Payments company Stripe today announced Relay, a service that will let businesses create custom buying processes within mobile apps and allow for that process to move across different apps. Relay is designed to remove all the annoying form-filling activity associated with e-commerce and bring easier, single-button purchasing across mobile. The goal is to help businesses leverage the increasing amount of smartphone activity that, up until now, has not been translating to bumps in mobile purchasing.
"The leap to mobile hasn’t happened when it comes to purchases," said Stripe CEO Patrick Collison at an event in San Francisco. Because there has been no easy way to implement payment processing on the mobile web, Collison says, making purchases on our smartphones is like "an obstacle course," requiring people to put in huge amounts of information on a less forgiving keyboard. For mobile apps where you aren't purchasing one standardized item, like a ride with Uber, the buying process often kicks users to wonky and cumbersome mobile tools that aren't well tailored for smartphones. The result is that 60 percent of browsing happens on mobile devices, but only 15 percent of online purchases. "This is a problem," claims Collison.
One day, we'll order McDonald's from within a tweet
Relay, which is free to any Stripe customer starting today, uses Stripe’s infrastructure to "enable many disparate apps and retailers to work together." For instance, Twitter will now be able to work with companies, from McDonald's to glasses seller Warby Parker, using Relay to create tweets that will let Twitter users purchase items from directly within Twitter, be it a Big Mac or a new pair of sunglasses. "We have 50 million users a month who are signaling their intent with words like 'I want' or 'I need,'" said Nathan Hubbard, Twitter's head of commerce who spoke today alongside Collison. Hubbard said companies that use Relay will soon be sending out tweets with a "buy" button. McDonald's isn't an initial partner yet, Collison pointed out, but Warby Parker is.
Relay is strictly a developer tool, yet it's one that may have a noticeable effect on how we think about and use our mobile devices as a stand-in for our wallets. Collison made a point of highlighting how around five out of 10 people have Twitter or Instagram on the home screens of their smartphones, whereas fewer than one out of 10 have Amazon. The negative connotation we associate with buying on mobile devices is a byproduct of crappy interfaces, Collison thinks.
It's also because we tend to find things we want to buy on mobile when browsing any number of different social networks, mobile websites, or apps without an easy way for that to translate into an actual purchase. Relay wants to remedy that by being the payment infrastructure behind the scenes — as well as the glue that ties together a purchase for an item on Twitter that's sold by a company whose app you may have never even downloaded.
Relay: a universal sell button for the Internet
Stripe is well known for being a so-called unicorn — a company whose valuation exceeds $1 billion — for other unicorns. Some of its biggest customers are other high-valued startups like grocery delivery company Instacart, ride-hailing service Lyft, and photo-sharing social network Pinterest. Stripe has taken in more than $300 million in funding from big-name venture capital firms, large financial companies including Visa and American Express, and Paypal co-founders Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and Max Levchin. In July, it was valued at around $5 billion.
Yet Stripe faces significant competition in the payments market. Paypal-owned Braintree processes payments for companies whose rivals tend use Stripe, including Uber and food delivery startup Munchery. In 2014, Braintree more than doubled the amount of money it processed for customers last year to $22.8 billion. Stripe has not disclosed how much money per year it processes for customers.
A tool like Relay helps bolster Stripe's appeal for companies that have thought of mobile as the inevitable next frontier in e-commerce, but have felt held back by the current toolset.