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March 21 2013

Commerce Weekly: The lucrative art of tracking shopper behavior

Snooping on shoppers pays off

Liz Gannes took a look this week at how online retailers’ desires to track consumers’ shopping habits are resulting in emerging startups offering services to track various behaviors on behalf of retailers. In a post at All Things Digital, she highlights newly launched startup Sift Science, which tracks online shopper behaviors to uncover fraudulent activity, and Commerce Sciences, a startup in beta that offers online retailers a Personal Bar for their websites that uses behavioral science to increase online sales.

Gannes outlines a few interesting insights each company has gleaned from aggregating consumer shopping data. For instance, Sift Science has found that a shopper who types her last name in all caps is 5.6 times more likely to be a fraudster, and shoppers who don’t sign in with a Facebook log-in are four times more likely to be fraudsters. Early findings from Commerce Sciences include using the word “free” — as in “you have won a free coupon” as opposed to “you have won a coupon” — increases sales by 15%, and social influences from displaying what a user’s friends liked and bought had zero effect during the day but resulted in 49% more sales in the evening. You can read Gannes’ report at All Things Digital.

In related news, it turns out Facebook ads are strongly influencing the platform’s users’ buying habits, even if they’ve never ever clicked on an ad in Facebook. Farhad Manjoo reports at Slate on in-depth studies conducted by Facebook showing that ad clicks don’t matter. He reports:

“‘On average, if you look at people who saw an ad on Facebook and later bought a product, [fewer than] 1 percent had clicked on the ad,’ [Sean Bruich, Facebook's head of measurement platforms and standards,] says. In other words, the click doesn’t matter; people who click on ads aren’t necessarily buying, and people who are buying are almost certainly not clicking.”

More notable, however, might be the way Facebook is managing to gather this data. Manjoo notes that last year, Facebook partnered with consumer data aggregator Datalogix, which tracks the purchasing behavior of more than 100 million U.S. households by tying consumer identities to their purchases through store loyalty cards. Manjoo writes:

“Over the past few months, Facebook and Datalogix figured out a way to match their respective data sets in a manner that maintains people’s privacy … Facebook can now tie its users to the stuff they buy at supermarkets. Armed with this data, Facebook began running a series of analyses into the effects of advertising campaigns on its site. If, say, Procter & Gamble ran a Facebook ad for Tide, Facebook could look at Datalogix’s data to see whether people who were exposed to the ad tended to purchase more Tide in the weeks after the campaign.”

Manjoo looks at the differences between direct-response and demand-generation marketing, and compares Facebook’s ad practices with TV advertising. You can read his report at Slate — it’s this week’s recommended read.

Retail struggles to remain relevant

The days of the traditional retail mall are numbered, according to experts at this year’s MIPIM trade fair in Cannes. Tom Bill reports at Reuters that property experts at the show explained to him that “[m]alls must become more like full-service community centers to survive in the face of a growing list of failed retailers” and that European malls are looking to add such tenants as hospitals, art galleries, education centers and government offices in order to offer services that can’t be found on the web.

Christian Ulbrich, chief executive for Europe, Middle East and Africa at property consultant Jones Lang LaSalle, told Bill that shopping no longer provides enough of a reason for consumers to go to shopping centers. “Stores will get bigger and become more like adventure parks that attack all of your emotions,” he said. “For example, Globetrotter has a climbing wall and cycle track in its Frankfurt store to try out its products.”

In related news, the Kate Spade brand is doing its part to reinvent retail for the future consumer. Mark Wilson reports at Fast Company that the Kate Spade flagship store in Japan is experimenting with the lean startup concept.

The store teamed up with Control Group to digitize its new campaign that offers customers espresso to encourage them to linger and launches a new product every Saturday that can’t be found anywhere else. The Control Group outfitted the store with digital iPad signage that engages customers and allows them to interact with the store’s displays. The cloud-based set up also allows the store to track customer response. Colin O’Donnell, a partner at Control Group, told Wilson:

“They can see sales corresponding with a change. So you can do A/B testing seeing how you drive consumer behavior. Using those web analytics in the real world is a super exciting place to be.”

“With a lean startup mentality, Kate Spade doesn’t need to prognosticate the habits of their customer base,” writes Wilson. “They can hypothesize, test that hypothesis, and refine over time.” You can read Wilson’s full report at Fast Company.

Starbucks’ struggles with Square illustrate challenges all mobile wallets face

The Starbucks partnership with Square that launched late last summer might not be going as well as either company had hoped. Austin Carr reports at Fast Company this week that he and other writers and freelancers at Fast Company have been experimenting with the Square-Starbucks partnership in the wild, and the results were inconsistent at best. Carr writes:

“At worst, the service simply did not work. On average, however, the user experience was buggy and awkward, with Starbucks employees seemingly more confused about how Square works than their own customers. Our evidence is anecdotal — and our sample size small — but the results of our tests are telling, especially given the reputations Starbucks and Square have for customer service. It serves to show that however refined a user experience might be on a local level, scaling such a streamlined UX all at once is borderline impossible.”

Harry McCracken commented on Carr’s post in a piece at Time’s Techland, noting that the service worked well for him in tests at independent businesses last year, but the situation is a bit different at Starbucks because Square is integrated with Starbucks’ POS system and requires a QR code to be scanned. He adds that Carr’s experience is a “sobering reminder” of how difficult the transition from credit card to mobile wallet is going to be. “Plastic may be boring, but it’s universally accepted, it’s understood by both consumers and businesses — and it just works,” he writes. “That isn’t yet true of any of the challengers which are trying to render it obsolete.”

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March 14 2013

Commerce Weekly: Intuit Pay heats up U.K. mobile payments market

Intuit Pay enters U.K., PayPal Here takes on Square Register

On the heels of PayPal announcing it would bring PayPal Here to the U.K. later this year, Intuit launched its Intuit Pay mobile payments solution in the U.K. market. The platform includes a mobile app and a card reader, much like its competitors iZettle’s, Payleven’s and (soon) PayPal Here’s platforms.

Ingrid Lunden reported at TechCrunch that like its competitors, Intuit Pay will charge a per-transaction fee — in its case, a 2.75% flat rate — but unlike its competition, Intuit will offer its mobile payment card readers for free for a limited time. Lunden noted that Intuit Pay will be able to integrate with Intuit’s QuickBooks accounting software and its other business products, so offering the card reader for free doubles as an incentive for merchants to join Intuit’s business ecosystem.

The card reader at launch is available only for iOS devices, but Lunden reported that “other platforms like Android are on their way soon.”

In related news, PayPal launched PayPal Here for the iPad to compete with Square Register as a small business point-of-sale solution. Leena Rao reported at TechCrunch that the app — PayPal’s first native tablet app — features multiple log-in capability to accommodate multiple employees and multiple “cash registers,” and allows for a variety of payment methods, including swiping a credit card with PayPal Here, manual card number entry, and scanning a card using Card.io. Rao also noted that the app integrates with eBay’s RedLaser technology so merchants can scan barcodes to make a sale or even to add to their inventories, something Square Register isn’t yet capable of doing.

PayPal’s new iPad app only works in the U.S. using the PayPal Here dongle, but Rao reported that PayPal intends to integrate the technology with its international offerings in the future.

Insights into the future of retail from SXSW panels

Retail and the future of commerce has been a topic of sessions and discussions this week at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference. In a post at Publishers Weekly, Rachel Deahl reported on the “Retail is Going Mobile” panel, which covered the ways in which mobile has already changed the retail experience and how it might influence it going forward.

Deahl highlighted comments from panel member Christopher Mason, CEO and co-founder of Branding Brand, who noted many retailers are falling behind in their mobile strategies, if they even have one. Deahl reported:

“Mason said that, of the top 500 retailers, 60% have a mobile consumer interface. This means, he noted, that for the first time, the relationship between the customer and the retailer is being shaped in a world where ‘the customer is ahead of the retailer.’”

Looking at where mobile is headed, Deahl noted that Mason pointed to Sephora’s new “skin scanner” technology that personalizes and IDs a customer’s unique skin tone and integrates with Sephora’s mobile app to send customers alerts when new products for their coloring arrive. “This kind of user experience, Mason feels, is where mobile retailing is headed,” Deahl wrote. “He sees mobile retailing apps focusing on using our personal information to improve and personalize the in-store experience, such as, say, alerting a customer how many pairs of shoes are in stock in their size when they enter the shoe store.”

In a post at Salon.com, Andrew Leonard covered an SXSW panel that featured Mondelēz International’s VP of global media and consumer engagement B. Bonin Bough. Bough related an in-store experiment that points to the future of retail. Leonard wrote:

“Bonin described an experiment with shoppers at Stop & Shop who used their mobile phones to scan the bar codes of the items they wanted to buy, and then paid with their phones at checkout. He said that by seeing what shoppers were scanning, in real time, Mondelēz could zap them coupons for different items physically located on that aisle and were able to significantly boost sales of those items. ‘Targeting people in aisle, in the moment, at the moment of truth, is the holy grail of retail marketing,’ said Bonin. This is how the millennial shoppers of the future, who are ‘more mobile, more connected, and more into sharing,’ will do their business.”

Time editor at large Harry McCracken also served as a moderator on an SXSW panel called “Mobile Disruption & the Rise of the Local Web” that addressed the rise of services involving commerce between local individuals, which are designed more for phones and mobile devices than for PCs. In a post at Time Tech, McCracken noted that the panel discussion kept circling back around to person-to-person lodging rental service Airbnb — one attendee in the session tweeted: “Wow… About a quarter of the room here at #SXSW2013 is staying at @airbnb place. Hotel chains – prepare for major disruption. #localweb.” McCracken aggregated tweets sent during the session using Storify to highlight the session’s key points — you can read his post at Time Tech.

