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Why my eCommerce company is dumping Points.com, and why you should not do business with Points.com August 8, 2013

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1. Points.com generated oceans of irate customer service requests from our customers, many of whom reported to us that they either never received their points / miles, they were the victim of unexplained points reversals at the hands of Points.com, and / or their frequent flyer accounts were closed without explanation by Points.com. As the application’s administration interface is so rudimentary, basically only providing an interface which afforded us the opportunity to buy points from Points.com, our ability as a small Shopify merchant to keep up with returns, issues with the Points.com application itself or the points of integration between Points.com and our product database began to curtail our normal business customer service activities. Some examples of the types and number of these customer complaints are within the links below. Points.com provided no customer service liaison, no knowledge base, we were never assigned an account manager, and the ignored all of our emails requesting a merchant service manager contact at the company. We were told repeatedly that Points.com does not administer the loyalty programs they claim to power / represent on their logos and graphic files, which we found was extremely misleading to our customers, who were confused and came to us looking for assistance, which we, in many cases and quite frustratingly, were unable to provide.

2. One of the issues regarded with the most amount of trepidation by merchants, large and small, online and off, is the issue of what is known as “Passive spend”. This is where a consumer enters a merchant’s place of business, either online or offline, and completes a transaction. The passive spend occurs as the customer receives a loyalty reward, either in the form of points or miles — for a purchase they would have performed anyway. in other words, by participating in the Points.com program, as a merchant you are effectively discounting every single item in your store, sending a certain percentage of every sale to Points.com in the form of purchased points, many of which, or even most of which, the customers will never redeem. Many customers are not participants of the loyalty rewards programs in question and so they received a coupon code via email that they didn’t know what to do with. Points.com is like many of the points / miles awarding companies out there on the internet: they simply buy points from the airlines. United, Delta, American Airlines: they all sell points to anyone who cares to buy them. So Points.com, rather than speaking for the airlines, is simply a middleman, leveraging points arbitrage and counting on passive spend to boost their bottom line. The only problem? You need the merchants to drive the discount or award in the first place. The points awards come out of the merchants’ pockets. Points.com never even gave us one courtesy telephone call at any point during our business relationship with them. No matter what Points.com implies in their corporate advertising, make no mistake: this points industry is driven by merchants, and what the merchants giveth, the merchants can take away. And tshirtnow.net decided to pick up our playing chips and go home.

3. The Points.com integration with our eCommerce site, tshirtnow.net, (in continuous operation since 1994) was supposed to provide our customers, upon completion of their orders within our site, a redemption code that they could use with any of the participating loyalty programs. We performed a study using our CRM system which resulted in a report that showed a customer service inquiry regarding this coupon code every 1.3 completed transactions, which is an unacceptable rate of CS inquiries regarding an application whose singular purpose is to send our customers their redemption code. Keep in mind, the actual redemption of the points in question occurs after the customer has not only received the code via email from Points.com, but have entered it into their loyalty program’s customer portal. In other words, the sending of the code is but the tip of the iceberg of the customer’s interaction with their loyalty program, and in consideration of the above point #1, namely poor to nonexistent merchant support from Points.com, you can see that each completed transaction had the potential to create dozens of follow-on CS emails and telephone calls from irate customers, with a limited facility for our personnel to assist.

4. We were informed via email that upon an alleged annual program review of Points.com merchants, tshirtnow.net would no longer be able to participate in the Points.com program. No reasons for this were given, and it was unclear to us if this was one program / airline, or the entire Points.com program, or if this originated with Points.com iteslf. Based upon my experiences in the points / miles industry (http://www.linkedin.com/in/paulseibert1) , I was skeptical of this originating in some sort of annual review, not only because the calendar timing was odd for this, but also due to the fact that in my experiences, airlines and other loyalty programs opt merchants out on a case-by-case basis. This notice from Points.com had all the appearance of a retaliatory move by Points.com due to our requests for customer service and an account manager or merchant liason. We were however told that Points.com was working on a new product that would be oriented towards merchants like us. During this entire episode, we were still receiving system maintenance emails which had all the indications that we were still integrated, at least programmatically, with the Points.com program. Indeed, we are *still* receiving these emails. I may post some of the Points.com system maintenance bulletins here on HubTechInsider.com, however I think sight of even one or two of the myriad Points.com system failure notices would scare even the hardiest of entrepreneurs away from using their system. My repeated emails and telephone calls requesting clarification were ignored.

5. Points.com is an integration with our eCommerce site. We needed time to figure out where the integration code existed within our code base, and remove the code. There was markup on our front end UI pags that also had to be removed which dropped points.com tracking cookies, etc. This all took time, and the Points.com documentation was nonexistent. The developer that had integrated Points.com into the Tshirtnow.net web site, Mr. Steven Brown, passed away in Florida while on vacation and this event not only complicated the identification and removal of the code in question but brought all new development on our site to a halt as our entire development team attended the funeral services in Florida and the burial in Jamaica. Needless to say, our patience with Points.com’s nefarious business practices had worn thin even by the time we returned back to Boston only to be greeted by the highly threatening letter from Points.com’s corporate council, threatening every thing under the sun from copyright infringement lawsuits to multiple lawsuits from their individual participating airlines. I have worked with nearly every single one of their participating airlines on loyalty program integrations, and I know the chance of that happening is about the same as a snowball’s chance on the quad of the University of Alabama in July. We will sit here holding our collective breaths. I advise all eCommerce merchants to steer clear of this Points.com company.


I am in receipt of your threatening emails and correspondence from your general counsel. I will remove the two graphic images from our web site. As you are aware, Tshirtnow.net is a former customer of Points.com.

