Battle of the Cloud – Part 2

Where are the cloud battle lines? Well most significantly the battle lines are forming away from NFC. The Cloud battle is complex, as the strategies are about MUCH MORE THAN PAYMENT. Payment is the ubiquitous service that is the last phase of a successful marketing, engagement, shopping, selection, deliver, retention, loyalty process.

29 August 2012

Previous Blog – Part 1 – May 11, 2012

Let’s update the Cloud Battle story and discuss events since my last post on the subject

Square, Visa, Google, PayPal, Apple, Banks, … have recognized the absurdity of storing your payment instruments in multiple locations. All of us understand the online implications, Amazon’s One Click makes everything so easy for us when you don’t have to enter your payment and ship to information. (V.me is centered around this online experience). Paypal does the same thing on eBay, Apple on iTunes, Rakutan , …etc.   But what few understand is the implication for the physical payment world. This is what I was attempting to highlight with PayPal’s new plastic rolled out last week (see PayPal blog, and Target RedCard). If all of your payment information is stored in the cloud, then all that is needed at the POS is authentication of identity (see blog).

The implications for cloud based payment at the POS are significant because the entity which leads THE DIRECTORY will have a significant consumer advantage, and will therefore also lead the breakdown of existing networks and subsequent growth of new “specialized” entities. For example, I firmly believe new entities will develop that shift “payment” revenue from merchant borne interchange to incentives

Since May, the following “significant” events “in the battle” have occurred:

  • Retailers have launched MCX with Wal-Mart’s Mike Cook as the lead. I want to emphasize, this is not “mobile payments” but rather a low cost payment network (Cook talks about $0.05/payment). Some retailers will seek to integrate their loyalty card, others will create plastic (see Target RedCard), others will certainly couple with mobile. WMT will likely integrate with a virtual wallet that manages digital coupons (Coupons.com likely leading)
  • Apple has rolled out Passbook in June.. See my Blog, and hardware analysis from Anandtech of why there is no NFC.
  • PayPal had a marketing announcement with Discover. Why would you announce something like this with no customers? Paypal is expanding its network… but merchants are just laughing.. MCX wants a $0.05 payment, Durbin gave them a $0.21 payment and Paypal wants to get 180-250bps. As you can tell, I don’t think much of this, as the Merchants are still in control of their payment terminal. This is also not an exclusive deal with Discover. I expect 2 other major players to partner with Discover in next few months. Paypal just wanted to run with this announcement before the other products come out. I also want to emphasize that DFS is a BUY. They will be a partner of choice as they run a subscale 3 party network that can adapt much more quickly than V/MA. As a side note,  Paypal will likely expand distribution of their own plastic.  See related blog.
  • Google rolled out Wallet 1.5 on August 1 (see blog). This is one of the biggest moves in payments and provides an enormous retailer value proposition (aligned to MCX). Google didn’t follow PayPal, Passbook, or Microsoft.. they rolled out product that was 1.5 yrs in progress.  Google’s new cloud wallet allows the consumer to select any payment method, and provides the merchant with a debit rate (Bancorp non-Durbin 1.05% + $0.15 (note Google/Issuer can lower this for merchants, as any issuer could, this is a MAX rate). Google is CURRENTLY loosing money on the payment side of the business in hopes of making it up on the advertising side. This is no marketing announcement like Apple, Microsoft and Paypal.. this is a product announcement.. it is working today in my new Galaxy phone. This is also the first PRODUCTION cloud wallet for the POS. Apple, Amazon and Paypal dominate cloud wallets in eCommmerce and mCommerce. Google and Amex’s Revolution money are the only one’s doing it at the POS.
  • Square acquired all 30M Starbucks mobile payment customers (see Blog). Square has done a great job acquiring merchants.. but was hurting on the consumer side. Square wants to build network and needed a pop on the consumer side. Square’s business is pivoting toward marketing and consumer experience. Within the next year, the little Square doggle will be a thing of the past. Starbucks is committing to the Square register experience, and Square is relabeling “card case” to “Pay with Square”.
  • LevelUp is making payments “free” for merchants as part of a loyalty value proposition. This is an example deal.. expect more to follow. Issue is that different merchants have different priorities. LevelUp is focused in QSR/Casual Dining and is operating as part of a loyalty play. I’ve outline their revenue in this blog, don’t think it is sustainable unless they can move into acquisition.
  • ISIS has lost key executives in its product area, AT&T is rumored to have a NFC/Wallet RFP of its own out and even Verizon is planning to let Google go ahead and put its wallet on the Samsung Galaxy III phones.. after all what choice does it have?
  • Card linked offers and incentives in the cloud. No one is making money in this space, large retailers are not participating, hyper local merchants (who are interested) are very hard to sell to, and consumers don’t see relevant content (thus redemption rates under 2%).

Where are the cloud battle lines? Well most significantly the battle lines are forming away from NFC (as I stated in January). Even my old friends at Gartner have caught up and placed NFC in the trough of disillusionment. To restate, NFC is not bad technology.. but it delivers no “value” in itself beyond control. Mobile operators have consistently failed to build a business around a “control” strategy (see my Walled Garden Blog). In the  ISIS example they mandated use of credit cards only, as this higher credit interchange was the only way to make revenue. Well guess who pays the freight here? Yep the merchants…  Wal-Mart and its peers were not thrilled at giving issuers and MNOs 3.5% of sales for the privilege of accepting a mobile payment.

