payments

Daily Crunch: How the government shutdown is damaging cybersecurity and future IPOs

Posted by | Apps, Enterprise, Finance, Fundings & Exits, Gadgets, Government, hardware, payments, Policy, Startups, Venture Capital | No Comments

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here:

1. How Trump’s government shutdown is harming cyber and national security
The government has been shut down for nearly three weeks, and there’s no end in sight. While most of the core government departments — State, Treasury, Justice and Defense — are still operational, others like Homeland Security, which takes the bulk of the government’s cybersecurity responsibilities, are suffering the most.

2. With SEC workers offline, the government shutdown could screw IPO-ready companies
The SEC has been shut down since December 27 and only has 285 of its 4,436 employees on the clock for emergency situations. While tech’s most buzz-worthy unicorns like Uber and Lyft won’t suffer too much from the shutdown, smaller businesses, particularly those in need of an infusion of capital to continue operating, will bear the brunt of any IPO delays.

3. The state of seed 

In 2018, seed activity as a percentage of all deals shrank from 31 percent to 25 percent — a decade low — while the share and size of late-stage deals swelled to record highs.

4. Banking startup N26 raises $300 million at $2.7 billion valuation

N26 is building a retail bank from scratch. The company prides itself on the speed and simplicity of setting up an account and managing assets. In the past year, N26’s valuation has exploded as its user base has tripled, with nearly a third of customers paying for a premium account.

5. E-scooter startup Bird is raising another $300M 

Bird is reportedly nearing a deal to extend its Series C round with a $300 million infusion led by Fidelity. The funding, however, comes at a time when scooter companies are losing steam and struggling to prove that its product is the clear solution to last-mile transportation.

6. AWS gives open source the middle finger 

It’s no secret that AWS has long been accused of taking the best open-source projects and re-using and re-branding them without always giving back to those communities.

7. The Galaxy S10 is coming on February 20 

Looks like Samsung is giving Mobile World Congress the cold shoulder and has decided to announce its latest flagship phone a week earlier in San Francisco.

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Square launches its in-app payments SDK

Posted by | Developer, developers, in-app payments, Mobile, payments, sdk, Square | No Comments

Square today announced the launch of its in-app payments SDK that allows developers to build Square-powered payments right into their mobile apps. While Square remains best known for its offline payments solutions that grace virtually ever independent coffee shop and quirky corner store, the company has long offered APIs for taking online payments on the web and for working with its reader hardware.

Today’s launch expands the company’s reach into mobile apps, an area where it faces stiff competition from the likes of Stripe, Adyen and others. Square, however, argues that this launch puts it ahead of the competition, given that it now offers a complete online and offline payments solution.“With the introduction of in-app mobile payments to the Square platform, developers now have a complete, omnichannel payments solution for all their payment needs,” said Square developer lead Carl Perry in today’s announcement. “From software to hardware to services, Square offers a complete payments experience all in one cohesive open platform. Even better, developers and sellers can manage all their payments across in-store, mobile and online all in one place.”

The SDK is available for Android, iOS and Flutter, Google’s toolkit for building cross-platform applications. For now, only developers in the United States, Canada, U.K., Australia and Japan will be able to use it, though. The app provides a default payments flow, but developers can also customize it to match their apps and needs. Using this service, mobile app developers will be able to take payments through the usual credit and debit cards, as well as Apple Pay and Google Pay.

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Apple Pay finally launches in Germany

Posted by | apple inc, Apple Pay, cash, contactless payments, Europe, Germany, iPhone, mastercard, Mobile, mobile payments, payments, privacy | No Comments

Apple’s mobile payment technology has finally launched in Germany, some four years after it debuted in the U.S.

On its newly launched Apple Pay website for Germany, Apple lists partner banks and credit card companies at launch, with customers from the likes of Deutsche Bank, O2 Banking, N26, Comdirect, HypoVerensbank, Bunq and Boon able to tap up the payment method directly.

