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GDP Rises 2.2% in Fourth Quarter

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. economy grew at a slower pace in the fourth quarter, according to the latest report from the Commerce Department.

The gross domestic product rose at annual rate of 2.2 percent, compared with 5 percent in the third quarter.

Looking ahead, economists expect to see a similar or weaker showing in the first quarter because of severe weather.

"We're all aware of the severe winter weather that we went through. It was unusually severe this year compared to prior years. So we will see a little bit of an effect on consumer spending and business spending from that angle," says Wells Fargo economist Michael Brown.

But Brown predicts stronger growth for the rest of the year.

"A lot of the effects in the first quarter that were negative, were weather-related. The good news is we should make up a lot of that demand in the second quarter. So we're looking for much more robust economic growth, somewhere around 3-percent or more, throughout the rest of this year," he says.

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Americans Continue to Buy Less Soda, Data Shows

Tom Pennington/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- It seems nobody wants bubbles in their drinks anymore.

The year 2004 was the first time people really started talking about sugary drinks as one of the main reasons for weight gain -- and since then, the fizz has gone out of soda sales.

Last year was the 10th year in a row that Americans bought less pop, according to the latest data published by Beverage Digest. That includes both regular and diet soda.

Coke remained the most popular soda in the U.S. in 2014, but Diet Coke, which used to hold the No. 2 spot, was trumped by Pepsi and fell to third place.

So what are people turning to instead to quench their thirst? Energy drinks, fortified water and bottled or tap water.

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New Jersey Man Sues Builders over $1.6 Million 'Uninhabitable' House

WABC-TV(FLORHAM PARK, N.J.) — The $1.6 million “dream house” a New Jersey man had built for his wife 10 years ago has become a never-ending nightmare for him.

When the house in Florham Park, New Jersey, was completed in 2007, Humayun Akhtar, 66, discovered the home’s interior and exterior had cracks and that the house was “sliding down the hill it was built on,” he told ABC News Thursday.

The house is “unrepaired and uninhabitable,” according to court findings, which added the soil the home was built on was “of insufficient load-bearing capacity to hold the building.”

A reporter from ABC News station WABC-TV in New York visited Akhtar’s home Wednesday and put a marble on the floor, which rolled in the direction of the hill’s slope without being pushed.

WABC-TVAkhtar said he’s never spent a day in the house, but he’s had to pay its mortgage in addition to the mortgage of the Livingston, New Jersey, house his family has been residing in.

Joseph Natale, who owned JDN Florham Park, the entity developing Akhtar’s home, told ABC News Thursday that he and the main builder, Robert Deluca, asked Akhtar multiple times to let them fix the problems with the house, but he wouldn’t let them.

“We also tried to settle with Akhtar on numerous occasions,” Natale said, “but he would not hear about fixing the house and wanted nothing to do with those things.”

Deluca added that he built nine other homes in the development, including one for himself, and none were found to have any problems.

WABC-TVAkhtar said he didn’t want the builders to do anything more to the house because he was concerned they would just conceal the problems rather than fix them.

“I didn’t want them to just do some Band-Aid patch,” Akhtar said.

Akhtar sued JDN FP, Natale, Deluca and Deluca’s contracting company, Deltrus LLC, in 2008, alleging consumer fraud for building the home without determining that the soil was strong enough to bear the house.

The trial was delayed for three-and-a-half years because the defendants repeatedly failed to post security bonds the court ordered, Akhtar’s lawyer, Jay Rice, told ABC News Thursday.

In 2011, a judge suppressed the defendants’ answers because of the violations and ruled JDN FP, Natale and Deluca violated the Consumer Fraud Act and owed Akhtar $7.4 million in damages, Rice said.

WABC-TVHowever, a New Jersey appellate court reversed the verdict last month, stating that Natale and Deluca had been given an inadequate opportunity to defend themselves, and a new trial with a jury will decide the case, Natale’s lawyer, David Stanziale, told ABC News Thursday.

Akhtar’s lawyer said they are trying to appeal the appellate court’s decision, adding he and Akhtar would apply to bring the case to the New Jersey Supreme Court Thursday.

