Melissa Davis of Afterpay: “Buy Now, Pay Later solution”

During these uncertain economic times, consumers are turning away from expensive credit cards which are loaded with interest and fees — preferring instead to use their own money and pay over time, interest-free. By offering a Buy Now, Pay Later solution, customers can budget their money and spend more responsibly, which is a “win” for both the […]

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During these uncertain economic times, consumers are turning away from expensive credit cards which are loaded with interest and fees — preferring instead to use their own money and pay over time, interest-free. By offering a Buy Now, Pay Later solution, customers can budget their money and spend more responsibly, which is a “win” for both the shopper and the retailer.

As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa Davis.

As global chief revenue officer, Melissa oversees all global revenue generation at Afterpay. She identifies new merchant partners, channel partners and other opportunities to drive merchant acquisition, consumer acquisition and consumer usage of the Afterpay platform. In this role, Melissa also works closely with the Afterpay global leadership team to expand the platform, develop new products and manage relationships with partners.

Melissa has a long history of driving innovation in the retail and ecommerce space. Prior to joining Afterpay, she was the Executive Vice President and General Manager of ShopStyle, where for over 9 years she built the business into one of the leading fashion search websites in the United States, working closely with many of the largest fashion retailers in the country. There she was responsible for the company’s on-trend management, partnerships with over 1,000 retailers worldwide, as well as ShopStyle Collective, an influencer network with more than 14,000 members and proprietary social shopping technology.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I came to Afterpay with a background in tech, digital and fashion. The various roles that I’ve held — from product management to general manager of an international business — prepared me for my current position. The most pivotal career shift happened when I took on a business development role at The Knot. I loved building partnerships and solving problems. It was that experience which launched me into my career today..

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I was one of the first five employees at ShopStyle, and experienced a great deal of growth during my nine years there.

My career started in business development with a focus on acquiring retailers across categories such as fashion, beauty and home. I gradually took on more responsibilities, including oversight of marketing, product strategy and our plans to expand globally. When I returned from maternity leave, I was surprised and very privileged to be asked to take the role of General Manager of the business by the then current CEO.

During my time at ShopStyle, our team grew from five to over 100 employees and expanded to the UK, Australia, Japan and Europe — making us one of the leading global fashion search engines.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

Early in my career when I was just out of college and in a new consulting role, I took a work trip to Kentucky in the middle of winter. I had rented a car, but being from Florida, I had no idea how to remove ice from a windshield in the middle of winter. I tried doing it myself with an ice scraper — a very foreign object to me — but despite my best efforts the ice wouldn’t budge. I ended up having to call someone from my team to help me. Turns out that I was using the ice scraper backwards. And, of course, I was late for my meeting and incredibly embarrassed.

From that day onward, I have been — as my friends and family call me — a complete “over-preparer” for anything and everything. I’m obsessively early for any meeting and consider any unforeseen circumstances.

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

If you look across the fintech landscape, no payments company has successfully moved from the online world to the physical world — until now. Afterpay’s in-store solution has been hugely successful in Australia — offered at nearly 40,000 storefronts and used by 40% of Afterpay AU customers.

Recently, we launched our in-store payment solution nationwide here in the U.S. And it’s been so exciting to see the early success, as customers choose Afterpay in-store for the same reasons they do online — the ability to budget their money and pay responsibly over time. During these uncertain economic times, we know our service will be especially valuable and beneficial to consumers and merchants alike.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

At Afterpay, we encourage everyone to find time for personal wellness and set boundaries for themselves. For our group specifically, this means having a free calendar on Friday afternoons with no meetings. The goal is to give people time to think, be creative, respond to emails, etc. — all with the goal of avoiding weekend work and general burn-out. Similarly, we are encouraging a meeting-free lunchtime regardless of the time zone in which you work.

I also highly encourage our employees to infuse personal connections into their day-to-day — especially since we’re missing the natural flow of conversation that happens in an office. Not every meeting needs to start with a serious business agenda, and in fact, I find us to be more productive. We take a minute to catch up personally, laugh and talk about what’s been going in the outside world.

We know Zoom fatigue is real — so I think it’s critically important to not only give permission, but strongly encourage people to take overall well-being very seriously. It’s critical that people take the space that they need to do things that make them feel good.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There are so many inspiring people that I’ve been lucky enough to know during the course of my career, so it’s hard to pick just one.