Some fifteen banks and services are supported at launch. A further nine banks are slated as adding support in 2019, including DKB, INK and Revolut.

iOS users in the country can now add supported debit or credit cards to Apple Pay to make contactless payments with their device, rather than having to carry cash. Apple’s Face ID and Touch ID biometrics are used to a security layer to the payment system.

The local Apple Pay site also lists a selection of retailers, with Apple writing: “Apple Pay works in supermarkets, boutiques, restaurants, hotels and many other places. You can also use Apple Pay in many apps — and on participating websites with Safari on your Mac, iPhone or iPad.”

Aside from convenience, the other consumer advantage Apple touts for the system is privacy, with Apple Pay using a device-specific number and unique transaction code — and the user’s actual card numbers never stored on their device or on Apple’s servers — which means trackable card numbers aren’t shared with merchants, so purchases can’t be tied back to the individual.

While that might sound like an abstract concern, a Bloomberg report this summer revealed details of a multi-million deal in which Google pays for transaction data from Mastercard — in order to try to link online ad views with offline purchases in the US.

Facebook has also long been known to buy offline data to supplement the interest signals it collects on users from inside (and outside) its social network — further fleshing out ad-targeting profiles.

So escaping the surveillance net of one flavor of big tech can require buying into another. Or else going low tech and paying in cash.

Apple does not say what took it so long to add Germany to its now pretty long list of Apple Pay countries but Apple Insider suggests the relatively late adoption was down to pushback from local banks over fees, noting that it’s four months after the official announcement of a German launch.

It’s also true that paying by plastic isn’t always an option in Germany, as cash remains the dominant payment method of choice — also, seemingly, for privacy purposes. So Apple Pay is at least aligned with those concerns.

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FB QVC? Facebook tries Live video shopping

Posted by | Apps, craigslist, eBay, eCommerce, Facebook, Facebook Ecommerce, Facebook Live, Facebook Marketplace, Facebook Video, Mobile, payments, Social, TC | No Comments

Want to run your own home shopping network? Facebook is now testing a Live video feature for merchants that lets them demo and describe their items for viewers. Customers can screenshot something they want to buy and use Messenger to send it to the seller, who can then request payment right through the chat app.

Facebook confirms the new shopping feature is currently in testing with a limited set of Pages in Thailand, which has been a testbed for shopping features. The option was first spotted by social media and reputation manager Jeff Higgins, and re-shared by Matt Navarra and Social Media Today. But now Facebook is confirming the test’s existence and providing additional details.

The company tells me it had heard feedback from the community in Thailand that Live video helped sellers demonstrate how items could be used or worn, and provided richer understanding than just using photos. Users also told Facebook that Live’s interactivity let customers instantly ask questions and get answers about product specifications and details. Facebook has looked to Thailand to test new commerce experiences like home rentals in Marketplace, as the country’s citizens were quick to prove how Facebook Groups could be used for peer-to-peer shopping. “Thailand is one of our most active Marketplace communities” says Mayank Yadav, Facebook product manager for Marketplace.

Now it’s running the Live shopping test, which allows Pages to notify fans that they’re broadcasting to “showcase products and connect with your customers.” Merchants can take reservations and request payments through Messenger. Facebook tells me it doesn’t currently have plans to add new partners or expand the feature. But some sellers without access are being invited to join a waitlist for the feature. It also says it’s working closely with its test partners to gather feedback and iterate on the live video shopping experience, which would seem to indicate it’s interested in opening the feature more widely if it performs well.

Facebook doesn’t take a cut of payments through Messenger, but the feature could still help earn the company money at a time when it’s seeking revenue streams beyond News Feed ads as it runs out of space there, Stories take over as the top media form and user growth plateaus. Hooking people on video viewing helps Facebook show lucrative video ads. The more that Facebook can train users to buy and sell things on its app, the better the conversion rates will be for businesses, and the more they’ll be willing to spend on ads. Facebook could also convince sellers who broadcast Live to buy its new Marketplace ad units to promote their wares. And Facebook is happy to snatch any use case from the rest of the internet, whether it’s long-form video viewing or job applications or shopping to boost time on site and subsequent ad views.

