The Credit Card Is The New App Platform
We’re at the early stages of a massive wave of innovation in the payment industry. It’s like when Apple launched the iOS platform for mobile developers. The platform in this case is the payment network. Software developers will add new capabilities to cards by programming the payment network to link online applications to specific payment events. Consumers will be able to effectively “drag and drop” apps to their smart cards in the same way that they add apps to their smart phones today.
We’re big believers at Greylock in the future of “online to offline” commerce, and we’re seeing a ton of innovation in this space. One of our portfolio companies, CardSpring, announced a major partnership with First Data earlier this week. We’ve invested in several other “online to offline” commerce companies including Coupons.com, Groupon, Shopkick, Swipely, TrialPay and Wrapp. And there are many other companies innovating in the space, including startups like Square, and established companies like Google, American Express and Visa.
For all of the attention focused on online commerce, the market opportunity for “online to offline” commerce is way bigger. Online commerce is now a $200 billion industry, but it’s still small compared to offline transactions. Up to 70% of consumer spending is influenced by Web and mobile research, but over 90% of actual transactions are still conducted in the physical world. Several major industries are motivated to see this new app developer ecosystem take flight. Retail marketers know they can advertise more efficiently if they can actually track and close the redemption loop from online browsing to offline buying. Major consumer internet and financial services companies are also highly motivated, as they see a path to greater advertising and promotion-based revenue if they can demonstrate more marketing value through closing the loop. Online budgets that are directed at social ad campaigns will further expand as consumers share experiences connected to their offline card transactions, including reviews and gifting. So what will be the impact of this emerging app platform on the card carrying public?
Expanded memory: If you’re like most people, it’s hard to keep track of all of your paper and plastic. With cloud-connected cards, you can clear out your desk drawer or wallet. Instead of holding on to that Red Lobster gift card, REI loyalty card and printed Groupon deal, you can add these to your card, and receive benefits automatically when you make a purchase. You can also store a digital receipt or warranty on your card rather than keeping these in a filing cabinet in the basement. You’ll be kind of like Bradley Cooper in “Limitless”, without the creepy smile or the terrible side effects.
New spending habits: The ads and offers that you receive today via the Web and mobile are mostly blind to how you’re actually spending your money in the physical world. As these databases are more intelligently connected, the offers you receive will become significantly more relevant and compelling, based on where you spend your actual time and money. Note to payment network innovators: it’s critical that these programs are introduced in a way that protects consumer privacy and retains consumer trust.
Our spending habits tend to be just that, habits. So if you drink coffee at Starbucks three times a week but never try any of their food, you’ll receive an offer to try one of their fruit plates. Or if you buy gas at a Shell Station on your way to work once a week, you’ll be offered a better deal at the Texaco that is right across the street. The discount you receive from a merchant may also vary based on how hard they think your existing habits are to break. Merchants will be able to dynamically manage supply and demand in their local market by testing real-time what types of discounts and offers they need to offer so as to acquire foot traffic. So Supercuts might offer “40% off” if your historical buying patterns are concentrated 5 miles away, and “10% off” if your transactions are centered 5 blocks away.
Validated check-ins and reviews: One potential downside of most consumer review sites is that published opinions are dominated by a small, vocal minority. There’s value in getting a broader sampling of people to share their views. A growing percentage of reviews on sites like Yelp and check-ins on sites like Foursquare will over time be tied to actual transaction activity. When you and your friends buy, you’ll be asked via email or text message if you’d like to check-in or provide a review. As a result, more customers will provide feedback and recommendations, and the information they provide will be better validated, in connection with actual transaction activity. A review or check-in will carry additional weight when it’s been validated.
Quantified self: The “quantified self” is an emerging trend in the digital health space. Early adopters and fitness buffs are wearing devices like Fitbits and Nike FuelBands to track their heart rates, calories burned, quality of sleep and more, so that they can measure and improve their health and performance. The cloud-connected credit card will also deliver a stream of valuable intelligence based on your transaction behavior. Your health data stream alone could include how much of your diet is fast food, how often you actually visited your health club, and how many times you stopped for coffee (aka “your caffeinated self”). Your appified card can also deliver you informed insights on your spending activities across other life categories so that you can optimize decisions and be your best self.
Status Redefined: Today you receive mostly siloed benefits, based on your transaction history with a single company. So for example, you may get upgraded to first class on United Airlines or you may get access to the Red Carpet Club if you’ve amassed status through flying a hundred thousand miles with United. But in the evolving world of rewards, United might try to win you over with compelling offers if you are a high value traveler who currently travels mostly with other airlines, or they might offer you rewards if you’re someone who has especially high influence through your online social activity. You’ll earn points on your appified card based upon your reviewing, liking, pinning and sharing, and you’ll gain status with retailers and brands for reviewing and promoting what you believe in.
It’s an exciting time in the payments industry. There are several hundred million people in the U.S. walking around with plastic in their wallets. Developers are now poised to build and launch a wide range of promising new applications to super-charge these cards. Game on!
This is a guest post written by Reid Hoffman, Ali Rosenthal and James Slavet from Greylock Partners.