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This article is part of: Executive Briefing Service, Recharging Consumer Revenues
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Digital commerce continues to be held back by the lack of straightforward and consistent mechanisms for consumers to authenticate and identify themselves, share information and complete transactions with merchants. Telcos could address this fragmentation by creating a single framework through which individuals could interact with merchants, content companies and other service providers. Such a move would shore up telcos’ relevance and could ultimately increase their revenues. We show how, and review case studies from Deutsche Telekom (DTAG), Vodafone and KDDI.
This executive briefing considers how telcos can reduce fragmentation in the digital commerce market and create value for merchants and consumers alike. It outlines how inconsistent and clunky experiences for consumers, together with incompatible and sub-scale platforms for merchants, continue to hamper the development of the digital commerce market both online and in bricks and mortar outlets.
The report then looks at attempts by individual telcos to carve out a role in this market, as well as exploring how the GSMA’s Digital Commerce and Mobile Connect programmes are trying to make mobile operators’ propositions more consistent with each other. Finally, it considers how the telecoms sector might develop a single consistent framework – a trusted digital infrastructure – that would enable consumers and merchants to exchange information and value in a consistent and interoperable way. This final section draws on research and development work by Deutsche Telekom’s Labs.
This executive briefing also builds on previous reports by STL Partners exploring the need for better authentication, identification, data management and payment mechanisms. These reports include:
- Mobile Authentication: Telcos’ Key to the Digital World?
- Authentication Mechanisms: The Digital Arms Race
- Apple Pay & Weve Fail: A Wake Up Call
- Digital Commerce 2.0: New $50bn Disruptive Opportunities for Telcos, Banks and Technology Players
Telcos’ role in digital commerce
Two years ago, STL Partners published a strategy report outlining two major opportunities in the digital commerce market for telcos:
- Real-time commerce enablement: The use of mobile technologies and services to optimise all aspects of commerce. For example, mobile networks can be used to deliver precisely targeted and timely marketing and advertising to consumer’s smartphones, tablets, computers and televisions.
- Personal cloud: Act as a trusted custodian for individuals’ data and an intermediary between individuals and organisations, providing authentication services, digital lockers and other services that reduce the risk and friction in every day interactions. As personal cloud services provide personalised recommendations based on individuals’ authorised data, they could potentially engage much more deeply with consumers than the generalised decision-support services, such as Google, TripAdvisor, moneysavingexpert.com and comparethemarket.com, in widespread use today.
As these two opportunities are inter-related and could be combined in a single platform, STL Partners recommended that telcos start with mobile commerce, where they have the strongest strategic position, and then use the resulting data, customer relationships and trusted brand to expand into personal cloud services, which will require high levels of investment.
However, since that report was published, in developed markets, telcos’ efforts to pursue the mobile commerce market have suffered several setbacks. Over the past two years, the Weve mobile commerce joint venture in the UK has unravelled, the SoftCard joint venture in the US has collapsed and Apple has rolled out a relatively advanced and holistic proposition, now known as Apple Wallet, which effectively cuts telcos out of the action. Moreover, Google and Samsung are seeking to emulate Apple’s widely-lauded Apple Pay solution for completing transactions online and in-person. STL Partners explained the significance of these events in an executive briefing entitled Apple Pay & Weve Fail: A Wake Up Call.
These developments have led many commentators to question whether telcos can really compete with the major Internet ecosystems in digital commerce.
In emerging markets, telcos increasingly enable commerce
While telcos in developed markets are often racked with doubt, their counterparts in emerging markets continue to make headway. In developing Asia, Africa and much of Latin America, most people lack credit cards, debit cards, bank accounts, driving licenses, passports and most of the other collateral that people in developed countries use to authenticate themselves, identify themselves and conduct transactions. As many of these people have mobile phones and SIM cards, telcos are increasingly acting as intermediaries between consumers and service providers in emerging markets.
Mobile money services, which enable consumers and businesses to transfer money via mobile networks, continue to proliferate and are increasingly achieving scale. For example, Orange Money, which is available in parts of Africa and Middle East, reported a 37% year-on-year rise in customers to 15.5 million at the end of the third quarter of 2015. It also reported that revenues were up 71% year-on-year.
In some cases, mobile money services are evolving into broader digital commerce platforms. In Kenya, Safaricom, for example, has reported that the number of merchants accepting payments via its Lipa na MPesa platform more than doubled to 49,413 in the year to March 2015. In the month of March 2015, Kshs 11.6 billion was handled by the Lipa na MPesa platform, which enables consumers to use the well-established M-Pesa mobile money transfer service to pay for goods and services.