Increasingly, Facebook is setting its sights on Craigslist, Etsy and eBay. Those commerce platforms have failed to keep up with new technologies like video and lack the trust generated by Facebook’s real-name policy and social graph. A few years ago, selling something online meant typing up a generic description and maybe uploading a photo. Soon it could mean starring in your own infomercial.

[PostScript: And a Facebook home shopping network could work perfectly on its new countertop smart display Portal.]

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Mobile payment co. Boku acquires Danal for up to $68M to add user authentication

Posted by | BOKU, Danal, M&A, Mobile, payments, TC | No Comments

After going public in the U.K. last year, Boku has made an acquisition to expand its carrier billing services, which let users bill to their mobile bills mobile content purchases from companies like Apple, Microsoft, Spotify and 152 other app and other content purveyors. Today, Boku announced the acquisition of Danal, Inc., a specialist in mobile identity and authentication services, so that it can offer more sophisticated transaction services and also to move into new areas.

Boku will pay up to $68 million for Danal, the company said. Specifically, the financial terms are described by Boku as a “reverse triangular merger” and include 26.7 million Boku common shares of $0.0001 each (“Common Shares”), $3 million of Boku warrants exercisable at 141p each and $1 million in cash, along with a deferred consideration of up to $64 million, “satisfied in Common Shares and warrants, dependent on Danal’s future performance,” which Boku also described as “challenging performance targets for Danal, thereby allowing both parties to share the benefits of efficiencies and growth.”

Danal, Boku said, will become a part of a U.S. subsidiary of Boku.

The market is not particularly excited by the deal it seems: the company’s stock has dropped by more than 23 percent in trading today. Boku currently has a market cap of around £168 million ($216 million), and it says that total payment volume in the 10 months to October was up 124 percent to $2.8 billion (versus $1.3 billion the year before), and monthly active users were 12.2 million in October, up 83 percent on a year before.

This is not Danal’s first transaction with a carrier billing service. In 2016, it sold a portion of its business, BilltoMobile, to Bango for $3.5 million.

Boku is buying the rest of the business left behind, with a view to building a bridge between the data that carriers have about their users and services that those users might engage with either on their mobile devices or through other digital channels. This could include expanding the range of purchases that you can make through carrier billing, but it could potentially also be applied to any service that either has a risk of fraud — such as financial or government-run services — or could use a carrier data to help authenticate the identity of the user.

“Charging purchases to your phone bill has proved a great way for the world’s largest digital companies to acquire and retain users, but has had fairly limited application outside digital content,” said Jon Prideaux, CEO of Boku, in a statement. “This Acquisition allows us to offer services that go further and to improve user quality for our customers while at the same time improving the mobile experience for users. Mobile commerce is booming, yet many tools were developed to support PC-based commerce. Danal has shown that MNO data can also combat fraud, reduce friction in signup and ensure regulatory compliance on mobile. These problems are relevant not just to our existing digital customers but also in other sectors including e-commerce, finance, transportation and government.”

Notably, this potentially could help Boku grow revenues in developed markets alongside the emerging markets where it is currently active.

Danal, based in San Jose, already counts financial institutions, government agencies and retailers as customers, including Western Union, BNP Paribas, PayPal, Square, MoneyGram, Login.gov and USAA.

Boku said Danal  generated revenue of $5.1 million and a loss before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortization of $5.2 million for the full year that ended December 31, 2017. Liabilities as of that date were $10.3 million.

The bigger picture for mobile payments are that while they continue to grow, they are still just around one-third of all e-commerce transactions, according to recent figures collected over the opening weekend of holiday sales.

Within that, billing to carriers is just one part of the overall mix, and after accounting for others in the transaction chain, it makes for thin margins. This explains partly why Boku would be working on adding new revenue streams. But in emerging markets, carrier billing is a popular alternative among users who may not have bank accounts and payment cards. This latest deal for Boku should help it in that area, too.

