Posts tagged Square

Starbucks To Square: It’s Over

You won’t be able to pay for that latte with Square.

Starbucks will soon no longer take Square’s mobile payments in its stores, unwinding a key aspect of the partnership the companies announced in 2012.

On Wednesday, Square sent an email to some users of its Wallet app announcing that it was “retiring” Wallet. It’s now rolling a key feature of Wallet—one that let users check into a store and pay by announcing their name to a cashier—into its newer Square Order app. The new feature is called Tabs, but it works similarly to Wallet.

Just don’t expect to run up a tab on Square in Starbucks.

“Starbucks is not adopting Square Order in our stores,” says Maggie Jantzen, a spokesperson for Starbucks. “We opted to build our own mobile ordering solution, leveraging our own mobile app and world-class loyalty program.”

Starbucks is currently testing that app in its Portland, Ore., stores.

Wallet was also the payment method that Square offered in Starbucks stores. Instead of paying with their name, though, Wallet users had to use the app to pull up a scannable code. As such, Square Wallet wasn’t any more convenient than the existing Starbucks mobile app, and had the disadvantage of not letting users earn reward points for free coffee.

Square had already pulled Wallet from Google and Apple’s app stores earlier this year, but it had continued to support the app for people who had already installed it on their phones. That meant that Wallet users could still pay in Starbucks—if they wanted to.

When Square fully retires Wallet—it hasn’t set a date, but its emails to Wallet users suggest it’s coming soon—the existing app will stop working and Order will be the only option for paying with your mobile phone at Square merchants. And Square’s time as a mobile-payments provider to Starbucks will come to an end.

Hey Now, Hey Now, Don’t Dream It’s Over

Square doesn’t seem to want to declare the experiment over.

“Starbucks continues to be a partner of ours and we continue to process their payments and work closely together,” says Johnny Brackett, a Square spokesperson. “We have nothing to share regarding Starbucks offering Order.”

It’s true that Square and Starbucks will continue to do business together—just not in the area of mobile payments. 

When customers pay with plastic credit or debit cards in Starbucks cafes, Square processes those transactions. It’s purely a back-end payment-processing deal: Starbucks doesn’t use Square’s custom card-swiping hardware. At the time, Starbucks said it would save money by switching from Bank of America Merchant Services to Square, which led many payment insiders to believe Square had agreed to financially disadvantageous terms to win Starbucks’s business.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz joined Square’s board in August 2012 and left it in October 2013. Since then, he’s announced that mobile payments is a key business for Starbucks, and the company is considering offering its system to other retailers—putting it in competition with Square.

Photo by calleephoto

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Square Is Resurrecting Wallet, Its Pay-By-Name Mobile App, And Giving It Away

Wallet, the pay-by-name app that payments company Square introduced in 2011 and discontinued earlier this year, is back, according to an email Square sent to users Thursday.

Square is “retiring” Wallet but its putting its key feature—the ability to pay in stores by saying your name, without taking out a wallet or even your phone—inside Square Order. And it is offering the service to merchants for free—a powerful lure as powerful competitors like Apple, Amazon, and PayPal court the same retailers.

Square Order, an app Square introduced as it discontinued Wallet, allows for customers to place orders ahead of time to pick up in stores. That app is now adding a feature called Tabs, which is picking up where Wallet left off as a way of paying without having to swipe a card.

Johnny Brackett, a Square spokesperson, confirmed the change to ReadWrite, saying that a “subset” of Wallet users had received the email.

“There’s been a lot of talk in the Valley about Wallet failing,” Brackett says. “Wallet didn’t fail, but it did need to evolve.”

Current Square Wallet users can access the feature by downloading Square Order and logging in with their existing accounts. Other curious users may be able to add the pay-by-name feature by entering a promotional code, TABSPREVIEW, into their apps. In a test, a ReadWrite colleague who had not previously used Wallet was able to add the feature to her Order app using that code.

Square Order now lets customers open virtual “tabs” to pay for purchases.

New Life For An Aging Innovation

At the time Square introduced Wallet, it was seen as a true innovation in payments, fundamentally changing the payment experience. It made for a great demonstration, and won Square a lot of publicity, but it failed to catch on with consumers, who were used to swiping credit cards.

One issue with Wallet may have been its profitability. Square charges most merchants a 2.75% fee on transactions, while it pays varying rates to banks and credit-card processors. On most transactions, it makes a healthy profit, but on smaller purchases, it may lose money.

