There is an old saying, alternately attributed to Bob Newhart, Tom Lehrer, The New Yorker and the New Statesman that sums up the news about Apple in a post–earnings week:
“Well other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the the play?”
Seems like a pretty good go-to.
iPhone sales were basically flat for the first time ever year-to-year, sales are expected to miss analysts’ projections by as much $5 billion next quarter and Apple’s big plans for grabbing massive China market share have been complicated by the fact that China’s economy is cratering.
So what that Apple also announced another record-breaking quarter of revenue and profit. That didn’t do a whole lot to quell a raging case of the heebie–jeebies among investors who are starting to seriously worry that Apple’s flagship product has just plain peaked and that there is no heir apparent anything waiting in the wings to pick up the slack. Because, keep in mind, Apple counts on gadget sales to prime their business model pump – which is getting access to their massively awesome app store.
So, how was the play, indeed.
With all that going on, most of the Apple Watchers this week are with the folks over at USA Today, dwelling on how things went sideways for Apple so fast — and how the firm can get its growth back. And it’s hard to blame them — the recent past is very interesting, who can be expected to keep up with what’s going on right now?
We can, of course.
This week saw some other Apple developments — less dramatic perhaps but plenty interesting, especially to payments and commerce enthusiasts.
Apple Pay, mirroring the trend of the week, has had a good news/bad news kind of run. The good news is it announced a big new retail integration with exactly the right type of sticky retailer. The bad news is it has picked up a new direct competitor from a brand with an almost equally enthusiastic (and largely overlapping) user base.
And Apple’s high-profile retail chief, Angela Ahrendts, made some provocative statements about what separates Apple’s brand from its competitors.
See what you miss when all you worry about is iPhones?
Apple’s Exxon Pick Up
Widely rumored in advance of the Q1 earnings report and officially confirmed by CEO Tim Cook during a call with investors earlier this week, is the news that ExxonMobil will be rolling out Apple Pay support in its Speedpass+ app — meaning going forward, iPhone owners will be able to use their phones to pay at the pump.
Speedpass+ is currently only online in a handful of locations throughout the United States: Salt Lake City, Houston, Charlottesville, Philadelphia and Nashville. Apart from Apple Pay, the app supports all major credit cards and select debit cards, and can be linked to a personal checking account.
Apple Pay will be limited to in-app payments for ExxonMobile purchases, though the gas station brand does feature contactless payments through its Speedpass key fob — that tech is RFID based, not NFC based. That doesn’t mean tap-and-go payments via Apple Pay will never happen at the pump; Chevron is currently piloting a program in the Bay Area to allow exactly that, but for now no dice on direct payments with iPhones or Apple Watches.
Still, gas stations, particularly one as nationally present as Exxon Mobile, are certainly a step in the right direction — it is one of the few merchants that almost every American consumer will see in-person quite often.
That’s the goods news. And now for the not so good news.
Venmo Is Ready To Compete For Those In-App Purchases
As of yesterday (Jan. 28), PayPal-owned Venmo has introduced a new in-app payment option called “Pay with Venmo” for both users and businesses alike.
Merchants can now directly tie in with Venmo’s payment platform and users can tap and sell the Venmo option when said method is supported by the app they are shopping with.
The experience — the one time information entry method for in-app payments followed by tapping and going through all commerce experience in the future — is an experience very much like Apple Pay’s or its parent company PayPal’s for that matter – with one big difference. Like its parent, Pay with Venmo is available to users across smartphone platforms.
There is also a social element to the Venmo payment experience — when purchases are used via that method, users have the option to share it as a public transaction or keep it private. The platform also allows users to purchase an item and split it with friends, making it easy for travel, food or transportation to be divided among a group of friends.
Venmo noted on its blog: “We’ve emailed everyone who can start using Venmo to pay in select apps. Didn’t get an email? Right now, we’re limiting availability, but stay tuned — we’re adding users regularly, and will let you know when you can start paying!”
Venmo processed $7.5 billion in payments in 2015 (a 213 percent from the year prior) – and as we all know – what merchants really like is a payments method that can bring along consumers. So, the matchup will be interesting to watch.
Apple Retail’s Magic Carpet
Whatever else can be said about the retail team at Apple, boring rhetoric will never, ever be on the list of negatives — a point Ahrendts illustrated beautifully in a recent sit down with Fast Company.
What makes Apple different — and so successful?
“The company was built to change people’s lives.”
And that commitment filters down to the employee level, according to Ahrendts, who says what separates the Apple retail staff from every other staff in the game is their pride in their work.
“I don’t see them as retail employees. I see them as executives in the company who are touching the customers with the products that Jony [Ive] and the team took years to build,” Ahrendts said. “Somebody has to deliver it to the customer in a wonderful way.”
Ahrendts further noted that she developed this view of the Apple culture from her 40-store tour during the first six months of her tenure as head of retail for Apple, when she witnessed an employee culture that ran deeper than products and branding, and was more about pride and values.
And that, she noted, is what lies behind the news released this week that Apple’s retention rate among retail employees was 81 percent between January 2015 and January 2016.
“We just ended the year with the highest retention rates we’ve ever had: 81 percent. And the feedback [from Apple Store employees is that it’s] because they feel connected. They feel like one Apple. They don’t feel like they’re just somebody over here working with customers.“
So what else did we learn this week? Apple Pay is on the move — slowly as ever – and the field it is moving down is getting ever more crowded. And Apple’s retail team is fired up and ready to go, to anyone and everyone who wants to buy iPhones.