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June 28 2012

Commerce Weekly: Is NFC poised for ubiquity?

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

The blossoming NFC ecosystem

iPhone PassbookOne of the holdups to NFC mobile payments, especially in the U.S., is the lack of ubiquity in the technology. This, it seems, is about to change. Last week, Microsoft announced its Windows Phone 8, which includes NFC complete with Wallet Hub, will arrive this fall (The Verge has a nice analysis of the new features and larger plans that may be in store for the phone's NFC use).

This week, 9to5Mac uncovered compelling evidence that the next generation iPhone will include NFC. 9to5Mac writer Seth Weintraub reports that they had "previously been able to pull data from PreEVT iPhone 5,1 and iPhone 5,2 prototypes" but that they'd forgotten one thing: "Further investigation into this hardware code dump leads us to believe that these iPhones also have Near Field Communication controllers directly connected to the Power Management Unit."

Christina Bonnington at Wired took a look at some possibilities for NFC technologies in iPhones, given Apple's WWDC announcement of Passbook coming in iOS 6. She notes that Passbook isn't set up to process payments but points out that NFC could change that:

"In its announced iteration, Passbook would let you load up your Starbucks card with money, for example, and then let you pay for items with barcodes displayed on the iPhone's screen. But NFC could let you pay for that grande macchiato even more easily with just a tap of your iPhone. With Passbook, that tap could also account for any coupons or discounts you've collected. Payments could also be tied with your iTunes account through iOS."

If rumors hold true, the new iPhone should appear some time this fall. Add in the iPhone and Windows Phone 8 to the list of current and expected phones to include NFC and perhaps NFC mobile wallets will get the ecosystem they need to get off the ground.

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 considerations and preparations

It looks as though NFC technology is simmering its way to a boil, and a couple stories this week presented particularly prudent points of consideration given that likelihood. First, Kendra Srivastava at Mobiledia reported on a malware "paycardreader" app designed to allow thieves to "skim the card numbers and dates, along with transactions and merchant IDs" from NFC-enabled phones. The app was built by security researcher Thomas Skora, who presented it at Integralis Security World 12 in Germany as a warning to the dangers of mobile banking. As a demonstration, the app hacked an NFC-based PayPass Mastercard at the show. Srivastava reports:

"Skora insists the app is meant 'only for technical demonstration.' ... Google promptly removed the paycardreader from its Play store, but the source code is now widely available on open-source code provider GitHub."

Another story reminded readers that NFC technology has the potential to disrupt more than just payment sectors — it has the potential to reach across industries at fast clip, and businesses should be prepared. Derek du Preez at Computerworld UK reported that SITA chief technology officer Jim Peters told attendees at the Air Transport IT Summit in Brussels "they need to be prepared for the proliferation of near field communications (NFC) technology ..." Peters said at the summit that "[b]oarding passes are going to be the next step with this technology" and that the industry "need[s] to get ready, this is coming. ... By the end of the year the majority of smartphones that you go and buy will have NFC on them."

The mobile commerce revolution reaches Thin Mints and Tagalongs

A white paper (PDF) recently released by TNS Global declared that mobile commerce was at its tipping point. The report says mobile banking and mobile wallet services are getting ready to "surge worldwide" as consumers look past security concerns and opt for convenience. Citing The Mobile Life 2012 study, also being conducted by TNS Global, the report states that 50% of the phone owners worldwide are either using mobile banking or are interested in it and that 45% "show the same level of enthusiasm for making payments using their phone."

The trends indicated by the study appear to be playing out in practice. John Milliken, managing director of Mobile Money Network, wrote at The Guardian this week that mobile devices are causing a "revolution" in the retail industry "on a par with the introduction of plastic payments in the 1950s or the launch of the internet and e-commerce in the early 1990s." Milliken says mobile represents "a fundamental shift in consumer behaviour and retailers have a unique opportunity to move quickly and take advantage of the true power of mobile."

Chantal Tode at Mobile Commerce Weekly also took a look at the effects of mobile and how they're transforming in-store shopping. She writes that the much discussed practice of "showrooming" is just the tip of the iceberg, that "mobile in-store engagements at scale are coming." Tode points to Target's recent nationwide rollout with Shopkick and says that mobile can be used to drive in-store sales, "which is why it is imperative for merchants to have an integrated mobile commerce site."

If there's any question as to how mobile is affecting the retail and payment spaces, one needs to look no further than the Girl Scout cookie drive. In a separate post this week at Mobile Commerce Daily, Tode reports that 30 Girl Scout councils partnered this year with a mobile payments company to enable the troops to accept credit card payments via swipe machines on mobile phones. The ability to accept mobile cookie payments resulted in nearly quadruple the sales year over year.

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June 21 2012

Commerce Weekly: Streamlining Facebook's ads

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

Facebook's ad future is looking up

FB_logo.pngThere was a flurry of commerce news in the Facebook camp this week. Payvment, the largest ecommerce platform on Facebook, launched an ad building service, allowing merchants to build auto-targeted Facebook ad campaigns. Focused on smaller merchants, the service is designed to create ads with a single click; the ads are automatically targeted toward customers based on their Facebook shopping and browsing histories.

"Merchants select a product they want to advertise, and Payvment grabs one of the already-uploaded photos, the product description, and ... creates a Facebook ad complete with image, headline, and copy," writes Josh Constine at TechCrunch. "It analyzes the merchant's store and who have Liked, bought, browsed that product, finds people who've interacted with similar products on its other stores, and shows them the ad."

The official press release points to a recent survey of Payvment's merchant customers that found 60% hadn't bought a Facebook ad, of which 25% stated "they haven't tried them because they don't understand how to use them." In his post, Constine highlights the bottom line of streamlining Facebook ad building and buying:

"While hundreds of big brands spend millions on ad campaigns, hundreds of thousands of small businesses buying thousand-dollar campaigns can add up. Facebook needs the sum to grow its revenue and satisfy investors ..."

There was news this week on Facebook's mobile advertising front as well. Carolyn Everson, Facebook's VP of global marketing solutions, indicated to AdAge that Facebook's newly launched mobile advertising product may soon be expanded to offer location-based advertising. The AdAge post notes that advertisers already can target ads by ZIP code, but using location-specific data from mobile phones will allow advertisers to better target ads using real-time data.

And the timing looks to be ripe — AdAge also reported this week on an early survey of Facebook's new mobile-only ads that points to a promising future: "The click-through rate for mobile ads amounted to 0.79%, compared to the 0.148% average across all five placements studied ... The click-through rate for desktop-only news-feed ads falls roughly in the middle at 0.327%."

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.

PayPal improves its UI, UX

PayPal gave itself a face lift this week, overhauling its website to improve its user interface and the user experience. The PayPal blog says the new design cuts down on the number of site pages and simplifies menus and labels.

Computer use in general is turning more and more toward mobile, and the PayPal's site design seems to be keeping this firmly in mind as well. As Ingrid Lunden notes at TechCrunch, the "redesign also happens to look a lot more touch-friendly, perhaps a sign of how much tablets, smartphones and the mobile web figure today in the company's strategy." As you can see in the screenshot below, the personal site page now has just three tabs — Buy, Sell and Transfer — and an Explore button that takes visitors to the company's new offerings.

PayPal Redesign

The new site is rolling out in the U.S. over the next couple of weeks and will launch globally at a later date.

If you want to scale, you have to educate the masses

With all the talk of strategies to battle showrooming and ideas whirling about on tying mobile into brick-and-mortar retail to better engage — and sell to — customers, it was interesting to read how some of those techniques are playing out in practice. Mobile Commerce Daily reported this week on a panel at the 2012 MMA Forum called "How Mobile Can Bridge the Gap in the Multi-Channel Commerce Landscape," during which Don Wortley, the senior digital marketing manager at Best Buy, commented on the company's strategies to integrate mobile into the physical shopping experience.

