To get a sense of what connected commerce might look like in the near future — a continuum of transactions, seamless and intuitive — picture this:
It’s the day of the big game. You’ve already bought your digital ticket through the team’s app and you’re in the car on the way to the park. With a simple, verbal command, your in-car voice assistant helps to locate, navigate to and pre-pay for parking. After you arrive in the stadium, you have a beer and nachos delivered directly to your seat. During the game, when your favorite player scores a goal, you get a limited-time promotion pushed to your phone, through an app, to purchase that player’s jersey. The jersey is then brought to your seat so you can immediately start representing your favorite player.
In a series of seamless, biometric-verified transactions — without ever exchanging cash or presenting a card — you’ve interacted with the parking provider, two different concessionaires, a retail merchant and the event venue across multiple devices.
To that end, Nandan Sheth, head of global digital commerce at Fiserv, told Karen Webster in a recent PYMNTS Masterclass session, “True connected commerce is about breaking down the barriers between devices, platforms and even merchants to create a delightful and unified consumer experience.”
At a high-level view, said Sheth, connected commerce has been around for quite a while.
Deep Roots — And A Long History
As Sheth told Webster, in decades past — and even today — a consumer venturing into a marketplace filled his or her basket with products sold by multiple vendors, ranging from the butcher (for meat) to the farmer (for vegetables) to the baker (for pies). But these consumers only had access to meat, veggies or pies in their physical marketplace.
Fast-forward to the digital age: “When you think about Amazon or Etsy, you are still shopping from multiple small and medium-sized vendors within a closed-loop digital marketplace,” said Sheth. “While there may be more options, the consumer is still limited to the products available within that specific digital, merchant-led marketplace.”
The next evolution, true connected commerce, ties together multiple merchants, products, services, payment methods and devices that traverse multiple channels, all with a single transaction, he said. In the not-so-distant future, connections across these currently siloed experiences could result in an open-loop, consumer-led system that delivers bespoke, highly personalized customer orders, new revenue streams and more commerce.
Bringing together a diverse tapestry of use cases, physical and online channels, and consumer experience in a fluid, intuitive manner is no easy task.
In terms of the building blocks, Sheth told Webster that a true omnichannel platform, such as Universal Commerce from Fiserv — along with the right “consumer network integration layer” — is needed to connect merchants with consumers.
It’s also key to have a payment processing model that can ensure funds get to where they need to go in a secure and compliant manner.
“It’s taken us [Fiserv] quite a while to build this — and we are always enhancing it,” Sheth told Webster.
By way of illustration, he pointed to the announcement last month that ExxonMobil and Fiserv have entered a partnership that enables consumers to pay for gas at the pump using voice commerce — specifically, through Amazon’s Alexa.
Customers who use cars that are Alexa-enabled, or who use Echo Auto or Alexa-enabled devices, can transact by stating “Alexa, pay for gas.” The payments will be processed by Amazon Pay, with consumers using payment credentials stored in their Amazon account.
A Single Point Of Connection
In terms of mechanics, Sheth said Fiserv acts as a “single entry point” for both sides of the transaction.
From an ExxonMobil standpoint, he elaborated, the energy giant desires a simple way for its existing consumer app to interact with a payment provider, and an orchestration layer that can connect to a consumer network — in this case, Amazon.
For its part, Amazon wants to leverage a merchant network and enable convenience for its consumers using Amazon Pay.
“We connect both sides through a simple API, and we ensure that all the components of the transaction value chain are fully supported,” Sheth explained. “We make sure all of the settlement, the reporting, geo-fencing, site connectivity and connections to Exxon’s multiple franchises works on the back end, so our clients can focus on growth and profit.”
The “pay at the pump with voice” use case has set the stage for other verticals, Sheth said. As more merchants, payment types and channels become connected, there are virtually unlimited opportunities to include voice as part of everyday commerce.
Among those opportunities are personal services, where conversational commerce can streamline the setting of appointments and payments with dentists or car service stations, for example. Sheth also pointed to repeat orders for grocery staples that need restocking in the house, from dog food to milk. A third category would tie into managing recurring financial obligations and payments for utility bills, loans or subscription services.
“As natural language processing gets better and as these use cases evolve, personalized shopping, booking and travel are all around the corner,” said Sheth. “But we want to cut our teeth on these three categories.”
To connect the different ecosystems across the sports fan experience mentioned at the beginning of this story — in effect, creating a new ecosystem — Sheth said merchants should consider partnering with vendors and technology firms (among them, Fiserv) to design new and innovative experiences that outpace consumer expectations.
He told Webster that pent-up demand exists on the consumer side, and though it’s early days on the provider side (through a relatively limited range of conversational commerce offerings), partnerships such as those between Fiserv, ExxonMobil and Amazon will offer data points on what works … and what might not.
“We're going to learn a ton from the ‘petrol space’ that we can apply to other use cases and other verticals,” said Sheth.