Offer alternative payment methods. Almost 42% of global transactions are made using alternative payment methods and that number is expected to increase. And our research tells us that only 40% of ecommerce shoppers have their credit card within easy reach while shopping, accepting payments via e-wallets and other methods can help decrease checkout abandonment. Merchants must select the right combination of payment methods for their target customers.
Aspart of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rafael Lourenco, Executive Vice President and Partner at ClearSale, a card-not-present fraud prevention operation that helps retailers increase sales and eliminate chargebacks before they happen. The company’s proprietary technology and in-house staff of seasoned analysts provide an end-to-end outsourced fraud detection solution for online retailers to achieve industry-high approval rates while virtually eliminating false positives. Follow on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter @ClearSaleUS, or visit https://www.clear.sale.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Mybackground is in data science. After earning my degree in statistics, I realized that there were so many industries that needed my particular skill set. This presented some difficult decisions I had to make. While my experience pointed me to putting my technical skills into practice with a large organization, I wanted an opportunity that would allow me to work with different departments and gain skills that would give me well-rounded knowledge. That’s why when I was job-hunting, I looked for start-ups instead of larger corporations to join. After a great experience at another small company, I crossed paths with ClearSale. At that time, (over 12 years ago) we had 26 employees and only two of them were working with analytics.
What attracted me to ClearSale was the fact that the co-founder and CEO was a statistician, and he showed me how data science and machine learning are at the core of the organization. I was immediately drawn to his passion for how this relatively new technology could help protect businesses. Making real-time decisions with our innovative algorithms for such a high number of orders is the reason we directly impact the satisfaction and profitability of our clients. Having come in on the “ground floor” of this small company, I was thrilled to be an integral part of ClearSale’s tremendous growth over the years (now with over 2,400 employees).
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When I was promoted, my manager and I were considering how to best communicate the news to the team that I had been a member of. As someone who had worked with them for a while, I wanted the news that I would be moving into a managerial position to be done in a fun and personal way. I came up with a bit of a risky idea, which involved a group exercise where we would first think of qualities that make up a good co-worker, like creativity, technical knowledge, interpersonal skills, etc. We then wrote those qualities down on pieces of paper and were told to give the notes anonymously to our colleagues based on who best exemplified that quality.
My hope was that I would receive many of the “leadership” quality notes — but this was why it was risky. I would have been terribly embarrassed if all the leadership notes were given to someone else! Thankfully, that did not happen — in fact, all the leadership notes (except mine of course) were delivered to me, and then when we all revealed our notes, I made the announcement that I had been promoted. It was very fitting for our team and I think it made our bond stronger as I moved into this new position.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
I had to learn the hard way that you must be careful using corporate terminology, as it is very easy to misunderstand someone and it can affect the way you see them. One of the funniest stories that happened to me was in my first job. I was still an intern, and I had called a meeting. I was eager to impress the team I was working with and wanted to share some ideas I had about our product solution. In the agenda, I had included a note that was meant to indicate that I wanted to discuss some new feature ideas I had. I wrote “new resources” which, in my mind, meant discussing features that would be a resource to those using the solution. However, my boss at the time saw that and assumed I was stepping way over my position to make a request for more people to be hired. Cut to my boss inviting HR to the meeting, and I was so confused when he started telling me how I wasn’t entitled to hire more people for the team when all I wanted to discuss was a new feature for the software!
Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
One thing I’ve been working on recently is the creation of systems and processes, as well as adapting the corporate culture, in order to get our company to a 100% remote environment. While ClearSale will still maintain a main office, we will not require employees to be in the office most of the time. Since the pandemic hit us worldwide, we quickly shifted our entire workforce to remote and it forced us to evolve our system and standard operating procedures to accommodate that. We now see the benefits of having a permanent remote work option, as it has had a positive effect on the morale of our team and hasn’t affected efficiency. Not only that, but having a remote system opens up our ability to acquire global talent that we may not have been able to consider before.
