Programming

Commerce Weekly: Gift cards get Square

Square launches gift cards, Cardfree launches mobile payments tools, and Maluuba can now do your shopping.

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.

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Commerce Weekly: Same-day delivery war heats up

The same-day delivery battle, NFC in vending machines, and Google as information central for holiday shoppers.

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

The high price of instant gratification

The Wall Street Journal’s Greg Bensinger took a look this week at the e-commerce same-day delivery trend, a service eBay, Wal-Mart and Google have been experimenting with in order to better compete with Amazon, which has offered same-day service in select locations since 2009.

The obvious benefit for e-commerce retailers is being able to improve the customer experience — providing the convenience of online shopping with the instant gratification of brick-and-mortar shopping. The biggest obstacle is cost. EBay, for example, has hired couriers, paying $12.50 per hour and 55 cents per mile, Bensinger reports, but only charges $5 to deliver a minimum $25 order. Industry analyst Kerry Rice told Bensinger, “Retailers are clearly subsidizing this service to improve the customer experience. Amazon created this monster and everyone has had to jump on board to compete.”

Amazon operating at a loss to draw consumers into its ecosystem is pretty par for its business model, and its deep pockets mean companies are going to have to get creative to successfully compete. Wal-Mart is perhaps in the best position not only to compete with Amazon on this front, but perhaps even overtake and lead the same-day delivery field. Walmart.com chief executive Joel Anderson highlighted for Bensinger Wal-Mart’s advantage: “We have 4,000 Wal-Mart stores and local goods within five miles of most customers.” Each store basically serves as an online distribution center, a scale that Amazon could be challenged to meet, even taking into account its aggressive distribution center expansion plans.

In related news, Google reportedly shelled out more than $17 million to buy Canadian locker storage startup BufferBox this week. As many outlets reported, Google may be positioning itself to compete against Amazon’s Locker delivery service, which allows customers to have goods delivered to secure pick-up stations rather than home addresses.

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Emerging languages spotlight: Elm

Evan Czaplicki on breaking the HTML-CSS-JavaScript blockade with functional reactive programming.

Over the next few months I’ll be taking a look at new and emerging programming languages. The following piece is the first in this series.


The Elm Programming Language, created by Evan Czaplicki, tackles web interaction and takes on the big three — HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Czaplicki to talk about why he decided to take on this daunting project and how Elm could revolutionize web programming.

Czaplicki was working on a front-end web project and he was thinking about how is it that web development can be “so frustrating in a way it didn’t have to be.” That was the day Elm was born (he talks about that moment in this segment of our video interview).

Today’s websites bear virtually no resemblance to those from 10 years ago, so why are we using the same tools? Cyclical upgrades to HTML, CSS and JavaScript have certainly enhanced and improved upon older versions. HTML5 has taken some great leaps forward. But we’re still using the core.

Coming from a functional programming background led Czaplicki to think about web programming from the perspective of functional reactive programming. What is functional reactive programming? It takes away the idea that interaction between a website and user is static — updating only at certain moments or clicks — and inserts the capability to update as events happen, like mouse movements. Czaplicki gives more detailed insight here. Read more…

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Commerce Weekly: Holiday cyber spending breaks records

Holiday online and mobile spending, paying with your fingerprint, and creepy mannequins are watching you shop.

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

Holiday weekend sees huge increases in online and mobile spending

The big news this week is the cyber spending that happened over the holiday weekend. Starting with Thanksgiving Day, online shoppers found time between football downs, turkey, stuffing, and pie to spend $633 million at online retailers, according to Internet analytics company comScore — a 32% increase over 2011. Black Friday, too, saw a sizeable increase in cyber shopping with $1.042 billion in online sales — 26% over 2011 and the heaviest online spending day for 2012, at that point. Cyber Monday stole the show, though, with consumer online spending ringing in at $1.46 billion, making it the biggest online spending day in U.S. history, according to comScore.

IBM Cyber Monday Report
From IBM’s Cyber Monday Report — click here for the full report (PDF).

More holiday spending than ever occurred via mobile devices as well. Sarah Perez reports at TechCrunch that a report from mobile commerce startup Branding Brand showed a 221% increase year-over-year in smartphone spending (not including sales via tablets) on Thanksgiving and a year-over-year increase of 128% on Black Friday. According to IBM’s Holiday Benchmark data, mobile purchases as a whole exceeded 16% on Black Friday, up from 9.8% in 2011. And according to IBM’s Cyber Monday Report (PDF), more than 18% of consumers visited retail sites via mobile devices on Cyber Monday, a more than 70% increase over 2011, and mobile sales approached 13% — a year-over-year increase of more than 96%. Of these mobile shoppers, 58.1% used smartphones, compared to 41.9% who shopped via tablet, according to the report.

Luke Wroblewski has additional holiday mobile shopping highlights from Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday in his Data Monday blog. A few tidbits include:

  • PayPal saw a 164% increase in the number of its mobile global customers on Thanksgiving Day — 2.5 times the mobile payment volume it booked on Thanksgiving Day 2011.
  • Mobile traffic on Black Friday has grown from less than 1% in 2009 to 24% in 2012.
  • Black Friday online shopping via mobile devices was led by the iPad at 10%, the iPhone at 8.7%, and Android devices at 5.5%

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

BofA enters Square's arena, V.me exits beta, and plastic likely won't leave the payment space anytime soon.

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

Square aims high, BofA enters mobile payment arena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Commerce Weekly: Mobile wallets and NFC get a global partnership platform

Vodafone to launch a mobile wallet, a startup mines the science of shopper behavior, and a kickstarter campaign to bring NFC to iOS.

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

Vodafone partners up to launch a new mobile wallet platform

Yet another mobile wallet is gearing up to hit the market in 2013. Vodafone announced a partnership with m-commerce company CorFire and digital security company Gemalto to launch the platform in the first quarter of 2013 in Germany and Spain with plans to expand across Europe, according to a report at Bloomberg.

Natasha Lomas at TechCrunch reports that the initial rollout will focus on NFC-equipped Android devices and that the services “will be compatible with the standards chosen by Weve” (formerly known as Project Oscar). According to Lomas, Dr. Jae Chung, CorFire’s president and CEO, noted the platform’s potential in a released statement: “Vodafone’s customer base spans across more than 30 countries, which means our partnership may become one of the biggest, global implementations of NFC and mobile commerce.”

James Wester at Mobile Payments Today reports that Vodafone’s plan for its more than 400 million subscribers around the globe goes beyond the mobile wallet — plans include developing the platform so that third-party service providers can access the subscriber base.

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