As a very small understaffed company, we have some difficulty at times in removing links, graphics, etc. – as undoubtedly do many of your Shopify merchants. Points.com is a large multinational corporation that is located outside the state boundaries of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and apparently has little experience or expertise in dealing with cottage industries such as Tshirtnow.net.

I intend to publicize this bullying behavior of Points.com, and publicize it widely. Certainly we have the ability to review your behavior and the performance of the Points.com application multiple times in an extremely negative fashion via means of the Shopify (and other eCommerce platforms) marketplace, and I intend to reach out to my corporate contacts at Shopify and their developer and merchant advocates and marketplace Ombudsman directly in order to lodge a formal complaint against you and your company’s (“Points.com”) pejorative communications and business practices with regard to small Shopify merchants. It is the fervent belief of this longtime Shopify merchant that your large multinational corporation, Points.com, have misrepresented yourselves as a viable vendor to such eCommerce operations.

Please forward to me the contact information of your corporate counsel so that they can receive the formal demand letter from our corporate counsel, whom have advised us that under the general laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, our company has rights that will be vigorously defended in the litigation system of the Commonwealth. The judges and juries within the court system of Commonwealth of Massachusetts have a long history of defending small local businesses against the unfair business practices of large out-of-state multinational corporations such as Points.com.

As entitled under the general laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, consider this correspondence as our official demand for written enumeration of the reasons behinds the termination of our Points.com account, which was effected without any prior notice.

Be aware that all information and communications between myself, our company and Points.com, shall be made public, as will all of your threats, written, electronic, verbal or otherwise. I have been in contact with several members of the online press and eCommerce review sites, and I have been asked to sit for a local television station so that they can interview me in order to review your Points.com application and present our side of the story. This television program and the resulting video file will be distributed worldwide and search engine optimized in such a way as to become heavily viewed on YouTube and easily discoverable when eCommerce vendors search for information about Points.com.

I am also contacting the office of the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in order to file a formal complaint against Points.com regarding your multinational corporation’s business practices within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

– Paul

Take a look for yourself at the same types of complaints about Points.com that our miniscule, understaffed, underpaid (you guys are awesome!) and overworked customer service staff has been fielding about our (former) integration with the Points.com application for months on end:


What are some good books on User Interface design? How do you define user interfaces in your software specification documents? The Hub Tech Insider User Interface Design Bookshelf July 31, 2011

Posted by HubTechInsider in Agile Software Development, Ecommerce, Mobile Software Applications, Product Management, Project Management, Social Media, Software, Uncategorized.
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The Hub Tech Insider User Interface Design Bookshelf: Essential UI Design Books for IT Directors, Project Managers, Program Managers, Software Requirements Engineers, Business Analysts, User Interface Designers, Graphic Designers, Interaction Designers and Information Architects.

Some of the tools that I typically use to produce wireframes and mockups to specify software that is under development include traditional desktop personal computer graphics application software packages such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, business graphics and diagramming packages such as Microsoft Visio, and many others, including some on the Mac OS X and Linux platforms.

But no matter which software program you use to prepare your wireframes and mockups, you still need to have the knowledge surrounding what types of controls are available, and the wisdom to know the most apropos situations in which to use those software controls.

It may be surprising to many people that are not involved in the software industry, but it is not always system and application software programmers who are the most familiar with these types of user interface interactivity patterns and controls. User interface designers, graphic designers, and information and interaction architects are usually the ones who specify these types of “Web 2.0” controls.

If you are writing software specification documents, I recommend that you become as familiar as possible with all of the different types of rich internet application controls and interaction patterns that are examined in detail within these books. Programmers and project and program managers will benefit as well.

A great amount of time and effort will be saved if everyone on the project team has familiarity with these fundamental web interface and interaction patterns. Having a common vocabulary with which to communicate to each other in design and development meetings will pay dividends throughout the course of the software development lifecycle.

The ability to suggest an interaction pattern or a type of control that can preserve screen or page real estate, for instance, can make the critical difference in getting a software system design specified in a limited amount of time. Having knowledge of user interface best practices and common user interaction patterns in-house, on the project team itself, can not only save money in avoidance of expensive user interface consultants and UI design firms, but it can also ensure that the tricky question of post-implementation compliance amongst your development team and programming staff.

I have compiled a list of books that in my opinion merit a place on any professional user interface designer’s bookshelf. If you are looking to stock your User Interface library, you really can’t go wrong with this list of books.

I feel that IT Directors, Product Managers, Program Managers and Project Managers, as well as Graphic Designers, Information Architects, and Interaction Designers and Usability Engineers (read this article if you need help understanding what these job titles mean) could all benefit from reading several or all of these books.

I have found in my professional career that having advanced knowledge of User Interface design techniques and best practices aids me greatly in producing high quality project plans and functional specifications for web based applications and their related software development projects. Mockups and wireframes that incorporate the various design patterns outlined in these books have greatly increased my ability to communicate and develop project related deliverables and artifacts for complex and cutting edge user interfaces, particularly those that include social media platform integrations and RIA, or Rich Internet Application, frontends.

The more knowledge that you acquire in your professional career on a software development team, and the more you know about user interfaces for web based applications, the more value you will be capable of delivering to both your employer and yourself in the form of expanded career opportunities.

Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks

By Luke Wroblewski. Rosenfeld Media, May 2008.

Web Form Design: Filling in the blanks, by Luke Wroblewski

Anyone who designs anything for the web needs a copy of this. It makes it so nice to not have to think about designing forms. I can spend my time on more interesting design challenges. This book doesn’t leave my desk.

Forms make or break the most crucial online interactions: checkout, registration, and any task requiring information entry. In this book, Luke Wroblewski draws on original research, his considerable experience at Yahoo! and eBay, and the perspectives of many of the field’s leading designers to show you everything you need to know about designing effective and engaging web forms.