The Cloud battle is complex, as the strategies are about MUCH MORE THAN PAYMENT. Payment is the ubiquitous service that is the last phase of a successful marketing, engagement, shopping, selection, deliver, retention, loyalty process. Leaders from my vantage point:

Payment Networks:

  • Mastercard focused on acting in supporting role globally.
  • Discover similar to MA, but with much greater flexibility as it operates in a 3 party network and is both issuer and acquirer.
  • MCX – Not a leader yet, but has CEO mindshare of every top US retailer. They seem overly focused on the cost side. There is a very big whole in their customer acquisition strategy. MCX is bidding out its infrastructure now, my guess is that Discover or Target will win it.. and the the RFPs are just a way of keeping Banks “in the tent” to keep them from changing ACH rules to kill it like they did to Scott Grimes at Cap One (decoupled Debit).

Physical POS:

  • Google – has more consumer “accounts” than any company on the planet. Can it convert them to accounts with a linked payment instrument? Google also “touches” more customers, more times per day than any other company, its heavy influence in the shopping process positions it well with retailers. Also has the best retailer sales force of anyone on this list, as they bring in customers to retailers every day. Android/Google Wallet….
  • Square – Best customer experience hands down (register). It also has the most traction among small retailers

eCommerce/mCommerce:

  • Apple – expect Passbook to dominate mCommerce. It will be the killer app.
  • PayPal – Challenged in market adoption beyond eBay/GSI customer base. Top ecommerce sites like Amazon and Rakuten have their own integrated payment, also 50% of eCommerce/mCommerce goes through Cybersource which Visa acquired. Paypal’s future growth driven by international
  • Amazon – leading eCommerce/mCommerce player. When will it take one-click beyond Amazon? Amazon’s experience is best from end-end…. PayPal/Apple will operate around the periphery of non-Amazon purchases.
  • Rakuten – “Amazon of Japan” who now also owns buy.com. Fantastic experience and leading eCommerce loyalty program.

How many places do you want to store your payment credentials? Who do you trust to keep them? What data do you want providers to know about you?

From a macro economic perspective, total payment revenue for all major participants is just under $200B in the US. Total marketing spend in the US is over $750B. Total retail sales in the US is $2.37T (not including oil/gas, Fin services, T&E). Marketing is fundamentally broken… payments is not. Retail sales gross margin has been compressed from 4.2% in 2006 to 2.4% in 2010. Who is best able to execute on the combined retail and marketing pain points? Who can be retailer friendly? Consumer friendly? Marketing friendly?

I start my analysis with #1 the consumer value proposition, and #2 the merchant value proposition. Entities like Google, Paypal, Apple already have tremendous consumer relationships and traction. They thus have very few “acquisition” costs. However, these entities do bear the costs of changing customer behavior. There are many approaches for changing customer behavior:

  • Incent behavior – direct/indirect/merchant
  • Customer Experience (ex Square)
  • Service integration (reduce effort or # of parties)
  • Reduce risk – financial (security/anonymity…)
  • Reduce risk – purchasing (social, community reviews, …)
  • Value proposition in commerce process (indirect incentives)
  • Marketing
  • ..etc

Other groups like MCX and ISIS bear the cost of both customer “acquisition” AND behavior change for: Consumer, Merchant or Both. As I state previously. one of my favorite arcane books I’ve ever read was “Weak Links” I’m almost reluctant to recommend it because it is so good you may jump ahead of me on some of my investment hypothesis. One my favorite quotes from the book

Scale-free distribution (completely open networks) is not always the optimal solution to the requirement of cost efficiency. .. in small world networks, building and maintaining links between network elements requires energy…. [in a world with limited resources] a transition will occur toward a star network [pg 75] where one of a very few mega hubs will dominate the whole system. The star network resembles dictatorships in social networks.

Networks like V, MA, PayPal, Amex and DFS are working to participate in this new Macro economic opportunity. But established networks are hard to change

“The network forms around a function and other entities are attracted to this network (affinity) because of the function of both the central orchestrator and the other participants. Of course we all know this as the definition of Network Effects. Obviously every network must deliver value to at least 2 participants. Networks resist change because of this value exchange within the current network structure, in proportion to their size and activity.”

The implications for cloud based payment at the POS are significant because the entity which leads THE DIRECTORY will have a significant consumer advantage, and will therefore also lead the breakdown of existing networks and subsequent growth of new “specialized” entities. For example, I firmly believe new entities will develop that shift “payment” revenue from merchant borne interchange to incentives (new digital coupons).

The current chaos will abate when an entity delivers a substantial value proposition that attracts a critical mass of participants. Today most mobile solutions are just replacing a card form factor… this is NOT VALUE. I am currently placing my bets on solutions that merchants support (Square, Google, MCX, LevelUp, …) as this is a key “fault” of almost every other initiative.

Comments Appreciated (as always sorry for the typos…)

LevelUp Free Payments

Free Paymentsmay help LU find traction with small restaurants, but from what I hear restaurants have already been struggling to reconcile Groupon offers, LivingSocial Offers with their books.. taking payment through an alternate network (ie different processor) is likely to further challenge the book keeping of these small establishments. Strong recommendation to restaurants.. see what kind of cell data coverage you have in your store before you roll this out.

4 Aug

Levelup just completed a $21M round and announced last month that payments would be “free” for merchants.

