Some Tips for Staying Safe with your Digital Wallet

Mobile wallets are a hot topic right now, and the #1 question people keep asking is if they’re safe. The short answer, YES they are safe!

But how do I know that you’ll be safe? Because your credit cards are credit cards, no matter if they’re in your real wallet or your digital wallet. With MasterCard handling the transactions, you’ve got the same protections if someone gets ahold of your smartphone and starts making fraudulent purchases as you do with your ‘real’ credit card. You can report a card as being stolen the same way you do now—just because it’s stored inside a digital wallet doesn’t mean it’s any less safe! Read More

Get Rid of Your Wallet, The Future of Money is Here: Mobile Payments from Mastercard

Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to attend MasterCard’s Media Day event in NYC. The invitation was rather vague as to what to expect, though I did know that it concerned mobile payments. What shocked me was that this wasn’t some test demo of a future technology—MasterCard has teamed with Google’s Wallet software, Citi credit cards, and Sprint’s phone network to put together live shopping experiences that we can expect to actually be using in a few weeks. This holiday season, most of us will be pulling out wallets stuffed to the brim with receipts, coupons, wish lists and more. But if you’ve got a supported phone with NFC technology on Sprint, then you could be tapping your cell phone all over the place, making everyone else look distinctly 20th century. Read More

Google+ Not Yet Ready For Business

Last week, Google unveiled Google+, its latest attempt (following Wave and Buzz) at crafting a social networking platform potent enough to lure users away from Facebook (and, to a lesser extent, Twitter).  Though Google+ is still in an early beta phase—registration is currently closed, so prospective users will have to wait for the G to re-open its gates sometime in the near future—it seems like this may be Mountain View’s big push into the social networking arena.  While the future success of Google+ will largely be determined by whether users embrace the new platform—either in lieu of Facebook, or as a supplement to it—we’re most concerned with how Google+ might enable small businesses to enhance their sales and online presence.

This is a big question, especially since Facebook’s offerings for businesses are somewhat limited; through Facebook, businesses can directly advertise to particular demographic groups, and/or create company profile pages, which users can then “like,” and follow.  These limitations aren’t particularly surprising, as Facebook’s initial imperative focused on providing social connectivity features for individual users, allowing the site to build a critical mass of users, from which, it was hoped, profits would somehow follow.

By contrast, Google is building its platform long after achieving significant mind-share amongst the world’s Web-enabled citizens; as a result, it’s probably safe to surmise that commercial considerations and companies’ needs were given high consideration throughout the Google+ development process.  Indeed, Google has pro-actively assured small business owners that they will soon be able to create company “Pages” on the new platform, while also asserting that “initially we wanted to make sure that we optimized for the individual use case…[b]uilding great consumer products is a necessary prerequisite for compelling business products.”  Sure, Google knows that it has to attract users before the platform will have any real value for businesses and advertisers, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t planning for the future.  For instance, Nexus 4G users have found that the Google+ mobile app features NFC integration: Though the NFC functionality is currently quite limited, Google is likely planning to integrate its Google+ NFC tech with its recent Google Wallet and Google Offers NFC-based mobile applications (you can check out our previous coverage of Google Wallet here), which could provide some really innovative new ways for businesses to build relationships with their customers.

As it stands now, Google+ doesn’t really have much to offer small businesses, with Google (rightfully) focusing on building out a sufficiently large user base before inviting commercial interests to the party.  Of course, Google’s investment in this platform isn’t altruistic, it’s commercial, and when all the various pieces are considered as a whole, it seems as though Google is on the cusp of offering a fully integrated system that will combine features of Yelp, Foursquare, Groupon, Facebook, and Twitter, powered by a combination of mobile and desktop devices, and utilizing NFC technology at every possible turn.  There’s a lot of promise here for small business owners, let’s just hope there’s enough user adoption for these services to come to fruition.

