In the not too distant future, everyone will have a wallet app on their phone containing digital versions of their most commonly used paper-based credentials—including their driver’s license, credit reports, passport, bank statements, and loyalty cards—held in the form of verifiable credentials.
In simple terms, verifiable credentials are data about us that have been digitally ‘watermarked,’ so that (a) anyone can verify the data, and (b) the data can never be forged or tampered with. This means that people can now present any type of digital information, and it can be instantly checked as genuine.
This is self-sovereign identity (or SSI) in a nutshell. It offers a way to make digital data more trustworthy, verifiable, secure, and private.
So what does this mean for retailers?
Retailers will be able to seamlessly and cost-effectively ask customers to share specific data (age, account number, payment details or address, etc.) and check that it’s correct and trustworthy. They’ll know who issued the credential, that it was only issued to the customer presenting the data. Thus initial and repeat authentication becomes trivial.
To explore just how much self-sovereign identity can transform today’s retail environment, we wanted to highlight nine examples of retail-based use cases our customers are exploring today:
1. Omnichannel will get a whole lot easier.
Despite the hype, providing a true omnichannel experience remains a significant challenge for most retailers.
Providing a seamless and consistent experience across siloed touchpoints, and being able to recognize a customer whether they browse your site, use your mobile app, walk into a store, or call a support line, typically requires them to prove their identity in a different and often time-consuming way.
With SSI, all of this changes; customers will be able to log-in from anywhere, instantly and without having to remember a username or password. Call center authentication becomes far more secure and will take a fraction of the time it takes today as early implementations have already demonstrated. Retailers will also be able to immediately recognize and engage any customer who has opted-in for a personalized experience as soon as they walk into a store.
Instead of having a separate identity for each channel, each of your customers will have a single instantly recognizable identity that is no longer tied to any one device.
2. Online checkout will be a one-click experience.
With SSI, customers will be able to securely share all of their required data (credit card numbers, billing address, mailing address, etc.) with one simple ‘click’, from anywhere and on any device. Once shared, retailers will be able to immediately verify the accuracy of this data
In turn, retailers will be able to remove friction from their checkout experience and reap the rewards with fewer abandoned shopping carts, chargebacks, and fraudulent payments.
3. Retailers will gain a direct link to each of their customers.
SSI’s notion of peer-to-peer connections offers retailers a way to establish a unique, direct, secure, and private communication channel with each of their customers.
Customers will be able to share their data (like order receipts and account numbers) freely with a retailer across this channel, knowing that there’s no backdoor for potential hackers. As a result, you’ll be able to support customers more efficiently and build a deeper bond rooted in trust.
4. You’ll be able to tailor brand communication to an individual customer’s preferences.
The modern, data-driven advertising industry is built on the belief that consumers want to see relevant ads. Yet, as consumer privacy becomes an increasingly hot topic in the wake of headlines around GDPR, Facebook, and Cambridge Analytica, many consumers are indicating the opposite—that they don’t want their data used, even if it means trading in personalized communications for mass marketing.
With SSI, you can engage customers according to their preferences. It gives consumers control over how their data is used. If they opt into personalized marketing, then you can improve their experience by showing them personalized recommendations or notifying them of sales as they enter the vicinity of one of your stores. If they opt for privacy, you can respect their wishes and keep their business.
Either way, it makes for happier customers and an easier path to privacy compliance.
5. Employee experiences will be improved.
Of course, customers aren’t your only stakeholders. Many of the above factors also benefit your employees, permanent or temporary.
With SSI’s notion of verifiable credentials, you’ll be able to expedite the time it takes to screen job candidates. You’ll be able to immediately prove that the qualifications they list in their application are bona fide, enabling you to make smarter hiring decisions in a fraction of the time.
Once hired, you’ll be able to arm your new employees with a corporate digital identity that provides single-sign-on across all company systems and can even automate building and IT access—in a way that is far more secure and privacy-respecting than today’s employee log-ins and badge scans.
6. Supply chains will become more efficient.
Just as SSI allows retailers to efficiently screen and onboard job candidates, so too can it help enable more data-driven decision making when it comes to choosing and managing your vendors and suppliers.
New suppliers will be able to be onboarded and certified instantly, and you’ll benefit from entire new levels of digital trust across the supply chain (from certifications and compliance to source tracking and record-keeping).
7. Data breaches will become less dangerous.
While we can’t promise that data breaches will become a thing of the past, what we can promise is that the impact of breaches will be dramatically reduced.
Historically, retailers have had to collect and store a lot of customer information (credit card numbers, passwords, mailing addresses, possibly even social security numbers). This information is needed to process a payment, but it also represents a major liability if stored on a centralized database—a honeypot for hackers.
In recent years, data breaches have become both more common and more costly, with the cost of a breach being directly correlated with the amount of personally identifiable information (PII) compromised. Nearly all of the big data breach headlines in 2019 involved some sort of compromise of the most sensitive of PII, such as social security numbers or financial/medical records.
SSI fundamentally changes this picture. It doesn’t prevent breaches (hackers will continue to get smarter and better every day, no matter what security is in place), but it will limit what gets put into the ‘honeypot,’ reducing the volume of data held and making it near impossible to impersonate customers.
In an SSI world, any breached information is useless to an attacker as the attacker won’t be able to impersonate the owner unless they have the customer’s device and digital wallet. In other words, the “attack surface” reduces from one database with millions of records to one individual, their phone, and their biometric unlock. This significantly changes the economics of hacking.
8. Early adopters will unlock a true competitive advantage.
While we firmly believe that SSI will be the standard in the not-so-distant future, it won’t benefit all retailers equally.
Those that adopt the technology early will gain a significant competitive advantage over those who lag behind. They’ll benefit from increased market share (as consumers turn to the businesses that offer a frictionless, secure, personalized, and consent-based experience), higher margins (through fraud reductions and increased efficiencies), and an easy path to compliance with the increasing wave of GDPR and CCPA-like regulations.
In time, these benefits will be too great to ignore, and all retailers will move in this direction. Until then, the early bird gets the worm.
9. [To be revealed – Watch this space!]
At NRF 2020, one of our partners, a global provider of technology solutions to the world’s largest retailers, will be announcing and demonstrating a brand new capability that was built using our tools as part of our Early Access Plan. The capability will benefit both retailers and customers alike, and we think it’ll be a gamechanger. We’ll announce when we can.
Put simply, self-sovereign identity offers retailers a new paradigm for customer connections, enabling personalized and secure communications with seamless and instant data sharing.
As more and more organizations start to issue and accept digital credentials, SSI will impact every customer touchpoint, every product, and every process within retail, whether that’s in-store, online, or by phone.
Never before have companies been able to radically improve the customer experience, reduce costs, increase security, slash fraud, and improve compliance… all at the same time.
Retailers that seize this self-sovereign identity opportunity will unlock a true competitive advantage that will reshape the competitor landscape. And, they will inevitably take market share from those businesses that still rely on long forms and fragmented customer experiences.
If you’re looking to get ahead of this movement and start devising your SSI strategy, let’s get in touch.