Wortley said during the panel that the mobile pilot programs do very well, but problems arise as they try to scale them. He attributes the issues mainly to customers not knowing how to use — or simply not using — their smartphone features. Mobile Commerce Daily reports:

"'When we think of all these super streamlined experiences, we still have to educate the masses,' Mr. Wortley said. ... 'We have not done a good job educating consumers on the tools we have ... We've had a beta culture where we stick stuff out there and haven't wanted to advertise until it is polished, but that is never going to happen. We are currently making plans to drive usage of tools, to put some resources behind that.'"

You can read more of Wortley's comments as well as comments from other panel members regarding the effect corporate silos are having on the success of in-store mobile here.

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June 14 2012

Commerce Weekly: Couch commerce gets a boost

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

TiVo and PayPal team up to bolster couch commerce

TiVo_Logo.pngSmartphone and tablet shopaholics will soon have another electronic venue to engage their shopping habits: the TV. At the TV of Tomorrow Show in San Francisco this week, PayPal and TiVo announced the two companies will be joining ranks to let consumers make purchases directly through interactive ads on the TiVo interface. According to the press release, users will need to link a PayPal account only once, then purchases thereafter can be made with a couple clicks of the remote.

Matthew Humphries over at geek.com notes the potential "kid-factor" issues and the need for some sort of parental control or lock-out. He also addresses another potential problem with ads — namely, that many consumers have grown accustomed to skipping them — and points out that TiVo and PayPal are planning ahead:

"For the most part, TV advertising is something that I for one try to ignore. That's mainly down to the adverts repeating too often and the stuff being advertised not actually being targeted toward me. That is sure to change as the set-top boxes we use get smarter and know who is watching (just ask Intel). One day adverts may actually include products you want to purchase immediately."

The instant-purchase campaigns are scheduled to launch with the fall 2012 TV season.

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.

Sprint prepping its own mobile wallet?

The NFC Times learned late last week that Sprint is preparing to launch its own mobile wallet. According to NFC Times sources, the product will be called "Touch" and could launch as soon as this summer. (A blogger at Android Central shared a couple of slides leaked this week that seem to support the wallet development).

I'm sure this news made heads at Google turn, as Sprint is the sole mobile operator partner of Google Wallet. The NFC Times reports that it isn't clear whether or not this means Sprint will end its partnership with Google Wallet, but notes that "it seems unlikely that it could support both wallets on the same NFC phones since each wallet requires control of the secure element."

In related news, Nick Hughes at TechCrunch took a look at trends in mobile wallet and mobile payment systems, and notes that not only are the proprietary platforms causing fragmentation that is hindering mobile payment progress, but they're excluding a vast majority of potential consumers:

"Ironically, many companies innovating on mobile payments today are focusing their attention on a new kind of proprietary 'payment mechanism' in the form of isolated apps, NFC required devices and other exclusive components of a mobile device ... [there are] roughly six billion mobile subscribers worldwide — an astonishing 85% of the world population. Also important to note, 95% of these individuals don't carry an Apple device. And moreover, 75% of the world is still not using a device generally regarded as a smartphone.

"Let me state that another way: There are 4.5 billion people in this world holding a phone, just NOT holding a smartphone.

"So, why is there so much focus on a mobile payment experience in which only 5% — or at max 25% — of the world can actually participate? Shouldn't we look at what all these devices have in common when we are designing an experience as universal as payment? I fear we are leaving too many people out of the game and too much money on the table."

You can read Hughes' entire report and his ideas on how best to grow the mobile payment industry here.

Apple has more credit card numbers on file than any store in the world

Apple's WWDC conference took place this week, and one particular statistic emerged that may hint at Apple's future in mobile payment. As reported by Owen Thomas at Business Insider, Apple has 400 million active accounts with credit cards attached in its app and iTunes stores. Thomas notes the context of this volume: "That's more than PayPal, which has 110 million active accounts (out of 232 million total), and Amazon.com, which reports having 152 million customer accounts.

A post at Mashable reports Apple CEO Tim Cook made a point of noting that this makes Apple "the store with the most credit cards on file anywhere in the world." Proprietary platform issues aside, this amount of data and number of already engaged consumers is a strong indication that Apple is poised to disrupt the payment industry.

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June 07 2012

Commerce Weekly: Identifying real-time consumer intent

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

Responding to real-time consumer intent

LocalResponse LogoA new survey by behavioral commerce company SteelHouse shows that mobile commerce is getting more social. Mediabistro shared an infographic produced by SteelHouse that highlights a few important points for mobile commerce:

"... one-third of customers state browsing for items as the number one reason why they use a retailer's apps, ahead of looking for discounts and deals (26 percent) and making purchases (22 percent). Overall, however, 66 percent of consumers prefer purchasing from a retailer's website than via their app."

Though the national survey was small — just 309 consumers across the U.S. were surveyed — the numbers confirm that social media is changing the way we shop.

Mashable took a look this week at four startups that are revolutionizing social ecommerce. Of the four, LocalResponse's platform seemed to make the most of mobile. The post describes the product as "a social advertising platform that aggregates public posts and 'check-ins' across multiple platforms to help brands and businesses identify intent and respond to it." The important note about this company is the way it's making use of real-time data. Mashable reports:

"Targeting data, such as behavioral, demographic or contextual, is usually approximated. LocalResponse's platform is able to identify where someone is, when they are there, and what they are saying about it. Marketers act on the consumer's real-time intent by converting people with exclusive offers or coupons via mobile at point-of-sale."

According to a post at Mobile Commerce Daily, making use of consumer data to discern consumer shopping behavior on an individual and geolocational level not only will ensure a future for mobile check-in platforms, but also will be the key for brands to better connect with consumers.

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.

Another centuries-old business goes all-in on digital

Move over Encyclopaedia Britannica. A 350-year-old post office would like to join the club of centuries-old businesses stepping up to embrace the digital age. A post at Fast Company reports that the British Post Office, established in 1660, is launching an NFC-based payment system in each of its 11,500 locations, making it the "biggest adopter of contactless payments in Europe," according to the post. Consumers will be able to ship packages and buy stamps using NFC-enabled debit and credit cards — and they won't even need to sign or enter a PIN for purchases less than £20.

The Fast Company post also takes a look at other mobile payment activity in the U.K., including the launch of the PayPal in-Store App, new NFC-enabled phones, and NFC ticketing.

A new problem for banks: Staying "top of wallet"

The digital disruption unsettling the retail and publishing industries' brick-and-mortar stores may have found an additional target: brick-and-mortar banks. A study (PDF) released this week by Carlisle and Gallagher shows that mobile wallets pose a threat to traditional banking. Carlisle and Gallagher's Peter Olynick discussed the results in a press release:

"People have already slowed their use of cash and checks in favor of credit and debit cards. Within five years, half of today's smart phone users will be using their phones and mobile wallets as their preferred method for payments. These customers will be using better tools to help them optimize transaction choices. Banks need to proactively consider how their products will stay 'top of wallet' in the new mobile wallet world."

In light of the study, financial analyst Peter Wannemacher told PCWorld that "[f]inancial institutions risk ending up as back-end funding sources for mobile wallets and payment products owned by other brands, who operate the front-end, consumer-facing aspects of the interaction and transactions." He says that traditional banks will need to offset the convenience of mobile wallets and mobile banking by offering compelling services.

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May 31 2012

Commerce Weekly: NFC delays give Bluetooth an opening

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

Apple, Bluetooth and the path of least resistance

Bluetooth LogoThe road to mobile payments, especially in the U.S., is mired with speed bumps in terms of consumer security concerns with NFC and the fact that the technology isn't yet in the hands of enough consumers and retailers to get a foothold. The solution, however, may not be expanding a new technology, but rather opting to not reinvent the wheel.

Recent speculation indicates this may be the tactic adopted by Apple, which some have argued is poised to disrupt the space. ResearchFarm analyst Pablo Saez Gil told Mary-Ann Russon at ComputerworldUK that Bluetooth technology makes more sense for Apple than NFC. He said Bluetooth would work in a similar fashion to NFC tags, but would allow for "long-distance connections between devices of up to 50m." Russon observes additional inherent advantages:

"The idea is that Apple could introduce an app that enables the Bluetooth transaction but relies on the cloud. This would completely negate the need for NFC, cash registers or even credit cards and thus allow retailers and SMEs to bypass costly hardware upgrades."

