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business e-commerce Podcast product Retail technology

Mastercard: Creating experiences beyond transactions

Mastercard is on a mission to curate and create priceless experiences that money cannot buy, says Raja Rajamannar, CMO of the company, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast.

While credit cards have historically been about giving consumers speed and convenience, over the past couple of decades they have made strides into becoming an integral part of how consumers live their lives.

“We are a lifestyle brand. Lifestyle doesn’t mean it’s lifestyle for the rich and famous -lifestyle for everyone,” explains Rajamannar. “Everyone deserves to lead a beautiful life and to grow.”

On the one hand there’s the fact the technology is more seamless – gone is the swiping and signing, and in is the tapping and dipping. And if you’re shopping online, digital wallets mean you don’t even need to remember your password.

But on top of that today are perks focusing on giving consumers exclusive access to events, services and treats that help create an even deeper emotional connection between brand and participant.

A few years ago, Mastercard noticed a change in consumer behavior and strategically shifted its advertising spend into experiences. It now hosts over 750 experiences on any given day globally, from recreating the iconic The Rock restaurant from Zanzibar in NYC’s Tribeca, to enabling card holders to shadow Cirque du Soleil cast members in Canada. This strategy is based on addressing key consumer passion points, ranging from music and sports to the environment and philanthropy.

During this episode, Rajamannar explores creating emotional connections, gives advice to brands on how to drive loyalty through having a clear purpose, and reveals an industry first: why the brand is launching a sonic identity.

Listen here: Entale | Spotify |  Apple Podcasts | Android Google Podcasts | Stitcher | RSS

Catch up with all of our episodes of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by the Current Global, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more. 

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business Comment e-commerce Editor's pick Retail Startups technology

6 rules for retail innovation

Innovation is one of those words that is often misconstrued in retail. Those who avoid it, claim they want to stay away from gimmicks. And those who love it, often use it as a PR-driven initiative or as an opportunity for technology to be deployed without much strategy. 

Sadly, innovation in retail has been largely about bells and whistles and not true fundamental change. 

Innovation in its true sense of the word – implementing new approaches to generate a different result – should be critical for anyone operating a major retailer or brand today. But it’s definitely not. A recent study by Gartner shows companies typically allocate 90% of their tech budget to “keeping the lights on”, or indeed what we can call ‘incremental innovation’, and only 10% to that which is deemed transformative.

The question then is how do you get it right? And how do you do it to bring progress and actual results? Frankly, the first step is to move away from old approaches. Over the past decade, numerous retailers around the world have introduced internal labs, accelerator programs and incubators. And what we’ve seen time and again, is that while such programs start strong and sharp, over time they are devoured and diminished by surrounding day-to-day business processes. The outcome even with the right intention, tends to only be marginal. 

What the industry needs is a new mindset and a willingness for new ways of working. 

We believe innovation should be actionable by connecting the right strategies to the right solutions, and closely managing integrations to make them a reality. This ties to our mission of solving challenges and facilitating change. So here are six rules for industry executives to follow to make this a reality:

1/ Validate the challenge

Deploying solutions without a defined problem is an unproductive method of innovation. It’s too easy to get lost in a sea of internal objectives and cost-cutting exercises while forgetting about what your customers really desire or need. 

To successfully determine the challenge, you must align on a united vision. Innovation internally is hard – it’s often political and frequently siloed. The best case studies out there have come from companies who have validated their roadmaps through a process of internal buy-in so they can achieve a common goal.

2/ Bring the outside in

Establishing a team that can bring different perspectives, both from outside the industry and in, as well as varied cross-disciplinary inputs, is always going to lead to greater results. New ideas come from diversity of thought – taking different things that work from other experiences, and making a new recipe out of them. It’s about getting outside your own department and making sure you have people from other parts of the company involved. Cross-pollination leads to the best ideas and strongest results. 

It’s for this reason we believe in the notion of “open innovation”: stepping outside of the internal model of building to co-create with a broader innovation ecosystem. It’s about resource and expertise coming in from experts on the outside, connected to ideas from around the globe. And it’s about increasing your chances of success by leveraging the knowledge and harnessing the success of others.

3/ Avoid the one-trick pony

The most successful projects should be updated over time, as opposed to achieving one incremental thing for a singular moment. This is about PR being the icing on the cake and not the cake itself. 

We all know innovation should have a broader goal, and often the challenge is convincing stakeholders to invest in the long term, laying the groundwork so that you gain economies of scale, not to mention scale itself, for every integration. It’s better to deploy two technologies with a clear purpose and defined ROI, then 10 pilots without strategy or buy-in.

4/ Mentor your partners

Simply put, you can’t treat startup partners like traditional vendors. These are companies big and small that provide collaborative partnerships. It’s crucial to work in a more hands-on sense, and to get help to manage these integrations if your own bandwidth is limited. 

Even when it is clear what value a technology brings to a retailer, partnerships fail due to cultural differences and conflicting expectations. To avoid this, try making time to offer your mentorship to these partners. Startups are not going to necessarily understand how to navigate your red tape or be as flexible with payments or delivery deadlines being moved. But with a strong connection in place, they could give you opportunities to co-create a brand new offering or be first to market with a technology.

