Friday November 22, 2019

Different directions

Ecommerce is heading in exciting directions for both businesses and consumers, yet, in some cases, the basics need to be embraced, writes Quinton O’Reilly

5th May, 2019

Marc O’Dwyer, chief executive, Big Red Cloud

Irish companies are still a step behind their European and American counterparts,” said Marc O’Dwyer, chief executive of Big Red Cloud. “They’re catching up pretty quickly, but I would suggest that about a third of small businesses haven’t gotten down to [discovering] what benefits there are for them in ecommerce and to gain extra revenue for their business by having a proper ecommerce website.”

It’s something that Michele Neylon, chief executive of Blacknight, mentions as well for different reasons. Many companies are focused on having social media profiles as they’re easier to maintain, but doing that alone means they’re missing a trick.

“The biggest issue I see on a day-to-day basis is a lot of companies, both large and small, still don’t fully appreciate controlling their own destiny,” he said.

“They’re overly reliant on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, all of these kind of things, and while it makes sense to incorporate that into a marketing strategy for your online presence, you need to have your own online presence that you control.

“[If] someone recommends a particular restaurant or shop to you and you go off and see if you can find out more about them and if they do have a website, they probably haven’t updated it in six or seven years and if they don’t have their own website, they might have a Facebook page.

“That’s a starting point, there’s a lot of small businesses that haven’t made that step.”

Neylon said that this could be partly the industry’s fault as, for a while, setting up a website was a more technical pursuit, with some tech know-how required to set yourself up.

Now a lot of the mystery and heavy lifting has been taken away from it thanks to website builders, the ease of purchasing domain names and the speed in which you can create a website.

“The technology has evolved massively, it’s more accessible, it’s a lot easier, and the important thing is the cost. It’s not as expensive as it used to be,” said Neylon. “You can go down the route of using a third party . . . but most of the hosting providers like ourselves, we’re offering similar services for a couple of euro a month so we’re talking about the price of a couple of coffees.

“For the same money [to buy a coffee] per month . . . you can get a domain name so you have a way of describing your business and you have your own little slice of the internet that you control. If you’re just relying on FB or one of the others, you’re the product.”

To sell online

As much as setting up a website has become easier, so too have the tools needed to sell your goods or services. The tools are now there and there are multiple payment systems like PayPal and Stripe which will plug into your site with minimum fuss.

That said, not every business is suited to the idea of selling online, there are some businesses where displaying prices makes more sense than selling as it’s not a quantifiable good or service they’re selling.

“There are other companies out there that are offering different types of experiences for people who are selling, but a lot of smaller businesses, what they’re missing at the moment is an online presence that they can control.

“[Some people] believe that every small business should be selling online, I don’t think that’s true . . . [for example] a pub you go to on a Friday night, they need an online presence, but that online presence is going to be about their opening times, special events that they’re holding. They won’t be selling anything, as it were.

“And that’s before you start taking into account the many other channels that have opened up thanks to 24/7 shopping. Comparing the world to 20 years ago, the very nature of payments has changed substantially to meet this demand.”

Marc O’Dwyer, chief executive, Big Red Cloud

It’s an exciting time for ecommerce, says the global head of payment at EPAM, Alistair Brown, but it’s one that requires a lot of change from traditional industries such as the banking sector.

“We need omnichannel, so we need to be able to do it through our mobiles, desktops, perhaps televisions and maybe other methods involving IoT, Alexa and so on,” said Brown.

“Suddenly we have this massive explosion of dynamic development activity and it’s an exciting time, but it’s also an opportunity for the existing banking infrastructure to update. A lot of the old legacy stuff needs to be either ripped and replaced, which is expensive, difficult or painful, or at least in some way radically modified and optimised, so certainly we can do stuff in real-time.”

Brown says that payment in real-time is “one of the great holy grails here” and creating a system that is both invisible and seamless is a real challenge.

There have been some experiments in this field, the most noticeable one being Amazon which trialled a bricks-and-mortar store where you could walk in, pick up items and walk out knowing that the store had taken note of the items taken and charged you for them.

“It’s a time saver and everybody benefits from that because effectively there’s a full increase for getting in and out of the building much faster,” he said. “You don’t have to queue in a checkout place because so and so is talking about whatever and it takes 27 minutes instead of three. There’s a massive gain to the organisation doing the selling, but also the customer is happier because it’s a quicker experience.”

Alternative methods

Technology is influencing purchases in more ways than just ecommerce, with alternative methods of payment — one of which is Flexi-Fi, which uses a Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) model.

By letting customers choose the amount they want to borrow, they can purchase items now and pay the amount back over weeks or months — if the value is over €500, there will be interest included. Provided you meet the criteria required, are over 18 and have an annual income of at least €21,000, you can use the service.

PJ Byrne, chief executive of FlexiGroup Ireland, says that while it has a focus on bricks and mortar services, its service is very much designed for the online world.

“Just because the shop door closes, it shouldn’t mean that business operations close until the next morning,” he said. “Our finance product is now also available to online consumers. This is the new way of doing business and our digital product suits all retailers, big and small.”