FTC report tackles mobile payments concerns

The rapid growth in the mobile payments arena — one recent study estimated global mobile payments transactions could reach $1 trillion by 2015 — has caught the attention of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The government agency released a report this week, “Paper, Plastic… or Mobile? An FTC Workshop on Mobile Payments.” According to the press release, the report offers guidelines for developing dispute resolution policies, encourages industry-wide adoption of strong security measures, and “highlights the need for companies in the mobile payment sphere to practice ‘privacy by design,’ incorporating strong privacy practices, consumer choice, and transparency into their products from the outset.”

Diane Bartz reported at Reuters that the FTC’s report “also urged all companies in the mobile data chain — from app sellers to telecommunications companies — to encrypt the entire payment chain and take other steps to ensure that consumers’ data cannot be hacked and used to steal from them.” She noted the FTC also is encouraging mobile payments companies to be more transparent with consumers about how their data is collected and used, and quoted from the report: “‘Companies should provide reasonable security for consumer data and should limit data collection to that which is consistent with the context of a consumer’s interaction with that company,” the report said.’”

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February 21 2013

Commerce Weekly: Best Buy wants to end showrooming, Google wants to start

Google takes on brick-and-mortar; Best Buy takes on ecommerce

GoogleLogoGoogleLogoThe Google retail store rumor ignited again this week. Seth Weintraub reported at 9to5Google that “[a]n extremely reliable source has confirmed to us that Google is in the process of building stand-alone retail stores in the U.S.” to be opened in time for the 2013 holiday season. The Wall Street Journal’s Amir Efrati followed with confirmation from “people familiar with the matter,” though one of those people said it wouldn’t happen this year.

Across the board, analysts seem to think it’s a good idea. Alyson Shontell at Business Insider noted that as Google becomes more of a hardware company — with its Android devices, Google Glass, and self-driving cars — analysts say it’s time for Google to work on its brand image, which will require consumer interaction, something the company hasn’t done much of up to this point. Google executives seem to agree — Weintraub reported that retail store plans started to solidify along with plans to offer Google Glass to mainstream consumers. “The leadership thought consumers would need to try Google Glass first hand to make a purchase,” Weintraub wrote. “Without being able to use them first hand, few non-techies would be interested in buying Google’s glasses (which will retail from between $500 to $1,000).”

On the other end of the retail spectrum, brick-and-mortar big box retailer Best Buy is looking to strengthen its competitive edge against online retailers. The company announced this week that in its efforts to “end showrooming,” it will make its holiday price-matching policy permanent. Beginning March 3, the store will “price match all local retail competitors and 19 major online competitors in all product categories and on nearly all in-stock products, whenever asked by a customer,” according to a Best Buy press release. The release also stated that price matching will extend “post purchase” to include price reductions Best Buy makes within 15 days of a purchase. The company slipped in a change to its return and exchange policy as well — Kim Bhasin at Business Insider reported the new return/exchange period will drop to 15 days from 30, though Reward Zone Premier Silver members will retain their 60-day return eligibility.

A faberNovel study delves into the strategies behind Amazon’s success

This week, faberNovel released an update to its study “Amazon.com: The Hidden Empire.” John Geraci, faberNovel’s head of marketing, noted in a post at TechCrunch that since the first study was published in 2011, “a steady, ever-growing buzz has developed around Amazon as it becomes increasingly clear that they are really in for the kill with the retail industry, intending to spare no prisoners along the way.” Geraci outlined a few highlights from the study, including the fact that Amazon initially took aim at the B2B space with Amazon Supply, “but they clearly also want corporate-accounts domination — and they might succeed in getting it. He also noted Amazon’s continued willingness to experiment with disruptive business models, specifically highlighting textbook rentals for students.

The study, presented in a Slideshare (embedded below), offers a deep look into the paths behind the success of Amazon. Looking ahead, the study covers plans for the cloud, noting that “[e]ven though [Amazon Web Services] AWS is primarily a B2B offer, the Amazon cloud will ultimately be geared toward end-users.” It also looks at the company’s long-term goals to grow the Kindle ecosystem, achieve the same-day delivery holy grail, and lock itself in as a small and medium business supplier. You can view the complete study in the following Slideshare presentation:

Square further simplifies POS for merchants

In its continued efforts to democratize mobile payments for consumers and merchants, Square this week launched Business in a Box for Square Register. According to the press release, the package includes two Square Readers, an iPad stand, a cash drawer, and an optional receipt printer, all of which connect wirelessly to Square Register. The release noted the mobile payment obstacle Business in a Box aims to solve:

“Historically, business owners were forced to piece together multiple hardware components from various manufacturers, manage complicated contracts and pricing structures, and pay for expensive software licensing and service plans. Now, they can be up and running with Square Register in minutes.”

The price point is democratizing as well — the release stated that customizable hardware packages start at $299. Jordan Kahn at 9to5Mac did some digging into the customizations and associated costs. On top of the basic package, which Kahn noted includes a Heckler Design WindFall iPad Stand and an APG Vasario 1616 Cash Drawer, Square will provide a Star Micronics TSP143L Receipt Printer for an additional $300, for a total cost of $599. “We were able to find all the pieces of the package online (minus the free Square readers) for around $480,” Kahn wrote, “although that’s before any taxes or shipping costs.”

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January 24 2013

Commerce Weekly: Analytics for people, the next big thing in retail

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

New trend in retail customer tracking: Smartphone Wi-Fi

my wifi hotspot is cooler than yours, on Flickrmy wifi hotspot is cooler than yours, on FlickrDan Tynan posted a two-part series (here and here) on IT World this week looking at growing trend of retail Wi-Fi tracking — retailers keeping track of you via your smartphone as you shop, much like online retailers keep track of your movements across the Internet. Tynan explains how they’ll do it:

“When you come within range of a properly configured Wi-Fi access point, it can record the wireless MAC address of your phone — a unique 12-digit number. Every time you pass by, that AP can log that number. … Think of it as Google Analytics for people; instead of measuring Web traffic, they’re measuring foot traffic.”

Tynan takes a look at Euclid Analytics’ software, which works with tracking device systems to help stores gather data on customers, from which aisles they spend time in to how many times they’ve visited the store to which locations they frequent. “[T]hey can even track people who walk by the store every day but never go in,” Tynan writes, “or [know] if more people enter after a window display is changed.” He notes that Euclid gathers data anonymously and in aggregate, storing the MAC address “in a one-way hash, so nobody can go backwards and figure out your actual MAC address,” but that the minute a shopper swipes a credit card, all anonymity is lost, at least as far as connecting a particular phone to a particular purchase.

Once an identity is linked to a MAC address, “all kinds of fun things can happen,” Tynan reports — retailers could text you as you walk by their stores in the mall and offer discounts or coupons to lure you inside, connect your in-store data to your online data for even deeper analysis, or even sell your data to someone else. He explores some of the privacy concerns and scenarios in his first piece and talks with Euclid Analytics director of marketing John Fu for some context in his second piece. Fu says their technology is — purposefully — not as Big Brother as it sounds:

“There are some powerful and potentially scary things you could do with this data if you wanted to, but I want to clarify that we are not doing any of those things. We anticipated these scenarios and came up with ways to prevent them from happening.”

In addition to creating a one-way hash for a customer’s MAC address, Euclid requires retailers to contractually agree “to not combine the behavioral data they collect with information they have about an individual’s identity,” and the company also “salts its data with a ‘statistically insignificant’ number of fictional customers” to further prevent customer identification, Tynan reports. He takes an in-depth look at some real world examples of Euclid’s use in retail locations and their efforts to protect consumer privacy, but also notes that “Euclid is only one of a half dozen companies using different techniques to help retailers track shoppers, most of which don’t bother to tell you.” You can read his complete report at IT World — part one, part two.

Payleven gets investment boost in pursuit of Square-like success

Europe’s Square-like mobile payments platform Payleven announced a new funding round — and a new mystery investor — this week. Ingrid Lunden reports at TechCrunch that “neither the exact funding figure, nor the investor, have been disclosed — except to note that the value is in the ‘high single-digit millions’ of dollars, and that it is ‘largely’ from the new backer.” Along with the funding round announcement, Lunden reports, Payleven also confirmed reports of a group of backers who invested “double-digit millions” last year: New Enterprise Associates, Holtzbrinck Ventures, ru-Net and Rocket Internet.

Lunden says Payleven, which has launched in Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, the UK, Poland and Brazil, still hasn’t disclosed its number of users, but a company spokesperson told her the new funding will be used to build out current markets and to continue Payleven’s international push.

Back stateside, Fast Company’s Austin Carr took a look at what’s making Square successful in the U.S. — and now Canada. Carr writes that part of Square’s success stems from an atmosphere of collaboration geared toward problem solving and a blurring of the lines between engineering and design teams. Square CTO Bob Lee told Carr:

“We’re not just a design company; we’re not just an engineering company. We’re strong in both areas — we need to be. … From an engineering perspective, design is not just about how something looks, but about how something works. We look at reliability, robustness, and performance as features of the design.”

Carr takes an in-depth look at how the company’s teams foster a high level of collaboration through weekly town square meetings, “where everyone from engineers to PR workers can show off their latest projects;” through the design team’s weekly creative reviews, where all work is pinned up and presented gallery-style for all designers to peruse and comment; and through internal education. He also looks at Jack Dorsey’s leadership style and how he manages to make credit card processing, receipts and point-of-sale systems “whimsical and interesting.” You can read Carr’s full report at Fast Company.

NFC’s real role in mobile commerce: Consumer engagement

Mark Bonchek argued this week at Harvard Business Review that the potential for NFC technology in mobile phones goes way beyond payments. “It has the potential to, as no technology before, bridge the gap between virtual and real,” he writes. Bonchek offered up the example of Kraft Foods’ pilot program, which tested consumer responses to an NFC marketing campaign:

“In select grocery stores, small signs were placed on shelves in front of Kraft cheese and Nabisco cookie brands. The signs invited consumers to get recipes, download a mobile app, or share with friends. Consumers could either tap with an NFC-enabled device or snap a QR code — up to now the main technology for linking mobile devices to physical displays. The results were quite remarkable. People were 12 times more likely to tap than snap. Considering that the ratio of QR to NFC-enabled phones is currently about 10 to 1, this means tapping was 120 times more engaging than snapping.”

