How have new payment technologies had an impact on the future of retail?

In the last decade, we've seen a dramatic evolution in payment technology and a plethora of advanced experiences being introduced to the market. Payment equipment evolved from bulky credit card terminals to inexpensive readers attached to smartphones. And now, we can turn a consumer’s own devices into a payment transaction device. Further developments in omni-commerce technologies have redefined anything commerce-related. Integrated payment technologies allow businesses to accept and manage payments within existing software, turning almost any PC, tablet or smartphone into a point of sale. This evolution gave new meaning to the phrase "every touchpoint is an opportunity to transact." Now, customers have grown accustomed to purchasing and paying for products and services how they want, with whatever card or digital wallet they want and whenever they want. The shopping journey is now cross-channel from online to in-store and back, and it's expected to be in real time. The ability to offer products and accept payments anywhere is now a consumer expectation, forcing retailers to go beyond typical incentives and migrate towards customization and personalization to attract and retain their customers.

What effect do flexible payment options have on customer experience?

Up until just a few years ago, merchants really owned the payment process and it was on their terms. This forced customers to pay how the business owner would prefer. Now, with customers having more control over when, where and how they make a purchase, the leverage and power has shifted firmly in the favor of the consumer. Today's commerce requires a willingness to adapt and evolve with customer-driven needs. Some consumers want to browse in the store and then buy online. Others want to shop and buy online and pick up in the store, or, in the case of restaurants, order ahead and have their meal ready when they arrive. Still others want the option to pre-pay for goods they regularly buy or order subscriptions for recurring services. Meeting all of these unique preferences is now easy from a payments perspective. Retailers and merchants can firmly plant the seed of brand loyalty if the shopping experience is taken to the next level for each customer. Merchants should set up customer databases based on loyalty programs and past purchases. They then can review consumer behavior in order to offer each customer the most appropriate discounts, rewards, sales events and payment options, thereby differentiating their shopping experience and creating dedicated customers.

With the mainstream rise of instant payment options through mobile phones, what is your advice to retailers looking to stay relevant with offering their customers seamless transaction experiences?

The opportunity for retailers to enhance their customer’s experience with a seamless payment process is necessary. Long gone are the days of pulling out a wallet, counting out the correct cash and the cashier giving you the appropriate change. That model is antiquated and takes far too long. Retailers must shift to a fully integrated experience. An example would be the grocer that integrates with a customer's smart refrigerator and knows that the customer has put milk, eggs and juice on a shopping list. These items can be automatically added to the customer's bi-weekly order with the market, so all the customer has to do is drive to the pick-up line or wait for home delivery. Payment is handled seamlessly and the customer's groceries are stocked for the next two weeks. Knowing how customers want to engage and creating that fully integrated experience from shopping to check out will be the battleground where consumers are won by retailers.

How should retailers begin to prepare their internal processes in order to accept new options for payment?

Retailers need to bring in, and stay up-to-date on, the latest software and engagement tools to enable a seamless payment experience now, and well into the future. This can be a daunting task, which is why business owners need to think strategically about who they partner with. Owners need to be sure to seek out providers with a commitment to adopting new technologies and a history of real-world implementations. A good payments partner can make it easy to set up things like online payments and mobile capabilities that integrate seamlessly with in-store payments, enabling retailers to keep track of inventory and customer behavior even as sales come in from multi-channel sources. Partnering with a company with an advanced payment platform that regularly innovates and evolves with the shifting marketplace will position businesses for seamless multi-channel integrations and long-term success.