When it’s time to pay the piper

December 11, 2019

Since the concept of electronic payments was first formulated, the idea behind it was to improve service and increase convenience for the customer. The advent of digital transformation has opened an era where convenience and innovation have reached extreme levels, with new fintech companies launching, various disruptors arising, and new payment methods being created all the time.

The trouble is, while several financial entities are investing the time and resources needed to create and launch new methods to facilitate ease of payment for customers, retailers themselves are sometimes slower to adapt. This creates a challenge, in that if the customer wants to use a new method of payment, but the retailers’ electronic environments have not been adapted to enable this, it leads to customer dissatisfaction.

Trickier still is that new methods of payment are constantly being developed, such as how customers expect to be able to use mobile devices to make such payments. The near future will also likely see wearable solutions becoming even more prominent as smart watches, for example, are increasingly added to the payment environment.

Retailers need to be able to offer payment solutions that cater for both the older generations of customers (those who still prefer to insert a card into a machine) as well as the new generation of customer who is quite comfortable making a payment via a QR code, for example.

Of course, it must be remembered that retailers aren’t banks or technologists, so as far as they are concerned, all they want is for the customer to make payments with whatever card or device they choose; that these transactions are concluded timeously; and that no matter the cost of the purchase, the store will receive payment from the relevant bank afterwards. This means that it is up to the technology players to provide a cost-effective means for retail stores to stay ahead of new technology, without introducing new risks into the environment.

The right software, implemented on an existing POS (point-of-sale) device, should enable customers to use a multitude of methods, from phones to wearables to tap-and-go cards, to make a payment. This software creates the link between the disparate till environments, the various payment terminals and the banks facilitating the transactions. This allows multiple payment methods to be used while also speeding up the processing of the digital payment.

The pace of digital evolution is such that we need a new method of securely facilitating payments. The last major development in this arena were the chips that were placed in bank cards, well over a decade ago. Despite how long it’s been since their introduction, this technology is still not ubiquitous, because obtaining global alignment on the implementation and use of such chips remains elusive.

The take-away from this is that with new ideas around transactions coming thick and fast, and with disruptors creating new ways of transacting all the time, it is imperative that the payment industry extricates itself from this traditional mindset of taking one’s time and ensuring global agreement before implementing anything new.

Software applications must meet customer demands, track trends and enable technologists to plan into the future. This is vital as in today’s fast-paced world, if you are not at the forefront of transaction developments, you will quickly be left behind.

Benefits to both parties need to be factored in: for example, enhancing the customer experience via new technologies or software, while at the same time offering the customer new payment options and providing the retailer with peace of mind that they are at no risk of a security compromise.

Moreover, the customers get increased value through access to a product set that evolves with the technology. After all, the focus should be on more than just facilitating new forms of payment; the goal is also to place new digital products at the fingertips of the retailer by enabling new functionality on the device. This, in turn, affords them the opportunity to use their POS devices to provide additional revenue-generating services to consumers, such as airtime, electricity and TV licence payments, lottery tickets and even the ability to draw cash at the till.

This is where the software comes to the fore, as it allows consumers to perform a single transaction at the till, despite purchasing or paying for a wide range of products. Retailers can even link the POS to their own store’s loyalty programme. This means that, for instance, if a customer spends a certain amount at the till, they can be rewarded with a coupon that offers them a discount or a free item on their next visit.

It is ironic that these POS transactions only make up a small part of the overall user experience journey, yet because they are the final segment of the customer journey, they are probably the most crucial. Any failure on the part of the software here will mean that the larger customer service picture will be negatively affected, and will likely leave the consumer feeling that their experience has been a bad one. Therefore, it is up to the suppliers of this technology to ensure that the circle is completed efficiently and effectively.

What is ultimately required is a solution which evolves as the technology and transaction methods evolve, which is secured according to Payment Card Industry (PCI) prescribed standards, and which offers retailers new revenue streams and customers increased convenience.

In today’s commoditised world, the customer experience is considered the most important of differentiators. Thus, by enabling the POS not only to process transactions, but also to open new revenue streams, even as it makes life simpler at the till for the customer, it becomes possible for the retailer to stand out from the crowd. More than simply standing out, however, it enables retailers to provide their end-customers with a solution that delivers a faster, more effective and thoroughly comprehensive customer service.