Jumping into PSD2

The jump from the basics to what’s coming up on the bleeding edge is a big one, something that will be shaken up as Strong Customer Authentication (SCA) comes into play in September as part of the new Payment Service Directive (PSD2).

With companies like Stripe already launching a new billing platform to take advantage of this, it will impact other industries like the accounting services offered by Big Red Cloud.

“That is something we’re keeping an eye on because the last piece of the jigsaw is the payments directly into the bank account of the company that has their ecommerce site live,” said O’Dwyer. “It’s another step taken away from the laborious inputs and outputs that they need on a daily basis, that will be automated through AI and link with the banks through PSD2.”

PJ Byrne chief executive officer, Flexigroup Ireland Group

It can be easy to look at this from how customers will interact with the new legislation, but it will have a major impact on those related to the banking and fintech industry. For O’Dwyer, it’s just another thing they have to be on the ball with so they meet customer demand.

“Those who haven’t embraced commerce, they’re falling behind . . . but the people who are ahead of the game need to be looking at automation,” he said. “So using AI to bring in invoices automatically, that’s something that’s going to become more prevalent going forward.

“There is a chance that digitalisation of accounting is going to become more relevant as the years go on so it’s something they may need to make themselves aware of now.

In his line of work, Brown has worked with many companies on the subject of PSD2 where one challenge is how this new world of openness will clash with GDPR, which encourages the opposite.

Coming up with a solution that satisfies both sets of regulations will be difficult, but there is a reason why PSD2 came into play.

“Openness is highly desirable but, at the same time, the reason for PSD2 . . . is to give customers greater protection,” said Brown.

“As they were ratifying for PSD1, it became clearer across all 28 EU states that the customer wasn’t that adequately protected and there was so much done at the time with fin tech disrupting existing payment models that they effectively had to rethink again and rewrite it.

“Anti-fraud companies should be right up there selling their wares, bringing in new solutions and using predictive machine learning, against big data mashes in order to predict behaviour.”

The same thing is applied to Flexi-Fi thanks to its partnership with Mitek, a digital identity verification provider whose technology allows it to verify identity documents of end customers.

It’s one example of the measures it takes, said Byrne, but he stresses the importance of following security and data protection measures.

“We take data protection and identity verification very seriously, and consequently we invest heavily in robust systems, procedures and policies,” he said. “It clearly is important to manage data protection and security well within any business, and for that reason we only partner with retailers who share our data protection value-system.

“While some companies fear GDPR, Flexi-Fi see it as an opportunity to mark us out as a brand that can be trusted.”

Similarly, being trusted with people’s financial data and wellbeing is crucial, too, and will be a common theme as more companies embrace not just ecommerce, but the different methods and channels expected of them.

“We are all about responsible lending and we care about our customers’ financial well-being,” said Byrne. “These crucial elements are the bedrock of our business. We also understand the need to give customers the freedom to buy what they want now and pay later while giving them the power and access to decide their payment plan term and the amount they require.”

Creating flexibility

Innovations in ecommerce also create different methods of paying. One of which is Flexi-Fi, which operates on a Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) model.

Flexibility is at the heart of what it offers and by combining that with a seamless process and high-end retailers like Harvey Norman and Compu b, it offers a significant amount of leeway.

Alistair Brown global head of payment at EPAM

“Our product features are increasingly attractive to retailers who are embracing our digital point-of-sale finance offering available to consumers within Ireland,” said PJ Byrne, the chief executive of FlexiGroup Ireland. “It’s a seamless process, is consumer friendly and that is a key differentiator for Flexi-Fi in a competitive market-place.

“Our rapid growth in retail outlets countrywide is a testament to that unique selling point and every day we have increasing volumes of calls from businesses wanting to sign up because they recognise our products give them an advantage in challenging trading conditions.”

Using a verification process to determine whether a person is eligible to use their service, it allows them to walk away with the item of choosing and pay later. The fact that it also can be incorporated into the online world as well as bricks-and-mortar stores adds to the flexibility.

“With our online and instore offering we can arguably help customers purchase what they want 24 hours a day,” said Byrne. “Consumers like this and they remain loyal to us

“Just because the shop door closes it shouldn’t mean that business operations close until the next morning. [We’ve] responded to this customer demand so our finance product is now also available to online consumers. This is the new way of doing business and our digital product suits all retailers, big and small.”

Location, location, location

Innovation isn’t solely represented by new devices, ideas or methods, but also by the process of uncovering new ways to do things.

Another method that ecommerce can embrace is personalisation. Brown mentions the idea that innovation isn’t new devices or ideas, but the process of uncovering new ways to do things.

One which can be used is GPS, which if combined with payment data collection can end up personalising notifications or offers based on how close you are to a particular business. Using a mixture of history and predictions can help you craft offers or ideas for individual customers.

“If you’re walking down the street, it’s quite possible because I have a mobile phone to detect them and know where they are,” he said. “The understanding of his previous payment behaviour, you can get a text prompt saying you’re about to arrive within about 50 metres of a place you bought a new shirt two months ago.

“That predicted thing is brilliant for optimising those different organisations’ revenue because they get the customers with the right targeting in the right place to repeat their behaviour. That’s a powerful one and we’re all moving towards that.”

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