Google Wallet now lets you send money to any phone number


Google today updated its Google Wallet app for Android and iOS with support for sending money to phone numbers. You can download the new version of the app from Google Play and Apple’s App Store (it’s rolling out “in the next few days,” so don’t fret if you don’t see it yet).

Until now, you needed to give Google Wallet an email address. With this latest app update, however, you can just send money to anyone in your contact list with a phone number.

The best part is whoever you are sending money to doesn’t need the Google Wallet app. When you send money to a phone number, the recipient will get a text message with what Google says is a secure link. Tapping that will let them enter their debit card number to claim the money, which will be available in their bank account “within minutes.”


This is the only feature addition to the app. The changelog states, “We’ve made it even easier to send money. You can now find and send money to anyone using just a phone number.” as well as “Bug fixes and visual improvements.” — but the latter is present on every Google Wallet app update.

The Google Wallet update before this one added improved contact suggestions (so you see the people you send money to most often first), a security feature that lets you lock the Google Wallet app with the tap of a button, and the ability to link a second bank account.


With the launch of Android Pay, Google refocused Google Wallet as a P2P payments app. Branding confusion aside, it’s a smart move, and Google Wallet is slowly but surely becoming something many are giving a shot. The ability to send money to phone numbers might just be enough for the app to gain some momentum.

Wal-Mart enters mobile payments with launch of Walmart Pay


Bengaluru (By Sruthi Ramakrishnan Reuters) — Wal-Mart Stores Inc said it would launch ‘Walmart Pay,’ to become the first U.S. retailer to offer its own payment feature to expand consumer payment options and increase the speed of checkouts.

Walmart Pay will be introduced in select U.S. stores on Thursday and in additional stores after the holiday season, Wal-Mart executives said on a video call with reporters on Wednesday.

The free service, integrated into the retailer’s app, will be available nationwide by the first half of 2016, the executives said.

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Walmart Pay will be available on devices using Apple’s iOS or Alphabet Inc’s Android operating system and allows payments with any major credit, debit, pre-paid or Walmart gift cards, the company said.

It will also allow for the integration of other payment options such as mobile wallets in the future.

The feature requires customers to choose Walmart Pay within the retailer’s mobile app at a checkout counter, activate their phone camera and scan the code displayed at the register after which an e-receipt will be sent to the app.

The company is in talks with mobile wallet developers, Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of services for Walmart U.S., said on the call, but did not specify who the companies were.

Wal-Mart has been working with a consortium of retailers to develop a mobile wallet, called CurrentC, which was beta-launched in August, in a bid to rival Apple Inc’s Apple Pay.

Wal-Mart said Walmart Pay was developed independently, but it continues to remain associated with CurrentC as a possible mobile wallet addition to Walmart Pay.

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Walmart Will Launch Its Own Mobile Payments Service

Walmart Shutterstock Mega-chain Walmart announced today that it plans to offer mobile payments to its shoppers. Called Walmart Pay, the service is currently only available as a feature in Walmart’s existing smartphone app. The company accounts for about 10 percent of retail sales in the U.S., so Walmart Pay can potentially pose a challenge to Apple Pay and Android Pay if enough customers start using it. Read More

BlackBerry is bringing BBM mobile payments to Africa


BlackBerry announced Monday that it plans to allow BBM users in Africa (starting with Nigeria) to send money or airtime “as simply as they transfer photos or files.” It’s part of a wider push by BlackBerry to establish a presence in the mobile payments space, especially in emerging markets.

In Nigeria and South Africa, the company says it sees over half a million new users install BBM per month, which it believes is allowing “a network effects [to] take root in several markets across the continent.” Beyond that, it’s seeing “close to 10 million visits to the BBM Shop per month, and now over 26 million ad requests per day.”

These strong advertising numbers mean that South Africa and Nigeria “represent two of our biggest global opportunities,” and that while “both are seen as developing economies, they are some of our top revenue-generating markets.”

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The company already offers mobile payments in Indonesia, for example, an emerging country of around 250 million in Southeast Asia that still has many loyal BlackBerry users. But other popular messenger apps in these markets also offer mobile payments/wallets, including Line, WeChat (which just launched its peer-to-peer mobile wallet in South Africa), Kakao Talk, and others.

