“Pepper, introduce yourself,” she prods. “My name is Pepper and I’m a humanoid robot and I’m 1.20 meters tall,” the robot responds. “I was born in Paris.” Pepper is the first commerce application for MasterCard’s engagement with Softbank Robotics. Already, some territories in Asia are interacting with Pepper in restaurants — a major first step forward in bringing conversation commerce experiences to consumers. Pizza Hut is MasterCard’s partner in Asia.
Another scene-stealer is Groceries by MasterCard, a grocery-shopping app integrated into Samsung refrigerators. The first of its kind, the app allows consumers to shop and select the items they need from leading online grocer FreshDirect and American supermarket cooperative ShopRite. Orders are delivered directly by merchants and are not dependent on a third-party or concierge service. In the future, the Groceries shopping cart can also learn a family’s shopping habits, eventually making personalized recommendations.
Groceries, according to MasterCard, is about “taking control of the entire commerce experience, versus just the payment experience. When people today take an Uber, they don’t really think, oh, I have to make a payment. They just want the experience. The whole strategy for (MasterCard’s) Labs is to make sure that we are embedded in more and more experiences.”
From talking robots to refrigerators that can do your shopping for you, it’s a brave new world out there.
Finally, while not as attention-grabbing as its neighbors, Qkr is a commerce platform that allows customers to order ahead or customize retail experience. In the UK, for example, Qkr is being used in a lot of restaurants, helping big groups split the bill easier. In Latin America, Qkr is being used in gas pumps, to purchase gasoline ahead of arrival. And in Australia, Qkr is being used in schools. Parents can order school supplies, settle fees, sometimes even give permission for students to go on excursions through the app. The app has taken the place of reply slips and hard copy confirmations. Qkr is already being used in schools in Singapore. “Instead of giving cash to little kids, the parents can just order through the mobile app and the kids can go to the vending machine to scan their student IDs and get their school supplies.”
According to MasterCard’s studies, 85 percent of the world is still spending in cash. That number is bound to change as more and more territories get connected and banking becomes more globalized, not to mention the generations that are increasingly reliant on online transactions.
Ed McLaughlin sees the change as something comprehensive, as seismic as a world shift. “What we’re now doing is we’re shifting from being in the physical world to being connected through our devices, and being connected at all times; and that’s incredibly powerful,” he says. “But it’s not a separation, it’s a blurring of what happens in the physical world and what happens in the online world.”
Quick change: Qkr is a commerce platform that allows customers to order ahead or customize retail experience. In the UK, for example, Qkr is being used in a lot of restaurants, when big groups come, as a means of making splitting the bill easier.
“And years ago, we’d have conversations with media reporters trying to cover the space, and I think a lot of us got it wrong, where you had this physical world and then a magical, digital place over here. Consumers are a little smarter than that. They know they’re on their mobile in the store; they know they’re connected at home, to a delivery service that’s going to bring them food; they know their car is becoming a computer on wheels, which is always online, always connected. So what we see is that the No. 1 consumer desire is to make all of this work together, as the physical and digital worlds become combined.”
McLaughlin sees three phases in the world of banking — the first wave was the purely physical transaction (“charge plates and Zipzap machines” and “thinking about what’s happening at the counter with the merchant”); the second wave was the move to electronic (“putting a mag stripe or a machine-readable card in everyone’s pocket, giving that box terminal in every merchant’s desk”); and the third wave is digital (“where commerce is being given a new platform from that physical world”). “And this connectivity has transformed how we educate ourselves, how we interact with each other, how we interact with society and government,” he says. “Our belief is, all these changes in how we interact will permanently and irrevocably change how we transact. And that’s the platform we have.
Writing’s on the wall: “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known,” a quote by Carl Sagan on the wall of MasterCard’s New York tech hub’s lobby.
“We believe that every device a consumer has will be used for commerce, and commerce will become much more contextual. So it’s like taking what you can do with a card and saying I can do it with a phone. It’s saying, I will have a mobile, my house is getting smaller, my car is getting connected — what and how am I gonna interact with those environments? And what are the right platforms and services that support it?”
Future-proofing is said to be the process of anticipating future events and developing methods of minimizing the unwanted effects of shocks of those events. Along that line of thinking, MasterCard has long looked ahead instead of backward and found a way to evolve. “That’s why we say, for us, the business we’re in, it’s not really anymore having products that are based on technology,” McLaughlin says. “The technology itself is — and I would argue always has been — our business.”