See also: Companies, If Not Consumers, Clamor For Apple Pay

Rules set by Visa and MasterCard treat transactions like Wallet as similar to online transactions, where a plastic card isn’t swiped. These so-called “card not present” transactions carry higher fees, which means that Square was more likely to lose money on Wallet transactions.

When Square replaced Wallet with Order, it seemed to have an answer: Initially, Order transactions would carry the same 2.75% fee, but that fee was supposed to rise to 8% on July 1, 2014.

According to Brackett, the fee increase for Order never kicked in. And the company quietly cut the charge on Order transactions to 0% in recent months.

Pay-by-name transactions in Order will also cost merchants nothing for the time being.

A promotional code unlocks Square Order’s new Wallet-like pay-by-name feature.

“We found a way to reduce the cost to zero,” Brackett says. That’s the cost to merchants, not the actual cost of the transactions. Brackett didn’t elaborate on how the company is handling the cost of such transactions, but it is likely that Square is bearing the cost of fees imposed by card processors and banks in the hopes of getting merchants to adopt Order. It’s also possible that Square is getting some assistance from partners; JP Morgan Chase and Visa are investors in the company.

Square is also giving away in-store marketing materials, like posters, coffee sleeves, and vinyl banners.

Courting Consumers, After Taking A Break

The new push to get merchants and consumers to adopt Order is a surprisingly aggressive move for Square on a couple of fronts. 

First, Square had largely deemphasized marketing its consumer products in recent months, focusing its website and public-relations efforts almost exclusively on reaching merchants. Second, Square had also emphasized profit-making moves—like the higher rate it initially planned to charge for Order transactions—amid reports that it was aggressively spending the money it had raised from investors.

See also: Square Beware! Amazon Goes In For The Kill

According to Brackett, Order is being led by Gokul Rajaram, a high-profile product expert Square hired away from Google last year, suggesting it has now become a high priority for the company to reach out to consumers again.

One casualty of the move to eliminate the old Wallet app: Square’s partnership with Starbucks for mobile-app payments. While Square continues to process credit- and debit-card payments for Starbucks, there’s no way to make phone payments with Square Order. (Square Wallet never allowed for pay-by-name payments at Starbucks stores; instead, Wallet displayed a code that baristas scanned.)

The ability to pay with your phone at Starbucks via Square will go away when Square pulls the plug on the old Wallet app, in other words—unless Square gets Starbucks to sign up for Order. That appears unlikely, since Starbucks is introducing order-ahead functions to its own app, which it is currently testing in Portland, Oregon.

“We have nothing to share regarding Starbucks offering Order,” says Brackett. Maggie Jantzen, a spokesperson for Starbucks, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Square’s move comes as it faces increasing competition for ways to pay in stores. Apple Pay, a tap-to-pay system currently limited to Apple’s newest smartphones and tablets, is signing up more banks and merchants. And PayPal, which copied Square’s pay-by-name feature in its mobile app, is aggressively marketing the feature in stores and on billboards in San Francisco and other cities. PayPal is also letting merchants add mobile payments features to their own apps; it recently signed up Burger King, for example. Amazon has also introduced a product, Local Register, which is undercutting Square on pricing by charging merchants a slightly lower fee of 2.5% on transactions.

In October, Square raised $150 million in fresh financing. It’s clearly determined to put some of that new money to use getting merchants and consumers to embrace its Order app.

Photo by Adrian Cleave for ReadWrite

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Snapchat Partners With Square To Introduce Snapcash, A Money Sending Service by @mattsouthern

Snapchat announced they have partnered with Square to introduce a new service called Snapcash, which marks Snapchat’s first partnership of any kind with another company. The service is said to be incredibly simple to use. You enter your debit card information into Snapchat, which is securely stored and processed by Square. Then you swipe to chat with one of your contact, enter a dollar amount preceded by the dollar sign (like ‘$15’), and hit the green send button. Then once the person on the other end receives the payment they have roughly 10 seconds to spend it before it goes away. […]

The post Snapchat Partners With Square To Introduce Snapcash, A Money Sending Service by @mattsouthern appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

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BlackBerry’s New Square Passport Is A Ticket To Weirdness

BlackBerry’s claim to fame used to hang on amazing physical hardware keyboards, a rarity in today’s smartphone scene. Now the former darling of the work world wants to recapture those glory days.

Toward that end, on Wednesday it launched the new BlackBerry Passport—a squarish keyboard-equipped smartphone powered by BlackBerry 10.3, the company’s latest mobile operating system.

Consider it BlackBerry’s’s bid to recapture hearts and hands, especially those of the business users who once held it so dear. But this odd-looking device might just be a little too bizarre for the buttoned-up enterprise crowd—or anyone else, for that matter.