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Uber Eats test lets restaurants trade discounts for ranking boost

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Apps, eCommerce, food, food delivery, Logistics, Mobile, payments, Startups, TC, Uber, Uber Eats | No Comments

Uber Eats has effectively invented its own native ad unit. Uber confirmed to TechCrunch that a test quietly running in markets around India allows restaurants to bundle several food items together and sell them at a discounted price in exchange for promoted placement by Uber Eats in a featured section of local “Specials.” In some cases, restaurants foot the cost of the discount, while in others Uber pays for the discounts.

The Uber Specials feature demonstrates the massive leverage awarded to food delivery apps that aggregate restaurants. Users often come to Uber Eats and its competitors without a specific restaurant in mind. Uber can then point those customers to whichever food supplier it prefers. The suppliers in turn will increasingly compete for the favor of the aggregators — not just in terms of food quality, speed and review scores, but also in terms of discounts. The aggregators will win users if they offer the best deals; creating a network effect makes restaurants more keen to play ball.

TechCrunch first learned of Uber’s ambitions in the space from a mock-up of the Promoted Items Value Section feature spotted in its app by mobile researcher and frequent TC tipster Jane Manchun Wong. The fictional food items included “Best Beer” that “is made from only the finest gutter swill” and “Weird Fries” that “will so utterly decimate your sense of good food that you will be permanently reduced to a whimpering shell of your former self!” This jokey text that seemingly was never meant for public viewing also noted that the fries are so good you should “throw all your other food in the garbage right now!” Uber assured us these weren’t real.

But what it did confirm is that the discounts for promoted placement test is live in India. “We’re always experimenting with ways to make it easier to find your favorite foods on Uber Eats,, according to a statement provided by an Uber spokesperson.

The feature allows restaurants to create a bundled meal at a certain price point, such as a chicken sandwich, french fries and a drink at a price that’s less than the sum of its parts. The company tells me the goal is to take the friction out of ordering by giving people pre-set meals at a better price prominently available in the app. Attracting more customers that have plenty of other options could offset the discount. Businesses could also use it to bundle high-margin items, like soft drinks, with meals, or to get rid of overstock.

Ben Thompson’s aggregation theory describes how power accrues to aggregators that match supply with demand

It’s already common for restaurants to make “specials” out of food they have too much of. That butternut squash ravioli might only be featured because they can’t get rid of it. In that sense, you could think of Uber Specials as the inverse of surge pricing. When supply is too high, restaurants can offer discounts to gain more demand. It’s also not far off from Google Search’s keyword ads where business pay for more visibility.

Uber wouldn’t discuss whether it plans to bring the strategy to other markets, but it makes sense to assume it’s considering expansion. Done wrong, it could look a bit like Uber Eats is pressuring restaurants to surrender discounts if they want to be discoverable inside its app. If restaurants within Uber Eats get into heated competition to offer discounts, it could drive down their profits. But done right, Specials could look like a triple-win. Restaurants can offload surplus and bundle in high-margin items while scoring new customers from enhanced placement, customers get cheaper food options and Uber Eats becomes people’s go-to app for easy-to-order discounted meals.

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Meet ‘Bitski’, the single sign-on wallet crypto desperately needs

Posted by | Apps, Bitski, blockchain, crypto wallet, cryptocurrency, Developer, funding, Fundings & Exits, Mobile, OAuth, payments, Recent Funding, single sign-on, Startups, TC | No Comments

The mainstream will never adopt blockchain-powered decentralized apps (dApps) if it’s a struggle to log in. They’re either forced to manage complex security keys themselves, or rely on a clunky wallet-equipped browser like MetaMask. What users need is for signing in to blockchain apps to be as easy as Login with Facebook. So that’s what Bitski built. The startup emerges from stealth today with an exclusive on TechCrunch about the release of the developer beta of its single sign-on cryptocurrency wallet platform.

Ten projects, including 7 game developers, are lined up to pay a fee to integrate Bitski’s SDK. Then, whenever they need a user’s identity or to transact a payment, their app pops open a Bitski authorization screen, where users can grant permissions to access their ID, send money or receive items. Users sign up just once with Bitski, and then there’s no more punching in long private keys or other friction. Using blockchain apps becomes simple enough for novices. Given the recent price plunge, the mainstream has been spooked about speculating on cryptocurrencies. But Bitski could unlock the utility of dApps that blockchain developers have been promising but haven’t delivered.

