Retailers want high-tech payments, but low-touch partnerships

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CHICAGO – Generally, working with a payments provider is considered a “low touch” experience for online retailers, meaning that once the payment technology is coded onto a website, the retailer rarely has to deal with the provider again.

As a result, interaction with the provider, or extra hand-holding, is becoming less common in an advancing digital payments age for e-retailers.

"It is a case where we are understanding it (payments technology) more and these are trusted providers who are very good at what they do,” said Chris Smith, director of e-commerce for Big 5 Sporting Goods, at the annual Internet Retailers Conference on Tuesday.

Smith's company works with Cybersource, PayPal and Visa Checkout on its websites. The idea is to support multiple online payment options without having it be a high-maintenance relationship.

“Payments are a key touchpoint for us and a critical function on the site,” Smith said.

E-commerce merchants often find themselves in the middle of the perfect technology storm as nearly every aspect of their websites’ touchpoints with consumers is undergoing dramatic change.

“The e-commerce ecosystem is turning over constantly, and it becomes a question of how we manage all of the agencies (providers) involved,” said Charles Hunsinger, senior vice president and chief information officer for Oriental Trading Company.

Still, it is best for e-retailers to complete due diligence with any project that will change user interface on their sites and understand what the vendors bring to the table and how their tech teams match up with their own.

“Performance has to be a major consideration,” Hunsinger said. “Your site is probably already too slow, but you have to ensure the proper time to build it, implement it and adequately test it.”

In the same manner as an organization like Mastercard Advisers tells its clients to test all levels of a payments project at different sites, that message is being delivered to those operating on the e-commerce landscape.

“It’s important to know if you can pilot a project without a commitment to it,” Hunsinger said. “It’s like finding out if you can live together before you get married.”

Retailers should determine in a contract who will test what, once a new feature or service is deemed ready to present on a site, Hunsinger said. “Does the tech partner have a sandbox for testing, and what parts of it will be tested by the merchant?” he added.

It doesn’t take much to turn a launch into mayhem if proper testing hasn’t weeded out all potential problems.

“A few lines of code not set up right can cause all sorts of problems on your site,” Hunsinger said.

Even without dramatic overhauls of monolithic e-commerce sites, retailers are entering an age in which they can add application programming interfaces onto older networks for new designs and features. But it all takes the same attention and care.

“You can implement an API layer over time to expose key functionality of an older system,” said Rodney Woodruff, vice president of engineering at Weight Watchers. “More user interfaces is the goal, and getting to a spot where engineering personnel can help you through it.”

It is always wise for an e-commerce merchant to understand that any feature on a site should allow a consumer to interact in less than three seconds, Woodruff said. At the same time, he warns that merchants should only add products that they know their customers will enjoy.

“If you talk to developers every day, they will always implement stuff that isn’t really needed,” he said.

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