Len Covello of Engage People On The Top 5 E-commerce Trends Shaping the Future of Online Shopping
An Interview With Rachel Kline
Published June 28, 2023
In my professional journey, my focus has been on earning the respect of my collaborators by embracing my role as a facilitator for their success. Recognizing the significance of supporting and empowering others, I have fostered a culture rooted in shared growth and accomplishment. Throughout my career, the harmonious interplay between creativity, authenticity, and a genuine passion for seeing others succeed has shaped my path. I firmly believe that innovation flourishes when we embrace technology to achieve extraordinary outcomes. By remaining true to our authentic selves and cultivating an environment where everyone can thrive, we unlock boundless possibilities for individual and collective success.
As e-commerce continues to grow exponentially, businesses must stay up-to-date with the latest trends and innovations to remain competitive in the ever-evolving online shopping landscape. In this interview series, about “Top 5 Ecommerce Trends Shaping the Future of Online Shopping” we are talking to e-commerce experts, industry professionals, and thought leaders with in-depth knowledge and experience in online shopping trends. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Len Covello.
Len Covello is CTO of Engage People, the only loyalty network that enables program members to pay with points directly at checkout. Len leads the long-term technology vision of the company and is responsible for driving continued innovation in the loyalty sector. He is an innovator in the technology space and a thought leader in loyalty, who started his first technology company at the age of 18.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you’re super busy. Before diving in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?
I originally started working in the web space in my mid-teens as the internet was still a bit of the wild west. I started taking on contract work to build web applications for North American companies, and this led to the creation of my first web development agency specializing in e-commerce development. From there, we began doing work for a client in the loyalty and incentive space, which we eventually acquired, and that is where my focus on the loyalty sector really began. I’ve always had an eye for the creative user interface/user experience, which I think has coupled very well with my love of technology and building things.
What led you to this specific career path?
I really took to heart what many people have told me but resonated mostly from my father, which was that if you enjoy something, it will never feel like work and if you stick with it, you can be successful. I believe I started in technology because it was fun and somewhere along the way it became my career. All the while, it’s still a lot of fun!.
Can you share the most exciting story that has happened to you since you began at your company?
I’ve had a lot of incredible experiences in my career. I’ve been able to travel the world, design and build solutions for tier-one companies and work with an incredible team of individuals here at Engage People. But I think one of the most interesting stories stems from our work to design a solution that was a precursor to our fintech-powered loyalty network, Access Plus.
The ability to pay with loyalty points at checkout didn’t catch on quickly at first, so we worked day and night to build a solution that would still accomplish our goal without needing to involve major retailers first (in this case, our goal was Amazon). Instead, we built a solution that generated a tokenized card that allowed Marriott Reward members to pay with points on Amazon. Within one week, the volume we generated caught the attention of the global online retailer and served as a key building block of our Access Plus product today. It’s funny how building a complex path can help you open the front door.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
As much as we are a loyalty company, we see ourselves as a technology company that delivers solutions in the loyalty space first. Today, we akin ourselves to a payments company as it relates to loyalty currency. That’s the value proposition we bring to the market.
Taking a step back, loyalty is such a broad term. It can be as simple as swiping your credit card to earn, but it’s also that feeling of being special through a direct relationship with a brand. It’s about personalization when you’re interacting with a retailer.
Over the years, we’ve delivered loyalty solutions in the traditional sense through redemptions, travel bookings and gift cards. Now we have a product called Access Plus that allows us to integrate into any e-commerce checkout screen or checkout flow to give loyalty program members the ability to pay with points as easily as selecting their credit or debit card. I think the best description I’ve heard is that we’re the horizontal line in an “H.” We’ve been building a network, akin to Visa or Mastercard, and creating that handshake between retailers and customers.
Our main focus as a company is to continue to expand our loyalty network. That includes adding new retailers and new loyalty program sponsors to provide consumers with the flexibility to pay where and how they choose, including with loyalty points.
You’re a successful business leader. What are three traits about yourself that you feel helped fuel your success? Can you share a story or example for each?