In emerging markets, mobile operators are increasingly using their distribution networks (both digital and physical) and their extensive customer data to move into financial services. As they know how much consumers are spending on airtime and are able to infer other relevant information, such as whether a subscriber has a job, mobile operators can gauge how affluent an individual is and what size of loan they can afford. If the customer is a regular user of a mobile money transfer service, the operator may also be able to assess how much disposable income they have.
In Kenya, mobile operator Safaricom reported its M-Shwari joint venture with the Commercial Bank of Africa M-Shwari had 2.1 billion Kenyan shillings (almost US$ 20 million) out on loan to customers as of March 31, 2015, up 75% from 1.2 billion shillings a year earlier. In Sri Lanka, mobile operator Dialog claims it now sells more insurance policies than all the traditional insurance companies.
In developed markets, fragmentation persists
Although developed markets are very different beasts, telcos could still play a key enabling role, which addresses various pain points in the digital economy. Although most people in North America and Western Europe have bank accounts, credit ratings and at least one digital wallet (be that PayPal, Amazon Payments or Apple iTunes), digital interaction can still be fraught with friction and mistrust. Telcos could help by enabling simple and secure authentication services as outlined in Mobile Authentication: Telcos’ Key to the Digital World?. Moreover, there is still an opportunity for telcos to become trusted custodians of personal data as explained in the aforementioned strategy report: Digital Commerce 2.0: New $50bn Disruptive Opportunities for Telcos, Banks and Technology Players.
Even the real-time commerce enablement opportunity, explained in that Strategy Report, still exists, despite the launch of Apple Pay, and the subsequent arrival of Samsung Pay and Android Pay. Industry executives say usage of Apple Pay so far has been modest. One problem is that relatively few people have one of the latest iPhones (the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus) needed to use the service. Another barrier is the limited number of stores in the US (the initial launch market) that can accept payments via Apple Pay. The net result is that only 14% of US households with credit cards have signed up for Apple Pay, according to Phoenix Marketing International, and less than one fifth of people who can use the system do so habitually, according to a report in the Financial Times, which cited banking sources.
Usage will rise, however, as Apple persuades more consumers to buy its latest iPhones and more merchants add their loyalty cards to the new Apple Wallet (formerly Apple Passbook), while installing point of sale terminals that can support contactless transactions. In STL Partners’ view, Apple Wallet, which is designed to hold digital representations of payment cards, loyalty cards, tickets and boarding passes, does address a genuine consumer need by providing a convenient way to organise all this collateral (see Figure 1).
But Apple Wallet isn’t a panacea for merchants. As iPhones will only ever be used by a fraction of a merchant’s customer base, they may prefer to rely on their own loyalty apps, rather than Apple Wallet. John Fisher, Costa’s head of mobile and loyalty, told Macworld that while the company believed Apple Pay would make the in-store experience “even more seamless,” Costa already has its own mobile loyalty app, which customers can scan at the till. “There is probably a role for mobile payments to be integrated into that in the future and we’re looking at that,” Fisher said. “The product that Apple has will really help to provide a simple solution around in-app payments and payments in store. That’s potentially where the market is going to head, so we need to have all options on the table.”
Figure 1: The new Apple Wallet can hold a wide range of digital commerce collateral
Merchants are also seeking ways to improve the online shopping experience for people using mobile phones. The proportion of potential shoppers who complete an online transaction on a mobile device remains much lower than on a PC. That suggests many consumers still find it cumbersome to make a purchase on a mobile phone and/or are worried about security and/or privacy.
PayPal, which remains one of the leading digital wallets, continues to experiment with various mobile offerings. For example, its new One Touch service enables a consumer to register a device so that they don’t need to enter their login details when paying with PayPal. The service seeks to emulate Amazon’s famous one click purchasing experience, but both companies run the risk that consumers’ devices fall into the wrong hands and are used to make fraudulent purchases.
At the same time, the leading social networks are making a major push to merge online communications and commerce. For example, Facebook now offers advertisers the opportunity to add a buy button to an ad, which enables the user to purchase the relevant item without leaving Facebook. Google is also experimenting with this kind of functionality, enabling developers to place buy buttons in Android apps and in adverts, Meanwhile Amazon continues to push into the mobile commerce market through its keenly-priced Kindle Fire tablet range and its physical Dash Buttons (see Figure 2), which enable people to quickly purchase specific items, such as detergent or pet food.
