Once upon a time, we drove in our masses into congested town centres or for miles to shopping malls to stroll around the shops and check out the sales.
Then online shopping was invented.
So we started doing our shopping at the computer, spending evenings comparing prices on Google, browsing online marketplaces, and making purchases with discount retailers or directly with brands.
Then mobile shopping happened.
So we started buying things everywhere, all the time; making purchases through apps and doing our food shopping while on the go. Getting personalised recommendations from chatbots and having them place our orders. As long as we had a phone and an internet connection, we could shop.
And this is where we’re at today. More than 60 percent of us use our phones to make purchases online, and the numbers are climbing quick.
Most of us do all this shopping in one place: Amazon. The worlds largest online retailer has cornered the market and come closest to the ideal shopping experience, offering accurate product suggestions, same-day delivery, and, crucially, a patented one-step checkout process.
One-click payment technology is arguably Amazon’s biggest advantage in the online retail space. It means customers don’t have to enter and re-enter billing, payment, or shipping information multiple times throughout the checkout process.
But then Amazon’s one-click payment patent ran out.
Up until now, any company that wanted to use the technology had to pay Amazon’s licensing fees. But the patent, first registered back in 1999, expired on 11th September 2017.
So with Amazon’s patent expired, online shopping is once again an open market. Major tech companies like Facebook, American Express, and Apple and already working on implementing their own one-click solution.
And with access to this technology lining up with growing consumer trust in such technology, we’re finally ready for the next evolution in the shopping experience: Inbox payments.
Inbox payments: the ultimate shopping experience
From the high street to the everything-store in your pocket, shopping has long been heading toward faster, more personalised experiences. Inbox payments offer this is a radical way: eliminating the shopping platform and checkout process altogether by going directly to the customer with, hopefully, what they want.
We visit out inboxes more than any other blog or social media site, most the time (68 percent of emails) from a mobile device. For this reason, businesses and marketers have long known that acquiring someone’s email address is one of its most valuable assets it can have — like having a private invitation into a customer’s home.
But in 2017, it’s less like an invitation to a customer’s home and more like a direct line to their attention. And when inbox payments become a reality (later on in the year, according to some experts), it will be like having open access to their bank account — apart from the final number of their pin code.
Undoubtedly, this will significantly increase the value of an email address. Customers will be less willing to hand theirs out willy-nilly and businesses will, therefore, have to devise ever more effective ways to attract subscribers. However, those already with strong lists will also have to work out how to gather crucial transactional data — somewhat of an advantage for new lists which can collect it in their sign-up forms.
E-commerce platforms that already have this data will benefit the most. From the outset, they’ll capitalise on inbox payments by recommending new products, offering time-sensitive discounts, suggesting related products, and upselling additional or complementary items after purchases. Doing it all within the email client and avoiding checkout cart abandonment (which was recently found to be on average 70 percent).
But it’s not all about e-commerce: real-world and service-based businesses have just as much to gain. For instance, in the retention of existing customers. When the time comes to renew a service, a business may simply send an email with a one-click payment button and a 20 percent discount if they use it within the hour.
AI and big-data will be the cornerstone of inbox payments. Behavioural data will allow businesses to deliver the right message at precisely the right time, and only then to a particular list that’s segmented according to purchase intent and preference. This is what will separate businesses from those who use inbox payments in a spammy fashion rather than in a way that’s useful and informed by relevant, targeted purchasing data.
The jury is out on what exactly an e-commerce landscape with inbox payments will look like. But one thing’s for sure: they will, without question, transform how we regard and use the email inbox. And as it’s already considered a sacred place, it’s only going to be more difficult for businesses to get that big-ticket invitation and be granted a direct line in.
Joseph Pennington is a freelance writer and long-term traveller from the North of England. Find him on Medium exploring remote working, technology, spirituality, meditation, and everything in between.