While Akhtar said he believes he’s the “innocent victim” of people trying to defraud him, Natale and Deluca said this isn’t the case and that they wish Akhtar allowed them to fix the problem years ago.

Meanwhile, the Akhtars’ dream home is going into foreclosure, Akhtar’s lawyer said.

“This whole thing has destroyed my life,” Akhtar said. “I bought the house as a dream house for wife, and now we have nothing, and it’s taken a toll on me emotionally and financially.”

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Why Customer Service Representatives Might Be Deliberately Making Your Experience Worse

JumpStock/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- More and more disgruntled customers are posting personal horror stories online about their interactions with customer service representatives at call centers.

But former service representatives Mark Pavlic and Jacob Curtis recently told ABC News’ 20/20 that the stress of the job and even the customers themselves are sometimes responsible for those negative experiences.

“You almost never have anything good happen to you at work,” Pavlic, a former cable company agent, told 20/20. “And I think that that makes the job stressful.”

“You're just entry-level position,” Curtis, who worked for a home security company, said. “You just do what you're told.”

“The reality is that our negative customer service experiences are far more memorable than our positive ones and we typically embellish those negative events to anyone that will listen, thereby affecting the original source business well beyond that single frustrated customer,” Bill Crutcher, president, National Customer Service Association, said in a statement to ABC News.

He added: “Our Chapter organizations, journal contributors, class attendees and general membership assure us that there are many organizations whose true culture is one of excellent customer service--internally and externally. Small and large employers alike are role-modeling and empowering a staff focus on service excellence through routine and training and consistent messaging; encouraging employees to do what it takes to provide a positive customer experience every time.”

Pavlic and Curtis revealed what they say really went on at the other end of the phone line and why representatives may actually be deliberately antagonizing their customers.

Watch the full story on ABC News’ “20/20” Friday at 10 p.m. ET.

1. There’s a lot of pressure on customer service representatives.

Pavlic and Curtis say the reason customer service representatives have such bad experiences is that it’s one of the worst jobs in the world. They say it’s no surprise that some overworked and lowly paid representatives lash out at their own customers.

“It's not an easy job, because you're trying to appease the company that you work for and then you're trying to appease the angry customer who disagrees with the policies,” Pavlic said.

They say a manager is also often hovering over your shoulder, timing and monitoring calls.

“And then having to do this a hundred times a day; it's very emotionally draining,” Curtis told 20/20. “And it's call after call after call. You get maybe 30 seconds, if you're lucky, in between calls.”

2. They have little to no power to fix issues.

Representatives’ hands are often tied when it comes to fixing the problem in the first place, according to Pavlic and Curtis.

“I mean, the policies are very set in stone, and you can't really override them,” Curtis said. “What's also difficult is that it's not really your fault, and the customer takes it out on you.”

3. Representatives might transfer difficult customers on purpose.

According to these former customer service representatives, unruly customers are dealt with by being transferred from department to department.

“You just transfer them to another department, not your problem anymore,” Curtis said. “Because there's no repercussions for you as the customer service rep. It's all of a sudden with one click of a button, ‘Hey, I'm going to transfer you.’ All your problems are resolved. It's so nice to do.”

“I can say that it has happened, even by people sitting next to me,” Pavlic said. “They've transferred people back into the queue.”

4. Good luck getting an actual supervisor on the phone.

“The company does not want you to get to the supervisor, because it takes up the supervisor's resources and time,” Curtis said.

Pavlic says customers who want to talk to a supervisor might actually be talking to someone pretending to be a supervisor.

“It's essentially -- they have a different job title than us, but they have no real power over a normal customer service representative,” Pavlic said.

“I had the same thing at my company. You were told, ‘You are a supervisor,’” Curtis said. “So you can tell the customer you're a supervisor. Even though they don’t, they're not supervising anyone.”

5. Agents are mostly playing the “sell game” instead of helping you with problems.

In their experiences, Pavlic and Curtis say there was a focus on sales over customer service.

“You definitely spend the majority of your time trying to push something on them that they don't want pushed on them,” Curtis said, “trying to sell them something.”