Google Wallet and Google Offers Bring Huge Opportunities to Small Business Owners and Consumers

Today we were at Google’s press conference in NYC, it just concluded, and we have to say, the implications could be huge for small business owners, with Google announcing two key new Android apps that will potentially enable your customers to pay you faster by using their mobile phone. The primary app, Google Wallet, will securely store and communicate financial information from users’ phones to merchants’ NFC terminals. NFC (near field communication) is a wireless technology that has been around but is becoming more popular.  The other app announced was Google Offers, which serves as a complement to Wallet, integrating coupons and loyalty programs to the transaction experience.  Let’s take a look at the features offered by each app, and then consider the implications for small business owners.

Wallet will roll out this summer, though it will initially provide NFC services only with Citi Mastercard and/or a pre-paid Google account.  Google promises that more account types (Visa, American Express, non-Citi Mastercards, etc.) will be added in the future, but they didn’t name any specific partners, nor did they offer up any sort of timetable.  Despite the limited number of launch-time partnerships, the potential for Wallet is huge, as it’s the first NFC system that allows users to maintain multiple credit accounts within the same NFC client.  As Wallet gains wider adoption, more banks and credit agencies will likely jump aboard, which will provide users with an NFC commerce experience as flexible and robust as the current, leather wallet-based transaction process.

For small business owners, Google Offers promises to be a real game-changer.  Google demonstrated how seamlessly Offers integrates with both Wallet and users’ desktop browsing experience; a desktop Google search for “denim shorts” might yield a digital coupon, which can be added into the user’s Offers account through a single click, and then redeemed in person, via Wallet, at the local point-of-sale.  Even more exciting is the integration of location-specific coupons and offers into the Android ecosystem; a phone-based search for “sandwiches” could yield offers from nearby restaurants, generating greater first-time customers for local businesses and international franchises alike.  Offers will also manage and track customer loyalty programs, which could definitely help transform occasional customers into regular patrons.  Google is selectively launching Offers in Portland, San Francisco, and New York this summer, though once the initial bugs have been worked out, the program will likely quickly spread to other cities.

Google also outlined some features that will likely be added to Wallet/Offers over the next several years; digital receipts, transaction-based prizes and games, and eventually the ability to integrate drivers’ licenses, health insurance cards, concert tickets, and hotel keys.  What remains unknown, though, is who will be responsible for securing the data of these para-transactional experiences.  For the financial information of the transaction itself, Google has partnered with FirstData to provide secure transmission and storage of relevant data, but it’s unclear if FirstData would also be responsible for managing loyalty card information and the like.

There’s a lot of potential here, but what can small businesses expect in the short-term?

To be honest, not much.  Currently, the only Android phone sporting an NFC chip is the Nexus S, and it’s hard to build an entirely new commerce ecosystem around a single phone.  More NFC-enabled Android phones will likely arrive later this year, but it will take at least several years before a significant number of consumers have Google NFC technology in their pockets.  And, with rumors circulating that Apple has an NFC platform of its own in the works, it’s unlikely that Google’s initiative will move forward without some competition from its rivals.  The short-term potential of Wallet/Offers is also tempered by the aforementioned lack of launch-time financial partners; how many people have both a Citi Mastercard AND a Nexus S, and how many consumers look forward to regularly refilling a bespoke Google debit account?

Sure, the immediate potential of Google’s announcement is pretty limited, but with NFC terminal readers costing less than $10, merchants won’t be staking a significant financial investment in the technology, should it fail to find widespread consumer adoption.  And the long-term potential for small businesses is absolutely huge; if Wallet and Offers become widely adopted by consumers, smaller merchants and local retailers will be able to engage in the type of targeted advertising and sophisticated customer loyalty programs (with their accompanying analytics…) that are today affordable only for medium-to-large companies.  If you’re a small business owner in one Google’s trial cities, becoming an early adopter of Wallet/Offers could pay considerable dividends down the road, as your familiarity and expertise with the infrastructure could provide a key competitive advantage, should Google’s NFC become the transactional experience of the future.