The level of engagement wasn’t simply the result of novelty, Boncheck reports. Data from the pilot showed that 36% of the people who tapped the sign “converted it into action, whether saving a recipe, downloading the Kraft app or sharing with friends, etc.” Boncheck also notes that consumers who tapped the sign spent 48 seconds engaged in the experience, as opposed to the standard five to 10 seconds of normal brand engagement at the shelf.

Boncheck looks at several advantages NFC wields over current technology and notes that though it won’t happen overnight, “the ability to make the real world clickable holds great promise. … Taps are the new clicks.” You can read his full report at Harvard Business Review.

Photo: my wifi hotspot is cooler than yours by woodleywonderworks, on Flickr

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November 15 2012

Commerce Weekly: As Square heats up, so too does its competition

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

Square aims high, BofA enters mobile payment arena

Square’s partnership with Starbucks launched this month, catapulting the payment startup into a new tier of competition. Gerry Shih at Reuters writes that Square now is looking at processing $10 billion in payments per year and “has attracted a furious response from established or deep-pocketed rivals who are determined to crush the San Francisco-based upstart.” Rivals include PayPal, Groupon and Intuit, among many others.

Shih says Square needs to prove it can compete on this new level, moving beyond food trucks and taxis and into large retailers and big-box chains.

Square’s COO Keith Rabois told Shih that Square eventually plans to process payments for every business in the U.S. and argues that though it won’t happen today, the company is in a good position to make that a reality. Shih reports:

“Because Square acts like an aggregator for its thousands of merchants, Rabois added, Square will be able to negotiate better rates with banks and credit card companies and improve its margins. Square’s daily transaction volume already makes it the equivalent of the 20th largest retailer in the United States, larger than, say, Trader Joe’s or the Gap.”

Square’s competition heated up yet again this week as well, as Bank of America launched Mobile Pay on Demand, which will allow merchants to process payments on iPhones, iPads or Android devices. Tricia Duryee reports at All Things Digital that BofA’s service fees will run 2.7% per transaction (compared to Square’s 2.75%) and that the service will launch at the beginning of December.

In what may be a sign that competition in this space is only going to increase, Trevor Rubel, EVP of strategy and emerging products for Bank of America Merchant Services, told Duryee, “I hate to come out with a commodity product, but every bank should have one.”

Visa’s V.me exits beta

Another mobile wallet/payment service entered the payment fray this week — Visa brought its V.me service out of beta and officially announced signed partners. Tricia Duryee at All Things Digital reports that at launch, 23 retailers and 50 financial institutions are on board, noting consumers can sign up for the service regardless of whether or not their bank is participating.

Sarah Perez at TechCrunch reports that the wallet platform is designed for online and mobile commerce, but it may extend beyond cyberspace:

“‘In early 2013 — not necessarily in the U.S. — you’ll see physical implementations of V.me,’ says [Jennifer Schulz, Visa's global head of ecommerce], explaining that mobile has enabled new ways to shop beyond online checkout, but may also include things like mobile shopping combined with in-store pickup, for example. V.me’s mobile payments mechanism can take advantage of NFC, more popular overseas than here, but it can also support QR codes, barcode scanning or other methods.”

Schultz also told Perez that though the initial rollout in the U.S. will focus on the service’s online application, the service will rollout internationally and on point-of-sale terminals starting in early 2013.

Plastic may facilitate transition to mobile payments

Ryan Kim over at GigaOm took a look this week at the mobile payment space and concluded that plastic cards — the very objects mobile payments are hoping to replace — aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, not only are the cards not being relegated to the sidelines, he writes, mobile payment companies are starting to incorporate traditional plastic into their payment platforms.

Kim looks at PayPal’s announced partnership with Discover and a rumored similar partnership with Google to create a Google Wallet card. He notes that the cards are offering more functions and services than credit and debit cards do now, but that the real benefit to incorporating the cards is that they can serve as a bridge while the fragmented mobile payment ecosystem matures. Kim writes:

“With so many systems available, but all with limited reach, there’s no tool available currently that promises ubiquitous acceptance. Increasingly, competitors are realizing that a payment system that works everywhere, not just for early adopters but for mainstream consumers, has the inside track on in-store payments.”

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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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October 18 2012

Commerce Weekly: Targeting Amazon

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

Strategic maneuvers aimed at Amazon

Best Buy LogoBest Buy LogoRetail competition against Amazon is starting to heat up coming into the holiday shopping season. On the heels of Wal-Mart’s recent moves to square off against Amazon, two other big box brick-and-mortar retailers have announced strategies targeting the Internet retail giant.

Ann Zimmerman reports at The Wall Street Journal that Best Buy not only will price match with Amazon this holiday season, but will also offer free delivery for products that are out of stock. Target has its sights set against Amazon as well. In a report on Target’s planned holiday strategy, Natalie Zmuda at AgeAge notes that tactics include “a price-match guarantee against a group of competitors that includes popular online retailers such as Amazon.” Target also is using QR codes in its holiday campaign to combat “showrooming” on the top 20 selling toys.

In somewhat related news, the US Post Office also is making moves into the e-commerce market. Victoria Stilwell reports at Bloomberg that starting in November, the US Post Office will begin testing its same-day delivery program, called Metro Post, in the San Francisco market. The service is aimed at local physical retailers, which could in turn give them a leg up against Internet retailers like Amazon. Stilwell reports that to participate in the Metro Post test, retailers need 10 or more physical locations throughout the US, with one or more within the test market boundaries.

Square exits taxis

New York City’s Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) spokesman Allan Fromberg this week unequivocally dismissed rumors from last week that Square was negotiating an official partnership with TLC, alongside news that Square has ended its pilot payment program with the TLC.

Garett Sloane at The New York Post reports that a letter (PDF) sent by Square’s general counsel Dana Wagner to the TLC on Friday “indicated that [Square] needed to overhaul its payment system in light of new rules the commission is drafting to govern credit-card payments in cabs.” Wagner writes in the letter:

“Square has determined, in light of developments in prospective taxicab regulations in New York and other markets, and based on what we have learned conducting the Pilot Program to date, that we wish to pursue a different hardware and software solution for our TPEP [taxicab passenger enhancement project] offering. It would be commercially unreasonable for Square to pursue a new hardware and software solution for a future TPEP offering while at the same time continue to support the software and hardware solution we rolled out in the Pilot Program.”

Ryan Kim at GigaOm says it’s likely that Square will continue working on a taxi-payment product, quoting Wagner’s letter: “… Square looks forward to further improving our product and making commerce and transportation easier for millions of riders and drives in New York and around the country.”

In other Square news, company CEO Jack Dorsey announced that Square would no longer refer to its customers as “users” and appealed to others in the technology industry to follow suit. He writes in a blog post: “The word customer, given its history, immediately sets a high bar on the level of service we must provide, or risk losing their attention or business.” His post includes a letter he sent to his team that explained: “We don’t have users, we have customers we earn. They deserve our utmost respect, focus, and service.”

Isis is gearing up for launch

Google Wallet competitor Isis is finally gearing up to launch its wallet, after a series of delays this summer. The company confirmed it would officially launch in the Austin, Texas and Salt Lake City, Utah markets October 22.

Nathan Olivarez-Giles reports at Wired that the Isis mobile app has shown up in Google Play, but notes that the Wired team had yet to find a compatible phone. Isis head of marketing Jaymee Johnson told Olivarez-Giles, “By year end, as many as 20 Isis-ready handsets are expected to be in market …We look forward to sharing more details on Oct. 22.” Those details likely will include partnering retailers as well. Isis announced partners in May, but as Olivarez-Giles notes, it’s not yet clear which ones will be part of the initial launch.

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October 11 2012

Commerce Weekly: Will NYC taxis get Square?

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

Square may be courting cabs

Square not only is gearing up to launch in Starbucks stores in November — it may also be looking to enter the New York City taxi cab market. Ryan Mac reports at Forbes this week that negotiations may be underway:

“Late Monday, private company expert PrivCo said that the San Francisco-based startup and the city of New York will be announcing an official partnership with the city of New York to implement Square’s payment systems across the city’s cabs. If negotiations are completed as expected, said New York City-based PrivCo, the partnership may be announced as early as this month.”

Mac reports that neither Square nor New York City’s Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) would confirm that a deal was in place, but he notes Square has been testing iPad credit card swipers with TLC since March.

As to its forthcoming foray into Starbucks, Lisa Baertlein at Reuters reports that further innovations are in the works even ahead of the launch. At launch, customers will be able to pay for a coffee by having a barcode scanned off a smartphone, but plans are already in the works to use Square’s GPS to identify a customer in a Starbucks location, who can then pay by giving his or her name to the cashier. Also, Cliff Burrows, president of Starbucks’ Americas region, told Baertlein that by summer 2013, customers will have the option and ability to tip using the technology.

Wal-Mart chases immediate gratification, further targeting Amazon

In recent months, Wal-Mart has been positioning itself to square off against Amazon: It announced it would discontinue its sales of Kindle devices, the gateway to Amazon’s retail ecosystem; it amped up its search engine; and it began testing mobile in-store checkout. Now, Wal-Mart again stepped up its competition strategy against Amazon and is testing same-day delivery. Jessica Wohl reports at Reuters:

“The test of the ‘Walmart To Go’ service began in Northern Virginia and Philadelphia earlier this month and is set to expand to Minneapolis on Tuesday, Walmart U.S. said. Walmart then plans to expand the test to California’s San Jose/San Francisco market in late October or early November.”

Wohl says there is a flat $10 fee for same-day delivery of general merchandise that is carried in the customer’s local store, with no limit to the number of items. The test will be limited to just the four markets during the holiday season, but as Wohl noted, the move is targeted not only at Amazon, but also at Target: Minneapolis happens to be Target’s hometown. Amazon has tested same-day delivery in the past, and it may be positioning itself for larger scale same-day capabilities.