Desperate For A Comeback

Before Apple and Google dominated the smartphone market, BlackBerry was a major player in advanced mobile devices.

See also: Disaster Strikes BlackBerry—Huge Job Cuts, $1 Billion Net Loss

The Waterloo, Canada–based company’s keyboard phones were more than just productivity gadgets; they were trendy status symbols that suggested affluence, success and a get-down-to-business lifestyle that hinted at the user’s VIP status. Less than a decade later, BlackBerry has morphed into an underdog with dismal earnings. Despite a name change and an executive shakeup, the company struggles to maintain its fourth-place slot behind Windows Phones, itself far behind iPhones and Android devices. 

One reason for the drop-off: The business world, which once basically ran on BlackBerries, started yielding to popular employee demand. Many implemented BYOD (bring-your-own-device) initiatives that allowed staffers to use personal iPhones or Android devices for work. 

Now BlackBerry wants those customers back. Although the company’s future seemed to lie in enterprise-level software, it can’t seem to shake the idea that it can win by making new handsets. And now it’s hoping this phone will be its passport to success. 

Workers—particularly those who miss the BlackBerry Bold and Curve from years ago (or their physical keyboards, at least)—may be curious about what this new device can offer. Well, let them wonder no longer. In a word, what it offers is … strangeness.

Passport: What A Trip

The Passport is an unconventional smartphone sized like an actual passport. It’s certainly a different approach than the phablets out there now, with a square screen that gives documents and spreadsheets plenty of room to breathe.

See also: How BlackBerry’s Focus Will Shift In 2014

Of course, you’d expect a BlackBerry to nail the keyboard experience. But the wide space can’t overcome one big issue with it: The buttons sit in a disorienting three-row design, with the spacebar wedged up into the third row. 

It’s a weird choice, considering that the main benefit of hardware keyboards is the fact that you can touch type on them. With this alternative design, a lot of people will errantly hammer that spacebar when they’re reaching for the “b,” “n” or “m.” 

On the plus side, the physical keys have virtual partners riding shotgun. Those onscreen keys pop up onscreen and change depending on which apps you’re using. It’s also nifty that the keyboard has touch features that turn it into a touchpad of sorts, one that lets users flit along the tops of the keys for swiping or scrolling action. 

The square, 1,440-pixel, 4.5-inch display may stop short of phablet proportions, but bypassing a tall rectangle for a broader, squarer shape really maximizes that real estate. Too bad that makes for a wonky phone experience. With a 3.56-inch width and a 0.36-inch thickness, that would feel like holding an extra-fat kitchen tile up to your face. 

Unsurprisingly, the handset isn’t all that easy for one-handed use. Although you could make that argument about huge phablet-sized smartphones in general, many—like those from Samsung and now Apple—at least offer a one-handed mode. 

It’s all just a bit bizarre—perhaps too weird and with too high a learning curve for most people to get a grip on.

This Is Not A Ticket To Relevance

Not that Passport completely ignores the competition. The device also includes a voice command tool called BlackBerry Assistant, a feature akin to Siri, Cortana or Google Now, but minus the predictive features. 

It also offers a decent battery, listed at 30 hours of mixed use, which should please power-hungry users if actual performance is anything like that. 

Passport also ties into BlackBerry Blend, a syncing feature that puts messaging and other smartphone content to your Windows and Mac computers, and Apple and Android tablets.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t overcome one primary issue: apps. Passport runs Android apps courtesy of the Amazon Appstore. Granted, users are better off than relying solely on BlackBerry World and its slim pickings. But the options can’t compare to Google Play or Apple’s App Store. And people looking for Gmail, Calendar or other Google services will be out of luck. 

See also: BlackBerry’s App Store Flooded By 47,000 Terrible Apps From One Developer

Video is another conundrum. On a square screen, streaming Netflix, Hulu, YouTube or other services will either chop off part of the action at the sides or render large black bars above and below the picture. While watching movies isn’t crucial for most business tasks, people still do a lot of it on modern smartphones, and Android, Apple and Windows Phone models manage it better. 

Perhaps the most obvious question is this: With Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus “bendability” making headlines, how will a wider phone—even one with Corning’s super strong Gorilla Glass—fare in pants pockets across the land? After all, not everyone wears suit jackets, even in the business world. 

Amid all that, the company’s smartest move seems to be this: It didn’t put all its BlackBerries in this basket. The company will reportedly bring another handset to market later this year—the so-called BlackBerry Classic. By all accounts, its more traditional design might be a better fit for any leftover fans of the old Bold or Curve. The company is also mulling over wearable gadgets, such as a smartwatch, eyewear or both. 

