PayPal Says It’s Full Speed Ahead on Mobile Payments After President Resigns

When Scott Thompson announced he was stepping down as president of PayPal to become CEO of Yahoo, the company was shocked.

But a month later, both PayPal and its parent company eBay say they have the depth of leadership necessary to execute its plan to enter the world of in-store payments.

In an interview, David Marcus, PayPal’s VP of mobile, made the case for why its mobile payments strategy will prevail in a market surrounded by incumbents like Visa, MasterCard and American Express, as well as new entrants like Google.

On the matter of Thompson’s departure, he downplayed the role of one executive.

“The strategy wasn’t one man’s thing,” he argued. “It was a shock for 24 to 48 hours, but we control our destiny, and it’s about execution now. So far, so good.”

In addition to speaking to Marcus and several other executives, AllThingsD got an exclusive look at the company’s newly constructed “Shopping Showcase,” which will be used to demonstrate to potential partners how it envisions next-generation payments will occur at the register.

From the ground floor of the company’s San Jose headquarters, it has built several realistic-looking facades, including a hardware store, a grocery store, a clothing store and cafe; users can walk from one experience to the next. I also tried out the experience of making a real purchase at Home Depot, where it is currently being piloted at many San Jose-area stores. (See the slideshow here.)

To be sure, Thompson’s departure was abrupt. He gave PayPal only 15 hours’ notice before the planned announcement that January morning by Yahoo.

But the company now maintains that its strategy for the next two years had long since been cemented, making it much easier to absorb the blow.

Over the next few years, PayPal will be trying to take its online relationship with 106 million consumers worldwide into the physical payments world, by extending its digital wallet services to cash registers at grocery stores, hardware stores and other retail locations.

It plans to do this through a series of different technologies, including PIN codes, credit cards and other services.

Meanwhile, other providers are trying to attack the market using near field communication, where users will tap their mobile phone at the register in order to pay.

Google, Visa, MasterCard and a consortium of wireless carriers, including AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile, are all working on similar solutions, which will require retailers and consumers to upgrade their point-of-sale technology and mobile phones, respectively.

“Yes, NFC will be useful, and we’ll be there, but today we are trying to do more than replace swiping with tapping,” Marcus said.

He envisions shopping becoming a more fluid experience. Today, you pick out the items you want, place them in your shopping cart and then stand in line at the checkout.

But in the future, he asks, why couldn’t that change? What if you paid for items in the store’s aisles, or purchased them online before picking them up in the store?

NFC can be restrictive, because you have to be at a physical location in order to tap a terminal and pay.

The scenarios are possible, given how fast things are already changing.

Last year, PayPal exceeded its own expectations, reaching $4 billion in mobile payment volume. This year, it expects to increase that to $7 billion. One of those purchases last year was a $40,000 backhoe, which someone bought using PayPal on their phone.

“By the time NFC catches up, we will be in a world that will move away from the point-of-sales terminal,” he predicts.

As with PayPal’s traditional business, it expects to make money on fees, also called the interchange rate, which the retailer is responsible for paying. Its goal is not to provide a cheaper solution than the incumbents. Rather, it wants to provide other perks that will help retailers and provide incentive for the retailers to want to work with PayPal.

Such perks could include platforms that will allow the retailers to offer loyalty programs, shopping lists, credit options or coupons.

“If you add a payment method that adds 30 to 40 percent more volume [in business to the retailer], then the interchange doesn’t matter,” Marcus said.

Latest Video

View all videos »

Search »

There was a worry before I started this that I was going to burn every bridge I had. But I realize now that there are some bridges that are worth burning.

— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle