We spoke to Dan Wagner of Powa about their bold and ambitious plans to change the way we shop, and their “revolutionary” Powatag.

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Can you describe what Powa does in a nutshell?

Powa has three products. One is an ecommerce platform that allows retailers to sell products online.

The second is a platform made up of hardware and software that allows retailers to replace their existing tills with tablets and mobile phones to take payments. That gives them mobility and better user engagement; better data about the products and the customers that you don’t have with normal tills.

The third product is the most revolutionary – it’s called Powatag. It’s best described as a new type of sales channel. It allows any customer with a mobile or smartphone to engage with brands, whatever they’re doing – it could be watching TV, reading a magazine, standing by a shop window at 10pm. Powatag turns social media, which is currently a non-transactional channel, into a space where brands can transact instantly.

Powatag also lets customers buy easily from a mobile site, and avoid the four pages of hell. It’s all about convenience.

Powatag does things that nothing else does today. It’s pretty cool.

Of Powa’s three products, which do you expect to be the biggest revenue centre?

Powatag will be the huge one. The other two will grow in their own right, but relative to Powatag, they’ll be completely dwarfed.

What are Powatag’s inputs and outputs?

Powatag essentially uses a range of triggers to affect transactions. The triggers are things like ‘touch to buy’ buttons, posters, print ads, audio watermarks from video or radio, social media links. It can also use a range of physical triggers, like wifi, geolocation, NFC and beacons.

Any of these can trigger a whole range of transactions – single buy, multi buy, subscription, information delivery, coupon delivery, coupon redemption, loyalty redemption and more.

It’s a very deep and rich product set – it’s not surprising, as we spent $240 million developing it. You’d expect us to develop something pretty sophisticated for that.

How else is Powatag changing how people can buy?

It’s heralding a new era of engagement with consumers. Today, if I see an object I like in a friend’s house, I’d have to make a note of it and Google it before finding out where to buy it.

If the object had a Powatag code on it, I could just find the tag, scan it and buy it in two taps.

Later on, Powatag will just let you take a picture of the object and buy it.

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So you can buy any object you see and like – that’s very cool.

It makes buying so easy. Manufacturers are working to put Powatag codes on consumables like Lavazza and Nespresso coffee capsules and things like vacuum cleaner bags. Any disposable item that’s a pain to replace. Instead of working out the random product version you need and looking it up online, you just scan the code and tap twice. It’s a no-brainer.

Dr Martens are looking to put Powatag codes on the bottom of their boots. You’ll definitely see tags on more items.

How did the idea come about?

I never planned to have Powatag – Powa was originally meant to be about web and instore.

I’ve always been frustrated with the four pages of hell. I’ve always found the checkout flow on a website painful. I wanted to solve that problem with a different type of checkout flow.

I sat down with my team about three and a half years ago to bounce ideas around. I knew I wanted to use the mobile device as the main way to engage – I felt desktop machines would become less and less relevant.

We thought of displaying a code on a website screen that you scan with your mobile. It’s then two taps – one tap to choose an option, another to pay. Compare that to what we currently do. Even logging into PayPal, it’s about 30 taps: 20 to enter your email and 10 to put in your password. Turning 30 taps into 2 is a big move forward.

We realised we could use the same system on mobile checkout, where the process is so time-consuming it’s almost impossible, and press ads. We kept asking what else we could do.

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So Powatag makes buying brilliantly simple. Are there any points where it enhances the experience for customers?

No, I don’t think so. I think it’s a utility. It’s like the dial tone you hear before you make a phone call. You don’t think about it – you just expect it be there and to work. Powatag is the new utility that lets brands and retailers to do things they can’t do today. That’s a big enough ambition.

We are a brand, but we’re not trying to enhance anything – we’re just providing it. It’s as simple as that.

Where is Powatag currently live? Who’s using it?

We’re live in Italy and Japan. We’re going live in the UK with Vodafone in the next few days.

They’ll use Powatag to let mobile phone customers to top up. It’s a very good example of how Powatag is really useful. Currently, if you want to top up, you need to go into a store and buy a card. With Powatag, you can scan a special fridge magnet and it’s done.

The Vodafone system will use different tags – there’ll be fridge magnets, scannable cards that you can keep with you, it’ll be on the ads, it’ll be in Argos and Wilko.