I have found this book to be the most practical, comprehensive and data-driven guide for solving form design challenges and I consider it an essential reference.

The Smashing Book #1


The Smashing Book #1

This book is available exclusively from Smashing Magazine. This book looks at Web design rules of thumb, color theory, usability guidelines, user interface design, best coding and optimization practices, as well as typography, marketing, branding and exclusive insights from top designers across the globe.

This book contains ten carefully prepared, written and edited stories that are based upon topic suggestions and wishes of Smashing Magazine’s readers. The topics covered here are fundamental and so the content is highly practical.

The Smashing Book #2


The Smashing Book #2

This book shares valuable practical insight into design, usability and coding. It provides professional advice for designing mobile applications and building successful e-commerce websites, and it explains common coding mistakes and how to avoid them. You’ll explore the principles of professional design thinking and graphic design and learn how to apply psychology and game theory to create engaging user experiences.

Designing Web Interfaces: Principles and Patterns for Rich Interactions

By Bill Scott & Theresa Neil


Want to learn how to create great user experiences on today’s web? In this book, UI experts Bill Scott and Theresa Neil present more than 75 design patterns for building great web interfaces that provide interaction. Distilled from the author’s years of experience at Sabre, Yahoo!, and Netflix, these best practices are grouped into six key principles to help you take advantage of the web technologies available today. With an entire section devoted to each design principle, Designing Web Interfaces illustrates many patterns with full-color examples from working websites. If you need to build or renovate a website to be truly interactive, this book will give you the principles for success.

Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 2nd Edition

by Steve Krug


Five years and more than 100,000 copies after it was first published, it is very difficult to imagine anyone working in web development or design that has not read this classic on web usability, but people are still discovering it every day. In this second edition, Steve adds three new chapters in the same style as the original: wry and entertaining, yet loaded with insights and practical advice for novice and veteran alike. Don’t be surprised if it completely changes the way you think about web design.

The three new chapters are entitled: Usability as common courtesy (why people really leave web sites), Web accessibility, CSS, and you (making sites usable and accessible), and Help! My boss wants me to ______. (Surviving executive design whims).

In this second edition, Steve adds essential ammunition for those whose bosses, clients, stakeholders, and marketing managers insist on doing the wrong thing. If you design, write, program, own, or manage web sites, you must read this book.

Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems


It’s been known for years that usability testing can dramatically improve products. But with a typical price tag of $5,000 to $10,000 for a usability consultant to conduct each round of tests, it rarely happens.

In this how-to companion to Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, Steve Krug spells out an approach to usability testing that anyone can easily apply to their own web site, application, or other product. (As he said in Don’t Make Me Think, “It’s not rocket surgery”.)

Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites


Saul Wurman first used the term Information Architecture in his book of the same name. His book was mostly lots of really pretty pictures of media and webs compiled from a graphic design perspective; they were beautiful but never really dealt with the information end of things. Rosenfeld and Morville get it right. They show how to design manageable sites right the first time, sites built for growth. They discuss ideas of organization, navigation, labeling, searching, research, and conceptual design. This is almost common sense, which is often overlooked in the rush for cascading style sheets and XML.

The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web


From the moment it was published almost ten years ago, Elements of User Experience became a vital reference for web and interaction designers the world over, and has come to define the core principles of the practice. Now, in this updated, expanded, and full-color new edition, Jesse James Garrett has refined his thinking about the Web, going beyond the desktop to include information that also applies to the sudden proliferation of mobile devices and applications.

Successful interaction design requires more than just creating clean code and sharp graphics. You must also fulfill your strategic objectives while meeting the needs of your users. Even the best content and the most sophisticated technology won’t help you balance those goals without a cohesive, consistent user experience to support it.

With so many issues involved—usability, brand identity, information architecture, interaction design— creating the user experience can be overwhelmingly complex. This new edition of The Elements of User Experience cuts through that complexity with clear explanations and vivid illustrations that focus on ideas rather than tools or techniques. Garrett gives readers the big picture of user experience development, from strategy and requirements to information architecture and visual design.

Forms that Work: Designing Web Forms for Usability

by Caroline Jarrett and Gerry Gaffney


Forms are everywhere on the web – used for registration and communicating, for commerce and government alike. Good forms make for happier customers, better data, and reduced support costs. Bad forms fill your organization’s databases with inaccuracies and duplicates and can cause the loss of potential or current customers. This book isn’t about just colons and choosing the right widgets. It’s about the entire process of making good forms, which has a lot more to do with making sure you’re asking the right questions and in such a way that your users can answer than it does with whether you use a drop-down list or radio buttons.

If your web site includes forms, then you need to read this book. In an easy-to-red format with lots of examples, Caroline Jarrett, who runs the usability consulting company Effortmark Ltd.(http://www.usabilitynews.com), and Gerry Gaffney, who runs the usability consulting company Information & Design Proprietary Ltd.(http://www.uxpod.com), present their three layer model – appearance, conversation, and relationship. You need all three for a successful form – a form that looks good, flows well, asks the right questions in the right way, and most importantly, gets users to fill it out.

Designing good forms is trickier than people think. This book explains exactly how to design great forms for the web. Liberally illustrated with full-color examples, it guides readers through how to define and gather requirements to how to write questions that users will understand and want to answer, as well as how to deal with instructions, progress indicators, and error conditions.

I found that this book provides proven and practical advice that will help designers avoid pitfalls, and produce forms that are aesthetically pleasing, efficient, and cost-effective.

The book is filled with invaluable design methods and tips to help ensure accurate data and satisfied customers, and includes dozens of examples, from nitty-gritty details (label alignment, mandatory fields) to visual design (creating good grids, use of color).

