Bridging the WhatsApp-Facebook Advertising Chasm

WhatsApp may cross the threshold of a billion users later this year. The first year is free, thereafter it costs $0.99 per year per user.

If we assume that every one of those hypothetical billion users starts paying $1 per year. The company would bring in an additional billion dollars in revenue to Facebook, which just purchased (subject to regulatory approvals) the company for $19 billion in cash and stock. 

While many are arguing that WhatsApp was not expensive by some standards (cost per user), Facebook will over time be compelled to justify the acquisition by making money off of it. And that doesn't just mean fee-based revenue.  

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum have very different views about privacy and advertising. The Wall Street Journal sums those up nicely in an article today:

The men are divided by more than differing approaches to making money. A legacy of his childhood in Ukraine is Mr. Koum's emphasis on privacy: WhatsApp doesn't collect any personal information other than a mobile-phone number and address book, and it wipes out messages shortly after they are sent . . . Mr. Zuckerberg, by contrast, has riled users by changing Facebook's privacy settings in ways that some thought exposed more of their personal information more widely.

Koum doesn't trust or like advertising; Facebook lives and dies now by the growth of its ad revenue. Something's got to give then. 

Either Koum and WhatsApp will bend on privacy, data mining and ads or there will need to be some accommodation to Koum's positions. That compromise could come in the form of opt-in SMS-style marketing.

Companies such as Placecast and other SMS-based mobile marketing firms use double and triple-opt-in systems to ensure that users consent to receive marketing messages from brands and retailers. This kind of permission-based (including loyalty) marketing could be a way around the conundrum for Facebook and WhatsApp.

The market will expect Facebook to monetize WhatsApp usage at some point in the future. Subscription revenue will probably not satisfy investors because of the perceived, larger marketing opportunity. Less intrusive, permission-based SMS-style opt-in marketing could be a way forward for the two companies.  

TruePosition Acquires Skyhook Wireless, Bolsters Indoor Location Services

Location technology provider TruePosition has acquired Skyhook Wireless for an undisclosed sum. Skyhook Wireless provides location positioning and gathers contextual data on consumer mobile behavior. The company has also been involved in multiple lawsuits accusing Google of patent infringement and unfair competitive practices.

Skyhook was founded in 2003 by Ted Morgan and Mike Shean to map wireless access points but has since expanded solution offerings focusing on mobile consumer behavior and associated analytics. Recently, Jeff Glass, formerly with mQube and Bain Capital Ventures, was named CEO.

Cellular location company TruePosition, a subsidiary of Liberty Media, is mainly focused on public safety applications for indoor location technologies including locating emergency callers and protecting borders and infrastructure. The acquisition bolsters the product portfolio of both companies by leveraging their complementary technologies, according to the press release about the acquisition.

“Skyhook's commercial focus balances TruePosition's safety and security strengths, and their location technology further strengthens TruePosition's ability to accurately locate mobile phones indoors,” said Steve Stuut, CEO of TruePosition, in the statement.

Skyhook's lawsuits against Google, the first of which was filed in 2010, claims Google interfered with its relationships with two hardware manufacturers, Motorola and “Company X” (Samsung). Google has consistently insisted it has done nothing improper; the legal battle is expected to go to trial sometime this year.

Mobile Ordering, Payments Coming to All QSR with Job Losses to Follow

Fast-Food (QSR) chain Taco Bell will soon offer mobile ordering throughout its US locations. Sibling chain Pizza Hut, Chipotle Mexican Grill and others have already implemented mobile ordering.

Very soon thereafter, if not simultaneously with mobile ordering, will come in-app mobile payments. Later we'll have in-store mobile payments as well. 

All QSR (and Fast Casual) restaurants will eventually offer mobile ordering and payments. OpenTable is in the process of trialing mobile payments in its fine-dining oriented app. That will represent a radically improved customer experience and improved security as well (unless these databases get hacked). 

A mobile ordering and payments-enabled app makes sense for QSR for many reasons. Adoption by chains will be driven in part by competitor rollouts of these capabilities. But another compelling reason will be consumer loyalty. App users will generally become more loyal and frequent customers; app-based ordering and payments will form the core of loyalty promotions. The data can also be used for mobile advertising and retargeting purposes. 

JiWire Q4 

recent report from JiWire showed how mobile (and apps in particular) were more influential than the PC internet in driving consumer purchase decisions in the QSR and fast-casual dining segments.   