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Unemployment Claims Drop, Wall Street Follows Suit

tarabird/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Thursday was another poor day on Wall Street, with all three major indices posting losses, the fourth consecutive negative day on Wall Street.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 40.31 to 17,678.23.

The Nasdaq posted 13.16 in losses, closing the day at 4,863.36, while the S&P 500 dipped to 2,056.15, down 4.90 from its open.

The U.S. Labor Department reported on Thursday that unemployment claims dropped 9,000 from the previous week. The four-week moving average also dropped 7,750, to 297,000.

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Facebook Reveals Plan for Unmanned Internet Airplanes

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(SAN FRANCISCO) -- In his mission to connect the world, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed on Thursday that his company has been quietly testing unmanned aircraft that can beam Internet access from the sky.

"Aircraft like these will help connect the whole world because they can affordably serve the 10 percent of the world's population that live in remote communities without existing Internet infrastructure," Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page Thursday.

He said he would share more about the initiative in a keynote address Thursday afternoon at Facebook's F8 developer conference.

The aircraft has already gone on one test flight in the United Kingdom, Zuckerberg said. It's expected the final design will produce an airplane with the wingspan of a Boeing 737 but lighter than a car.

Running on solar power, Zuckerberg said it's expected the plane could fly at altitudes of more than 60,000 feet for months at a time.

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Battle of the Phones: Samsung vs. HTC

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- If Samsung's Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge faced off in a beauty contest with the HTC One M9, it would be hard to say which phone would take the crown.

Samsung and HTC's new devices are sleek, but ultimately what's on the inside will help guide people in the market for a new Android phone as to which device is right for them.

Samsung's Galaxy S6 smartphones are available for pre-order beginning Friday and will be available in the United States on April 10. HTC's One M9 will be sold directly from their site on Friday to customers in the U.S. with the device reaching stores on April 10.

Keeping in mind that the key difference between the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy S6 Edge is the latter's curved side that comes with additional functionality, here's a breakdown of how Samsung and HTC's offerings stack up against each other:

Price

The HTC One M9 will cost around $649 for an unlocked device with 32 GB of storage. Samsung hasn't released pricing for the Galaxy S6 devices, however expect them to start at a comparable price point for the 32 GB option, with the 64 GB and 128 GB choices costing more.

Screen Size

Samsung's phones have a 5.1-inch display, and HTC's latest flagship offering measures 5 inches.

Camera

The camera is often the tipping point for most people when deciding between similar smartphones. Bother cameras are sharp but have their differences.

Samsung boasted that it would have the "fastest, brightest camera on the market" and showed how it was able to illuminate a night scene and turn on with a quick double tap of the home key in less than a second.

The Galaxy S6 phones have a 5 megapixel selfie camera with a 120-degree wide angle lens, while the rear camera packs 16 megapixels.

The HTC One M9 also boasts a wide angle, ultrapixel front facing camera that can take in more light, while the rear camera has 20 megapixels.

Charging

Samsung's new devices are outfitted with wireless charging, making power cords obsolete. In 10 minutes, Samsung says the devices can get enough charge for four hours of everyday use.

Samsung's Galaxy S6 devices are powered with 2,550 mAh of battery life. Comparably, HTC's One M9 has a battery capacity of 2,840 mAh which packs up to 25.4 hours of talk time, according to the company's website.

Standout Features

Samsung's latest flagship devices standout for ditching the plastic backing of their ancestors in favor of a sleek aluminum and glass body. Also expect Samsung Pay, a contact-less payment system to rival Apple Pay, to come to users of the phones sometime this summer.

HTC's One M9 looks a lot like its predecessors but comes with a newly enabled customization feature, letting users change the look and feel of their phone's interface.

Another standout offer from HTC is "Uh Oh Protection." The free insurance policy promises to replace your new phone if it's damaged in the first year.

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Lyft Aims to Out-Uber the Competition with New Feature

Lyft(NEW YORK) -- No longer will your Lyft driver assume you don't like to listen to Taylor Swift in the car just because you're wearing a business suit.

