, which is that 1 out of 2,000 people (or 0.05%) who view an ad will respond or take action on the message. Their model works backwards from the exact numbers of people by which Trump won both Wisconsin and Michigan, although, in reality, it's possible that someone targeting swing voters could try to reach more people than that and therefore might spend more money on their campaign.

Donald Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes. So assuming that only 0.05% viewers will react to an ad, a person would need to aim for about 21.4 million advertising impressions. Given that Facebook ads cost about $2.00 for every 1,000 impressions, Kunz's team estimates that to sway about 10,700 voters you'd need a budget of $42,800.

"People like to think they can't be persuaded, but the math says it works."

As for Wisconsin, Trump won the state by 22,748 votes. Using the same model described for Michigan, that would suggest a budget of $90,992.

Putting those two costs together gives you about $133,792, which works out to about $4 per voter. We included their table of the assumptions and calculations below.

"In reality, targeting this exact 'swing voter' population might take more effort, since some of your ads will reach the wrong people ... and competitors might be fighting you with similar tactics," Kunz told Business Insider. "But a clever political operator would just spend a little more. And for a few hundred grand, he or she could tip an entire presidential election."

mediassociates data

"That's the scary power of Facebook. Its targeting is really, really powerful," he added. "People like to think they can't be persuaded, but the math says it works."

As an aside, Kunz also pointed to an interesting feature on Facebook's system, which is that you can actually target people by using gerrymandered Senate and House district borders by punching in individual zip codes. Again, this is not nefarious in and of itself, but does demonstrate the power of Facebook's ad targeting system, and could be of relevance given that the Supreme Court is currently looking at a case on gerrymandering.

Ads can be targeted by breaking down political affiliations

Facebook Ads Manager has both broad targeting capabilities and very specific targeting capabilities. An example of the latter would be political affiliations broken down by liberal, conservative, and moderate leanings.

Michael Dobson, group director of social media at Crossmedia, looked at four targeting approaches to see the possible reach per audience within Wisconsin and Michigan using such affiliations.

For his first three approaches, he looked at liberal, conservative, and moderate target audiences. A campaign running for six weeks that reached a given user two times every seven days would be able to reach approximately 74% of users who fall under those three audiences, he said.

His total estimated cost for such a campaign was $250,000. Breaking it down, $100,000 was dedicated to "liberal and very liberal" audiences, $100,000 was dedicated to "conservative and very conservative" audiences, and $50,000 to "moderate" audiences.

ad preferences facebookDobson also came up with a fourth approach going in a different direction. Instead of targeting the political leanings of audiences, he selected a "sensitivity issue," or a controversial topic that attracts a lot of tension, like gun control. 

Over the same six-week time period, he says such a campaign could reach approximately 66% of the over 3 million Facebook users in Michigan and Wisconsin with a budget of about $50,000.

Such a strategy would target people who Facebook has identified as those who are interested in the topic based on their "likes," what they search, what they read online, etc. The budget was smaller than the budgets for targeting "liberal and very liberal" and "conservative and very conservative" audiences because the audience is smaller, he said.

"White male; Baby Boomers; news consumers"

Essence went a slightly different route. The team put together three highly specific targeting "buckets," which they created based on researching the demographics and interests of the undecided and moderate voters, and by using Facebook's targeting data:

  1. White male; Baby Boomers; news consumers.
  2. Millennial; college graduate; no political affiliations; politically active.
  3. Politically moderate.

They also looked at traditional swing districts in the two states (Wisconsin's 1st and 3rd districts; and Michigan's 5th, 6th, 9th, and 11th districts).

For reaching 60% of the targeted audience, they put together two different scenarios based on how many times an ad would reach a given person (two times every seven days versus three times every seven days), and came up with the two budgets: $188,700 and $283,050. 

What about ads for fake news?

The above three examples are more generally about targeting ads at voters for political purposes in Michigan and Wisconsin. Similar strategies can be applied to more specific cases such as targeting ads for fake news content.

