Here’s a buzzword: seamless commerce. For good reason, too. It is an appropriate way to describe the nirvana of the commerce experience, one in which consumers and merchants make sales without friction, and remove fraud and risk without introducing friction at checkout.
It’s a focus that WePay Co-founder Rich Aberman noted — in the latest episode of the Unscripted podcast series — is much too narrow.
“When we talk about seamless commerce, we need to view checkout as one piece of a much bigger [end-to-end buying] experience,” Aberman said.
For a seller offering up “a widget,” the value is created the moment its good is produced. Everything that happens after that — leading up to the moment that good is sold and the money deposited into the seller’s bank account — is, in some sense, a friction-filled experience, according to Aberman.
Making commerce truly seamless means finding ways to “automatically, invisibly and instantly” remediate them, for both buyers and sellers, he explained.
Removing The Friction For Buyers And Sellers
Let’s take marketplaces and the “gold standard” as a seamless experience for both buyers and sellers: Amazon.
On the buyer side, Aberman noted, seamless is defined by the consumer in terms of one-click checkout. Seamless happens much further up that funnel. Amazon has taken a great deal of friction out of the entire shopping journey, starting with product discovery.
“Checkout is often a lot less onerous than trying to decide what TV I’m going to purchase,” he told Webster.
Amazon — with product reviews, comparison charts, ratings and a guarantee that if it doesn’t work out, the return will be taken without question — takes most of the onerous friction out of the decision-making part of the shopping journey. It’s easy to find the product one wants, trust the purchase experience completely, then hit a single button to buy.
“Checkout is the obvious place people point to, but there is the trust factor, discovery and fulfillment that Amazon builds into its value proposition. [Making that] whole [journey seamless] is what is being explored today across various marketplaces,” he said.
On the seller side, Aberman said, unlocking seamless commerce from a marketplace perspective is really about streamlining the steps it takes for a merchant or service provider to get up, running and transacting with customers.
“Past Amazon, you can think about Uber — they basically offer individuals the ability to set up a micro business as a livery driver,” Aberman said. “Everything other than driving a passenger [from] Point A to Point B is friction for that driver because the real value is the transit. Using technology, Uber as a platform is taking up payments, marketing and connecting to that driver’s next gig as their job.”
The bigger point, he noted, is that seamless commerce isn’t just about the moment of checkout. It’s about everything that leads a consumer to that moment, from connecting to a merchant or service provider to finding the right offering, and through clicking “buy” and moving on to settlement with the seller.
That isn’t the only evolving that Aberman thinks needs to happen for truly seamless commerce to evolve forward. While the work on the consumer side has moved forward solidly, particularly when it comes to paying, the seller side of that story is a work very much in progress.
“There is a lot of technology and risk challenges that need to get built on the merchant side. Faster onboarding, electronic payments receipt, [having] funds a merchant has been paid instantly available to use guaranteed. There are a lot of challenges left here,” he told Webster.
That includes recognizing that the context of the consumer journey matters, particularly in platforms where commerce isn’t the primary reason they are there.
The Commerce Journey In Context
An area often named as a prime place for pursuing commerce in context, Webster noted, is on social media platforms, especially the extremely visual and product-oriented ones like Instagram.
She noted that the embedded commerce tools offered by those platforms — the buttons one can click when they see something on the platform they might want to buy — don’t offer up a smooth enough journey, because one is often hit with a gatekeeping page that requests an email address. For shoppers, particularly those on mobile, it’s a friction that might just turn into a lost sale.
Aberman noted that this might look like an irrational decision on the retailers’ part, considering the context matter here. The reality is that intent and behavioral patterns among consumers on a platform like Instagram or Pinterest are a bit different than on platforms like Amazon or eBay.
He also posited that there is a much greater chance that the Instagram user is more of a browser than a buyer. So, from the retailer’s point of view, capturing an email address to market to the vast majority of consumers later is much more valuable than turning that one in every 1,000 consumers into a buyer.
The context, he said, is looking at pictures, not buying.
If a consumer is clearly there to shop, by all means, the job is to remove all friction between that buyer and the buy button. Yet, all friction aside, if they aren’t in that purchasing context, retailers need to start thinking differently about how they are going to capture value from those browser eyeballs.
While there are technological ways that the retailer could be spared that task (say, if Instagram supplied that information on any user who clicked on the buy button), there are questions about data sharing and privacy to consider. Those consideration, he noted, are ever-evolving.
Data Sharing And The Challenges Going Forward
Consumer privacy is an ever-changing topic in the digital age, Aberman told Webster. In many ways, we are living in a whole different world than we were even a decade ago. Putting personal pictures on the internet was a big concern for a whole generation of early users. Now, posting pictures is more or less considered one of the web’s primary uses.
The same thing goes for saving payment credentials to a browser. Something inconceivable even five years ago is now a convenience that consumers do, and trust when they do it.
That is something they will continue to do, since Aberman believes that, given a choice between convenience or beefed-up privacy, consumers will choose convenience. This means that while there will always be red-line regulatory limits drawn around things like compliance, know your customer (KYC) and privacy, the reality is that there remains “a huge gap” between what platforms and businesses are supporting today in terms of privacy and where those red lines lie.
The question to answer is about what customers are comfortable with, Aberman said. Today, Webster noted, they are more comfortable with things like card data saved in a browser, because they trust the issuers and card brands to support them if something goes wrong with a transaction they make.
Aberman agreed — and noted that non-payment instrument networks like Square, for example, are evolving toward playing a similar role in offering a trusted, protected experience for the consumer, “regardless of the payment instrument.”