Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, with the increased uptake of online shopping and the adoption of new digital payment methods, November should be a successful month of shopping for all.

Says Craig Duggan, Commercial Head at Transaction Junction, “Black November is now in full swing; retailers have extended their offerings and now Black Friday, which was a single day event, has extended over the month.”

However, retailers, consumers, and transaction facilitators remain concerned about the impact the ongoing pandemic will have on stores that typically attract massive crowds with little social distancing, especially at the tills.

To begin with, the global recession created by lockdowns experienced across the world means that fewer people have spare cash to spend. On the other hand, the bargains offered during this period may convince many consumers that this is the perfect time to shop for Christmas presents.  “Retailers will need to be creative with their credit options as the economic impact of the lockdown and its repercussions to consumers and retailers alike remains a considerable concern to many,” says Duggan.

Secondly, there is a significant concern that fear of contracting the virus will keep many consumers out of stores. That is of course not to say they will not be taking advantage of the sales, but those who can, will most probably shop online.

Covid-19 has inspired those consumers – who can – to shop online. For those who cannot, it has increased the demand for new, safer ways of transacting.

Says Duggan, “One of the keys to living in an infected world is to avoid touching surfaces that may be contaminated, therefore the way we pay – using either physical money or punching keypads for card payments – has had to evolve at a rapid rate.”

“We have seen a demand for new payment methods and the right software, implemented on an existing point-of-sale (PoS) device, will enable consumers to use a multitude of different payment options. This includes the use of mobile phones and tap-and-go cards, and already in many cases includes wearables.”

Duggan explains that fintech software creates a link between the disparate till environments, the various payment terminals and the banks and financial institutions facilitating the transactions. This environment enables an ecosystem that caters for multiple payment methods leveraging the increased speeds and security of the digital payment, while affording consumers a diversity of choice that caters to their unique requirements.

There can be no doubt that the use of a phone as a means of transacting at a till, or online is fuelled by the convenience factor it offers. After all, people often lose or forget their wallets, but the reality is that mobile phones have become an every-day essential item that remains within reach.

“Demand for phone payments and acceptance using QR codes has been fuelled by concerns about contracting the virus. However, many retailers have still not enabled QR code-based payments. The recent loss of interoperability between the key players in the South African QR space, e.g. Masterpass, SnapScan and Zapper, has been a blow to retailer adoption as merchants are faced with the added expense of multiple providers and distinctly separate solutions to cater to consumer convenience.” Duggan adds, “In an environment where margins are tight, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain simplicity – digital payment providers have the opportunity to facilitate convenience through innovative solutions that make the choices retailers face far easier and more cost-effective”. 

Purely from an industry perspective, it is unfortunate that the strides made to achieve interoperability have been dealt such a blow and especially during the leadup to this peak trading period of the year.

Masterpass made significant inroads into the banking space, with most banking applications now supporting Masterpass as a means of facilitating payment directly from the consumer’s banking app.  Often consumers are unaware that they have this capability on their phones.  “Of course, the contactless payment is uniquely beneficial for reducing the potential to pass on the virus, since the consumer uses their phone to make a payment, meaning no touching or exchanging of cards, cash or devices.”

Despite the implementation of innovative digital payment solutions, Duggan suggests that there remains no way of knowing how many people will brave the stores, the queues, and the crowds to obtain Black November bargains. However, he adds, regardless of actual in-store figures, he expects the overall number of transactions to be massive.

“November 2019 was a record transaction processing month – in terms of both value and volume – in Transaction Junction’s history, and we expect a similar scenario this year, only with more transactions moving online.”

With such a vast increase in online traffic in such a short period, will retailers have the technology, capacity, and fulfilment partners to ensure that all shopping happens without a glitch?  “In recent years, this has been a hurdle, but this year with the almost enforced move to online trade, many retailers have made significant strides in their fulfilment capabilities, facilitating greater trust in the consumer space,” says Duggan.

As a business-enablement platform that encompass every level of touchpoint in the digital payments chain, Transaction Junction’s focus is to ensure that payments are delivered at the PoS securely and timeously.

“We processed over 40 million additional transactions last year, compared to 2018, and despite the growth in volume, the question ‘can our systems cope?’ was never raised, because as the electronic payment enabler, our systems are designed with events like these in mind. As such, even during peak Black Friday traffic in 2019, we only reached around 30% of our capacity.”

While Transaction Junction is not a customer-facing company, continues Duggan, we are aware that any issue with our systems will have a negative impact on partners, retailers, and banks. Therefore, our responsibility is to implement the right strategy and technologies to protect our customers’ brands and reputations.

“Ultimately, how the technology works is not the retailers’ concern – all they want is for the consumer to make payments with whatever card or the device they choose. Hence why there is a growing demand for transaction services that are both bank- and device-agnostic, as the flexibility this offers is critical. It is also worth noting that although security remains a legitimate concern for many, from a Transaction Junction perspective, we deliver peace of mind to our customer’s, thanks to having more security certifications than anyone else in our field.”

“While one can rightfully argue that Black Friday has evolved into Black November, there is no doubt that Black Friday 2020 will be a hit. I expect to see a huge uptake in eCommerce this November, which means that it is critical that all participants in the supply chain – whether on the payments, fulfilment or delivery side – are ready and prepared to take things to the next level,” concludes Duggan.