Making mobile payments more ubiquitous using existing technology not only would help bypass the technology growing pains, but using technology that consumers are already comfortable with would largely bypass the learning curve and may help alleviate security concerns. Marguerite Reardon at CNET took a look at the NFC issues hindering Google's Wallet and noted an additional problem with NFC that could be bypassed with Bluetooth: politics. A mobile payment company CEO told Reardon that with NFC payments, it all comes down to "who owns the customer." With the rapidly expanding competition in the fledgling NFC payment space, opting for a path of less resistance with Bluetooth technology may very well end up being the mobile payment solution holy grail.

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 is too slow for the London Underground

Discussion of NFC's growing pains wasn't isolated to in-store mobile retail payments this week — it seems the technology is having growing pains in the transportation payment space as well. IDG News' Mikael Ricknäs took a look at the situation in a post at PCWorld. He reports:

"NFC still remains a technology that is just around the corner — a corner that never seems to come, according to [Shashi Verma, director of customer experience at Transport for London (TfL)]. For any contactless technology to work in the London Underground, read speed has to be faster than 500 milliseconds, he said [at the Open Mobile Summit conference in London]."

The speed was achieved with an earlier model Nokia phone, Ricknäs reports, but Verma said that a shift in standards in 2008 created a physical hardware gap that slowed down the read speed. Verma also said that NFC has user issues as well: "The technology is still too difficult to use for ordinary consumers and if its proponents want NFC to become a mass-market technology worldwide it has to become less fidgety to use."

PayPal signs on more partners, launches a new payment solution

PayPal announced 15 new national (U.S.) retail partners for its mobile payment solution this week, including Abercrombie & Fitch, Barnes & Noble, JC Penney, and Office Depot. The press release noted the company's point-of-sale beta test with Home Depot has been successfully rolled out to every Home Depot store across the U.S. Part of the company's mobile payment success thus far can be attributed to its ease of use for consumers and merchants as well as on its cost-effectiveness for retailers.

Consumers will be able to pay at participating stores with a physical PayPal Card connected to their PayPal account or via their phone number with a PIN. As a post at AdAge points out, PayPal ultimately hopes to expand their mobile payment solutions to better engage consumers with loyalty programs as well as with discounts and coupons while shopping.

PayPal also rolled out a mobile payment option in the U.K. this week: the PayPal In-Store App. The app generates a unique barcode for a purchase that retailers can scan for payment.

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May 24 2012

Commerce Weekly: Facebook continues its mobile acquisition spree

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

Facebook acquires social gift-giving app Karma

Karma iPhone ScreenshotThe media focus on Facebook's IPO might be missing the point — as Michael V. Copeland points out in a post at Wired, the IPO is really about the cash Facebook now has on hand to continue its acquisition spree. And that's just what it did. On the heels of the market's closing bell last Friday (May 18), Facebook announced its acquisition of Karma, a mobile ecommerce app that facilitates social gift giving — what some analysts are calling the next big mobile commerce boom.

IDG News' Cameron Scott points out in a post at PCWorld that mobile is where Facebook needs to focus now, as "it currently generates less revenue per user [in mobile] than it does on the desktop." He notes that Karma already is integrated with Facebook and describes how the app works:

"Karma allows users to buy gifts from its catalogue from their mobile phones. Recipients receive a text message notifying them of the gift and directing them to a website where they can exchange it if they want to and enter their shipping address."

Chris Preimesberger over at eWeek.com reiterates Facebook's need to "monetize interaction with its subscribers in better fashion on mobile devices" and provides a nice roundup of Facebook's mobile-related acquisitions to date.

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.

If you can't beat "showrooming" ...

Raise your hand if you've showroomed. I'm certainly guilty, and much to retailers' dismay, this type of shopping behavior is becoming more common. Mobile Commerce Daily reports this week on a new study from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) that shows "53 percent of mobile commerce users have stopped an in-store purchase as a result of using their mobile phone." Joe Lazlo, senior director of the Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence at the IAB told Mobile Commerce Daily the practice of showrooming isn't likely to go away:

"Mobile shoppers today use their mobiles to save them time or money or both — mobile shopping helps make them more efficient. And since we all love to make the best use of our time and money, these kinds of behaviors are likely to spread and become mainstream really quickly.

"Fighting this trend is certainly going to be a losing strategy, so I predict that savvy marketers will learn to live with, and even court, these newly empowered consumers, who can and do leave a store if they discover a better deal somewhere else."

Staff contributors from McKinsey & Company call this situation a "retail store apocalypse" in a post over at Forbes. The group says, however, that "showrooming shouldn't be a show stopper. These digital shoppers are ready to buy. Excelling at multichannel sales is today's must-have capability, and retailers must adapt if they want to survive." They offer seven practical strategies to avoid succumbing to the apocalypse. Some highlights include establishing your store as an authority on your products, making use of data — or learning to — to better target consumers on an individual level, and re-imagining the role of your retail store as more of a service hub. You can read more on these ideas and their other suggestions here.

Mobile disrupts the grocery store checkout line

Stop & Shop iPhone ScreenshotMore and more, consumers are incorporating mobile into retail shopping, but what about grocery shopping? According to Kunur Patel in a post at AdAge Digital, the focus of mobile in grocery stores has more to do with in-store shopping behavior and convenience rather than online grocery competition. She points to loyalty program company Catalina Mobile and describes how it's testing the mobile grocery shopping waters, in part by targeting the big grocery store dice roll — choosing the fastest checkout line. Patel writes:

"[Catalina Mobile] is behind mobile apps in 110 of Ahold USA's Stop & Shop stores in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Here's how it works: A shopper walks into the store, opens the store-branded app and receives offers based on their shopping history. To skip the line at checkout, shoppers can scan barcodes of items they put into the cart to buy the haul right on the phone. Catalina says the app will be available in 200 more Stop & Shops this summer."

Patel also highlights Coupons.com's app Grocery iQ:

"Shoppers create lists in the app by scanning barcodes or typing in entries, then the app organizes those items by aisle. The most recent [app] update ports coupons into the search tool so that, say, a shopper may add one brand of yogurt to the list over another because Coupons.com offers 50¢ off."

Unless the consumer is shopping at a participating store with a loyalty card that syncs with the app, the coupons will need to be emailed and printed.

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May 17 2012

Commerce Weekly: Another mobile wallet is on the way

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

Isis prepares its mobile wallet rollout

Isis-Mobile-Wallet.pngIsis Mobile Wallet had some big news this week. First, American Express officially got on board with the mobile payment platform. Damon Poeter at PCMag notes the announcement was something of a formality, as American Express joined the Isis Mobile Commerce Platform last year along with Visa, MasterCard, and Discover, but he writes: "... the credit card company did offer up specifics on which member accounts will be eligible for the Isis Mobile Wallet — namely, the U.S. Consumer, OPEN Small Business, and Serve cards."

On the heels of that announcement, Isis announced its initial rollout in Austin and Salt Lake City will begin this summer. According to the press release, the first of its local merchant partners includes "hundreds of merchant locations in both Austin and Salt Lake City," from bookstores to bakeries to pizza and burger joints. In addition to local partners, several national partners also were announced, including Aeropostale, The Coca-Cola Company, Champs, Dillard's, Foot Locker, Jamba Juice and Macy's. A list of partners can be found in the press release.

This is a step forward in the U.S. for mobile commerce, but in a post at Wired, Nathan Olivarez-Giles writes: "As for which smartphones will actually work with Isis, the mobile payments consortium is keeping mum." He also says not to "feel too bad for Google Wallet," Isis' main rival, as many of Isis' national partners have already signed on with Google Wallet.

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.

Canada gets a mobile wallet

Canadian banks recently agreed on a new set of guidelines that support secure transactions using NFC chips. In a post at The Globe and Mail, Grant Robertson and Rita Trichur report that the new guidelines will "change the way Canadians pay for goods at retailers across the country" and will "open the door for partnerships between financial institutions and telecommunications companies to embed credit card and debit card information inside smartphones."