Take a look at this youtube video to review high level customer experience.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AltHtxsaLJQ]

In order for Level up to successfully complete a transaction:

  • Merchant must set up account
  • Teach servers how to “read a barcode”
  • Consumers create an account
  • Consumers set up payment instrument
  • Data connectivity in the store for consumer to generate barcode
  • Data connectivity in the store for merchant to read barcode (less of an issue as servers may be on internal private wi-fi).
  • Restaurant reconciles payments from levelup with cash register, payments from card processor, groupon, living social, …
  • Restaurant determines “value” of loyalty program vs other marketing forms.

My first question on seeing this is “why”!? why would restaurants want to do this? Why would consumers want an account? Why would Google Ventures and TMobile put money in this? (see rough start for mobile payments, Digital wallet strategies). What is the value proposition?

First, let me admit 2 very big biases I have (associated with this model).. they were formed by some very hard lessons learned

1) Building both sides of a network is very hard to do

2) Commercial buildings are a black hole for connectivity. My estimate is that 3G service is avail in less than 40% of all commercial buildings.

The primary value proposition is a loyalty, allowing a Starbucks like checkout  experience and loyalty program. As I stated in this blog, loyalty is a $48B business.. so can theLevelUp act as an effective loyalty program manager? What is their market?

Total Sales in US restaurants was $632B in 2011, of that $216B is for full service restaurants with the majority of restaurants (472,000 out of 474,000) operating with under 500 employees (independents and small chains). In the restaurant vertical, small businesses dominate.. compared to mainline retail (where the top 20 retailers capture about 60% of sales …ex gas, auto, restaurants).

LevelUp is currently focused on small restaurants. Top 20 retailers have already established very successful loyalty programs (CVS is #1 with over 60M members). Big chains are far less willing to let another company deliver value outside of their brand.

Loyalty program costs vary greatly, however program fees are typically below 5% of sales for participating customers.  Given a 5% participation rate and a 20% usage rate the total addressable market for loyalty program management (for small restaurants in the US) is $100M… a pretty small number

Can small chains benefit from a centralized loyalty program? Who is best positioned to execute on this? Loyalty programs are an important part of any acquisition plan: how do you keep customers coming back? Is it the product? They price? Experience? Every company has a strategy, and every customer is different.

Selling to 400,000 small businesses takes time. This would also seem to be something that either open table, paypal, Square, Google could do easily.

Free Payments may help LU find traction with small restaurants, but from what I hear restaurants have already been struggling to reconcile Groupon offers, LivingSocial Offers with their books.. taking payment through an alternate network (ie different processor) is likely to further challenge the book keeping of these small establishments.

Strong recommendation to restaurants:

1) See what kind of cell data coverage you have in your store before you roll this out. (Update. From notes below it seems that LevelUp does not generate a unique code at each use. Static QR code improves usability inside the restaurant, at the expense of fraud. LevelUp will be acting as a TPPA, so retailers will not bear fraud costs… My guess is that LU has the ability to generate unique QR codes, but has chosen not to roll them out while they build scale. Its a race to build scale before fraud develops, and they are required to generate unique QR codes. In this “future” scenario there will be a connectivity requirement. )

2) Get customer information yourself and use it…

3) Try the #1 restaurant marketing solution in the market: FishBowl.. unbelievable results.

Thought appreciated.

BAC – Offers Success?

10 Years ago I was a banker in the room with Wal*Mart and they asked “what justifies any card taking a percentage of my sales”? “What customer have you ever brought me”?

4 June 2012

I’m using my new BankAmeriDeals and I like it.. really cool. Here is my WalMart redemption. What is success here? For Bank of America? For Wal*Mart?

10 Years ago I was a banker in the room with Wal*Mart and they asked “what justifies any card taking a percentage of my sales”? “What customer have you ever brought me”?

Will Card linked offers be the vehicle by which banks finally deliver value to retailers?

As I mentioned in my previous CLO Blog the average gross margin in Retail (globally) has gone from 4.2% in 2006 to 2.4% in 2010 (ref: IMAP’s Retail Industry Global Report 2010). Given this margin compression, and the fact that retailers spend very little of their own money on marketing, you can see why basket discounts are not widely used, but rather targeted. Given that this Wal*Mart incentive is for 5% cash back, it would seem to be somewhat unsustainable. Even worse.. it was given to every Bank of America Customer.

For this 5% cashback offer, Walmart receive no incremental spend, it was my wife’s normal trip to the grocery store. She didn’t even know I registered for this program.

Quiz time. Who funded the BAC WalMart offer?

1) Wal*Mart

2) Cardlytics

3) Bank of America

Yes it is #3 according to my sources. Bank of America is funding almost half of the incentives in their program, and they are not alone. Retailers are not advertising in the CLO space because of issues associated with “lift”, “reach”, targeting and distribution (outlined in my previous blog). BAC is not alone, rumors are that almost 50% of all CLOs are actually funded by the participating banks or even the venture money received by the “platforms”.  Wow..  I had no idea it was this bad.

My guess is that BAC will now have data to take to Wal*Mart and show what incremental spend they drove. Although 0 incremental spend for me, BAC will be able to show WMT that some consumers chose to switch their grocery purchase because of this 5% incentive. This will in turn lead to “targeting” of incentives to particular audiences and also lead PERHAPS to Wal*Mart participation.  I think this is a very smart move by BAC, and they are 3+ years ahead of this on debit.. all of the other banks are chasing the credit side.

