As more people get comfortable buying big ticket Items like cars on the internet, Volkswagen Financial Services South Africa (VWFS SA) knew it needed to simplify the entire process. CIO Wilma Crosson was in charge of making this happen.

Improving its direct sales channel demanded that they come up with a way to, first of all, cut the time it takes for customers to complete the sales process. And, in doing so, VWFS SA made it easier for customers to buy a new car without ever having to set foot inside a dealership. 

Someone looking to buy a car can either go into a dealership and talk to a finance and insurance manager who helps them though the process, from drawing up sales contracts, to arranging payment for the car and offering them additional products. That’s one process. The other more direct route now is a customer visiting the website and doing everything there. Looking at the entire customer journey—from customer awareness to payment and delivery—was just one step in the chain Crosson wanted to improve. Discussing what drove the move, she outlines that the pandemic forced most companies to look at their digital capabilities. “We knew we needed to transform digitally to stay competitive,” she says. “We wanted to improve our online applications process because we weren’t getting a lot of traffic from this channel. When we looked at it more closely, we realized our online journey wasn’t very efficient, requiring customers to spend about 30 minutes filling out paperwork.”  

Finding the right solution

VWFS SA is owned by two shareholders Volkswagen Financial Services AG (Germany) and The First Rand Group. When it started talking about improving the online application process, it was lucky it could use software developed by one of these shareholders to make the application process a lot shorter. The solution uses APIs and AI to run an affordability background check so it can quickly verify if the customer qualifies for the deal. This meant VWFS SA could reduce the number of fields customers had to complete from 250 to just 10. “We were quite lucky we could just tailor this solution to meet our specific needs,” she says.  

To do so, the brand partnered with an external service provider. “I think it’s always quite daunting trying to choose the right service provider because you have to think about how the company aligns with your organization’s culture and with your future needs. So we had to come up with quite strict criteria,” she says, and according to Crosson, companies from different types of industries, different sizes, and with different levels of experience were in the running for the project. The final decision came down to what they needed now, as well as what would be needed in the future.

The business case for outsourcing

“Because of how our company is structured, I’ve outsourced most of my business-as-usual activities to an IT service provider so I don’t have in-house developers or a huge complement of IT staff that can execute for me,” says Crosson. “But we do need to have some skills in-house that our chosen IT service provider, SovTech, then supports.” Obviously, this comes with some challenges. Being a company that outsources a lot, VWFS SA had to get very good at ensuring their SLAs were well structured and well managed. “I use the term ‘managed’ because if you don’t meet with your service providers quarterly, or in the case of certain projects, monthly, and if you don’t have the necessary KPI-driven conversations, you’re kind of dead in the water,” she says, adding this is especially important when you work with multiple providers because they also need to work together.  

While she does admit this is where most of her challenges came from, she cites an agile approach to project management as being critical to the project’s success. “I promise you, having weekly meetings, where we were all are together and could discuss progress helped a lot,” she says.

The devil is in the data

When looking back on how the project went, she admits they had a lot of data-related challenges, because it all sits with their IT service provider. “If I, as the CIO, want to enable key business objectives, like streamlining our online journey, I need to be able to run a marketing campaign, for example,” she says. “But to do this, I need to know who my customers are and which ones have actually opted in to receive marketing content. So I need that data.”

But when the data sits in an external environment, this is a big challenge because someone needs to go through a third party to access it. Plus, Crosson says that when you outsource to a third party, you run on their migration timelines and you have to fit in their schedule. If these timelines interfere or conflict with a request you make, it can delay progress, which is exactly what VWFS SA experienced and it delayed their project by about three weeks. “The lesson learned for us was we need to be more aware of our service provider’s technical roadmaps so we can plan accordingly and, where possible, work around them,” she says.

Looking at some of the learnings from this project specifically, she adds that sometimes the answers to problems are right in front of you. “Our customers are digital, our competitors are digital, our employees are digital, so it made good business sense for us to be more digital too,” she says.

