EBay and its payments subsidiary PayPal are aggressively mining consumers' spending data, which they say is vital as shopping expands across mobile, online and physical shopping channels.
"We have what others want, which is an understanding of how consumers shop from the beginning to the end of transactions," said John Donahoe, eBay's CEO at the company's investor and analyst day on March 28. "So whether we call it data or personalization or social commerce or just plain consumer data, it will enable is to deliver better experience for consumer worldwide."
Data is the key part of eBay and PayPal's "omnichannel" strategy, which refers to cross-channel shopping in which consumers simultaneously use tablets, smartphones, PCs and in-store visits.
"We are a tech company but also a financial services company," said David Marcus, PayPal's president, at the event. "We sit between the two worlds. We are the only company that controls the full experience."
Its size will help PayPal scale quickly to add new services and expand in international markets, Marcus said. Marcus joined PayPal in 2011 when it purchased his mobile payment startup, Zong. Marcus became PayPal's president early last year.
"Having been on the payment startup side for a while, it's very hard to manage scale and build a payment business," said Marcus.
EBay handled $175 billion in transactions globally in 2012, and set a goal of hitting $300 billion by 2015, Donahoe said.
The growth is coming with a few speed bumps. EBay's PayPal faces headwinds on two frontspending MasterCard fees for certain types of mobile wallet purchases, and the economics of deploying PayPal's point of sale payment service to retailers.
In earlier earnings announcements, eBay said PayPal's margin for 2013 will be 24%, down from a previous forecast of up to 26%. Investors Smead Capital Management and R.W. Baird have criticized PayPal in news reports for its approach at the point of sale (neither of these firms returned requests for comment by deadline).
EBay did not discuss its financial performance or the card network fees or take questions during presentations made before PaymentsSource's deadline.
But eBay and PayPal's data-intensive strategy suggests the worries about eBay's long-term exposure to card network fees and retailer discounts may be overblown, analysts say.
PayPal has an advantage that no other aggregator hasregistered bank accounts that can be leveraged to clear directly through the Automated Clearing House at a fixed, low cost, says Richard Crone, a payments consultant.
"They are the largest decoupled debit player in the galactic universe with more than 120 million registered accounts," Crone says.
MasterCard's "Staged Wallet Operator Annual Network Access Fee" does not apply to the ACH transactions, PayPal's Bill Me Later instant-credit service, prepaid payments and proprietary debit, Crone says.
"Post-Durbin they also have other debit clearing options for MasterCard debit accounts since the law mandates at least two network clearing options for each account," Crone says. "What this means is PayPal can easily attract new physical-world merchants by undercutting existing Merchant Acquirer Processing fees and interchange and still have margins greater than anyone else in the payment ecosystem."
It's in PayPal's interested to absorb MasterCard's fee rather than try and avoid it by offering the card network access to its data, Crone says.
"Mobile payments is a means to an end, the end game being the transaction data, which can be used for competitive ads and offers," Crone says.
Celent senior analyst Gareth Lodge wasn't as overtly bullish as Crone, but he agrees PayPal's move into the physical retail world was a solid move.
While the online world is growing fast, it's still a small share of a much larger market if brick and mortar retail are included, Lodge says.
"Payments is a scale game," he says. "The infrastructure is relatively fixed cost, so the greater the volume put through, the greater the margins. That will have very real benefits for PayPal."
The path to leverage payments data is a challenging one, however.
"There is potential opportunity for companies like PayPal to monetize the data if they can get their hands on it," says Arkady Fridman, a senior analyst with Aite Group. "Keep in mind it depends on how they are connected to the specific retailer or merchant. In some cases they may not have the capabilities. If you do a direct integration that's great, but if you go through a partner do you have this data?"
PayPal has worked directly with its merchant partners, including Home Depot and Guitar Center, so far. It plans to expand this number dramatically through an agreement with Discover Financial Services, which will give all Discover merchants the ability to accept PayPal payments at the point of sale.