The downside is that the retailers know this is a VERY SLIPPERY SLOPE.  Now that WMT participates.. the banks will go to the other grocers to switch them back.. and then these incentives will be an added cost of doing business for all who wish to influence highly elastic customers. The alternative is to target product level incentives to customer (item level) elasticities. This is what the retailers are planning to do outside of the CLO space, and why BAC will find few “takers” for this. Coupons.com is the leader in grocery space with Safeway and WMT, google is close behind with its recent Zave Networks acquisition and Inmar with recently purchase mdot.

Outside of grocery the same dynamic exists.. cards can indeed motivate a switching behavior with some customers.. but is this a Faustian bargain for retailers?

Take aways:

  • Card Linked Offers have a very long way to go
  • CLO Companies and the banks are paying for the incentives
  • BAC is only bank active for CLO on debit
  • … all of the other issues on value proposition mentioned in previous blog

 

 

Digital Wallet Strategies

Today’s wallet initiatives are operating in a very dynamic landscape: retail is changing, technology is changing, new value networks are forming, new marketing platforms are emerging.. The margin is always better in orchestrating the interaction, than in coordinating the transaction. Thus I place my “wallet” bets in the short term with groups that can control the commercial marketplace (ie Apple, Amazon, eBay, Retailers, … ), and with groups that can orchestrate new value propositions (ie. Google, Square, hyperWallet, ..etc).

Warning.. I ramble a bit in this one.

23 March 2012

Description: Mobile Market BreakdownDoes anyone remember Microsoft Wallet circa 1997 (See Wikipedia)? Digital wallets are certainly not a new phenomena. Today we are struck with eWallet saturation: Google Wallet, ISIS Wallet, Visa Wallet, iTunes accounts, Amazon Accounts, Square, PayPal, …  How many places must store all of my credentials?

For my own benefit I thought I would take a brief look at the history to determine what the future may look like (As the future holds the key for my investment decisions). With respect to Wallets, what are they? What are successes and why? What is the consumer value proposition? What are the risks? What does the future hold?

My last blogs on this topic were in November 2009, Investors Guide to Mobile Money, and in 2011 – Tough Start for Mobile Payments.

What is a Digital Wallet?

My all time favorite YouTube video definition is below (Courtesy of Google)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKGptWtzeaU

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKGptWtzeaU]

Proposed Definition: A consumer owned and controlled account that can store any electronic form of what is normally held in a physical wallet, including: payment, ID, coupons, loyalty, access cards, business cards, receipts, keys, passwords, shopping lists, …etc.

This definition sounds broad enough..

As a consumer, what would you think of having multiple physical wallets? I personally don’t have that many people I trust. Trust is a very important element to a consumer. Some of the information in my wallet is sensitive, and there is also a financial risk associated with loss of payment information (particularly outside of the US).  What kind of entity would want to assume the risk of holding all of this information?  Which reminds me of a story,

I was in a Board Meeting with a senior partner of a “Top 3” VC discussing consolidated sign on. A start up was proposing to hold all of the login credentials for all of your bank accounts. As the former internet head for both Wachovia and Citi I had some firm views on the topic and asked “who is going to take the risk if credentials are compromised”? I further explained “it is not a technology problem, but a risk problem.. Bank’s will not let someone keep their Customer’s keys if they can’t insure the risk”. As a side note, I also instituted a policy that if a customer discloses their credentials to anyone, they are responsible for any losses that result (sorry Yodlee).

Within a Digital Wallet, securing information AND giving Consumers the exclusive ability to control what is shared with whom is a challenge (beyond technology and trust). We thus have many limited “Wallets” that are constructed around specific purposes, for example Microsoft’s wallet has evolved to LiveID.  From a pure technology perspective, the mobile phone (with NFC) seems to present an opportunity to provide the Consumer with a device that can uniquely handle the security and authorization aspects of a holistic digital wallet. In my view, the challenges faced by the “phone as wallet” are business related. Per my definition above, a wallet should allow consumers to control what goes in and how it is used. Today we see the carriers (ex ISIS) create a platform based upon their control, allowing only cards that have paid a fee to enter into their wallet. I digress…

What makes for a successful wallet?

Customer Trust, Customer Control, Convenience, Ubiquity (opposite of lock in), Intuitiveness, Experience in Use (buying, redeeming, accessing, ..), Security,

If I have a wallet that only accepts 3 cards that are not accepted at any of the top 20 retailers (ie ISIS), it is of little value. Why not let consumers control what goes in? This is where carriers must get to in order for NFC to survive. Even then, NFC phones are far from my recommendation. After all if your payment information is locked in a mobile phone how do you use it when you are at your computer buying something on Amazon? Locking information in a phone is just plain stupid in the age of the cloud.. most agree that individuals should have a their information in a cloud they control. The NFC zealots reading this blog will respond that it NFC doesn’t require a network and is more reliable… my response, the POS and payment terminals are connected.. NFC doesn’t need to hold the card in the SE.. it just needs some sort of identifier.. or in the Square cardcase example no NFC at all just your voice print. After all if there is no auth from the payment network.. the transaction will not happen.. so something is connected in 99%+ of card transactions.