Automotive Industry, CIO, Digital Transformation, IT Leadership

Every online business has two primary objectives: to get people to visit the site and convert those visitors into customers. Over the years, conversion efforts have evolved from focusing on shopping cart completion to capitalising on every feature of the website to enhance customer experience and maximise conversions.

However, these efforts falter at the final hurdle if the customer does not complete payment. Sometimes the reason customers abandon a cart is purely because they change their mind, while consumers will also abandon a cart when the site declines to accept a payment. Not only does this deny the merchant revenue, but a declined payment also dissatisfies the customer and may send them to a competitor. So it is essential wrongly declined payments are minimised.

Here are some of the reasons why payments are wrongly declined and how such rejections can be minimised.


Optimising the checkout experience can significantly increase conversion rates. Every point of friction that makes the checkout experience longer or more complex will result in small percentage increases in abandonment. For large companies, even a small percentage of cart abandonment can seriously affect revenue.

Purchases are also abandoned when a consumer goes to pay and encounters a problem. According to research from PayPal, almost one-third of Australian consumers (28%) * have abandoned a purchase because their preferred payment method wasn’t available. Sales can also fail when legitimate customer payments are rejected due to inappropriate or inaccurate risk analysis.

‘According to research from PayPal, almost one-third of Australian consumers (28%) have abandoned a purchase because their preferred payment method wasn’t available.’

To maximise revenue it is essential merchants offer the widest possible range of payment options and ensure no payment is rejected without justification.

A study by Mercator estimates that only four per cent of visitors to a website reach the stage of initiating payment. Suppose a website has 100 million visitors per year. Increasing that four per cent of would-be buyers to say 10 per cent could result in a significant increase in revenue.


There are many reasons why a payment provider may reject a transaction. Here are the main ones.

Overly strict fraud rules

Fraud is always a risk for merchants when physical or smartphone-loaded cards aren’t used for a transaction. Fraud protection systems are a vital part of conducting an online business so it’s important to get the right balance and ensure fraud rules are optimised to ensure genuine transactions aren’t declined in error. If anti-fraud systems are not using a deep base of data to inform machine learning or their analysis and AI is not sophisticated enough, fraud protection systems can block legitimate transactions to an unacceptable level.

Outdated card and customer information

When the seller stores customer and card information to expedite transactions it can become out of date. Some payment service providers and major global card networks offer tools to enable merchants to keep card information up to date.

Cross-border payment risks

Cross-border transactions get declined more frequently because international cards often operate on local networks that are not connected to global networks, making transaction verification more difficult. If a merchant wants to optimise the accuracy and volume of cross border payments being authorised, they may need to use a payment provider specialising in international transactions.

Data incompatibilities

There are multiple parties required to authorise each transaction: the merchant, the acquirer (the bank or financial institution that processes the payment), the network, the card issuer and the payment platform. Ideally, information formats are standardised across all parties, but often they are not. And authorising banks sometimes change the information they require or the format in which it is needed.

Routing problems

If payments are not routed through the appropriate processing channels, the chances of them being declined can increase. Partnering with a payment platform that intelligently optimises routing based on the type of transaction, dollar amount, location of origin and other factors helps alleviate the issue.


Without understanding the reasons transactions are declined, it’s difficult for merchants to optimise their authorisation rate. They should analyse all available information: the decline code, the payment method, country, industry, customer and order levels. A good payments service provider can often help merchants with this process.

Declined payment minimisation is a complex process that requires large amounts of data and sophisticated processing techniques, which must be applied in real time. This is where partnering with a global payment platform can be a game-changer. With more than 400 million customers globally and longstanding experience in digital payments, PayPal is able to draw upon vast and sophisticated data sets to help merchants improve payment authorisation rates and reduce declined payments.

Discover more about how PayPal can evolve your payments system.