BlackBerry first pushed into mobile payments in June last year when it signed a three-year deal with mobile payments firm EnStream, a joint venture by Canada’s three largest wireless carriers, to secure and transfer credit card information between smartphone owners and banks, as we reported at the time.

Then, in August this year, BlackBerry brought mobile payments via PayPal to BBM users in Canada, known as BBM Money.

But the reality is that the remaining BBM strongholds are fairly few and far between these days, and it seems unlikely that even BlackBerry’s attempt to get back into the smartphone wars in a big way with Android will help a whole lot on that front — at least not in the near-term.

“We’re excited to announce we’ll be expanding our mobile payment initiatives into Africa, commencing in Nigeria,” Matthew Talbot, BlackBerry’s senior VP for emerging solutions, wrote in a blog posting. “BlackBerry has partnered with Interswitch Ltd, Nigeria’s largest payment processor, to enable any Nigerian to transfer money or airtime within BBM, as simply as they transfer photos or files.”

“Separately, we are also expanding BBM Shop payment options. We’ll soon include the Firstmonie mobile wallet, which is provided by Nigeria’s largest bank, First Bank of Nigeria Limited. We’re also teaming up with Mobile Media Info Tech (MMIT), a Nigerian company working to revolutionize mobile payments, to bring secure payments to the BBM Shop.”

BlackBerry is also seeing over 20 million views per month on its BBM Shop in Africa, and says 60 million total stickers have been sent and received there. (It offers 25 sticker packs “tailored to the African market.”)

While emerging markets are clearly important to BlackBerry (they’re important to all players in the smartphone game!), it seems that not all are created equal: yesterday, the Canadian company announced that it is pulling out of Pakistan over security concerns. I don’t expect it has any plans to pull out of Africa too soon, though.

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San Francisco’s new transit app will let you pay your fare with PayPal

Muni Cable Car at San Francisco, CA

San Francisco public transit riders are finally getting a mobile app for buying tickets. Today, San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency officially launched an app called MuniMobile for iOS and Android.

The app was first promised in January and expected to debut over the summer; however, now is the first time the app is being made available broadly. Riders will be able to pay for fares with a credit card or PayPal using a smartphone.

The new app is aimed at casual riders and tourists, who don’t have an easy way to purchase tickets. Previously, San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency only allowed people to buy individual tickets with cash through terminals located at stations or from the operator of the bus or train. Through MuniMobile, smartphone users will be able to purchase and store single tickets as well as one-day, three-day, and five-day passes for multiple people.

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Already, regular Muni riders have a program called Clipper that allows people to store tickets, monthly passes, and cash fares on a reusable card. Users can reload their cards with funds online, but to the dismay of some they aren’t able to renew or store monthly passes via the MuniMobile app.

The new app comes as other cities are revamping their transit fare payment programs. Earlier this year, the London Underground enabled its transit system to use Apple Pay to pay for rides. Meanwhile, New Jersey Transit, Virginia Rail Express, and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation have all upgraded their fare systems to accept PayPal.

The reason these transit systems are opting for mobile payments is to cut down on the difficulty of entering payment information on a phone.

For companies like Apple, PayPal, and Google, transit apps represent an opportunity to get more people using mobile payments. So far, people have been slow to adopt mobile payment technology like Apple Pay. In a recent study, payments analyst PYMNTS noted that only 16 percent of people with an iPhone 6 or 6s have tried Apple Pay; an even smaller number use it regularly.

Still, in-app purchases remain an important use case for mobile payment technology, and it’s likely that companies invested in this arena are all gunning to be the mobile payment app of choice.

Amazon is shutting down Square competitor Register

Amazon Register

Just a year after launching, Amazon is shutting down its mobile point of sale system, Amazon Register.

Starting today, Amazon says it will no longer take on new Register customers. Those already using Register have until February 1, 2016 to migrate over to another point of sale. After that date, Amazon will kill its Register service altogether. Merchants will have access to their transaction history until February 28, 2016.

