Do you think easier and secure web payments accelerate ecommerce web innovation?

I find the China ecommerce market very interesting. I don’t live there, have not experienced it in any depth first hand, so much of what I know is from reading articles. That means I may have a slightly warped view of reality, but what I read resonates with me.

For example, by having a simpler application development environment and distribution model (with restrictions), incorporated with identity and payments, I can see how it could accelerate business innovation in ecommerce experiences. I describe why below, but I am genuinely interested in the points of view of different practitioners.

Some examples:

  • For Mothers Day, have a special app that has an optimized or customized experience to send flowers to your mother. Nothing is in the app not related to mothers day. The app has special greetings cards you can add etc. The app can take a payment (it does not send you to some other normal checkout flow – it instead has a “buy now” to complete the purchase immediately).
  • On earth day you have an app that for $1 you can send an email to a friend with a message saying you planted a tree for them (including a link to the app of course!)
  • You sell clothes modeled by a particular actor, so whenever they launch a movie you create an experience with images from that movie and links to purchase the clothes they wear.
  • At a concert you want to create an online experience to order T-shirts from the event and have it delivered to your house. You have to scan the code at the event.

Notice that none of the above are a main, regular ecommerce site listing all available products with a cart and checkout flow. They are specialized flows for specific situations. Some will only be used for a particular real world event, then discarded.

My question for you: do you think if this was easier (and safer) to do, would it spike business innovation in online ecommerce?

“No” is a fine answer. I am after reality and practical experience. Personally I would hesitate to do it today on the open web because of the pain of custom checkout code and the risk of break-ins, but maybe that is not the real show stopper. What do you think stops building such custom apps on the open web today?

An example of how to support such innovation

Here is my summary of the key points of a model I could see making such apps easier to build, influenced heavily by what super-apps are doing. (I would just like to see it happen on the open web!) Here “app” means a web frontend application created by a merchant, hosted by some hypothetical service provider.

  • Users arrive to apps logged in with payment and shipping details pre-entered and verified.
  • Merchants can develop apps, but have a restricted set of tools. They cannot use any JavaScript they feel like – think more of Mustache like templates and CSS to generate pages.
  • Merchants host APIs for the app to communicate with, with appropriate authentication in place.
  • To accept a payment, a JavaScript API call is made from the app – there is no code in the app itself to process credit card details etc (making card skimming via the app impossible).
  • Apps are deployed to a production server where it is hosted read-only.

There are other aspects that could also be important:

  • I would argue the deep linking is important – go from a search engine directly to a page in the experience.
  • Scanning QR codes to go directly to a page in such an app, with the user logged on can help with navigating from printed material to the online experience.

The above could be implemented in different ways, here are a few examples:

  • A mini-app in a super-app (the super-app provides the identity and payment handling code).
  • A web hosting provider that adds payment processing code to the uploaded app before deployment.
  • Adding payment processing in the browser itself so the site does not need to support it.

The main selling points to me are:

  • You can create custom experiences fairly quickly, without having payment processing code hosted in your app (good from a security perspective).
  • The limitations of the platform make app security scanning also easier, removing a degree of control from developers, but resulting in it being faster to create an app that works decently well with search engines. I think of some of these apps as being disposable.

What is in my mind as I write this? I was wondering how to bring the super-app like experiences to the open web and, more importantly, is it actually useful. There are a number of platforms that do related things already (including the Google Spot Platform). I was trying to step back from a particular platform and get a feeling of whether this whole area is productive or not, more as part of the “headless commerce” discussion.

So, do you think a restricted development model plus payments and identity solved for you would accelerate business innovation in the area of ecommerce? Why?

3 comments

  1. I am not sure that disposable apps concept makes much sense.
    Installing a new app is a barrier, big part of consumers just drop there.
    It may work as a part of a bigger topical app (like Australian Open or US Open app with Shop section).

    Disposable app withing a bigger up will probably work a bit better, but again, an extra step.

    Why it is better than just create a category page on normal retail website with topical products?

    1. If I have payments already registered, my shipping address already registered, and I think it is more important to complete the transaction than attempt an upsell, then the purchase flow is a buy now button with a popup asking the user to confirm the final price and address etc. A typical ecommerce site has a lot more on it – carts, coupon codes, etc. A category page generally feels like a category page, and not a customized experience. I wonder how much we are programmed to think of ecommerce experiences in a standard way because that is what platforms offer. If buying a t-shirt at a concert, i want the experience 100% consistent with that concert, not my current website. So, yes, you can add to your current site. But is there value in custom experiences rather than one ecomm site that everything must go through? (i think I read somewhere 9% of ecommerce in china goes through mini apps – that was staggering)

      1. probably it is more the case of Buy Now button in topical apps
        I wouldn’t install a separate event shop app in addition to event app
        But when you start to dig deeper, you see that what supposed to be simple often appears not that much and traditional ecomm functionality is needed
        With your tshirt example (even if it is just one tshirt) you need to select size and possible colour
        Then what if you want to send tshirt to your friend (different address)?
        What if your normal card run out of $ and you need to use different payment method?

        So you come to need having more or less standard checkout at least as a backup option. Or deliberately being OK to lose all but simplest use cases sales.

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