Consumer Value Proposition

Description: C:UserstomDocumentsPersonalblogIPP_3_clusters_labels.jpgMy primary digital wallet is Amazon, with Paypal as a close #2. The buying experiences are just superb, unfortunately neither extend well into the POS. I have a PayPal debit card I use here.. but I have a hard time justifying why I would use a paypal debit card that pulls money from a pre-funded account which is tied to my Bank of America Checking.. why not just use my BAC Debit Card? I don’t think I’m alone here.. The thought that comes to mind: why do I use PayPal at all? Convenience is certainly a key element, but I also really don’t like giving out all of my personal information to every vendor I do business with.  Why does any vendor need to know my name? Is there a business case for anonymity? For Readers in Germany I know your answer… of course there is.

Most Silicon Valley eWallet business cases are being built around data sharing and “closing the loop”. In a network analysis model, every step away from the optimal consumer experience (control, anonymity, ubiquity,..) impacts broad based adoption.  Alternatively, new value propositions (ex incentives, rewards, loyalty, …) can reverse entropy, but only within specific groups/clusters (that realize the value). Thus a highly fragmented world of wallets, each built around specific functions limited to narrow networks, where customers exercise only limited control and hence participate in a limited fashion.

Risks

My last blog on Payment Risk was associated with Square (I still don’t like the swipe, but I have eaten my shoe now that they have surpassed $4B GDV and have developed CardCase… which I love). Microsoft had grand visions for Wallet and Passport, and pulled back for a number of reasons. Globally, most consumers still have problems putting all of their information in one place. The Fed, OCC, FTC, CPFB, Banks have all been circling around the broad proliferation of consumer data.. what are the risks of having your payment instrument stored with 100s of vendors? While at the The Clearing House’s annual event, I was pinged by a JPM Chase exec.. what will be done to secure payment information?  At the policy level, many believe there is a national security risk in the compromise of our payment systems…  It is something all of the Banks are thinking about.

While cloud based storage of information sounds fantastic… there remains a gap in integrated controls, security and authentication. This is where I see both the US and EU taking action on consumer data access and controls much beyond what is now within PCI. Given today’s technology, there is little reason for any merchant to hold your actual credit card number.. yet it is still the case.

What business incentive is there for any entity to hold “unlimited” sensitive consumer information? If the information cannot be accessed without user consent? All of these factors will shape wallet functionality to either something focused within a given domain, or under complete control of the Consumer.

Wallet Strategies

1) Consumer Friendly.. Single store for all consumer information. Payment, loyalty, reciepts, … The players I see here are Google, Square. (note I acknowledge everyone at PayPal just rolled their eyes and point them to my Disclaimer above). Business case is around customer data access.

2) Marketplace focused. Obvious players here: Starbucks, Rakutan, Amazon, Apple, Paypal, Target Red Card. Objective: Deliver a fantastic customer experience in purchasing within a focused marketplace.

3) Form Factor/Device Focused. Mobile Operators, Card Networks, . Deliver technology and incent buyers/retailers to participate. This is not working out so well, exception is Edy.. may work in markets with dominant carrier.

4) Bank Consortium. We see this more in Europe at the moment, but I believe the US regulatory bodies are pushing banks to work together here.  Much more payment focused, and thus minimal consumer value… Banks/Fed must realize mobile is not about a new form factor, but a new value network.

5) Retail/Transit Consortium.  Transit is already clear leader here in Asia…. Transit actually resembles more of #2.  Where there is only one transit company provider I believe it is.. this Category is defined as one wallet working across multiple retailers.. I look at this as incentives tied to something like a decoupled debit.

6) Commercial. Example outbound payments, payroll distribution, global dividend payments – hyperWALLET.

7) Other???

Future of Wallets

“Limited Wallets” can obviously be very successful: Starbucks, PayPal, Amazon, Apple iTunes, Oyster, Edy, Suica, Octopus, hyperWallet…. But all started around an existing marketplace/system. In order for an independent wallet to thrive it must deliver value within a core network. My approach to evaluating retail payments evolves around a central hypothesis: payments support a commercial system, they are only the last phase of a long marketing, incentive, shopping, selection, and buying process.

Networks are resilient to change, this is both an asset and a hindrance. The value that is delivered within an existing payment network is tied to the commercial system in which it operates. This includes both business agreements AND technology, neither of which are easy to change. As the nature of retail changes (example payments, and incentives across virtual and physical channels) new “value exchange” networks will form. Existing payment networks will certainly attempt to change, but given their distributed ownership, nodal control over rules, and legacy infrastructure it will be “a challenge”.

In the US today, this is what is happening with Google Wallet, Bank initiatives to form “the next Visa” and Large US retailer’s plans to form a new payment network that they control. Today’s wallet initiatives are operating in a very dynamic landscape: retail is changing, technology is changing, new value networks are forming, new marketing platforms are emerging.. The margin is always better in orchestrating the interaction, than in coordinating the transaction. Thus I place my “wallet” bets in the short term with groups that can control the commercial marketplace (ie Apple, Amazon, eBay, Retailers, … ), and with groups that can orchestrate new value propositions (ie. Google, Square, hyperWallet, ..etc).

Have a great weekend… My Asia thoughts are next.

Card Linked Offers Update

Without POS integration AND Retail data sharing this will not work.. the customer experience is terrible, as is the campaign’s restriction on basket level discounts. The ubiquity of cards is attractive.. as is bank data on “Store preferences”…. But both work to the detriment of retailers.

