By Dale S. Laszig
DSL Direct LLC
In their quest to create a seamless shopping experience, merchants have noticed how payments can interrupt the flow of shopping. Customers browsing online or in stores could be having fun, but when it comes time to buy, they're directed to a checkout area that Scott Fitzgerald, Senior Vice President and Head of Marketing at BlueSnap Inc., called "the pain of paying."
In a May 2016 interview with The Green Sheet, Fitzgerald described process-driven ecommerce that moves from one phase to the next as "old school." Digital shopping must be distinct from outdated physical commerce that herds shoppers into checkout lanes, he stated.
"Amazon was the first to continue selling inside the shopping cart," said Fitzgerald. "But even in Amazon's case, where additional options and accessories are displayed during checkout, you're still left with the shopping experience. When you get to the payment phase, it tends to be distinct from the cart; the fun of shopping is over and you're into the pain of paying."
Checkout, by definition, is not fun, Fitzgerald added, which can be problematic for shopping cart conversions and has inspired an array of solutions such as buy buttons and payment wallets that facilitate single click checkouts. Merchants need to build something apart from the shopping/cart/checkout stack, to enable people to keep on buying, he said.
Optimizing a payment flow can be a creative process, similar to writing. In The Art of Fiction, author John Gardner urged writers to build a continuous, dreamlike experience. "Though characters and locales change, the dream is still running like a movie in the reader's mind," he wrote. Distractions caused by a "slip of technique or egoistic intrusion" can break the spell, causing the reader to stop thinking about the story and begin thinking about other things.
Payments can also interrupt an enjoyable shopping dream by forcing customers to think about credit card accounts, billing and shipping, and risks associated with sharing personal information. However, merchant level salespeople (MLSs) can help merchants use digital tools to create a true end-to-end customer experiences. "Invisible," "seamless" and "omnichannel" are buzzwords that demonstrate how the payment process is being absorbed into the greater retail ecosystem. If merchants see payments as a distraction, then maybe it's time for MLSs to change the conversation and make it less about payments and more about enhancing the retail experience.
Current Street SmartsSM columnist and B2B sales professional John Tucker recommended that MLSs rebrand as business specialists in "the increasingly complex payments and merchant services ecosystem." Tucker has explored numerous areas of focus for MLSs, from alternative lending to technology specialists. He noted that the Pareto principle, which states that 80 percent of activity comes from 20 percent of participants, is alive and well in payments.
"Twenty percent of MLSs lead with innovative solutions that resolve complex problems for merchants and use innovative marketing procedures to reach merchants efficiently," Tucker said. "The other 80 percent use inefficient marketing methods or lead with low-profit, commoditized pitches such as 'rate savings' on a merchant account."
This translates into a phenomenon where 80 percent of production, revenues and profits generated within our space comes from 20 percent of MLSs, Tucker noted.
Storytelling is hardly a new idea, but merchants and consumer brands are using it to great effect to bring concepts and brand promises to life. New York City-based STORY has created a gallery where retailers can showcase their products. Founded by former brand consultant Rachel Schectman, whose clients included Kraft, TOMS Shoes and Lincoln Motor Co., STORY is a 2,000 square foot space on 10th Avenue that is designed to create all-encompassing customer experiences.
The venue, which is open to the public seven days a week, changes exhibits every four to eight weeks, giving companies like American Express Co., Target Stores Inc., and Intel Corp. a platform for sharing brand voices and stories.
What could be more dreamlike than seeing a live retail exhibition in a gallery setting? In an August 2016 interview with Ad Age, Schectman said, "It's really like a living magazine. We have advertisers. We have sponsors. We have content. Magazines tell stories by writing articles and taking pictures.
We tell stories through our merchandise strategies and the events that bring certain subject matter to life."
The company's website describes it as providing "a view of retail that goes beyond the transaction and a permanent space where the experience is everything and collaboration tells a STORY." Pop-up stores, event-based retail and places like STORY, when blended with mobile and ecommerce technologies, can be rich repositories of ideas for business owners and MLSs focused on taking their products and services to a whole new level.
In the analog world, when our lives were a journey from one device and platform to another, countertop terminals were an efficient delivery system for processing credit cards. Later, as the digital world took hold, analog devices and their proprietary operating systems were replaced by open source systems that connect multiple channels, devices and platforms into a singular, continuous, fast-moving retail experience.
Single-use devices, checkout lanes and labor-intensive ecommerce sites seem out of place in the connected world because they interrupt the continuity of the immersive retail dream. Application program interfaces (APIs) are effective at connecting disparate legacy systems, according to Ross Mason, founder and Vice President Product Strategy at MuleSoft Inc. The Rising Value of APIs, a white paper coauthored by Mason and Forbes writer Joe McKendrick, positions APIs as a way to connect the physical and online worlds, increase revenue opportunities and deliver new value.
"No matter the industry, companies turning to an omnichannel strategy will rely on APIs to create a link between cloud, on-premises systems and mobile, offering a seamless experience for their customers," they wrote.
Gardner called fiction a "clear, sharp, edited version of the dream that's all around us." Savvy MLSs, who see similar potential in retail, can help merchants blend technologies and APIs with a rich palette of colors, scents and sounds from the natural world. These collaborations can spawn unique, enthralling and dreamlike retail experiences.
Dale S. Laszig, Staff Writer at The Green Sheet and Managing Director at DSL Direct LLC, is a payments industry journalist and content provider. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @DSLdirect.
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