Defensive Design for the Web: How to improve error messages, help, forms, and other crisis points


by Matthew Linderman and Jason Fried

Let the 37signals team show you the best way to prevent your customers from making mistakes, and help them recover for errors if a mistake does occur. This book doesn’t leave my desk either.

The folks at 37signals have created an invaluable resource: tons of ‘best practice’ examples for ensuring that web users can recover gracefully when things – as they inevitably will – go ‘worng’ !

In this book, you will learn 40 guidelines to prevent errors and rescue customers if a breakdown does occur. You will see hundreds of real-world examples from companies like Amazon and Google that show the right (and wrong) ways to handle crisis points.

You can also use this book to evaluate your own site’s defensive design with an easy-to-perform test and find out how to improve your site over the long term.

About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design

By Alan Cooper. Wiley 2007.

About Face 3, by Alan Cooper

Learn the rules before you break them. Please. Pretty please with a cherry on top? Get this book and read it if you are responsible for designing anything more than a simple web site. Good for Flex developers and Ajax developers as well. Lots of patterns that can be extrapolated for Rich Internet Applications.

Prototyping: A Practitioner’s Guide


Prototyping: A Practitioner’s Guide” is a terrific and comprehensive review of both the prototyping process and the tools involved. There’s really very little with which to find fault. I found that the book both validated my experience in prototyping and provided new techniques to try out, with many “Aha!” moments in both respects. The inclusion of case studies illustrating the techniques provide additional perspective and make the techniques more “real”. The review of each prototyping technique/tool, whether paper or software-based, includes links to additional resources like toolkits, sample images, and the like – these would be especially useful to someone just getting started with a particular tool. Speaking as a designer who’s typically relied on HTML prototypes and Visio, I must say my interest in Adobe Fireworks and, to a lesser extent, Axure is piqued. I think any UI/UX/IX designer, of any level of experience, would get something out of this book. Not that it would be useful only to them – analysts and software engineers will benefit from it as well.

Want to know more?

You’re reading Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a blog stuffed with years of articles about Boston technology startups and venture capital-backed companies, software development, Agile project management, managing software teams, designing web-based business applications, running successful software development projects, ecommerce and telecommunications.

About the author.

I’m Paul Seibert, Editor of Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a Boston focused technology blog. I have been working in the software engineering and ecommerce industries for over fifteen years. My interests include computers, electronics, robotics and programmable microcontrollers, and I am an avid outdoorsman and guitar player. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, follow me on Quora, even friend me on Facebook if you’re cool. I own and am trying to sell a dual-zoned, residential & commercial Office Building in Natick, MA. I have a background in entrepreneurship, ecommerce, telecommunications and software development, I’m a Technical PMO Director, I’m a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of several ecommerce and web-based software startups, the latest of which are Twitterminers.com and Tshirtnow.net.

What is NFC? What is the smartphone mobile payments technology known as Near Field Communications? March 6, 2011

Posted by HubTechInsider in Ecommerce, Mobile Software Applications, Telecommunications, Wireless Applications.
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An NFC mobile phone (Nokia 6131 NFCmesso) inte...

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It has been several years now that I have been reading and hearing about mobile phone toting consumers being able to purchase soft drinks from vending machines through the use of SMS texts to the vending machine.

The possibilities of a mobile digital wallet, a North American equivalent of European Smartcards and mobile SMS payments systems, to be used as a payments service for smartphones, certainly include the hypothetical future displacement of the cash register as the payment method of choice for consumers on the go.

NFC, or Near Field Communication, may perhaps have such a potential.

Since the middle of December, in and around Portland, Oregon, Google has been handing out hundreds of NFC kits to local businesses as part of an NFC trial they are calling “Hotpot”.

The Google Hotpot kits include special NFC-capable window decals. NFC is a low power technology that beams and receives wireless information from up to four inches away. When consumers with NFC-equipped telephones such as the latest models of Android operating system cellular phones, scan a NFC-equiped window decal, they will be presented with information on their mobile device such as business hours, reviews, and more.

The hope is that the increasingly mobile consumer will willingly engage with local merchants using this new technology, allowing merchants to interact with the generations of consumers growing up with texting and mobile smartphones in their pockets.

2011 is really shaping up to be the year of NFC, with Google considering building an NFC-based payment service in the U.S. that could make its debut later this year. The technology would let customers pay for items by passing their smartphone over a small reader. A single NFC chip would be able to hold a consumer’s bank account information, gift cards, loyalty cards, and coupons, say the two people, who requested anonymity because the plans aren’t public. Google’s NFC scheme includes an advertising component that would allow merchants to beam a coupon or other reward to customers while they are shopping.

Of course, advanced smartphone owners can already complete mobile transactions by downloading payment applications. Paypal’s iPhone iOS application, for example, lets PayPal users transmit funds to other PayPal account holders. But NFC technology could potentially streamline such transactions. Users of advanced smartphones equipped with NFC technology don’t need to launch an application; they simply wave or tap their smartphone against a small reader device and enter a PIN number on it to authenticate their purchases.

A Google NFC network offering would encounter stiff competition from the start from the likes of companies such as Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, the three of whom in November 2010 formed a joint commercial venture called ISIS that plans to launch an NFC-based payments service by 2012. Visa is also field testing several mobile payment technologies, including NFC, and plans a commercial rollout later this year. It is rumored that PayPal, a division of eBay, may test an NFC service in the second half of 2011 as well.

Silicon Valley is hard at work on NFC technology too, with Apple having filed a patent for a process to transmit money between cellular telephones using NFC. Apple recently hired NFC expert Benjamin Vigier away from mFoundry, a startup that helps banks build mobile payments applications. If the next iPhone does come equipped with an NFC chip, then perhaps Apple will process mobile payments through Apple’s iTunes store.