,,,,,,,,

27 March 2012

We see in the press that Google/MA have gone beta with Card Linked Offers, and Bank of America is  about to go live with “BankAmeriDeals”. I last gave an overview of this space back in November in my Card Linked Offers post. For those that haven’t seen it, there is also a must read blog by Reed Hoffman in Forbes on the subject: The Card is the new App Platform.

Here is my blog from 3+ yrs ago – Googlization of Financial Services – outlining data flow. My purpose is mentioning this blog is not to show how smart I am (as an alternate view is already firmly established), but rather to highlight how much my view on the opportunity has changed over the last 3.5 years. As I tell all of the 12 start ups in the CLO space.. if Visa couldn’t get this to work what makes you think that it will be easy for anyone else.

There is a CORE business problem I didn’t realize back then.. merchants don’t like cards and are VERY reluctant to create ANY unique content (offers) where card redemption is REQUIRED.  Further constraining the “capabilities” of CLO is lack of item detail information within the purchase transaction. IBM is the POS for 80% of the worlds to 30 retailers. Take a look at the 4690 overview here, notice what incentive solution is integrated? This was a 5 yr project for Zavers…

A story to illustrate my point on retailer reluctance. As most of you know POS manufactures like IBM, Micros, NCR, Aloha are implementing POS integration solutions similar to what Zavers has done. Most of the CLO companies above are paying the POS manufactures to write an “adapter” that will work within their POS and communicate basket detail information. (ISIS is rumored to have a 200 page Spec for this POS integration as well).  There is a very big difference between having integration capability, and a RETAILERS agreeing to use it (ie share data).  There must be a business value proposition for retailers to move… and I can tell you with a great deal of certainty.. Retailers don’t like the BANK card platform.

I emphasize BANK for a reason.. I was with the CMOs of 3 large retailers a few months ago. When asked what their payment preferences where, they answered without hesitation: Store Card. This is their most profitable product used by their most loyal customers (think private label). Do you think for a moment that a Retailer would deliver “incentives” to customers that are not in this group..  Remember, these PVL loyal customers also hold a number of other bank cards, and there is not much in the way of customer matching between data sets. I think you get my point.

As I stated previously, all offers businesses are highly dependent on targeting. Targeting is dependent on customer data, relevant content, effective distribution (SMS, e-mail, an App), campaign management (A/B testing, offer type, target audience, …). Campaign management is very dependent on feedback.  There are very few companies that can effectively TARGET and DISTRIBUTE.  The current group of CLOs is partnering with the banks to solve the targeting problem (example Catera/Citi, Cardlytics/BAC, …). This is further EXASERBATING the poor Retail adoption. Why? Here is what a CMO told me:

“Tom, lets say a consumer just shops at Nordstrom.. the card network and bank see that I just completed the transaction and now market to them … the advert is “go to Macy’s and save 20% on your next purchase”… Given that they can only offer basket level incentives this is how it must work… Tom do you know what will happen? The customer will return what they just bought and go to Macy’s and get it. How is this good for Retail?”

From an Ad Targeting/Distribution perspective, Mobile Operators certainly have an eye on this ball (mobile phone). But only a few companies like Placecast can actually deliver it for them. MNOs are truly messed up in this marketing space (within the US). If you had the CEOs of Verizon, ATT and ISIS in a room and asked “who owns mobile advertising”?.. ISIS would say nothing if both of the other CEOs were in the room.. They want it.. but no one will give it to them as they can’t execute with what they have in this space.  Verizon would say “many partners”… Their preference would be to sell the platform akin to their $550M search sale to Microsoft in 2009. So VZ wants a $1B+ Ad platform sale… who would compete for that business? I digress.. but what is in place today looks much more like a rev share… Internationally there are carriers with their act together: Telefonica and SingTel (just bought Admobi).

Let me end this CLO diatribe with a customer experience view. Let’s assume I have 12 CLO players.. each partnered with a different bank/network. Also assume that all are heavily dependent on e-mail distribution. I have 6 different cards.. and will be getting at least 6 e-mails per week with basket level discounts. Now assuming that I can keep track of which offer was tied to which card.. and use the card. I’m still left at the POS with a receipt that shows none of these basket level discounts (as they are “credited” to my account after purchase).

Without POS integration AND Retail data sharing this will not work.. the customer experience is terrible, as is the campaign’s restriction on basket level discounts. The ubiquity of cards is attractive.. as is bank data on Consumer “Store preferences”…. But both work to the detriment of retailers. What consumers will see in CLO for some time is the generic 10-20% off your next purchase that will also be available in direct mail campaigns… Let’s just hope that someone can work the double redemption problem…

My read on this for Google is a little different. Google is positioning itself as a neutral platform.. it can do Retailer Friendly.. Bank Friendly… MNO Friendly.. Manufacturer Friendly…  Each will have different adoption dynamics. Google’s objectives are likely: gain insight, be the central platform for marketing spend, be the most effective distributor of content, … . This offer beta would certainly seem to be a “bone” thrown to banks.. hey… here it is … good luck trying to make it work.

WSJ Article – A Retailer Wallet?

There is a tenuous balance to make this work between consumer, retailer, bank, manufacturers, mobile operators.. “Platform effectiveness” or “Consoritum effectiveness” has a strong correlation to: data, reach (distribution), relevancy, effectiveness and control. Just as MNOs are not balanced, neither are Retailers.. Consumers will migrate to where value is delivered. In Retail, selling a commodity good at a higher price is not a winning business model..

