"People don't want to buy everything online"

Alexa von Bismarck is the head of Adyen Germany. In the interview, she talks about Wirecard, retailers in the pandemic and why people don't feel like shopping only at Amazon or Zalando.

Adyen's Berlin office is mostly empty these days. The payment service provider from the Netherlands has kept a few seats free in case someone can't or doesn't want to work at home. But Alexa von Bismarck has also set up home office.

Ms. von Bismarck, how has Adyen as a payment service provider experienced the pandemic so far? Alexa von Bismarck: As a company, we moved straight to a home office, which was quick because we do a lot of digital work anyway and can do most of it from home. At the same time, we tried to support clients, for example in the travel industry, who needed to pay back a lot of money to their own customers quickly. At Get Your Guide, a start-up from Berlin, we were quick to help. But we ourselves didn't notice the crisis in our sales.

Why is that? The majority of purchases have shifted to the Internet. Customers have switched without compromise, and retailers have felt the effects brutally. 50 percent of the retailers who had several channels have had no loss of sales at all. That has shifted 1:1. But those who didn't have an Internet shop were hit hard by the pandemic. That's not nice for companies, but it could also help Germany.

What do you mean? Germany is not the country that shines with being particularly advanced and digital. The pandemic is forcing retailers and many companies in general to make processes more digital. This could trigger a digitalization push in the Federal Republic of Germany that will allow us to catch up with other countries.

Do start-ups have an advantage when it comes to quickly shifting to other channels? In a crisis, two things are crucial: resilience and flexibility. We've seen some customers who were extremely flexible, especially big chains and platforms. But as a rule, start-ups have an advantage there, of course, because they can react faster.

They are closely networked in the start-up world and also have some as customers, handle the payments and are accordingly well informed. Aremost young companies coming through the crisis well? No better and no worse than other companies, I would say. We haven't done a survey on this, but I don't know many that were "belly up", meaning whose business was completely ruined. So maybe that's a good sign.

At Adyen Retail Report you looked at how the pandemic has changed shopping and payment behaviour. So is everything going online now? That's exactly what we don't see. On the contrary: people don't want to buy everything online. 58 percent of German customers long to go back to shopping in the store around the corner. In the future, online business will grow, but it will not dominate. Rather, customers want the mix of both and the benefits from both worlds.

Make an example. For example, I can buy my coffee online and just pick it up in the store in the morning. In the best case, the terminal, i.e. the cash register in the store, recognizes my credit card and says: 'Hey, you've been there five times now, this coffee is on the house'. Or with shoes: one of our customers has an online shop where you can have the shoes delivered to the store and test them out over a game of basketball. Such hybrid models are important and stores therefore remain a highly relevant touchpoint to pick up customers. A close integration of online and offline is elementary to gain and strengthen customer loyalty.

Most people have loyalty cards. What's new about that? It goes beyond that. Retailers need to know what customers buy online and what they buy offline. Only then can you decide, for example, whether the customer should get an online voucher next time because they might spend more money on that channel. Without such knowledge, it is difficult to provide an experience.

It also affects how we will pay. Is cash becoming extinct? My fingers are crossed (laughs). But seriously, we're seeing a lot more people paying contactless, the slightly older ones with credit cards and the younger ones also with wallets, so ApplePay, GooglePay or Paypal. The offer is also getting better. Even the bakery across the street from our office now offers card payments. Cash probably won't die, but it will diminish.

Irrespective of the pandemic, the payment service provider industry was recently also shaken by the Wirecard scandal. Have you had to explain a lot lately that you're not scammers? The funniest reaction came from friends of my mother-in-law who said something like: Oh, that's terrible, since Alexa is at Wirecard. We had to clear that up quickly. Otherwise, most people understand that Wirecard was a unique fraud and that we, as a payment service provider, have nothing to do with it.

Did you, as a competitor, profit from the insolvency? Rather not. First of all, I have to say that we find such an insolvency terrible. It is not good for the employees and for the reputation of the industry. Of course, we have seen one or two deals with one less competitor in recent months. But Wirecard has moved on to other industries and we've also seen a lack of applications from former employees for the most part. So we've been following it more on a media level and less on a commercial one.

Thank you very much.

About the person: Alexa von Bismarck graduated in business administration in Berlin, then worked in various companies before becoming Adyen's first employee in Germany in 2013. She started there as an account manager before being promoted to head of Germany at the Dutch payment service provider in 2018. She now manages more than 30 employees there. She is 38 years old.

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