The “year of mobile” in commerce and payments has been coming/happening/about to ignite for as long as PYMNTS has been in virtual print. And while it would be ridiculous to say that mobile commerce has not made significant progress in the last half decade, it would be reasonable to say that it has neither exploited nor run the exact course that analysts first started breathlessly predicting five years ago.
“We work with 140 retailers and help them geographically pair up with consumers,” Retale’s Pat Dermody told PYMNTS in a recent interview. “And what we’ve learned is that when you talk about mobile with retailers - it really depends on who in an organization the conversation is actually happening with. The eCommerce people in organizations thought the stores were going to be leveled and they were going take over by now.”
Retale is in the business of connecting consumers to their retailer partners by offering a convenient and easy way to access a piece of the “good old days” of commerce - the circular that one would have once looked to the Sunday paper to find.
“If you speak to retailers, they want to support the idea you can drive a consumer into the store with the knowledge of multiple things being on sale or a good value - and they have a vested interest in preserving that vehicle,” Dermody noted. “The problem is they have long depended on a distribution methodology that is in decline. And every retailer shakes their head up and down and says yes. They all wish it weren’t true, they all know it is.”
However, Retale thinks customers still want that circular - they just are not going to purchase a Sunday paper to get it. Retale is giving them a new option.
“We are a location-based platform and our underlying principle is that our app will find our users based on where they are based on latitude and longitude and then connect them to offers geographically close to them,” Dermody explained. “We are not a data scraping service that aggregates sale data and calls it a business - we work directly with our partners.”
They are also learning about an increasingly large set of consumers - as the service has picked up about 4 million since launching to the public 18 months ago. Dermody said that she believes 2015 really is turning into the year of mobile - but in a very specific context of how it will broadly change buying as opposed to a more narrow “how do I buy gum with my phone?"
“I think people thought we would see the channels specialize. Five years ago, people weren’t anticipating customers would traverse freely between screens. We started to see the tipping point at holiday 2013,” Dermody said. “People thought mobile was going to be a natural extension of eCommerce - but the ecosystem has realized that it is much more...it's a browsing, shopping and research tool.”
From the retailer's point of view - the phone is a tool to lead a customer in, and to provide as many touch points as possible. Retale specializes in keeping the physical touchpoint - the brick-and-mortar store - on the customer's radar and easy to track prices at continually.
“For a retailer to be able to come closer to their customer and offer them an opportunity to buy and pay in multiple ways is a good thing for retailers because it means you are always open for business,” Dermody said.
For all the futurist hype that can get going in payments an eCommerce, it can be equally easy to give into the rose color nostalgia about a simpler past.
When it seems there are just too many choices to be useful, a world where one's universe of choice was limited to cash/credit/personal check at the two dozen or so businesses within reasonable driving range of their home can seem almost comforting.
But ultimately, the options make it easier to make better choices and get better prices for consumers - and to attract those consumers for the merchants. And, as Retale is learning, sometimes offering an update on an old option is better than a complete overhaul.
“You take something that has worked for hundreds of years, something like the circular - and find a way to make it work in a new environment because it still works - it just can’t work by that distribution channel.”