Highwire’s Commerce Trends and Predictions

Image: Blake Wisz

At Highwire, we work with pioneering companies driving all sectors of commerce — fintech, retail, martech and adtech — which gives us a unique perspective into the industry. However, no one could have predicted 2020’s twists and turns. As the new normal becomes more clear, we’ve compiled our predictions for the industry based on research and the commerce trends we see. What does the rest of 2020 hold?

The rise in virtual tellers

Due to shelter in place orders, consumers have had to rethink even the most basic aspects of their lives, like how they get their groceries, see the doctor or talk to friends and family. Similarly, consumers will now rethink how they handle money. According to J.D. Power, consumer trends are already shifting to digital-first with 20% of consumers increasing in the use of mobile banking and a 17% increase in online banking. We can expect to see traditional financial institutions and fintech companies alike introducing new tools that allow greater access to digital banking.

Contactless reigns at the top

Unlike other nations, the US has remained behind in adopting technology that enables contactless payments. For example, 90% of face-to-face transactions with Visa-branded credit cards in Australia are contactless while a recent Mastercard survey found just 51% of Americans have turned to contactless amidst the spread of coronavirus. This is likely due to contactless being safer than cash or handing cards to cashiers. While contactless cards and mobile wallets will seemingly grow in popularity, we can expect a new crop of innovation from fintech to further provide new ways to make payments for risk-averse customers to handle future payments.

Luxury experiences go mainstream

High-end retail brands are known for their appointment systems and concierge-style customer service. In a world where socially-distanced shopping is the new normal, will non-luxury brands use this as an opportunity to elevate their in-store customer experience? The combination of limited traffic flow and new technology-enabled perks like virtual try-on will enable service representatives to interact with customers in a new way. While we still stand with our initial 2020 commerce trends that predicted mobile-only pickup stores will be a haven for the brand loyalist, this new in-store model could be a welcome change for those tired of the chaotic experience often experienced at large, fast-fashion stores. 

Activism aimed at advertising 

The Black Lives Matter movement raised a groundswell of activism that paralleled the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s, and a new target of the 2020 activism was advertising. While some brands faced backlash for their content and ad practices, Facebook took center stage as the focus of the #StopHateForProfit advertising boycott campaign. Over 1,000 companies including The North Face, Verizon, Starbucks and Microsoft boycotted the platform through the month of July resulting in an estimated $200 million in lost revenue for the company. The formal boycott has since ended, but many consumers remain sensitive to how the brand advertisers they support align business practices with their values and beliefs. With the presidential election fast approaching in November, these concerns about advertisers’ activities and messages are not likely to fade away anytime soon.

Problem Solving in Creative Ways –COVID-19 and the Commerce Industry

The coronavirus has wreaked havoc on communities, health systems and economies across the globe, causing immeasurable damage wherever it has hit. It has, however, also created some opportunities for technologists to invest their creativity and innovation towards developing positive solutions to the myriad challenges left in its wake. 

While the health crisis remains the most critical concern to be addressed, some of our clients took immediate action to develop resources and services for other problems posed in the Commerce industry, specifically in the finance and small business sectors. Here are some of the ways Highwire clients have supported their customers, consumers and communities at large during these challenging times. 

Blue Prism

To help organizations respond to the immediate challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic, global leader in intelligent automation and early pioneers of RPA Blue Prism developed a COVID-19 Response Program to donate software and services where automation can accelerate processes, improve efficiencies and supplement the efforts of human workers. One of the most impactful use cases for Blue Prism’s intelligent digital workers in the US has been in supporting the loan application process for the Small Business Association’s CARES Act. One investment management firm was seeing ten times the normal volume of requests and applied digital workers to automate the complete process in a way that’s compliant, secure and scalable. With another community bank, Blue Prism automated the process to apply for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, including submissions, bank review, underwriting, SBA reporting, approvals and payment, to be completed in one day.