That door didn't need to be open long — almost immediately, Rogers Communications and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) announced a partnership to launch Canada's first mobile wallet. Alastair Sharp and Cameron French at Reuters report that the wallet will be available later this year. The mobile commerce technology situation in Canada is a step ahead of most Western countries, including the U.S. — as Sharp and French point out, Canadian retailers have broadly adopted the electronic reader equipment required to interact with NFC chips.

Rob Bruce, president of communications for Rogers, told Reuters "60 percent of Rogers' postpaid customers use a smartphone and that some 300,000 of those are already NFC-enabled." Bruce speculated that mobile wallets will be as common as cameras on smartphones within a few years. Robertson and Trichur at the Globe and Mail also note that "[s]ince most consumers upgrade their cellphones every 18 to 20 months, it is estimated that the majority of Canadians will have NFC-enabled smartphones by 2014."

Benefits of sharing may trump NFC privacy concerns

According to research conducted by Catapult, technology isn't the only holdup for U.S. mobile wallet adoption. EMarketer reports that "[91% of respondents to the Catapult survey] said they would worry about maintaining their privacy, including two-thirds who would be 'very concerned' about this."

Consumer privacy concerns may have a lot to do with the newness of the technology, however, and once consumers use it, they might find it more useful and convenient than worrisome. Kit Eaton at Fast Company argues that sharing your identity and a touch of personal information via NFC will lead to discovery and finding things you never knew you wanted. He says such sharing allows businesses to better understand and serve consumers:

"Picture a music festival in five years' time when instead of a wristband you'll wave your smartphone at a wireless portal, and an app you've pre-set to share particular pieces of personal info (perhaps age, gender, and so on) communicates with the festival's computer. In return it sends a promotional tweet and you'll get a free ringtone to promote the upcoming single of the band you're listening to or an invite to a streaming music service where the band has created a playlist of artists you might like."

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May 10 2012

Commerce Weekly: The competitive push toward mobile payment

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

Mobile payments are coming, one way or another

Square_AngleyHands.pngThe New York Times (NYT) took a look this week at the push toward mobile payments and the various paths toward that end. The push isn't only coming from a consumer desire for a mobile wallet, but also from the payment companies. The NYT's post reports:

"Merchants are facing heavy pressure to upgrade their payment terminals to accept smart cards. Over the last several months, Visa, Discover and MasterCard have said that merchants that cannot accept these cards will be liable for any losses owing to fraud."

This could be the push needed for mobile payment, at least in the U.S., to get over the technology hump that has thus far been hindering it from catching on. Jennifer Miles, executive vice president at payment terminal provider VeriFone, told the NYT, "Everybody is going to be upgrading ... Before the credit card companies made their announcements, almost no merchants were buying terminals with smart card and NFC capabilities." She says VeriFone no longer installs payment terminals without NFC readers.

NFC technology, however, not only requires upgrades from merchants, but also consumers. The post reviews mobile payment solutions from PayPal and Square, noting the directive for these two companies may be more consumer centric:

"Both PayPal and Square say that asking customers to buy NFC-enabled phones and wait for merchants to install new hardware is folly. Neither company says it has plans to incorporate NFC into its wallet."

This consumer-centric approach might be part of what's behind VeriFone's announcement this week that it would jump into the payment processing fray. Bloomberg reports:

"VeriFone Systems Inc. (PAY), the largest maker of credit-card terminals, will offer an attachment that lets mobile devices accept credit and debit cards, making a deeper push into a market pioneered by Square Inc. and EBay Inc. (EBAY)'s PayPal ... VeriFone's version will allow partners such as banks to customize the service to transmit coupons and loyalty points to consumers, said Greg Cohen, a senior vice president at San Jose, California-based VeriFone."

VeriFone's system will work with Apple and Android mobile devices.

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.

MasterCard releases PayPass

MasterCard announced its new PayPass Wallet Services this week. The company describes the global service in a press release:

PayPass Wallet Services delivers three distinct components — PayPass Acceptance Network (PayPass Online and PayPass Contactless), PayPass Wallet and PayPass API. These services enable a consistent shopping experience no matter where and how consumers shop, as well as a suite of digital wallet services, and developer tools to make it easier to connect other wallets into the PayPass Online acceptance network.

In other words, it's designed to work with any sort of digital wallet used by its partners. According to the release, American Airlines and Barnes & Noble are in the initial group of merchant partners.

One of the big differences between MasterCard's system and those of its competitors is its open nature. PC World reports:

What sets MasterCard's offering apart from digital wallet systems announced by Visa, Google, PayPal and others is how much the company is opening up its platform to third parties, said Gartner wireless analyst Mark Hung. Banks and other partners will be able to adopt PayPass Wallet Services in two different ways: They can use MasterCard's own service under their own brand or just use the company's API (application programming interface) to build their own platform.

Mobile payment readiness, global edition

How ready is the world for mobile payments? MasterCard has that covered this week, too. In a guest post at Forbes, vice president of MasterCard Worldwide Theodore Iacobuzio wrote about the launch of the MasterCard Mobile Payments Readiness Index (MPRI), a data-driven survey of the mobile payments landscape. Iacobuzio says the index "assesses and ranks 34 global economies in terms of how ready (or not) they are for mobile payments of three types":

  • M-commerce, which is e-commerce conducted from a mobile phone or tablet.
  • Point-of-Sale (POS) mobile payments where a smart phone becomes the authentication device to complete a transaction at checkout.
  • Person-to-Person (P2P) mobile payments that involve the direct transfer of funds from one person to another using a mobile device.

Iacobuzio says that "one of the top-level findings is that unless all constituents — banks, merchants, telcos, device makers, governments — collaborate on developing new solutions and services, the mainstream adoption of mobile payments will be slower, more contentious and more expensive." He discusses the needs for mobile payments around the world, including in developed, developing and emerging countries.

But who's ready? The following image is a screenshot of the index summary. Note that no country has yet hit the "inflection point":

MPRIScreenshot.png
A screenshot of the MasterCard Mobile Payments Readiness Index (MPRI). Click here to access the full site.

Dan Rowinski at ReadWriteWeb has a nice analysis of the index. In part, he says much of the finance world, including MasterCard, may be viewing the mobile payment situation through "rose-colored glasses":

"For instance, why do mobile payments skew heavily toward young males in developed countries? The answer, more or less, is because it is cool. The actual need for mobile payments (NFC or otherwise) is not as clear in the U.S. as it is in other countries, like Kenya and Singapore."

Mobile shopping needs faster carts

Michael Darnaud, CEO of i-Cue Design, proposed a solution this week for one of the major problems with mobile shopping: speed, or lack thereof. In a post at Mobile Commerce Daily, he says the steps to a purchase simply take too long because of the number of data transfers involved:

"Just clicking a button to 'add,' 'delete' or 'change quantity' on the mobile Web requires sending transaction data from the shopper's mobile device to the vendor's server — average three to five seconds — via cell towers, not high-speed cables. These interim steps, long before checking out, are the challenge — it is all about time."

"Time is money" is no joke in mobile commerce. Darnaud notes: "A recent Wall Street Journal article declared that sales at Amazon increase by 1 percent for every 100 milliseconds it shaves off download times." To that end, he suggests an improvement to online cart technology that "reduces the time it takes to 'add,' 'delete' or 'change quantity' by virtually 100 percent because it eliminates the need for a server call for each of those commands." He describes his solution:

"This 'instant-add' cart solution requires nothing but familiar HTML and JavaScript. It is an incremental change that can be inserted into virtually any new or existing cart.

And what that means to a customer arriving at your site on the mobile Web is that he or she can see a product, click 'add to cart' and have no forced page change or reload or waiting time at all as a result."

Darnaud also notes the "elegance" of the solution: "... it forms a perfect bridge between desktop and mobile Web. The reason is simply that it works identically on both, via the browser."

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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 26 2012

Commerce Weekly: Mobile commerce is on the rise globally

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

Survey shows global rise in consumer desire for mobile commerce

TNS Global's recent Mobile Life Survey, which surveyed the mobile habits of 48,000 people in 58 countries, shows that global interest in mobile commerce is on the rise. The screenshot of the survey's interactive results map below illustrates levels of interest for different commerce features — in this case mobile wallets:.