Still, there would be some differences. In Essence's above strategy, the team said one of its target groups would include college graduates. Jeff Rayvid, a data analyst at the firm, however, told us that if he were to create a strategy for targeting ads for fake news specifically, he probably wouldn't target college-educated users.

Larry Kim, CEO of MobileMonkey actually ran an experiment where he created a fake news website, created a Facebook page for that website, and then created an ad to promote that page, which he described in detail in a post originally written on Medium.

facebook fake news chart

He says his ad was approved "within minutes" and reached 4,645 people, generating 44 "likes," 27 shares, 20 comments, 3-page likes, and approximately 200 website clicks. He paid a grand total of $53.58, noting that it's "remarkably cheap" to push fake news stories.

"Facebook claims that their ads can have a profound impact on a user’s searching and purchasing behavior. It’s not hard to believe that it could impact voting behavior and even an election outcome in battleground states where the margin of victory was just a few thousand votes," Kim wrote.

"Facebook ads were and remains to this day, a highly effective vehicle for the distribution of fake news intended to alter public opinion both in the USA and in other countries worldwide where Facebook advertising costs are substantially lower."

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Warren Buffett's advice for CEOs touches on a key issue plaguing the US economy

Business Insider, 1/1/0001 12:00 AM PST

warren buffett

  • Warren Buffett generally likes to take a hands-off approach when it come to investing in companies, but he has some advice for CEOs on how to run a business better.
  • His advice indirectly touches on a key problem plaguing the US, that CEOs focus on the short-term and quarterly earnings instead of long-term objectives.

 

Warren Buffett, generally speaking, likes to take the hands-off approach with companies he and Berkshire Hathaway invest in.

He once wrote that Berkshire feels that telling great CEOs how to run their companies would be "the height of foolishness."

Nevertheless, the billionaire investor also once argued that the firm's ownership may make "even the best of managers" more effective.

How so? Here's what he wrote in "The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America":

"First, we eliminate all of the ritualistic and nonproductive activities that normally go with the job of CEO. Our managers are totally in charge of their personal schedules.

Second, we give each a simple mission: Just run your business as if (1) you own 100% of it, (2) it is the only asset in the world that you and your family have or will ever have; and (3) you can't sell or merge it for at least a century."

Buffett's second point is particularly salient as it indirectly touches on a key issue plaguing the US economy: public companies, beholden to their shareholders, focus far too much on short-term prospects and quarterly earnings.

In his "simple mission," the Buffett argues that companies should abandon that type of short-term thinking and instead focus on the long-term outlook.

"We certainly don't ignore the current results of our business — in most cases, they are of great importance," Buffett wrote, "but we never want them to be achieved at the expense of our building ever-greater competitive strengths."

Check out "The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America" here.

SEE ALSO: Warren Buffett explains why a good business is one 'your idiot nephew' could run

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ROSENBERG: Everyone obsessing over who becomes the next Fed chair is doing it wrong

Business Insider, 1/1/0001 12:00 AM PST

yellen bernanke volcker

  • President Donald Trump has left markets in suspense as he considers who to nominate as the next Fed chair. 
  • His pick is not as relevant as many are making it out to be because with a few exceptions, Fed chairs are not bigger than the institution they oversee, Gluskin Sheff's David Rosenberg argues.
  • The next chair will direct the huge task of slowly reversing the Fed's accommodative policies without causing another recession.

The race for chair of the Federal Reserve is heating up. 

Trump met with chair Janet Yellen on Thursday, solidifying prospects that she could be reappointed. Her four-year term ends next February. Meanwhile, betting odds at PredictIt placed Jerome Powell, a current Fed governor, in the lead on Friday; Politico reported Thursday that Trump was leaning heavily towards nominating him. 

Although the Fed chair is influential, he or she joins 11 colleagues on the Federal Open Market Committee with wideranging views on monetary policy. And the chair has only one vote, noted David Rosenberg, the chief economist at Gluskin Sheff. 

"The Fed is a democracy, not a dictatorship," he told Business Insider. "This chatter and talk about who the next Fed chairman is is interesting, but I think it's less relevant than a lot of other people do."