The mobile payment war, major player edition

Kit Eaton at Fast Company took a look this week at the ongoing war to control mobile payments, focusing on the four major players who have the heft to effect real change: Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook.

Taking one company at a time, Eaton highlights each player’s advantages and innovations being brought to the table. Google, for instance, started tinkering with online micropayments last week, launching its Google Wallet for web content. Being touted as an “experiment,” the Internet giant is attempting to mainstream a pay-for-content model, wherein users pay for individual articles and web pages. Eaton writes, “It’s essentially Google enabling a micropayment paywall for online content providers, with a frictionless payments for users.”

In the Apple arena, Eaton focused on Passbook, which isn’t a mobile payments solution … yet. Eaton says Passbook may have the initial, basic wallet capabilities and the audience reach to serve as the gateway drug for mobile payments, easing consumers through the culture shock. He writes:

“But as soon as Apple gets everyone comfortable with using your iPhone like this — including passing it under a barcode scanner when you buy your venti Chai Tea Latte, for example — it’s not too much of a leap to imagine Passbook 2.0 offering a popup that says something along the lines of: ‘Would you like to pay for this now?’ And with a single tap — you’ve got a mobile payments system running on iOS.”

Eaton also looks at Facebook, which is perhaps one of the less obvious mobile payments space competitors, “[b]ut its decision to enable in-app frictionless payments via carrier billing hints at a different future,” he says. Amazon, too, isn’t an obvious contender, but Eaton points to rumors of an Amazon payments product to compete with Square. Eaton also reminds us of Amazon’s vast interconnected ecosystem: “If Amazon enabled mobile payments via an own-brand smartphone or its app, it would be able to leverage its hundreds of millions of registered customer credit details in the same way Apple could do with iTunes.” His post is well worth the read.

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August 09 2012

Commerce Weekly: Starbucks gives Square’s mobile payment a big push

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

Square gets Starbucks, cash and Howard Schultz

SquareSquare announced a new partnership with Starbucks this week. Peter Ha at TechCrunch reports:

“Beginning this fall, Square will begin processing all U.S. credit and debit card transactions at participating Starbucks stores across their 7,000 locations. Pay with Square users will be able to find a nearby Starbucks in the Square Directory from their iPhone or Android smartphone.”

Ha notes in his post that as part of the partnership, Starbucks also is ponying up $25 million in series D funding for Square and offering up its CEO, Howard Schultz, to serve on Square’s board of directors.

Harry McCracken points out in a post at Time Techland the partnership will put Square in a much better position to compete on the mobile payment front. McCracken writes:

“At the moment, Pay with Square is accepted at around 40,000 locations — mostly neighborhood businesses such as independent coffee shops, restaurants and beauty salons. The agreement with Starbucks will put it in a major nationwide chain for the first time, and therefore puts it in closer competition with Google Wallet, which is already accepted at Home Depot, Office Depot, Starbucks rival Peet’s, Macy’s, RadioShack, 7-Eleven and other major merchants.”

Another important aspect of the agreement is that Starbucks will promote other local Pay with Square merchants “from within a variety of Starbucks digital platforms, including the Starbucks Digital Network and eventually the Starbucks mobile payment application.” As Ha notes in his post, “this catapults Square into the mainstream consciousness for the millions of drones who drop by their local Starbucks on the way to work.”

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

And the winner is …

There’s a lot at stake in the race to control the blossoming mobile commerce market. A new report from ABI research predicts that by the end of 2017, 24.4% of online revenue will come from mobile commerce. And given that the mobile device market is just starting to boom, that percentage is likely to increase.

Consumer goods analyst Austin Smith interviewed with Isaac Pino at The Motley Fool this week and declared eBay, Amazon and Google early winners of mobile commerce race.

Smith highlights several reasons for his choices. EBay, he notes, sells 8,000 cars per week on eBay Mobile, and he also points out that eBay’s PayPal division is expected to handle $10 billion in transactions next year. As for Amazon, Smith says the company recently saw mobile sales top $1 billion and pointed to its ever-growing ecosystem of tablets and a possible transition toward a phone. And for Google, Smith reasons that “there are very few companies out there that have as powerful data analytics as Google … virtually no company has better data about how you shop.”

Keeping itself in the winner’s circle for now, eBay announced this week that the eBay Now mobile app will allow shoppers to order products from local retailers, with same-day delivery (a service Amazon has also been rumored to be pursuing). According to a report at Reuters, eBay is testing the app with a number of retailers, including Target, Best Buy, Macy’s and Walgreens, in the San Francisco market. The report describes the consumer experience:

“Shoppers involved in the test can download the app onto mobile devices such as Apple’s iPhone and iPad, then search for products to buy from local stores in San Francisco. When they find a product, users press a ‘Bring It’ button and the order is sent to couriers. The courier closest to the product accepts the order, drives to the store to pick up the product and then delivers it to the shopper’s home. Customers pay when the product arrives.”

According to the report, the first three deliveries are free, and “after that, delivery is $5 for the test period, and the minimum order is $25.”

The secret to winning the mobile wallet race

Forrester Research senior analyst Denee Carrington has a new report out this week on the mobile wallet wars. In a post at Forbes, Carrington shares a few takeaways from her research, including the secret to winning the mobile wallet race:

“Winning wallets will be convenient to use, contextually relevant, with a compelling experience. Moving the needle on the adoption of digital wallets — particularly for mobile digital wallets — will require infusion of significant value throughout the purchase journey before, during, and after payment. Winning solutions will bring this to life through greater convenience, contextual relevance, and a compelling purchase experience.”

Carrington also takes a look at the market dynamics and competitive nature of the mobile wallet landscape, and argues that NFC wallets may not reign victorious in the end. Hardware-agnostic wallets face fewer hurdles and thus will enjoy faster adoption. You can read more of Carrington’s insights here and find her full report here.

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July 26 2012

Commerce Weekly: Square disrupts, PayPal shrugs

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

The mobile payment war rages on

David Pogue took a look this week at Square’s latest maneuver in the mobile payment race, its Pay With Square app. Pogue says it’s far more disruptive than the simple ability for anyone to accept a mobile credit card payment:

“You walk into a shop or cafe. The cashier knows that you’re on the premises because your name and thumbnail photo appear on his iPad screen. He rings up your items by tapping them on the iPad.

“And now the magic moment: To pay, you just say your name. The cashier compares your actual face with the photo on the iPad’s screen, taps O.K., and the transaction is complete. No cash, no cards, no signatures — you don’t even have to take the phone out of your pocket.”

Writing about taking the app for a spin at a coffee shop in San Francisco, Pogue describes a few hang-ups: merchants have to use an iPad as a cash register and they must enter every item they sell. Another issue concerns Square’s security and actually stems from customers themselves — users are required to upload a photo of themselves to set up a new Pay With Square account, but as the coffee shop cashier told Pogue, “sometimes use pictures of cats or SpongeBob instead of their own photos,” which prevents a visual ID of the customer.

The mobile payment competition isn’t sitting still, however. Pogue also notes that PayPal is working to catch up with Square’s frictionless purchase technology with its own local payment system, PayPal Local. And at the recent VentureBeat MobileBeat conference, PayPal’s vice president of global product Hill Ferguson said he isn’t particularly concerned with Square. John Koetsier reports at VentureBeat: “Though [Square] can facilitate very personal commerce — put it on Bob’s bill — [Ferguson] says it is not going to work very well at Safeway.” Ferguson also acknowledged that PayPal is a “two-click” system, as it doesn’t own the ecosystem “like Google Play or Apple,” but says he sees both companies as “fantastic potential partners, doing highly complementary things.”

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

NFC security hacked at Black Hat 2012

Andy Vuong at the Denver Post took a look at NFC technology this week, its potential uses — including but not limited to mobile payments — and the likelihood of it becoming mainstream in the U.S. Vuong writes that the biggest question concerning NFC’s future may be whether or not Apple will include the technology in its next generation iPhone.

Mohamed Awad, associate product line director for NFC products at Broadcom and a board member of the NFC Forum, told Vuong that he doesn’t think the future of the technology hinges on Apple’s adoption, and he also dismissed security concerns. Vuong reports:

“‘The credit card in your wallet is just magnetically encoded, so anybody with a magnetic reader can read all of your credit card information,’ [Awad] said. ‘On your smartphone, there is a secure element in there, the encryption is much more tight and it’s a much more secure platform.’”

The security concerns, however, may not be so easily discounted. Research consultant Charlie Miller demoed the security gaps at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas this week. Meghan Kelly at VentureBeat reports that Miller showed a video in which he closely followed a friend, keeping his hand “awkwardly close to his buddy’s back pocket” in order to hack his phone. Kelly says that though Miller noted the attack was difficult and that the NFC bugs he found are “not too extensive,” he was still able to exploit a bug in the Nokia N9 smartphone. She writes:

“The N9 has a feature in it called ‘pairing,’ which allows the phone to connect to other devices using Bluetooth and NFC. … If a hacker creates a tag that can pair the phone, she can have access to the Bluetooth network and eventually make it into the rest of the phone. Miller demoed the hack and pulled all the data from the phone, including the photos and address book. He also showed that you can send text messages to other phones using the hacked phone, as well as make calls.”

Kelly writes that Millers takeaway for the mobile security community is to “[m]ake phones prompt the user before accepting an NFC connection.”

Visa takes mobile payment to the Olympics

Bill Gajda, Visa’s head of mobile, brought some perspective to the state of mobile payments this week in an interview with Roger Cheng at CNET. Gajda says that though mobile payment experiments are underway, the mode of payment won’t become mainstream in the U.S. for two to three more years. Cheng reports that the issue isn’t only related to hardware and technology hang-ups, but that “Gajda’s more realistic view of the broader acceptance underscores the difficulties in changing long-drilled consumer habits and getting past the comfort level of paying with cash or swiping a credit card.”