Register is a credit card reading device that plugs into smartphones and was intended to compete with other low cost mobile point of sales aimed at small businesses, like Square, PayPal, and Etsy. However, processing payments is an exceedingly difficult business to make money in and often operates on thin margins. In order to succeed in the space, service providers need to have clients with high sales volume, which small businesses often do not have. Amazon charged transaction rates that were cheaper than its competitors, meaning it likely wasn’t earning much off the service. It may have even been losing money on the venture — not an uncommon prospect for Amazon.

The company didn’t offer much in the way of an explanation for the closure: “Amazon is constantly testing and launching new services to innovate on behalf of our customers. At this time, we have decided to discontinue the Amazon Register service,” Amazon told VentureBeat in a statement.

The news comes on the same day that Amazon sunsets its daily deals site, Amazon Local.

Square’s success story, in two words: small businesses


Tod Wilson knows what it means to be a small business owner. He’s been traveling down the entrepreneurial path since he graduated high school. Working with his grandfather in the bakery business got him hooked and eventually led him to open Mr. Tod’s Pie Factory in Somerset, New Jersey. But even after appearing on Shark Tank and seeing business pick up, he felt something was missing: a way to really differentiate himself from the rest of the pack.

Tod Wilson, the owner of Mr. Tod's Pie Factory

Above: Tod Wilson, the owner of Mr. Tod’s Pie Factory

Image Credit: Square

“I want to make Mr. Tod’s a national brand,” Wilson told VentureBeat, voicing an aspiration shared by many small business owners. According to the United States Census Bureau, there are nearly 28 million small businesses in the country –accounting for 54 percent of all sales and 55 percent of all jobs — and the sector has been rapidly growing at a rate of 49 percent since 1982.

Still, with so many stores and big box retailers angling for your money, how can a small business remain competitive? Certainly, improved customer experience is one of they key ingredients, and increasingly, small business owners have turned to technology for help in this department. Among the many merchant services and payments providers on the market, Square, with its aim of being a full stack commerce provider for the growing small business community, has emerged as a formidable player.

Taking note of small business

Square’s recent filing for its Initial Public Offering (IPO) paints an interesting picture of its relationship with the small to medium-sized business community. Since 2011, Square’s main customers have been businesses with annualized gross payment volume of less than $125,000. “Most of the sellers that use our services are small businesses, many of which are in the early stages of their development…,” the company wrote in its S-1 filing.

In fact, much of what Square has produced so far has been targeted at the small business owner. From payments offerings like the initial card reader and the Square Stand to business financing through Square Capital, the company has been on a mission to help entrepreneurs grow and thrive. Chief executive Jack Dorsey staunchly supports this mission and has pledged to give more than half of his equity to his newly created Start Small Foundation, which is aimed at helping small business owners and others in underserved communities, starting with those in Ferguson, Missouri.

Square, which is considered by some to be “an operating system for small business,” has made available a myriad of tools and devices to help a fledgling one-person business expand without compromising on personalized customer experience.

While the company that put Square on the map was Starbucks, it was a flower cart named Lilybelle that really launched Square’s journey and first drew its interest to the small business space. Today, Square’s customer base represents a host of industries, although most come from the retail, services, and food sectors.

Square Chief Executive Jack Dorsey and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz at a breakfast meeting in New York City on August 8, 2012, the day after a partnership between the two companies was announced.

Above: Square chief executive Jack Dorsey and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz at a breakfast meeting in New York City on August 8, 2012, the day after a partnership between the two companies was announced.

Image Credit: Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat

“The thing about Square is that its biggest advantage is that it could empower SMBs to become more of a digital business,” says Altimeter Group principal analyst and author of X: The Experience When Business Meets Design Brian Solis. “Digital Darwinism knows no sides — It’s an equal opportunity disruptor. SMBs struggle with this and it’s devastating to the economy if they don’t adapt.”

For a business like Mr. Tod’s Pie Factory, Square’s technology has provided the tools to sell more pies. When Wilson first came across the technology, he admits he was puzzled, but said he wasn’t afraid: “I was impressed by the seamless nature of Square,” he said. “I was also fascinated to find out that they not only had the [Square reader], but also the back-office stuff. All I had to do was buy an iPad and the [Square Stand] and you were all set up…in the past, I’d be spending $3,500 to do the same thing.”