The increased competition and jockeying for position in the NFC space is undoubtedly due to the high stakes involved, as the prize for whoever wins the NFC race is a dominant position in a small but fast-growing market that could displace the cash register in time. A leading market research firm, IE Market Research, estimates that by 2014, NFC-based payment systems will account for a third of the $1.13 trillion in worldwide mobile transactions.

In mid-December, Google, whose former CEO, Eric Schmidt, has said that NFC will “eventually replace credit cards”, in December 2010 bought Zetawire, a Canadian startup with several NFC patents to its name, including a novel method for diners to split up and pay a restaurant bill using their smartphones. If Google does decide to launch an NFC payments network, they would have the built-in advantage of its very large and rapidly expanding installed user base of Android smartphone owners. Every single day, around 300,000 people activate Android telephones, and they accounted for more than 25 percent of the new smartphones shipped in the third quarter of 2010, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The latest version of Google’s smartphone operating system, Android, capable of reading NFC tags is dubbed Gingerbread. Later this year, software updates to Android will let Android smartphones transmit information using NFC as well. In December 2010, Google introduced its Nexus S smartphone, based on Android Gingerbread and carrying an NFC chip onboard. In January 2011, Starbucks announced that customers would be able to start using a bar-code application on their smartphones to purchase coffee in some 6,800 of its stores.

There are obstacles to widespread consumer adoption, however. For an NFC-based payments network to really work, Google needs to convince not just Android smartphone owners but also local merchants who must install NFC readers to process mobile payments. Hotpot, which Google has been promoting heavily, introduces merchants to the NFC technology. NFC is already in heavy use in parts of Asia and Europe.

Want to know more?

You’re reading Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a blog stuffed with years of articles about Boston technology startups and venture capital-backed companies,software developmentAgile project managementmanaging software teams, designing web-based business applications, running successful software development projectsecommerce and telecommunications.

About the author.

I’m Paul Seibert, Editor of Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a Boston focused technology blog. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, even friend me on Facebook if you’re cool. I own and am trying to sell a dual-zoned, residential & commercial Office Building in Natick, MA. I have a background in entrepreneurshipecommercetelecommunications andsoftware development, I’m a Technical PMO Director, I’m a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of TwitterMiners.com & Tshirtnow.net.

How many online stores are on the Shopify ecommerce platform? What are some interesting shops on Shopify? Who are the top Shopify merchants? February 27, 2011

Posted by HubTechInsider in Ecommerce, Startups.
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Per Shopify Corporate numbers dated 31 December 2010, there were 11,323 active merchants using Shopify as their ecommerce solution.

Those stores had over 2.7 million customers, who placed 1.6 million orders in 2010, generating $124 million in sales within that year, which was double the sales on Shopify stores in 2009.

Year over year, the raw numbers and percentage increases of Shopify merchants’ stores, total online sales through the Shopify platform, and total number of online orders placed on the Shopify platform from 2009 to 2010 were:

1. Number of Shopify merchant stores: 6,656 (2009) -> 11,323 (2010) [a 70% YOY increase]

2. Sales through Shopify: $59 million (2009) -> $124 million (2010) [a 110% YOY increase]

3. Number of orders processed through Shopify: .69 million (2009) -> 1.6 million (2010) [a 132% YOY increase]

I have been using Shopify since the early days, being one of the top RoR, or Ruby-0n-Rails, ecommerce applications. I have found it to be stable, easy to use, fast and dependably reliable. It is easy to customize and develop for. Very quick and easy to get started, and a store gets up and running quickly. I am available to share all that I have learned about running Shopify. Feel free to drop me an email.

Paul, Hub Tech Insider, Shopify Merchant.

visit my Shopify store: http://www.tshirtnow.net

Check out this great article:

Why the Shopify Platform is a big deal for application developers

Other Top Shopify Merchants:

Tesla Motors
Foo Fighters
Amnesty International
Evisu Jeans
Robin Piccone
Bento & Co.
Madsen Cycles

The Indianapolis Star Tribune

Cuba Gallery
Moka Joe Coffee
Dodo Case
Sugar Baking
Kindred Market
Peridot Lovers
unotre store
Alpine Exposures
Pattern Head
Gold Cart Tires n More
Raw Crunch
Good as Gold
The Heads of State
Designing Obama

Operation Phoenix
La Patate
Love Your Home For Less
Alfresco by Design
Cush Potatoes
Clothing + Kindness
Dan 300
The Hull Design
Jues Textileinzelhandel
A Piedi
The Boat Safe
Beacon’s Closet
StarBlu Luxury Resort Wear
Independent Origins Trading Company
Trix & Dandy
Dem Collective

Oracle acquires Cambridge based eCommerce software provider Art Technology Group, Inc (ATG) for $1.0 Billion in cash November 22, 2010

Posted by HubTechInsider in Acquisitions, Ecommerce.
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Oracle acquires Cambridge based eCommerce software provider Art Technology Group, Inc (ATG) for $1.0 Billion in cash.

Cambridge, MA based ATG provides high end eCommerce software that is used by more than 1,000 customers globally. By combining forces, Oracle and ATG expect to help businesses grow revenue, strengthen customer loyalty, improve brand value, achieve better operating results, and increase business agility across online and traditional commerce environments.

“Driven by the convergence of online and traditional commerce and the need to increase revenue and improve customer loyalty, organizations across many industries are looking for a unified commerce and CRM platform to provide a seamless experience across all commerce channels,” said Thomas Kurian, Executive Vice President Oracle Development. “Bringing together the complementary technologies and products from Oracle and ATG will enable the delivery of next-generation, unified cross-channel commerce and CRM.”

