Payments are at the heart of successful retail evolution

With an influx of new technology, the retail landscape’s complexity lies solely on the side of the merchant and has developed to ensure the customer has the simplest and most secure shopping experience possible. A frictionless payments process underpins all this, according to Sage Pay’s director of marketing and product Martin Pitcock and director of ecommerce product Tali Scott.

From shopping through Amazon’s Alexa, to the increasing opportunities for personalisation offered by artificial intelligence, there is an ever-growing range of platforms merchants must get to grips with.

“5G will give people access to bigger, faster data streams,” explains Mr Pitcock. “This will in turn mean the use of augmented and virtual reality will become more prevalent in the customer experience, and all the while smartphones will get smarter.” Great news for consumers, but such an omnichannel approach to shopping is not without its challenges.

“Omnichannel is a buzzword everyone uses, but people are beginning to get a bit jaded about it,” says Ms Scott. So what does it really mean? The idea is simple: present customers with the same offer and service across all platforms, and this includes payment methods.

Payments’ role in creating a more personalised customer journey can be seen perhaps most clearly in circumstances such as customers buying items online and wanting to return them in-store. In the case of processing refunds, payments providers must be sure the transaction has been captured securely and all the card information hidden, so when a customer returns an item in-store they do not have to provide card details again.

Payment systems are supporting this retail evolution by ensuring payments can be made simply and securely, wherever they happen to be

Indeed, without the right payments systems in place, unified commerce can leave both merchants and consumers vulnerable to fraud. For the merchant, there are few protections against someone coming in to claim a refund and using a different card from the one on which the payment was made. Likewise for shoppers, giving out card information verbally means having no control over who gains access to your details.

“Say you ring up to claim a refund while somewhere public, like on a train,” explains Ms Scott. “Giving out your full card details, including security code, means someone can take note of that on your end or at the merchant’s end.”

Helping minimise the likelihood of fraud for the customer goes hand in hand with understanding what they want at every stage of the buying journey. “Retailers need to know not only what shopper preferences are today, but also what they will be tomorrow,” says Mr Pitcock. An integrated payments system can ensure great customer experience is delivered at every step of the buyer cycle.

This could mean ensuring the website is easy to navigate, with elements such as the discount field being easy to find on every device. Or it could mean having a wide range of delivery options, including click and collect or a locker service.

“You need to consider how the customer wants a transaction to be fulfilled,” says Mr Pitcock. “Royal Mail might charge £5.99 for delivery, which many customers find very expensive. You need to have a range of options and services throughout the buying cycle.”

New software has made this integrated approach just as possible for small and medium-sized enterprises as for large corporations, from on and offline inventory tracking to rota systems and enterprise resource planning.

What is crucial, however, is to remember that payments lies at the heart of each of these steps. Stock management, the ecosystem of the website, the payment systems, all these elements must be considered together, holistically. Looking at the comprehensive whole of the retail cycle is the only way a seamless omnichannel experience can be delivered.

In the future of retail, payment systems will play a fundamental role in consistently delivering excellent shopping experiences across any purchasing channel, while also helping merchants to maintain the quality of that experience from purchase to fulfilment and beyond.

As Ms Scott concludes: “Payment systems are supporting this retail evolution by ensuring payments can be made simply and securely, wherever they happen to be.”

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