Rocket Lawyer

As the coronavirus spread across the country and everyone from individuals to small businesses to global corporations began to feel the impact of closed economies, online legal services platform Rocket Lawyer focused its vast resources on supporting and guiding those facing newfound legal challenges and prolonged uncertainty. The company quickly built a free Coronavirus Legal Center to answer questions, provide legal advice and documents, explain the resources and benefits being offered by state and federal governments, and easily connect individuals to on-call attorneys to discuss specific concerns. Whether it’s families trying to understand if they qualify for stimulus checks or needing to draft documents clarifying their medical wishes, or small business owners seeking PPP loans or guidance on making layoffs or furloughs – Rocket Lawyer’s resource center provides the legal help needed to address their concerns, navigate any challenges and feel some reassurance during these strange and uncertain times. 

BlueVine

As small businesses across the country began to seek PPP loans quickly from the SBA, small business banking fintech BlueVine quickly partnered with banks and credit unions to use their technology and underwriting models to provide small business owners with relief and SBA approval in minutes. The company was also among a handful of fintechs approved by the SBA as a direct nonbank lender. While banks prioritized existing and large customers, BlueVine’s team of trusted advisors has been able to provide thousands of small business owners with much-needed government assistance and offer relief for those who need it the most: Main Street. 

As signs of recovery are starting to emerge in parts of the US, it’s heartening to see businesses take steps to support those in need around them, using the technology that’s been central to their company’s success. It goes to show that, while we may not be giving as selflessly as workers on the front lines, there are countless ways that we can all make a difference right now.

How has your company responded creatively to the COVID-19 crisis? Let us know in the comments below! 

The State of Fintech Conferences in 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our global health and economy, the fintech community is finding ways to adjust and marshall its resources and technology to help aid governments and consumers

It’s inevitable that fintech conferences this year have canceled or pushed out their events. Though some have resorted to a virtual option, and sticking to their original dates. While virtual events will certainly have a different look and feel, with the right set tactics, you’ll be able to achieve your goals, whether that includes sales prospecting, recruitment, fostering customer engagement, gathering competitive intelligence, or visibility. Keep in mind that digital advertising, content optimized for specific channels, and interactive forums for dialogue and engagement, among other strategies, can ensure you make the most of both virtual and physical events. 

Looking for insight on the state of fintech conferences? We’ve compiled a list of the major 2020 fintech conferences and noted their status. We hope to see you there (either virtually or possibly later this year in person). If you are hosting your own virtual event, learn more about how Highwire can support you here or get in touch with us at hi@highwirepr.com.

Continuing as Planned (For Now)

Finovate Fall — September 14-16, 2020, NYC

Money 2020 — October 25-28, 2020, Last Vegas

 

Gone Virtual

Consensus Distributed — A virtual event starting May 11, 2020. 

 

Postponed Until Later in the Year

CB Insights Future of Fintech — Now planned for November 16-18, 2020, San Francisco

Finovate West — Formerly Finovate Spring, it’s now planned for November 23-4, 2020, San Francisco

Digital Banking Conference — Now planned for December 7-9, 2020 in Austin, TX

Lendit — According to the website, “LendIt Fintech USA 2020 has officially been rescheduled for September 30 through October 1, 2020.”

 

Canceled

Fortune Brainstorm Finance — Originally slated for June 2020 in Montauk.

SALT Conference — Originally slated for May 2020 in Las Vegas. SALT Middle East is still listed as on for December 2020. Check back for updates. 

Highwire’s Top Fintech Predictions for 2020

From large financial services institutions like Mr. Cooper to disruptive financial technology startups like BlueVine and Credit Sesame, at Highwire we work with companies who are shaping the future of financial technology. We’re also in touch with journalists on a daily basis who cover everything in the financial commerce world, which gives us a unique perspective on the industry. While no one can say for sure what the future will bring, we do have some predictions for the coming year based on the latest trends and research.