There are a hundred brands in the UK going live with Powatag over the next year. You’ll see Powatag used in so many different ways.

What are the main reasons behind your complete confidence in Powatag?

It’s funny – if you were asked about the players in mobile payment today, people would say ApplePay, Google Wallet, Visa, Mastercard, PayPal. Powatag doesn’t really get mentioned today. Soon, Powatag will be the only one that springs to mind, it’ll be the only one that’s out there.

The other solutions are about payment. Powatag is about engagement.

Merchants don’t care how customers pay. It makes no difference if the customer pays by cash, card or phone. There’s not enough benefit to the customer from solely paying through their phone either. I don’t think people are going to jump around about ApplePay – it’s not a meaningful gamechanger.

Powatag is very different – it gives the merchant the ability to sell and engage the customer. Merchants can turn all sorts of channels that are currently non-transactional into something that can engage. They can then convert customers much better from websites and mobile sites.

Powatag’s also a fantastic tool for customers. It’s free, you download it once, and whenever you see a Powatag you can instantly be engaged. Once you’ve downloaded it and made one purchase with it, why would you delete it? It’s got all your data in there. The fact that people will keep it on their phone is the key to ubiquitous success.

It’s a compelling proposition for consumers and for merchants. It’s obvious it will be a huge success.

retail trends, retail design,trend tours,  london retail, retail innovation,tech, ticked, Powatag

What are the biggest challenges you’ve overcome to get to this point?

My entire career – 30 years of being in ecommerce – have been my training ground for this. My previous experience helped me realise how much potential Powa had when it presented itself to me. I wouldn’t have gone all out to make this a global proposition and do what we’re doing. I may have been less confident or have less experience.

What are the biggest challenges to Powatag’s mass adoption?

There are always challenges when you’re doing something this ambitious. It doesn’t matter how good the product is, there’s a whole graveyard of brilliant technologies that never got off the ground. There’s a small chance we’ll be one of those companies – I highly doubt it, given the momentum we already have.

We believe we have something the rest of the world doesn’t have. We also have the support of investors, the market, commentators. Retailers are behind us – they’re signing up in droves – and customers want it. The economic climate is pretty good. The tech is in everyone’s hands: everyone has a smartphone in their hands. The things out of our control appear to be in our favour.

So if we fail, it will come from the things that are in our control – me and my management team and our ability to execute. We better be really good! There’s no complacency.

In five years’ time, how do you think Powatag will function differently?

The triggers will evolve. Later on, QR codes may not be an important trigger. QR codes are very stable today, but as smartphone cameras evolve, visual watermarking may take precedence. There is image watermarking now, but it needs a very high quality camera so it excludes a large number of smartphone owners. In five years’ time, there will be other triggers that I can’t even think of.

There may also be additional transactions over time, but I can’t see that changing as much.

Do you think you’ll add any new features?

Feature creep is the danger. If you can’t stop adding things, you can’t get anything out the door. Much as I want to, it’s very important now to focus on adoption. The next couple of years are all about getting people to download and use it.

Feature creep is the danger. If you can’t stop adding things, you can’t get anything out the door. Much as I want to, it’s very important now to focus on adoption. The next couple of years are all about getting people to download and use it.

Do you have a dream client or dream project?

No. My dream client is everybody, the universe of retailers and brands. We’re setting out to provide a standard for brands to interact with consumers. I want every consumer with a phone to have Powatag on it.

I don’t have a specific dream client because I expect everyone to use it.

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Which other retail tech companies do you think are the most innovative and exciting?

It’s difficult… I don’t want to give the wrong impression, but nothing springs to mind. Many of the others are misguided. They don’t provide enough utility to the merchants and they don’t provide enough utility to the consumers. I think it’s a very interesting area that has very limited innovation.

ApplePay is innovative. They’ve created an interesting way to affect a transaction. The technology behind it is clever. But its utility is limited, very limited – to contactless terminals, to certain payment sizes, and to certain phone types.

There are things with Beacon, like Shopkick, but they’ve got too narrow a focus for what’s required in the market. The market needs something that is very bold in its vision and solution, and that’s what we’re doing. I don’t think there’s any other way – I didn’t want to go into the market with this global solution that solves everything. I’d be very happy starting in the UK and rolling it out – that’s the normal way to do things. But if you want to deliver what our vision set out to deliver, you have to do it in an extremely bold and ambitious way.