First Look: U.S. Bank Developing Mobile Shopping Software

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U.S. Bancorp (USB) plans to pitch businesses on a shopping-related app it's developing with Monitise PLC, a British tech company that acquired the U.S. mobile banking vendor Clairmail in 2012.

"Don't think of us as a bank," says Dominic Venturo, chief innovation officer for payments at U.S. Bank. "Think of us as commerce. We are experts in payments and enable commerce."

Peri, the app the bank will white-label to fashion brands and other companies, is meant to add new tech dimensions to advertisements companies place in print, air on television or broadcast on the radio. In other words, Peri is designed to make traditional marketing channels clickable in a bid to make shopping simpler.

The Peri experience would look something like this: A consumer reading a glossy magazine spots an ad for a gorgeous green leather skirt and fires up the app to buy the garment then and there. The payment will work the way online shopping works today when the customer's information is stored online. U.S. Bank will store the name, address, and card information and present it to the retailer and payment network when a purchase is made. The intent is to avoid the need to reenter data for digital checkouts, an often jarring experience associated with abandoned shopping carts.

"We think [Peri] is a meaningful value-added service," Venturo says. "We're trying to make it really easy. This is another way to enable the marketer to sell product."

Venturo speaks to the shopping challenge on a personal level. A self-described gadget guy, he says he takes photos of objects he wants to buy so he can find them online at a later time. "Right now, it's a painful process," he says.

Peri is designed to remove the friction so Venturo can buy, say, cufflinks when he spots them in Esquire.

U.S. Bank released in January a YouTube video that offers examples of how Peri can be used. The bank plans to land a pilot partner soon. "We are in active discussions with interesting partners," Venturo says.

Fashion is one of the likelier industries that would initially try Peri, he says.

Peri software will most likely be embedded into a consumer app (such as a fashion app) to work. The mechanics will depend on U.S. Bank's business partner. "There are a couple of different ways to go about it," Venturo says. "We could independently develop a shopping app, but that seems out of place."

One of the underlying technologies that the app uses to facilitate commerce is digital watermarking, software that lets companies embed digital information in audio, images and printed materials. The watermark, which a computer can detect but a human cannot, comes with a serialized number so the brand deploying the tech knows which ad was responsible for which sale. The software also supports QR codes. "We think digital watermarks are visually better and less intrusive given they are transparent to the human eye," says a spokeswoman.

U.S. Bank has previous experience with the digital watermarking technology. The Minneapolis bank partnered with Digimarc to include digital watermarks in its physical annual reports several years ago.

U.S. Bank's new initiative comes a time when companies are striving to inject digital experiences into physical places to facilitate commerce. eBay, for example, lets smartphone users take photos of objects in their homes to get product recommendations, while a handful of banks are making smartphone payment dongles available to small businesses. This technology can be leveraged to create new data-delivered services, such as sending offers to nearby consumers' smartphones to try to lure in more business.

Peri, meanwhile, is designed for larger brands initially and is just one of the newer concepts U.S. Bank is testing. "We are running four to six pilots each year," Venturo says.

There could be opportunities to introduce shopping innovations into its retail banking app, too. "We are about creating platforms and functionalities that can be repurposed in multiple ways," he says.

To foster any such new projects requires an open-minded crew.

"It takes a team for a workable idea," Venturo says. "It takes a whole group of folks to say 'how might we' or 'what if' instead of 'that won't work.' We can come up with some pretty killer stuff."

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