The ride-sharing company is inviting drivers and passengers to share personal details with each other, including hometown, favorite music and a short bio. The new app feature will launch early next week for iOS users, "with Android soon to follow," Lyft says.

"We chose hometown because we know roots grow deep," Lyft wrote in a blog post. "We added favorite music because music is both a universal and personal connector."

Lyft emphasizes that sharing any information is completely optional. Drivers can choose to include their star rating and ride count also.

"Profiles is a new feature that gives passengers and drivers the option to share fun facts about themselves and discover mutual friends and interests," the company wrote in a blog post Thursday.

The basic premise of Lyft will stay the same: users who have already provided their credit card information request a ride in an app. Then they get automatically matched with a Lyft driver in the vicinity. After the ride, passengers can choose to add a tip.

Last year, Lyft introduced Lyft Line, giving passengers the ability to share a Lyft ride with other customers going in the same direction for a fixed lower price, up to 60 percent less.

Uber has already tried its hand at a more personalized experience. Starting last November, Uber allowed passengers to control the music in their cars through a partnership with music streaming service Spotify.

Lyft, based in San Francisco, serves 65 U.S. cities, most recently launching in Philadelphia in late January. Its mega-competitor Uber, also based in San Francisco, has faced a number of publicity hurdles, including driver safety concerns and transportation regulation, as it has expanded to 55 countries, or over 270 markets around the globe.

On Wednesday, Uber released an informational safety video that emphasizes that Uber drivers pass federal, multi-state and county background checks and that each ride is covered by a $1 million commercial insurance policy. Like Lyft, Uber champions the safety benefits of having a digital record of a trip history.

A spokesman for Uber told ABC News that regulatory frameworks have been approved in 24 jurisdictions for ridesharing.

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Twitter Launches Periscope Live Streaming App

Twitter, Inc.(NEW YORK) -- Twitter launched its Periscope live streaming app on Thursday, gunning for the estimated hundreds of thousand of users and others that upstart streaming app Meerkat has attracted during its first month in existence.

Broadcasts from around the world are featured on the home screen of the Periscope app showing off everything from friends dining at a fast food restaurant to a guy lounging in bed with his dog to a live view of the Eiffel Tower.

Users have the option of choosing to push a link to their Twitter followers, allowing them to tune in to the live stream.

While Meerkat was the darling of the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, the biggest complaint users have with the app has been that by the time they click a live streaming link in Twitter, it's already dead.

Periscope differentiates itself by offering broadcasters the chance to let viewers replay their stream when it is complete, while Meerkat is more bare bones, taking an ephemeral approach to live video.

Audience love is also a huge aspect of the Pericscope app, which allows viewers to tap the screen and send hearts to the broadcaster, letting them know they appreciate what they're doing.

Twitter revealed earlier this month it had acquired Periscope. Around the same time, Twitter stripped away Meerkat's access to Twitter's social graph.

The move means users will have to individually re-build their network of friends inside of the app as opposed to getting a populated list of people they follow on Twitter. Meerkat users can still push links from their live streams to Twitter.

While Periscope might be aesthetically nicer to look at and offers more users engagement opportunities, it's unlikely to be a Meerkat killer.

The company announced on Thursday that it has received an investment for an undisclosed amount led by Greylock Partners -- providing more capital for Meerkat to continue on its explosive growth path.

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Jobless Claims Down by 9,000

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Jobless claims were slightly lower last week, decreasing by 9,000, according to the latest figures released Thursday by the Labor Department.

For the week ending March 21, the number of people filing for benefits dropped to 282,000. The previous week, claims stood at 291,000.

The Labor Department said there were no "special factors" impacting that week's figures.

The four-week moving average also declined by 7,750, to 297,000.

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High Energy TV Commercials Often Backfire

Banastock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — With airtime on TV expensive, advertisers will do whatever they can to stand out from the rest of pack, often by producing loud, fast-moving and obnoxious commercials.

Instead of grabbing viewers’ attention, advertisers may be doing just the opposite, particularly if commercials are run during shows that are low key or even melancholy.

