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Payments Powerhouses: Taking Ecommerce Customer Experience to the Next Level with ShopBack's Hamish Moline

In this instalment of Payments Powerhouses, we discuss ecommerce innovation, the future of loyalty programmes, and more with Hamish Moline, Managing Director of Financial Services at ShopBack.

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Hamish Moline is Managing Director of Financial Services at ShopBack, a Singapore-based rewards and discovery platform leading the wave of smarter shopping in Asia Pacific. He spearheads the development and rollout of commerce-related financial services under the ShopBack brand.

A veteran in FinTech with over 25 years of experience, Hamish previously held leadership positions at PayPal, Visa, eBay, and Australian Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) firm Zip.

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Welcome to Payments Powerhouses, Hamish! Your experience in finance spans working as a derivatives trader and becoming a CFO at eBay. Tell us about your career journey and switching to FinTech and payments.

Hamish: I do have quite a mixed career path. I was an equity analyst early on but I felt like a commentator and wanted to be in the game. So that's why I moved out of that and ended up in FinTech in 2004. I was doing mortgage processing through APIs for banks, but the 2008 financial crisis caused some challenges. And then, I joined eBay as Chief Financial Officer - ANZ, which I loved. Ecommerce was really growing, and I enjoyed what eBay was doing in terms of moving from an auction to a B2C site. I never thought I'd go into payments, but an opportunity came up in Singapore with PayPal. Eventually, I went to Visa to become VP of Strategic Partnerships & Ventures - APAC. And that was a very exciting time, too, as Visa was busy evolving its business. Having worked with banks for 40 years, Visa was looking at how they could work with FinTech going forward, and my job was to lead that and work out how to service that part of the market.

Are there any particular aspects of payments that attracted you to this space?

I learned a lot at Visa about how things were evolving. It's less about payments and more about seeing these new companies forming and challenging the status quo in banking. The early ones, like Revolut and Wise, focused on foreign exchange and saw a huge opportunity in cross-border trade and FX that had previously been very expensive.

Recently we have had the BNPL proposition that is really a repricing of risk. It's saying everyone's (background) is not the same and we can do things differently for some people. We needed a fairer and more transparent solution for smaller credit, so BNPL has started to grow. And you're now seeing the next trend, which is different ways to manage assets or store value. Crypto is an example of that, along with blockchain and the tokenization of assets.

Please share some details about your current role at ShopBack.

I'm accountable for financial services. Our approach is different, and it’s about creating an integrated experience, bringing together our loyalty and rewards platform with the ability to pay that closes the loop on transactions for customers and merchants. And so for us, the financial services business, demand gen, or loyalty rewards platform are not separate – we want to bring this experience together. That's why I joined ShopBack.

It has been an exciting time for ShopBack recently, with your successful raise earlier this year, the launch of ShopBack Pay, and the move to a new HQ office in July.

We're very proud of the fundraising, given the current environment. It's a testament to our business model and the belief from our investors that we're not a traditional FinTech; we have something bigger and better.

The new campus is great. It's set in an old school building.

We're proud of the environment and culture we've created at ShopBack. It brought the team together post-COVID. In terms of business, we launched ShopBack Pay in Singapore earlier in the year, and that's been very successful for us. We've launched in Australia as well. Another big development was our acquisition of hoolah [APAC's leading BNPL player] and the bringing together of our platforms to fully integrate that experience. It took some effort to bring the whole team and the tech together, but we did that in rapid time. So we're very proud of that, and it has given us a great leap forward for this year.

ShopBack’s co-founder Joel Leong has described the company as a middleman, an agent helping brands or merchants market and grow their business. Could you elaborate?

At our core, we're the leading cashback rewards and loyalty platform across Asia, with 35 million customers. It's a well-established business that started with a traditional affiliate model where we were driving traffic to merchants. And for that, we got commission and provided benefits back to the consumer. So that was the genesis of the business. And we've added lots more features, such as vouchers, to the platform.

But what's most important, we moved in-store – what was an online business is now increasingly an in-store business as well. The payments part of our business has closed that loop and helped us take what we do very well online to the in-store environment.

What motivated ShopBack’s move in-store?

