PayPal has never been pretty.
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Sure, in 2013 the online payment giant raked in $6.6 billion in sales, accounting for 42% of Ebay's current revenue. But it did not do it in style. The website, the 18th most visited in the U.S. with more traffic than AOL, Apple or the New York Times, was clunky and old. Elements were stacked atop elements until their were 70 links on a single page. The main graphic was a kissing couple–an odd choice for an online payments company–who stood lip-locked on the homepage for nearly ten years. Says PayPal’s senior engineer, Bill Scott, who formerly ran user interface at Netflix: ““The company was so strong financially, but the website looked like it was from 1999.”
Today, PayPal is getting a much needed facelift. After some initial tweaks two years ago, the PayPal website has been completely re-branded–it’s simpler, prettier, with colorful photos and for the first time features a video. In short–it’s more personal.
“We updated the aesthetic around photography—it feels more human. ” Josh Abrams, PayPal’s creative director told me during a demo this November. “ Our voice and tone has become a lot more playful. We want to amp up the engagement with our customers. And create an emotional connection, not just rational.”
The new homepage will feature a full bleed video featuring scenes from small businesses (coffee shops, bike repair shops, hipsters!)–a hint to PayPal’s big push into brick-and-mortar payments coming later this year. The design is flat and modern. And instead of a functionless “billboard” page, users can take action from the start–logging in, signing up and sending money.
PayPal’s old technology system was ancient and rigid. Everything was tied together. “The actual stuff on the front end of the website, the cosmetic stuff, was closely tied to the back end stuff which made it incredibly hard to change,” says Abrams. ” So to modify a graphic or piece of copy would take months. Everything was hardwired into C++ it was ridiculous… We decoupled the front end and back end—we have our own technology stack for the front HTML5 and CSS3.”
In addition to the new home page, PayPal has been improving it’s checkout experience. Until recently the process had been clunky–once you hit the PayPal button a new browser window, you’d be taken to a new page to login in, confirm the purchase, and return to the merchant site. It was slow for the buyer, and the retailers didn’t like it because it took you away from their pages. The new system happens seamlessly within the retailer page–similar to signing on to services via Facebook. It will improve user experience online–and be a significant improvement for mobile.
While not earth-shattering, the changes are an import upgrade and demonstrate PayPal’s new commitment to product and technology. Expect more improvements to come as PayPal faces off against Amazon, Apple, Google, Stripe and Square in the coming battle for digital payments.