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February 21 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Square further simplifies POS for merchants

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

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

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

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January 24 2013

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

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

New trend in retail customer tracking: Smartphone Wi-Fi

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

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

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

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

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

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

Payleven gets investment boost in pursuit of Square-like success

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

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

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

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

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

NFC’s real role in mobile commerce: Consumer engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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January 17 2013

Commerce Weekly: PayPal marches toward ubiquity

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

PayPal expands its footprint with new partners

PayPal JambaJuice AppPayPal JambaJuice AppPayPal announced this week it has expanded its U.S. footprint to include 23 new partners for its PayPal in-store payments service, in addition to the 15 national partners announced last May, making its service available in 18,000 physical store locations across the country.

According to a post on the PayPal blog, new retail partners include Barnes & Noble, Office Depot, Foot Locker and Jamba Juice, and “two additional partners that [they] will share publicly soon.”

The deal PayPal struck with Jamba Juice goes beyond the in-store payments service that allows customers to pay with their phone number and a pin, or by using their PayPal payment card. Chloe Albanesius reports at PCMag that PayPal is testing its PayPal App in one Jamba Juice location to allow customers to place and pay for their orders, so when they arrive at the location, they just have to pick up their smoothie.

Global product VP Hill Ferguson notes in a post at the PayPal blog, that the feature is available only for iPhone users at this point and that there are plans to expand to more Jamba Juice locations this year.

In addition to its announcement of new retail partners, PayPal also announced a new hardware partner. Sarah Perez reports at TechCrunch that PayPal is “also partnering with point-of-sale and hardware maker NCR to expand into restaurants, as well as into other businesses, including gas stations and convenience stores.”

PayPal retail services VP Don Kingsborough explains on the PayPal blog that in the first phase of the agreement, PayPal mobile payments options will be integrated into the NCR Mobile Pay app and NCR Aloha Online Ordering. “PayPal will be a payment option and allow consumers greater choice for simple, fast and secure purchases, alongside credit or debit cards.,” Kingsborough writes. “Consumers will also be able to use the PayPal mobile application to locate, order-ahead and “check-in” at participating NCR Mobile Pay merchants to access the same functionality.”

According to Kingsborough’s post, the agreement also will involve integrating PayPal mobile payments into NCR’s Convenience-Go (C-Go) app for gas stations and convenience stores and an enhancement to NCR’s Netkey Endless Aisle app “to enable in-store payments with PayPal to either buy-in-store or provide shipping capability for out of stock items.”

Mobile wallets aren’t trumping credit cards, but perhaps Apple’s can

Mobile Commerce managing editor Bill Siwicki argued this week in a post at Internet Retailer that mobile wallets are not going to catch on anytime soon “due to a variety of hurdles, credit cards being perhaps the biggest.” Quoting an email exchange with Ben Saren, vice president of marketing at payment processor Litle & Co., Siwicki writes:

“‘People are never going to switch to mobile wallets as long as it’s just as easy to pull out a credit card as it is to pull out your phone. There’s no incentive to change the channel,’ Saren says. … ‘Love or hate the card networks, they have paved all of the highways and largely made them traffic-free. When you go to a retail location and buy something with a piece of plastic, the authorization happens in less than a second. … So somebody needs to tell me how the system is broken today and why we need something else.’”

Siwicki does note, however, that though “mobile wallets today are not a better mousetrap,” they do connect with the Internet in ways that credit cards can’t, which opens new avenues for merchants to offer coupons and loyalty programs. “Somewhere down the line, way down the line,” Siwicki writes, “I think making payments via smartphones will catch on, simply because of the central role smartphones are coming to have in people’s lives.”

In that same vein, SAS Institute’s Lori Schafer argued this week at the NRF 102nd Annual Convention & Expo that Apple is in a better position to disrupt mobile payments than current competitors. Quoting Schafer from her session, The Tech Titans’ War for Mobile Dominance – How Amazon, Apple, eBay, Facebook and Google are Shaping Our Mobile World, Lauren Johnson reports at Mobile Commerce Daily:

“‘When Apple adds in NFC, it will have two advantages over everyone else,’ [Johnson] said. ‘First, the iTunes database is huge, with over 400 million people already signed up. Second, the iPod touch and iPads are fast gaining traction as the next generation of cash registers, and a number of retailers are now starting to roll them out to their associates in-store instead of using the traditional cash register. This sets up Apple to potentially own both sides of millions of transactions.’”