Visa is planning to address the issue of consumer awareness at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, England, which begin this week. Cheng reports:

“Visa is using the Olympics as an international showcase for mobile payments. The company has hooked up 140,000 payment terminals in London with near-field communication, or NFC, chips that enable the tap-and-pay process. The locations include 5,000 London taxis and 3,000 point-of-sale venues at the Olympics. The company is handing out several thousand Olympic-edition Galaxy S3s to VIPs such as athletes to test out the service.”

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May 03 2012

Commerce Weekly: Mobile payments and the consumer experience

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

Don't forget the mobile payment UX

PayPalSquareLogo.jpgCompetition in the mobile payment space is heating up, as Square's payment pace closes in on PayPal's, according to a report at Bloomberg. The report highlights a recent move by Square to lure in merchants: "The San Francisco company is making cash from sales before 5 p.m. on any day available in merchants' accounts on the next business day, compared with as many as five days out for other processors."

The real endgame, though, will be adoption by consumers, and Lauren Goode over at All Things Digital addressed the battle to control digital wallets from a UX perspective. Goode reports on her experience shopping around San Francisco and New York, paying either with Pay with Square or PayPal's mobile app. She says both apps are easy to use and that the biggest issue for both was the lack of merchants accepting payments of this type. Another issue she mentions caught my eye, however — the execution inconsistencies:

"Square has been touting the idea that this app actually allows for 'hands-free' payments ... One shop I bought coffee at didn't see my name right away, even though I had turned on the tab in the iPhone version of the app. I tried to buy another item using the app on a Samsung Galaxy Nexus Android phone, and my name didn't appear at all on the list of customers in the store.

But at another downtown coffee shop I was able to walk in, place my order and say, 'Charge it to Lauren Goode' — without taking my phone out of my pocket — and the transaction was completed in seconds."

And regarding a beef jerky purchase using PayPal's app:

"Since data service on my phone happened to be particularly bad in that area, I initially had trouble dropping the digital pin within the app that's supposed to let the merchant know I was there. The merchant also had to reboot his phone once to process the payment on his end. But once I switched over to Wi-Fi, I had four options for paying him ..."

Goode also reports on location-based features and the importance of merchant-provided content — her entire account is well worth the read.

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.


E-gifting and mobile commerce get social

Social gifting is gearing up to be one of the next big mobile commerce booms, according to a report at Reuters. The post focuses on the launch of Wrapp, a Swedish-based app startup, and highlights the blurring lines of online and brick-and-mortar commerce worlds. It describes the app:

"It allows Facebook friends to buy each other gift cards from participating retailers either individually or by teaming up, which they can store on their mobile devices and redeem either online or inside physical stores. Retailers like it because there is little marketing cost and because customers often end up buying more once they are inside the store."

Wrapp's CEO Hjalmar Winbladh told Reuters, "Brick-and-mortar retailers are all looking for new, more efficient ways to drive sales into stores without diluting their brands ... we wanted to really see how retailers can leverage the megatrends of smartphones and social networks."

TheFind also launched a social commerce app this week. It's called Glimpse, and it's a Facebook app that, according to the press release, "uses Facebook Like data from across the web to instantly personalize and curate a stream of fashion and design items that are trending, tailored to the tastes and preferences of an individual and their community of Facebook friends."

Ryan Kim at GigaOm calls the shopping discovery app a Pinterest rival and reports: "TheFind's CEO Siva Kumar told me TheFind has been working with Facebook for some time to bridge the two data sets, mapping a user's likes to products, their taxonomy and a user's profile. Now, when a Glimpse user likes a page, the service can determine what product the URL is referring to, can pull up the most recent availability and pricing data and also fit it into different styles and trends."


Move over smartphones, NFC to unlock experiences for Nook users

In an interview at CNN Fortune, Barnes & Noble CEO William Lynch talked about the future of the Nook and the recently announced partnership with Microsoft. In talking about opportunities in offline-online integration, Lynch offered an example of how B&N will improve customers' experiences:

"We're going to start embedding NFC [near-field communications] chips into our Nooks. We can work with the publishers so they would ship a copy of each hardcover with an NFC chip embedded with all the editorial reviews they can get on BN.com. And if you had your Nook, you can walk up to any of our pictures, any our aisles, any of our bestseller lists, and just touch the book, and get information on that physical book on your Nook and have some frictionless purchase experience. That's coming, and we could lead in that area."

Lynch told Fortune the NFC experience could appear as early as this year.

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April 05 2012

Commerce Weekly: The do's and don'ts of geo marketing

Here's what caught my eye in the commerce space this week.

Placecast's CEO on the secret to successful targeted offers

PlacecastLast August, I wrote about Placecast, which has been working to deliver coupons and offers on behalf of its retail clients to opted-in customers when they hit geofenced areas. Placecast's platform allows merchants to set up a ring around their locations (or other locations, as described below) and then trigger an SMS to customers who have opted in to receive them. Placecast works with mobile carriers to deliver large tranches of opted-in customers to its merchant clients. This week at O'Reilly's Where Conference, Placecast CEO Alistair Goodman talked about the right and wrong way to deliver ads to a geofenced audience, based on the learning curve they have climbed over the past few years.

Some of these are obvious, like the need to link data about the customers' preferences with the location — the richer the data, the more relevant the message, and the more likely it is to hit home. Goodman explained this as a sort of stack, with positioning data (mostly from GPS, but supplemented with Wi-Fi and other data) at the lowest level. Just above that, a layer on context: What type of place is the user at (mall? stadium? park?) and what's the weather like? Atop that level, demographics and psychographics — who are the users and what do users in their consumer categories tend to go for? Atop that layer, the users' preferences: What do they want to be notified about, when, and how often? And finally, at the top of the stack, the offer itself: What is it the retailer is promoting?

A second key point is the need to find relevant locations — not just the retailer's store, which is obvious, but other places where the customer is likely to be receptive to the offers. For example, you might promote dog food or pet stores at a dog park, or a promo for a sports drink around a gym, or the sponsor of a concert around an arena. Interestingly, Goodman said that while merchants often ask Placecast to geofence around a competitor's store, he advises them that isn't a particularly effective marketing strategy: "If a customer is already headed into a certain store, a message urging them to visit a different location isn't likely to be very effective. A more effective way is to promote the message from a relevant public space." (I noticed the audience received this wisdom in total silence; you could almost hear the wheels of doubt spinning.)

Finally, Goodman said customers react better to offers when they believe it comes to them through this channel with some level of exclusivity. "Customers like it when they feel they're getting an offer that others aren't getting." So the coupons or other offers can't be the same as what's posted on the window of the store.

Goodman said the platform can deliver offers through a variety of channels, but most are delivered as SMS text messages, which remain tremendously effective. And they seem to be working: Goodman said that their research finds that 49% of store visits that occurred after receiving a Placecast ShopAlert were unplanned before the alert, while another 19% served as reminders to visit the store. In these cases, you might say those texts delivered twice.

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

Jumping ship at Google Wallet?

Google WalletThe departure of Google Wallet co-founding engineer Rob von Behren to join payments startup Square aroused suspicion that Square might be looking to incorporate NFC in its system. Dan Balaban's article in NFC Times puts von Behren's departure in the context of a swath of high profile talent exits from a project that appears to be struggling to find partners and users. Balaban quotes a mobile commerce analyst who believes von Behren's joining Square almost certainly means a move by Square to support NFC. "Else, it would be like hiring Michael Jordan to get advice on golf," the analyst said.

In the past, Square's COO Keith Rabois has questioned the value of NFC, calling it, at last September's GigaOM Mobile Conference, "a technology in search of a value proposition." But as more mobile phones ship this year with the short-range wireless technology, it seems natural that Square would want to tap into it to facilitate its "Pay with Square" (formerly Card Case) system that allows customers to pay at merchants with their Square accounts.

Meanwhile, Balaban's article raises questions about the viability of the Google Wallet project. In addition to von Behren, fellow founding engineer Jonathan Wall and product lead Marc Freed-Finnegan left to start their own mobile-commerce startup, Tappmo, in March. Andrew Zaeske, former director of engineering for Wallet, is also said to have left the project. Speculation centers around disagreements between Wallet chief Osama Bedier (who joined Google from PayPal in February 2011) and other leaders of the team over the project's direction. It can't help that the refusal last autumn of Verizon to allow Google Wallet into its phones, and Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile's plans to launch their own mobile wallet under the Isis brand, cast into doubt whether Wallet will ever be able to expand beyond the Sprint network.

Will carriers like Facebook's post-IPO status?

Mobile carriers run the risk of losing text revenue from Facebook, as more of the service's users access it from mobile devices and use it as their primary communication channel. That's the view of Victor Basta, managing director of London-based Magister Advisors, which advises companies on acquisitions and public offerings. Basta told Bloomberg BusinessWeek that "Facebook's IPO is about the worst thing that could happen to network operators" since the pressure to demonstrate strong earnings to investors will make it harder for Facebook to share revenue with the carriers. Facebook's "over-the-top" service rides on the mobile networks, failing to share any of the revenue from advertising delivered over it and increasingly taking away from the carriers' SMS text earnings, as users send free Facebook messages instead.

"The fundamental challenge for network operators will be finding a way of becoming part of the Facebook ecosystem rather than simply external enablers," Basta said.

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March 08 2012

Commerce Weekly: An app to end tab walkouts

Here are the commerce stories that caught my attention this week.

Tabbed Out connects check-ins with payment

For every one of us who's ever had a hard time catching the server's eye so we can make a hasty exit from the bar, here's the app you've been waiting for. Tabbed Out (available on Android and iOS) lets you check in and open a tab at restaurants and bars. When you set up the app, you link your credit card to it, so checking in delivers that info to the merchant's point-of-sale system. When you want to check out, you can do it on the app, even leaving the tip there instead of on the wet table. That's good for the merchant: There's no chance of getting walked out on, even if the patron leaves in a hurry or deletes the app.