“The addition of ATG, which brings market-leading products used by some of the largest and most well-known retailers and brands, furthers Oracle’s strategy of delivering industry-specific enterprise applications,” said Bob Weiler, Executive Vice President, Oracle Global Business Units. “This acquisition builds upon our dedication to offer the most complete and integrated suite of best-of-breed software applications and technologies required to power the most demanding companies in the world in every industry.”

ATG’s revenue for the third quarter of 2010 grew to $50.3 million, a 16% increase over third quarter 2009 revenue of $43.4 million. Oracle will pay $6.00 per share in cash for the company. The transaction is subject to stockholder and regulatory approval and other customary closing conditions and is expected to close by early 2011.

What’s the difference between a Graphic Designer, an Information Architect and an Interaction Designer? September 15, 2010

Posted by HubTechInsider in Agile Software Development, Definitions, Ecommerce, Mobile Software Applications, Project Management, Social Media, Software, VoIP, VUI Voice User Interface, Wireless Applications.
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Information Architecture is the study of the organization and structure of effective web systems. Information architects study and design the relationships between internal page elements, as well as the relationships and navigation paths between individual pages. They combine Web design, information and library science as well as technical skills to order enterprise knowledge and design organizational systems within websites that help Users find and manage information more successfully. They are also responsible for things like ordering tabs and content sections of a web-based software application.  They try to structure content and access to functions in such a way as to facilitate Users finding paths to knowledge and the swift accomplishment of their User Goals with the System.

Graphic Design is the skill of creating presentations of content (usually hypertext or hypermedia) that are delivered to Users through the World Wide Web, by way of a Web browser or other Web-enabled software like Internet television clients, micro blogging clients and RSS readers. Graphic designers study and design graphic elements, logos, artwork, stock photography, typography, font selection, color selection, color palettes and CSS styles.

Interaction Design is the process of creating an interface for the user to engage with a site or application’s functionality and content. Interaction designers are concerned mainly with facilitating users’ goals and tasks, and use a systematic and iterative process for designing highly interactive user interfaces. Their methodology includes research and discovery techniques such as requirements analysis, stakeholder analysis, task analysis, as well as prototyping, inspection and evaluation methods to define the structure and behavior of a web-based software system.

What’s the difference between Design and User Experience?

  • Design is about changing understanding; user experience is about changing behavior.
  • Design is about intent; user experience is about purpose.
  • Design is about style; user experience is about substance.
  • Design is about the platform; user experience is about the person.
  • Design is about the present; user experience is about the past and future.
  • Design is about action; user experience is about impact.

Grand Theft Rondo T-Shirt August 26, 2010

Posted by HubTechInsider in Ecommerce, Products.
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Grand Theft Rondo T-Shirt Boston Celtics Rajon Rondo

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Woburn’s Demandware raises $22 Million in a Series D add-on round April 12, 2010

Posted by HubTechInsider in Ecommerce, Startups, Venture Capital.
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Woburn’s Demandware, an ecommerce software maker, raises $22 Million in a Series D add-on round from General Catalyst Partners and North Bridge Venture Partners.

LA’s Magneto Software, Open Source Ecommerce Platform Powerhouse, Raises $22.5 Million and gets ready to kick sand in kümmerlich Demandware’s face March 22, 2010

Posted by HubTechInsider in Cloud Computing, Ecommerce, Investing, IPOs, Software, Startups, Venture Capital.
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You’ve read here before about the grimmig shape Woburn’s (and Deutschland’s) tiny non-IPO’ing Demandware looks to be in right about now. Well, things are looking even worse for the durchfallend company today, as Los Angeles-based Open Source Ecommerce Platform Powerhouse Magneto Software has announced they have raised $22.5 Million Green American Dollars from a group of undisclosed investors, and their armies are on the march. The never-humble, always self-serving Demandware founder, Stephan Schambach, no doubt reeling from his company’s dimming IPO hopes and shrinking client base, has recently been picking a series of kindlich fights with the American company with a tutonic bluster that would have made Field Marshall Von Kesselring blush. As usual, Demandware has trotted out an endless series of their own marketing and PR flaks to churn out schadenfreude “press releases” denying that they are caught in an Open Source Crossfire reminiscent of the Kessel at Stalingrad. Even Demandware’s Ulrike Müller, “Chief Software Architect” (of Germanic dinosaur J2ee code bloat?) has chimed in with a completely unbiased bit of ranting. Now LA’s Magneto (taking the metaphor further) has scored a major victory with an enourmous $22.5 Million dar Bozhii, or “gift from God,” of an investment from a group of undisclosed investors, which they will undoubtedly use to beat Demandware over the head with. It’s put up or shut up time, Schlaubergern!

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Dedham’s Reflexis Systems, a maker of retail management software, raises $6 Million March 8, 2010

Posted by HubTechInsider in Ecommerce, Software, Startups, Venture Capital.
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Dedham’s Reflexis Systems, a maker of retail management software, raises $6 Million from a group of undisclosed investors.

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Cambridge’s Allurent, an ecommerce technology company, raises $2 Million March 1, 2010

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Cambridge’s Allurent, an ecommerce technology company, raises $2 Million in a Series C round of equity capital from Waltham’s Polaris Venture Partners.

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Cambridge’s ATG, Inc., acquires Seattle’s InstantService, Inc., for $17 Million January 24, 2010

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Cambridge’s ATG, Inc., (Art Technology Group) an ecommerce technology company, acquires Seattle’s InstantService, Inc., a provider of live chat services used predominantly in live tech help situations, for $17 Million.