“One of the great challenges for protocol teams and product companies in crypto today is the poor UX in dApps, specifically onboarding, transactions, and sign-in/password recovery,” says co-founder and CEO Donnie Dinch. “We interviewed a ton of dApp developers. The minute they used a wallet, there was a huge drop-off of folks. Bitski’s vision is to solve user onboarding and wallet usability for developers, so that they can in-turn focus on creating unique and useful dapps.”

The scrappy Bitski team raised $1.5 million in pre-seed capital from Steve Jang’s Kindred Ventures, Signia, Founders Fund, Village Global and Social Capital. They were betting on Dinch, a designer-as-CEO who’d built concert discovery app WillCall that he sold to Ticketfly, which was eventually bought by Pandora. After 18 months of rebranding Ticketfly and overhauling its consumer experience, Dinch left and eventually recruited engineer Julian Tescher to come with him to found Bitski.

Bitski co-founder and CEO Donnie Dinch

After Riff failed to hit scale, the team hung up its social ambitions in late 2017 and “started kicking around ideas for dApps. We mocked up a Venmo one, a remittance app…but found the hurdle to get someone to use one of these products is enormous,” Dinch recalls. “Onboarding was a dealbreaker for anyone building dApps. Even if we made the best crypto Venmo, to get normal people on it would be extremely difficult. It’s already hard enough to get people to install apps from the App Store.” They came up with Bitski to let any developer ski jump over that hurdle.

Looking across the crypto industry, the companies like Coinbase and Binance with their own hosted wallets that permitted smooth UX were the ones winning. Bitski would bring that same experience to any app. “Our hosted wallet SDK lets developers drop the Bitski wallet into their apps and onboard users with standards web 2.0 users have grown to know and love,” Dinch explains.

Imagine an iOS game wants to reward users with a digital sword or token. Users would have to set up a whole new wallet, struggle with their credentials or use another clumsy solution. They’d have to own Ethereum already to pay the Ethereum “gas” price to power the transaction, and the developer would have to manually approve sending the gift. With Bitski, users can approve receiving tokens from a developer from then on, and developers can pay the gas on users’ behalf while triggering transactions programmatically.

Magik is an AR content platform that’s one of Bitski’s first developers. Magik’s founders tell me, “We’re building towards reaching millions of mainstream consumers, and Bitski is the only wallet solution that understands what we need to reach users at that scale. They provide a dead-simple, secure and familiar interface that addresses every pain point along the user-onboarding journey.”

Bitski will offer a free tier, priced tiers based on transaction volume or a monthly fee and an enterprise version. In the future, the company is considering doubling-down on premium developer services to help them build more on top of the blockchain. “We will never, ever monetize user data. We’ve never had any intent at looking at it,” Dinch vows. The startup hopes developers will seize on the network effects of a cross-app wallet, as once someone sets up Bitski to use one product, all future sign-ins just require a few clicks.

In August, Coinbase acquired a startup called Distributed Systems that was building a similar crypto identity platform called the Clear Protocol. A “login with Coinbase” feature could be popular if launched, but the company’s focus is to spread a ton of blockchain projects. “If [login with Coinbase] launched tomorrow, they wouldn’t be able to support games or anything with a unique token. We’re a lockbox, they’re a bank,” Dinch claims.

The spectre of single sign-on’s biggest player, Facebook, looms, as well. In May it announced the formation of a blockchain team we suspect might be working on a crypto login platform or other ways to make the decentralized world more accessible for mom and pop. Dinch suspects that fears about how Facebook uses data would dissuade developers and users from adopting such a product. Still, Bitski’s haste in getting its developer platform into beta just a year after forming shows it’s eager to beat them to market.

