When Amazon Payments meets high fashion, shopping gets a whole new look
Amazon hooks up with boutique clothier Moda Operandi, hoping to catch some magic for its fledgling payments service.
Ben Fox RubinFormer senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
In the immaculately appointed Club Room at the upper-crust Soho Grand Hotel in Manhattan, the luxury clothing e-retailer Moda Operandi was holding the first trunk show of its kind.
There, amid the brown leather couches and low-lit Edison bulb chandeliers, the small boutique seller presented cotton wrap tops and ruffle trench coats from the brand Tome with a little help from Amazon, an online retail giant more often associated with diapers than high fashion.
In new type of partnership for Amazon Payments, which lets people use their Amazon logins to make purchases on other websites, Moda Operandi will allow customers to pay online and in its stores (or trunk shows) without having to swipe a card or etch a signature. Instead, beacon devices will identify customers' smartphones right when they enter and can automatically log them in using their Amazon account information. Moda Operandi stylists armed with tablets can complete transactions for shoppers without customers ever having to reach for their purses.
"The check-in is the checkout," Kris Zanuldin, a technology manager for Amazon Payments, said Friday.
An added benefit to this service is that stylists are alerted to the customers coming in and can scan the items shoppers have favorited and placed in their carts online so they can make recommendations. For non-Amazon customers, Moda Operandi will continue to lean on the past, taking a credit card and swiping it at the back of the store.
The partnership with Moda Operandi is a small one, but it could be the first of many for Amazon. Moda Operandi is a niche e-commerce player that sells clothes and shoes for hundreds or thousands of dollars. It plans to use this in-store payments feature at its only two invite-only boutiques in New York and London, as well as at trunk shows and fashion events.
Yet, this deal points to what might someday become commonplace in the payments world. Payments -- yes, payments -- has become a hot topic in tech, with PayPal, Visa, Google and a growing set of startups trying to create faster, easier ways to get us to part with our money. Today, the payments market is messy and confusing, with competing tech companies encouraging customers to pay at the register using a dizzying list of apps or mobile devices.
But the current chaos points to a day in the future when there may not even be registers or cashiers. People would be identified when they walk into stores and could pay for what they need without having to wait in line or fumble with cards or cash. That's at least a goal. The Moda Operandi deal is another tiny step forward to get there, along with Google's new app called Hands Free, which lets people pay by telling cashiers "I'll pay with Google," and Visa's idea of having people's cars automatically pay for gas.
Amazon's interest in growing its payments service, which takes a small cut of each transaction, is to engage more customers, said Amazon Payments' vice president Patrick Gauthier, a former PayPal manager.
"Trust is not a painting you hang on a wall. Trust is something you nurture," he said during an interview at the hotel Friday. "When we enable consumers to use their Amazon accounts where they want, we're nurturing that trust."
Moda Operandi wanted the partnership to link up with a brand many customers already have an affinity for and use regularly, even if it's not for boutique clothing, said Keiron McCammon, Moda Operandi's chief technology officer. Amazon's over 300 million customer accounts makes for a lot of potential customers.
Yet Amazon's expansion into payments is being viewed with suspicion. The company is the biggest online retailer worldwide by sales and many retailers fear it may use data compiled through Amazon Payments to compete against them. That has kept Amazon Payments small compared with PayPal, the leading digital payments provider.
"Most of the other retailers don't want to see Amazon getting any more power," David Mitchell Smith, a Gartner analyst, said of Amazon Payments, "so it's by no means a slam dunk."
Gauthier said Amazon Payments only receives data on which customers shopped at a retailer and the total amount spent.
"We have never used data of Pay with Amazon merchants, we never will" except to make sure transactions are secure and work properly, he said.
Amazon previously struggled in stores with its payment schemes. The company last year shuttered its Amazon Register card reader, an also-ran against Square that allowed merchants in stores to swipe debit and credit cards using their mobile devices.
But, at least for now, the Moda Operandi deal offers a glimpse of a world without cash, card readers or even wallets.
"When Amazon brought the idea to us," McCammon said, "it's part of the magic that we always try to do for our customers to make this as seamless as possible."