Tabbed Out screens

It's also good for the patron: Not only does it allow you to flee when the urge strikes, but it might save you a trip back the next day. Every bar has a drawer full of abandoned credit cards, tabs opened by good-spirited folks early in the evening who, by the time they left, were too tipsy to remember to collect them on the way out. Do the same with Tabbed Out and the merchant can close the tab — and you don't have to return to the bar the next day to pick up your plastic.

The app offers some of the usual benefits we've grown to expect from a mobile check-in app — allow it to know your location, and it will also tell you what's nearby. Well, eventually it will. As of this week, it's only available at 450 locations in 34 states. Starting this weekend, some of those locations (the ones in Austin, Texas) will begin accepting PayPal as a payment option, too. A spokesperson for Tabbed Out says the company plans to make the PayPal option part of its standard offerings as it continues to roll out nationwide. So, this is another foothold for PayPal in the real world: Now you can use it to charge supplies at Home Depot, then pay for that brew you buy to reward yourself at the end of the day.

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

Square coming to NYC taxis

An iPad using Square as a cash register Square's back in the news this week, with an upgraded cash register app (timed to coincide with the new iPad announcement) and more details on its rollout to New York City taxis. The iPad cash register isn't exactly new: Square has been pushing it for more than a year, and Cult Of Mac did a nice little round up of nifty iPad holders back in January 2011. But the company has relaunched the app and its integration with Card Case, the buyer's app that lets you run a tab using just your name at Square-accepting retailers (if you can find one).

Bigger news may be that, as The New York Times reports, Square will begin a pilot program in 30 NYC taxi cabs, with iPads mounted where those little TVs are now. (They better bolt them in pretty good!) The big innovation here, at least for the rider, is that you can swipe your card anytime during the ride. Then just sign the screen with your finger and you can hop right out at your destination; no more waiting to sign a credit-card receipt. Cabbies get something out of it too — faster payments and a silent iPad instead of a noisy TV with looped audio.

Despite these innovations, anyone who's been excited watching Square's development has probably also felt the disappointment that goes along with not seeing it used … well, just about anywhere. Dan Frommer, the tech journalist who blogs his own news at SplatF, certainly feels that disappointment. Still, he's enough of an enthusiast to review the company's releases over the past year of its daily processing volumes. While they're still a drop in the ocean compared to more visible options, like credit cards and even PayPal, Square seems to be headed in the right direction, and on a steepening curve that has reached $11 million a day. Considering the few businesses that show up on my Card Case app right now, that's an impressive number of lattes, massages, and farm-fresh produce.

iWallet is coming

While the rest of the Apple-lovin' world focused on the details of the new retina-display 4G iPad, payment geeks were poring over the details of a patent released Tuesday describing features of a mobile wallet to be used in some future version of the iPhone. Patently Apple reported that, while we've seen a number of patents published over the past year dealing with NFC communication and transactions, this patent details credit-card transaction rules, including a note that credit card companies will send statements (or at least receipts) directly to a buyer's iTunes account. "The iWallet project just became a little more real today," PatentlyApple noted.


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February 02 2012

Commerce Weekly: The return of iPhone NFC rumors

Here are some things that caught my eye in the news this week.

When will Apple mainstream mobile payments?

AppleNow that everyone's iPhone 4S has a few dings on it and we've all grown bored flirting with Siri, our curiosity naturally turns to iPhone 5 and what gifts it will bequeath on mankind. Rumors of NFC (near-field communication, which lets phones pay with wireless technology), are at the forefront again, just as they were before the 4S arrived. As far back as August 2010, when Apple hired NFC expert Benjamin Vigier as its product manager for mobile commerce, expectations have been high that the next iPhone would include wireless payment. That was two versions ago; we must be getting close.

Seth Weintraub wrote this week on 9to5mac that a developer he met at MacWorld was building NFC into the next version of his app because Apple's iOS engineers are "heavy into NFC." Over on Fast Company, Austin Carr looked for clues in his conversation with Ed McLaughlin, who leads emerging payments at MasterCard. When Carr pressed McLaughlin for details on which handset makers were developing phones that work with MasterCard's contactless payment system, he didn't mention Apple by name but said he "didn't know of any handset maker out there who wasn't working to make their phones PayPass ready."

Why do we read these tea leaves? There are a few other NFC phones out there already, pushing the far end of the envelope. But Apple is much more significant, as Carr points out, thanks to its:

"... magical ability to transform whole industries. No one paid for music digitally before Apple unveiled iTunes; virtually no one listened to MP3 players, or carried smartphones, or played with tablets before Apple entered the markets."

Even more so than with previous trends, an enormous captive audience awaits the moment when Apple will introduce it to mobile payments. Scot Wingo notes, in a very good summary of the state of mobile commerce on Seeking Alpha, that Apple has "something like 250 million credit cards on file" in the iTunes store. Although only a fraction of those will buy the iPhone 5 in its first months out, they are sure to be customers who are already comfortable buying things through Apple's interface.

I think the biggest and best surprise will be more than just the date when iPhones ship with NFC, but rather how Apple presents a mobile wallet interface. When you think of how iTunes presented a better way to buy digital music, and when you compare the customer experience in Apple's retail stores with what you find almost anywhere else, you have to acknowledge Apple's genius in what we might call the transaction interface. Its programming efforts up front seem as likely to mainstream mobile commerce as any programming that it does behind the scenes to make those transactions occur.

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.


What PayPal is learning at the point of sale

PayPal's point-of-sale (POS) trial with 51 Home Depot stores is rolling out to Office Depot stores, too — cautiously, according to this Reuters story, which quotes an Office Depot executive saying "there are still some rough spots in that experience." The executive didn't say whether those rough spots had to do with the technology, the way customers are using it, or just the basic unfamiliarity with it. Regardless, the novelty presents something of an opportunity for PayPal, says Anuj Nayar, PayPal's chief spokesperson. "Retailers are not technologists by nature," Nayar told me in a conversation last week. "They have to work and sell in this multi-channel environment, where increasingly the differentiator is based on technology." But keeping up with the evolving technology shouldn't be the retailer's job, Nayar says. PayPal, of course, wants to provide a commercial ecosystem — as Nayar calls it, "a one-stop tech partner for retail."

PayPal at a HomeDepot point of sale terminalPayPal had those capabilities on display at the National Retail Federation show last month, showing the various ways it is enabling payment at the point of sale. PayPal aspires to go beyond the concept of a mobile wallet in a phone; it wants to offer a "wallet in the cloud" that lets consumers make purchases with just their mobile number and a PIN — no card or phone needed. No doubt, the trials at Home Depot will shed light on just how comfortable consumers are with this idea. So far, Nayar says, it's too early in the trial to share any of those learnings.

Nayar did share a finding from PayPal's conversations with consumers and retailers about how they want to use mobile commerce: You need to get beyond not only the friction that keeps people from using technology, but also guard against any social stigma that could arise. "For example, when I go to get coffee in the morning, if I get there and see there is a 20-minute wait, I can't wait for that. That retailer has lost a customer because of a friction point. So how do you reduce that friction? Maybe it's giving people the ability to order the coffee over their mobile before they get there? ... But we tested that, and you know what we found? People don't like to jump the line. They didn't like the idea of coming in and looking to everyone in line like they were getting to skip the line. So, maybe you need a separate line and register, a PayPal Express line or something."

In other words, we want convenience, but not at the expense of looking like we're getting special treatment. No doubt, PayPal will learn more in the coming trials, which are ramping up quickly: The company wants to be at 2,000 points of sale by the end of March.

Square hits the hustings

Square picked up a fresh round of publicity this week when word broke that staffers from both the Obama and Romney campaigns were using its plug-in dongle card reader to collect political donations for their candidates.

Obama campaign spokesperson Katie Hogan told Nick Bilton of The New York Times that the dongles were being shipped out to campaign workers across the country. The Obama campaign also hopes to create a donation app that works in conjunction with Square dongles so that any supporter can collect contributions with or without the support of the local campaign organization. All donations would obviously go to the campaign — minus the 2.75% transaction fee that Square keeps from every transaction.

The Romney campaign's digital director Zac Moffatt said the Republicans would also begin using Square as soon as this week, but he cautioned they want to make sure that using Square doesn't break any rules. "The challenge on this sort of thing is never with the technology, it's with the compliance. We're making sure everything we're doing follows fund-raising rules and is compliant with the FEC."

Although DC is generally slow to embrace new technologies, I have a hunch that tech that makes it easier for candidates to collect money will find a swift and warm welcome.

Got news?

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


If you're interested in learning more about the commerce space, check out DevZone on x.com, a collaboration between O'Reilly and X.commerce.


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November 17 2011

Commerce Weekly: Bring your mobile to Black Friday

Here's what caught my attention in the commerce space this week.

Retailers embrace mobiles for Black Friday

Using a mobile phone in a retail storeDo you still try to be sneaky when comparison shopping on your smartphone in retail stores? Are you afraid the manager will take offense and ask you to leave? I think this shyness is rooted in a past wherein retailers controlled the information that flowed to customers in their stores so that they weren't competing with any other retail outlets, let alone Amazon and every other online retailer. Like casino owners who banned clocks and hid exit signs, the retailers used to keep us in their bubbles with their marked-up prices.

That time is long past. As Peter Lurie, American Express' senior vice president of enterprise growth said at a mobile payments conference in New York in September, " 'Are you online?' is no longer a meaningful question." According to Deloitte's 2011 Annual Holiday Survey of 5,000 U.S. consumers, of the 42% that owned a smartphone, 27% said they will use it for holiday shopping. Some other interesting findings by Deloitte:



  • Consumers expect 1/3 of their shopping to be online this year.

  • 51% said they will go online to find the best price — up 10% from just a year ago.

  • Convenience is the top draw for online shopping (73%), followed by better prices (68%).

  • 47% said they have purchased in a store after researching online.

  • 39% said they purchased online after researching at a store.

