Amazon Pay Places expands to more brick-and-mortar stores

Why it matters to you

Amazon wants you to be able to pay with your Amazon account almost anywhere.

Amazon, one of the world’s largest and most profitable stores, wants your Amazon account to pay for more than just towels and toiletries. On Wednesday, it launched Amazon Pay Places, a new service lets Amazon customers place an order ahead in brick-and-mortar stores.

“One of the things we’ve been doing the last couple of years is thinking about how to connect merchants with the Amazon customer base, knowing they are very active connected shoppers whether online or on mobile,” Patrick Gauthier, vice president of Amazon Pay, told Pymnts.com. “With what we are taking the lid off today — we are enabling merchants to instantly reach people who are highly mobile and very desirable as customers — without having to worry about app distribution.”

Amazon Pay Places works a little like PayPal. Next time you are planning to pick up an order at a store or restaurant that is partnered with Amazon, you will be able to launch the Amazon smartphone app, make your selection from the Programs & Features section of Amazon’s mobile app, and save it to your cart. Once you have finished shopping, you will see an option to pay with one of the debit, credit, or checking numbers associated with your Amazon account.

Amazon sees Pay Places as a solution to what it calls the “app problem” — a majority of people do not bother to download merchants’ apps. According to ComScore, about 30 percent of Americans downloaded fewer than zero apps in 2016. That is opposed to the Amazon app’s install base, which Gauthier said stands at about three out of four phones in the U.S.

It’s a slow rollout, though. Pay Places, which launched in beta earlier this year in luxury clothing merchant Moda Operandi, will work only at select TGI Friday’s locations in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Richmond, Virginia, and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania starting later this year. But Amazon intends to take Amazon Pay Places beyond restaurants, according to TechCrunch.

Pay Places is an expansion of Amazon Pay, the digital payments platform the online retailer launched in 2007. Since then, Amazon’s brought it to France, Italy, and Spain, and opened it to global partners including PrestaShop, Shopify, Future Shop, and more than 50 others.

Amazon’s efforts have paid dividends. In February, Amazon announced that more than 33 million customers used Amazon Payments to make a purchase, up from 23 million in April 2016, and that payment volume doubled in the same period.

It is a lucrative business. Amazon charges 2.9 percent plus 30 cents per transaction — less than the 27 percent it charges eateries on its Amazon Prime Now Restaurants food delivery platform, and on par with PayPal’s fees.

But Amazon’s overtures could threaten its relationship with a would-be partner: PayPal. In January, the retailer discussed letting shoppers pay for Amazon purchases using their PayPal accounts, according to Bloomberg.

Google Play Store’s new Editors Choice pages put curated apps front and center

Why it matters to you

Google’s new Editors’ Choice pages will make it easier to compare apps, and find the right one for your needs.

Finding new apps on the Google Play Store can be a daunting task. Even though the storefront has gone through numerous iterations over the past several years, the abundance of options can still make it tough to come across something that catches your eye. Fortunately, Google is rolling out a redesigned Editors’ Choice section today, July 19, that delivers more curated recommendations to users in simple, brief packages.

There are a couple app guides already live, like the five essential road trip apps, or the best apps for learning a new language. Google Play’s editors have handpicked a selection of apps for a variety of categories, and each one is accompanied by a quick blurb as well as three standout features. These pages are available on both mobile and desktop versions of the store, and are currently live in Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Japan, South Korea, and the United States, with other regions to follow soon.

google play store editorial pages googleplay

The goal, Google says, is to “take out the guesswork” in trying out different apps to find the right fit. It’s something Apple is also attempting to do with the upcoming App Store redesign planned for iOS 11. After the update arrives in the fall, users will be presented with a new “Today” page upon opening the App Store. The tab will highlight different iPhone and iPad apps on a daily basis in an effort to encourage shoppers to visit more regularly.

In addition to making it easier to find apps, Google also plans to make it easier to use them with the release of Instant Apps. Fully unveiled at the company’s I/O conference in May, Instant Apps allow developers to post a lightweight version of their apps that users can experience immediately — no download necessary. Instant Apps won’t always offer the same degree of functionality as full apps, though they should be better-equipped than mobile web pages and are ideal for one-time uses.

A good example is Hotel Tonight, one of the first companies to make an Instant App available to the public. It’s a nice fit for the platform because it allows users to easily make a booking without necessitating a full install of the app, which they’ll probably only use for a weekend. There are many more Instant Apps out in the wild, like Periscope, The Weather Channel, and Ticketmaster — though they’re still only available on certain devices at the moment.