3 March

Today’s WSJ Article – Retailers Join Payment Chase

What do Retailers want in mobile? Well they certainly DO NOT want a wallet which they can’t control and is restricted to a containing credit cards, at a cost of 350 bps cost (sorry ISIS). One retailer told it to me this way

“Mobile Operators know how to run dumb pipes, not create business platforms for marketing… their current wallet initiatives are akin to a toll bridge, NFC is their toll booth where they stop me before reaching my customer..  to cross their NFC bridge I have to wait in line and when I arrive at the gate they don’t want $0.50 they want 3.5% of what I’m carrying in my truck, and a copy of the shipping manifest (the customers names I’m going to see in my delivery). This model doesn’t work for me. “

Retail is under assault. Globally retailers have had their gross margins compress from 4.2% in 2006 to 2.4% in 2011. They view mobile as a principle tool that has led to this margin compression. When I go into talk to the majors and say ‘lets talk about mobile’ .. their response is usually something like “yes.. how do we stop it.. can we put disruptors in our store”? Of course there is much shock value here… particularly for Silicon Valley types where everything mobile is good. Read my previous post for more perspective here.

Few people know that ISIS is charging Bank issuers for the privilege of having their cards in the wallet. The only way issuers can make the up front investment is to have a product that pays for itself quickly. That product is a credit card. This means that the ISIS wallet is 100% credit..  for a retailer that has a transaction mix of 30% cash, 40% debit and 30% credit this means adding a payment type that is a 100% mix of its most expensive type. Retailers ask: will this ISIS wallet drive increased spend? Why on earth would I want to do this? For Consumers this means you have to pay with cards that are “privileged” and not the card you want to pay with.  A major advantage for Google is that it lets Consumer decide what is in its wallet. In the Google model, Issuers face no cost in getting their card in the wallet,  Stores can add their own private label or loyalty card.. and anyone can market..  Consumers are in control. Google Wallet is not just about payment.. but about advertising, loyalty and incentives. This point is missed in the mainstream press.

The WSJ article is off on a few points.. Retailers are not focused on the mobile payment side at all (..well perhaps agreeing not to allow bad ideas to get started is agreeing on a wallet strategy.. but in a negative sense).

What are Retailers looking for?

  • Mobile as a tool for enriching the customer marketing, shopping and purchasing experience.
  • Ability to deliver above to ALL Consumers.. not just ones with the latest phones
  • Retailer friendly protection of sensitive consumer information
  • Lowest cost payment (Google is the only entity that allows customer and retailer to store ANY card.. example paypal does not support store private label)
  • Integration with loyalty and marketing programs

A consortium of highly competitive Retailers face that same challenges that a consortium of highly competitive Mobile Operators do.. Neither will work unless they can deliver value.  Individual companies do not excel in designing business platforms that benefit others, and are therefore very myopic.  Consumer’s are very reluctant to use a retailer’s own app while they shop or checkout… For example if I was shopping in Target,  why would I use Target’s iPhone app for price comparison? will I get the same results as Amazon’s?

What should you expect from Retailers?

  • A defensive play.  Retailers are well positioned to slow adoption of technologies that don’t make sense for them. There is a high degree of collaboration among retailers here .. most of it resulting from their success in pushing back on interchange in various markets (recently Durbin in the US).
  • Something that makes financial sense for them.. FAST. Given their margins.. they have no flexibility in making investments that don’t have a solid plan. Just as the MNOs look to card interchange.. Retailers also look to 3rd parties like CPGs (think trade spend and coupons) to fund consumer facing initiatives.
  • Cost reduction is usually more of a focus than sales creation.. this is particularly true when competitors get together in a consortium. I’m not going to say much more here.. but I think you get my point. For example, if I enabled ACH payment on my loyalty card.. I would take interchange from $0.21 debit down to $0.04…  Target has done this with their Red Card.. a FANTASTIC product. http://tomnoyes.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/redcard/
  • Customer control. Retailers want to own the consumer shopping process… or at least feel like they own it.  Quite frankly Google has built the platform to enable this, but Retailers are concerned about data.

There is a tenuous balance to make mobile work in retail. This balance is between: Consumer, Retailer, Bank, Manufacturers, Mobile Operators, Advertisers, ..  “Platform effectiveness” or “Consoritum effectiveness” has a strong correlation to: data, reach (distribution), relevancy, effectiveness and control. Just as MNOs are not balanced, neither are Retailers.. Consumers will migrate to where value is delivered. In Retail, selling a commodity good at a higher price is not a winning business model.. I consider myself fortunate to work with many of these groups, what is most ironic is that each group views a consumer as 100% owned by them.  My position is that NO ONE owns the consumer… that consumers are driven by value and will change their behavior when value is delivered.

In my view, a neutral party ( like Google, Apple and MSFT) are much better positioned to bring participants together. Neutral Parties are akin to public highways with optional services.. They are not picking sides.. or forcing you to stop at the toll booth and hand over a percentage of your merchandise to complete a  “commerce” process.

—- Addendum

BTW I admit that I’m a fan of Google. It is my baseline because nothing else is in the US market (POS Payment with phone).. and Retailers love them. It is the only company I know of that has Retailers calling them to request a visit.. why? Google delivers sales.