To start off, creativity holds a deep resonance within me. I perceive technology as more than a mere tool; instead, it serves as the paintbrush that breathes life into our imaginative visions. Along my journey with Engage, the foundation of our triumph lies in our capacity to envision boundless possibilities and instill that conviction in our clients. This passion fuels collaboration, allowing us to collaborate closely with our teams to turn visions into tangible realities. By nurturing this creative spirit, we aspire to continue pushing boundaries, embracing innovation, and delivering transformative outcomes for our clients.
Secondly, authenticity has consistently been one of the qualities others have admired in my work. This is especially true in sales, where my genuine approach has garnered commendation. The secret behind this authenticity lies in my unwavering belief in everything I present during meetings, presentations, and pitches. It has been my steadfast guiding principle, enabling me to forge meaningful connections with others and establish a foundation of trust. By staying true to myself and embodying authenticity, I have witnessed its positive impact on my interactions and professional relationships.
Finally, in my professional journey, my focus has been on earning the respect of my collaborators by embracing my role as a facilitator for their success. Recognizing the significance of supporting and empowering others, I have fostered a culture rooted in shared growth and accomplishment. Throughout my career, the harmonious interplay between creativity, authenticity, and a genuine passion for seeing others succeed has shaped my path. I firmly believe that innovation flourishes when we embrace technology to achieve extraordinary outcomes. By remaining true to our authentic selves and cultivating an environment where everyone can thrive, we unlock boundless possibilities for individual and collective success.
Excellent, thanks so much for sharing that. I want to shift gears and talk about ecommerce. What was the original vision for your ecommerce business? What pain point(s) were you trying to solve for your customers?
Engage People supports e-commerce to increase potential customers and the likelihood of conversion by enabling them to accept alternative payment methods, in this case, loyalty points. Our vision is to seamlessly integrate loyalty programs into every transaction, whether conducted online or in physical stores, making loyalty a fundamental component of the customer experience. By enabling customers to utilize their loyalty points as a form of payment, we aim to drive engagement, increase customer satisfaction, and foster stronger brand loyalty within the e-commerce landscape.
How do you see the ecommerce industry evolving in the coming years?
There will be an ongoing commitment to expanding loyalty programs further, with a primary focus on establishing personalized relationships with customers through targeted promotions and effective communication strategies. There is significance in adopting cutting-edge technologies such as AI and VR to foster a more profound customer connection. By leveraging these technologies, we aim to facilitate meaningful interactions that increase the likelihood of sales conversion and cultivate long-term brand advocates. Through these efforts, we strive to provide exceptional customer experiences, enhance brand loyalty, and drive sustainable growth.
How do you balance the need for innovation and experimentation with maintaining a stable, reliable ecommerce infrastructure?
Maintaining a balance between innovation and maintaining a stable, reliable e-commerce infrastructure is crucial, and the key lies in prioritizing the customer journey. In a complex development environment, focusing on delivering the best possible customer experience is essential. This means aligning development efforts with available funding and profit margins, ensuring that resources are allocated strategically. To achieve this balance, it is necessary to establish a long-term strategy that encompasses both short-term experiments and long-term initiatives. This strategy should be flexible enough to pivot when necessary to adapt to changing market conditions, all while maintaining a steadfast commitment to delivering an efficient and effective customer journey.
As stated by McKinsey, success lies in a series of bold initiatives that reinforce each other, creating cumulative impact. By taking an iterative approach and building upon each success, innovation can be seamlessly integrated into a stable e-commerce infrastructure.
In summary, by centering our efforts on the customer journey, managing development within the constraints of available resources, and implementing a well-thought-out long-term strategy, we can strike the delicate balance between innovation and maintaining a stable e-commerce infrastructure. This approach allows for experimentation, adaptation to market changes, and the delivery of exceptional experiences to our customers.
Ok super. Here is the central question of our interview. What five emerging trends do you believe will have the biggest impact on the future of online shopping?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is set to revolutionize various industries, including online shopping, by offering a range of transformative capabilities. Through AI, businesses can gain deeper insights into their shoppers’ behaviors, enabling a better understanding of their preferences. This knowledge can be utilized to deliver real-time promotions and personalized communications that resonate with individual customers. Furthermore, AI empowers businesses to optimize inventory management by providing more accurate and timely insights, improving efficiency and customer satisfaction. Overall, AI has the potential to reshape the landscape of online shopping by unlocking new opportunities for enhanced customer experiences and operational excellence.
