Random Thoughts: Settlement, NFC and CLO

My bet on retailer plans? Well they are not exactly a small group marching in unison, so response will likely differ by segment, ticket size, purchase type (ex non-discretionary gas) and influence.

16 July 2012

Retail settlement

As most of you have read a $7.25B settlement was reached with some US retailers (led by Kroger, Safeway, Payless, Rite-Aid). I’m not going into depth on the settlement but rather the likely response by retailers, and potential impact on Visa/MA earnings.  The big retailers have been assuming that this settlement would be reached and have been in the midst of a plan. What would you do if someone was taking 3% of your sales and your average profit margin was 2.4% (ref page Aii IMAP Study)?  Well the retailers have plans to leverage a portion of this $6B windfall and invest it in a payment network they can control. Perhaps they should turn around and buy Discover (DFS market cap $18B). This rumor has been in the market (perhaps a driver of 2012 performance).

The US has 2 other countries which serve as benchmarks for a shift away from credit card at POS: Canada (Interact – debit launched 1994) and Australia (EFTPOS). Unfortunately I have limited information on Visa/MA transactions in these geographies to generate a decent analysis of spend shift. From http://www.interac.ca/media/stats.php we see in Canada that roughly 80% of all retail card present transaction are done via Interact (2011 GDV was $182B). I’m not implying a 40% hit to Visa’s GDV is imminent (US is $507B out of global $956B GDV for quarter 31Mar12), particularly since there is no competing network like Ineract (YET). But there are certainly references for success.

I presented some of the Retail Drivers last week and also in my March post (Retailer Wallet). My bet on retailer plans? Well Retailers are not exactly a small group marching in unison, so response will likely differ by segment, ticket size, purchase type (ex non-discretionary gas) and influence.

Gas/Automotive

  • Credit card use fee in 2-4 months nationally

Grocery

  • Slower roll.. we will see marketing to inform customers of the costs of credit and plans to implement a fee for use of credit cards
  • We will also see tests of fees in isolated stores/geographies. Not only assessing customer issues, but also competitive responses.
  • Loyalty cards that will be integrated into a payment system
  • Loyalty cards that have integrated digital wallet (WalMart issued a Digital Coupon RFP over 18 months ago).
  • Incentives dependent on payment type
  • Push for PIN Debit.. as it allows the retailer to route away from Visa/MA directly to the bank.

Big Ticket Retail

  • No fee likely as they benefit from access to consumer credit
  • “Carrot Trials” of Rewards programs and targeted offers will be contingent on payment type
  • New loyalty cards

Apparel / Luxury

  • Least likely to implement a fee.. wait for other stores to establish customer behavior.

Travel/Entertainment

  • No fee likely…
  • Discounts for debit, particularly with airlines.
Visa/MA impact. Minimal through 2012, but could result in negative US transaction growth by 2014 unless networks are successful in delivering some sort of retailer friendly service.

NFC

I’m still just laughing at the mainstream press’ reaction to Apple iPhone 5 plans. Perhaps I should crying at the disinformation that mobile payments (at POS) are taking off. Everyone should ask: what kind of mobile payments?… Transit/ticketing is a slam dunk for NFC technology, yet NFC is having problems (witness London TFL’s decision to defer). Other mobile payments segments which are doing quite well: mCommerce with Amazon reporting around $2B, Digital goods with Zynga leading the category around $1.2B (investor relations).

But the mobile payments at the physical POS? This has not even started. (update.. Starbucks is clear leader here)

I don’t know how much more bluntly I can educate the NFC aficionados, but retailers have not gone gaga over mobile POS payments.. In fact I will state that Payment is not the killer app for NFC.. payment delivers NO VALUE to the Retailer.

For all of you looking at Apple’s patents and thinking they will eventually put NFC in… here is news for you: every one of the patent claims could be fulfilled by Bluetooth (replacing NFC). In order for NFC to take off, the carriers must let go of control (see my long blog here on MNOs walled garden strategy). There is nothing wrong with NFC technology, but unless the carriers are willing to front all investment for retailers, consumers, marketing , …  this will never take off. There is a value proposition problem (payments only) AND a control problem.  The US MNOs won’t even work with Google who has built everything for free.. free is not good enough for them….  They want control…

Card Linked Offers

I have new stories of just how bad the open rates are on these offers, but most revolve around a central problem. It goes something like this

1) Banks want to get consumers interested in offers. The consumer experience is TERRIBLE (no discount on the receipt) and banks are experimenting with 3 types of distribution. Integrated into online banking (Bank of America), e-mail, and secure messaging.

2) Retailers are not buying basket level discount advertising.. they never have. Retailers must pay for the offer (15% back), the revenue share (% of margin) AND the tax on the offer since it is technically treated as a retailer rebate. Total Retail cost for the offer is approaching 25%.

3) Given lack of retailer participation, Banks (and the offer companies) are thus forced to create offers themselves with no retailer participation (see my WalMart Story)

4) Banks do not want to let consumers go with “no offers” so all available inventory is distributed to “everyone”

5) The poor targeting (universal distribution) has a twofold effect: Consumers see garbage offers and start to tune out the channel, retailers see poor lift in performance as the offer redemption is done by existing customers that would have normally come to store

I could go on.. the exception to the rule of CLOs is Card Spring.. I like them quite a bit. Also Linkable just purchased the assets of Offermatic, which will enable them to link offers across card networks (using Yodlee)..

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.