How omni-readi are merchants today, and — in an age of digital driving all dimensions of commerce — how should merchants be thinking about it? That was the subject of an hour-long digital discussion last week between Vantiv’s Bill Cohn and Ned Canning and Karen Webster — and an audience of several hundred merchants.
The big reveal when it comes to mobile payment experiences is that from the consumer side of the equation, the payment part is far from the most relevant detail. Consumers, Karen Webster noted, weren’t looking to use smartphones as a new payment form factor in stores, because cards were and are already doing a largely acceptable job when it comes to lining up at a point of sale and paying.
Instead, consumers, she said, are looking for mobile experiences that create value for them that happen to include payment.
Experiences of the type that Canning is now able to have at a “nameless” coffee shop that he happens to patronize day-in and day-out. Not because they make what he considers the best cup of coffee around — there is, in fact, a store around the corner whose product he prefers. But that “nameless Seattle-based coffee shop” he goes to every morning makes it easy to make and pay for his order online and then pick up said order as he is driving by — all seamless, all friction free.
And, bonus, he even tacks on an order of banana bread if he feels so moved. No fuss, no muss.
“That’s such a night-and-day difference between them and the competition — the convenience factor is such that I am going to go that way,” Canning said.
And Canning is far from alone — which is why QSRs are adding mobile order-ahead capacity like their lives depend on it. Because, Webster noted, by the numbers, their lives may depend on it. Among restaurants that have released figures on the mobile order-ahead programs, the numbers are consistent. Within a short amount of time after implementation, about 50 percent of all orders during busy times start coming in through that medium.
But omnicommerce is, of course, much bigger than the sea change going on in restaurants and QSR, the trio pointed out. Omnichannel/omnicommerce can refer to any number of individual practices: BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store), curbside pick-up, BORIS (buy online, return in-store), scanning barcodes for price comparisons — that all amount to describing one major change in how retail and the customer journey works, according to Webster.
The old retail journey started at the front of the store when the customer walked through the doors — and ended at the POS when the consumer bought whatever they were there to buy (and whatever else had inspired its way into their cart on the walk to the POS).
The new retail journey — powered by ever-online mobile consumers — can start literally anywhere (on a bus, at work, in a store, in front of the TV) and end anywhere (on a bus, at work, in a store, in front of the TV).
The opportunity inherent in constantly connected consumers is obvious — but, the webinar panel group noted, the challenges are prominent.
“To pull off something as simple-seeming as ordering my coffee ahead — the process takes a small army of systems marching in lockstep to pull off,” Canning said.
Giving Customers What They Want
Omnichannel consumers are, by the numbers, valuable. They, on average, spend 4 percent more than the average consumer per visit, spend about 10 percent more online on average per year and visit their eCommerce destinations on the web about 13 percent more often. So, creating a seamless way for consumers to move back and forth among them seems like a no-brainer.
But there is, as always, Webster notes, a pretty big asterisk one must look out for: Customers only vote with their feet — to the store — if the experience is consistent with the promise.
“Simply having the app isn’t enough. Store operations have to change to make sure consumers are getting the experience they want. No one wants to come into the store to wait in line to pick up their order ahead — it sort of defeats the whole purpose of ordering ahead,” Webster said.
Early adopters in the merchant community, Webster noted, have experienced growing pains — and though the amount of progress the omnicommerce concept has made in a relatively amount of time is remarkable, the broad opportunities across retail segments are still under construction.
“You can look at the investments Walmart has made in terms of its digital footprint — and how that is now starting to pay off,” she noted. “They are able to leverage the 100 million consumers that walk into their stores every week. The logistics mastery that both Walmart and Amazon have invested … also means that they are able to operate at scale, which is very important.”
That scale is particularly important — Canning, Webster and Cohn noted — when it comes to pushing consumer behavior with incentives and creating different habitual responses to certain phases of the shopping process.
But creating those responses — and breaking into the habit cycle — requires four areas of backend synchronization that happens largely out of the customer’s views but dictates a lot of how their experiences will go.
Expanding Payment Options
There are, Cohn noted, almost two schools of thought when it comes to offering payment methods for merchants.
School one is the Overstock.com school of thought that says “more is more” — and consumers need every imaginable payment choice up to and including bitcoin. School two is the “less is more” and focuses on “using payment form as a proxy for customer demographics and customer type” and enabling the payment factors that the most desirable customers find most desirable.
The experiments are ongoing, but, Webster noted, after a few years of tracking merchant strategies and outcomes — the results are coming in on the “more is more” side, with a bit of an asterisk.
“There is an appetite for introducing new options but introducing new options that consumers want to use, and that is where this interesting tension comes into play,” Webster remarked.