Mobile commerce strategies shouldn’t hinge on transaction data

Amy Martinez observed at The Seattle Times this week that retailers are “lukewarm” about integrating mobile commerce into their sales strategies. Citing a new report from Forrester Research, Martinez notes that smartphones only generated $5 billion of the $226 billion e-commerce market in 2012, and because of that, “[r]etailers will continue to invest in mobile strategies, but the bulk of their technology spending in 2013 will be on the basics, such as improving online checkout, product descriptions and the overall user experience, according to the report.”

In a presentation at the National Retail Federation’s annual convention this week in Manhattan, Martinez reports, Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru said that “[r]etailers have been burned getting very, very hyped up over mobile … Even though consumers have these phones, the number of transactions on those phones is still small.”

Responding to Martinez’s piece, Colin Gibbs at GigaOm Pro writes that he doesn’t doubt Forrester’s data, but argues that mobile commerce is more than transactions. Gibbs says the very fact that smartphones are an inferior platform for browsing, price checking and entering or linking to credit card information is the reason retailers need to step up their mobile strategies. He writes:

“That’s why the top priorities for retailers in the mobile world should be building solid mobile websites, establishing relationships with their customers, delivering targeted ads and discounts, and encouraging them to come in to the store or to visit online stores on their PCs.”

Gibbs argues that even though closing mobile transactions remains difficult, “ignoring every mobile commerce strategy is short-sighted and dangerous.”

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December 13 2012

Commerce Weekly: Gift cards get Square

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

Give a gift through Square

Mobile payment company Square got into the gift card business this week, launching a gift card service tied to its Square Wallet. Christina Chaey reports at Fast Company that Square Wallet users can buy gift cards in amounts from $10 to $1,000 from any of the 200,000-plus businesses that process payments with Square and give them to anyone — recipients do not need to be Square users.

Once a gift card is purchased, it is sent to a recipient’s email inbox. From there, the gift card can be redeemed in a number of ways: for Square users, the card will automatically appear in their Square Wallet; iO6 users can save the card to their Passbook; and for those who don’t use either Square or Passbook, a QR code can be printed out for a merchant to scan.

Given its recent partnership with Starbucks that catapulted Square into the mobile payment mainstream and its international expansion into Canada, gift cards might seem a bit of a departure from the platform’s mobile payment focus. Square CEO Jack Dorsey explained the move in an interview with The Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Lynley. Not only is Square aiming to make the gift card experience cheaper for merchants — Dorsey explained that traditional gift cards can cost merchants 10% to 15% to issue, where Square will charge only the 2.75% they do for credit cards — but it’s also using the cards as a discovery tool and to streamline the experience for consumers. Dorsey said to Lynley:

“The biggest problem merchants have is being remembered and being discovered, so it’s another tool for discovery. If I really like a place and I’m a good friend of yours, I can tell you, but if I give you a gift card, you’re really going to try it out. … It also starts getting into a concept of more remote commerce. People from their couch can send these experiences, can send these gifts, and they don’t need to pick out different things.”

You can read Lynley’s full interview with Dorsey here.

Mobile payments gets a new white label tool

Several members from the team that developed the very successful Starbuck’s mobile payment app have launched a new white label mobile payments tool called Cardfree, Ryan Kim reports this week at GigaOm.

The company, which is launching with $10 million in Series A funding, is looking to help businesses develop or expand their mobile payments and mobile platform strategies. Kim writes that the company’s payment component works with 90% of existing POS systems. Merchants can create digital pre-paid cards or mobile payments, and payments can be processed via barcode scanning, via the cloud, or (in the future) via NFC, Kim reports.

Cardfree CEO Jon Squire told Kim that the company stands out from its competition not only in its team’s depth of experience, but in that they’re not looking to use the merchants as means to another end. Kim reports:

“Squire also believes that merchants are wary of working with some third-party wallet services [that] want to share data and also build up awareness for their own brand instead of the merchant. With Cardfree, merchants can work with the tools they have in place and be assured they will control the experience and branding, Squire said.”

Smartphone-based commerce gets a personal assistant

Maluuba, Android’s personal assistant answer to Apple’s Siri, got an upgrade this week that could bring a whole new dimension to retail shopping. Ryan Kim reports at GigaOm that users now can shop with their phones by telling Maluuba what they want.

When a user makes a shopping-related request, Kim reports, Maluuba pulls data from Google, Best Buy and Wal-Mart, and shows results from local retailers as well — and results aren’t limited to online shopping; Maluuba also will return results for local stores that have the item in question in stock. Google’s results are displayed first, with tabs to Best Buy and Wal-Mart results.