Within three years we're likely to see the US QSR industry transformed by mobile ordering, payments and mobile loyalty marketing. In general all this will mean a better experience for customers. 

The "dark side" of these developments, however, will be the inevitable elimination of thousands or even millions of low-paying cashier jobs. That trend will later come in mainstream retail as well.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics cashiers and retail salespeople constitute just under 6 percent of total US employment. But it's the largest single jobs category. Indeed the "bottom of the market" will be automated in the near future -- largely through smartphone apps. Only legacy software systems and perhaps union resistance will delay the trend. 

When customers in QSR restaurants can order or pay more quickly and efficiently through their phones (with stored credit cards) fewer cashiers and related employees will be required. This will also be true in Fast Casual restaurants. Where once you needed four wait staff perhaps now you'll need two or even one person. 

Media Still Fixated on 'Surveillance' Angle of Indoor Location

There are two themes running through most of the coverage of indoor location: gee-whiz technology and NSA-style "surveillance." While both approaches have generally been good for the sector, which has gained visibility accordingly, the "surveillance meme" is both unfair and largely inaccurate. 

In the general debate over consumer behavior tracking and data-centric targeting the "offline world" has largely been ignored. The practices and data-mining in use there are longer-established, more aggressive and much more shadowy than the online/digital media world. Yet the media devote almost zero attention to that arena because we have lived with it for so long. 

By the same token video cameras have been watching people in retail (and other) environments in the US something like 40 years. That fact is rarely if ever "remembered" or raised in the public discussion of indoor positioning and location. Why, because we're all "used to it"? 

A recent Bloomberg article about location-analytics provider Placed is a case-in-point. The headline emphasizes the more sensational aspects of what the company does (for impact) and the lede ties the project to the NSA scandal: "Tracking Every Move You Make—for a $5 Gift Card . . . Here’s something the National Security Agency might try to ease resistance to surveillance: gift cards." 

I certainly understand the journalistic "logic" behind these choices but they're misleading. Placed has what amounts to a triple opt-in process. Its users, who are offered incentives to share their location, are very clear on what they're doing. It's totally voluntary. But the article only mentions that in passing, "Placed asks users for permission and scrubs personally identifying information before companies see the data." It's more concerned with the data and inferences Placed can discern and deliver. 

That's all fine. But in neglecting to fully describe the opt-in enrollment process, the article fails to adequately represent what's going on with consumers. 

The implication still is that people don't fully understand what's happening or what information is being compiled about their behavior. The article suggests, with its lead, that Placed users, despite their voluntary participation, are still being somehow duped: they're giving up their sensitive behavioral and location information for "a five dollar gift card." 

Why it matters is because people will voluntarily participate in these systems and services when they understand the benefits and how their data are being used. It goes to questions of transparency and consent. Many articles operate under the deeply held assumption that if people understood truly what was happening with their information they would never share it with companies. (That's certainly true in many of the "offline" cases.) 

But when it comes to location and indoor location specifically people will trade their information for tangible benefits or a better experience. This has been shown repeatedly and Placed's panel is just one more example.  

Writing about the mechanics of disclosure and opting-in gets tedius and boring. So does the idea that people will willingly share location for improved in-store experiences or incentives. That's why we're likely to continue to see these "us vs. them" articles for the foresseable future. 

Make no mistake consumer privacy is a critical issue. Indoor location providers, retailers and others need to be highly respectful of that. And there are some who want to make the default consumer experience of indoor location opt-out. But most of the entrepreneurs and companies I've spoken to are very sensitive to and respectful of privacy.

The questions going forward should concern what sorts of experiences and disclosures must be presented to consumers to engage and educate them and gain their informed consent. Indeed, we'll be having this very discussion in much more nuanced and concrete detail at the next Place conference in New York in a panel lead by Jules Polonetsky

Alex and Ani Deploys iBeacon in All Its Retail Locations

Bluetooth iBeacons are definitely the indoor positioning technology with the buzz and momentum (though it's only part of the indoor location story). Today jewelry and accessories retailer Alex and Ani announced that it's deploying iBeacons in all its 40 US retail locations in partnership with Swirl.

Previously American Eagle announced it would also introduce iBeacons into its stores with ShopKick. However the Alex and Ani rollout is already complete. 

Swirl offers a consumer-facing app that adapts or changes depending on the store the customer visits. Swirl is also working with Timberland and Kenneth Cole. Alex and Ani doesn't yet have its own app but later plans to develop one using the Swirl SDK. Swirl installed the hardware in all the Alex and Ani stores. 