With so many users doing their product research and comparison shopping online, some brick-and-mortar retailers have stopped fighting it and are instead embracing it. Nordstrom boasts free Wi-Fi access at its stores, and other large retailers, including Target, Best Buy, and Macy's, are promoting their affiliations with Shopkick, which combines check-ins with coupons. And even if retailers have modest expectations for this year's Black Friday, there are a handful of apps aimed at helping shoppers find the best deals in their areas.

While the term "Black Friday" has been gaining traction for decades, it was joined a few years ago by "Cyber Monday," the day when shoppers who had spent their weekends trudging through stores settled in at the high-speed connections at work to find better prices on the items they skipped in the stores. Now, add to the lexicon "Sofa Sunday," the tablet-enabled phenomenon of crashing on the couch after a day or two of heavy shopping to peruse store catalogs. So suggests Joaquín Ruiz, co-founder and CEO of shopping app maker Padopolis in an interview with AllThingsD's Tricia Duryee: "After you are exhausted with your Black Friday experience, you'll relax and regroup on Sofa Sunday."

And on the seventh day, the shoppers rested (a little).

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

Developers chasing Fire

As Android's market share continues to climb — topping 50% of the global smartphone market according to Gartner — so too does developer interest in the platform. This week's release of Amazon's Kindle Fire has sharpened that interest. Appcelerator's Q4 survey of mobile developers found that Kindle Fire is tops in interest among Android developers in the U.S. and second (behind Samsung's Galaxy Tab) worldwide.

Square adds loyalty program to Card Case

The latest update to Square includes a few features designed to make it behave even more like a real cash register, along with something else: the promising of ditching those paper punch cards. In addition to adding integration with hardware peripherals (a merchant can tap an iPad screen to open a cash drawer or print a receipt), this new upgrade adds the ability to design and run loyalty programs. Merchants decide what constitutes loyalty — number of visits, frequency, amount purchased — and what rewards or discounts are given. Once earned, the awards are automatically delivered when the customer pays with Card Case, the app for the consumer side of Square's transactions.

The video embedded below shows some of the features. The hardware integration and loyalty-program interface are nice, but perhaps even cooler is the wooden stand that the iPad slips into to make it a register. It's beautiful when disruption comes with a graceful design.

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November 10 2011

Commerce Weekly: Chasing down abandoned shopping carts

Here's what caught my attention in the commerce space this week.

Inviting customers back to their carts

Shopping cartOnly three out of every 10 online shopping carts actually make it to checkout, according to email marketing vendor Listrak. That's 70% of carts lying abandoned in the virtual corridors of ecommerce. Listrak wants to improve those numbers. It's one of several vendors offering "shopping cart abandonment solutions" — essentially, programs to follow up with shoppers who've left the store and ask them, "Haven't you forgotten something?"

Retailers would love to close more of those sales: Listrak estimates $18 billion lost in sales to U.S. retailers every year. A Forrester study last May found that 89% of consumers had abandoned a shopping cart at least once. Forrester's authors attributed that high rate to growing user sophistication: as shoppers become more experienced online, they are more likely to comparison shop even as they move toward checkout. Other industry observers offer a simpler explanation: shoppers are shocked at high shipping costs. A 2006 study by Goecart blamed comparison shopping, high shipping costs, and plain old running out of time as the leading causes of abandonment.

Listrak sampled Internet Retailer's Top 1000 online retailers, loading up carts and then abandoning them ("Hey you kids! Knock it off!") to see who would follow up. Only 14.6% sent a follow-up email, and fewer still sent a second or third email which, Listrak's CEO Ross Kramer told Internet Retailer, is where about half of the revenue comes from. Among Listrak's suggestions to retailers: get the shopper's email address first.

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

Intuit cuts payment rate for AT&T subscribers

Intuit announced a partnership with AT&T for its GoPayment mobile payment solution, which competes with Square. Like Square, Intuit offers a free card-swiping attachment that plugs into the audio jack of an iPhone, iPad, Android or Blackberry device, allowing anyone to collect credit card payments. Intuit's basic rate of 2.7% slightly undercuts Square's 2.75%, but AT&T customers will pay even less (1.7%).

Intuit originally charged customers $175 for the swiper dongle, but last January, in a bid to compete with Square, it began offering the dongle for free. Still, Intuit has struggled to gain the visibility that Square founder Jack Dorsey and COO Keith Rabois and high-profile investors like Richard Branson have brought to Square. This week's deal with AT&T is a reminder that Intuit is serious about GoPayment, which may actually offer more to merchants since it integrates with QuickBooks, its bookkeeping package that also targets small businesses.

PayPal embraces NFC (just a little)

PayPal has made something of a point of not jumping on the NFC bandwagon, emphasizing the technology-agnostic nature of its mobile payments platform. Demonstrations at PayPal's recent Innovate conference emphasized payment options like PayPal's Empty Hand system, which lets you buy things with only your mobile number and a PIN.

Still, NFC seems an inevitable part of the payments picture in the years ahead, and this week, PayPal delivered the peer-to-peer NFC payment technology that it promised last July. Shimone Samuel, Product Experience Manager for PayPal Mobile Applications, wrote on the PayPal blog that the technology for NFC P2P is included in version 3.0 of PayPal's Android app. No need for it in the iOS app yet, obviously, since the most recent iPhone upgrade disappointingly didn't include support for NFC.

As we noted back in July, in practice, the transfer of funds through PayPal's NFC system isn't substantially different from what was already possible using Bump, which sends the transfer through servers in the cloud rather than wirelessly between the mobiles. But the NFC system will let PayPal developers acquire experience with NFC wireless transfers, which should serve them well as NFC-enabled point-of-sale terminals begin to show up next year and beyond.

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If you're interested in learning more about the commerce space, check out PayPal DevZone on X.commerce, a collaboration between O'Reilly and PayPal.


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November 03 2011

Commerce Weekly: Square upgrades Card Case with geofences

Here's what caught my eye in the commerce space this week.

Card Case can reach out and touch someone

Square Card CaseIf you're among those who downloaded Square's Card Case digital wallet app back in May and haven't opened it since, there's something new in the latest upgrade that may inspire a return visit to the app: geofencing. Card Case's latest version takes advantage of new capabilities in iOS 5 to trigger alerts when a user enters a geofenced area. Users have to opt into the feature. Once they do, when they pass within 100 meters of a retailer who uses Square, the app will automatically load a card in Card Case. If you visit the shop and opt to buy something, you can complete the transaction by giving your name at the register and confirming the purchase through a text message that arrives on your mobile.

The process still sounds a little less convenient than paying for coffee with a five-dollar bill — and I must confess I wasn't able to demo this today, though I will follow up here once I do. But in theory, this makes Card Case a far more interesting app to parties on both sides of the transaction. Here's why:

  • First, for those of us who buy stuff — Card Case is an early form of the mobile wallet, one that isn't waiting for phones or merchants to adopt NFC wireless. Unfortunately, few merchants use it. It's no doubt more interesting downtown (isn't everything?). But I live in a medium-sized suburb where most of the nearby Square-enabled merchants offer services I don't use much: film editing, spa services, wine-country tours. It's not going to be much help in keeping track of my expenses unless Square makes some deal with a larger network of merchants.
  • Second, for those who sell things, the value is clearer — You can reach out and tap customers who may be close and ready to buy. As I noted this summer, Placecast is another player developing this service. Its ShopAlerts send out texts (for other merchants, not under its brand) when opted-in customers wander into a retailer's geofenced area. Groupon Now has also entered this game, giving merchants the ability to manage offers in real time. Undoubtedly, Square will want to offer similar capabilities to its merchants so they can clear the shelves or fill the tables in real time.

The back-end data and analysis that retailers get from these services is valuable, but the real-time customer management seems like the key feature of these apps. Placecast CEO Alistar Goodman offered a prediction about location and real-time at the recent Street Fight Summit:

Location and time are far more predictive of intent than any other past behavior ... We're fast approaching a time where you're going to be able to bid on a user on a street corner at a particular point in time in real time.

The age of virtual barkers is upon us.

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

Survey: Mobile users say take my location but not my money

Oracle released results of a global survey of 3,000 mobile phone users, which highlights a few key trends:

  • Customers are becoming more comfortable sharing location data about themselves, but most still don't trust mobile security enough to buy stuff on them.
  • While tablet ownership remains fairly low, lots of people are planning to buy them and they want apps that work well on them.

It's no surprise that the survey found subscribers downloading more data and apps this year than last. But I was surprised at the timidity around mobile apps: still only 55% of users had downloaded a mobile app, and only one in four had paid for an app. (I'm guessing their iOS 5 upgrade went quicker than mine.)


Where consumers want to use popular types of apps (Source: Oracle Communications survey, "Opportunity Calling: The Future of Mobile Communications — Take Two.")

Shopping is obviously becoming more important, but for most the mobile shopping experience is still limited to pre-purchase research. Depending on the region, the survey found between a third and a quarter of survey respondents used their mobile phones for comparison shopping and reading customer reviews. But only one third believed their phone was secure enough to make a purchase on. In a related note, 84% bought their phone in a retail store, though most said they did their research online.

Smartphone ownership is rising quickly, but I wonder if the survey overstates it at 70% globally. According to Oracle's research, the U.S. and Europe have 56% and 57% smartphone ownership, respectively. That sounds in line with other reports. But the survey attributed 95% smartphone ownership in the Middle East. (The survey appears to have taken its entire Middle East sample in the United Arab Emirates, which may not be representative of the region as a whole.)

The survey also found that smartphones are outpacing owners' expectations of them.

  • In 2010, 52% thought their mobile phone would replace their digital camera; this year, 43% said it already has.
  • In 2010, 54% thought their mobile phone would replace their digital music player; this year, 34% said it already has.
  • In 2010, 54% thought their mobile phone would replace their GPS; this year, 24% said it already has.

Finally, the survey revealed rising enthusiasm for tablet usage. While only 16% said they have a tablet today, 41% plan to buy one over the next 12 months. Reading, watching television and movies, and banking ranked high on the list of things users wanted to use their tablets for, and in most cases they want these sorts of applications to work equally well on both tablets and their mobile phones.