Once you find an item to buy, you click through to an external check-out process, which Ryan reports is a bit slow and clunky, but he notes that the streamlined search experience Maluuba provides might balance that out and “help spur on more smartphone-based commerce.” After testing, Kim says deeper ecommerce integrations are needed, but that Maluuba is “off to a good start.”

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October 25 2012

Commerce Weekly: Square’s big moves

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the mobile payment testing begin

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

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

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

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

Google Wallet on the iPhone?

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

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

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

You can sign up for an invite here.

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September 13 2012

Commerce Weekly: Apple excludes NFC, leaves payment pioneering to others

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

So that’s that: No NFC for the iPhone 5

Leading up to yesterday’s Apple event, there was much rumor mongering over whether or not the iPhone 5 would include NFC technology. The rumors have now been resolved: Apple did not include NFC in the iPhone 5. All Things Digital’s Ina Fried talked with Apple’s Phil Schiller about the lacking technology:

“Apple Senior VP Phil Schiller said that Passbook alone does what most customers want and works without existing merchant payment systems. It’s not clear that NFC is the solution to any current problem, Schiller said. ‘Passbook does the kinds of things customers need today’.”

Schiller’s sentiments echoed those made by Square COO Keith Rabois last year, that NFC is “a technology in search of a value proposition.” Cotton Delo at AdAge reported on Apple’s decision to forego NFC and side step the mobile wallet arena and noted that it’s not likely to have any ill effects on the mobile shopping ecosystem, as there is plenty of competition in the space to advance mobile wallet technology.

All the same, advancement in technology doesn’t necessarily translate into ubiquitous adoption, and the decision not to include the technology could have ramifications beyond mobile payments. Ryan Kim at GigaOm argues that Apple’s “snub” was a big detriment for NFC, that including it on “the most popular phone” would have educated consumers and brought a level of validation the technology hasn’t yet experienced. Kim also highlights the bigger issue:

“NFC is much more than just payments and can facilitate personal media and information sharing, building access, marketing and easy Bluetooth pairing. Google, BlackBerry, Nokia and Samsung have all shown different ways in which NFC can be used. But without many common applications that can work between those devices, there’s fewer chances for people to really adopt the technology. With a new iPhone likely to be a best seller, there would have been a lot of ways for people to get acquainted with NFC-actions. Now, the promise of NFC will still struggle to be fulfilled for at least another year.”

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.

There may be light in the tunnel for NFC yet

NFC might have taken a hit this week on the smartphone front, but the technology may have found a problem to solve in an (arguably more) unlikely place: the desktop computer. Adrian Covert at Gizmodo reports that MasterCard and Intel announced a partnership at the Intel Developer Forum this week that will “give merchants and laptop makers the necessary technology they need to act as credit card terminals.”

What this means for online shoppers, Covert says, is no more entering credit card numbers or storing them online — “you just tap your card or phone to your computer and get on with your day.” What this means for NFC could be a helpful nudge toward becoming a mainstream technology. Covert writes, “… with more and more phones and PCs coming equipped with NFC, the technology will be there en masse (meaning merchants can spend time and money integrating the feature knowing more than 10 people will use it).”

The growing “fustercluck” of services could hold back mobile payments

Leena Rao at TechCrunch took a look this week at what she calls “fustercluck” in the mobile payments arena. Noting the pace at which companies are launching mobile-payment-related platforms, she asks “how many more ways do we need to pay for a physical or digital product via a mobile device?”

Rao lays out the ecosystem landscape, including the major players like Google, Isis and PayPal, but notes that companies like Groupon, LevelUp and Shopkick are dabbling in mobile payments in various ways, and even major retailers have jumped in. The field is going to need to thin out, she argues, before mobile payments can achieve any kind of ubiquity:

“I think it’s safe to assume that there will be more than one clear-cut winner in the mobile payments/digital wallet race, but we will see consolidation. From the user point of view, a consumer is going to get frustrated very quickly if he or she has to use 10 different apps to pay for items.”

The deciding factor in which companies and platforms will come out on top goes beyond scale and the number of customers a platform can secure, Rao says. “I believe that the company or startup that commands the best value for both consumers and merchants will become the clear-cut leader,” she writes. Rao’s piece is well worth the read.