And while most of Square’s services are focused around payments and point of sales (POS), the company is determined build out a full spectrum of commerce offerings.

“We expect more from businesses in the age of smartphones and apps”

Just like having a child, running a small business requires the ability to scale and grow over time. These solutions also have to work reliably because there are too many other things an entrepreneur has to deal with in order to make money.

“PayPal, QuickBooks, and Bank of America don’t think about small businesses like Square,” Wilson explained. He feels that the seamless integration available through Square enables him to not only process credit cards, but also run his business using the slate of back-office software that’s available.

“I believe that any new business today has got to have some mobility or some option to grow,” said Leora Madden, the proprietor of Pearl Wine Company in New Orleans, Louisiana. She opened her business in 2013 doing deliveries and catering, so her first priority was processing payments. “Mobility is important for me because we were the first company in New Orleans to offer full-service liquor delivery to consumers. For us, that’s been the backbone. When you look at fundraising events or event where businesses are showcased, art shows, craft fairs, there’s a lot happening in the small business market that takes them out of their brick and mortar.”


Now, she has a brick and mortar store to manage as well, and she feels that Square just gets it: “I did a lot of research in terms of different Point of Sale systems and what they had to offer,” Madden explained in a phone interview. “Because Square is so meticulous about releasing software only when it’s absolutely ready and has mobility, it’s the most amendable to two business models. That’s something that, to this day, is hard to find.”

“Having a bar and having experienced bartenders, they’re used to Point of Sale systems like Aloha, Micros, etc., but they’re expensive and in-depth systems for restaurants and bars,” she continued. “We’ve grown with Square to offer more features like those large systems, but at the end of the day, for me to have access to systems that work for both my retail and my bar, you can’t put a price on that. There really is nothing like it in the market that can handle it.”

In essence, Square is primarily a software company, that, on the hardware side, offers a well-designed credit card reader plus its POS device, the Square Stand. And that’s what most businesses need these days: a way for people to swipe their cards and a simple POS system. Yes, you can integrate third-party peripherals if needed, but what Square seems to have capitalized on is the commerce trends of people in the age of smartphones.

Square card reader and stand

Above: A photo of the Square EMV reader and the company’s Square Stand Point of Sale system.

Image Credit: Square

Merchants like Mr. Tod’s and the Pearl Wine Company agree that part of Square’s appeal is its innovative mentality. “These guys have their pulse on the small business of America,” Wilson exclaimed. For him, a big victory for small businesses has been the introduction of Square Capital, a merchant cash advance program that has advanced over $225 million to help small businesses grow: “Square is making it easier to access capital…that’s one of the things that concerns businesses.”

“When you’re trying to scale and open up new locations and have a lean and mighty team, not having to worry about payments or that the customers are satisfied is a huge thing.” he said. And, although he initially thought the cash advance program was a scam, Wilson’s business turned to it when his first shop in Somerset, New Jersey was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy. “Square can provide capital in time of need — that’s a lifesaver and you don’t forget it. You stay loyal.” This fall, Wilson said Mr. Tod’s will be opening up new stores in Harlem, New York and Montclair, New Jersey, both of which will be using Square.

Changing the status quo for Square

Philz Coffee chief executive Jacob Jaber appearing on Bloomberg on February 25, 2015 talking about Silicon Valley's coffee addiction.

Above: Philz Coffee chief executive Jacob Jaber appearing on Bloomberg on February 25, 2015 talking about Silicon Valley’s coffee addiction.

Image Credit: Screenshot

With 30 stores set to open by the end of 2015, Philz Coffee in San Francisco knows how important customer service is. People want to come in, place their order, and be on their way, chief executive Jacob Jaber explained, describing how Square has helped him achieve this objective.

“We took a lot of time to look for a great POS partner. First and foremost, what’s important is how to deliver the best customer experience,” he said. “We wanted a partner that was customer focused and simple. We wanted a partner that was innovative and forward-thinking, but what we found with our analysis was that there wasn’t a perfect solution. However, with Square it was really special and unique because it was on an iPad and the interface was magical. The way [Square] is thinking is much different than any other POS player. They want to make commerce great.