In order to make this new remote system a part of our permanent corporate structure, I have to think about how to remain agile and adaptable to the new situations that come with a remote working environment. I am also focused on what more we can do right now as a company to support our employees. I’m currently taking part in these discussions and it’s been very exciting to think about this new evolution that is happening.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
In the project that I mentioned above, one of the things we are trying to address in our discussions of culture and daily processes related to the work from home environment is the fact that some executives are finding it difficult to split their time between personal and professional duties in their day-to-day life, which can easily lead to burnout.
At ClearSale, we conducted several surveys and internal polls to ask about people’s mental health, their resources, and what is and isn’t working for them. We realized that one of the things that got much worse was the number of hours that our executives were spending in meetings. Why? Because when you are in the office you have the ability to discuss things during a coffee break or you can have a quick discussion at a person’s desk. This is not necessarily an option when working from home.
I’d say that my one suggestion is one that we have been trying to implement at ClearSale and have already seen quite a bit of success with, which is to increase the percentage of decisions that are made asynchronously, meaning not necessarily in real-time. While I know most are used to decisions being made and questions being answered immediately, having the frame of mind that you are going to give some time for feedback/decisions from your team, helps tremendously to reduce time that we must be in meetings and helps reduce the risk of burnout. By taking advantage of communication tools or polls, we are better able to reach a consensus and avoid the fuss of scheduling team meetings (especially when those involved might be in different time zones).
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I am very grateful to have received help from various people throughout my journey. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help from my previous team members and my current team. To be more specific, there are two people I’m very grateful for: Pedro Chiamulera, the Chairman and President of ClearSale and Bernardo Lustosa, the CEO at ClearSale.
Bernardo has been my manager for the last 12 years and, as a result, our relationship has become very valuable to me. As a young executive, I was a bit of a rebel. I had a very intimate relationship with the company and I had this sense of ownership and I wanted to change things for the better. However, I wasn’t necessarily the best at communicating my feedback or criticism. Sometimes my approach came off as too aggressive. One of the things I’m so grateful for about Pedro and Bernardo is their generosity and ability to deal with a skeptical and aggressive young executive with a lot of ambition. Rather than feeling offended by my aggressive and rough nature, they instead decided to guide and mentor me. They taught me how to better express myself and became not just my role models, but also my very close friends.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
It may sound a little pretentious, but I do think that at ClearSale we bring some sort of goodness to the world and I say that for two reasons. The first one is because of what we do. As a fraud prevention solution, we do everything we can to prevent fraudsters, like those that buy credit card information on the dark web and then use it to place orders online, from being successful in their attempts. With every successful fraud attempt, a business loses revenue and faces charges, which means that they have to turn around and charge consumers more for their products just to break even. If fraud can be prevented, businesses don’t have to worry about staying active, about losing money, or about charging their loyal customers more. We dream about a fraud-free world, but sadly there will always be those that want to take advantage of the systems in place, so while that is still the case, we will be here, fighting for what is right.
The second reason why I believe we can deliver some goodness to the world is because of our people. At ClearSale, our employees are from multiple countries and from multiple social, economic, and educational backgrounds. We have people that are entry-level and we have high-level executives. ClearSale tries to make an impact on all of these peoples’ lives. We are a B-certified company and our highest score on the EST certification is our own community, so the goodness we deliver to our own community comes in the form of services such as language courses, theater courses, supporting working mothers, psychological and mental health support, and similar initiatives. ClearSale has been awarded as a “top company to work for” by the Great Places to Work Institute nine years in a row. Bernardo was recently awarded by Comparably as one of the best CEOs for diversity and tops the list of best CEOs for work-life balance. The bottom line is this — we strive to make the lives of our staff better. In this way, we are elevating our little subset of the world, so that they can go out and elevate others. Good begets good, so I think our efforts are bringing good to the world.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
When the pandemic first hit, some retailers were left scrambling to make the transition to online and others struggled to keep up with demand due to the rapid increase in online shopping. Those that did not have an online sales channel had to quickly pivot by building out their digital stores, and those that were already online had to adapt the customer experience for the new normal by:
- Providing customers with real-time information about product availability and shipping.
This is especially true for businesses experiencing supply chain issues, product shortages, or logistics difficulties. Real-time tracking is key to keeping customers informed about where their packages are, but also to help prevent package theft which has been on the rise.
