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Amazon, Western Union debut PayCode to sell goods in emerging markets and let shoppers pay in cash

Posted by | alibaba, Amazon, Asia, developing markets, eCommerce, emerging markets, Finance, Mobile, payments, qr code, TC, western union | No Comments

While Amazon has been methodical (read: a little slow) in launching local versions of its site for various global markets, it has now embarked on a secondary track to snag more business outside the 14 countries where it has built out full operations.

Amazon has partnered with Western Union to set up a service called PayCode, which lets people shop and pay for Amazon items using local currencies that would not have been accepted on the site before, starting with services in 10 countries: Chile, Columbia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Peru, Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand.

Specifically, shoppers in these markets will now be able to go into Western Union outposts and pay for their Amazon purchases in cash, which also means that payment cards or other virtual payment methods will also not be required to buy from Amazon — one of the barriers to expanding the service up to now into more emerging economies, where card and bank account penetration is much lower than in developed markets like the U.S. and Europe.

“Amazon is committed to enabling customers anywhere in the world to shop on Amazon.com, and a big part of that is to allow customers to pay for their cross-border online purchases in a way that is most convenient for them,” said Ben Volk, director, Payment Acceptance and Experience at Amazon, in a statement. “Amazon PayCode leverages the reach of Western Union to make cross-border online shopping a reliable and convenient experience for customers who do not have access to international credit cards, or prefer to pay in cash.”

In terms of what they will be able to buy, people can shop across the breadth of the Amazon marketplace, but Amazon notes that they will only be able to use PayCode if it’s offered as an option at checkout (which will only happen in the markets where PayCode is supported); if the item that is chosen is “export eligible,” and if the item’s value “exceeds the maximum value allowed for use on this payment type” — although Amazon doesn’t appear to specify what that maximum value is. Once you complete the purchase online (or possibly more likely, on mobile), you get a “PayCode” QR code that you will have 48 hours to take to a Western Union to pay for the goods; otherwise your order gets cancelled.

The deal between Amazon and Western Union was initially announced last October, with very little detail and fanfare. The PayCode name then appeared to leak out a month later around what appeared to be a test in India (where it has not launched… yet). Today was the first time that the companies unveiled the first launch countries.

PayCode is a significant advance for Amazon as it seeks to step up to the next level of being a global e-commerce powerhouse to compete against the likes of Alibaba.

The latter company has made a lot of inroads to work in a wider array of markets beyond its home base of China, specifically tapping into a long tail of supply from its home market and demand for those goods abroad. Alibaba is also taking care of business when it comes to making more seamless transactions related to those trades. Just today, its financial services affiliate Ant Financial announced that it would acquire U.K.’s WorldFirst, which provides foreign money transfer for businesses and individuals, for a price that we heard from sources was in the region of $700 million.

Amazon currently operates 15 Amazon websites globally: in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain and Turkey. (It appears also to have a Prime-only site in Singapore.) Up to now, these would have been the only countries where Amazon would offer goods in local currencies.

Adding a new tranche of countries using PayCode will potentially massively expand how many people can shop on Amazon without Amazon going through the steps of setting up full-fledged operations in those countries to serve those consumers and sellers. (Or, this being Amazon, this would be a key way for the company to start testing the waters to figure out which market might do best with a full-fledged store.) Over time, you might imagine that Amazon might extend PayCode to markets where it has sites, too, to give shoppers more flexibility in how they pay for goods for themselves or that they are buying for others.

It’s a big market opportunity. Amazon cites estimates from Forrester Research that say cross-border shopping will represent 20 percent of e-commerce by 2022, accounting for $630 billion.

For Western Union, this is a potentially big partnership, too.

Today, PayCode allows people to use Western Union to act as a physical pay station for their Amazon goods, giving Western Union a small cut on those transactions. But you might imagine how this could evolve over time, where remittances sent from family members abroad via Western Union — a very common use of remittance networks — might immediately get redeemed to cover purchases on Amazon.

