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October 25 2012

Commerce Weekly: Square’s big moves

Here are a few stories that caught my attention in the commerce space this week.

Square gets international, plans major growth; PayPal Here hits retail

Square made a couple of big move announcements this week. First, the company literally will move to a new office space in the Central Market area of San Francisco by mid-2013, according to a report by Leena Rao at TechCrunch. Rao notes that the company has grown to more than 400 employees and reports Square plans to expand its staff to almost 1,000 people before the end of 2013.

Square also announced this week that its service is now available in Canada, at the same 2.75% rate it charges in the U.S., according to a report by Ingrid Lunden at TechCrunch. Lunden reports one of the obstacles for Square in Canadian as well as European markets is that its dongle depends on the magnetic stripe on the backs of credit cards; many credit card processes in these markets use a chip-and-pin system instead.

The obstacle isn’t insurmountable, however, as Lunden notes, Square’s partnership with Starbucks to incorporate its Pay With Square app service as a mode of payment might pave the way forward with retailers in other markets, making the card processing format irrelevant.

Square competitor PayPal Here was on the move this week as well — into retail shopping. Rao reports in a separate post at TechCrunch that PayPal CEO John Donahoe announced a U.S. retail deal with AT&T during eBay’s earning call this week. PayPal Here previously had a retail presence only in Japan with Softbank. Rao reports that Here will retail for $15, with the purchaser receiving a $15 discount upon signing up; Square is sold in 20,000 outlets in the U.S. and sells for $10, with a $10 purchaser sign-up discount, Rao reports.

Let the mobile payment testing begin

The long-awaited Isis mobile wallet began testing this week in Austin and Salt Lake City markets. Stephanie Mlot reports at PC Magazine that compatible phones at launch include Samsung Galaxy S III, Galaxy S Relay 4G, and Galaxy S II on T-Mobile; the HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE on Verizon, with Motorola Droid Razr HD and Droid Razr Maxx HD support coming yet this week; and the Samsung Galaxy S III, the HTC One X, the Samsung Exhilarate, the LG Escape, and the Samsung Galaxy Rugby Pro on AT&T.

Mlot also reports that T-Mobile customers can get $10 in Isis eCash if they visit a brick-and-mortar location and activate the application. At launch, Isis works with Chase, Capitol One, Barclaycard, American Express, Visa, Mastercard and Discover credit cards.

As to Isis’ success, a report at Consumer Reports says services like Isis are solving “a non-existent problem” and concludes: “Isis, like Google Wallet, still seems to require a lot of work and needless complexity for the questionable convenience of paying by cell phone.”

Apple also announced this week that it too soon would be testing a mobile payment solution in a limited market — its own retail stores. Mark Gurman reports at 9to5Mac that Apple is preparing to update its point of sale system to scan Apple Store payment card codes through Passbook. The payment system update could be ready as early as the end of this month. Jordan Golson writes at MacRumors that though it’s not confirmed, it’s possible in-store customers also will be able to pay for any merchandise using their iTunes account information; thus far, only select accessories have been available for purchase through Apple’s EasyPay self-checkout system.

Google Wallet on the iPhone?

Business Insider’s Owen Thomas was paying close attention this week, noting the “The next version of Google Wallet, coming soon” statement at the top of Google’s Wallet homepage, with an option for visitors to request an invite. Thomas reports that when he requested the invite, he was prompted to select the type of device he uses: iPhone, Android, or “other.”

Ryan Kim at GigaOm agrees with Thomas’ assertion that this likely suggests Google is looking to expand its purview beyond Android phones and into iPhones and “others,” but notes it really could mean anything. Kim writes:

“It could mean that Google may be pursuing a more cloud-based approach to payments that doesn’t require NFC for transactions. Or Google Wallet could integrate with Apple’s Passbook or evolve to support QR codes or 2D barcodes, which is how Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts handle mobile payments. Or it could just mean Google wants to know how many iPhone users are interested in Google Wallet.”

You can sign up for an invite here.

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August 30 2012

Commerce Weekly: Google Wallet vs Apple Passbook

Here are a few stories from the commerce space that caught my attention this week.