- Balancing security and customer experience at checkout to boost customer satisfaction and reduce cart and merchant abandonment.
Ecommerce order screening represents an opportunity to either earn a customer’s loyalty or lose them forever. In fact, our global consumer survey with Sapio Research shows that 39% of respondents will never place an order with a merchant if their payment is falsely declined and 28% say they will go to social media to express their displeasure.
- Incorporating social media as an additional sales channel.
With platforms like Instagram and Snapchat rolling out new ways for users to buy directly from posts, there’s a lot of creativity and opportunity in the social commerce space. Especially for retailers who want to grow their ecommerce revenue, as in-store traffic remains low in many places.
To adapt to social distancing requirements, large retailers also started leaning more heavily into buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) and curbside pick-up methods as well incorporating contactless payment methods.
In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?
While physical stores have been negatively impacted during the pandemic, global ecommerce retail sales have experienced a 305% increase in year-over-year revenue from April 2019 to April 2020. My prediction for 2021 is that while many customers will go back to buying their products in-store, there are many novice online buyers that have now gotten used to — and enjoyed — the convenience of buying online. I believe that while there will be some drop-off, it will be less than most will expect.
While these changes will shift back to some degree as the pandemic subsides, certain industries will find themselves with a permanent increase in ecommerce volume. Consumers have learned to love the convenience of online shopping and delivery from online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart, especially for goods that are everyday purchases such as groceries, beverages, etc.
With that said, there are some industries whose physical stores will always see better results from brick-and-mortar stores versus online:
Discount, or “bargain buy” stores such as Homegoods, Burlington, Ross, etc. will always have stronger turnout via brick-and-mortar versus online. Not only does the “bargain hunting” experience not translate to an online ecosystem well, but to manage an e-commerce portfolio of low-value items that rotate incredibly quickly would he highly inefficient and lead to lower profits (and that’s not including the costs of merchandising, processing, shipping, accepting returns, etc.).
Also, for industries that require a higher degree of customer personalization and understanding of complex consumer preferences, such as in fashion and luxury, I anticipate that physical retail spaces where customers can see these products in person will still be necessary (for now) until there is enough data gathered to better anticipate a customer’s unique preferences.
The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?
When online storefronts first started appearing about 20 years ago, many retail executives couldn’t imagine that e-commerce shopping would be where it is today. But, in the last decade, as ecommerce started taking off (and taking customers from brick-and-mortar stores), the race to “adapt or die” began. Many retailers weren’t able to keep up storefronts as the growing demand for online services exploded, and the poorly maintained, staffed and stocked stores didn’t help to entice shoppers to visit.
Retailers that were able to keep up with this evolution and avoid the apocalypse are ones that have figured out how to bring what their customers want in the ways that they want it. Kroger is leaps and bounds ahead of grocer competitors due to its agile acceptance of diverse digital capabilities. The brand has invested in streamlined grocery delivery service, buy online pick up in store (BOPIS) options, even in “smart cart” stores that allow customer to quickly shop without a clerk checking them out. Costco has made its standby, carefully curating to each store’s local preferences and providing it in a streamlined, customer service-focused facility. And luxury brands, like Lululemon, have curated a highly personalized service that speaks only to their target customers — it’s not for everyone, and it has embraced that fact.
So, what can retailers learn from these brands? Invest in omnicommerce strategies. Offer competitive pricing and fast shipping or pickup options. Focus on customer experience and personalization. Ensure the decisions you make and technologies you implement are guided by data-driven facts and a close analysis of consumer behavior and historical performance.
Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
While it’s true that goods from overseas merchants are often cheaper than those from US and European brands, many consumers still do not trust an overseas merchant that they aren’t familiar with. Our global survey found that 85% of consumers check the website they are purchasing goods from to make sure it is legitimate, and 80% will never enter any personal details into a website that is unverified.
And while goods may be cheaper overseas for the same product in the US, there are still many instances in which the product is not what was advertised and the return process is so muddled (or non-existent) that the customer loses out, and likely will not buy again from retailers that are similar in structure. It comes down to this: our survey shows that 81% of consumers are more likely to shop from trusted websites they recognize, even if the price is slightly higher or the delivery time is slightly longer.
