The online and in-store experience will never be identical — and that’s OK, according to Verifone EVP Glen Robson; they don’t have to be.
“It’s OK for everyone to take a breath and admit there are high points and advantages from both that can’t be replicated exactly across channels,” he emphasized.
A customer who wants to shop at 3 a.m. probably wants to do it from the comfort of their bed on a tablet in their PJs, unless they happen to be headed home after the night shift and are popping into their local 24-hour Walmart. But a consumer who wants to look at, touch and feel the merchandise has only one option: Go to the physical store.
The challenge for payments players, Robson said, and the retailers they underpin isn’t about building systems that perfectly mimic each other across channels — it’s about building systems that are mutually supportive across channels and making sure that the experience is comparably personalized and seamless wherever the consumer happens to be, even if it’s not exactly the same.
“It is fine for [online and brick-and-mortar shopping] to be distinct with clear advantages — but the chasm at this point has been too wide,” said Robson.
Verifone thinks it can start bridging that chasm — by making it easier for merchants, particular smaller and mid-sized players to start modifying the in-store experience to a more user-friendly and data-rich version.
Part of that is the release of its new M400 multipayment device designed around offering multichannel connectivity to any kind of transactional merchant. Department stores, specialty retailers, grocery stores, hotels, quick-service restaurants and convenience stores — if they take payments for goods or services, then Verifone wants to make it possible to design that payment into a full digital strategy.
Part of it, noted Robson, is Verifone’s long-term commitment and goals as a player in the ecosystem — to battle complexity wherever possible.
“Payment is complex by itself, and we tier on top of that all the data set that makes all together in retail context. It can get almost overwhelming,” Robson noted. “Someone has to take the complexity out of it. And it is the opportunity and the responsibility of a company like Verifone.”
So how do they do it?
Catching Complexity Where It Hides
Customers who transact digitally are having a better experience than brick-and-mortar retailers, particularly at small and medium-sized ones really can’t mimic or match.
That’s the part that everyone agrees on — because it’s obvious. Sign into a website — it knows who you are, how often you shop, what you like to buy and how much you are apt to spend when pushed. That gives the digital merchant a host of options for customizing the experience.
Physical retailers, on the other hand, often just aren’t matching that level of recognition, which means the project of building a personalized experience becomes nearly impossible. But not offering personalized and rewarding consumer experiences with rich loyalty tie-ins also increasingly isn’t an option either. Customers want and need what they want and need — and if they don’t get it at one location, they’ll find another.
And what brick-and-mortar retailers are really getting these days is that the problem in the space isn’t lack of interest in crafting those rich and personal customer experiences. The issue is much more basic, Robson noted. Even simple-sounding experience enhancements are often actually pretty complicated to offer.
“Customers are becoming more and more aware of the capability and advantages of both in-store and online experiences. They are just coming to need and expect being able to combine those experiences, and much of the retail in 2017 is going to be about providing it,” Robson explained to PYMNTS. “But that that has been easier said than done until now. For example, buy online and return in-store — sounds simple, but it is for many retailers a a very complex set of transactions.”
The problem recurs over and over in a variety of ways. Without ease recognition of customers in-store, loyalty is hard to run unless it becomes an administrative responsibility for the customer who always needs to have their punch card at the ready. Providing directed services like “making sure I have the coffee the way I want to drink it or the newspaper I like to read” are all predicated on a merchant being able to keep track of customers as they move between channels and log those preferences.
“The challenge is to personalize a unique experience we find online and bring that type of ability into the world of brick-and-mortar,” Robson said. “Beyond taking a payment, there is now a set of enhanced services that we need to be bringing to bear for customers and merchants alike.”
Verifone was unsurprisingly a big presence at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show as the M400 got its big public coming-out party. The goal for the new system is pretty direct: Offer merchants something sleek and powerful that thinks beyond just taking a payment securely (which Robson assures us they still do quite well) and instead ushers merchants into an app-rich digital ecosystem with apps, multimedia capacity and the ability to offer a single touchpoint to manage the consumer experience across channels.
“This opens up a lot of doors. It allows us to automate loyalty functions at the point of sale so a consumer can come in, have their device recognized and now start to have the same level of experience that they are having online.”
And, Robson noted, in some ways customers can have a better or at least uniquely physical experience that is different than what they can get online. Online, one can get coupon for a free donut on their birthday — but a physical merchant can actually give a consumer a donut that they can eat right then and there.
Physical retail is changing — not going away, according to Verifone — and becoming dominated by smooth omnichannel experiences. Which means the only option for those who want to be here for what’s next is evolution.
The 2017 Ground Shift
Mobility, Robson noted, has changed the rules of the game.
“This is the year of the experience as far as the payments industry is concerned. I think it will be a changing landscape as to what will be offered,” he said.
Dreading the change won’t stop it — but making it less complex is firmly within everyone’s interest, because without it, multichannel won’t go forward.
“I think everyone should fear complexity because [complexity] is everyone’s problem,” Robson said.
But it’s also a chance to be part of the solution — a solution that Verifone believes rests in the ability to deliver the right hardware/OS combo that can help retailers turn complexity into an opportunity — and even a competitive advantage.