Retailers build tech labs to vet new payment methods

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CHICAGO — Merchants that want to use technology to boost sales can establish in-house systems labs to test new payment technology and apps, or find an external lab to do so.

Essentially, a retailer establishing an in-house systems lab would do so through dedicated computers and a technology team able to test various apps or write code to integrate and advance some of features in place on a network.

Other times, a research partner or a company delivering lab tools as part of a service-as-a-software arrangement could help a company test and incorporate essential elements of an e-commerce site.

"The biggest mistakes are made and fixed in a systems lab," said Dara Meath, vice president of information technology for retail systems at fashion retailer Camuto Group, during last week's annual Internet Retailer Conference.

Retailers who do not have the time or the resources to establish their own lab can fall behind those that do, said Jennifer Sherman, senior vice president of products and strategy at Kibo, an omnichannel services provider.

Some merchants may want to build a website that is their own as an extension of their brand, but don’t really want to do it on their own, Sherman said.

"They will admit they are not a DIY’er, so they want a full solution delivered," she added. "I think those of us in the platform community along with our payments partners have to figure out something in the middle that provides the flexibility of what the makers are building and those doing it for themselves — without the investment in IT and resources for that experimental process."

Regardless of how the lab is built, it must be operated with the consumer in mind.

Camuto's Meath encouraged retailers to think about their last 10 shopping experiences and which ones were "fun" and which ones would make you never want to go back to that particular store.

Most likely, she said, the stores or the sites with the easiest and newest payment options made the shopping experience worth returning.

"Mobile checkout is the ease that no customer will want to be without in the future, and something that no merchant can afford not to invest in," Meath added.

Seller Labs, a company specializing in creating apps for various sales tools and integrating with consumer relationship programs, offers a trial period for all of its products.

"For up and coming sellers and managers who are growing and their teams are growing, maybe looking to build a lab internally, our tools can help them optimize their performance and have ready access to information," said Katie Reilly, vice president of product at Seller Labs.

"The trial period will give you a window of time to see if the value prop that we perceive we bring to your services and team will be realized through using our software."

When e-commerce merchants are building their lab of tools, a campaign management in an easy format with suggestion engines to optimize performance and make changes can improve all aspects of a site, including the consumer touchpoints and payment links, Reilly said.

The past year and a half have represented a new payments technology phase, one in which multiple devices, and social media channels have become part of an important equation for retailers, Meath said.

"Not many years ago, I was working in a retail setting and taking a card payment through a dial-up terminal, and I kept getting a busy signal because another employee was on the phone," Meath recalled.

Payments technology has made significant strides from closed networks up until 2014, to the current open networks and multi-channel advancements and cashierless stores like Amazon Go, she added.

"Over time, e-commerce and brick and mortar will have the same feel," Meath said.

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