At Engage People, we closely embrace the trend of expanding payment options, recognizing its significance. Consumers now have the freedom to choose from a wide array of payment methods that best align with their requirements. Whether it’s utilizing credit cards, debit cards, digital wallets, “Buy Now, Pay Later” (BNPL) services, or even redeeming loyalty points for purchases, customers are presented with numerous options. This abundance of payment choices significantly enhances the overall shopping experience, making it increasingly seamless and convenient for consumers.
By leveraging AI-driven data and insights, on-site personalization empowers businesses to craft customized experiences for each customer. This curated shopping journey, designed with personal preferences in mind, not only enhances the level of personalization but also boosts the potential for conversion. Additionally, by offering a more comprehensive range of payment options, businesses can further augment the personalized experience, fostering more significant customer satisfaction and increasing the likelihood of successful conversions.
Through technological advancements, chatbots have emerged as a means of revolutionizing customer service by effectively assisting shoppers and ensuring a seamless customer experience. These virtual assistants play a crucial role in guiding customers, offering valuable advice on product selection, and even helping with the process of returns and refunds, thus ensuring a positive and satisfactory customer journey.
Online retailers are beginning to recognize the advantages of loyalty programs and are incorporating additional components to enhance ROI while simultaneously providing unique service offerings to their loyal customers. This trend includes expanding subscription programs, further strengthening customer loyalty, and providing exclusive benefits tailored to their core customer base.
Is there a past trend that’s now common practice in ecommerce that you would have spent 50% more time focusing on? Which one and why?
In hindsight, I would have dedicated 50% more time focusing on social commerce — selling through social media channels. Brands today effectively leverage existing platforms and traditional channels while incorporating emerging innovations to establish connections with shoppers across all channels. However, it’s important to note that this isn’t just about replicating past practices or doing the same things we’ve done previously. We find ourselves in a new era of digital connection fueled by AI tools and technological advancements. In particular, augmented and virtual reality technologies are emerging as the next frontier for social commerce.
Forward-thinking brands are already embracing these technologies or integrating them into their strategies to cater to the demands of future consumers. While it’s always possible to adopt these approaches, those brands that were early adopters of social media selling are now leading the way in this new landscape.
Looking ahead, what are the biggest opportunities and challenges facing the ecommerce industry, and how do you plan to address them in the coming years?
Looking ahead, the e-commerce industry presents significant opportunities and challenges that require proactive strategies for success in the coming years.
One significant opportunity lies in differentiating the product offering to appeal to a broader customer base while simultaneously providing personalized services. By understanding customers’ unique preferences and needs, businesses can tailor their offerings and create customized experiences, fostering customer loyalty and satisfaction.
Another crucial opportunity is to move beyond competing solely on price and instead focus on establishing emotional connections with shoppers. By leveraging storytelling, user-generated content, and targeted marketing campaigns, businesses can forge deeper connections with customers, building brand loyalty and advocacy.
Furthermore, ensuring cyber data and security is also a critical challenge in the e-commerce industry. Implementing robust cybersecurity measures, data encryption protocols, and regular security audits are essential to safeguard customer data and build trust.
You are a person of significant influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Overall the world needs more positivity, including taking care of our youth’s mental health — especially in the digital age. One of the biggest downfalls of social media is that people feel the need to cut down on others to feel better about themselves. I’ve always loved the line, “Just because someone gets in line behind you doesn’t make you any closer to the front.” If I could start a movement, it would be to recreate algorithms that promote content that celebrates accomplishments rather than content that makes others feel the need to compare or cut down their peers.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can follow Engage People on social media; LinkedIn and Facebook: engageppl, and Twitter: @engageppl. We also just launched our new website that features all of our latest happenings: www.engagepeople.com. Lastly, I am a member and regular contributor to the Forbes Technology Council. You can check out my latest articles here.
I want to thank you so much for your time and for sharing your expertise with us. I wish you continued success!
I want to thank you so much for your time and for sharing your expertise with us. I wish you continued success!