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Walls Falling Between Online, Offline Commerce

At Web 2.0 Summit, eBay, Visa and American Express execs share similar visions of what's next in mobile commerce.

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Speakers from eBay, Visa, and American Express expressed similar visions at the Web 2.0 Summit for how online and offline commerce will become one and the same in the very near future.

That's a big part of the motivation for initiatives including eBay's X.commerce payments platform and the American Express Serve digital wallet.

"The distinction between online and offline is blurring," Dan Schulman of American Express said, because with smart phones "when we walk into a store, we're carrying the Internet with us."

The race now is to develop the best set of payment services, and associated data services, that will provide the most convenience to both merchants and users.

Schulman, a group president in charge of digital and alternate payment initiatives at American Express, appeared side by side with John Partridge, the president of Visa, in an onstage interview conducted by Federated Media founder and chairman John Battelle. Matthew Mengerink, general manager of X.commerce, was interviewed by Tim O'Reilly as a sort of sequel to Monday's interview with eBay CEO John Donahoe.

[ Get more news and videos from the Web 2.0 Summit, which is produced by Federated Media and O'Reilly Media in partnership with UBM TechWeb. ]

X.commerce taps into the combination of eBay's PayPal payment service with Milo, a location-based service eBay bought at the end of 2010 and Magento, an open source e-commerce product eBay bought in June. X.commerce is an open platform where merchants can publish products that multiple platforms can subscribe to and offer to consumers, with Magento as just one option, Mengerink said.

The "crumbling of the barriers between online and offline commerce" makes it even more important that small merchants have resources that allow them to compete with the biggest online retailers, Mengerink said. "They need a partner that's not competing with them, providing a platform upon which they can build."

Visa's Partridge said the competition for the business of offline merchants will be as much around the data associated with purchases as with the payment processing itself. For example, Visa already helps retailers decide where to locate new stores based on payment data, sorted by zip code. He and Schulman said they see a future in providing deeper analytics, while also reassuring consumers about the security and privacy of their data.

With 2 billion card holders and 30 million merchants in its network, Visa has a pretty big head start on eBay in offline payment processing, Partridge said. "The advantage that Visa has and American Express has is we're already there," he said.

Mengerink thinks another front in this competition will be developing commerce profiles that users give permission to share, which might include information like clothing sizes, allowing consumers to browse stores filled only with products that meet their needs. If it adds convenience, that permission will come, he said.

O'Reilly said he could absolutely see the potential. At some point, concern over data sharing flips to "Oh, damn, why aren't you sharing that information about me--why do I have to fill out another form?"

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