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August 16 2012

Commerce Weekly: U.S. merchants take on mobile payment

Merchants enter mobile payment arena

With mobile payments on the brink of booming, everyone is angling to get in the game, from payment companies like PayPal and Square to mobile carrier ventures like Isis and Vodaphone to Internet giants like Google. This week, a group of U.S. retailers announced they were taking payment matters into their own hands and planning a joint merchant mobile payments network called Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX). And there are some big players involved.

Robin Sidel at The Wall Street Journal reports that 14 merchants have signed on so far, including Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, 7-Eleven, and Lowe’s. Wal-Mart corporate VP and assistant treasurer told Sidel, “We’re open to all partners, but it has to be beneficial to member merchants in a way that improves the system and doesn’t layer on additional costs.”

Saving money appears to be one major motivator behind the new network. Ryan Kim at GigaOm asserts that member merchants are setting themselves up to save money in multiple ways. He writes:

By banding together, they may be able to get better interchange fees from the credit card networks. And in a mobile wallet, they may be able to steer consumers to use their own issued cards or prepaid gift cards. And if an issued card is pulling funds directly from a bank account, they can avoid card fees. You might see retailers offer deals on the spot for consumers who fund a purchase using their bank account through their mobile wallet.

Kim also notes that by launching their own system, the retailers will retain control over their own data and keep it out of third-party hands, pointing out that “Google, for example, is trying to get at the purchase data through Google Wallet.”

No launch date has yet been set for MCX, and Sidel reports that the search for a CEO is underway.

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.

The future of shopping is all in the tech

Recent Nielsen reports show that not only are smartphones holding a majority in the U.S. (50.4% of mobile subscribers as of March own a smartphone), but that smartphone owners are using their phones to shop. The latest Nielsen report shows that 47% of smartphone owners (or 45 million users) used shopping apps in June, with eBay Mobile and Amazon Mobile apps in the lead.

There’s no question that mobile technology is beginning to change the retail landscape, but we’re just at the tip of the iceberg. Jon Swartz took a look at the future of shopping over at USA Today and writes that technology advances will change everything from physical appearances of stores to shifting the retail workforce focus to be more customer centric. Shopkick CEO Cyriac Roeding told Swartz, “The next five years will bring more change to retail than the last 100 years,” and a Gartner analyst told him that retail we know today will be a thing of the past in 10 years:

“Big-box stores such as Office Depot, Old Navy and Best Buy will shrink to become test centers for online purchases. Retail stores will be there for a ‘touch and feel’ experience only, with no actual sales. Stores won’t stock any merchandise; it’ll be shipped to you. This will help them stay competitive with online-only retailers, Sterneckert says.”

Some of the interesting tech Swartz examines includes digital dressing rooms that allow customers to see how clothing will look and fit simply by standing in front of an Intel Magic Mirror that simulates body type and fabric fit, with no need to actually try on the clothes, and 3-D printers that will allow consumers to print-on-demand many household necessities such as towels and utensils.

Swartz also looks at the coming brick-and-mortar retail revolution and notes that mobile technology will play a key role:

“By the time you walk into a store in the near future, the employees there will probably know what you want to buy, based on information on your trusty phone or tablet. Merchants will know your gender, age, race and income … imagine waving your smartphone over products and seeing what’s inside. Holding the phone over a DVD’s bar code might activate a movie trailer on the phone’s screen … All of this will be made possible with so much personal data on smartphones, and the ability of merchants to parse it to gauge who is just browsing and who’s on a mission to buy.

Swartz examines smartphone technology, the death of cash, augmented reality and harnessing social media as the driving forces behind the future of retail. His post is well worth the read.

East vs West Coast mobile shopping trends

Big data company Sense Networks released its first Mobile Advertising Pulse report, showing East and West Coast mobile shopping behaviors tend to align with lifestyle stereotypes of the two coasts. The company press release on the report identifies the East Coast as “a hub for education and the more practical consumer,” and the West Coast as “being known for residents that are focused on health and fitness.”

Looking at click-through rates (CTR) for mobile advertising deals, Sense Networks identified the top two ad deals for East Coast consumers as “optical and eye doctor deals,” whereas West Coast consumers leaned toward mani-pedi offers and Pilates classes. A few of the fun East Coast versus West Coast data points include:

  • “Consumers throughout the East also had a 60% higher CTR on education deals, including art and photography courses.”
  • “Overall West Coast consumers had a 24% higher CTR on health and fitness deals than east coast mobile users.”
  • “East Coast consumers had a 26% higher CTR on nightlife and an 18% higher CTR on restaurants.”
  • “West Coast consumers had a 136% higher CTR on travel and 33% higher CTR on food and drink (for example, wine tasting).”

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

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