That the retail world has changed very quickly and fundamentally in the last several years is no longer up for debate. The digital age has spawned customers that are incredibly knowledgeable about — and always connect to — commerce. The number of potential touchpoints a retailer has with consumers has increased exponentially over the past decade — and the dawn of the era of the connected device is set to expand it even further.
The good news for payments and commerce players is that this evolution has been an excellent catalyst for innovation and improvement — particularly in the pursuit of a better customer experience. The more challenging news is that delivering on that potential is a lot of work and typically requires a series of separate but connected efforts to produce one unified experience.
“Traditional brick-and-mortar merchants are realizing they need both a strong digital and social presence,” POPcodes CEO Gregg Aamoth told PYMNTS in a recent conversation.
Successful retailers know it’s all about making the customer experience work for them wherever whenever they are shopping — via mobile, tablet, desktop or in-store — and getting and keeping the customer engaged throughout their path to purchase. At the same time, it is also about finding a consistent and seamless way to build loyalty in preparation for their next journey. It’s a challenge that is difficult enough when customers discover, evaluate and ultimately purchase in the same channel. With digital and mobile shopping now influencing over 65 percent of in-store purchases, it’s no wonder become an expensive and exhausting endeavor for many merchants.
Making that online to offline journey smooth, is what POPcodes was built to do — and its founder and CEO certainly knows omnichannel. Before his current stint as an entrepreneur, Aamoth was VP of customer and marketing systems at Macy’s for 10 years. He said while he can’t quite give his former employer credit for coining the term omnichannel, it was certainly an early adopter. Macy’s started merging the channel-siloed organization and uniting the online and offline shopping experience way back in 2008.
His team has leveraged that experience to craft a solution that makes it easier for SMB merchants to connect with their omnichannel customers and to take advantage of promotions, loyalty and the full range of what digital engagement can offer. And that is only half of what POPcodes does to facilitate that smoother “omnicommerce” journey. With the same solution, POPcodes also helps acquirer and ISOs better service and support their merchant community.
“Payment processors are one of the most essential service providers in retail, and their ability to provide cost- effective, easy-to-deploy and easy-to-use value-added services can be key to helping achieve retailer’s omnichannel ambitions,” Aamoth noted.
Omnichannel Capability As Table Stakes
A few years ago, omnichannel was a buzzword for everyone but retail tech enthusiasts. These days it is something that every merchant has to understand and accommodate to survive.
“People have ideas about online- or offline-only shoppers — and those ideas are typically based on assumptions and anecdotes as opposed to hard data,” Aamoth noted. “The more touchpoints you can track and the better you can understand the customer, the better the outcome. If you have the ability to see and connect online and in-store data, then it’s really hard to resist connecting that customer journey.”
But those connections aren’t so easy to manage. Take, for example, a restaurant that wants to offer a promotion in conjunction with a local movie theater — a movie and dinner for two.
“That sounds like it should be a simple promotion.” However, Aamoth noted, “coordinating an offer between two different merchants (a movie theater and restaurant) is pretty hard. And even harder is making it easy for the customer to purchase at one retail location and seamlessly claim a reward at a different one.”
With POPcodes on the payments terminal of both merchants, however, that kind of integration becomes as easy and secure as using your credit card. And that is the point of a lot of what POPcodes can do — use the payments infrastructure that already exists for a range of other functions to create a more unified experience for the customer. So the company isn’t trying to sort out promo codes for online versus in-store (both work either place) or figure out how to let their loyal customers cash out their loyalty points at the point of sale (POS). Equally important, Aamoth noted, is that POPcodes makes it easier for merchants to really see their customer, get a sense for their shopping habits and preferences, and then use that data to create smarter offers.
“We provide is a combination of the best online strategies with classics of traditional merchant and customer-focused value-added services — in-store loyalty redemption and promotion tracking, for example — and make that easy and transparent for the merchant to manage. We also leverage that same foundation for the merchant and acquirers/ISOs to interact much more directly. It’s the ideal win-win.”
Fight The Race To Zero
Finding quick and easy “wins” is critical in the world of payments, where merchants’ and acquirers’/ISO’ relationships have historically been a passion-free space — and relationships were mostly built around reducing costs.
The focus on lower rates has resulted what has often been called “the great race to the bottom” in payments processing — where the goal is to see how close one can get to charging nothing for processing payments in the hopes of undercutting one’s next 10 cheapest competitors.
“The finish line of zero isn’t far away,” Aamoth noted, saying that at a recent industry conference he saw one firm that is offering processing at cost as means to an end for data collection, which is then monetized.
That means traditional payments players, according to Aamoth, need to be thinking less about their customary roles and more about the value-added services they can build out on their large, well-connected payments networks.
Part of that, Aamoth noted, is a drive toward “Push Button Services,” which means, for example, that a merchant can get immediate help or request a callback from an ISO from the POS terminal itself.
“Simply not making merchants wait on hold to get their questions answered is a big innovation,” Aamoth said.
With Push Button Services, POPcodes provides a conduit by which those payments players can reach out and connect with their merchants.
“Part of our self-serve strategy is to make it easier for merchants to learn about other value-added services that their processors might provide — whether [they are] ours or not.”
That is key, Aamoth noted, because as the payments players are coming around to the idea that those services are the way of the future — and since merchants aren’t used to seeking out their ISO for value-added services.
“We are seeing players rapidly getting on board — they are seeing competition in the payment service providers, and they are waking up very quickly.”
The goal Aamoth set is to move full speed ahead with the infrastructure that is in place today while preparing solutions for the next-generation “Smart Terminals” to offer better-looking, more interactive services. Value-added service providers need to understand the complexity of the payment ecosystem today in order to deploy solutions that sustain into the future.
And, of course, POPcodes is all about gearing up for the future — which is still evolving into shape before our eyes.
“The payment ecosystem, with tens of millions of internet-connected devices, has a massive potential to become a whole new media channel.”
That change over won’t happen today or tomorrow, he noted — but a full-color, video- and sound-enabled world of commerce broadcast on an uncountable number of devices is coming — and when it gets here, having infrastructure in place to manage it all will be key.
Whether POPcodes will be the solution of choice years into the future remains to be seen, but it is hard to argue with their diagnosis of the current problem and opportunities.