We had done very well online, and in-store was a natural progression. Also, some of our merchants said, “Hey, could you help?” And certain verticals could do it very quickly. So it was a fairly organic shift. It made sense.

Sometimes, when I shop in-store, I get a ping from the ShopBack app saying, “Hey, you just enjoyed Cashback”. So it's always a pleasant surprise!

That’s a great product for our customers. We allow you to link any card in the ShopBack app. And then, when you use that card to shop at a merchant, we have offers and deals automatically accredited to you. Then you get that surprise, a text message that suddenly says you’ve saved some money.

In such a competitive ecommerce environment, how do you nurture strong partnerships?

The competitiveness of ecommerce is partly why we exist in the first place. We're not a retailer or a marketplace ourselves. Our role is to help companies, and brands, in particular, get access to customers directly. And so we've packaged up a lot of marketing tools and things that our merchants can use to access our customer base.

And the key to our business and engagement is the account management of our merchants. We work very hard with them to understand their goals, the marketing they're trying to do throughout the year, and what they want to achieve, and then we target solutions and packages for all of our merchants.

You have over 35 million shoppers across 8,000 merchants in Asia Pacific. Are there plans for further geographical expansion of ShopBack?

We're always looking at what new markets might make sense. And in fact, we will be launching another one soon to make it 10. It's nine now. But we're also cautious. Our focus is very much on Asia; we don't look at other markets. So today, our bigger focus is expanding our reach in our existing markets and adding these new solutions to the platform.

What are some notable differences in shopper behaviour and expectations, given this region's diverse range of markets?

Ultimately, we’re all the same. Consumers are looking to buy the things they need or love at the best value, which doesn't differ where you are. And equally, merchants are all trying to grow their business, get more customers, and increase loyalty and conversion. So at that level, things are very similar. The thing we notice that is quite different in Asian markets, particularly online, is the dominance of some large marketplaces in specific markets. Shopee and Lazada drive a huge percentage of some markets' ecommerce. And so, brands have less access directly to customers. One of the areas we focus on is how we help brands reach their consumers directly through our platform.

What are some of the sort of strategies you have implemented to help the brands?

We work with the platforms themselves on solutions for brands to get access to our customer base through an affiliate program. We've worked very hard on those programs. The other thing we do is directly engage with many of these brands. And then, we package up solutions for them and do very targeted marketing to our consumer base. We talk to them about what segments they’re after, why they're after them and how we could access them. And then we help them do that.

Can you explain the types of financial services ShopBack offers?

We have Card-linked Offers – being able to link your existing payment credentials or your cards - debit and credit - to ShopBack, and then enjoy shopping experiences in-store and get Cashback or other rewards. We've also rolled out QR payments. ShopBack Pay also comes with Cashback, and we've focused that very much on the food and beverage industry, the ones that we can help drive loyalty. It's really a loyalty platform, more than a payment solution. Our merchants know how to get paid. This is really about repeat purchases and engagement. And then the final one is PayLater, and we have that service now in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand.

But we think differently from a wallet or a standalone PayLater business because of the integration with our demand gen platform. And so we by no means look at a financial services business and our demand gen business as separate. And that's what is unique for us - we're making sure this bundle proposition is valuable to our customers and merchants.

Are you pushing any of these products more aggressively?

We're leaning a lot into ShopBack PayLater. What we've done with it in Singapore has been successful. But at the moment, it's very focused on the food and beverage segment. We will expand that this year and into next year. It’s a big opportunity for us - we have a million shopping trips a day that ShopBack drives in other verticals, fashion, travel, and home electronics. We know that PayLater is something consumers want on that shopping journey. And so, for us to expand into those verticals more heavily, and given we have a strong customer base in those already, adding PayLater is a big focus for us.

Pickup in Thailand has been surprisingly good already. There's a real need in a market like Thailand for a solution like PayLater, where there's less access to traditional forms of credit. We see the behaviour in Singapore: “Hey, you must have a deal and a sale attached to the PayLater transaction for anyone to use it”. It's not true in other markets because the core value proposition of delaying your payment is enough. And so we're seeing take up in Thailand without the need for all this promotion.

How do you see the future of cashback reward and loyalty programs evolving?

Personalisation is something all ecommerce players and brands look at - even in-store experiences are getting more personalised. And that trend will continue, and we're investing a lot in the right segmentation, activation and personalisation of the experience.

