jeff bezos laughing

Asa Mathat

Commerce


The payments industry has been waiting for years for Amazon, with its 215 million credit cards on file, to flex its muscles. Apparently, CEO Jeff Bezos has been, too.

Industry sources have recently told Re/code that Bezos has identified payments as one of the top areas of focus and investment for Amazon, and Amazon payments boss Tom Taylor acknowledged as much in a interview last week at the company’s Seattle headquarters.

“Jeff’s told us it’s something we need to be successful in, and should be successful in,” Taylor said.

“The pressure I feel from Jeff is, ‘Go faster,’” he added.

Amazon has been working for years to try to take advantage of its massive database of customer payment information. One way it has attempted to do this is by pitching other commerce sites on the idea of letting their customers buy products and services from them using payment and shipping information the customers have stored with Amazon. Amazon, in turn, takes a fee on each of those purchases.

It has also pitched a product that allows other online businesses to keep a digital record of who visits their site by letting those visitors use their log-in information from Amazon to sign in rather than having to fill out an annoying amount of new information.

Amazon eventually combined the two products into one, called Login and Pay With Amazon, which it launched last fall. While Amazon says it has thousands of sites using the product, the Gogo inflight Internet service is one of the few big names on the customer list.

Industry observers believe that’s because Amazon now competes with so many different types of online businesses that would never want Amazon seeing data about their sales. But Taylor said that concern is overblown, in part because the Login and Pay product does not allow Amazon to get details of the exact products purchased on the partner sites; a separate Checkout product, which also includes virtual shopping-cart software that handles tax calculations and the like, does.

“There is some aspect in the press of, ‘of course nobody uses Amazon [payments], because they’re afraid of you,’” Taylor said. “But those people we think of as competitors don’t have a payments problem.”

Re/code also reported earlier this year that Amazon is planning to offer payments and point-of-sale systems to physical retailers, which would potentially run on Kindle tablet computers.

Taylor would not confirm or deny the report when asked about it last week.

“More to come. Stay tuned,” he said.

Industry observers and competitors have also been waiting for Amazon to make a move in the competitive, but still underperforming, mobile wallet wars. But if Taylor’s comments are any indication, they may have to keep waiting.

The payments chief expressed skepticism that current mobile payment options for in-store purchases solve any real problems for shoppers. That said, Taylor said Amazon is looking at other offline commerce transactions where paying by phone would alleviate customer frustrations.

In one hypothetical example, drivers would use an Amazon mobile payment product to pay for parking. In another, a diner could use an Amazon payments product to pay for a meal in a restaurant with their phone.

“Where we see those pain points, we’ll focus our attention,” he said.

As for another hot category, peer-to-peer money transfers, many people would be surprised to learn that Amazon already offers a peer-to-peer payment feature similar to PayPal’s. I know I was.

“It’s not a significant part of the business,” Taylor said, “and we haven’t really promoted it.”

Why is that? I asked.

“We’re not sure we’re doing anything better than anyone else,” he said plainly. If and when we think that has changed, he said, “we’ll emphasize it.”

The boss is waiting.



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