Customers, Webster noted, aren’t clamoring for bitcoin, and unlikely to ever be en masse. These days, with some 200 or so mobile wallet or wallet-like options out there, the reality is that merchants aren’t — or shouldn’t be — trying to enable 200 integrations.
But there won’t always be 200 options in the marketplace — as many of those players will consolidate or disappear and customer and merchant preferences become more cemented. And more important than that consolidation, Webster noted, the players and competitors in the mobile payments space are increasingly coming around to the idea that behaving cooperatively with each other is to everyone’s mutual advantage.
“Samsung Pay is available where Visa Checkout is available — PayPal and Android partnered so that Android Pay users with PayPal accounts can use Android Pay where PayPal is accepted,” she said, “making it easier for merchants to accept different payment methods without having to do a lot of separate integrations in the process.”
The point, when it comes to payments, is to remove friction — for the consumer and the merchant. The customer wants to pay via their favored method, and the merchant wants to capture the conversion with what the consumer wants on the front end — without detonating their backend trying to do it.
Which, the panel noted, is also a pretty good description of what omnicommerce wants to do writ large.
The old customer journey was easy — or at least it was direct.
“The key in mono-channel is the consumer journey is a straight line — as a merchant, what you need to do is remove frictions along the points in that line.”
But omnichannel commerce is not a straight line — or even one that moves in a common direction. Consumers start online to do product research; they might go to a store to look at the product and continue reading reviews while they are standing in the aisle, because “years of shopping on Amazon has trained customers to do that at this point.”
The experience is varied — almost down to each individual consumer’s preference set — and there is an almost infinite proliferation of touchpoints for consumers to be interacting.
Which means, Webster noted, personalization and consistency of experience are particularly important, because all those touchpoints offer a variety of places where things can go wrong — and the most common way for things to go wrong is to frustrate consumers with an inconsistent experience that is easy in one channel but difficult or impossible in another.
And smoothness and ease — Cohn noted — is the biggest challenge in play when dealing with nonlinear multichannel commerce, particularly when it comes to the various handoffs between channels that it takes to put the right product in a customer’s hand at the right time.
Because sometimes orders get complicated — something he learned firsthand when he tried to buy a pair of shoes that his local REI didn’t carry. Between finding it online, ordering it, needing to return it to a store because what he ordered didn’t fit and then re-ordering it in the right size, Cohn noted that he took a multichannel tour as a customer. And because REI did it well — he didn’t notice it.
From his end, he only had to wait a few days — and he had his shoes.
From the merchant’s end though, things are a bit more complex. Though Webster and Canning noted that as technology is evolving, merchant complexity is diminishing.
Security, particularly data security, is most often thought about in terms of consumer data — which makes some sense, since almost everyone is a consumer. But for merchants — whose systems are most likely to be targeted — data security is less a problem and more an ongoing war of attrition they are waging with an infinite number of cybercriminals on the prowl.
And though that sounds like bad news, the good news, Canning noted, is that merchants are increasingly understanding that they don’t want to be the front lines of this war and are increasingly moving their efforts toward defense into the hands of third parties and technological solutions — particularly in the form of data tokens.
“The key thing about tokens,” Canning said, “is it is possible to have that secure credential available in all the parts of [an] omnichannel journey. A merchant can store that token securely because it is useless in the event of a breach but is an identifier of previous transactions — so a purchase that was made online can easily be returned to a store.”
Because — ultimately, the webinar discussants concluded — merchants don’t need to be thinking about security — they have a much steeper hill to climb.
Centralizing the Data
It all goes back to that personal consumer experience , Webster noted: the ability to see the consumer for who she is and what she wants — whatever she happens to be doing it.
No small feat, Cohn commented, since 61 percent of merchants use different acquirers and processors for their POS functions than they use for their eCommerce functions.
“You can always make these things work, but you have integration and maintenance costs to normalize all these disparate sets of information and that will bleed into the customer experience,” Canning said.
As the webinar ended, Webster did have an up note. Though time in tech passes at a rate all its own, omnicommerce is still in early days — even if it feels like we’ve been talking about it forever. And in that short time, a lot of progress has been made — at lunch counters, on grocery store curbsides — all over America, as the OmniReadi Index reflects over the two years in which it’s been done.
Omnichannel may not be thrown an easy switch, but it isn’t get-a-rocket-to-Mars impossible either.
Which means the question about whether the world will go omnichannel is pretty much answered — it’s not a buzzword, it’s a thing that is happening.
But it’s ultimate direction, and who on the merchant side will lead and lag — well, it probably makes sense to stay tuned.