As with all technology, fintech is evolving so fast that it can be hard to keep up. If you’re wondering what you can expect from fintech in 2020, here are our top four predictions:

  1. Banks, Banks, and More Banks

We’ve seen many tech startups launching banks in 2019, and this trend shows no sign of abating in 2020. With companies such as BlueVine working to power the next-generation of small business banking, it’s no wonder the booming fintech industry has been pegged as the ultimate bank “disruptor.” These startup banks tend to focus more on the consumer by giving them tools at the touch of a button, such as mobile credit cards. Big banks have even spent upwards of $8 million investing in digital technology, hoping to keep up with the small fintech banks in that regard. Expect to see new entrants with even more convenient features chipping away at big banks’ dominance. 

  1. Open Banking is Coming

Just because the U.S. is not subject to PSD2 doesn’t mean that there’s not going to be a push from consumers for banks to provide easy access to their data – in an effort to maximize the value that they get from their banking companies. In fact, 94 percent of FinTechs are already considering how open banking can enhance their current services. Look out for new and innovative API-based services from both banks and fintech startups in the next few years on both sides of the pond, with more tools designed to benefit the customer.

  1. Loans: Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

Americans’ insatiable demand for credit won’t slow down anytime soon. With fintech companies changing the way in which consumers access lending options, expect new loan products, as well as continued strong demand for existing products, in 2020 and beyond. The fact of the matter is, these fintech companies offer lending in a way that is different than what we’ve seen from big financial banks and institutions, including more perks and savings, alternative lending methods, and fast approvals with funds available sooner than later. Of course, all bets are off if there is any regulatory/legislative change to crimp demand. 

  1. More Fintech and Bank Partnerships

With robust growth in the private sector for the better part of the last decade, some sectors of the fintech market fear a slowdown and possible downturn in 2020 – and how we would react to that. That said, the continued consumer distrust of the traditional financial services and banking industries will most likely continue, and the demand for new, innovative, more convenient, and consumer-friendly services will continue. Of course, most of those offerings are built in partnership with fintechs, so we’ll see them continue to partner up with banks in 2020. 

What do you think? Will fintech thrive or dive in 2020? We’d love to hear your predictions. Leave your thoughts in our comments section below. 

Highwire’s Retail Trends and Predictions for 2020

At Highwire, we work with startups and tech companies that power the retail industry from end-to-end, and the media who cover all things in this space. This puts us in a unique position, with our fingers on the pulse of everything happening in the industry. 

While we don’t have a crystal ball to see the future for certain, we can predict what the coming year will bring based on the research and trends we’re seeing. So, what can you expect for digital commerce in 2020? 

Here are our top four predictions:

  1. The Return Revolution Picks Up Steam.

When holiday shopping is all said and done, the return season follows, bringing more anxiety than joy to the industry. Approximately 11% of goods are returned, and when it comes to e-commerce, that number can easily reach 30%. An Optoro study found that $390 billion worth of merchandise is returned in the US each year, resulting in 5 billion pounds of waste sent to landfills.

However, the retail industry is finally fighting back against the cost and burden of the return process with new approaches that save time, frustration, and the environment. From Amazon’s Returnless Refunds to independent retailers’ Happy Returns, alternatives help retailers save on the cost of shipping and processing returns, while consumers benefit from convenience and choice. We’ll see these approaches increase in 2020, including more options for retailers to resale or donate returned inventory, eliminating waste and improving their financial recovery.

  1. Recommerce is Hot and Getting Hotter.

Three in five Americans (61%) say they’re comfortable receiving a second-hand item as a gift. Research from online store ThredUp and retail analytics firm Global Data show the U.S. secondhand apparel market was worth $24 billion in 2018 and is likely to reach $41 billion by 2022. Savvy shoppers who want the benefits of the latest fashions while desiring more sustainability and affordability are fueling the trend.

