Ecommerce transactions between a merchant and a consumer include several intermediaries. The process is akin to a toll booth on a turnpike. As the shopper speeds along his buying journey, various processors and banks interrupt the trip and snip a percent or two from the purchase amount. Merchants earn less.
While no one is predicting the end of ecommerce payments as we know them, digital commerce, in general, is changing.
Behaviors that existed in the tangible, physical world are now making their way into digital realms. These changes manifest as person-to-person commerce, the creator economy, digital bartering, and the so-called metaverse.
Let’s consider this last example.
Although the folks at Meta — Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp — are, perhaps, trying to own the word, “metaverse” was first coined by Neal Stephenson in his science fiction novel, “Snow Crash.” It describes a virtual reality environment where users can interact with each other and computer-generated objects.
The metaverse has the potential to augment many human endeavors, both real and virtual.
What will ecommerce payments look like in the metaverse? No one knows for sure, but there are some clues.
In “Snow Crash,” the protagonist visits a virtual pizzeria, where he can order a pizza and deliver it to his home in the real world. He uses “creds,” a digital currency, to pay for it.
Although this may seem far-fetched, it is not that different from ordering a pizza through an app such as Seamless, DoorDash, Uber Eats, or Grubhub. Both cases use a digital interface to order and pay for a physical product.
It is not hard to imagine a future where we use cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, or similar for ecommerce, despite their current volatility.
Value in a System
Evvio, an ecommerce technology company, has recently been offering an alternative payment option called Fluid Commerce. It’s a next-generation payment model and software infrastructure surrounded by a thick wall of international patents.
It is not a cryptocurrency necessarily, nor is it a new banking system. Instead, it is a method of trading value within a closed economy like the metaverse, video games, or an ecommerce marketplace.
A key to understanding Fluid Commerce is considering buyers and sellers interchangeably. For some transactions, a buyer purchases a product or service. But in others, she (the buyer) might sell a service and earn a living online.
This scenario is where infrastructure such as Fluid Commerce might become necessary. The exchange of value within a network does not have to rely on fiat money, payment card numbers, and third-party processors but, instead, something like Neal Stephenson’s creds that could be exchanged instantly, securely, and frictionlessly.
This concept and, presumably, the necessary infrastructure could work with Amazon, Shopify stores, or a yet-to-be-launched social commerce app.
Imagine paying no transaction fees or interest on purchases made through Amazon or Shopify.
Imagine merchants receiving payments not in a batch hours after the sale, but in milliseconds.
What’s more, this idea of trading value within a closed economy might appeal to the so-called unbanked, folks who don’t have a checking or savings account. According to a Morning Consult article, as many as 10% of U.S. households were unbanked in 2021.
Hence, a massive opportunity for both consumers and merchants.
The Company Store
Before running headlong into closed economies filled with non-fungible currencies, we need to remember that similar sorts of arrangements have existed in the physical world.
Company stores were typical in American mining towns during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These stores were owned and operated by the mining companies and were the only source of supplies for the workers.
However, the prices in those stores were often unfair, and workers could end up in debt, leading to a sort of indentured servitude.
A critical question with the evolution of digital commerce is whether it will be used as a way to reasonably and efficiently trade value or if it will become a burden.
For now, ecommerce merchants should continue to seek profits and customer satisfaction. But changes are likely coming, and all of us should understand the implications.