Full disclosure: I am an investor in and Board of Directors Member of Shoptagr, a company that makes a smart virtual shopping assistant, and which is a competitor of Honey Science Corporation.
When payments giant PayPal acquired Honey for $4,000,000,000 in late November, many people raised their eyebrows. Why would PayPal pay such a large amount to acquire what is essentially a coupon app with a wish list feature? And even more puzzling, it’s an app that operates overwhelmingly in the Chrome App Store, not exactly considered the most relevant platform.
PayPal logo can be seen at its office in San Jose, California, United States on November 23, 2019. … [+]
NurPhoto via Getty Images
But for the team at Shoptagr, a Tel Aviv-based startup, the news brought vindication and even a sense of relief. Our thesis —that there is immense value for consumers, merchants, and payment providers in virtual shopping assistants- was proved correct by the sale of our largest competitor to the world’s leading payment company for an eye-popping 4 Billion.
It’s the pre-purchase funnel dummy
Payment providers like PayPal, Klarna, and even Visa, strive to make paying for anything you buy online easier and more seamless. But they don’t actually own the customer data (information on what you’re buying, where, or what led you to buy it), just the financial transaction data. That kind of makes the payment providers like telecom providers: dumb pipes over which transactions are made by other companies who gather and analyze the data of consumers. And just like the telcos, the payment providers want a piece of the action that’s taking place on their infrastructure. Anything that can give these payment providers a competitive edge over their rivals will be strategic.
PayPal acquired Honey because they and most other payment companies have a very narrow view of their customer’s world; one that in many ways starts and finishes on the payment page of a product purchase funnel. For instance, a user reaches the payment page of a product they want to buy and chooses PayPal as a payment option. The user completes the purchase and now PayPal has very specific visibility into the purchase behavior of that user. Now PayPal knows who the purchaser was, how much they paid, and when the purchase was made. Overlay this data over many purchases of one or more buyers, alongside some demographic data, and PayPal has a treasure trove of data which has empowered it to become the amazing company that it is today. And yet, in today’s sophisticated world of massive data-usage, this is still a very narrow view of the world.
Here’s what I mean:
Let’s talk about (a fictional) Dana. Dana is a 26-year-old living in New York City who wants to buy her sister a birthday gift. Her sister’s birthday is in six weeks from now but Dana has already begun scouring the market for ideas, and is asking herself: “What do I buy her this year? How much should I spend?”
Over the next few weeks, Dana will spend lots of time browsing, researching, comparing, and contemplating what she should buy her sister. In the process, Dana would have visited 7 different retailers, browsed 4 different product categories, created a list of 11 different potential presents, and eventually decided to buy her sister a JBL Bluetooth Speaker for $105.99 from Target. She would also choose to have it gift wrapped and shipped directly to her sister’s college dorm room.
Until the Honey acquisition, PayPal would have had visibility into the last few moments of this purchase journey, right at the payment page. They could have never known that en-route to that shopping moment, Dana considered 4 other products, 2 other brands of Bluetooth speakers, and eventually chose (the more expensive) JBL speaker on Target because they were the only ones committing to having it gift wrapped and shipped on her exact birthday. Access to this pre-purchase funnel means they could understand user intent in real-time and influence purchase behavior way before the payment page.
On top of this increased visibility Honey will allow PayPal to provide the consumer with a more holistic and complete service. Rather than making paying for anything you buy online easier and more seamless they will be able to make shopping for anything you buy online easier and more seamless; wish list management, coupons, cashback, loyalty programs, and payments all-in-one.
Shopping assistants, like Shoptagr and Honey, create real value for the end-user. By providing an unbiased shopping assistant which helps overcome the fragmentation of online shopping (endless retailers, endless and changing price points, endless shipping options, etc) they save the shopper lots of time and headaches through price monitoring, coupon searching, and list management.
PayPal + Honey will usher in a period where Paypal has substantially more visibility into the entire process that leads to a purchase. The potential of such visibility alongside the potential to expand its consumer offering is the reason PayPal paid USD 4B for what is, at first glance, a web browser extension. Paypal publicly stated that they envision a multi-billion dollar upside from Honey. I agree. I’ll take it even further and say that, over the years, we may see PayPal’s consumer product turned into Honey, and payments will turn into only one feature in a wider consumer product offering developed by Honey.