Pizza Express have launched a new iPhone app which redefines the space for retailers and at the same time provides a possible glimpse into both the future of payments and CRM (but more on that later).
The application includes a number of clever features such as allowing customers to view their past receipts (great if you need to expense something), create "favourite" restaurant locations and pre-book a table. The really interesting part however is a deal with PayPal that also allows a customer to pay their bill directly via their mobile by entering a unique 12 digit code printed on their receipt - letting the customer then simply get up and walk out as it's seamlessly integrated into the restaurants POS.
This in itself is an interesting loyalty play as Pizza Express get to know who the customer is, what they purchased and how often they come and there is not a loyalty point in sight. It's a compelling application that smooths the purchase process, making the next purchase more likely.
Whilst this is a really innovative app for Pizza Express it's actually part of a wider trend to disintermediate the payment eco-system and the functionality is quite similar to that offered by payment start-up Square.
Jack Dorsey, Square's founder is quoted as saying that they want to replace cash registers, wallets and loyalty cards. Rather than simply trying to replace a specific part of the existing process - exchanging the plastic card for the mobile phone - Square are actively trying to join the whole process up with Mr Dorsey saying:-
"We think it should be one system"
One really interesting innovation within Square is their application Card Case. This allows a customer to create a list of their favourite places and to setup a tab with them, simply paying by giving their name - no swipe of the card necessary. Like the Pizza Express app it also provides access to your receipts; in essence centralising your payment and purchase history and making it accessible.
This is a really interesting feature that both Pizza Express and Square have in common - the provision of customer data back to the customer - and it is becoming increasingly common as customers begin to expect their data to be collected, but increasingly consider it "their" data. When I shop at Tesco I know they are tracking my purchases, however when I go online and see new products added to my favourites list it begins to actually feel like my data.
This trend of providing information back to customers and giving them access to and ownership of it is also gathering pace.
Within websites and applications for example you are increasingly given the option to login via social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. While you still login, connecting via a social network provides a subtle change. You are actually granting permission to that application to connect to you rather than the other way round. At any time, I can review my relationships with different applications and simply close them down by removing the authorisation. I can also look at the permissions I've granted to those applications and change what information they can see.
There has been a transfer of power within identity management. It's now my identity and I can choose who has access to it, how much access they have and when I want to end it.
Imagine this trend being extended to all your interactions.
Within a supermarket loyalty programme for example you could link your purchase history to an app from a CPG manufacture like Unilever. You'd be doing this in the full knowledge that Unilever could then access your purchases and provide you with relevant offers (or reward points). You'd be choosing how to use your information for your benefit.
This is a really amazing thought and something that has been termed VRM or Vendor Relationship Management by Doc Searls, a veteran technology journalist and key founder of ProjectVRM which he describes, saying:-
Since the dawn of the Industrial Age, large companies have been working to "capture" and "lock" customers inside what we today call "silos" and "walled gardens."... ProjectVRM is a new Berkman Center research and development effort that is working to provide customers with tools that provide both independence from vendor lock-in and better ways of engaging with vendors -- on terms and by means that work better for both sides.
I love the idea of this - letting customers engage with brands on their terms with their data - and can see many applications across different industries.
How far this can go will be interesting to see (and to define), but the principle of making customer's data accessible to customers is a key trend. Facebook, Twitter et al. have already proved that making their systems open and giving customers control has only made their service more compelling.
Brands and loyalty programmes collecting customer data and interactions may have to take a leap of faith and empower the customer for the greater benefit of both the customer and the brand.
As Doc Searls said in his earlier thinking within the Cluetrain Manifesto:-
We are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. We are human beings—and our reach exceeds your grasp. Deal with it."