Alan Greenspan is one example of a chairman who became bigger than the institution, Rosenberg said. But he was an exception.

"The most effective chairmen at the Fed have been the ones that have cobbled together a consensus," Rosenberg said. "The last thing you want to do is come on board and think that you know the economy better than the Fed staff does and begin to try and push the Fed in a certain direction. It's a very diverse group around the mahogany table."

A political decision

Trump's decision could come down to a person he believes would best further his economic agenda without undoing the last eight years of recovery.

It's not an unusual deciding factor. But Trump's value for loyalty makes it an even more political decision that could push him to break with the status quo.

Many of his predecessors did the opposite. Barack Obama nominated Ben Bernanke, who had been appointed by George W. Bush, for a second term in the wake of modern history's worst financial crisis. In 1996, Bill Clinton renominated Greenspan, who leaned libertarian. And, Ronald Reagan reappointed Paul Volcker, a Democrat. 

"It will be a mistake to rule Janet Yellen out," Rosenberg said. Yellen has said she intends to serve out her full term and has not commented on her intentions beyond that.

"One of the challenges for President Trump is that he wants to have a low-rates chairman and a deregulation chairman rolled into one," Rosenberg said. "But the problem is that the same candidates for the Fed's chairmanship who are pro deregulations are the same ones that also want higher interst rates. So he's going to have to somehow compromise, and it's uncertain as to who it's really going to be."

federal reserve fomcA whole new shift

Rosenberg added that markets and the economy coincidentally tend to take a major turn shortly after a new Fed chair is appointed.

Volcker steered the Fed through two recessions, the first starting within a year of his chairmanship. Black Monday in October 1987 occurred two months after Alan Greenspan took the helm. Ben Bernanke walked into a housing bubble that morphed into a financial crisis. 

"I think that we're not only going into potentially new leadership of the Fed, we're also going into a whole new shift of the monetary policy regime of not just rising interest rates but shrinkage of the balance sheet, which is a new experiment as we run the movie backwards," Rosenberg said.

"Also, keep in mind that we have likely rate hikes out of the UK and possible tapering out of the ECB. So monetary policy globally is going into a new chapter at a time when volatility measures could scarcely be lower and complacency levels could scarcely be higher."

If Yellen is not reappointed, her departure together with former Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer would remove nearly three decades of policy experience from the Fed, Rosenberg said. 

"That tells me that if there's going to be a bull market in anything in the coming year, it's going to be in volatility."

SEE ALSO: Trump’s final 5 candidates for Fed chair

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NOW WATCH: THE BOTTOM LINE: The 'Trump trade' is back and Ray Dalio breaks down the bitcoin bubble

The Streak Continues: KICKICO Tokens Land on Leading Bitcoin Exchange

CryptoCoins News, 1/1/0001 12:00 AM PST

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Money at Risk? Mobile Wallets Become New Battleground in Bitcoin Fork Debate

CoinDesk, 1/1/0001 12:00 AM PST

As bitcoin heads toward a controversial fork this November, debate is breaking out about how wallet users – and their money – might be impacted.

"The world is transforming, everything is changing:" IKEA's UK boss on adapting to digital, 30 years in Britain, and Brexit

Business Insider, 1/1/0001 12:00 AM PST

Gillian Drakeford IKEA UK Country Manager

  • IKEA is celebrating its 30th anniversary in Britain.
  • UK CEO Gillian Drakeford says 2018 will be a year of "catch-up" for the retailer.
  • Furniture giant is investing in digital and smaller stores to adapt to changing consumer behaviour.
  • Drakeford on Brexit: "The world is transforming, everything is changing."

 

LONDON — 2018 will be a year of "catch-up" for IKEA in the UK, according to country boss Gillian Drakeford.

"We've always worked on the basis that we do half, you do half, and together we save money," Drakeford told Business Insider this week. "But of course, consumers are now wanting to shop in a different way. They expect to be able to get convenience and good prices through online as well."

IKEA Sheffield opening day (2) LR[3]Drakeford spoke to BI at IKEA's pop-up "House Party" in Soho, London — an installation showcasing how IKEA has kitted out the nation's living rooms over the last 30 years.

