The news cycle — which was a somewhat chaotic place last week, with a never-ending series of hearings on Capital Hill followed by an somehow even more endless parade of spin doctors and experts on what it all means — felt a bit stuck in neutral. Even the big British vote was somewhat inconclusive, as U.K. voters handed electoral losses to the political party supporting the so-called “hard Brexit” and the two political parties that were advocating a Brexit vote do-over. Theresa May definitely lost — the fate of the U.K.’s leave-taking from the EU is somehow less clear than it was a month ago.
But in payments and commerce last week, the news was mostly about forward motion. Sometimes, as in the case of Apple and Google, that forward motion was about cooperating and playing nicely with others. And sometimes — as was the case with Amazon and Walmart — it was more a story about making the world a more competitive place to shop.
Ready for a closer look?
Apple Opens Up NFC (Maybe, A Little)
According to reports out this week, Apple will make it possible for third-party developers to gain access to the near-field communications (NFC) chip within the iPhone7 and 7 Plus when the iOS 11 update goes public later this year.
As of now, the only service that can access the near-field communications chip is Apple Pay.
During the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) last week, Apple dropped some oblique hints that the NFC chip could see its use extended past payments — the specific example shown was an Apple Watch which can sync its data with gym equipment. New developer documents also reportedly show that the third-party apps will be able to develop functions that use the chip as well.
Some are speculating that the NFC chip could be a new method by which iPhone-based iOS apps can communicate with internet-connected devices. It could also replace NFC-enabled keycards and transit passes, the report said.
Whether the NFC chip will be open to payment services that are rival to Apple Pay remains to be seen.
Apple will be expanding Apple Pay’s capacity. And, in a separate slew of WWDC announcements, Apple also mentioned its plans to incorporate P2P messaging in iMessage.
That service, however, is not quite such a broad play — so far, Apple’s take on P2P messaging only works between Apple devices.
Google Goes After Loyalty
Google had a lot to share with the world as the news week got off the ground.
Most eye-catching is Google’s latest move to make it easier for merchants to reward customers. Dubbed Card Linked, the API is designed to give merchants a new way to target offers.
Panera Bread is an early nationwide adopter. By using a MyPanera loyalty card saved in Android Pay, users can get offers and updates. Those offers can be redeemed when customers use their MyPanera account at checkout.
Google is also making it easier for Android Pay users to add other loyalty programs to their mobile wallet. Apart from Panera, Walgreens has proved to be an early adopter, as the chain has deployed Google’s smart tap technology in its more than 8,000 stores in the U.S., Google noted.
Google also noted that it is working with First Data’s Clover to expand the smart tap technology to all sorts of businesses. With the integration of smart tap in Clover’s API, developers can build Android apps for loyalty, coupons and gift card redemption and features like ordering ahead.
The internet giant also said that in the next few months, people in the U.S. will be able to send or receive payments through the Google Assistant, its voice-activated personal assistant. Users can tell Google Assistant on their Google Home device or Android phone to send a person money, and it will do all the work. All users need is a debit card linked to their Google account.
Amazon and Walmart Battle for Low-Income Customers
Amazon and Walmart are determined to do battle on all available fronts — even those that have been historically underserved and not often fought for. Amazon has long had a convincing stranglehold on high-income consumers. But it wants to be more inclusive than that — as low-income consumers have money to spend, too.
According to Recode, Amazon is putting a discount on AmazonPrime — offering it at $5.99 a month instead of $10.99 month — for U.S. residents receiving government assistance.
Shoppers with an Electronic Benefits Transfer card, which is used for benefits like the Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program, are eligible for the lower price. These customers will then have to requalify every year for up to four years.
About a year ago, Amazon began offering Prime for $9.99 per month, instead of a single annual payment of $99. The program, other than the pricing, is identical: free two-day shipping on tens of millions of items and access to a large selection of online movies and TV shows for no extra charge. The monthly pay option has already boosted Amazon’s membership among households making less than $50,000 per year — and the slicing of the price will likely encourage more membership. CEO Jeff Bezos has said he wants to add so much value to the membership that it becomes irresponsible to not use it.
This latest discount is the result of a renewed rivalry between Walmart and Amazon since Walmart acquired Jet.com last year. The two sides are currently engaged in a price war in packaged goods, and Amazon has followed Walmart’s 500-store expansion of a grocery pick-up model with two locations of its own. Amazon also lowered its free shipping threshold to $25 to combat Walmart’s free, speedy delivery offering.
Amazon also announced this year that it would start accepting food stamps for its grocery items, beginning this summer. Amazon’s grocery service costs an additional monthly fee on top of the Prime membership.
So what did we learn this week? Google wants to make shopping more rewarding, Apple wants to be (very slightly) more open to others touching their hardware and Amazon is not kidding when they say they want everyone in America to be a Prime member.