Building a centralized wallet in a decentralized ecosystem comes with its own security risks. But Dinch assures me Bitski is using all its own hardware with air-gapped computers that have been stripped of their Wi-Fi cards, and it’s taking other secret precautions to prevent anyone from snatching its wallets. He believes cross-app wallets will also deliver a future where users actually own their virtual goods instead of just relying on the good will of developers not to pull them away or shut them down.” The idea of we’ve never been able to provably own unique digital assets is crazy to me,” Dinch notes. “Whether it’s a skin in Fortnite or a movie on iTunes that you purchase, you don’t have liquidity to resell those things. We think we’ll look back in 5 to 10 years and think it’s nuts that no one owned their digital items.”

While the crypto prices might be cratering and dApps like Cryptokitties have cooled off, Dinch is convinced the blockchain startups won’t fade away. “There is a thriving developer ecosystem hellbent on bringing the decentralized web to reality; regardless of token price. It’s a safe assumption that prices will dip a bit more, but will eventually rise whenever we see real use cases for a lot of these tokens. Most will die. The ones that succeed will be outcome-oriented, building useful products that people want.” Bitski’s a big step in that direction.

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Plastiq raises $27M at 2X+ value to let you pay for anything on credit

Posted by | Apps, credit card payment, credit cards, Finance, funding, Fundings & Exits, Mobile, payments, plastiq, Recent Funding, Startups, TC | No Comments

“I wasn’t asking to pay in Bitcoin!” Plastiq CEO and co-founder Eliot Buchanan recalls with a laugh. “I went to pay part of my tuition at Harvard and I was told that they didn’t (and never would) accept credit cards. It was inconvenient and seemed odd. Credit cards had been around for 50 years.” That set off the a light bulb in his head. “Why couldn’t I use a credit card to pay for this important bill? So, I set out to solve my own problem.”

Whether you’re trying to pay your rent or tuition on credit, or you have a business and want to invest in a new opportunity or get a better rate by paying vendors up front, Plastiq can help. For a flat 2.5 percent fee, you pay Plastiq through your credit card, and it issues the proper wire transfer, check or deposit for up to $500,000, or even more, on your behalf to whomever you owe.

Now with more than 1 million clients, growth-stage VCs are taking notice. Kleiner Perkins has just led a $27 million Series C for Plastiq with partner Ilya Fushman joining the board. A source says the raise that also comes from DST Global between doubles and triples Plastiq’s valuation over its 2017 Series B-1 rounds of $11 million and $16 million. Now with $73 million in total funding, it plans to add 100 people to its current team of 60, while building out its small business product and bank partnerships.

“As tens of thousands of business owners started using Plastiq actively for billions of dollars in payments, we realized we had this incredible opportunity to serve as the hub/platform on which they (SMBs) could run all their payments. The very fabric of America’s economy — and certainly much of the world — is run by rising or aspiring small business owners,” Buchanan tells me. He says that’s “the main reason that seeded this Kleiner financing and our renewed vision to ‘accelerate how small businesses grow.’ [Helping people pay with credit cards] is merely the entry point to a much broader play where we are central to how a small business runs.”

For example, if a small business wants to ramp up production of something it’s selling, it’d typically have to pay up front for manufacturing, but wait months until the stuff is shipped and sold to recoup its investment. That can put a major squeeze on the company’s operating capital. With Plastiq, the business can pay with credit up front so they don’t have to worry about being in danger of running out of money in the meantime. Plastiq also lets businesses accept credit card payments, which can win them favor with partners.

Plastiq co-founders (from left): Eliot Buchanan and Dan Choi

Specialty medical clinic chain Metro Vein pays vendors who don’t take credit with Plastiq instead. “I was able to invest in a new line of business that has enabled me to more than double our revenues in the last 10 months,” said CEO Dmitri Ivanov. And thanks to tax write-offs, business users of Plastiq can push its realized fee down to 2 percent.

Buchanan claims Plastiq doesn’t have any direct competitors that allow SMBs to pay for all their bills via credit. It does carry platform risk, though. “Like any payments business, we rely heavily on Visa, MasterCard and American Express. A challenge or risk factor is that you’re relying on very large companies that are very successful. You have to learn to work hand in hand with those partners instead of ‘disrupt them.’” He says Plastiq’s relationships with them are positive right now since it’s driving new revenue for them and helping their customers spend in new areas.