I was able to speak yesterday with Ryan Bonifacino, vice president of digital strategy for Alex and Ani. He comes from a venture capital background and is very focused on innovation and data usage. While most retailers and venue owners are still sniffing around the edges of indoor location Bonifacino said that Alex and Ani began testing iBeacons with Swirl in Q1 of last year in its New York and Boston stores. 

That's well before most people had heard of iBeacon.  

The data and insights the company gained during its two-store trial convinced Bonifacino that a full rollout was justified. Bonifacino said he was pleased with Swirl's ability to drive new customers into the company's stores, especially at times when regular foot traffic was generally lower. 

He explained that the new Swirl-driven customers actually spent more time in the store but purchased at levels that were comparable to Alex and Ani's regular customers. Indoor location was also able to provide greater visibility into who these new customers were. 

One of the things that Bonifacino is looking forward to most is the ability to collect data about in-store behavior and to test and optimize merchandising and displays. Beyond this, Bonifacino wants to provide a better in-store customer experience and believes that indoor location can help accomplish this.  

We spoke at some length about Alex and Ani's use of data in its marketing efforts and how data captured in stores would contribute to improving or refining those efforts. Bonifacino, however, was quick to say that the company is highly respectful of privacy and looking only at aggregate customer behavior. 

Alex and Ani also sells its jewelry and accessories through major retailers such as Bloomingdales and Nordstrom. Even though those retailers are separately examining indoor location Alex and Ani is helping educate them, says Bonifacino. The company hopes to use indoor location to promote its products and attract customers to its displays in those larger retail partner stores later this year. 

Webcast: Indoor Location - Early Adopter Case Studies and Lessons Learned

Live Webcast: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 - 1:00pm ET / 10:00 am PT

There’s a great deal of hype surrounding iBeacon right now. But that technology is just one part of a much larger story about indoor location.

Using a range of technologies, major retailers, malls, airports and others are testing or rolling out indoor location in their venues and stores. We’ve come a great distance since last year when few people understood the benefits of indoor positioning and real-world analytics.

Join aisle411, iInside and Opus Research’s Greg Sterling for a webinar and discussion about the current state of indoor location. The webinar will feature existing, in-market B2B and B2C case studies.

What you’ll learn:

Square Will Allow Whole Foods Shoppers to 'Skip the Line'

Square announced a deal with Whole Foods Markets that involves Square Register and Square Wallet. Some outlets are reporting this as another big enterprise deal for Square, after Starbucks. And it is. But what's more interesting is the consumer experience that it will enable in stores. 

Square will power payments for in-store food venues, such as the deli counter: 

These in-store venues -- including sandwich counters, juice and coffee bars, pizzerias, and beer and wine bars -- will use Square Register and Square Stand, Square’s suite of simple and affordable software and hardware tools for businesses. By bridging the digital and in-store retail spaces at these venues, Whole Foods Market shoppers can skip the main checkout lines, reducing wait times for all customers.

In other words, consumers with Square Wallet (with a stored credit card) will not have to stand in line to pay for their purchases. This will both create a more convenient experience for consumers and greater efficiency for in-store staff. (Ultimately mobile payments will reduce the number of cashier jobs across the US but that's another discussion.) 

Whole Foods will gain additional customer data (purchase histories). That in turn will likely enable new promotions and marketing opportunities for Whole Foods.  

The companies also said, "Several Whole Foods Market locations will serve as 'lab stores,' testing additional innovations designed to enhance customer service and cater to the changing needs of shoppers," before those services are rolled out more broadly.  

Earlier today I wrote that mobile payments can become a competitive advantage, promoting consumer convenience and loyalty and differentiating a product or service experience. Whole Foods has a very strong and generally differentiated brand already.

This development will further contribute to that brand strength and may generate additional shopper frequency at those in-store food venues that are mobile-payment enabled. It will probably also lead to more adoption for Square Wallet.  

Mobile Payments a Competitive Advantage for Uber

I have been arguing for the past two years that despite security concerns and an apparent lack of interest in mobile payments at the "national" level, consumers immediately "get it" when they find mobile payments embedded in a context whose value is self-evident. One such context is transportation.

There's been a great deal written about the disruptive impact of services such as Uber and Lyft on traditional taxis and transportation. The cheaper Uber X service, utilizing part-time drivers, is on average less expensive than conventional cabs. But I had an interesting experience recently that clearly reflected the power and value of mobile payments (convenience rather than cost) as a competitive differentiator.