With the resale market on the rise, brands need to do more than just get products out quickly. Increasingly important is the quality and design that can last for years to come. Look for more brands to expand into rentals and find other creative ways to embrace the resale market.

  1. Sustainability is In, and Here to Stay.

 Retail is greener than ever these days and this look is here to stay. Coffee shops filling only reusable cups, direct to consumer brands preaching transparency and ethics in how they source and sell goods, plastic bag bans, and a reduction in cardboard: these are all indicators of retail’s sustainable future. Consumers are increasingly prioritizing sustainability values when researching and buying products.

As the World Economic Forum affirms businesses’ purpose to include broader societal concerns, retailers are making changes to mitigate carbon emissions and reduce environmental impact, as well as meet eco-conscious consumers’ demands. According to Business of Fashion’s 2018 State of Fashion research, 66% of millennials worldwide are willing to spend more on brands that are sustainable. The voices of climate advocates are growing louder, and in the years ahead, we’ll see even more changes towards creating a sustainable supply chain for retail. 

  1. Stores are Back in Fashion.

We’ve seen a tsunami of brick-and-mortar retail closures across America, but from the ashes of an old retail model, a new wave of stores will rise. Look for more small brick-and-mortar stores to open in 2020 as mobile pickup centers rise to meet the expectations of the on-demand shopper. Mobile-only pickup stores will be a haven for the brand loyalist while traditional brick-and-mortar stores will get experimental and serve as a destination to drive new customers. 

Of course, the customer experience will become more important than ever, with shopping experiences that can’t be had online. Experiential retail will emphasize experiences that are shareable on social media, offering more than just products. Look for stores to emphasize their unique offerings through experiences that immerse consumers in their brand culture.

As we fill our carts this holiday season and think ahead to commerce in 2020, we’d love to know your predictions for the coming year. Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Attending NRF’s Big Show in January? We’d love to meet you! Drop a line to commerce@highwirepr.com and we can find a time to connect.

By: Tricia Nugent-Dawal and Stephanie Burke

What Happened at This Year’s Money 20/20

For fintech and payments companies of all sizes, Money 20/20 is a jackpot for networking and discussions on how technology will impact the future of money. Over the past year, we’ve observed new fintech companies break into the market, VCs flock to fund the next big idea and companies expanding to become a one-stop-shop for consumers and businesses. 

This year’s show trends were just as exciting. What happens in Las Vegas doesn’t necessarily stay in Las Vegas. Here’s what we saw and learned at this year’s show.

News that had a hot streak

Uber Money: Announced during a keynote, Uber is breaking into the financial industry offering drivers instant payments through a new no-fee checking account and debit card. Uber’s newest venture into finance is the latest venture of a startup venturing into territories previously held by traditional banks.

Amazon and Payments: No doubt with Amazon’s continued dominance in commerce that they’d make a splash by jumping into payments. At a keynote, Amazon announced a simple new Alexa tool, paying utility bills by voice.

BlueVine Business Banking: As startups continue to fill in the gaps where traditional banking falls short for consumers, BlueVine (a Highwire client) announced a monthly fee-free checking account service designed for small businesses – filling the gap left by traditional banks leaving most SMBs to use consumer accounts and pay $400+ in fees. 

What’s Trending

This year’s official #Money2020USA Twitter hashtag saw more than 24 million potential impressions from more than 1,200 contributors during the span of the show. During the span of the show, there was an average of 668 tweets per day with the hashtag. Looking at this year’s trends on Twitter, payments came away as the clear topic of interest. Just behind payments, AI was another buzzword top of mind during the show. Meanwhile, blockchain, cashless and cryptocurrency fell short on capturing Twitter’s attention.

20/20 Planning Tips

With the size and magnitude of Money 20/20, breaking through the noise to reach customers, reporters, potential partners and investors can prove to be challenging. As we enter planning for next year, consider standing out with digital activations. Having an always-on social strategy with video, polls and Q&As is a strong way to cut through the noise.