There’s also the risk that people misuse Plastiq to procrastinate on actually paying their personal bills or get in over their head investing in their business. But Plastiq’s new board member Fushman calls the service “this elegant way for businesses to tap into credit they’ve been issued but they haven’t been able to utilize before.” For many who are happy to pay though just need some time and flexibility, Plastiq can pitch in.

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Uber launches rider loyalty Rewards like credits & upgrades 9 cities

Posted by | Apps, Collaborative Consumption, eCommerce, loyalty program, Mobile, payments, Startups, TC, Transportation, Uber, Uber Eats | No Comments

Uber’s new loyalty program incentivizes you not to check Lyft or the local competitor. Riders earn points for all the money they spend on Uber and Uber Eats that score them $5 credits, upgrades to nicer cars, access to premium support and even flexible cancellations that waive the fee if they rebook within 15 minutes.

Uber Rewards launches today in nine cities before rolling out to the whole U.S. in the next few months, with points for scooters and bikes coming soon. And as a brilliant way to get people excited about the program, it retroactively counts your last six months of Uber activity to give you perks as soon as you sign up for free for Uber Rewards. You’ll see the new Rewards bar on the homescreen of your app today if you’re in Miami, Denver, Tampa, New York, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Diego or anywhere in New Jersey, as Uber wanted to test with a representative sample of the U.S.

The loyalty program ties all of the company’s different transportation and food delivery options together, encouraging customers to stick with Uber across a suite of solutions instead of treating it as interchangeable with alternatives. “As people use Uber more and more in their everyday, we wanted to find a way to reward them for choosing Uber,” says Uber’s director of product for riders Nundu Janakiram. “International expansion is top of mind for us,” adds Holly Ormseth, Uber Rewards’ product manager.

As for the drivers, “They absolutely get paid their full rate,” Ormseth explains. “We understand that offering the benefits has a cost to Uber but we think of it as an investment,” says Janakiram.

So how much Ubering earns you what perks? Let’s break it down:

In Uber Rewards you earn points by spending money to reach different levels of benefits. Points are earned during six-month periods, and if you reach a level, you get its perks for the remainder of that period plus the whole next period. You earn 1 point per dollar spent on UberPool, Express Pool and Uber Eats; 2 points on UberX, Uber XL and Uber Select; and 3 points on Uber Black and Black SUV. You’ll see your Uber Rewards progress wheel at the bottom of the homescreen fill up over time.

Blue: $5 credits

The only Uber perk that doesn’t reset at the end of a period is that you get $5 of Uber Cash for every 500 points earned regardless of membership level. “Even as a semi-frequent Uber Rewards member you’ll get these instant benefits,” Janakiram says. Blue lets you treat Uber like a video game where you’re trying to rack up points to earn an extra life. To earn 500 points, you’d need about 48 UberPool trips, 6 Uber Xs and 6 Uber Eats orders.

Gold: Flexible cancellations

Once you hit 500 points, you join Uber Gold and get flexible cancellations that refund your $5 cancellation fee if you rebook within 15 minutes, plus priority support Gold is for users who occasionally take Uber but stick to its more economical options. “The Gold level is all about being there when things aren’t going exactly right,” Janakiram explains. To earn 500 points in six months, you’d need to take about 2 UberPools per week, one Uber X per month and one Uber Eats order per month.

Platinum: Price protection

At 2,500 points you join Uber Platinum, which gets you the Gold benefits plus price protection on a route between two of your favorite places regardless of traffic or surge. And Platinum members get priority pickups at airports. To earn 2,500 points, you’d need to take UberX 4 times per week and order Uber Eats twice per month. It’s designed for the frequent user who might rely on Uber to get to work or play.