Mobile Life Survey screenshot
A screenshot of the TNS Global Mobile Life Survey results map. See the interactive version.

In a post for stuff.co.nz, William Mace took a deeper look at the survey results concerning the mobile commerce status in New Zealand. The results showed a bright future for mobile commerce, especially in the feature areas of mobile wallet and mobile banking. Mace reports:

"TNS New Zealand director David Thomas said New Zealanders surveyed liked the convenience of 'mobile wallets' — essentially using a smartphone to pay for goods and services — and placed the greatest trust in banks to provide such a service."

Thomas explained to Mace that technology and infrastructure are speed bumps to mobile wallets, much like here in the U.S. He said, "Mobile wallets generally require smartphones and generally a near-field communication chip in your phone which is still relatively unusual. The technology has driven mobile banking to come first but we can see with the developments of people like PayMark, Telecom and Vodafone are talking about we can see that the infrastructure for mobile wallets will come soon."

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.

EU investigates possible mobile wallet monopoly

Mobile wallet news wasn't all positive across the globe this week. In the U.K., where mobile retail is up 254% from last year and up 300% year over year for the first quarter of 2012, the European Union might become an additional speed bump to mobile wallets.

According to a report at Internet Retailer, the EU is looking into three U.K. telecommunications companies — Telefónica, Vodafone and Everything Everywhere — that announced a mobile wallet plan last June called Project Oscar. Plans were submitted in March. A press release from the EU explained that the problem lies in the potential monopoly:

"The Commission's initial investigation revealed that the joint venture and its three parent companies may have the technical and commercial ability and incentive to block future competitors from offering their own mobile wallet services to customers in the UK, or to degrade the quality of these competing mobile wallets so that they become less attractive."

According to the release, the commission has until the end of August to make a final decision.

Boston rail commuters get a paper ticket alternative

Consumers can buy a cup of coffee with an app (even in the drive-thru!) or a hammer with a phone number, and several companies offer local smartphone payment options for breakfast, lunch or dinner. By this fall, commuters in the Boston area can add "buying commuter rail tickets with an app" to that list. According to a post at Boston.com, the MBTA signed an agreement Friday that will allow "[c]ustomers with an iPhone, Android, or BlackBerry who download the free app [to] buy one-way, round trip, 10-ride, and monthly tickets and passes using debit or credit cards." The app will have a scannable QR code. The post describes how it will work:

"Riders will activate their pass when the conductor approaches, and it will generate a one-time image lasting long enough to be checked on the trip but not reused on another ride ... Though the mobile tickets will contain QR codes, the T will not initially equip all conductors with hand-held scanners, using them only for spot checks. Instead, digital watermarks, such as changing colors and animation, will help deter fraud while allowing passes to be verified at a glance."

The post pointed out that similar mobile payment options are common in England, "but the T would be the first major US commuter rail to offer passengers an alternative to paper." MBTA officials also told Boston.com they will use the new app to gather more accurate ridership data.

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April 19 2012

Commerce Weekly: Facebook's shopping spree continues

You might have noticed I'm not David Sims, who has been writing this weekly payments column since its inception. David's talents now are required elsewhere, and I am delighted to have the honor of highlighting news from the payment space for you going forward. And now, onto the commerce stories that caught my eye this week.

Facebook buys into e-commerce

Tagtile.pngContinuing its startup shopping spree, Facebook late last week acquired Tagtile, a customer loyalty and direct marketing startup that blends social engagement for the consumer with custom direct marketing for the retailer. In a recent post for ZDNet, Eileen Brown noted that with its pending IPO, Facebook will need to look beyond ad revenues to satisfy shareholders:

"Ad revenue brings in over 83 per cent of the $3.71 billion total revenue reported. The potential for this revenue stream to fail is just too great ... After IPO, Facebook must diversify its revenue streams. And the only way it can currently do this is through online games and e-commerce."

This latest acquisition is a clear move in the e-commerce direction. Emil Protalinski at ZDNet described how Tagtile works:

"You walk into a store, tap your phone against the Tagtile Cube ... and you get discounts or rewards. Customers have to first download the Tagtile app ... which pushes targeted marketing material to their smartphone based on stores they visit. The Cube meanwhile provides data to help businesses pinpoint marketing efforts that work."

"Data" is the key word there — if Facebook has anything to sell, it's data, and if Tagtile has an organized system to manage and analyze consumer data, there's no need to reinvent the wheel. Brown pointed out in a later post that "[Facebook] needs to be able to mine its data stores to identify trends in customer spending to sell on to its business partners ... [It] needs to be able to bundle a solution to sell to brands who want to tap into Facebook's store of data for closer customer connections."

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.


Apple is ripe to disrupt the payment space

Jason Calacanis (@jason) argued over at Launch that "Apple will become a trillion-dollar company based not on iPads and Apple TV, but payments." His argument follows the line of why Apple (and Amazon, for that matter) are so successful: convenience and ease of use. Not to mention, Apple likely already has the data:

"Buying apps is easy and we do it all day long — on iOS at least — because our credit card number is already in the device ... Buying on Amazon is easy and we do it all month long — because our credit card number is already stored ... The person with hundreds of millions of stored credit cards wins big. There are only two people on the planet who have stored over a hundred million active credit card numbers that I can think of: Apple and Amazon.

One is in commerce and one isn't — yet."

There has been much speculation (going back a couple of years) about when and how Apple will enter the mobile payment space, but many agree the disruption that will occur in the payments space when it does happen will be profound. Likening Apple in the payments space to a "PayPal on steroids," an analyst told Computerworld in January that "[Apple has] 160 million users with digital wallets in iTunes accounts. They don't have to do anything other than to NFC-enable their phones."

Calacanis points out the flipside to that — Apple not only could corner the payments market, but also further secure its place in the smartphone market:

"Start doing the math and it gets scary: Apple would have massive margin, and vendors who didn't accept iPhone payments would be at a massive disadvantage the same way folks who didn't take credit cards were in the 70s and 80s."

His piece is well worth the read.

The future of money is mobile

Two surveys and a study this week shed some light on the current state of mobile money and what the future may look like. E-commerce company RichRelevance conducted a study of 4.4 billion mobile shopping sessions that took place between April 2011 and March 2012. As pointed out on Payments.com, the study found that "shoppers on their iPads account for 89 percent of all dollars spent through mobile shopping sessions." You can view the study infographic here.

RichRelevance screenshot
Click here to see the entire infographic.

And though, based on the graphic above, it seems people are becoming more comfortable purchasing TVs with their iPads, a survey (PDF) conducted by the Federal Reserve showed they're a bit more reluctant to conduct their banking via mobile devices. Ann Carrns at the New York Times took a look at the study and reported that "many consumers still don't see the need for mobile banking, and many also are skeptical of the level of security around banking with their phone." She also noted a statement made by Sandra F. Braunstein, director of the Fed's division of consumer and community affairs, to the Senate banking committee in March: "Specifically, consumers expressed concerns about hackers gaining access to their phones and exposing their personal financial information." You can view the full Federal Reserve survey report here (PDF).

A survey conducted by Elon University's Imagining the Internet Center and the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project found that, regardless of any current fears or hesitations, the future of money is definitely mobile. In answering "What is the future of money?" the survey found that 65% of 1,021 "Internet experts and other Internet users" agreed with this statement:

"By 2020, most people will have embraced and fully adopted the use of smart-device swiping for purchases they make, nearly eliminating the need for cash or credit cards. People will come to trust and rely on personal hardware and software for handling monetary transactions over the Internet and in stores. Cash and credit cards will have mostly disappeared from many of the transactions that occur in advanced countries."

You can view the full survey report here.

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April 12 2012

Commerce Weekly: Bump taps mobile payments

Here are some of the commerce items that caught my eye this week.

