Ai Editorial: Contextual commerce – are airlines ready for it?

First Published on 9th March, 2017

Ai Editorial: One click payment for an airline ticket from the interface you prefer the most – say Facebook Messenger app, WeChat, WhatsApp etc. ? This is the sort of commerce infrastructure airlines need to prepare for, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta


What can lead to a conversion based on even one signal that a digital consumer today gives to go for a product or service? These signals aren’t mere search keywords or clicks on a website/ app. It’s about the interplay of context, location, interface as well as the device being used and payment facilitation.    

For instance, a group of friends are interacting via Facebook messenger app, they decide on meeting at a particular venue location (exact location is shared via a link/ map), and all of them avail an on-demand service without leaving the chat or the interface. No app was downloaded. Similarly, a passenger starts the shopping journey with interaction with a chatbot or initiates a search for a flight via a digital assistant, moving on to a meta-search environment and eventually completing a transaction without leaving the conversation. 

This is just a glimpse of how commerce is evolving.

What stands out is what’s working in the “background” to seamlessly process payments.

All of this is crucial for travel brands to assess, as one can’t ignore the prowess of ecosystems such as Facebook, Google, Apple, Alibaba etc. or the popularity of social and messaging apps.

Dealing with friction

The significance of letting a travel shopper wrap up a transaction without the friction of leaving a site or an app can’t be ignored.

Airlines need to make the most of tokenization offering that works in the “background” to ensure they are part of contextual experiences - search, social interactions etc. – and end up aiding a potential traveller to shop with them. Intermediaries like meta-search engines have been relying on APIs to ensure bookings are done within their environment, irrespective of the airline’s payment processor. APIs are playing a vital role in countering the intricacies of moving payment data between different stakeholders involved in the shopping journey, could be for retailing or travel-related buy. The end result here is the seamless movement towards buying an air ticket or an ancillary with an optimized checkout flow.

Travel may not be a frequent buy, but still a major plus is speedy checkout experience that customers expect as they don’t need to re-fill or share information again and again.

Skyscanner is reaping benefits related to better conversion rate. The team has been working on their direct booking offering that allows airlines to offer a fully localized booking experience, letting users to research, select and instantly book itineraries within their environment without having to re-direct to supplier sites. As for airlines, they process the requests and retain all of the passenger’s details.


Securely moving payment data

It is also imperative to assess the security of such initiatives. How secure is an RFID band that functions as both a ticket and a wallet? How Facebook is equipped to safely part with its own stored payment data with an entity like Uber and yet ends up ensuring Facebook Messenger users sustain control over their information? Specialists like PayPal have progressed swiftly, stating that sharing of customer, payment, and other data is done securely with PCI Level 1 compliant parties while keeping an entity vault protected, and also equally secure is sharing of data within their network of merchants.

But airlines still need to be wary of couple of issues.

Rather than rushing and joining the bandwagon, do look at risk mitigation.

As a specialist in this arena, Chargebacks911 explains that if the industry does not take basic safety measures before going for new technologies, then such initiatives can be more of a liability than a benefit.

For instance, referring to wearable payments, the team points out that it may turn out to be more secure when compared with standard payment options. “Wearable payments make use of the same kind of tokenization technology as other payment methods, like digital wallets and EMV chip cards, which may prove to function just as well on wearable devices,” says Chargebacks911’s COO, Monica Eaton-Cardone. She says one needs to be wary of family fraud and friendly fraud. In a recent blog post, she raised a pertinent point, “What will issuers accept as compelling evidence when merchants attempt to dispute chargebacks? The chargeback process is archaic—it can’t keep up with all the developing technologies. Networks will not have considered the different types of data that will be associated with these technologies and, therefore, will not recognize valuable information as valid forms of evidence. It will be years until the data associated with these wearable devices will be recognized by the card networks, leaving merchants liable for billions in losses from undisputable, illegitimate chargebacks.” She added that as of now, merchants already lose as much as $40 billion each year due to chargebacks.

So emerging technologies can augment the customer experience with seamless transactions, but areas like security and privacy, and chargebacks can also hamper the same.


Gain an insight into intriguing issues at Ai’s 11th Airline & Travel Payments Summit (ATPS) this year.

Date: 3 May - 5 May 2017   

Location: Berlin, Germany

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