Similarly, Western Union is working closer with MPesa, the African mobile wallet service that lets people essentially use their phone top-up account as a payment account, and you could imagine how this too could get incorporated into the PayCode experience to facilitate buying and paying on devices, without having to go into Western Union shops and use actual cash.

“We’re helping to unlock access to Amazon.com for customers who need and want items that can only be found online in many parts of the world,” said Khalid Fellahi, SVP and General Manager of Western Union Digital, in a statement. “This is a great example of two global brands innovating and collaborating to bring customers more convenience and choice. In a world where cross-border buyers and sellers are often located on different continents and in completely different financial ecosystems, our platform is ideally suited to solving the complexity of collecting local currency and converting it into whatever currency merchants need on the other end.”

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CardMunch founder returns with HiHello, a new app aiming to replace business cards

Posted by | Apps, business cards, hihello, manu kumar, Mobile, qr code, Startups | No Comments

A new app called HiHello is taking aim at business cards. While plenty of apps in the past have tried to kill the business card, they never achieved critical mass. Mainly, this is because most required that both parties — the business card holder and recipient — have their app installed. HiHello is different. Instead of forcing everyone to download its app, it simply generates a QR code that can be scanned by anyone with a modern smartphone.

HiHello specifically takes advantage of the fact that today’s smartphones now have QR code readers built in — users no longer need to download a separate QR code scanner app to exchange information over this format.

On iPhone, you can use the native iOS Camera app to scan QR codes. And on Android, Google Lens (a part of Google Assistant) offers similar functionality. (Although this should really be in its camera, too, ahem.)

What this means is that when a HiHello user wants to share their contact information with another person, all they need to do is have the recipient scan the QR code the HiHello app generates. The recipient doesn’t have to download or install anything, and is able to quickly save the contact information right into their phone’s address book.

HiHello also allows you to create different types of cards with different information on them.

For example, you could have one card for your business, one for your side hustle and one for personal connections. This way, you can keep some of your information private, as needed.

You could create a card without your cell number for those contacts you didn’t want to be able to reach you by phone; or you could create a card with your virtual number (e.g. a Skype line or Burner) for dating prospects. You could create a card with your home address, cell and personal email for your family and friends. Or you could make one with your office address, work email, fax and office line for business contacts. And so on.

The idea for the app comes from K9 Ventures founder Manu Kumar, who along with co-founder and Caltech and Columbia alum Hari Ravi, and a small team of fewer than half a dozen, has been working on the app following the release of iOS 11, which introduced the QR code reader functionality in the native camera app.

Kumar, in particular, has been trying to solve the problem of business cards for years. In 2009, he co-founded CardMunch to turn business cards into digital contacts. The company was sold to LinkedIn a few years later, but LinkedIn abandoned it and shut it down.

“LinkedIn…failed to recognize the potential for what this could do for them, and in a typical big company fashion proceeded to ruin and eventually kill the product,” Kumar wrote in a blog post about HiHello’s launch. “Yes, I’m still peeved,” he added. (So are we.)

Kumar also noted that another problem with business cards is that people have to carry around different ones to represent their different roles or jobs.

“The information you choose to share with someone is often dependent on the context in which you are meeting that person,” he said.

To address this issue, HiHello allows users to create multiple cards with different information on them, which can be shared via the QR code scan in person, or sent out via text message or email — without exposing the email or phone number tied to your phone.

HiHello has also made it easy to find the right card quickly through its iOS and Android widgets that let you choose which card you want to share with just a tap.

The app is straightforward to set up and use. You’re first walked through a form where you enter your basic contact information to get started, and can then proceed to customize the different card types like “work” and “personal,” for example. You also can just choose to share your phone or email. (See above photo).

When someone scans the QR code, it launches a website hosted on hihello.com where there’s a link to save the information directly to their phone’s contacts. This link can be sent in other ways right from the QR code screen as well, thanks to buttons at the bottom for “Message” and “Mail.”

The new app is the first step in a bigger vision the company has for contact and relationship management, Kumar notes.

Palo Alto-based HiHello, a team of five, is backed by Kumar’s K9 Ventures. The app is a free download on iOS and Android.

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