But if I had to, I’d say Andy Moss, the former CEO of ShopStyle is high on my list. Andy showed me amazing trust when I first joined the company — opening up his inbox and sharing every important email and customer contact detail. I had never worked with someone so invested in my success and so generous with his incredible depth of resources. This approach to leadership was such a change for me and has been a big influence in my own leadership style. From Andy, I learned the importance of leading with transparency and generosity based on a culture rooted in trust.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’ve been extremely proud of building a best-in-class team. And, I’m equally proud of my position in mentoring and growing the careers of each individual member, especially so many young women leaders on my team. I strive to make mentoring an integral part of my day-to-day.

Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share five examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

  • An omni-channel approach is critical as stores start to reopen. During the shelter-in-place period, consumers have become accustomed to the ease and flexibility of online shopping. By bringing online convenience and cleanliness to the in-store experience, retailers can engage shoppers no matter where and how they prefer to shop.
  • During these uncertain economic times, consumers are turning away from expensive credit cards which are loaded with interest and fees — preferring instead to use their own money and pay over time, interest-free. By offering a Buy Now, Pay Later solution, customers can budget their money and spend more responsibly, which is a “win” for both the shopper and the retailer.
  • The supply chain issues, product shortages and shipping delays experienced in early 2020 have driven many consumers to shop as early as October. Consumers want to ensure they can get what they want, on time, for their loved ones this year. Merchants are responding by offering “Cyber Week”-type sales in October — long before the holiday weekend begins.
  • White glove customer service has become a key differentiator for retailers intent on capturing engaged and loyal customers. This holiday, some retailers are going beyond automated chatbots. They’re implementing human customer service agents to ensure that all issues are resolved in a timely and empathetic manner, and that their customers get exactly what they want, when they want and need it. This also means incorporating a mix of online and offline experiences which address different customer shopping preferences. In-home delivery and curbside pickup has become a very popular approach for customers who prefer to shop online but want items within hours of making a purchase.
  • Since we can expect that more people will be shopping online this holiday season, retailers’ e-Commerce sites are working hard to deliver a festive online experience in lieu of in-store displays and activations. We’re seeing top retailers inject fun and inspiration on their sites through “surprise and delight moments” such as entertaining videos, unexpected perks, free gifts, and decorative sites — alongside the more traditional gift guides that help make browsing and buying a bit more fun and inspiring.

In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?

There is no doubt that the pandemic has accelerated that transition to ecommerce.

That said, different consumer demographics exhibit different shopping behaviors and preferences. A recent Afterpay study showed that, while Millennials are online shoppers through and through, 81% of Generation Z consumers (born 1995–2012) prefer to shop in stores. Younger shoppers look for retail experiences that feel unique, authentic and entertaining, so it’s unlikely that brick-and-mortar stores will be entirely eclipsed by online commerce platforms.

Stores also offer the greatest amount of reliability and immediacy. Customers can get what they want and need as quickly as possible by buying in-store or using curbside pick-up — which is especially important for clothing, jewelry, and footwear.

The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?

While it’s true we’ve entered into a completely different era in physical shopping, the best brands have pivoted quickly to meet the changing needs of their customers during this uncertain time.

The best merchants are truly omni-channel and are focused on delivering seamless and safe customer experiences across online and offline channels. They are using clean virtual experiences in-store and online, such as free product trials with free shipping, to showcase their products and services. They also offer flexible payment services that allow customers to budget their money and pay over time — a proven strategy to engage younger shoppers who don’t own or like to use credit products.

Those merchants who have a “consumer-first” mindset and are authentic in their approach are thriving and winning with young shoppers. They prioritize customer service, flexible shopping experiences and speak to their audience in a way that feels real and focused on creating the most enjoyable experience possible.

Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

For the vast majority of Millennials and Gen Z customers, who are the primary audience for Direct-To-Consumer brands, we have found that the location of a company is not necessarily part of their shopping consideration process. What matters is that the company is putting the consumer at its center and is offering its best possible merchandise and value.

Gen Z specifically, who are the next generation and arguably the most valuable customers today, value clarity, honesty and transparency — as well as brands that encourage sustainability and financial wellness. They prefer brands that have direct, emotional relationships with them, and are purpose-driven with the products they offer and the values they represent.

Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would aim to create true equality for women across our society. Despite all of the work to date, there is still a true imbalance in women representation from the BoardRoom to the Supreme Court. And this imbalance impacts all parts of life, including how we’re expected to handle home and family responsibilities. My hope is to help be part of the change that will allow us to live in a truly equal world — one in which my daughter and her peers will have access to opportunities without any limitations.

How can our readers further follow your work?

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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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