This new AP course could drastically improve diversity in tech

It’s no secret that tech has a diversity problem. 

The big-name Silicon Valley companies that release their staffing figures every year often seem embarrassed to do so, because their workplaces are not inclusive or representative of the larger population — even after those companies vocally commit to changing the status quo.

And every year, we argue over the same question: Why don’t firms like Yahoo, Facebook, and Google hire more women and people of color? 

Hadi Partovi, CEO of Code.org, a nonprofit that works to create more diversity in tech, believes there’s finally one promising solution within reach. 

That would be a popular new Advanced Placement course called Computer Science Principles. It debuted in classrooms nationwide last year as a broader introduction to computer science. Instead of focusing narrowly on programming, as the traditional course and exam do, CS Principles teaches subjects like networking, big data, cybersecurity, and app development.

“The traditional AP exam is if you want to become a coder,” Partovi says. “The new exam is if you want to become a well-educated, well-rounded person.” 

It also has the potential to fundamentally change what’s known as the “pipeline problem,” or what tech companies describe as the difficulty of recruiting underrepresented applicants out of college and into tech jobs because they comprise a minority of graduates with a degree in computer science.  

After just one year in high schools, the course more than doubled the number of female and underrepresented students who took a computer science AP exam. In 2016, only 12,642 female students took the traditional exam. This year, that number trended upwards as it has in previous years, and an additional 15,028 female students took the new test.

Similarly, the participation of “underrepresented minorities,” which includes African American and Hispanic students, increased by nearly 170 percent from 2016 to 2017, with 13,024 students taking the new exam. Seventy percent of students received a passing score on the CS Principles test. 

Partovi expected a surge in the number of students taking the new AP course and exam, but he was “ecstatic” to see participation in computer science at the high school level skyrocket. 

He credits that partly to the course’s widespread appeal. It’s a modern take on computer science that relates to the internet and app development, even requiring students to submit a portfolio of app projects in order to complete the exam. 

Code.org, along with other educational organizations, helped develop the curriculum for the course and has trained teachers with no computer science background how to teach the material in their classrooms. 

Partovi is hopeful that the new AP course and exam will encourage more female and underrepresented students to pursue computer science in college and in their careers. That shift could be evident within four to five years as the first crop of students finishes their bachelor degrees and enters the job market. 

Trevor Packer, senior vice president of Advanced Placement and Instruction at CollegeBoard, comments on the new AP CS test.

Trevor Packer, senior vice president of Advanced Placement and Instruction at CollegeBoard, comments on the new AP CS test.

Whether or not that can help reduce the so-called pipeline problem is a controversial subject. Many critics believe the challenges to diversifying tech’s ranks have more to do with a culture that is unwelcoming or dismissive of people whose backgrounds and experiences don’t match the stereotype of the brogrammer in a hoodie.  

Partovi believes that both insular culture and pipeline challenges are at the heart of why tech companies haven’t improved at hiring more diverse employees. If the AP course and test give young students the confidence and knowledge to stick with computer science in college when they might not have otherwise done so, it will make an important difference. 

“The trend is in the right direction,” says Partovi.

That’s good news that the tech industry — and those who hope to join it one day — desperately needs.

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Apple is secretly funding a legal battle against a rival

This dude is not messing around.
This dude is not messing around.

Image: JIM WATSON/Getty Images

Suits, countersuits, and everything in between. When Apple and billions of dollars are involved, you know things are going to get messy. 

Well, messy and interesting. Because, in what can only be read as a “don’t mess with us” play from Apple CEO Tim Cook, it turns out that the Cupertino-based behemoth is financially backing the legal defense of four iPhone manufacturers in their battle with Qualcomm — a company that just so happens to own the chip technology that allows iPhones to connect to cell data networks. 

And while at first glance this may look like a Peter Thiel-esque legal battle by proxy, Apple’s motivation appears to be mostly business (and probably only partly personal). 

Here’s what’s going down: As Reuters reports, on July 18, Wistron Corp, Compal Electronics Inc, Pegatron Corp, and Foxconn’s parent Hon Hai Precision Industry Co all claimed antitrust violations by Qualcomm. Specifically, the companies allege Qualcomm violated the Sherman Act — an 1890 U.S. federal law “aimed at preserving free and unfettered competition as the rule of trade.”