The Passport may show that the company still has a pulse, but it’s no ticket back to relevance—it’s just a passage to a strange, disorienting place for smartphone users. Hopefully it’s just temporary stopover, not a destination. 

The Passport is available now, starting at $599 retail (factory unlocked) on BlackBerry’s website. It’s also available on Amazon. Carriers haven’t announced two-year contract pricing, but it’s expected to go for around $250.

Screenshots by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite

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Square Beware! Amazon Goes In For The Kill

Amazon wants small businesses to use its payments system for in-person transactions, too. The online retail giant released Amazon Local Register on Wednesday, a card reader that lets merchants accept debit and credit card payments on Apple, Android, or Amazon devices.

Thanks to Amazon’s ability to absorb loss, it can enter the physical payments space with a Square card-reader competitor for much less than the startups that have struggled to gain traction. 

Amazon is taking just a 1.75% vendor fee per swipe for a limited time, compared to Square’s 2.75% fee. Even when that offer expires in January 2016, it will still be cheaper than both Square and PayPal at just 2.5%. The card reader tool costs $10, and requires sellers to create a new account with the Amazon Local Register application.

Already a huge number of small businesses are using Amazon to hawk their wares online. In 2011, two million independent sellers sold almost 40% of products bought on Amazon, AllThingsD reported. With Local Register, independent sellers at brick-and-mortar locations can now sell via Amazon, without uploading anything to the website.

Lead image screencapped from Amazon’s Local Register video.

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China Blocks Google Ahead of Tiananmen Square 25th Anniversary

As early as last Friday, Google reported slower levels of activity from China. It is speculated that the disruption is due to the 25th anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations around Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

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Twitter’s Plan To Appeal To The Masses: Demolish The “Town Square”

Reports of Twitter’s death have been greatly exaggerated. 

Yes, the social network is experiencing slow growth. Sure, Twitter is implementing a slew of changes that will transform it into a website very different from the text-based social network we’ve come to love. And maybe you’ve gotten bored with it. That doesn’t mean we’ll be attending its funeral any time soon

Early adopters will no doubt decry Twitter’s evolution—and I’m one of them. I’m not a fan of the new Twitter that copies features from Facebook with abandon, and I’m definitely not alone. People who have used the service for years have become accustomed to the way it looks and operates; we’ve become the Twitter elite that gets how Twitter works, with all the silly hashtags and Twitter canoes, and we don’t want more people coming in to rock the boat. 

The thing is, Twitter can’t be considered a dead social network until it has time to live among the masses. And to appeal to a larger audience—one that isn’t just tech bloggers, media, early adopters and their ilk—it needs to change.

Twitter, as we know it, might be dying. But much like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, Twitter needs to experience radical change before it can really fly.  

Not A Town Crier, But A Friendly Companion

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo has historically referred to his social network as a “town square,” with millions of people sharing news and events with each other in 140-character spurts in real time. But Costolo dropped his metaphor during Twitter’s first quarter earnings call on Tuesday.

“We think of Twitter as this companion experience to what’s happening in the world,” he said.

Twitter itself is acknowledging the changes. It’s come to realize the “town square” metaphor doesn’t resonate with the masses, and it needs to reposition itself as an accompaniment to, rather than an authority on, what’s happening around its users.

Twitter as a companion service means that people don’t necessarily have to tweet or contribute all the time just to enjoy the greater community that solely exists on Twitter.

The company’s move to become the most popular “second screen” experience is a perfect example. Twitter wants to be the application everyone is using while watching television, but that doesn’t necessarily mean people must tweet simultaneously. Sometimes just following their favorite celebrities’ statuses or reading hashtag threads will be enough.

For instance, on Monday’s “The Voice,” banter between coaches Blake Shelton and Adam Levine found its way to Twitter. Shelton tweeted rival coach Levine’s cell phone number, which was retweeted almost 40,000 times. As a fan of “The Voice,” watching the duo tease each other without being privy to it firsthand might produce a bit of FOMO—or fear of missing out—and could prompt new Twitter users to sign up just to take part in the fun.

Twitter also announced Tuesday it has grown to 255 million monthly active users, up from 241 million last quarter. Still, investors don’t feel Twitter is growing fast enough: Those growth numbers fell below analyst expectations, and as a result, Twitter shares fell shortly after the company released its earnings.