Figure 2: Amazon Dash button supports one-touch ordering of a specific product
The US is acting as a test-bed for many of these new propositions, creating a fiercely competitive and cut-throat environment, from which telcos are increasingly excluded. US mobile operators have abandoned their elaborate and expensive SoftCard mobile commerce joint venture after it failed to gain significant traction. They are now providing support for third party solutions, such as Android Pay and Samsung Pay.
As the major US Internet players wrestle over the mobile commerce space, developing their own distinctive propositions and largely eschewing interoperability, consumers have to use different apps in different ecosystems. You can’t use Apple Pay to buy goods from Amazon, while iTunes doesn’t accept PayPal.
Exacerbating this fragmentation, some major merchants are still determined to sidestep the big Internet ecosystems altogether. Despite the widespread support for Apple Pay from US banks, many major US merchants, including Wal-Mart, Sears and CVS Pharmacy, continue to promote their own CurrentC solution, which was developed by the merchant consortium MCX. JPMorgan Chase is planning to launch a wallet, Chase Pay, which can be used in conjunction with the MCX solution. If anything, the fragmentation is getting greater, rather than less.
In summary, many incompatible and partial digital identification/authentication/payment solutions have been developed and deployed. Many of these solutions only work on one platform and are unable to share information with other solutions, resulting in frustration and confusion for consumers and digital service providers alike. As a result, service providers lack economies of scale, damaging the business case for more marginal digital services.
Telcos could make a big difference
One of the fundamental premises of the STL Partners’ Strategy Report, published in 2013, still holds true: Individuals are still looking for a simple and secure way to store the array of collateral required to interact with an increasingly digital world. As organisations embrace electronic authentication, identification and payment solutions, people are increasingly going to need digital versions of professional ID cards, house keys, car keys, payment cards, loyalty cards, membership cards, tickets, coupons, entitlements and receipts.
Telcos can help address that need. But instead of exacerbating the existing fragmentation by developing proprietary wallets that aren’t interoperable, telcos need to consider how they can play an enabling role for the wider ecosystem.
Although there are opportunities for telcos to fill gaps in the financial services market in developing countries, the role of telcos in developed markets needs to be more akin to that of a trusted infrastructure provider (as they are with the Internet), that provides a consistent digital framework for the existing financial services industry.
Some telcos are edging in this direction, while others continue to develop relatively rigid digital commerce and authentication propositions. The next section outlines some of these initiatives and gives STL Partners’ key takeaways in each case.
- Executive Summary
- Telcos’ role in digital commerce
- Telcos’ track record in digital commerce
- Vodafone Wallet
- Deutsche Telekom’s MyWallet
- KDDI’s Digital Commerce suite
- GSMA Mobile Connect
- The case for a consistent user-centric framework
- Core vision – put consumers first
- Core principles – cross-platform, open and interoperable
- Are telcos up to the task?
- How could a framework be standardised?
- How would telcos make money?
- Would the wider ecosystem embrace a telco-led framework?
- Conclusions and next steps
- A flexible framework supporting different transmission and security tech
- Figure 1: The new Apple Wallet can hold a wide range of digital commerce collateral
- Figure 2: Amazon Dash button supports one-touch ordering of a specific product
- Figure 3: The self-reinforcing flywheel Vodafone is aiming for
- Figure 4: In the UK, Vodafone Wallet requires consumers to top up a prepaid card
- Figure 5: Vodafone Wallet has polarised opinion on Google Play.
- Figure 6: Deutsche Telekom’s MyWallet app has drawn few reviews
- Figure 8: The ARPA of KDDI’s digital commerce business is on the rise
- Figure 9: au Smart Pass subs are rising helping to lift ARPA
- Figure 10: KDDI’s revenues and profits from value added services grow steadily
- Figure 11: Mobile Connect Roadmap – Authentication, Identity and Attributes
- Figure 12: The GSMA’s is looking to integrate Mobile Connect with mobile payments
- Figure 13: The transactional services supported by the eZ Cash wallet
- Figure 14: Axiata’s API Gateway supports a range of commerce and other services
- Figure 15: Axiata’s vision of a consistent global platform for telco enablers
- Figure 16: Apple Wallet is a repository for a growing array of digital collateral
- Figure 17: Telekom Labs Has developed a prototype cross-platform wallet in HMTL5
- Figure 18: Each piece of collateral could be represented by a digital card
- Figure 19: A flexible framework supporting different transmission and security tech
- Figure 20: Telekom Labs sees telcos as more trusted than other intermediaries