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Zeemote, a Chelmsford, MA-based startup that developed a handheld game controller for use with games on mobile handsets, has closed its doors November 11, 2009

Posted by HubTechInsider in Ecommerce, Hardware, Telecommunications, Venture Capital, Video Gaming Video Games.
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Zeemote, a Chelmsford, MA-based startup that developed a handheld game controller for use with games on mobile handsets, has closed its doors and is putting its assets up for sale. Founded in 2005 by famed Boston-area entrepreneur Beth Marcus, the company worked with handset manufacturers Nokia, Samsung, LG, Sony Ericsson, and RIM to make its Bluetooth-based device compatible with their phones. A partner from Waltham, MA -based Zeemote backer Commonwealth Capital Ventures confirmed the closure but offered no further details.

I was lucky enough to have met in person the CEO of Zeemote, Beth Marcus. Beth is a famed entrepreneur in the Boston area, and I met her at the time of her involvement with an Internet retailer named Glow Dog. Beth is active in the MIT Enterprise Forum and some 128 Networking and entrepreneurship circles, and after attending one of Beth’s talks on company valuation one early morning at the Newton Marriot in Newton, MA (a well-known and heavily traveled local hotspot for technology and software, hardware startups’ networking and professional group meetings in the area) Beth and I struck up a conversation, which was followed by Beth granting me a private tour of Glow Dog’s facility and retail store along Great Road in Bedford center and lunch at a local Japanese Restaurant.

Beth was generous with her time and expertise and the time she graciously spent with me that day not only provided me with several nearly priceless insights about my business plan and company (I was working on an ecommerce company at the time, TSN Corporation), but also provided a blueprint of how a successful entrepreneur should give back to the community. Beth Marcus is the real deal and I thank her heartily for her time and knowledge sharing.

Beth Marcus has been Founder and CEO of several successful startups, most notably EXOS, Inc., which was venture capital backed and sold to Microsoft in 1996. Since then she has been involved in 12 start-ups in a variety of fields as a founder, investor, or advisor. One of the companies Beth founded was called Glow Dog and was based on Great Road in Bedford. The company was an Internet retailer and sold pet products with a pet safety orientation both at retail and wholesale to many large pet-oriented retail chains both online and off. She has raised equity numerous times and has also done angel investments herself. Several of these ventures have been acquired by public companies.

Part-time between then and now, Beth has worked as a consultant providing patent strategy, litigation support, and other strategic technology-related consulting services. Beth is an acknowledged expert in the hand-device interface space and has been an expert for several of the major players in the industry in support of prior-patents litigations. That knowledge and the clear problems in using a cell phone keypad for anything but number entry led her to invention, filing of a patent application, and the founding of Zeemote, Inc.

Beth has SB and SM in Mechanical Engineering from MIT and a PhD in Biomechanics from the Imperial College, London, where she was a Marshall Scholar. She has more than a dozen patents to her name and numerous publications and public speaking engagements. She has served on the faculty of MIT in the department of Mechanical Engineering. Dr. Marcus has been member of the Board of the MIT Enterprise Forum and the MIT Corporation Visiting Committee in Mechanical Engineering. She is also a current member of the Council for the Arts at MIT.

Zeemote JS1 Product Profile and Interview with Beth Marcus, CEO of Zeemote from Ablegamers

Zeemote Hands-On Review from Ubergizmo with Pictures of the Remote Unit for Cellular Telephones

Beth Marcus Profiled at Mass High Tech Magazine

Demandware gets Round D funding of $15MM and works to answer SaaS ecommerce challenges, under incredible marketplace pressures May 23, 2009

Posted by HubTechInsider in Ecommerce, Uncategorized, Venture Capital.
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Recently I tweeted about Demandware (Woburn, MA) not getting their Round D funding – this was incorrect, and I have retracted this information. The link to the $15 million Form D filing with the SEC is here

[There were rounds of layoffs at Demandware around spring 2009, just prior to this Round D. Round D is generally the last round of financing before an IPO. Many of their employees in Woburn, Massachusetts were laid off. Interesting move. Without this $15 million, it was unclear to many outside observers how strong Demandware’s cash position would have been. Take care to distinguish between “brands” and actual “accounts”. Demandware has lost some high profile accounts (their model is to skim off 3% of sales in addition to setup and hosting fees – despite this, Demandware still has a “burn rate”) that they don’t exactly mention in their press releases. A SaaS (“Software as a Service”) provider such as Demandware is nowadays caught in the crossfire, under incredible pressure from three fronts: powerful and robust, open source ecommerce solutions leverage the cost argument (Magneto), Java-based solutions are starting to get long-in-the-tooth in the face of massively scalable new technologies such as Ruby-on-Rails, and developments in cloud computing leverage the hosting argument. Predictably, Demandware and their PR corps is hard at work dissembling so as to position themselves as the “worry-free package for merchants without in-house technology competence”. Of course, this competence is easily found on the cheap now that it is no longer 2000, and J2EE for ecommerce seems (to many) like a complex, costly, code-bloat dinosaur. Read the commentary below and make up your own mind, Dear Reader. It will be interesting to see if they are able to hold on — I’m rooting for them, however, if I were you and your enterprise, I would still take a long, hard look at Magento, Shopify, or other ecommerce providers. And I would have a lot of tough questions like the ones below ready for the Salespeople and PR types]

So Demandware may even IPO one day – although despite all the optimism about 2009, this year is still looking grim for new issuances. A recent report from Ernst & Young found that the pipeline of companies waiting to go public in the United States dwindled to 80 companies at the end of the second quarter, down from 90 companies three months earlier. There have been seven IPOs so far in 2009.

Demandware is a SaaS (Software as a Service) provider, and with all the controversy surrounding my incorrect, retracted tweet, I have been thinking about some of the reasons enterprises might decide against adopting a SaaS model for their ecommerce operations.