Using the right hashtags is key to reach a broader audience. For example, using #Money2020 saw nearly a third of the impressions as the official #Money2020USA tag saw, even with about half the number of tweets and contributors.

At this year’s show, Highwire PR had five clients in attendance. With our roots in journalism and deep experience in fintech, learn how we can elevate your story through traditional and digital communication campaigns. Reach out to our payments/fintech lead, Kim Paone, or shoot us a note at hi@highwirepr.com to learn more.

Let’s Talk about Techlash: Learnings on Bridging the Digital Disconnect from Advertising Week NYC

Advertising Week NYC has come and gone, and while the smell of popcorn has finally faded, some of the annual event’s biggest themes will be lingering for quite some time. Trust in tech was unsurprisingly a focal point, as the advertising industry continues to reel from negative headlines around consumer data and privacy, and braces itself for CCPA and other impending regulations. 

With that in mind, we listened in on a panel that spotlights new research from American Marketing Association (AMA) New York into the challenges presented by a growing resistance to technology and how marketers can work to address them. Called “Techlash is Here,” the conversation shined a light onto the disconnect between consumers’ privacy concerns and brands’ desire to reach their audiences with as much personalization as possible. Here are a few key takeaways from the study and dialogue — and what that means for tech.

Tackling techlash with transparency

Technology is all around us, playing a part in nearly everything we as consumers do. But in the U.S., many consumers are pushing back on tech’s ubiquity. AMA New York’s research found that in the next three years, many Americans will reduce their usage of social media and games. Facebook and Instagram use will level off by 2022, and Twitter, Snapchat and LinkedIn use is expected to decline. In spite of this, advertisers plan to invest even more into these channels. 

There’s a clear misunderstanding between marketers and consumers about the benefits and role of social platforms. Where marketers see opportunity, many consumers today see anxiety and risk. For marketers and advertisers to see a return on their social media investments, they will need to regain the trust of their audiences. They need to make a commitment to transparency in how, where and when they collect and use data, and put more control in consumers’ hands to monitor what they share. GDPR marked a shift in the regulatory tides, and a sea change is coming starting with CCPA in January. Marketers need to prepare themselves and have consumer sentiment on their side if they’re going to survive the storm. 

Tech skeptics on the rise

As anxiety about social media grows, so do wariness and skepticism around emerging technologies. More than 80 percent of Americans fear that fake accounts, falsehoods, hackers and bots will mislead consumers. No longer willing to blindly accept new technology for its promised benefits, consumers are boldly questioning what tech really offers and whether it might have damaging effects. Panelists called out smart speakers in particular as an innovation that U.S. consumers are growing resistant to, despite the utility of an always-on assistant. 

For technology companies to successfully deliver their future developments, they too will need to question their impact on the individuals they’re designed for. “There’s a need for people to come from humanities to question what is being built by companies like the one I work for, and ask how, if this gets into the wrong hands, will it be used,” said panelist Geoffrey Colon, Head of Brand Studio at Microsoft Advertising. “Someone needs to figure this out and say ‘We’re not about revenue. We’re about trust, privacy and consumer choice.’” 

Innovate with purpose

Consumer fears about the dangers and consequences of technology have been legitimized by major data leaks, hacks and scandals, but many marketers still fail to take them seriously — to their own detriment. Brands have an uphill battle to climb to convince users of their technology’s value, but it’s not an impossible task. 

Brands and tech companies need to put the customer front and center of their innovation efforts — and not just talk the talk — as they design and develop new tools. Innovation cannot just happen for innovation’s sake. It should serve a bigger purpose and be steered with a positive end goal in mind. As Viant CMO Jon Schulz aptly put it, “There’s a lot of innovation, but where is the consumer benefit?” 

This new era of techlash requires brands to think more critically about the purpose and benefits of technology. Will they step up to the challenge and regain consumers’ trust? Tell us what you think in the comments below.