September is now upon us, bringing with it an annual rush of spending as parents and their children obtain fresh equipment and clothing for the school season as well as rebooting music lessons or participating in sports leagues. If they’re to take full advantage of the phenomenon this year, businesses should be racing to be where their customers are already heading. Let’s look at three “places” they’re going.
Customers are in multiple places today, not just in the store. They’re comparing notes on their wants and needs over social media. They’re assessing solutions and products online, using professional and customer reviews, interactive comparison tools, and even web-based demonstrations involving interactive animations and virtual reality. They’re “showrooming” through stores to check out a piece of clothing physically, only to buy it later online (and for less).
Some may see stores as “pick up depots” for e-commerce orders, others as high-touch advisory services that happen to sell products. And when they’ve bought something they don’t like, they have high expectations of being able to return it easily by mail or by dropping it off at any store in a chain.
New ways to pay
Cash is declining and debit and credit cards now dominate at the points of sale, but even these physical means of payment are being gradually eclipsed by virtual forms. Mobile device-based digital wallets enable not just the convenience of “tap and go” at checkout terminals, but also integrate seamlessly with apps on the same device – allowing consumers to pay for items within a retailer’s app with a single press of a button.
Leading retailers are adopting roving or mobile checkout architectures, allowing sales people to accept payments from customers wherever in the store they may be – or even allowing customers themselves to pay wherever they find an item, and then walk away with it without going near a checkout line. When there’s more than one customer, like at a restaurant meal with four friends – today’s expectation is that everyone will be able to split the bill as they choose, and immediately, using whatever payment app is most convenient for them.
With all of this new flexibility and convenience comes the multiplication of potential points of weakness, and consumer worries about the vulnerability of their personal financial information and their digital identities are well-founded. Making a purchase should never involve hesitation or nervousness – so the payment industry has put significant efforts into securing information. Chip-and-PIN cards continue to secure customer data at the point of sale, and this security is emulated and improved upon through the “tokenization” of personal financial information on mobile devices (which replaces unique private information with randomized replacement numbers only useful for that transaction) and through cryptograms that prove a virtual payment card in a digital wallet is indeed authentic.
If a merchant isn’t fully ready to meet such customer expectations, sales will inevitably start to migrate from their stores to a competitor’s. But catching up isn’t as hard as it sounds. Many vendors – like Interac – have built offerings that are easy to implement and that bundle key requirements (like best-of-breed security) inside them. As the world moves faster, we’re here to help merchants keep up. And keep winning.