For Jaber, it was about using technology to get technology out of the way and finding a solution that would help his company stay relevant as it grows.

The inside of the Red Chair Salon in San Francisco, Calif.

Above: The inside of the Red Chair Salon in San Francisco, California.

Image Credit: Red Chair Salon

As each company approaches commerce differently, what new technologies solutions like Square are proving is the importance of convenience and flexibility.

Take Kristin Maddox, for example. The owner of Red Chair Salon in San Francisco once shared with me how she switched to Square after getting fed up with her traditional credit card terminal provider charging exorbitant fees. She also talked about time wasted on the phone with her pre-Square provider, a complaint seconded by Jaber. Philz told us that he once used a manual payment system which required his team to physically scroll through the receipts to reconcile transactions — tedious work to say the least. What’s more, he said, “There was a system that we used before Square and at least twice a day, we were on the phone with support (e.g. the screen was frozen, items kept disappearing, etc.). Every day, every location. In our home office, there were collectively 10 hours regularly spent on POS issues. Today, it’s maybe an hour a week. Square is focused on the team, making it easy for them to spend more time with customers.”

With many small businesses apparently favoring Square, what do incumbents and big payment providers like American Express feel about the changing commerce landscape? An American Express spokesperson wrote in an email that the more choices small businesses have, the better it is for their company: “We are very focused on remaining competitive in a highly dynamic industry, including aggressive competition provided by traditional and emerging payments industry participants…while [Square and PayPal] compete with American Express, at the same time they also have expanded American Express Card acceptance among small merchants whom we might not otherwise have reached.”

The closed system of commerce

With so much heavy-hitting competition in a still-growing space, there is debate whether Square will be able to stay competitive. Much of the concern has to do with Square’s closed/proprietary system (like Apple is versus Android). As Forrester’s principal analyst on payments, Brendan Miller has taken a close look at the market space. He told me that he thinks that what Square is doing is interesting: right now the company has a marketplace, software, card reader, POS system, and Capital, none of which are designed to play nicely with the likes of PayPal, Revel Systems, and First Data. But it’s the comprehensive nature of this system that appeals to small businesses, Miller believes.


If you’re an entrepreneur, Square will capture your interest with its card reader. As you build up your business, you’ll remember that experience to tap into other Square products, like its Register offering, Square Analytics, Square Invoices, Square Appointments, Square Payroll, and even its customer relationship management tool. Because you’re so pleased with the service you’ve received thanks to these value-add products, you’ll remain a loyal customer of Square, not just accepting, but embracing the closed system.

What’s interesting is that consumers don’t feel as drawn to Square as businesses do. Both Square Wallet and Square Order , which were aimed at the average patron, were ultimately shuttered.

Miller said there are two things taking place in the marketplace today that work in Square’s favor. The first is that merchants want to have a better relationship with their customers and, to accomplish that, need tools that’ll help not only speed up checkout lines, but also manage backend integrations to make operations more efficient. The second thing is something that has recently came up: the introduction of chip credit cards. Square has been on the forefront of this technology, having debuted a chip reader in 2014 ahead of the switch to EMV cards in the U.S.

Risky business

But trying to monopolize the small business market is anything but easy. There’s a lot of competition in the POS space, including from rivals PayPal and First Data, two companies that are now public. And when it comes to transactional volume, Square falls far short of both: PayPal did $235 billion in 2014 while First Data did $1.7 trillion in the same time frame, but just in the U.S. — Square did $23.8 billion.

And if that’s not enough, Miller believes that a significant challenge to Square will be its ability to take on all merchant verticals, as it may not be possible to create something that’ll appeal to everyone. Right now its biggest industries are retail, service, and food. Other important industries in the space include repair and leisure contractors, health and beauty services, charities and education, and transportation. As Square goes public, will it continue to innovate in order to reach newer audiences? Would a more open ecosystem fare better than a closed one?