*PayPal eCommerce Index 2022

Payment Systems

Live shopping is one of the most exciting retail experiences in a long time. As shoppers become increasingly eager to buy via live shopping on social platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, retailers face new challenges: How to capture the shoppers’ attention on social media when the urge to buy hits? How can retailers create seamlessly interactive and immersive experiences that prompt consumers to hit the “buy button” during the live stream?

While retailers see the opportunity to pounce on this new trend, the hurdles they face are immense:

Connecting social commerce touchpoints like TikTok and Instagram, as well as built-in chat, video and voice functions, to commerce experiences is a must for seamless omnichannel experiences. Still, it’s not always easy to deploy new features and channels in their current commerce platform.Autoscaling traffic peaks from the live shopping experience is necessary, so consumers don’t face slowdowns or crashes when buying a product. When shoppers see a 404 error page, they’re not likely to come back. Unfortunately, most retailers still face scalability problems during sudden traffic spikes. Experimenting with new touchpoints enables brands and retailers to be ahead of changing customer demands now and in the future. Yet, experimentation is challenging to achieve in today’s IT environment.

These challenges stem from the rigid and monolithic nature of commerce platforms most retailers and brands still use today. These solutions, built for the desktop eCommerce era, lack the flexibility and scalability needed for spontaneous and high-volume sales powered by live shopping.

Flexible, scalable, agile: modern commerce starts with MACH

What’s the alternative for retailers looking at live shopping and beyond? As customer demands and market conditions change quickly, retailers and brands must move faster to capitalise on new ways to sell, such as omnichannel commerce, digital clienteling and personalisation. This means adapting customer experiences on the fly by adding new touchpoints, products, features, locales, currencies and every aspect of commerce without hassle.

This maximum flexibility and scalability philosophy is powered by the principles of MACH (Microservices-based, API-first, Cloud-native and Headless). In a nutshell, MACH-based architecture breaks down functionalities  such as integrating Instagram as a commerce channel  into modular pieces that can be easily customized, deployed, scaled and managed over time. In contrast to all-in-one legacy platforms, retailers using MACH can experiment, scale, change and adapt any functions at any time without disrupting their commerce backend or customer-facing storefronts. As 81% and 88% of adults under 55 years of age in Australia and New Zealand respectively shop online, and nine in 10 retail dollars spent offline during Australian peak season were influenced by digital, retailers are urged to rethink their digital commerce infrastructure to succeed in this new landscape.

For example, the Canadian menswear retail chain, Harry Rosenimplemented digital clienteling that sparked online traffic peaks. With MACH, the company had 0% downtime even as page views per session increased by 150%, coping with a three-fold increase in online sales without disruption.

Australian retail giant Kmart opted for MACH-based infrastructure to elevate personalisation and product categorisation, as well as autoscaling capabilities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kmart handled three times the online volume compared to pre-pandemic levels, and still, their eCommerce infrastructure was twice as fast. The company doubled the conversion rate and, just as importantly, operated at a third of its previous infrastructure costs.

Lastly, fashion retailer Express saw online traffic spikes that were three times higher than the busiest hour of Black Friday after a sales promotion went viral. Thanks to MACH, the company could avoid downtime and slowdowns to its webshop, fully capitalising on the sudden surge in sales.

Many retailers are shifting to MACH-based platforms to cope with traffic spikes from digital shopping. With modern commerce, retailers can add new touchpoints and experiment with new ways of reaching customers without constraints to the commerce infrastructure. 

E-commerce Services

When Steve Pimblett joined The Very Group in October 2020 as chief data officer, reporting to the conglomerate’s CIO, his task was to help the enterprise uncover value in its rich data heritage.

For a company that made its name in mail-order catalog sales, the idea of building an enterprise-wide data catalog seemed to be an appropriate part of that process.

Very grew from the successive mergers of a number of mail order catalog companies, the oldest dating back to the 1890s. Its constituent companies later moved into high-street retail, launched new mail-order brands selling clothing on credit, and even created a consumer financial data broker, later spun off like so many of the group’s other non-core activities.

