Mid-March is more famous for spectacular endings than big beginnings – likely because one of the more high-profile political assassinations (and BFF break-ups) in history is forever associated with the Ides of March.
Which is perhaps a bit unfair, since spring’s official start is a few days away and spring is the season of renewal and regrowth. And it seems this week, some payments and commerce peeps have decided to get back to nature, and let their new launches start blooming along with the flowers.
Growing strong this week, we have Google making it easier to save money, Sephora making it easier (and more rewarding) to spend it and PayPal making it easier to move it around.
Google Flights Takes Off
There is no fear worse for any traveler than booking a flight – and wondering if perhaps they could have gotten a better deal had they just been more patient.
Google last week announced it is working to alleviate that anxiety with the expansion of its travel insights tool, which gives consumers access to trends in flights and hotels for certain routes and local cities. According to a blog post last week, the expanded tool will also help consumers make travel choices by providing them with data on trending destinations and upcoming travel deals from their home cities.
For example, in an insight that will likely shock the world, four out of five trending city destinations for spring break this year will be in Florida. Yeah, we were stunned, too.
On a more serious – and useful – note, among the new features in Google Flights is the ability to search travel destinations by budget. Google lets users explore the world map to see where they can fly on the cheap. So a traveler who wants to start their journey in San Francisco and only wants to spend $150 on the flight can filter to see only destinations within that price range. Alternatively, for customers who already know where they want to fly, Google will now provide information as to whether the price is high, typical or cheap compared to typical airline charges. In the past, that feature only existed for holiday season flights. Google will also alert the consumer if the price is at its lowest or if it will soon increase.
For customers who need lodging as well as transportation, Google will now make it easier to find value with its new “Deals” filter. That function reportedly uses machine learning to identify hotels that offer rates much lower than the usual local price.
Sephora’s New Cards
Beauty retailer Sephora announced this week that it will release two new credit cards: the Sephora Visa® credit card and Sephora Visa Signature® credit card.
Both cards are targeted toward frequent Sephora shoppers looking to expand ways to earn rewards on their purchases.
“The launch of the Sephora credit card exemplifies Sephora’s loyalty philosophy in every sense; it considers all the most-loved aspects of Sephora – the amazing product, services, experiences and personalization – taking our client experience to the next level through special access, rewards and perks,” said Andrea Zaretsky, Sephora’s senior vice president of CRM and loyalty.
Sephora said it will initially roll out the credit cards in select markets, and they will be available in all U.S. standalone stores and at Sephora.com in the next few months. Cardholders can earn credit card rewards in addition to rewards from the retailer’s Beauty Insider program. Card applicants who are not existing Beauty Insider members will be enrolled in that program.
“The Sephora credit card was the natural next step in our loyalty journey, truly adding even more value that our clients can use not only within our stores, but also in their day-to-day lives,” noted Zaretsky.
PayPal’s Big Instant Bank Transfer Play
Last week, PayPal announced the Instant Transfer to Bank feature, which will let recipients instantly move money into their bank accounts to access as cash or however else they would like to use it. The service is already rolling out in the U.S., and is scheduled to go online for U.S. businesses in the next few weeks. The company is exploring global expansion, but there are no announced plans for that yet.
The Instant Transfer play is powered by a partnership between PayPal and JPMorgan Chase, which has access to the real-time payments network built by The Clearing House, a platform established by the major banks to create faster payment networks. PayPal will be the first firm to implement this feature.
“This is part of a broader initiative to increase the speed of access for funds on our platform, but it’s also an acknowledgement of the changing nature of the global workforce,” PayPal COO Bill Ready said in an interview. “Ninety percent of all new job growth is in alternative workforce. It’s a big and growing segment of the population. The gig economy really depends on speed of access to funds.”
Among other pieces of that bigger effort was PayPal’s 2018 launch of Funds Now, which helps qualified companies gain instant access to funds from their completed sales. In less than a year, that feature has spanned more than 3.5 million businesses across several countries, among them the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Italy and Spain. There was also the 2017 combined effort of PayPal and Venmo, which allowed users of either service to transfer funds instantly to their debit cards. That program has seen billions of transactions to date, according to Ready. The catch, however, is that not everyone has a Visa or Mastercard debit card, or wants their money to be sent to one.
“For small businesses and individuals, this really matters,” Ready noted. “It’s a significant expansion of our addressable customer base, since many don’t have debit cards. Now they can withdraw the funds from their bank accounts.”
And not just withdraw it, but withdraw it as soon as it is sent, as opposed to waiting around for a few days for it to clear.
So, what did we learn this week?
Spring is coming. Sure, most of the nation is still chilly, and some of it is under snow. But the buds are starting to appear on the trees, the shoots are poking out of the ground and the payments and commerce innovations are starting to bloom.
Better grab your sunblock.