You can download the report's executive summary here.

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October 27 2011

Commerce Weekly: Groupon's long and winding road to an IPO

Here's what caught my eye in the commerce space this week.

At last, Groupon's investor show hits the road

GrouponIt hasn't been an easy road to the NASDAQ for Groupon. Since it announced plans to go public last June, the leader in daily deals has lost its second COO in a year, endured an inquiry by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and had to make the embarrassing revelation that it was reporting revenues before paying merchants their cut. After delaying its investor roadshow in early September, Groupon launched it this week with an eye toward going public and raising $540 million on November 4. It's seeking a valuation of $11.4 billion, which is pricey compared to other tech leaders (5 times projected 2012 sales) but less than half the $25 billion it was said to be considering earlier this year. Investor enthusiasm, it seems, has waned.

No sooner did Groupon pack up its PowerPoint and hit the road than Yipit, which aggregates daily deals, reported that Groupon's most promising new service, Groupon Now, is off to a disappointing start. Groupon is promoting Now as "Groupon 2.0." The hope is that strong growth in Now will offset its original product, the daily deal, as that method plateaus in popularity. On the Yipit blog, David Sinsky writes that since its May launch, Groupon Now has drawn in less than $1 million per month, less than 1% of the company's revenue. Sales are strongest in Chicago, Groupon's home market, but even in that locale, Now is only on pace to generate $1.5 million annually.

Slow start aside, I can't help thinking there's tremendous potential for Groupon Now because it puts the control in the retailers' hands. As Groupon's Now video shows (below), local merchants can offer deals whenever they have available inventory they want to move, whether that's empty tables or merchandise on the shelves. They can define the deals, start them when they want, and end them when they've hit their limit. Whenever online companies have offered this level of control to sellers, the response has proved tremendous — think of eBay or ads on Google and Facebook. Groupon Now's value proposition to merchants is far greater than the daily deals, where merchants must get in a queue and wait for their special day, on which they're likely to be overwhelmed. What's more, Groupon Now will allow for much lighter-weight, coupon-like deals. Frequent readers of this blog could have guessed that I'm pleased the narrator of the video passes up offers of discounts for a yoga class, Segway tour, and glamour makeover, choosing instead the more mundane but useful discount on a hamburger for lunch.

X.commerce harnesses the technologies of eBay, PayPal and Magento to create the first end-to-end multi-channel commerce technology platform. Our vision is to enable merchants of every size, service providers and developers to thrive in a marketplace where in-store, online, mobile and social selling are all mission critical to business success. Learn more at x.com.

Square and Walmart

SquareMobile payments company Square moved a step closer to mainstream ubiquity this week when Walmart agreed to sell its iconic card-swiping device at more than 9,000 stores. You can already buy the Square at Target, BestBuy, RadioShack or Apple stores — or you can get it for free online. The device remains targeted squarely at small- and medium-sized business, companies that don't process enough volume to justify their own merchant accounts and use Square's service to process credit card payments. Square's marketing aims mostly at these small merchants, but in May it also launched its own mobile wallet, Card Case, which aims to let users run something like a tab at their favorite stores and pay by confirming the purchase on their mobiles — it's similar to direct billing.

Square's COO Keith Rabois has recently been positioning Square as a mobile payment alternative that doesn't rely on an NFC-powered future. "I've never met a single merchant in the U.S. who says I want this NFC thing," Rabois said in an interview with GigaOM founder Om Malik at last month's GigaOM Mobilize Conference. Indeed, consumers don't need any sort of mobile phone — NFC-enabled or otherwise — to complete Square transactions. It's the merchant who provides the "mobile" in this mobile payment: the Square, plugged into a merchant's phone (or tablet) takes the card swipe and processes the payment. With Square going on sale at Walmart, expect more merchants to be doing just that — though we don't expect Walmart to be one of them.

Tap and pay at 35,000 feet

Flight passengers have gotten used to flight attendants swiping their credit cards to collect payment for chicken wraps and mini bottles of Merlot. Now, WestJet, a Calgary-based airline, will try MasterCard's tap-and-pay PayPass system on some flights. NFC News reports that this system, once in place, will also allow NFC payments on mobile phones. But do passengers want to pass their phones to the aisle? American Banker quotes Brian Riley, senior research director with TowerGroup, as saying it might be a stretch. "While you might not mind handing your credit card momentarily to a stranger, the whole point of mobile payment is that you get to hold on to your phone; you don't want everyone touching it."

Got news?

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If you're interested in learning more about the commerce space, check out PayPal DevZone on X.commerce, a collaboration between O'Reilly and PayPal.


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October 13 2011

Bob Lee on Java references and the state of Java

When I was contacting people about sitting for interviews during JavaOne, I just assumed that Bob Lee (@crazybob) wasn't going to be around. First, I thought he was still in St. Louis (wrong, he relocated to San Francisco when he became the CTO of Square), I also assumed that he'd steer clear of Oracle's OpenWorld because of his recent, high-profile role in the Oracle versus Google lawsuit over Android. Well I was wrong on that count, too. Not only was he at the conference, he was presenting. /p>

Lee is one of the reasons the Android platform just works. He was responsible for Android's core APIs and libraries. His contribution to Google is also greater than just working on one of the most popular mobile platforms in the world. Along with Dhanji Prasanna, Jesse Wilson, and Kevin Bourrillion, Lee was the creator of a dependency framework named Guice. Now Guice isn't nearly as popular as Spring, but it runs many of Google's critical applications and it has been incorporated into a few high profile projects, such as Maven. Bottom line: If you use Google's products and you happen to have an Android phone, Lee's handiwork is all over the place.

At JavaOne, Lee and I discussed Java references and he fielded a few free-form questions about the Java community. The following video contains the full interview.

September 29 2011

ePayments Week: Will NFC add value?

Here's what caught my eye in the payments space this week.

Square's COO questions NFC

SquareSquare's chief operating officer Keith Rabois went against the grain this week and questioned whether there was any value to be had by implementing near-field communications (NFC) for mobile payments. To be fair, he was at the GigaOM Mobile Conference responding to Om Malik's question of whether the short-range wireless function on mobiles would make Square's card reader redundant. Rabois called NFC "a technology in search of a value proposition," saying it's not clear who it helps. The process of swiping a credit card, he continued, is "very etched in the American consciousness ... and the Square card reader allows us to take advantage of that, to allow people to sell things more successfully without changing people's behavior."

He may have a point that the particular technology matters less than the mobile wallet itself. We could do pretty much the same thing by using through-the-cloud technologies (as Bump does) or direct billing (like Boku or Zong). But I think he's overlooked the clear value that seems likely to come to merchants as consumers ditch plastic for mobile wallets.

To name just three:

  • Merchants can administer reward and loyalty programs more efficiently if they're managed through phones rather than on rubber-stamped cards.
  • Merchants can deliver location- and time-specific coupons if they are acquainted with a customer's phone. Placecast is showing how you can deliver offers within a geofenced area. Merchants will also have the opportunity to move discounts quickly if they need to clear inventory. All of that is theoretically possible today with Twitter, but first you have to get them to follow you. Once someone has paid with their phone, presumably it's a lower barrier to get them to agree to receive offers via that phone.
  • Merchants can dynamically steer customers to their best payment option. If PayPal offers a lower percentage for a period than the merchant's credit card service, the merchant can offer products or services at a discount and let the customers choose on their devices.

The benefits for consumers may be a bit less clear and are likely to be a tradeoff: it's our data that we'll be giving up in exchange for being on the receiving end of those benefits listed above. In other words, your digital trail in exchange for daily coupons and every 10th cup of coffee free.

Android Open, being held October 9-11 in San Francisco, is a big-tent meeting ground for app and game developers, carriers, chip manufacturers, content creators, OEMs, researchers, entrepreneurs, VCs, and business leaders.

Save 20% on registration with the code AN11RAD

Amazon's Kindle Fire doesn't have to be as good as iPad to steal market share

Amazon FireShould Apple worry about competition from Amazon's Kindle Fire? The quick consensus seems to be "no" since these are different devices for different functions. Still, I couldn't help myself from making the comparison between this contest and the dramatic rise of Android handsets against the near leveling of the iPhone market. Most reports on the Android versus iOS competition seem to pit the two evenly, as if it were in bad taste to mention that many Android phones cost hundreds of dollars less. Geeks might choose their smartphones based on their affection for Google or Apple. But you only need to visit the AT&T kiosk in your local mall and watch the purchasing decisions to get a truer picture of what's driving this race: cost. Apple's iPhone may be an object of beauty, inside and out, but when you're on a tight budget, you'll put up with the carrier's user interface.

The same thing could happen with Fire and iPad. Fire may not offer anywhere near the same capabilities as the iPad — though with its ability to access web services via its Silk browser, it may not lag far behind. But there are many millions of customers who won't have to think long and hard to save $300 if they can still have movies, TV, books, games, and the web, all on a color touchscreen.

Steven Levy in Wired noted that even if Fire isn't a threat to Apple's iPad, it will certainly be one to Barnes & Noble's Nook and to Netflix. At a time when half of Netflix's membership seems to be furious with the company, many are sure to notice they can get a whole new world of streaming for $79 a year from Amazon Prime.

Mobile broadband is less popular as an add-on

Customers use more mobile broadband services, and they use mobile broadband more frequently, when the capability is built into their devices and not used as an add-on (for example, a USB dongle or stick). This not-too-surprising finding comes from YouGov UK's recent survey of 2,552 British mobile broadband users. It reinforces the suspicion that the easier you make it to get to online services, the more likely they are to get used. Certainly, there's some allowance built into those results for the dongle or stick getting lost or just stuck at the bottom of the backpack. But it also seems likely that those who buy a device that's capable of reaching the web are more likely to use it than those for whom it was an afterthought.

Got news?

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If you're interested in learning more about the payment development space, check out PayPal X DevZone, a collaboration between O'Reilly and PayPal.

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