The house shows that the biggest changes over the decades have been taste. But IKEA is now grappling with changing shopping habits.

"I can go on my smartphone, on the bus, and order stuff," Drakeford said. "One of the things we've been catching up with very much is the fulfillment capability."

IKEA recently acquired gig economy company TaskRabbit following a trial in the UK that let customers hire temporary workers to do small jobs like assemble furniture or hand curtains. Its one of several moves IKEA is making to become more agile and digital.

"We have better delivery prices, better time slots, we can now roll out click and collect, really bringing us up to speed with many of the other services that other retailers provide," Drakeford said. "That is what I see as being catch-up."

IKEA is in good health, with sales of £1.8 billion in Britain last year, but the flat-pack furniture store can see which way the wind is blowing. The retailer is trialling new, smaller stores — one is in the Westfield department store in Stratford, London, for example — in a departure from their traditional big, out-of-town stores.

"What we've seen is it really works when you want to meet somebody, plan something more complex like a kitchen, and you can pop in and out, rather than spend a whole day," Drakeford said.

Today's customers "don't have to come to pick up the Billy Bookcase but they want to come and talk to somebody," Drakeford said. "Our customers are shopping with the brand. Our strength has always been creating this immersive experience of being in somebodies home but in a shop."

'They're time pressured, but still want an experience with IKEA'

IKEA's move to smaller stores can partly be explained by changes in the way Brits are living their lives.

"We're sitting in London today and we know that over 40% of people are renting, we know people are living in smaller space," Drakeford said. "We also have, in London today and other big cities, the problem that people don't have a car. They want convenience, they're time pressured, but they still want an experience with IKEA."

Declining car ownership and smaller living spaces are not the only barriers IKEA faces.

Gillian Drakeford, IKEA UK & IE Country Manager opens IKEA Sheffield LR[3]"We know today, even when we've continually lowered our prices, that it's still not accessible to many," Drakeford said. "If you saw the poverty report that recently came out about London — 2.3 million people are below the poverty line, but 1.3 million of those people are in work. How can we find a system that works for them?"

This is probably harder given Brexit. IKEA announced this week that it is raising its prices as a result of Brexit-fuelled inflation. Drakeford has called for more clarity from the government over any transition period.

"From my perspective, it's not just about Brexit, the world is transforming, everything is changing," Drakeford said. "Certainty is something that I believe we will ever have so then it's actually about how do we lead a business like this through uncertainty, with agility, always keeping the consumer in the centre.

"We work in many markets where we are not part of the European Union and markets where there are financial ups and downs. The most important thing for me is I see potential in the UK."

She added: "Of course I would like to have more time and a clearer transition because that enables us to be more prepared to do a better job."

'A vision and a values-led company'

Taken together, Britain's looming exit from the EU, IKEA's embrace of digital, and its new smaller store strategy mean 2018 is likely to be perhaps the biggest year of change for IKEA since the company first arrived in Britain in 1987. Drakeford was a shopkeeper at the Swedish firm's first British store in Warrington.

"When IKEA arrived, they'd basically taken a very Scandinavian company, a very Swedish range, and really just landed it in the country and said, let's see what's going to happen," she said. "There were some pretty quirky things at the time — I always talk about the two single quilt covers on a double bed."

IKEA has adapted its range to suit local tastes in the decades since, but Drakeford says the company remains the same at its core.

"We are a vision and a values-led company with a strong business idea," she said. "It is about creating the better every day for the many people and we do that through home furnishings. What I've seen through my IKEA career is, of course, we have Swedish roots but we are a truly global company. We connect to people through our values, it doesn't actually matter what country you're in."

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NOW WATCH: TOP STRATEGIST: Bitcoin will soar to $25,000 in 5 years

LedgerX Trades $1 Million in Bitcoin Derivatives in First Week

CoinDesk, 1/1/0001 12:00 AM PST

New York-based startup LedgerX has concluded a historic first week of cryptocurrency derivatives trading, reporting $1 million in exchanges.

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