Bump taps into payments

A Bump in progressBump relaunched its service this week as a PayPal-powered person-to-person payment service. Bump has been around for a few years, offering a clever way to share data that looks, to the casual user, as if it's transferring data locally from one device to another by bumping the two devices together. Is it using NFC? Infrared? Bluetooth? None of these, of course: Bump sends data through the cloud, locating the two sharing devices by their proximity and the reaction each device had to their bump. It seems pretty clever, as it enables virtual phone-to-phone transfers without having to wait on any assurance that the two phones share technology for syncing locally. As long as both phones can talk to the network — and would they be mobile phones if they couldn't? — Bump can process the transfer.

The capability for payments has always been part of the plan, but until now Bump has promoted itself primarily as a way to share contact and other information. Payments is a far more compelling use, though what Bump is actually doing is just sharing emails and looping PayPal into the process — just as you would if you were paying someone by going to PayPal's site from a laptop.

Still, how big can the market be for splitting the tab at dinner or sharing a tank of gas? The real upside for Bump must be in licensing its technology to other, more established payment processors, like PayPal. If you could Bump to pay at Home Depot or anywhere else where PayPal is accepted in the physical world, that would be simpler than having to key your mobile number into a keypad and faster than having to wait for a manufacturer to build NFC capabilities into your next phone.

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.

When will Apple enter the mobile payment race?

There's an interesting guest column by Ramzi Yakob, a strategist at digital agency TH_NK, on Wired's UK site about what mobile payments could do for Apple and (more importantly) what Apple could do for mobile payments. Yakob suggests that Apple is uniquely positioned to enter the increasingly crowded field of mobile payments — not exactly late, but not a first mover either — and reinvent it in its own image. What's interesting is that, even though Apple is now, on some days at least, the world's biggest company by market capitalization, Yakob notes that it isn't Apple's market might that gives it the power to enter and change industries:

"The position that Apple has now, not just financially but also within the hearts and minds of the modern consumer, gives it the perhaps unique ability to enter new sectors and make them 'Apple' in a way that feels completely natural to us — and by making them 'Apple', I mean, of course, beautiful, desirable, easy-to-use and hugely profitable."

The post is worth a quick read. (As an interesting aside, to point out how lax credit card security and scrutiny are, Yakob points to his brother's Tumblr where he shares pics of the ridiculous signatures he gets away with on restaurant tabs.)


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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 29 2012

Commerce Weekly: Google Wallet vs Isis is coming soon

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

Who's got the winning wallet?

Several recent articles have speculated about the coming competition between Google Wallet and the forthcoming mobile wallet from Isis, which is set to debut in tests in Austin and Salt Lake City this summer. Tech bloggers love a contest, and even though there's only one major player in this race so far, observers are handicapping the players before they even take the field.

MobilePaymentsToday.com ran a column comparing the merits of the two platforms in several categories. (Where was the massive infographic that we've all grown used to for this sort of thing?) Google took the prize in time-to-market (already out there, a little) and branding, while the nod went to Isis for building a solid ecosystem, with its support from three major U.S. wireless carriers and the top credit card networks and handset builders. Isis should also get the award for most imaginative and compelling demo video, based on the clip of Cyber Illusionist Marco Tempest at SXSW a few weeks ago (demo begins 15 seconds in, after the ad):



Of course, both of these plays depend on NFC wireless capability in phones, and while that's destined to ramp up soon, GigaOm reported that in 2011, NFC in the U.S. lagged far behind other regions. Of the 30 million NFC-capable handsets sold worldwide last year, about five million went to North America, 10 million went to Europe, and more than that went to Asia. Some mobile wallets, of course, don't rely on NFC: PayPal, for example, is getting ready to launch an updated version of its wallet that operates closer to the direct billing model, where you enter your mobile number on the retailer's keypad and then confirm when a text is sent to your mobile. PayPal's system is a bit less elegant than wireless tap and pay, but as we wrote a few weeks ago, it's ready now and available on any phone that supports texting.



We couldn't help notice that all this handicapping of the two most visible mobile wallets overlooked the potential of a third player that has yet to enter the arena. Only a few weeks ago, mobile payment geeks were abuzz about newly published patents from Apple that described a method for payment with credit cards that sends the receipt to the user's iTunes account. And since there are more than 200 million of those iTunes accounts (and 350 million iOS devices out there), that represents a significant installed user base that may be receptive to Apple's familiar interface applied to a mobile wallet. Those who think Apple is coming late to the party should be reminded that Apple has never had to be the first to a market to end up dominating it.

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.

In-app purchases continue to dominate

In-app purchase screenshotHere's more evidence that in-app purchases are driving most of the revenues in mobile apps. According to Inside Mobile Apps, Distimo, which specializes in tracking app store activity, reports that a majority of the top-grossing apps on iPad, iPhone and Android monetize with in-app purchases. The researcher found that, of the top 200 grossing apps in the iPad App Store, the iPhone App store, and the Google Play store in February, 74% of the iPad apps and 80% of the iPhone apps featured in-app purchases. The numbers are even more remarkable when taken with the additional insight that only 10% of all iPad apps and 6% of iPhone apps even offer in-app purchases. So, there appears to be an awful lot of iOS apps that aren't yet interested in playing in the winning game.

The number was lower on Android apps (56%). Inside Mobile Apps' Kathleen De Vere suggested that may be because Android has a shorter history with in-app purchases (only since last May) and, related, fewer Android apps offer in-app purchases.

The findings support other reports that have also suggested the superiority of the foot-in-the-door model, including one by Flurry Analytics last summer that found freemium emerging as the dominant model for generating revenue from mobile apps.

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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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March 01 2012

Commerce Weekly: Small banks lagging in mobile

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

Smaller banks lagging in mobile channel

Smaller financial institutions, which depend on a higher level of customer service to compete with the giants, are falling behind in the increasingly important mobile channel, according to a report by Javelin Strategy & Research. Javelin says about 37% of customers at big banks use mobile banking, compared with only 21% at regional and community banks and only 15% at credit unions. Javelin's report suggests two reasons for this. First, community bank customers tend to be older, less well off, and less tech-savvy than customers at big banks. Second, big banks can invest more in online and mobile development and marketing, resulting in a better banking experience through those channels. (That's certainly been my experience: my attempts to switch to a smaller bank were thwarted by a virtually unusable online banking system, which drove me back into the warm and fuzzy interface of a cold financial giant.)

Some smaller financial institutions say they benefitted from the anti-big-bank sentiment of the past year, epitomized by Bank Transfer Day on Nov. 5, 2011. Redwood Credit Union in Santa Rosa, for example, says its new membership was three times the normal rate last fall. But to keep that momentum going, Javelin suggests, financial institutions like Redwood will need to funnel some of their new income into development of these channels.

The report also found that mobile usage is beginning to surpass non-mobile online usage, even if those customers tap their accounts through a mobile browser. Most customers reach banks' mobile sites through a browser on their phone. However, at the largest banks, which tend to offer a "triple play," more customers use apps and SMS text instead of the browser.

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.

How Netflix improves its recommendations

One of the interesting presentations at O'Reilly's Strata conference this week was about how Netflix looks at its data to present recommendations of other shows members might like. Netflix streams 30 million shows a day. It has 5 billion ratings on those shows and collects another 4 million every day. Data scientist Xavier Amatriain discussed how Netflix uses the data from those ratings and other, more implicit data (including what people watch, which listings they mouse over to read, whether or not they finish programs) to offer recommendations that members will like enough to keep their accounts active, month after month.

Netflix gained a lot of attention a few years back with a broad open innovation initiative: it offered $1 million to anyone who could improve the Netflix recommendation engine by at least 10%. Amatriain said two teams tied for the prize with plans that improved the probability that Netflix could recommend shows that members would like based on their previous activities (though, he added, the cost of integrating those new recommendation engines into Netflix' system may have exceeded their value). Even so, since 75% of shows watched on Netflix's streaming service are based on recommendations, it's more important than ever to offer something that will draw viewers' interest.

