Former Visa Exec Wants Mobile Shoppers to Make the First Move

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unnamedIn the marketing industry, startup types wax poetic about the the power of bluetooth beacons to revolutionize the way we shop. But Dave Wentker, the former director of Visa’s emerging technology division, is questioning whether beacons are truly enough to really change consumers’ shopping habits.

Wentker’s company, Tapcentive, has developed a system that lets consumers choose when to receive messaging, content, and deals. Shoppers tap their smartphones against a fist-sized bit of hardware, and the Beacon-like device pushes content to the user’s phone via both Bluetooth and near- field communications (NFC), the technology that powers Apple Pay and Google Wallet.

Wentker believes that the technology industry has in part overestimated the value of the kind of passive, push messaging enabled by services like Google Now. An action by the consumer, he argues, still matters.

“I think our hypothesis is you can’t start with technology that nobody sees and you can’t explain, and all they do is wander around, and maybe something will happen, maybe it won’t,” Tapcentive CEO Dave Wentker told Street Fight. “Our point would be if it’s not visible none of that can happen. A platform like ours is going to be more deliberate. I’m going to know how many people I’m targeting and how they’re responding.”

For a little over a decade, Wentker headed up Visa’s emerging technologies and mobile initiatives. At Visa, he says he would try to sell mobile payments to retailers, but he was constantly realizing that this wasn’t really the true concern of retailers. Yes, they were mildly excited about the technology, but what they really cared about was bringing in more customers and increasing sales.

“Mobile payments isn’t about growing your business,” Wentker said. “It’s maybe about making it more efficient, but not the other things. We were offering payments, but what the merchants were excited about was what can we do that’s not payments. So after hearing that message we thought, ‘We can do a good job in the non-payment area and yet still understand the complexities of the technology.’”

So Wentker decided to make a go for it. He and many of his coworkers at Tapcentive brought their expertise in mobile security and applied it to the marketing world to help meet retailers’ true demands.

“By the time someone gets to the point-of-sale they’re done shopping,” Wentker said. “Maybe you’ll get them to grab gum at the grocery store, but it’s done. The chance to influence somebody is finished, so by the time the mobile payment kicks in, the influence issue is in the past. Where mobile is so powerful is that it’s there throughout the shopping journey. Merchants want to be part of the entire experience from the minute someone walks through the door till the point-of-sale.”

Using Tapcentive’s platform, marketers can use a variety of different tools to guide consumers through the store, increase their basket size, and increase their frequency of store visits. They can offer coupons, deals, contests, games, and loyalty points. These are the kinds of things that can help increase a store’s foot traffic and create sticky experiences, says Wentker.

“If you put something out there like a flashing button, and you say press this button and see what you get, once that person opts into that experience their frame of mind is, ‘Okay let’s see what you’ve got,’” Wentker said. “You may not like what it is, it may not match with your interests, but [the marketer] won’t have risked that [it] just tried to get somebody at the wrong time and place because they asked for it and that changes things 100%.”

He believes that it will also translate to better measurements for CMOs. They will be able to set specific goals and measure how many people opt in to this experience as well as how many people increase their basket size or come back frequently.

Secondly, this creates a better experience for consumers, says Wentker. A poorly timed push notification could turn away a consumer who isn’t in the right context. Just because someone is walking by the deodorant aisle does not necessarily mean that he or she is interested in a coupon for deodorant, and a push notification could irritate them.

“On the pure push messaging engagements you’re making a lot of assumptions based on a person’s location that that somehow drives intent and that you can predict that intent and that’s the riskiest part of that kind of an engagement because if you’re wrong, you’re going to do brand damage,” Wentker said.

Rebecca Borison is a contributor at Street Fight.