Exclusive Interview With David Tate, Senior Vice President, Products and Marketing at Blackhawk Network

Let's Talk Payments recently interviewed David Tate. He has served as Senior Vice President, Products and Marketing since December 2013 in Blackhawk Network. David originally joined Blackhawk Network as Regional Vice President, Business Development in October 2001 while the company was a specialty marketing division of Safeway. David was promoted to Group Vice President, Gift Cards in January 2005. David was promoted to General Manager, Core Business in January 2011. Prior to joining Blackhawk, David served in various sales, management and executive roles at On Technology and NewChannel Inc.

1. How big is the social commerce market in US and globally. Booz estimated it to be 15 billion in 2014. Is it so or bigger than this?

The Booz report defined social commerce as consumers making purchases within a social network’s platform, rather than at a retailer’s e-commerce site with these purchases only including hard goods like apparel, electronics, and not services or experiences. With that said, I think that social commerce is still a very fluid term that needs to be more clearly defined in order to properly quantify it. For example, this report may have included purchases made on Facebook as a result of targeted banner advertisements or commerce that started in a social experience and translated to a purchase in a brick and mortar location. Are either of these examples a full-fledged social commerce experience for any consumer?

2. The mobile shopping habits of consumers are evolving. Pinterest has added a buy button. Do you think it is the right time for integrating a buy button across social channels?

Yes—the mobile shopping habits of consumers are evolving, and to be able to accurately meet shopper experience expectations, I think it is going to be important to put the buy button in front of the consumer at the right place and time. For example, Instagram and other photo-focused social media platforms are, in my opinion, a good fit for this kind of on-demand technology. Brands, bloggers, and even everyday people like you and me are using Instagram to appeal to their networks. For example, it has become a place where fitness gurus boast their favorite products for getting in shape and fashion bloggers showcase their favorite brands—with or without sponsored posts. By simply searching for a hashtag of interest, be it #fitness or #fashion, consumers become loaded with images that may influence their path to purchase. Consumers are increasingly "Instagramming" or "SnapChatting products and experiences related to shopping. Social platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest have become important resources for the connected shopper. Consumers will often discover products or ideas from their network and influencers as part of their shopping experience.

3. What needs to be done to get social commerce right?

Commerce is often a social experience and shopping often involves engaging with friends and other trusted online sources for advice and recommendations along the path to purchase and post purchase. That said, there is a lot more we can do to create an online digital social experience that compliments the consumer behaviors that take place offline—like shopping with friends and trying things on for feedback, or window shopping or even picking out the perfect gift for someone. Often, the typical funnel starts too late where customers have already had these social experiences and have decided to start the funnel or often times not start the funnel. Merchants need to provide for these inherent social touch points throughout the consumer social media experience. By enabling these social experiences and participating earlier, the funnel for capturing buyers can start much earlier and be much more dynamic.

Additionally, consumers have adapted to prefer the quick, easy-to-digest style of social platforms such as messengers as well as photo and video sharing. The extent to which these platforms leverage the natural social interactions and human engagement inherent in commerce will determine how successful they are. Consumers don’t want to be interrupted during their social experiences. Consumers do want to engage with their friends and their influencers along their path to purchase. Beyond the initial purchase, social tools allow consumers to share their products or experiences as well as learn from a community of others, which can reinforce a brand and initiate another path to purchase. Lithium technologies is an example of a social platform tapping into the post-purchase experience. Fundamentally, the natural integration of commerce with consumers’ daily social habits on these platforms will be the key to success.

4. What will be a great experience for customers in mobile wallet? How will loyalty and gift card integration make the experience better?

Some wallets try to replicate physical wallets but in a mobile format. We need to move beyond this to really have an amazing experience. The wallet has the potential to connect all the relevant payment, loyalty, coupons and deals. Mobile wallets that focus only on making credit cards or debit cards mobile are missing some value; those cards are easy for consumers to carry in their wallets everyday. It’s all the other payment tools and elements that are sometimes forgotten at home, lost, etc.

5. How digital gift card exchanges are resolving the issues of unused cards.

Gift cards remain the most requested gifts in America. However, that means sometimes consumers end up with gift cards that they can’t use, and an unused gift card doesn’t do the shopper any good.

The demand for gift card exchanges grew organically from consumers; this is something they were already doing on their own. Now, gift card exchanges like allow consumers to buy and sell gift cards in a single digital environment.

Gift card exchanges can be win-win for retailers and consumers, when done right: consumers can sell their unused gift cards for cash and or buy previously owned gift cards for a discount. And retailers get their unused gift cards into the hands of consumers who will use them, creating a positive experience and driving loyalty.

6. What are the things you plan to do in the future to provide customers a better experience?

To contribute to the future of the customer experience, our plans include continuing our focus on the customer starting with discovery through the path to purchase and ultimately, the post-purchase experience. This includes the growth of gift card exchange to allow consumers to have a good experience. Additionally, providing better integration for gift cards into the mobile experience (as these cards may not be carried around in consumers’ physical wallets), is another area of focus. The mobile platform represents an opportunity to engage with consumers and brands like never before. Our goal is to continue to work with our partners and customers to make this opportunity meaningful.