Netflix queue example

The clues from all this data allow Netflix to present an array of recommendations to its members. First, there's a row of "top ten" most likely shows. Of course, as Amatriain pointed out, these recommendations are based on viewing history and clues of the entire membership household, not just one viewer. For example, when I log on, along with the thrillers and comedies that Netflix recommends to me, there's a fair amount of "Pretty Little Liars" and other teen dramas that my daughters might like. I used to wonder if this bizarre mix confused Netflix, but Amatriain's talk has reassured me that the company understands what's going on. Then, at a finer-grained level, there are "hyper genres" that Netflix can offer based on your track record: not just Kids Shows, but Goofy Kids Shows; not just Family Movies but Feel-good Father-Daughter Movies. Slicing the offerings narrowly improves the chances of a hit, and it's no accident that the single most likely recommendation is the first one in each row.

Of course, the main complaint Netflix receives (other than its new price structure, I would imagine) is, "why don't you have the show I want to watch?" Amatriain said the company also looks at implicit data to decide what new content to license. So when you search for a show that Netflix doesn't offer for streaming, it gets noted. I guess if you really want it to show up, keep searching for it.

Opera enters the payment fray, PayPal and Home Depot go nationwide

Mobile World Congress, the humongous European conference on all things mobile, is happening this week and everyone loosely connected to mobile payments seemed to time an announcement around it. Here are some of the more interesting announcements that have come down the PR wire from Barcelona:

  • Opera, whose Opera Mini browser has more than 160 million downloads, launched the Opera Payment Exchange (OPX). Opera says it wants to "democratize" the payment space by building a payment platform that works on more platforms and devices than Android and iOS smartphones. It says the OPX platform provides APIs that developers can use to integrate payment systems with the Opera Mini mobile browser.
  • PayPal and Home Depot said they would roll out nationwide the payment program they have been piloting in a handful of Bay Area stores over the past six weeks. The program is a significant step for PayPal, bringing its payment system offline and into the physical retail world. Customers can buy hardware and other stuff on their PayPal account, with a PayPal card or with a mobile number and PIN — no NFC required.
  • Isis, the mobile payments joint venture between AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless, announced more partners in its effort to build a payments ecosystem. Customers of Chase, CapitalOne, and BarclayCard will be able to load their payment information into Isis-compatible phones when they're ready. Isis secured deals with the top four credit card companies (or "payment networks" to use the parlance) last July; now it's making agreements with the banks ("issuers"). Isis is planning two pilots in 2012, in Austin and Salt Lake City, though it's not clear what phones the technology will be in by then.

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Bank photo: Old Bank in Sunbury Village by Maxwell Hamilton, on Flickr

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February 23 2012

Commerce Weekly: The mobile payment system that's ready now

Here are a few stories that caught my eye this week.

Three reasons why direct billing is ready for its close-up

In a sign that direct billing is gaining credibility beyond the realm of online games and media, WorldPay, a payment network for sellers, said it would add Boku as a method of payment to its system. Direct billing companies like Boku, BilltoMobile, and Bango let people buy things by entering a mobile number online and replying to a confirmation SMS text; the charges show up on their cell phone bills. Execs with these firms often describe them as "banking for the unbanked," but the reality has been that in practice, many of the "unbanked" are online game players who are too young to have bank accounts.

But that seems bound to change. Direct billing has at least three things going for it that make it an attractive option right now for mobile payments.

Boku graphic

The first is the potential user base. The graphic above, from Boku's site, shows the numbers that these services pin their ambitions on. There are two billion credit card accounts in the world, but more than five billion mobile phone accounts. Each of those mobile numbers is a unique identifier that the carrier can identify anytime, anyplace in the world. Compare that to the experience many of us have had where your credit card issuer puts a hold on your account because it is suspicious that you paid for a taxi in Chicago on Tuesday but are now buying lunch in Puerto Rico on Thursday.

Second, PayPal is about to train its millions of mobile customers to pay for things by keying in a mobile number. Its real-world retail pilot at 51 Bay Area Home Depot stores allows users to do just that (or use a PayPal card) to pay for hardware and other real-world goods. PayPal bought Zong, a direct-billing leader, for $240 million in July 2011. It has woven that technology into its suite of customer payment methods, though the process now taps your PayPal account rather than showing up on your mobile phone bill. And that's probably a good thing: One of the things that has held direct-billing back has been the reticence of mobile carriers to go along with a scheme that threatens to anger their subscribers when they open their monthly bills to see totals that are hundreds of dollars more than they spent on telecom services. The direct-billing companies have helped the carriers get over their hesitation by offering them a cut of the charge, much higher than the few percentage points that credit card companies charge for transactions.

The third great thing that direct billing has going for it is that it could allow people to pay for real-world goods now, no matter what kind of mobile phone they have. We've written a lot about NFC wireless as a tap-and-pay solution coming "soon." But so far in the U.S., only a handful of Nexus G users on the Sprint network are able to pay for goods using NFC and Google Wallet. Verizon's decision last December to lock Google Wallet out of its rollout of Samsung's Galaxy Nexus due to "security concerns" made the advent of universal NFC a little less certain. Direct billing, however, works on any mobile phone that supports text messaging. As Boky co-founder Ron Hirson pointed out in a column on Venture Beat last year, the more advanced benefits of a mobile wallet accompany direct billing, and no NFC is required. As Hirson wrote, the real advantage to mobile payments isn't the supposed convenience of tapping your phone compared to swiping a plastic credit card; it's the integration with other apps on the phone for record-keeping, bargain hunting, rewards tracking, financial planning, and the option to go social.

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.

Is social commerce not commercial enough?

A Bloomberg story published late last week said Gamestop plans to shutter its Facebook store after disappointing results. The article also noted that over the past year, three prominent retailers — Gap, JCPenney, and Nordstrom — have all opened and closed stores on Facebook, too. The report quoted Forrester Research analyst Sucharita Mulpuru explaining the disconnect that's leading to disappointment:

"There was a lot of anticipation that Facebook would turn into a new destination, a store, a place where people would shop. But it was like trying to sell stuff to people while they're hanging out with their friends at the bar."

The report was noticed, and widely reposted and linked to. A counter-point published by Forbes on the same day appeared to get less attention. In that piece, Wade Gerten, CEO of 8th Bridge, which makes social shopping software, suggested these companies failed because they didn't understand what social commerce (or Facebook commerce) really is. Gerten wrote that it's not about setting up your Facebook page as a checkout stand; that's what your website does. It's more about tapping Facebook's best qualities — sharing, bragging, and asking — to help people discover what you're offering. He cites Ticketmaster and Delta Airlines as two successful practitioners of the art. Neither company attempted to replicate its website's transactional activity within Facebook's walled garden, but each organization used that channel to promote their offerings. So maybe it's not exactly F-commerce but F-marketing?

Meanwhile, with Facebook's ability to push merchandise now slightly tarnished, we look for a new champion. Pinterest is barely on the radar screen, but Forbes' Jeff Bercovici writes that it's already a better place for social commerce. "Pinterest isn't a bar," Bercovici writes, referencing Mulpuru's quote in Bloomberg's story. "It's more like a craft fair where people go to exhibit their wares, check out other vendors' offerings, or do a bit of both."

How to dial a telephone (again)

Our smartphones are so capable, and we're so adept at using them to manage our lives, that it's funny to look back and see that people once needed instruction in the most basic of phone operations: how to dial a number and place a call. But an ancient 10-minute black and white film on AT&T's Tech Channel (embedded below) shows the lengths that "the Bell network" went to in preparing their customers for the switch from operator-assisted calls to dialing systems. Rows of nerdy guys in white shirts and pocket protectors line up to yank out the fuses at the stroke of 12, while other white-shirted guys in another room at the same moment yank out strings that activate the new systems. A model who might have been Lucy's Connecticut neighbor explains some of the basics, like what a dial-tone and busy signal sound like, how to look up a number in the directory, and even how to dial a rotary phone.

Actually, the instructions on how to use a rotary dial phone — "making sure your finger firmly touches the finger stop with each pull of the dial" — are as novel now as they were when this film was produced. My young kids found an old one in their grandparents' house (not in service) and had fun marveling at how this heavy, black analog beast was able to make calls.

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February 16 2012

Commerce Weekly: Google defends its Wallet

Here are some of the news stories that caught my eye this week.