In terms of cashback rewards, programs and loyalty, we're very excited about what we're doing. Looking back in history, the big programs were airline point programs with points based on their transactions; you get points towards future flights. And then, they worked with the banks to add it to credit cards. That became a points program for cards. They expanded it to merchants and built merchant networks that could use their points programs.

Many customers these days don't want points, or they want more flexibility on how they can use those points. And a lot of customers don't want credit cards. And so, that platform for loyalty is evolving, and we're playing a role in that shift. Our research shows that customers want much more immediate gratification and some immediate cashback. The fact that we aggregate many merchants’ offers benefits the customer. They can aggregate all those things and then use those points to buy things anywhere. So it's a much more flexible solution aligned with the future.

Do you see blockchain or AI being utilised for this as well?

Obviously, blockchain solutions will continue to grow and find use cases. The big one at the moment for us is tokenization. It's where you bring together identity, address and a payment credential and bundle that into a secure token. And then allowing consumers to use that token where they want is a really interesting development. It has yet to play out fully. Apple Pay is a good example of tokenized products. But if you could stretch that further, we're building our own tokenized ecosystem, and we'll share it amongst people in our network. We have yet to look at a completely decentralised one that everyone could use. Blockchain could solve that problem, but we have some way to go for adoption.

Does that mean ShopBack is also looking at accepting crypto?

We’re looking at it. We look at how crypto is being used and whether it is just a store of value or a transactional means of transferring money for the types of transactions we do. As that takes off and stabilises, we'll definitely be adding crypto.

Going back to the topic of cashback and retaining brand loyalty, a recent survey said Gen Z consumers want a new brand loyalty experience and that cashbacks are losing their appeal. What do you think?

I'm not sure that's true. I think that they do want a broader brand experience. And you'll see some of the most innovative brands around the world building brand experiences that resonate to bring their customers back. So that's definitely going to happen. But I think other methods – cashback, using platforms to target specific customers at certain times to do peak promotions – these things aren't going away. We believe that retailers will continue to want these solutions, whether it's cashback or other rewards, and customers want to aggregate these in one place too. So there are only so many apps you're going to have on your phone. I think we see that as converging more.

Is ShopBack’s in-store retail presence available across all 10 markets?

No, it's not. The main ones are Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, and Thailand, and we might also have card-linked offers in one or two other markets. But we will look to try and expand that. The in-store opportunity’s huge. As an industry, we've solved some of the attribution models for online commerce and how you can drive incrementality and prove it. That has yet to happen in-store at the same scale. And we can help solve that problem and ensure that we can drive incrementality and engagement for consumers in an in-store and online environment.

We have a number of solutions, like location services, that you can push out as notifications when someone's in a particular place. And that helps drive a customer into a store or consider something whilst they're shopping – those things we're scaling now. And then we have other interesting things, like pre-commits, where people can commit to buying something in the future. And for that, they'll get a discount. Then we show this to the retailers and market to the customer. That helps bring them in-store as well. So there are some interesting things we're working on.

What kind of benefits can merchants enjoy?

We work on joint marketing campaigns and how we will segment customers and push things out for them at what times of the day. For example, do they have lulls and want to do something, and what times of the year? And so the benefit for the merchant is we get very tailored with them on when and what they want to do.

We also work on annual campaigns, staggering them out over the year, and we work with merchants and understand the timing of their campaigns as well.

We've been talking a lot about cashback and shopping. Are you a big shopper yourself?

I’m a big online shopper. I worked at eBay for five years, so you get it drilled into you when you’re there, to the point where I'll always start looking online first. If I can do it quickly on my phone, I'll do that rather than go to the mall.

Do you recall your last purchase using ShopBack?

I know it was something for my bike on Lazada because I buy a lot of that stuff.

Outside of shopping, what do you do for fun?

Cycling is one of my things, and I enjoy that here in Singapore. The other is hanging out with my kids; they're in Australia, but I enjoy going home to surf with my son and sailing with my daughter.

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Payments Powerhouses is a monthly editorial series interviewing the movers and shakers of the payments and wider fintech industry in Southeast Asia and beyond. If you’d like to be featured on Payments Powerhouses, reach out to us here.