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APEX Keynote: Blackhawk’s Roche on Payments as Engagement

As retailers and brands seek to deepen connections with their customers, emerging payment technologies represent a key opportunity for meaningful engagement with consumers, according to Talbott Roche, president and CEO, Blackhawk Network. Delivering a keynote address on the opening day of the All Payments Expo in New Orleans on Monday, Roche explained how the growing ubiquity of mobile devices and the rise of the connected consumer have created myriad new channels for messaging and engagement. However, the digital natives of the millennial generation are skeptical of top-down communication from brands, such as traditional marketing and advertising—even social media, Roche noted. Therefore, technologies built around the shopping and payments experience itself may be the most effective engagement tools, she said.

“Payments provide a new platform for deeper engagement with the connected consumer. New payment technologies are a way for us to build trust, transparency and interactivity—as well as provide flexibility, speed, deliver more value and reward the consumer for their business,” Roche observed.

To illustrate that point, she identified several brands that are leveraging payment and shopping technologies to enhance the customer experience, including Best Buy, which has built up omnichannel shopping services including a mobile price-checking app that enables in-store consumers to comparison shop for an item between Best Buy and other retailers. While it might seem counterintuitive to give shoppers access to competitors’ prices, offering transparency and working with the consumer to comparison shop helps build trust and enhances the Best Buy brand in the long term, Roche noted. She also cited Best Buy, along with Home Depot, as being leaders in offering services that enable shoppers to buy an item online and pick it up in-store. Meanwhile, Starbucks’ successful mobile pre-order service has enhanced the engagement between customers and baristas—a major part of the brand experience. “By having the order ready, the dialogue moved away from the transaction and become more personal, and so customers got deeper engagement and deeper satisfaction,” Roche observed.

The digitalization of gift cards presents another key engagement opportunity, by making gifting more flexible and offering more use cases, Roche said. For instance, the speed and ease of buying and sending a digital gift card encourages consumers to make frequent “micro-gifts” of a few dollars. The digital channel also is a perfect fit for group gifting and personalized gift cards, she added. But the real power of digital gifting is in turning a gift card into what Roche called “branded currency,” which further enhances the brand and is able to integrate seamlessly into personalized offers and rewards. “We’re seeing digital gift cards start to supplant some old-line promotional activities, and consumers are responding in droves,” she said. “In many ways, digital gift cards have actually become a currency of engagement.”

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