But this move didn’t come out of thin air. Rather, it stems from an ongoing legal dispute between Apple and Qualcomm. Apple sued the company in January over unpaid patent license rebates, claiming Qualcomm owed it close to $1 billion, and told the aforementioned iPhone manufacturers to cease license payments to Qualcomm while everything got worked out in court. 

Qualcomm then sued them all. But, with a little help from Apple, they’re not taking it lying down. 

A Pegatron building in Shanghai, China.

A Pegatron building in Shanghai, China.

Image: VCG/GETTY

“Qualcomm has confirmed publicly that this lawsuit against our clients is intended to make a point about Apple and punish our clients for working with Apple,” lawyer Theodore J. Boutrous, who is working with the four manufacturers, said in a statement picked up by Reuters. “The companies are bringing their own claims and defenses against Qualcomm.”

It’s not exactly clear when Apple, apparently not one to shy away from a fight, stepped in — but stepped in it has. A company spokesperson confirmed to the wire service that it’s throwing down cash for the four manufacturers’ legal tussle. With somewhere in the neighborhood of $250 billion in cash reserves, you better believe that Apple can afford it. 

So, to recap: Apple is suing Qualcomm, Qualcomm is suing four iPhone manufacturers, and Apple is at least partially funding their defense. 

Like we said, messy. One takeaway, however, is crystal clear: If you come at Apple, you’d better not miss. Apple has cash to burn, and it’s clearly not afraid to light some of it on fire. 

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The final 75 tickets are now available for the TechCrunch Summer Party at August Capital


The TechCrunch Summer Party is a thing of tradition and we hope you can make it out this year. As in years past we’ll gather on the spacious grounds of August Capital in Menlo Park and enjoy an evening of cocktails and the spirit of entrepreneurship.

The deck around August Capital’s office is large but cannot hold all of Silicon Valley, so tickets are very limited and released on a rolling basis. It’s $90 to attend.

About the Summer Party at August Capital

  • July 28, 5:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
  • Menlo Park, CA
  • Get tickets here, $90 based on availability. Tickets will be released in batches. Stay tuned to TechCrunch for releases, as they sell out quickly.

TechCrunch parties have a history of being the place you want to meet your future investor, acquirer or co-founder. Case in point, when TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington used to hold these events in his Atherton back yard, Box founders Aaron Levie and Dylan Smith met one of their first investors, DFJ. And in 2010, we spotted 500 Startups’ Dave McClure writing a check to then-stealthy startup Tello, which was bought by Urban Airship.

We’re also going to have some really great door prizes: TC swag, Amazon Echos and tickets to our flagship event this September, Disrupt SF.

Hope to see you all there this year!

Our sponsors help make TechCrunch events happen. If you are interested in learning more about sponsorship opportunities, please contact our sponsorship team here.

We are also looking for some additional hands to help at the event — you can apply for volunteer opportunities here.

Run your startup the Toyota way


Toyota is known for its manufacturing efficiency. We’ve probably all heard that if a worker on the Camry line sees a problem, they have the authority to stop the line and address it. At the end of the day, teams meet to discuss what went wrong and what fixes actually fixed things. It’s called the Toyota Production System, or TPS, and, like any tech cult, it’s got lots of lingo and acronyms. (Try throwing around “Let’s kaizen this” if you want to seem in the know.) But it also can work for a startup as easily as it can work for the massive automotive manufacturer.

Jamie Bonini, the vice president of the Toyota Production System Support Center, preaches the TPS gospel to organizations in North America and, recently, Australia. He’s worked with small manufacturers, hospitals and government agencies to teach them how to use Toyota’s principles in their particular settings. “You start with the customer,” Bonini said during a panel at the Aspen Ideas Festival. “Are they getting what they want? Then you work back from there.”

The point of TPS is to create a culture where problems are not repeated in order to achieve the end goal of improving quality. That’s as applicable to apps as it is to automobiles. In an interview after the panel, Bonini outlined the basics of the system, which has three parts:

  • The philosophy that the customer needs to be served by the process and that the people who create the widget — whether that’s a car or a car-sharing app — are the most valuable resource in the organization.
  • The use of tech tools to establish flow through entire organization — and to halt that flow when necessary. Managers need to develop their teams so that the people closest to the problem can solve that problem.
  • The application of engineering and design to understand that flow, from the overall project plan to the precise sequence of steps required to complete a task. This can be reviewed every day or every week, but it needs to be revisited often.

These pillars, Bonini said, are “timeless.” Advanced technology can make the TPS system work better, but the focus on people — both those in the organization and the customer at the end of the process — remains an important part of the triangle.