The group’s move online began in the 1990s with its first steps into e-commerce, followed by the closure of its physical stores in 2005. It launched its first online-only brand, Very, in 2009 and finally abandoned its printed catalogs to go all-in online in 2015.

The whole company rebranded as Very in 2020, the year Pimblett joined. He found a rich collection of data assets, including information on over 2.2 million daily website visits, 4.8 million active customers and 49 million items delivered annually.

Behind the flagship brand, though, he says data remained scattered in siloes across many legacy business units and applications, with limited automation, many glossaries, and complex data lineage, and stewardship making it hard to govern and audit.

Data and analytics experts were also spread across the organization, with some under the technology team but others embedded in the various business units.

“There was no one to help everybody with standards and central approaches, so every business vertical was doing it differently,” he says. “‘It’ being everything from how they collect and measure data, to how they understand it and their own glossary. It was very fragmented, and I brought it together into a hub-and-spoke model.”

The new model enables Very to design once and deploy everywhere, while maintaining a product focus.

As a result, Pimblett now runs the organization’s data warehouse, analytics, and business intelligence. “We’re a Power BI shop,” he says. “I run the infrastructure and a central enterprise BI team.”

Establishing a clear and unified approach to data

But getting to this stage was an intricate process that involved creating centers of excellence for things like data analytics that own the end-to-end infrastructure, application and skill sets, as well as career plans for staff.

Pimblett took a carrot-and-stick approach to get everyone working together, partnering with them on value creation (the carrot of profit) and risk mitigation (the stick of compliance). “It’s about making sure we understand the legal basis by which we’re capturing data, what we’re doing with it, where it flows, how we use it, and that we govern all those things,” he says.

Enterprises need to be aware of the dual nature of the data they hold, that it can be both an asset and a liability, he says.

One of the early projects on which he was able to add value through a partnership between his data hub and one of the business unit spokes was in building a new demand forecasting tool.

“We’re a multi-category retailer with over 160,000 SKUs, so forecasting how much stock to buy of each SKU is a business challenge, but also very much a technology and mathematical challenge,” he says.

Steve Pimblett

To get buy-in from business units for projects like this, he says, “you have to sell them the benefit and the outcome of shared platforms, reuse, shared data, and the efficiencies that they’ll get,” and not the technology you’ll use.

“A lot of roles in data just talk about the data,” he says. “Where do we store it? What’s the infrastructure? What’s our warehousing technology? You know, good old DBAs, modelers, and analysts.”

Instead, says Pimblett, he and his data colleagues ask business managers, “Where do you think you can create value from data? What type of decisions are you making? Where is there opportunity to automate? And how can we delight the customer or empower your colleagues to take better decisions? Turn it into an outcome, a value and an action conversation. That tends to get them engaged,” he says.

 A more nimble catalog business

Very has come full circle as a business built on catalog data, but it took some introspection in order to figure out the best way to get there.

“Cataloging your data is more important than ever for many companies, with so many technology options, different data silos, enterprise warehousing, lake houses, data lakes, and all those types of capabilities,” says Pimblett. “Understanding what data you’ve got locked in all these different stores is a big part of the jigsaw puzzle.”

So he began working on a pilot project with data catalog and governance tool vendor Alation about a year ago, after it responded to Very’s RFP. In a first test of the technology, he used Alation to catalog a subset of Very’s data held in an old Teradata database. It took about nine weeks to set up the infrastructure, make the connection to the database, and index and understand the metadata. Very is focusing on short sprints like this, rather than on monolithic 12-month projects that may not fit the business when finished.

“Run a pilot within nine weeks, prove it, prove the value, and then roll it forward into production is very much how we think about our full technology agenda,” he says.

