Square exec discusses the metaverse and e-payment trends

While major retailers ponder the potential of the Metaverse as their next revenue stream, most retailers aren’t thinking about it. Many are new to electronic payments technology.

But does the average Main Street retailer see these virtual goods and environments as a future profit center? We asked this question and many more to Roshan Jhunja, Managing Director and Head of Retail at Square.

Square was launched in 2009 to enable small businesses to accept credit card payments and use tablets as point of sale registers. The company’s main customers remain small and medium-sized enterprises. That said, in its 13-year history, Square has expanded into consumer payments (Cash App), music streaming (Tidal), cryptocurrency (Spiral) as well as financial services, from payroll and human resources, including Afterpay, a “buy now, pay later” installment loan which, along with peers Klarna, Sezzle and Affirm, has be subject to scrutiny by the mainstream press.

Square renamed itself Block in late 2021, but retains many products and services under the Square brand.

Square launched e-commerce hosting. Why was it a good strategy to go after well-established companies like Shopify, BigCommerce, Magento, and even marketplaces like Amazon – which in some cases are your e-payment partners?

Roshan Jhuja

Roshan Jhunja: Our DNA is in the brick and mortar. You liken us to the pop-up store at the farmer’s market, the coffee shop. It is always payment in person. We really want to allow sellers who started offline, or in store settings, to move online.

We have ways for customers to create online stores, and you can sell on TikTok and Instagram. Much of this has been accelerated by the pandemic. We kind of tried to make sure sellers could transition from their in-store selling experience to an online selling experience. Now it’s a big omnichannel continuum. This is where we are; we empower sellers who know a lot about selling in person to tackle the very complex world of digital selling across all these different channels and markets.

It was launched just before the pandemic. And then what happened?

Jhunja: If you’ve plotted adoption as a curve, I think the pandemic has pushed us much further, faster. We were already going there. Most people, when they change their behavior – whether it’s a consumer wanting to buy online or a seller wanting to start selling online – need a nudge, a reason to do so. It’s either critical mass, like your customers coming in and asking, “Why don’t you have a website?” or sellers want to expand and attract a new demographic.

The pandemic was a powerful push because you had no other choice – if you wanted to stay in business you can’t physically sell anymore so everyone overnight had to build sites and figure out all the stuff was happening online. It forced a lot of thinking and gave people a little kick that they otherwise wouldn’t have had.

From your perspective of working with all retailers – not just big chains experimenting with the metaverse — is there a lot of enthusiasm for selling in the Metaverse?

Jhunja: Within our base of sellers – usually small sellers, one to three physical physical locations, maybe online, with three employees – we listen to what they want us to do next. What are their customers asking of them? So far, their customers may be asking them to sell live on TikTok. These are the opportunities for the trader to connect to conversational trading. Or “I want to be able to text back and forth and have a checkout that way.”

I haven’t heard many requests from our vendors for the metaverse yet. When it pops up, we’ll 100% go check it out and see what we can offer them. The approach will be no different from our approach in any other shopping venue: take something that will probably be complex enough for the average seller to figure it out on their own and make it accessible. Give them a way to take their existing catalog, promote it, figure out how to close a sale on the metaverse.

The pandemic has increased the popularity of technologies that support credit and installment payments such as Klarna. Block bought Afterpay earlier this year. Why is there such a craze for these automated services right now?

Jhunja: He grew like crazy, that’s why we bought Afterpay. They got their start in Australia, where there’s a much bigger penetration of buy now, pay later, much like how direct selling started in China. Will it still resonate with people in the United States? I think from what we see, the answer is yes. It tends to resonate well with a younger consumer demographic.

Gen Z doesn’t have access to credit — they haven’t built up enough credit history to earn traditional credit cards — or they’re just afraid of going into debt and paying late fees. The good thing about buy now, pay later is that if you miss a payment, the world stops and waits until you can catch up. They don’t let you dig yourself deeper into the hole. It also makes a major purchase more accessible. It’s not a sticker shock on the front. You can spread it out a bit. We’re seeing a lot of traction online now. We’ll find out if that also equates to in-store. This is a fairly convenient means of payment that buyers are getting used to more and more.

Have you heard a call among Square users to headless tradeor is it more sophisticated than necessary?

Jhunja: I wouldn’t say way After. We have larger, more complex vendors that have their own developers and agencies. They want customization, they want to configure things in a bespoke way, and we have that capability. If anything, we’re building a stable of recommended partner agencies who know the Square ecosystem and how to work with it.

Who is the typical Square customer who sells live? Is it a particular size company or does it sell certain types of products that lend themselves to viewing?

Jhunja: It’s no different than what livestream sellers [everywhere] are successful, that is, women’s clothing. This is where it all began. You also have a lot of women’s accessories, like boutique handbags, high-end luxury clothes, and unique accessories that are selling very well.

With the most popular live streaming hosts – that’s a big part of live streaming, by the way – it’s not just about what you buy. It’s about the personality and quirks of the person you buy from who shows you all the things and you dance with them.

This Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Don Fluckinger covers enterprise content management, CRM, marketing automation, e-commerce, customer service, and enabling technologies for TechTarget.

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