GoPayment NFC transactions Demoed at Google I/O Conference

This mobile transactions battle between Square, Intuit, and VeriFone is heating up! Looks as if Intuit just raised the stakes with the demonstration of its GoPayment mobile credit card processing application sporting new NFC (Near-Field Communication) technology that could set it apart from competitors in the market.

The current GoPayment system consists of a credit card reader that you plug into your smartphone’s headphone jack to swipe a customer’s credit card to complete a sale. Square and Verifone both have similar devices that you have to physically add to your phone for credit card swiping functionality.

GoPayment Reader
Sqaure Reader
Verifone Reader

Intuit’s GoPayment demonstration at this year’s Google I/O Conference shows NFC technology bring used to transfer credit card data via radio waves, eliminating the need for the actual card or any add-on card reader hardware. During a transaction, a user simply holds their smartphone (with their financial information stored on an accompanying mobile app) near a Point-of-Sale (POS) device or another smartphone that will read your credit card information and complete the sale. Thus making it easier and faster for customers to pay, and simpler for small business owners to get paid.

Innovation is happening rapidly in the mobile payment space and we want to be ready to help the millions of small businesses and consumers we serve benefit from the latest technology.

The mobile tech industry has been investing in the creation/evolution of the virtual wallet for quite sometime. Intuit, with this recent show of support in NFC and mobile credit card transactions, may have just fast-tracked itself to the front of the race. Look out for more mobile device manufacturers to start pumping out NFC-enabled gadgets like the Google Nexus S currently on the market (and what Intuit used for its demo) that can support this technology towards the end of 2011 and well into 2012.

[via: Business Wire]

NFC is the New Black

The Lowdown: Near-Field Communication (NFC) technology has been making the rounds this past year as companies are starting to develop and enhance ways to utilize it in everyday settings. To refresh your memory, or to hip you to the game altogether, NFC is comprised of small chips encoded with information that can be decoded when a compatible device is in proximity of the chip. Any type of information can be stored on the chip, and devices that can decode the information can be as small as (you guessed it) a cell phone.

Specifically, by adding the technology to cell/smart phones to enable people to pay for items by linking a credit card or bank account to a microSD card with NFC tech built in and simply waving the phone over a POS device at the time of sale. Major companies like Visa and Bank of America are testing this out as we speak.

Google has decided to enter into the fray with their newest Android mobile device, the Nexus S, that will have NFC built into the phone – no need for an additional micoSD Card). Nexus S owners will be able to wave (or hover) their phones over NFC chips that can embedded into stickers, t-shirts, posters, business cards, etc. and decode/display the information.

Concurrently, Google has launched its “Hotpot” service that works with Google Places that offers businesses NFC-enabled window decals to display at their locations. The idea is that passers-by with NFC readers (like smartphones) can hover their device over the window decal to automatically learn more about the business, get special deals/offers, read and write reviews. The end result, more people using Google Places, and more foot traffic to businesses.

Does all this sound familiar? Well, I am a fan of QR code technology that enables people to create funny-looking barcodes encoded with information that can be decoded with QR code reader apps on smartphones. QR codes can be encoded with any type of information and can be made into the same stuff that NFC can be made into. The difference is that QR Code has to be scanned manually by decoder apps in conjunction with smartphone camera, versus NFC, which readers only have to be in proximity of a chip to decode the information.

Where am I going with all of this? It seems as if we are still waiting for QR Code to be accepted by the masses, and now in comes NFC technology already stealing some of it’s thunder. While NFC (chips) sounds WAY cooler than QR Code (barcodes), and is easier to use, QR Codes are easier/cheaper to produce and can be used over the web as well…

Scan the QR Code
Mario's Shirt

My Verdict: I think as smartphones become more and more of a de facto NECESSITY for everyone, and you start to see the entire contents of wallets and pocketbooks being replaced by smartphones, I think both QR Codes and NFC tech will have their respective place in our “can’t live without” device.

But I must ask – How could you use NFC or QR Codes for your business?