In 10 years, no one will talk about “contextual commerce” — it’ll just be commerce. That’s what Rich Aberman, co-founder of WePay, predicts.
Native commerce is where Aberman believes all platforms are headed — and that’s not just true for software developers like Apple, Google and Microsoft, but also for social media platforms like Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.
“In 10 years,” predicts Aberman, “your ability to transact using your payment credentials will be universal across all the platforms you use to engage in commerce. It’ll be commerce in context of where you spend your time, whether physically or online.”
His prediction is looking increasingly likely as more and more tech companies throw their hats into the Pay ring — Microsoft being the most recent, with its announcement earlier this month that it’s bringing bill pay and invoice payments into the Outlook ecosystem.
While that’s not exactly the same as what Apple and Google are doing with their Pay products, Aberman said this latest announcement from Microsoft is pushing toward the same end goal.
“None of these tech companies necessarily want to be payments companies,” Aberman said, “but they recognize that, to allow commerce to be native on their platforms, having an active role in facilitating payments is an important first step.”
In a recent interview with Karen Webster, Aberman shared his 10-year vision for the world of payments and commerce, as well as his thoughts on how Microsoft and others are moving toward it.
The Media/Commerce Connection
Media, in some ways, exists to drive commerce, said Aberman, and social media is an evolution of that — which makes Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest media companies. Just like their traditional media predecessors on TV, these companies are competing for eyeballs to sell advertising.
What’s different is that these platforms don’t have to generate any of their own content — they rely on user-generated content to draw users in, while retailers compete with that content (and with each other) to attract the eyeballs that are already there and sell their products.
However, said Aberman, media and commerce have historically been decoupled because they exist in different contexts. Media drives interest and awareness, while any resulting commerce takes place offline or out of band. That makes it really hard to measure the success of any given ad campaign.
New media platforms do away with this fuzzy return on investment, Aberman said, delivering concrete numbers around clicks and purchases to show advertisers exactly what they’re doing right (or wrong).
Whether the media company drives commerce through advertisers paying to inject themselves into newsfeeds or by acting as a conduit for brands, Aberman said the “how” is secondary. The important thing is that they are allowing commerce to happen on their platform rather than out of band.
Facebook is notorious for wanting to keep users inside its walled garden, but it’s not the only platform doing so — indeed, that’s the power of enabling commerce, and payments are the rail to that. According to Aberman, that is why Microsoft, Apple, Google – and likely, one day, Facebook – are all introducing their own Pay capabilities.
More Than an Access Point
Building payment credentials into the Windows operating system signals that Microsoft is aware of its role as an access point for commerce, Aberman said, and has opted to play a more active role as such.
He said Apple and Google would have had the same realization when creating their own Pays, but they were starting from a different point. Microsoft doesn’t have the App Store or Google Play. It doesn’t have the massive consumer base or advertising business that Apple and Google have.
What it does have, said Aberman, is Office, a fairly ubiquitous platform used for business purposes such as sending invoices. It may have made sense for Apple to start by powering payments on apps like Uber and Wayfair, but for Microsoft, enabling payments within emails made the most strategic sense.
“It’s not a fundamental difference in strategy,” Aberman said, “just in market.”
Aberman believes that one day in the middle future — not next year, but maybe within the next 10 — people will be able to transact on any platform seamlessly and securely. The friction of cards, payments and bank account credentials will be a thing of the past.
It may sound impossible today, but Aberman said the evolution of authentication methods, such as biometrics, will make it much safer, helping to increase consumer comfort with the new shape of anytime, anywhere commerce. People’s ability to transact will be tied to their identities, and their identities will be provable with greater validity and confidence than is currently possible.
Aberman said the shift of media into payments and commerce has been a natural evolution, and growing consumer confidence will be as well, as payments become more and more invisible.
But for now, security isn’t the only challenge companies like Microsoft must overcome when powering payments and commerce. Media companies still struggle with the fact that people are on their platforms for the media, not to buy things.
For example, Facebook has long been trying to make itself into a commerce platform for purchases, but nothing seems to be sticking. Members can now use the platform to shop, make a restaurant reservation, make a donation, or find a hair salon and book an appointment. It has a lot of irons in the fire, yet none have become the breakout use case the social media giant may have hoped for.
Aberman, however, thinks it’s just a matter of time before Facebook or somebody else hits on that one key use case that will take contextual commerce to the next level.
“I’m not sure Facebook will be the dominant platform, despite their current lead,” he said. “But I do think people will feel more and more comfortable with the commerce use case. It’s a big step, and it’ll happen slowly, but I do think it’s inevitable.”