Although it can be tempting for large retail enterprises to partner with a SaaS ecommerce platform vendor to quickly launch an online store for short-term gains, it is important that the CIOs of these retail enterprises develop a defined SaaS strategy and incorporate it into their other long-term application and IT infrastructure plans. One of the most important aspects of this SaaS strategy must be an “exit strategy” for when they may want to bring the online storefront in-house. Hard to blame any company for ditching the revenue-sharing model.

It is vital that when these retail organizations evaluate SaaS ecommerce providers, they evaluate the competing ecommerce platform vendors on whether or not they have a plan and method in place to get the retail enterprise off the SaaS platform – in other words, what is the exit strategy in the long term? Five years out, when the online storefront is growing and becomes a cornerstone of the company’s total revenue stream, how does the retailer migrate the storefront back into the corporate IT environment if the management of the company decides to reintegrate? After the first two years of a SaaS deployment, many enterprises find that cost savings begin to break down. Five years from initial deployment, will it be possible to reestablish control over the online retail presence?

Choosing an ecommerce platform vendor working with hosted technologies that align with the enterprise’s internal IT infrastructure (Microsoft .Net technologies vs. Java? Oracle, MS SQL Server, or MySQL?) could potentially ease migration pain down the road and enable cost savings when and if the decision to internalize critical ecommerce operations is made.

Ecommerce “on demand” software salespeople may try and attract a large retail organization with the promise of utility pricing – it may even sound so good that the large retail enterprise may be tempted into bypassing their normal IT department’s procurement specialists. This is not a good idea. Real utility pricing is almost certainly not as flexible as initially presented and true utility pricing is rarely available. Because many SaaS contracts do not allow for volume reductions, some critics have labeled this licensing model as “shelfware as a service”. 

It is critical that large retail organizations negotiate the ability to reduce users. Do not allow the “on demand” vendor to lock the enterprise into negotiations before agreement on this basic principle is reached. If the “on demand” ecommerce platform vendor does not or will not agree to this basic tenent, then refuse over-committal and negotiate escalating discounts for incremental spend in volume bands. Large retail organizations should always remember that SaaS licensing models provide steady and stable revenue streams for ecommerce “on demand” vendors and because of this, the market is becoming increasingly competitive. (Demandware’s competition includes Marketlive ecommerce, among many others)  Large retail organizations have immense leverage which can be used to achieve significant licensing concessions and discounts on larger competitive deals. In addition, given the increasing and continual downward pressure on SaaS pricing, single year deals are much preferred but it is essential to secure price caps on renewals.

The vendor’s “on demand” production environment should also be scrutinized carefully. Some questions to get answered in writing may be: How often are changes made to the production environment? What is the breakdown of changes to the production environment by category? What percentage of changes had to be rolled back, or reverted? What sorts of regression tests are performed after a software patch / upgrade / code iteration? 

It is vital that a keen eye is focused on the SaaS vendor’s churn and churn management (for instance, Demandware has recently lost two major accounts that you won’t read about in their press releases, including Playboy International and the Vermont Teddy Bear Company) policies. For example, how many customers have they lost in the past 6, 12, 24 months? Is their customer retention improving over time? What percentage is the customer churn compared to their customer base? What is the average duration of customer retention? What is the breakdown, broken out by reasons for customer churn? Beware of salespeople and marketing types who count “brands” as individual customers. A customer is a retail organization, not each of their individual product lines counted separately as “brands”.

Some ecommerce “on demand” vendors also provide for fulfillment services (if they do not, the retail organization will have to continue to provide these services as a normal operating business expense). High volume retail ecommerce by necessity implies that these operational expediencies are being handled with great care and efficiency. Some questions to ask: what is the status of your inventory? What box is located where? What function or customer would be affected by a loss of a certain box? When does your software / support contract expire and what might this expiration impact? 

Another primary focus for corporate ecommerce vendor selection decision makers is the emergence of platform-as-a-service providers such as Amazon’s EC2, IBM and Google as well as Microsoft. Large retail organizations can use these platforms to build myriad applications, services and workflows not only to conduct online sales but also to perform advanced predictive analytics, gather fundamental mail order management metrics like future value of a customer and enable billing services to be moved into the cloud – all while providing immense capabilities for increasing uptime and availability during the high volume holiday shopping season.

Some best practice ecommerce SaaS platform selection guidelines could also include data backup and disaster recovery policies, adherence to corporate IT standards regarding accepted technologies and development tools and languages that internal software development resources and departments are familiar with. SLAs (Service Level Agreements) should be examined from ecommerce platform vendors that explore not only DR policies, but also help desk support, performance and uptime, so that buyers of SaaS ecommerce hosting services have a stronger sense of what they are purchasing.

Large retail enterprises have special needs to link internal billing and operational IT systems and external hosted ecommerce systems. Security, billing, fulfillment and compliance requirements differ from industry to industry and over-reliance on a hosted ecommerce service provider should be carefully examined. Retail enterprise decision makers may decide to get back to the fundamental vendor selection process, and take a long hard look at vendor viability in addition to the solution functionality provided by each hosted ecommerce service provider. These decisions should extend past the initial glow of cost savings in the first years of an ecommerce storefront deployment. 


In a Feb 20th, 2009 research report, Forrester polled 352 corporate IT decision makers and asked them why they are not interested in SaaS:

Total Cost Concerns                                                       37%

Security Concerns                                                           30%

SaaS Application Mismatch to corporate reqs                  25%

Integration Issues                                                           25%

Lack of Customization                                                   21%

Application Performance                                              20%

Complex Pricing Models                                               16%

Vendor Lock-In                                                               14%

Other Reasons                                                                 13%

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