An Expected Shift

Indeed, Twitter has a slow growth problem, but it’s not for lack of awareness. Twitter is unavoidable: Tweets are embedded on news outlets around the world, broadcasters read tweets while calling sporting events, and it’s almost impossible to watch live television without seeing an advertisement incorporate a hashtag or an @-mention. 

People are aware of Twitter, they just don’t know how—or why—they should use it.

The company has made significant changes to its core product in an effort attract a broader audience and boost user growth. Most notably, the company completely redesigned user profiles by ripping off a more user-friendly service—Facebook. The Facebookification of Twitter certainly has its downsides—we don’t want another place for friends. But as its slow growth demonstrates, Twitter, as it is right now, isn’t enough. 

Twitter also hinted at more tweaks to its direct message product, a feature that has seen its own share of updates in recent months. A more robust messaging service that complements its companion app strategy will hopefully encourage even more people to use the application.

Try as it might to convince users otherwise, Twitter still faces an identity problem. It’s struggling to become a must-have application for everyone, while those of us who rely on it for news and events are slowly becoming dissatisfied with the way it seems to be diluting itself to appeal to a broader audience.

Twitter is taking a risk—it’s making changes to get more people on the service that alienate the people that helped build it up in the first place. It’s a risk Twitter is willing to take, because getting the next 255 million people on Twitter is worth making a few dedicated users very unhappy.

Lead image courtesy of NYSE 

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In A Bid To Boost Sales, Square Is Moving Beyond The Swipe

Square announced on Monday a handful of new tools that let business owners offer pickup services, accept payments while offline, and track their inventory. 

As ReadWrite predicted earlier this year, Square is finally ready to enter the order-on-demand market, where it faces stiff competition from services like Eat24 and GrubHub. Where Square has the advantage, though, is its new pickup offering that integrates seamlessly with its e-commerce products Square Register and Square Market, which lets Square merchants take online orders.

With Square’s new pickup tool, businesses can post items on Square Market, and customers can order and pay online and pick up their products in-store. 

“Research shows that food and beverage is the second most popular category among purchases made on smartphones, and that more and more people prefer to use their smartphones to pay,” Square said in a statement. “Square is helping local business owners match these trends and connect with customers.”

To simplify business transactions when there are technical difficulties, Square is introducing Offline Mode, which lets sellers use Square’s mobile point of sale products, like the credit card reader, to accept credit card payments even without an Internet connection. Square will log the information when the card is swiped, and store it until Internet service has resumed, which means Internet disruptions or outages be a problem of the past for business owners that use Square. 

Additionally, businesses selling product from Square Registers or Square Market can now track their product inventories through their Web dashboard and set up notifications to be alerted when inventory is low. 

Lead image courtesy of Square

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Square Will Soon Let You Order Food And Book Appointments

Soon you’ll be able to order food or book an appointment by using a Square app.

On Wednesday, the payments company announced the acquisition of BookFresh, a booking tool for services businesses. It is also testing a new application called Square Pickup that lets users order directly in the application, pay with Square, and pick up their food in the restaurant when they’re ready. 

The moves represent a broadening of Square’s payments business beyond its original, iconic credit-card swiping device, which let businesses accept in-person payments with a smartphone or tablet—a substitute for cash registers and credit-card terminals.

Last year, it expanded into e-commerce with Square Market, which let existing Square merchants take online orders. It also has apps for consumers, like Square Cash, which allows people to send and receive transactions via a mobile device, and Square Wallet, which lets buyers pay with stored payment information rather than having to take out a card to swipe it.

Square Pickup, like Square Market, is best thought of as an extension of Square’s existing in-person payments for restaurants, delis, and cafes already using Square. Rather than having customers call in an order and then pay for it by swiping a card, it lets buyers order and pay through an app. It’s helped by the fact that Square merchants have already loaded their menu into Square’s Register app.

BookFresh, a San Francisco-based startup, will similarly help service providers who use Square to accept payments to also manage appointments.

Robin Dhar at Priceonomics first noticed Square’s new application when he picked up lunch from a local eatery. The app is still in beta and only available at select locations. In order to use Square Pickup, you need an invite code.

A spokeswoman for Square declined to comment about Square Pickup, though the signup form is publicly available on Square’s website.

Square Pickup faces competition from order-on-demand applications from Seamless, Postmates, Yelp, and PayPal. But rather than taking those companies heads-on, Square is more likely making a defensive play to keep Square merchants from trying those competing services for orders, and consolidating their transactions with Square.

The BookFresh acquisition, by contrast, could help Square expand its business among service providers.

Image courtesy of Square

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