Retail technology view from the top: PayPal's Rob Harper

As new systems and digital capability continue to evolve the way retailers run their businesses, Essential Retail is gauging the views of the sector's main figureheads, via a series of exclusive interviews. This week, it's the turn of PayPal's head of mobile commerce, Rob Harper.

A new generation of consumers is driving growth in mobile commerce across the world and it means retailers and hospitality companies must position their businesses accordingly, says PayPal's director of mobile commerce, Rob Harper.

Mobile payment volume at PayPal grew by 68% between 2013 and 2014 to represent $46 million worth of transactions, and Harper told Essential Retail that he expects this is only going to increase in the coming years, with mobile commerce poised to make a "major breakthrough" during 2015.

"We are going to see mobile increasingly become the centre of people's everyday lives," he argued.

"Retailers and restaurants need to really reflect that in their own mobile apps and mobile strategies. We're starting to enter a mobile-first era, where shopping on your mobile phone becomes an established part of what we all do."

Harper and PayPal are describing the new generation of consumers, who are increasingly likely to pay for online items via their smartphones or use mobile apps to purchase goods, as "mobile movers". This term is being used to describe what is typically young adults between the age of 18 and 34 years old, who are showing a growing willingness to use their mobiles to transact and engage with businesses.

Global research from PayPal and Ipsos, which was published last week, found that 59% of smartphone shoppers are in this age group, while this demographic makes up 44% of overall online shoppers.

The study of more than 17,500 consumers in 22 countries also found that the average compound annual growth rate for mobile commerce between 2013 and 2016 is projected at 42%, compared to 13% for overall eCommerce. The most cited mCommerce-related activity among smartphone users (36%) was product research, while 27% had used their device to help locate/find information about a store or business and 25% had read customer or user reviews from their smartphone.

When questioned how they would like to use their smartphone in the future, 16% of smartphone users selected "tap my smartphone at the cash register to pay (e.g. using NFC)" and 15% cited "order ahead (e.g. coffee or food) using an app or browser on my smartphone".

Commenting on the survey, Harper said: "Now consumers are using mobile to replace traditional ways to pay online, whether that is a laptop or a desktop.

"Part of the survey was about an attitude change. 85% were using laptop or desktop [as their primary tool for payment], while 9% said smartphone and 5% said tablet. We expect this will change to 79%, 14% and 7% respectively, as mobile devices become an essential part of consumers' daily lives."

PayPal will once again be sponsoring the Chill & Charge Lounge at this year's RBTE

Harper's job title at PayPal has also evolved in recent months to mirror the changing consumer habits detailed in the research and, indeed, other industry surveys. Instead of being head of retail, Harper is now director of mobile commerce.

"It's an evolution of the previous role, reflective of the fact that mobile commerce is poised for a major breakthrough," he explained.

"Mobile gives us an opportunity to rethink commerce and how payment innovation fits into it."

Indicative of the emerging "mobile-first" climate, PayPal announced a partnership with Shell petrol stations earlier this month, which will pave the way for customers to pay for their fuel via a mobile app without having to enter a forecourt shop.

Following a successful trial in 2013, Shell will be piloting the service for invited Shell Drivers' Club customers in April, with plans to roll it out nationwide to 1,000 service stations later in 2015. Consumers will be able to use the service through either the Shell Motorist App or the PayPal App, which can authenticate the transaction and then generate digital receipts.

"We've always said that mobile innovation and payment innovation really serves a purpose when it is addressing a specific need or challenge," said Harper.

"The ability to fill up at the pump without the need to go into a shop is a challenge many of Shell's customers have."

He added: "It's how retailers tap into the mobile-first 'mobile mover' generation, tapping into what these customers are already doing on their mobile phones, whether that's product selection, research or payment, and how we can use all channels and devices together to address customer challenges."

PayPal will once again be exhibiting at RBTE in 2015, with Europe's largest retail technology solutions event taking place at London's Olympia on 10-11 March. The payments solutions company is sponsoring the 'Chill & Charge Lounge', and it will be offering a VIP service where people can order a coffee via a mobile app and have it delivered to their seat.

Reflecting on what visitors to RBTE can expect from PayPal, which also includes a presentation from the man himself on the morning of 10 March, Harper said: "It's very much about how mobile is driving innovation in payment and we'll be exploring who the 'mobile mover' is, the challenges they face and how they can use PayPal to overcome them."

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