Diamond: Premium support & upgrades

At 7,500 points, you get the Gold and Platinum benefits plus premium support with a dedicated phone line and fast 24/7 responses from top customer service agents. You get complimentary upgrade surprises from UberX to Uber Black and other high-end cars. You’ll be paired with Uber’s highest-rated drivers. And you get no delivery fee on three Uber Eats orders every six months. Reaching 7,500 points would require UberX 8 times per week, Uber Eats once per week and Uber Black to the airport once per month. Diamond is meant usually for business travelers who get to expense their rides, or people who’d ditched car ownership for ridesharing.

Keeping everyone happily riding

Uber spent the better part of last year asking users through surveys and focus groups what they’d want in a loyalty program. It found that customers wanted to constantly earn rewards and make their dollar go further, but use the perks when they wanted. The point was to avoid situations where riders says, “Oh I’ve been an Uber user for years. When something goes wrong, I feel like I’m being treated like everyone else,” Janakiram tells me. When riders think they’re special, they stick around.

One big missing feature here is a Rewards calculator. Uber could better gamify earning its perks if there was an easy way to see how many more monthly or total rides it would take to reach the next level. It’d be great to have a few little sliders you could drag around to see if I just take Uber X, how many of my average length trips would it take to level up.

Uber managed to beat Lyft to the loyalty game. Lyft just announced that its rewards program would roll out in December, allowing you to earn discounts and upgrades. But Southeast Asia’s Grab transportation service started testing a loyalty program back in late 2016 where you could manually redeem points for discounts. While Uber’s rewards are more predictable and automatic, it does seem to have cribbed Grab’s rewards period mechanic where you keep your perks through the end of the next cycle. We’ll see if Uber mistakenly gave too much away and will have to reduce the perks like Grab did, pissing off its most loyal riders.

One risk of the program is that Uber might make users at lower tiers or who don’t even qualify for Gold feel like second-class citizens of the app. “One thing that’s important is that we don’t want to make the experience for people who are not in these levels poor in any sense,” Janakiram notes. “It’s not like 80 percent of people will suddenly get priority airport pickups, but we do want to monitor very closely to make sure we’re not harming the service more broadly.”

Overall, Uber managed to pick perks that seem helpful without making me wonder why these features aren’t standard for everyone. Even if it takes a short-term margins hit, if Uber can dissuade people from ever looking beyond its app, the lifetime value of its customers should easily offset the kickbacks.

[Disclosure: Uber’s Janakiram and I briefly lived in the same three-bedroom apartment five years ago, though I’d already agreed to write about the redesign when I found out he was involved.]

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Square can now process chip cards in two seconds

Posted by | Mobile, payments, Square | No Comments

If you’ve made any payments with a chip card, you’ve probably had awkward moments — those long seconds after you’ve inserted the card and everyone behind you is (literally or metaphorically) tapping their foot, waiting for the card to be processed.

Well, Square has been working on this problem for a while now. Last fall, for example, CEO Jack Dorsey said the company had gotten the processing time down to under three seconds.

Today, the company is announcing that it’s shaved even more time off, and that Square contactless and chip Readers and Registers can now process chip cards in two seconds. To achieve this, it says it’s worked closely with payment partners — and it’s also streamlined the process so that you can remove your card as soon as it’s read, without waiting for the response from the card issuer.

In contrast, when the Wall Street Journal timed chip cards in over 50 transactions a couple years ago, it found that the average processing time was 13 seconds. Those extra seconds might not sound like much in theory, but again, if you’re in a hurry or you’ve got a line of people behind you, the wait can be painful.

Plus, it sounds like this can make a real difference for businesses. In the announcement, Regan Long, co-founder and brewmaster at Local Brewing Co., said that with his brewery’s location near the Giants’ AT&T Park in San Francisco, there’s usually “a rush of customers all ready to close out their open beer tabs at the same time.”

“With Square’s chip card reader update, we’ve cut processing time in half — helping us keep customers happy and on their way to catch the first pitch,” he added.

In addition to faster chip card processing, Square is making another speed-related announcement: With the latest update, Square’s free point-of-sale app will allow sellers to skip collecting signatures if they choose.

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