This is huge! While good deals are important, especially to online shoppers, trust tops everything. Retailers that aren’t able to compete in price can still win out by focusing on a customer experience that builds trust in your brand and website.
Ensuring your products are of the best quality and customer reviews are highlighted, return policies and shipping information that is clearly defined, and a secure checkout experience are just a few measures you can take to start building a solid CX strategy and earning the trust of your customers.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Deliver on the online customer experience.
Our research shows that the shift to online shopping will last beyond 2020 for 20% or more of global consumers. To keep new and existing online customers, retailers must create personalized experiences that are safe and frictionless at checkout. False declines, for example, can create a negative experience for customers and drive them away, costing merchants losses in revenue and customer lifetime value (CLV). This is especially true of high-spending ecommerce shoppers as 45% of them say they would complain on social media after a false decline, and the same percentage would never shop with that merchant again.
2. Make mobile a primary focus.
A bad mobile experience automatically impacts half of a merchant’s potential market, since 50% of consumers are most likely to use a tablet or mobile phone when visiting an online store. Retailers should treat their mcommerce as a completely separate and discrete channel, not as just the “mobile version” of their desktop site. However, creating a unified CX across all touchpoints is imperative, which is why retailers must aggregate data from all channels to fully understand the customer and their buying journey.
3. Offer alternative payment methods.
Almost 42% of global transactions are made using alternative payment methods and that number is expected to increase. And our research tells us that only 40% of ecommerce shoppers have their credit card within easy reach while shopping, accepting payments via e-wallets and other methods can help decrease checkout abandonment. Merchants must select the right combination of payment methods for their target customers.
4. Consider cross-border selling.
Expanding your business can help merchants generate more sales. One of the biggest advantages for online retailers selling internationally is that high frequency/high spending shoppers are more likely to shop with overseas merchants. Consumers in Mexico, Australia, and Canada shop from overseas websites just as much or more than they do from local websites, according to our research.
5. Build trust with customers by offering security.
79% of our survey respondents would be more likely to buy online if the merchant had fraud protection, and 46% would shop online more frequently if they were not afraid of fraud. Site design and functionality can impact consumer perception of security. Even something as simple as letting customers know they’re going to a secure checkout can help alleviate fears.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
That’s a very interesting question that I’ve never been asked before. I would start a movement towards bettering education. I feel that with education, every generation can do better than the previous one. I myself was positively affected by the people I met when I was in college and learned so much as a result.
And I think with better education, we will make better decisions on a democracy and with better education we will meet the better people and we’ll become better people. And most importantly, at the end of the day, what I think that will make the world better is not more size or more money or making more money. What I mean by education is that by knowing what options are available, we can have our own dreams. At the end of the day, I feel that the world is full of people living other people’s dreams because they just don’t know that it’s possible. For example, does everybody know that it is possible to be a successful musician? If somebody is passionate about music, why can’t that person focus on music while also focusing on art, teaching, being an architect, etc. The more options we offer to our children and in people in general, the higher the chance that they will follow their own dreams and regardless of it being financially worth or not, I believe that when you’re doing something you love, you will do it better and you will be happier. And with people happier in their work lives, the chances are that they will be happier in their personal lives too because that’s what we always say at ClearSale. More than one third of our life awake is spent at work. So if you’re not working on something you like, chances are that you won’t be fully happy. And I’d say that to bring the most amount of good to the people, it means to me to be happier.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I’m very active on LinkedIn and contribute to ClearSale’s blog often. I also write articles for various ecommerce, retail, and payments media outlets. I invite any of you that are interested in any of the topics I shared here to read my content, but also to interact with me on LinkedIn!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
About The Interviewer: Orlando Zayas is the CEO of Katapult, an award-winning omnichannel payment platform. Zayas is known for his revenue growth strategies and visionary leadership in the eCommerce and retail space. His future-forward expertise has led companies such as GE Capital, Safe-Guard Products International, and DRB Capital. Zayas is also highly committed to providing educational opportunities to underprivileged communities through his philanthropic endeavors. Zayas’ business insights are regularly featured in publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, Retail Insights, and more.