Google prepares its Wallet to compete with iOS 6

Robin Dua, Google’s head of product management for Google Wallet, participated in a video interview (embedded below) this week to talk about Wallet features and plans. Technology reporter Cromwell Schubarth notes in a post at Silicon Valley Biz Blog that the future plans for Google Wallet look a lot like Apple’s newly announced Passbook that’s due to release in iOS 6 this fall. Schubarth quotes Dua:

“‘One of the types of things we’re trying to do is make it easy for airlines, transit providers, and other types of issuers of credentials to make it super simple for them to get their credentials stored in the wallet,’ Dua said. ‘That’s the goal. We want you to be able to leave your leather wallet at home and carry your phone and transact with that as your primary transaction device.”

Dua said they plan for the Wallet to hold credit cards, loyalty cards, IDs and things like boarding passes and transit passes. Very much like Apple’s description of Passbook.

You can view Dua’s interview in the following video:

As far as mobile payments are concerned, however, Google Wallet might retain its leg up on Apple. Earlier rumors of the next generation iPhone, anticipated to be announced at a rumored Apple event on September 12, indicated the phone would include an NFC chip, fueling further rumors that Apple would launch a digital wallet. This week, Brian Klug and Anand Lal Shimpi at AnandTech presented a compelling argument as to why it’s highly unlikely the phone will include NFC. Ryan Kim at GigaOm reports:

“AnandTech said given the reports that the next iPhone will have a metal backing, there will not be enough space in the non-metal window reserved for other antennas to support an NFC chip.”

Of course, an NFC chip isn’t necessarily required for Apple to launch a mobile payment product. Some analysts have argued that Bluetooth technology would make more sense.

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It’s not about the tap. It’s about the data behind that tap

Dan Rowinski at ReadWriteWeb took a look at the transformative effect technology is having on currency and the way people shop and pay for goods. He argues that major changes to our cash-based society will be “brought on by the two most fundamental innovations to hit the mainstream consumer since the advent of the Web: mobile and cloud computing.” He notes that, philosophically, the cash-to-digital road hasn’t been (and isn’t) easy:

“This notion of using a smartphone to pay has been criticized by many people (including us at ReadWriteWeb) as adding no value. There has been a lot of hype about NFC for the last couple years, but there is really no discernible argument that can validate that a tap is easier or more valuable than swiping a card. This is the crux of the argument against mobile payments: The transformation taking place is not necessary. For NFC in particular, it has been called a solution without a problem.”

Rowinski argues that the transformation to mobile payments does, in fact, add value — the value is in the layers beyond the transaction. “The value of the mobile wallet is the digital transformation of monetary and transaction data,” he writes. “When a consumer makes a purchase on a smartphone, the retailer knows who that person is, the mobile wallet provider gets information about what was bought when and where and by whom, and the consumer gets the value of electronic receipts and the ability to receive coupons, offers and loyalty rewards.” You can read more of Rowinski’s analysis here.

Wallet competition roundup

John Martellaro at The Mac Observer pulled together a roundup of the competition in the digital wallet wars this week, with breakdowns of all the major players: Google Wallet, Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX), Isis, Square, PayPal and V.me. Martellaro addresses a few of the hurdles facing mobile payment as well, including technology and security issues, but also points out what might be the biggest — and perhaps most overlooked — issue: consumer frustration. Martellaro writes:

“… there is also the issue of competition that will confuse and annoy customers. For example, it doesn’t appear that Google Wallet will come to iOS. As a result, banks, telecom companies, and merchants are in a much better position to work out the requisite details. On the other hand, a system from smartphone makers, because of the competing interests, would generate discord. This could explain why Apple hasn’t jumped in with ‘Apple Wallet,’ (other than its iOS 6 Passbook).”

On the other side of The Pond, Mastercard heated up the mobile payment competition in Europe this week, striking a deal with Everything Everywhere, the biggest telecom operator in the UK. The initial offerings will be a bit different from other services that charge purchases to registered credit cards or bank accounts. The BBC reports that, “one of the first products would be a service in which users pre-pay money into an account before being able to spend it via handsets equipped with near-field communication (NFC) technology.” Future plans, according to the report, include adding the ability to pay through a bank account with a mobile phone and a service to facilitate person-to-person money transfers.

Tip us off

News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.

Commerce Weekly is produced as part of a partnership between O’Reilly and PayPal.

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