Great example of collaboration is Google Local Product Search (http://www.google.com/intl/en_us/products/local.html).  Stores can choose to share store level product inventory. Think of how sensitive this data is.. what you are selling in which store (0r just a binary in/out of stock). Retailers love this function and enthusiastically share this data with Google because it improves the way consumers choose a physical retailer from an online search. It drives sales. Payment is only the last transaction in a long research, marketing, shopping, selection process.

Your feedback appreciated.

Coupon Overload?

Well, FSIs and Card networks have finally gotten in the coupon/rebate game.. well sort of. Most have implemented along the lines of what I wrote about 2 years ago (See Googlizaiton of FS). Exception is Bank of America.. they have the best bank service by far. Merchant level incentives (ex 15% off your next purchase) seem to be the focus of Visa and Amex’s new service. Cardlytics provide a generic white label service along these lines to over 50 banks today (with much better usage than Visa/Amex).

Best Bank Coupon Service? Bank of America wins hands down

FSIs and Card networks have finally gotten in the coupon/rebate game..  sort of. Most have implemented along the lines of what I wrote about 2 years ago (See Googlizaiton of FS). Exception is Bank of America.. they have the best bank service by far.  Merchant level incentives (ex 15% off your next purchase) seem to be the focus of Visa and Amex’s LevelUp service. Cardlytics provide a generic white label service along these lines to over 50 banks today (with much better usage than Visa/Amex). From my previous blog above, the general flow:

1. Customer registers for service (credit card, mobile, ..) Accepts terms that allows for delivery of x advertisements  per month

2. Card Network acts as agency, coordinating merchants, promos and marketing spend

  • Merchants pre-pay for campaign settlement account
  • Cardlytics develop target promo and bid criteria: customer location, demographic, event transaction, …
  • A campaign function sits at “Network Switch”, listens to transaction traffic
  • Card transaction events are triggered based upon card registration status
  • Event gets sent to campaign engine.  AD triggered based upon criteria (Example. Shop at EXAMPLESTORE in next 5 hours and get 20% back)

3.  Redemption/ notification – Redemption server monitors transactions at Switch or at Bank Issuer Auth server

  • If Card transaction is for registered card it is sorted
  • Redemption engine finds that it Ad was sent to it, determines if transaction at EXAMPLESTORE meets threshold
  • If it is met, Campaign engine kicks transaction to MerchantAdvert service which bills merchant for AD and debits account for 10% credit plus fee.
  • Engine issues 10% credit to customer’s card account
  • Engine debits merchant account for fee + redemption amount
  • Notification message sent to customer that their card account has been credited for purchase and 10% discount.

Good news for merchants is that they pay only for purchases. Great CPA here. But a very poor customer experience.. getting credit either directly to your card.. or in Amex’s new program to a separate pre-paid card. Other limitation is that there can be no item level discounts.

Quite frankly I like Bank of America’s service much, much better. They are light years ahead of the other banks thanks to the efforts of people like Joe Giordano. Today, Bank of America customers can click on a coupon in coupons.bankofamerica.com and when you go to the grocery store, the discount item comes right off your bill. The company behind this is Zave Networks. Just fantastic stuff. Zave was the only company in IBM’s booth at the National Retail Federation (NRF) show. Given that IBM has 19 of the world’s top 20 retailers using its POS;. it is little wonder that IBM has embedded Zave in their OS.

Having run the online channel at 2 of the top 5 banks, I have a little idea of customer behavior and preferences. Banking customers visit frequently and may be able to have uptake of incentives, card customers have terrible online usage.. (1-2 times per month).. which is why the card companies are launching mobile services in cards so aggressively: they are trying to establish a new mobile behavior (ex mobile alerts on balances). The card coupon/incentive approach seems to have substantial risk, particularly when considering the poor customer interaction (on credit card), together with the very narrow market for incentives (apparel, restaurants), the competencies of the bank teams groups (campaign management) and customer preferences for debit.

Colloquy.com estimates that Banks and travel related industry spend about $48B per year on loyalty. Banks are running coupons programs primarily out of their existing “rewards” groups… with the hope of juicing rewards, as they reduce costs. With Debit interchange going down to $0.12 you can see the importance here.. either no rewards program at all, or one that is funded by another source. With Credit, loyalty programs are the primary customer driver both for card selection and use. Bank driven loyalty programs typically focus on redemption, not on the front side of selection. In other words, banks do not touch a customer prior to a purchase, but incent them afterwards.

From a retailer’s perspective what is the value of participating in a bank run a loyalty program?  Segments like apparel may gain traffic, but do you want your bank sending you an SMS ad for 10% off a nearby retailer/resturant everytime you pump gas? Possible, but more likely you will use the offerings from Google, Apple, Microsoft integrated with maps and comparison pricing. 10% off what? What do they have that I need? Most retailers are not big fans of banks, or their “incentive” plans. There are exceptions, particularly in apparel and restaurants (note restaurants are not considered retail). Overall this is less than $5B of $750B in US Marketing spend. I give the bank led initiatives about 6 months. When Google, Apple and MSFT come in with much richer services and focused teams. How many banks do you know with an campaign management group? … exactly. Visa had a tough time expanding into eCommerce (hence the CYBS acquisition), what makes them think they can run an advertising agency?

Sorry Amex, Visa, Cardlytics, FreeMonee, … Card driven models will have a very short life span. Exception is BofA both because of the bank (deposit) driven model and because of the item level integration with a partner (Zave/IBM) that knows retail. BAC will likely continue reign as  king of debit.. and even gain momentum.