Researchers from Oxford University, Columbia University and Babson College had participants first watch a clip from a sad movie or a neutral segment from a documentary. This was followed by a commercial for a car insurance company that was either highly energetic or only moderately energetic.

Although told that they could watch the ad for as long as they liked, people who had seen the sad movie clip first mostly watched only part of the high-energy commercial or none of it. Even worse for the advertiser, they had difficultly recalling the name of the sponsor.

However, those who saw the moderately energetic spot responded to it far more favorably even if they had just seen the sad clip, which featured a boy crying.

The researchers’ advice to advertisers is that lowering the level of energy in commercials might make them stand out more in a fast-paced modern world that leaves so many people drained to begin with.

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Easter Purchases This Year Could Add Up to $16.4 Billion

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Easter is a great bridge into the spring season and as usual, people will open their wallets wide to buy the various sundries associated with the holiday.

The National Retail Federation predicts that consumers will spend $16.4 billion this season with the bulk of it going towards food, clothing, gifts and naturally, candy like chocolate bunnies, jelly beans and Peeps.

On average, Americans will spend $140.62 on Easter-related items, about three bucks more than last year but not quite as much as either 2013 or 2012.

Overall, the NRF poll of 6,000 consumers finds that nearly three-quarters will spend about the same as 2014 while 15 percent plan on making more purchases and 12 percent will make less.

As for their retail choices, discount stores are the number one retailer for Easter shoppers followed by department stores, small businesses, specialty stores and buying merchandise online.

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Handmade Gifts Top Machine-Made Products for Loved Ones

Stockbyte/Thinsktock(NEW YORK) — Who wouldn’t want to receive a gift that was made with tender, loving care?

Certainly, most mass-produced merchandise doesn’t really fall into that category, no matter how good the quality of the workmanship might be.

Researchers from Cornell and two European universities tested this theory on a group of people who were told to choose from a list of products, including soaps and stationary that were either machine-made or handcrafted with certain extras such as labels that read "made with love."

When the participants were asked which items they’d most likely chose for a loved one, the hand-made merchandise by far was the runaway winner with people admitting that they’d even pay more money than what the products were listed for.

According to the researchers, “emphasizing the handmade aspect of a product can make it significantly more attractive, especially when consumers want to convey love to someone.”

Think Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Christmas, for instance.

The study was published in Journal of Marketing.

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Elmer's Products Agrees to Licensing Deal with LiquiGlide, Company with Non-Stick Solution

Photo by Alex Garcia/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company may have created the ultimate solution to a problem that has plagued us for years -- how to get the last drop out of the ketchup bottle.

LiquiGlide has created a solution that "makes viscous liquids slide easily," the company's website says. The company's solution is used as a coating that keeps the inside of a bottle -- or other container -- permanently wet. In doing so, it would enable individuals to get the most out of the fluid products like ketchup, honey, syrup or glue.

On Tuesday, the company announced an exclusive licensing agreement with Elmer's Products that would allow the glue company to "explore LiquiGlide's breakthrough slippery coating technology to create innovative new products."

A number of videos, including the one below, on LiquiGlide's website claim to show the difference between a container with LiquiGlide and one without. In the below video, the bottle of grape jelly on the right uses LiquiGlide, and the container on the left is a standard container of grape jelly.

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Starbucks Celebrates 20th Anniversary of the Frappuccino with Special Drink

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Image(NEW YORK) -- Starting Thursday, and for five days only, Starbucks is celebrating its famous Frappuccino's 20th anniversary with a special beverage.

"To commemorate Frappuccino's 20th anniversary, Starbucks is offering a limited-time Birthday Cake Frappuccino blended beverage," the company's website says. The drink will include vanilla bean and hazelnut flavors and will be topped with raspberry-infused whipped cream.

Frappuccino blended beverages are available in all 66 countries in which Starbucks currently operates. The most popular flavors, according to Starbucks, are Caramel, Mocha, Vanilla Bean, Java Chip and Double Chocolatey Chip.

In his book, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wrote that the frappuccino's story "epitomizes the enterprising spirit we still have at Starbucks. It's experimental. It's adventurous. It fires people up and engages their imagination."

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