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Square’s David Rusenko discusses the effect of COVID-19 on Square’s ecommerce plans

  • A year after the relaunch of Square Online Store, the company sees new demand among brick-and-mortar merchants.
  • The legacy of COVID-19 will be enhanced flexibility for consumers and merchants, allowing for a multitude of payment, delivery and channel preferences.
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Square’s David Rusenko discusses the effect of COVID-19 on Square’s ecommerce plans

As merchants face new obstacles amid COVID-19 and shelter-in-place mandates, Square is working to smooth their transition to digital.

Today’s guest is David Rusenko, Square’s head of ecommerce. Rusenko, who founded website builder Weebly in 2006, has been working with Square since 2018, when Weebly was acquired by Square for $365 million. Since then, Square integrated Weebly’s platform into its ecommerce platform for sellers, which was relaunched as Square Online Store last year.

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The Square Online Store product suite helps merchants manage online-to-offline business integrations. It lets them manage payments, inventory, delivery and other business tasks in one place. Square joins Shopify, Facebook and Amazon that are seeking to grow their ecommerce merchant businesses. Square is growing its ecommerce chops while other ecommerce platform providers improve their financial services offerings.

David joins us to discuss how COVID-19 influenced Square Online Store’s product journey, seller behavior and the next chapter for Square’s ecommerce product ecosystem. 

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

The impact of COVID-19 on merchants

COVID-19 changed everything overnight. In March, when it became apparent that this was really picking up steam, we completely reprioritized our roadmap to launch functionality immediately that sellers needed right now. And two days after San Francisco put in place its shelter-in-place order, we launched curbside pickup and within a week, we launched delivery.

One of the interesting things that happened through the pandemic is that a lot of sellers — a lot of them smaller businesses —  knew that they wanted to get online and knew that they had to digitize their operations. They were planning to do it over time and the pandemic effectively shortened a three-year adoption cycle down to three weeks. Moving online wasn’t just optional or a nice to have. It was something that you had to do to survive.

Fueling the ‘omnichannel’ retail reality after reopening

Probably for a long while, we’re going to see varied consumer preferences around exactly how consumers would like to fulfill or pick up their orders. And so, as things open up or shut back down, you’re going to see some consumers that are happy to come and purchase in store, and there are going to be some who will prefer curbside pickup or delivery. 

A lot of the sellers that had planned to move online in a year or in a couple years all of a sudden did so over a very quick time frame. Taking the order is actually the easiest part, but the part that’s really tricky and complicated is that in order to take that order, you actually have to digitize the operations of your entire business. For a restaurant, for example, that might mean having a centralized place where you can see all of your orders coming in from different channels, or from different sources. That might mean being able to have some type of order throttling so that you don’t overwhelm the kitchen at 7 p.m. For retail, for example, you would have to make sure that you’re digitizing your inventory and syncing your inventory so that you’re not overselling. 

It’s not easy, but there’s a payoff at the end of the tunnel. Because when businesses come out of this, they’ll not only gain efficiencies, but now they can sell across more than one channel. Wherever their customers are, they’re able to take orders and run a lot more efficiently.

The pandemic’s effects on payments 

The big trend that we’re seeing as far as payments behavior is a trend toward contactless. Whether that’s Apple Pay or whether that’s using a QR code, we’re starting to see a lot of that behavior emerge. It’s tough to say exactly where it settles in the long term. I do think there’s a place for cash, but for the time being, I think people are fairly reticent to be sharing surfaces.

Square Online Store’s differentiators amid competition

The competition doesn’t keep me up at night. I would make a distinction between channels and marketplaces and where buyers are. Any channel where sellers can capture new buyers and get introduced to new buyers is a net good thing for sellers. 

But again, taking that order is one thing, but then being able to power sellers’ business is another. Square was very forward looking in this area before it was popular and before it really became necessary. The world that we’ve evolved into is one that an order is not coming in just via one channel, but it’s coming in across disparate channels, so you need a platform to bring all of those channels together.

We found that new signups for Square Online Store were actually outpacing what we would traditionally see for our point of sale. It’s a powerful example of how the platform has really started to come into its own. It’s not just existing Square sellers that are adopting it, but people are recognizing that this is actually a really great solution for those who may not already be in the Square ecosystem.

The roadmap for growth

As the world continues to evolve — for reopening, or potentially shutting down again — there’s lots of needs that are constantly evolving. We’re obviously going to continue to adapt the platform. When the pandemic first hit, we launched curbside delivery, and now we’re launching on-demand delivery. We’re going to continue the drumbeat of being able to provide that functionality to meet those needs. 

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