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Meet Relay: Stripe’s New, Simplified, Payment-Processing System

The payment-processing company behind companies such as Lyft will let you make purchases without having to awkwardly fill out online forms.

Meet Relay: Stripe’s New, Simplified, Payment-Processing System

Even if you haven’t heard of Stripe, you’ve used it if you’ve called a car on Lyft, ordered a delivery on Postmates, or backed a project on Kickstarter. The young company that processes billions of dollars a year for tens of thousands of businesses and startups today introduced Relay, a service that adds one-click buying to mobile apps, most notably Twitter. It also lets people buy straight from the ads that run in mobile apps.

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“The purchase flow on mobile, that itself is completely broken today,” said Patrick Collison, Stripe’s 27-year-old CEO and cofounder, reading from his speech at a gathering in San Francisco this morning. “Nobody in their right mind would want to go through it. It’s as if we’ve intentionally designed something to discourage purchases.” He made the point by showing on a large screen the process from clicking a link on a mobile device to filling out a huge order form. It took at least a minute, and that assumed no typos in the shipping address, credit card info, or other details.

Stripe’s proposed fix, Relay, builds the whole buying process right into an app that integrates it—and Twitter was the biggest example announced today. Instead of clicking on a link in the Twitter app and going off to an e-commerce site like Warby Parker’s, someone can now click right on a Buy button in the tweet and finish the purchase inside Twitter. “Twitter is already being used by merchants of all shapes and sizes as a direct-to-consumer distribution and communication platform,” added Nathan Hubbard, Twitter’s head of commerce, during Collison’s presentation.

So how does Twitter have my credit card info and address? It doesn’t, and neither does Warby Parker. That’s all stored with Stripe—if you’ve already bought from any site using the Stripe Checkout service and agreed to let them store your buying info. “The more that [customers are] comfortable with the saving of the card, the faster and the more frictionless the experience is going to be,” Claire Hughes Johnson, Stripe’s COO, told Fast Company.

So who the hell is Stripe? might be the next question a customer asks. Hughes Johnson thinks that won’t be a concern, because people will trust an app like Twitter and won’t worry about the plumbing that makes the purchase possible. “I think that’s the majority of this situation, that it’s really with Twitter,” she said. “And we just power it.” In fact neither Twitter, Warby Parker nor any other company using Stripe or Relay has your credit card info. That all sits with Stripe.

With Relay, a buy button appears right in this Warby Parker tweet

In addition to Twitter, Stripe announced some other partners, including shopping site and app ShopStyle, which lets users peruse products from 1,400 retailers, and Saks Fifth Avenue. “We don’t enable payments for Saks Fifth Avenue,” says Hughes Johnson. “But now we’re enabling them to sell products though an integration through Stripe’s Relay.”

Another place you will see Relay—whether or not you want to—is in those little ads that appear at the bottom of mobile apps. Inmobi, another company you needn’t feel bad for not recognizing, serves around 6 billion of those ads per day on about 1 billion devices per month.

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Buying right from Twitter was possible before today, but only for the big guys, like McDonald’s, that built a custom integration with Twitter, but Relay is the plug-and-play option for the little guys, according to Hughes Johnson. “You can imagine sites would have customer integrations possibly with top partners,” she says. “But if you really want to enable merchants across the world and the web to sell through your app, you’re probably not going to have the bandwidth and the engineering energy to allow for that rest of [the world].”

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About the author

Sean Captain is a Bay Area technology, science, and policy journalist. Follow him on Twitter @seancaptain.

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