“All three pieces of TPS must work,” Bonini said. “A lot of business leaders have never heard of all three pieces; they put all their emphasis on the tech tools.” Whether you’re in a 10-person startup or a 1,000-employee hospital, these three principals should work together to create a culture of trust and innovation.

Oh, and kaizen, for the record, is the process of changing things for the better, or in business terms, continuously improving the system at every step and every level.

Featured Image: Toyota

Facebook ‘Groups for Pages’ unlocks fan clubs


With Facebook’s newest feature, a musician could run an on-site fan club, a brand could organize its ambassadors and a newspaper could discuss articles with just its top readers. Today Facebook globally launched Groups for Pages, allowing the 70 million Pages on Facebook to create their own distinct communities and feeds.

Facebook first quietly tested the feature in March, but today Chief Product Officer Chris Cox announced the feature’s full roll-out. Mentioning how one of The Washington Post’s reporters started a group called PostThis for its journalists and most loyal readers, Cox wrote “This is one of thousands of interesting examples we heard of super-fans who wanted to be a part of the day-to-day discussion of the decisions inside the walls of an organization they care about, and more importantly to connect with everyone else who felt the same way.”

The launch could further Facebook’s new mission statement to “bring the world closer together” and push it toward its goal to grow the membership of “meaningful groups” from 100 million now to 1 billion in the future.

Users can look at a Page’s Groups shortcut for any communities they’ve created. Pages can link an existing Group to their Page in addition to launching new ones.

For years, Facebook pushed people to create lists of specific friends to share different posts with, or to just fully embrace “openness” and share publicly. But it seems to have realized that people’s values and interests don’t always align with their geographic communities, or even their closest friends. Since the News Feed prioritizes showing content that gets lots of clicks and Likes, niche content could often fall flat and reach few people. Plus there’s the issue that Trump’s polarization of the United States has made sharing political content to Facebook a minefield of angry relatives and extremist high school classmates.

By pushing users to join and participate in Groups, Facebook gives them homes for the different sides of their prismatic identities. If you define yourself by the band you listen to every day, the brand you wear or the person you vote for, your enthusiastic posts about them might get a more positive and less contentious reception inside a Facebook Group.

A New Service Model

People concerned about automation killing jobs might look at Helpshift’s strategy and similar automation approaches. By enabling businesses to build help or support into mobile apps, these new models are re-inventing support to get the job done.

Sure, they provide automated support in lieu of conventional agents, but they do so at a level where it often can be uneconomic to position live agents. The help these apps provide, which can be extensive, still means less attention than speaking with a live person. Here’s the thing, though — sometimes all customers want is a quick answer, not a drawn-out service “experience.”

The “just the facts, ma’am” approach to service crystallized back in 2010 in a Harvard Business Review article, “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers.” In it we discovered that people living busy lives often desire a slimmed-down approach. So the science combines with new technology to provide app-level support for mobile apps, and no jobs are harmed in the process — at least not directly.

Now, a company-sponsored research effort reveals how this new approach to service works.

Who’s Hiding the Intuition?

Almost half (45 percent) of consumers surveyed said they would be interested in trying mobile apps that offered live customer support.

That’s important, because it suggests a need that’s not being met at the moment. Too often, the tendency with mobile apps is to assume they’re intuitive because, hey, they’re on a mobile device, right?

Well, um, the app might be intuitive — and the developer may have worked hard to make it so — but that doesn’t mean the underlying business process that the app supports is intuitive. Business processes have a way of making the most obvious things murky, and that can be true especially with large bureaucratic organizations like airlines.

As it happens, airlines are a great candidate for inline online help.

Back to the survey. Seventy percent of people said they wanted to use in-app support in airline apps, and 47 percent cited convenience as the primary driver.

It makes perfect sense, since traveling doesn’t present enough opportunities to stop and get help from airline employees. If you’re scrambling to make a connection, for instance, there isn’t a lot of information you must have — but you don’t have time to find someone who can provide all of it.

Again, according to the survey, 89 percent of travelers and loyalty members said they would want to be able to use a customer support feature in an airline’s app while flying. An almost identical number, 88 percent, said they would welcome and recommend being contacted proactively inside an app.

This suggests two things that travelers want: to establish a closer working relationship with their vendors (regardless of whether there is a service agent involved); and to be proactive in figuring out their next move upon landing, well before the tires hit the runway.

That’s why 83 percent of airline app users and upwards of 95 percent of loyalty members felt that airline apps would improve the travel experience.