The other day I got off a train from San Francisco to the East Bay where I live. At the bottom of the escalators were three taxis lined up and waiting for fares. I could have taken one immediately. Instead I pulled out my phone and called Uber X -- because I knew I wouldn't have to pay with cash or do a credit card transaction when I got out of the cab. (Uber stores credit card information and provides receipts via email.) I also appreciate the fact that I don't have to calculate and include an additional amount for a tip with Uber X.

The convience of not having to engage in a payment transaction was the consideration that made me wait five minutes rather than just get in a cab at the station. My own experience showed me the power of mobile payments as a differentiator and loyalty feature. The same will likely prove true for OpenTable as it rolls out mobile payments, giving consumers an additional reason to use the service, along with loyalty points and online reservations. 

Eventually mobile payments in the form of stored credit cards will make their way into most apps -- especially if Apple enables "pay with iTunes." For now, developers and publishers that integrate early will reap competitive advantages over those that do not. 

Facebook Partner Datalogix Buys Spire for Grocery Shopper Insights

Datalogix has acquired retail and grocery analytics firm Spire Marketing for an undisclosed amount according to a report in AdAge. According to the Spire website, the company has "one of the largest multi-retailer grocery panels in the United States with transaction data from 24 Grocery banners, 2,100+ stores, over 30 million households, and billions of annual transactions."

Spire began as a shopper loyalty marketing platform. That's very similar to Datalogix, which captures loyalty card data at the point of sale. 

Datalogix also provides consumer purchase history data for digital ad-targeting purposes (like Catalina) to third parties. The company has struck high-profile partnerships with both Facebook and Twitter to help show ROI and offline sales impact from exposure to online ads on social media sites.

This "two-way" online-offline paradigm will soon become the norm. Offline activities and in-store behavior will increasingly be factored into online advertising and email targeting. For example, both xAd and Verve are coordinating with out-of-home companies to provide analytics and mobile targeting capabilities based on exposure to billboards and other outdoor ads. 

Furthermore, online-to-offline ad tracking to the store and point of sale will equally gain momentum. This is one of the key trends that we explored at Place 2013 and will be taking up again this July at Place 2014

OpenTable Goes Live with Mobile Payments in San Francisco

OpenTable has begun rolling out mobile payments in a test with selected restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area. The intention to introduce mobile payments in OpenTable was first reported in July of last year.

The official announcement came in a blog post earlier today: 

OpenTable mobile payments are currently being tested by diners at select restaurants in San Francisco. Over the next few weeks, we will be adding more diners to the test program and will provide you a way to request access. 

Mobile payments will continue to gain momentum in "vertical" or specialized contexts such as this or Starbucks, Uber, AirBnB and a host of others. Many of these, including OpenTable, are explicitly or essentially "vertical marketplaces" where payments are increasingly integrated. The difference between these apps and something like Amazon, which has your credit card on file, is that you're paying for services in the real world. 

We're bullish, as they say, on the outlook for payments through vertical-mobile apps. By contrast, "horizontal" payment apps such as Google Wallet, ISIS and even PayPal (for offline services) have little or no traction because consumers don't see the point in the abstract. However the benefits of paying through the OpenTable app are fairly obvious: no more waiting for the check; no more waiting for the card to come back to the table. It should meaningfully compress the time it takes to pay and leave a restaurant. (It will also reduce credit card theft by restaurant personnel.) 

Eventually consumers will warm to the broader mobile wallets, after they've had sufficient exposure and experience with mobile payments a specific context -- such as OpenTable. Very concrete use cases with obvious benefits will help train consumers to trust and adopt mobile wallets/payments, which will eventually pave the way for services such as ISIS or Google Wallet. Apple may be an exception to the idea that consumers aren't ready for a single mobile wallet to substitute for conventional card payments. The company appears to be gearing up to offer a "pay with iTunes" capability.  

Transaction data yielded by payments also offer a next level of intelligence, personalization and marketing capabilities to those providers that integrate them.

Before payments, OpenTable knew if you reserved a table and actually showed up (or were a "no show"). Now the company will potentially know what you've ordered too. That can be shared with the restaurant for diner insights and loyalty purposes (see also, Swipely) and/or used by OpenTable in several ways to more precisely segment and market to restaurant-goers as well. 

Related: OpenTable also announced that it had acquired restaurant recommendations site/app Ness (sometimes also characterized as an intelligent assistant) for just over $17 million.