Pimblett hasn’t yet catalogued all of Very’s data, however. It’s always going to be a work in progress. “We’re picking off the highest potential value and highest risk areas,” he says. “We’ve done it in our financial services area, and some of our marketing area. Those tend to hold the biggest amount of our customer information.”

The next step will be to roll it out across the whole company.

“We’ve got some massive systems that take time to index — not from a tech perspective, but from a data stewardship and understanding perspective,” he says.

Value, not vanity

Reflecting on things he might have done differently over the two years since he joined Very, Pimblett cautions against embarking on new technology projects for the sake of it and recommends always thinking about the desired outcome or action first.

If you don’t, he says, “there’ll be an occasion when you realize you didn’t comply with your own principles and start with the action and outcome.” In those situations, he says, you need to tell yourself: “Get back to your strategy. You’ve thrown value away because you’ve had a team working on a vanity project rather than creating business value.

One of the next value-creating projects to which Very will be applying its rich data legacy centers on loans: By the end of 2022, it will pilot a new personal finance business, offering its existing customer base loans of up to £7,500 ($8,800) over one to five years.

“We’ve got a trusted brand and we’ve just started to innovate based on our technology and data capabilities,” he says.

Chief Data Officer, Data Center Management

New research from Cybersource and finds that more than one-third of shoppers are turning to smartphones when shopping in-store. In addition, 59% of merchants support mobile features to help them make a purchase. The 2022 Global Digital Shopping Index provides insights into how mobile-first shoppers are reshaping what success looks like for merchants in a new world of retail.

“Merchants have had to constantly reinvent themselves throughout the pandemic to meet consumers where they were, and this usually meant adding or augmenting their digital channels to improve the experience. Digital is no longer the complement to a merchant’s customer engagement, it is the central tool to drive transactions, whether those originating and ending with digital, or those moving across channels,” said Carleigh Jaques, SVP, Global Head, Acceptance Solutions, Visa.

The study, which examines behaviors of consumers and merchants across Australia, Brazil, Mexico, the UAE, the UK and the US, found consumers that are quickly becoming mobile-first – and merchants need to meet those preferences to succeed.

The rise of the digital-first shopper

Consumers want digital to be a part of their physical shopping experiences. Of the one-third of shoppers who used their smartphones when shopping, 31% used their phone to look up product information, ratings and reviews; 16% used them to determine if the product was in stock and where it was located; 15% used them to compare prices offered by other merchants; 14% used them to find coupons, special offers and other discounts; and only 8% used them for loyalty credit for their purchases. Mobile devices have emerged as the shopping tool of choice for global consumers. Some 42% of consumers surveyed used their smartphone at least once during their most recent shopping journey in 2021, compared to 2020, when only 18% of consumers used their phones to assist their shopping experience. Merchants are prioritizing digital features that improve the consumer shopping experience, regardless of which shopping channels they use. Some 59% of merchants allowed shoppers to create digital profiles that could be accessed across mobile, laptop and other digital channels in 2021, up 16% from 2020. Merchants are actively working to add voice-enabled purchasing options. Some 65% of merchants now allow customers to shop and pay for their purchases using voice-recognition technology, although consumer awareness lags, with only 39% of shoppers using the capability. 

“The data in this year’s Global Digital Shopping Index shows the awareness gap between what consumers want and what features merchants offer,” said Karen Webster, CEO of “In a world where consumers have so many options to make a purchase, merchants are often judged first and foremost by their customer experience. Forward-thinking brands are making payments a positive experience.”

Cybersource can help merchants develop seamless digital payment experiences to meet consumers’ growing needs and deliver the flexibility and scalability needed for growing businesses globally. To learn more about what the future holds for digital shopping experiences, download the 2022 Global Digital Shopping Index report. 


IT Leadership, Smartphones

A pro-Beijing online propaganda campaign has used phony websites and social-media postings to try to discredit a prominent German anthropologist who has investigated China’s crackdown on Muslims, according to cybersecurity researchers.