Although interested in Square’s potential, Miller did offer some cautionary advice to merchants eager to jump on board. He said that by signing up with Square, they’re essentially eliminating the ability to negotiate for better payment processing rates. He also advised potential customers to look at whether the Square software meets their particular vertical needs, to examine the customer support and service, and think about the hardware they’ll need as they grow, because, once they buy into Square, they’re stuck with it unless they drastically overhaul their POS system.

square japan

Square certainly faces some strong competition, especially from the non-traditional payment companies— it seems everyone wants to go after the small business space these days. The race is on to see whether Square can stay ahead of the curve before big retailers like Target, Westfield, Walmart, and Sephora — all of whom have opened innovation centers — figure out how to out-innovate Square and master the customer experience. And, with 95 percent of its revenue coming from payments and POS services, Square has to innovate or it’ll find itself facing some bumpy roads after its public debut.

As much as merchants mentioned in this article have touted Square’s capabilities to help their businesses, it’s not always going to be the same experience for everyone for various reasons, whether it’s support or just overall guidance. This is likely to be expected with customers — you’re not going to have a 100 percent satisfaction rate and definitely not have something that’s 100 percent what you’re looking for.

What does seem to be clear, though, is that Square is currently giving small businesses enough forward-thinking technology to let them worry less about how their business is managed and instead focus on the people they really depend on: their customers.

“People want that human interaction, people crave it,” said Jaber. “It’s a luxury today.”

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Swatch launches a $90 payments watch in China


Swatch launched a new NFC-enabled payments watch for the China market at an event in Shanghai on Wednesday, due to be rolled out from January next year (and coming to the U.S. and Switzerland after that). To do so, Swatch has teamed up with China UnionPay and the Bank of Communications.

The Swatch Bellamy represents the company’s entrance into the contactless payment space in China. “The first four watches combine exciting, colorful yet functional Swatch design with built-in NFC (Near Field Communication) technology, allowing people to use their watches to pay for purchases in shops and stores around the country,” Swatch said in a statement.

It seems unlikely to pose much of a threat to Apple, despite some commentators hinting at an odd rivalry. For one, this is by no means a smartwatch — it’s very much a traditional “dumb watch,” with no Internet connectivity or smartwatch functionality. It doesn’t even offer a touch display.

Consumers in China who decide to pick up one of Swatch’s payments watches will have to go into one of the Bank of Communications’ 2,785 branches across the country to activate it. That sounds like an immediate bottleneck to adoption. Is it really worth the hassle in the age of instant tech gratification, where tech products far and wide work from the moment they are unboxed?

Nonetheless, an interesting experiment for one of the world’s largest watch brands in the world’s watch largest market by sales. China’s mobile payment transactions grew 134 percent to about $3.6 trillion last year, according to data from central bank cited by Bloomberg.

In August, the Swatch chief executive signalled plans to add to a smartwatch range.

Google Wallet for iOS redesigned with focus on peer-to-peer payments


Google rolled out a big update to its Google Wallet app for iOS on Monday, which brings a few nifty new features and a welcomed redesign.

Users can now send peer-to-peer payments, or cash out directly to a debit card — though Google is removing support for loyalty cards, gift cards, and offers with this update. You can export those here.

“Send money to anyone in the U.S. with an email address,” Google said of the new service. “It’s fast, easy, and free to send directly from your debit card, bank account, or Wallet Balance.”

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“When you receive money, you can quickly cash out to your bank account using your debit card, or spend it instantly with the Google Wallet Card,” it added.

Emphasis is being placed on the ability to send money to people who don’t use the Wallet app, though for now this is still all exclusive to U.S. users.

Other features that Google wants users to drill home include splitting expenses (i.e. at a meal or on a trip), managing the Wallet Card (accepted wherever debit MasterCard is, and can be also used at ATMs), placing limits on spending, or setting up recurring transfers from your bank account.

With an increasing number of apps that we already use on a daily basis starting to incorporate peer-to-peer payments — including Facebook and Snapchat — the “Wallet Wars” are just getting started. And Google wants to win.

You can grab the new iOS update here.

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First Data Buys Spree Commerce To Move Into Open Source Payments Technology

spree commerce Another move by a large company to up its stakes in the world of open source technologies: Payments giant First Data Corporation has acquired Spree Commerce, an open source storefront platform originally based on Ruby on Rails. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed — we are trying to find out — but Spree’s CEO Sean Schofield says in a blog post confirming the deal that… Read More