Google says its Wallet is still safer than your leather one

Google WalletGoogle's mobile commerce team spent the week doing damage control after the revelation of security flaws. Last week, it was widely reported that engineers at Zvelo, which provides web-categorization services, had found vulnerabilities in Google Wallet that allowed an app they had written to expose the PIN and tap prepaid funds in the wallet. Google's initial response was to advise users not to run Google Wallet on rooted phones, and be sure to have the screenlock on. But further work, as reported by Zvelo engineer Joshua Rubin, suggests that the hack requires root access, but not necessarily a pre-rooted phone: "While it is true that this PIN vulnerability requires root privileges to succeed, it does not require that the device be rooted previously." Rubin's post and a nice summary by Neil J. Rubenking at PCMag give a good picture of the vulnerability.

Security flaws like this feel inevitable to those accustomed to the ups and downs of web start-ups and the public bugs that accompany any release-early, release-often philosophy. They are, however, more alarming to those who work with banks, merchants, and anyone else who has experience moving money around. Bank Technology News captured the split between the two attitudes and cited Aaron McPherson, a practice director with IDC Financial Insights saying the recent security problem demonstrates "an almost cavalier attitude by non-payments companies toward protecting consumer security."

Google wasn't cowed by the charges, responding with a calm coolness and an insistence that, despite any flaws in its payments system, it's still better than what everyone else is doing:

"Mobile payments are going to become more common in the coming years and we will learn much more as we continue to develop Google Wallet. In the meantime, you can be confident that the digital wallet you carry provides defenses that plastic and leather simply don't."

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.

Buck enters the one-click mobile payment fray

Buck (previously Billing Revolution) announced a one-click credit card checkout for goods this week. Entering your credit card information once in the app allows you to buy with a single click at participating online merchants — providing you want to buy from Glamour magazine, Papaya Mobile's social gaming network, or any of the other (relatively few) merchants now offering Buck.

If, on the other hand, you're at your local Starbucks, you'll want to pay with one click by unlocking your Starbucks mobile payment option, generating a 2D barcode, and holding it up for the cashier to scan. But suppose you were feeling too groovy for Starbucks this morning and you stopped at your local independent coffee house? Then you might want to pay with a single click with Square's Card Case, providing your indie coffee guy has signed up for that. At Home Depot, you'll want to use PayPal, at Macy's you can tap-and-pay with Google Wallet, and you might need to pay with American Express to get the Foursquare deal that your local eatery is offering.

Mobile payment is exhausting in its current, fragmented state, but it will be interesting to see which systems gain critical mass. Recent web history offers some clues. It was not too long ago that a half dozen search engines, including AltaVista, Yahoo and AskJeeves competed for your searches until one company offered a simpler way with more effective results. And five years ago there were a handful of social network sites competing for our profiles, including MySpace, Orkut, and Friendster, until Facebook rose on a platform of sharing photos, social games, and an easy interface. So which mobile-payments option will find the right combination of security, usability and adoption first?

Adele scorns freemium model

Freemium may be the up-and-coming dominant model in mobile apps — particularly in games — but not everyone is in love with the concept. Adele, who just took home six Grammy awards, declined Spotify's request to stream her award-winning album "21" on its service. According to Austin Carr on Fast Company, the reason is that Spotify offers two tiers of service: a free ad-supported service and a premium one without ads. Adele was willing to let "21" stream to Spotify's paying customers, but not to those riding for free. Spotify, which doesn't offer different libraries for its two tiers, couldn't accommodate the request. So while you could buy "21" on iTunes or hear it on Rhapsody (where everyone pays to stream), you can't hear it on Spotify. But, as Carr points out, with a 20% conversion rate of free subscribers to paying ones, who can second-guess Spotify?

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February 10 2012

Commerce Weekly: Facebook finds a mobile commerce partner

Here are a few items that caught my eye this week.

How will Facebook cash in on mobile?

Facebook logoWith Facebook's public filings ahead of its imminent IPO, we know now that advertising accounted for 83% of its revenue of $3.71 billion in 2011. But we also know that almost none of its revenue came from mobile users — which is a bit of a problem since mobile users are an increasingly large part of Facebook's user base. Facebook members have embraced mobile apps on smartphones and tablets, and Facebook has encouraged their use by developing and releasing apps that deliver a UI experience that is, in some ways, superior to the traditional browser-based interface.

Now, Facebook has to figure out how to make mobile pay. A deal signed this week with mobile payments firm Bango aims to help. Bango provides mobile payment services and direct billing to carriers (like Boku and BilltoMobile), so that the cost of buying things on your mobile shows up on your mobile bill. That seems like a convenient way to buy, and such services have sometimes touted themselves for nobly serving "the unbanked" — even if many of those unbanked are largely American teenagers who use the services to buy virtual goods in games. The drawback is that mobile carriers have been lukewarm to the systems because they worry about customers seeing huge mobile phone bills and complaining or switching, even if what they're seeing is made up of virtual poker chips and Smurfberries. Direct billing services have helped the carriers get over these anxiety by giving them a cut of the revenues much greater than most payment providers get, often as high as 33%.

There's no word yet on how Bango and Facebook will manage payment or what percentage of those payments will go to the telecoms. But we can imagine what goods will be sold: Facebook Credits, as Facebook last year began insisting that mobile game providers sell their virtual goods using only Facebook credits. But I would expect Facebook's position on Credits to evolve as mobile commerce grows on the site. It's one thing to force users to buy Credits so they can be dispensed within social games; it seems unnecessary when consumers are buying a wider range of digital (or physical goods) throughout their Facebook experiences, and a restriction that could limit the potential. As long as the mobile carrier is taking a cut, why couldn't Facebook take a cut as well, without having to force Facebook's virtual currency into the equation?

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.

Google Wallet's glitches

Google Wallet is stumbling through some embarrassing growing pains as it comes under the scrutiny of white-hat hackers who are finding and publicizing security flaws. Engineers at Zvelo developed a Google Wallet Cracker app that appears to be able to break Google Wallet's encryption in seconds. Google is working to find a solution for the glitch, which exposes users' Google Wallet PIN numbers on rooted Android phones. Kate Knibbs at Mobiledia writes that the breach "validates Verizon's decision to block Google Wallet on the Galaxy Nexus," due in part to its concerns about security on the Android platform.

Meanwhile, over at TheSmartPhoneChamp.com, there's a video that highlights another security flaw in the phone. Since the Google prepaid account option within Wallet is tied to the device, not a separate Google account, someone who finds the device can open the Wallet app, clear the data, and then re-launch the app. Although the "new owner" will need to enter a PIN, the old prepaid Google account is still tied to that smartphone. I'm not certain how big a hole this is because I have no idea how much people store on their prepaid accounts — though I would hazard a guess it's not more than $300. All right, so nobody wants to lose $300, but it's not like being upside down on your mortgage.

Add to these issues the growing awareness that malware and crapware are a problem on the mobile side. To fight the malware problem, Google developed Bouncer, a program that scans for malware and spyware on Android apps. To keep out known troublesome apps, the service performs a malware and spyware scan on all submitted material. It also uses behavioral analysis to determine if a given app is trying to do something suspicious. Google doesn't stop there; it also performs fraud and abuse detection to ban and remove malware writers posing as legitimate developers. Google says it's already deployed the service and has seen a 40% drop in "potentially malicious downloads" thanks to it.

What would you buy with a QR code?

PayPal has launched a pilot with "shopping walls" in subway stations in Singapore, where you can purchase stuff by snapping a pic of the QR code while using a PayPal app on a smartphone (see a shopping wall in action here). It looks like a swell way to get some of your Valentine's Day shopping done while you're waiting for the Circle Line. Another nifty experiment would be ordering dinner from a shopping wall while waiting for your train in one station, so that it would be ready for you when you exit another. Snap the QR codes of the meals you want and checkout with PayPal. The system could even be smart enough to know when you'll pick it up, based on the station you ordered from. And there's no question of the food going to waste: The restaurant has your money and your mobile number.

That's my idea — and I freely admit that it's just because I'm late for dinner. Let me know if you've seen anyone selling meals or other interesting items via QR codes.

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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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