It’s clear that travelers want and need airline apps for what they can do for the flying public. However, it’s also clear that the apps themselves don’t provide all of the help that customers might want from them. The easy and obvious fix is to build support into the apps — and there’s nothing that says a business has to do all that heavy lifting by itself.

Help When You Need It

In fact, the survey suggests that a new dynamic has come into play. We’ve more or less figured out mobile apps, and there are many vendors that can provide technology or assistance to get apps built and running.

On the leading edge in support these days, at least mobile support, is the ability to help companies better understand the rhythms of their business processes from the customer’s point of view, and then to be there when needed.

Of course, in some situations, “being there” still means having a live agent — but increasingly, it means building support into the app with prepositioned content or any other technology that fits into the service matrix.

It appears that we’re on the cusp of a new service model in which machines finally fulfill their promise to make things easier.

Helpshift and others in its category provide a good example of how businesses can offer better service by giving support proactively in situations where it’s needed, rather than expecting customers to stop what they’re doing to seek help.

In-app support — either live or prepositioned — enables a business to project itself into its customers’ daily experience, rather than requiring customers to leave what’s in front of them just to get help.

Also, it clearly shows how automation can be additive rather than reductive — and that should please everyone.


Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can’t Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. He can be reached at
denis.pombriant@beagleresearch.com.

Become your own barista with this portable espresso maker

Paying $4 for your daily dose of espresso each morning is fun, but you might want to save your money and purchase one of these bad boys instead. 

Say goodbye to that clunky machine in your kitchen and hello to this portable one instead. Weighing in at under 1lb and measuring about 7” long, it can fit in your bag, the drawer of your desk, and just about anywhere else. 

Image: wacaco company

The Minipresso GR’s innovate design features a semi-automatic piston that injects small quantities of water into the coffee adapter. After a few pushes of the button, a bold espresso shot is extracted. It also has water tanks of different capacities, which makes it possible to enjoy multiple espresso types with any variety of bean or roast. 

Grab one here for $57.94 and get brewing. 

Facebook tries to prove Instant Articles beat mobile web


One-third of all link clicks on Facebook already go to its self-hosted Instant Articles. Facebook claims they drive more referral traffic click-for-click because people don’t abandon them mid-click as they do with slow-loading mobile websites. Now Facebook is teaming up with Nielsen to prove that individual publishers benefit when they post with the Instant Articles format.

Today Facebook is launching an analytics comparison tool for Instant Articles publishers. It looks at the referral traffic from a test group of people who see Instant Article versions of links, and a control group that sees mobile web versions. Facebook hopes publishers will see for themselves that they get more traffic from Instant Articles. The tool is now rolling out to publishers who’ve posted enough of both formats, and Facebook plans to add more metrics to the tool in the future.

Facebook says that, on average, here’s how much more people click and read Instant Articles over mobile web in different parts of the world:

  • U.S. and Canada click and read over 25 percent more
  • Europe clicks and reads over 30 percent more
  • Middle East and North Africa click and read 80 percent more
  • Southeast Asia reads and clicks 60 percent more
  • Latin America reads and clicks 60 percent more
  • India reads and clicks over 75 percent more

That leaves out of whether these Instant Articles monetize better. That’s something that publishers are increasingly worried about — and with good reason.

Facebook launched Instant Articles in 2015 with a sterilized style, tons of restrictions on how many ads they could show and no way to include subscription purchase, newsletter sign-up or recirculation units that drive revenue. That year, I warned publishers they risked becoming ghostwriters feeding dumb content into Facebook’s smart pipe, with no differentiation between publishers or opportunities to build long-term relationships with loyal readers. You can watch my rant about the problem below.

Recently, Facebook has been working to fix some of those problems. It let publishers start showing more ads, introduced Page Like and email sign-up buttons and is now testing recirculation units so news outlets can drive readers from one article to another. Facebook plans to start testing a paid subscription paywall feature in the fall.

Still, the News Media Alliance representing 2,000 newspapers, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, recently asked Congress for anti-trust exemption so they could collectively bargain with Facebook and Google over who gets ad revenue. Money that used to go to buy ads on publishers’ sites is rolling up to the content aggregators through which people find their news. That threatens to defund newsrooms in favor of social and search platforms.

With the new tool, publishers should be able to compare the referral traffic and their monetization of Instant Articles versus mobile web, and see which ends up making them more money overall. That could inform them about whether Instant Articles are a deal with the devil or a match made in heaven.