April 30, 2013, 2:58 PM

A senior executive lifts the veil on some of Amazon’s plans

They include a revamped payment service and lending to merchants.

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Amazon.com Inc. doesn’t give away much about its future moves, but today one of the e-retailer’s top executives provided a glimpse into some of the e-retailing giant’s plans in such areas as payments, lending and fulfillment.

The executive is Sebastian Gunningham, senior vice president of seller services and a member of Amazon’s executive committee, who was interviewed on stage today at ChannelAdvisor’s annual Catalyst client conference by ChannelAdvisor CEO Scot Wingo. Many of the 1,000 attendees engage ChannelAdvisor to handle their product feeds to online marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, Rakuten Shopping, Sears, Newegg and others.

In response to Wingo’s questions Gunningham disclosed the following:

• Amazon is planning to relaunch its payment-processing service, formerly called Checkout by Amazon and now rebranded Amazon Payments. The new service does not require the merchant to disclose information about what the customer ordered, he said, unlike in the past where order detail was required. As in the earlier service, an Amazon customer will be able to pay by entering her Amazon credentials, with Amazon charging the purchase to the payment card the customer has on file with Amazon. Amazon has payment information on more than 200 million consumers worldwide, Gunningham says. The launch date for the revamped service has not been disclosed, Amazon says.

• Amazon is moving ahead with lending money to marketplace sellers, although the program, which it has been testing with an undisclosed number of Amazon sellers, is still invitation-only. Gunningham says Amazon charges interest of between 9% and 12%, but the main motivation is to help merchants acquire more merchandise that they can sell on Amazon.com. He says for legal reasons there are some states where Amazon cannot offer these loans. But, he said of the lending program, “we like it and it’s here to stay.”

• U.S. merchants that use Fulfillment by Amazon—a service that lets merchants store inventory at Amazon warehouses with Amazon handling delivery to the customer—will eventually be able to use it to sell on Amazon markets internationally. “Our vision is once you send something to one of our fulfillment centers we can help you sell it anywhere in the world,” Gunningham said. He said it’s already the case that a seller that sends merchandise to Amazon’s U.K. fulfillment centers can offer those products on Amazon’s e-commerce sites for Germany, France, Italy and Spain, with Amazon handling delivery. He did not say when the expanded service would be available to U.S. sellers.

Asked about Amazon recently informing some marketplace sellers they would be served by “virtual account managers,” and not humans, Gunningham replied that Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is a great believer in using the Internet to automate service. “Jeff likes to point out, if you look at all the businesses on the Internet that have succeeded over the years, the one common element is self-service,” Gunningham said. While he says Amazon has thousands of employees offering “valuable help” to sellers, “we try to push the not-so-valuable help, the small stuff that can be answered in other ways, to the self-service platform.” But he encouraged sellers in the audience who want to speak to a human being to specifically request a call back.

To conclude the session, Wingo asked Gunningham for his views on how e-commerce would develop in the next five years or so. Gunningham replied by encouraging merchants to concentrate on what online shoppers clearly want: fast delivery, low prices and wide selection. “Focus on the stuff you know won’t change,” he said. For its part, he said, Amazon will continue to make more information available to marketplace sellers. He pointed as an example to Amazon now disclosing to merchants what percentage of their orders get a perfect score for on-time delivery and customer satisfaction, by category and SKU.

He also emphasized how mobile devices have changed shopping, and will continue to do so. While he would not disclose any data on Amazon’s mobile sales, he said they were “growing dramatically.”

“Mobile is a hurricane in the shopping world,” Gunningham said. “The amount of traffic and activity going on in mobile, on apps, on browsers, on phones, for Amazon it’s phenomenal.” While he said there was still a lot of innovation ahead, particularly in tablets—where Amazon produces its own device, the Kindle Fire—he concluded that the proliferation of mobile devices “has been a win for shopping and for e-commerce in general.”

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