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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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