5/ Empower your store teams

One of the biggest missteps with innovation is the idea of dumping new tech into store, for instance, without fully training or driving advocacy among employees. New technologies are worthless without buy-in and understanding to help things work smoothly and ensure shopper engagement. In-store, we’ve seen this with everything from smart mirrors to immersive experiences. 

This is simply about demonstrating the benefits in place for sales associates. If all this piece of tech does is add more to the checklist of things they need to do and doesn’t help their day-to-day relationship with the customer, it won’t interest them to help you as a retailer. Innovation ultimately needs to be enhancing the lives of those who have to use the tech.

6/ Calculated risks are better than failure

Innovation is usually associated with experimentation and accepting the Silicon Valley notion of ‘failure’. We’ve seen retailers trying to emulate this approach by investing in labs and incubators that fail to impact the bottom line. After all, retail corporate culture doesn’t believe in the “luxury” of merely trialing projects that won’t lead to actual results. 

So how can you test and learn with more of a conservative mindset? We believe there is a way to strategize calculated risks that allow learning and innovation to take place. Setting out a clear path of KPIs and objectives from the get-go with real measurements is the smarter way to ensure success. There’s no way around it – true innovation today is about results.

How are you thinking about retail innovation? The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Each of the rules referenced above is matched by one of our products and services. Interested in how? Get in touch to learn more.

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product technology

bPay partners with seven watch brands to introduce contactless payments

bPay contactless payment technology
bPay contactless payment technology

bPay, the wearable technology solution from Barclays bank, has announced partnerships with seven watch brands – GUESS Watches, Mondaine, Timex, Kronaby, Suunto, ADEXE and LBS – to embed payment technology into traditional timepieces and fitness trackers.

The new watches will be showcased at this year’s watch and jewellery trade show, Baselworld, this week in Switzerland.

Launches include six new contactless watches by Guess; eight new styles for both men and women from Timex; LBS will be launching the ‘TapStrap’, a contactless payment strap that can be fitted to any watch with the most common strap sizes; and Suunto, which specializes in sports watches, will create a bPay-enhanced fitness style launching this spring.

“Consumer appetite for wearable payments is reaching critical mass, and we’re proud to be meeting this growing demand with the help of our industry-leading partners,” says Adam Herson, business development director of Barclays Mobile Payments. “Thanks to the range of products these agreements will bring to market, customers will be able to buy a watch or fitness tracker that not only suits their taste, but also unlocks benefits of speed and ease in everyday purchases.”

Recent data from Barclaycard’s Contactless Spending Index shows that spending via bPay surged by 129% year-on-year in 2017. The company claims ‘touch and go’ contactless payments save seven seconds per transaction when compared to chip and PIN.

Since 2015, bPay has been patterning with then UK-based fashion brands on bringing payment technology to accessories, such as launching a line of accessories with Topshop. For more on payment technology, listen to our episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast with Alipay’s Souheil Badran.

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Editor's pick Podcast

Gadi Amit on designing human-led wearables that evoke connections

Gadi Amit & Liz Bacelar
Gadi Amit & Liz Bacelar

In an increasingly digital world, designing physical products that are genuinely useful and evoke an emotion from the consumer, is a tough challenge, according to Gadi Amit, president and principal designer at NewDealDesign, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators.

With tech’s fast-moving evolution comes a need to design objects that are sustainable and desirable, he highlights in his conversation with Liz Bacelar. Best known as the designer behind the original FitBit wearable device, Amit thinks technology is still very much about utility, but that pioneers such as Apple’s Steve Jobs and Jony Ive have ignited change. Consumers are now becoming increasingly accustomed to technology pervading many aspects of their lives, and as a result are looking for objects that enhance their personal experiences by creating deeper connections, he says.

When developing a successful wearable product, for instance, brands need to look beyond designing status-seeking elements to ask basic questions, such as: “What does it do for you? How does it enhance your life?”, says Amit. He reiterates that an object’s uniqueness lies in its true experiential value, and not just the label.

Listen here: Apple Podcasts | Android | Google Play | Stitcher | RSS

For luxury, an industry that has struggled to enter the fast-moving market of digital technologies while retaining its products’ values of longevity, Amit suggests starting with the values of the brand first, and building the technology that speaks to it.

For fashion the 2014 wearable boom was short-lived, as the market became overcrowded with products that consumer demand didn’t respond to. Although Amit thinks this is partly because devices lacked uniqueness, this is also due to the fact that wearables are so difficult to design, he explains. He particularly contradicts a common notion in the fashion industry that technology within wearables should be made to be invisible – from a usability standpoint, there are always design elements that need to prioritize function over aesthetics, he comments.

“Wearables are different animals, they’re not accessories in fashion. This is a piece of technology that needs to be on the human body, and therefore needs to be designed appropriately,” he concludes.

Scrip
Scrip

The self-confessed “contrarian by nature” is tackling payments next, an industry that historically champions frictionless and simplified interactions. Research around how exchanging physical currency affects behaviors and creates subconscious connections led him to design a new device called Scrip. This induces friction by asking the user to swipe at it a few times in order to share digital currency, meaning users make more conscious spending decisions.

It acts as a cashpoint in the user’s pocket, in which its tangibility plays a key role in triggering neural functions that automated payment systems like Apple Pay have hindered. In designing Scrip, Amit explains that it taps into the need to create objects that perfectly combine function and aesthetics in such a way that its owners will never render it obsolete.

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.