Retailers will be under considerable pressure as they fight for a bigger slice of a shrinking pie this festive season, but technology could give many an edge over their competitors.
With news just out that the consumer confidence has hit a 10-year low, coupled with a slowdown in consumer spending, rising fuel and electricity prices, and more fears around unemployment, the retail sector will be hard-pressed to find ways to win customers come December.
Creating a competitive edge will mean finding ways to eke out more spend per shopper and ensuring repeat business from customers who do have money to spend. Innovation, using technology at the checkout point and third-party service providers, may hold the answer.
But while the business world and regulators attempt to come to grips with concepts such as Bitcoin, spare a thought for the retailer who is still trying to ensure they can accept and process the myriad of alternative forms of tender and value-added services at their checkout points.
“The world of alternative tender is becoming more complex for retailers, with the days of simply accepting a credit card at the checkout point being long gone,” says Ian Steyn, executive for product and sales at Innervation Value-Added Services.
“Debit cards, private label cards (Buy Aid, eBucks, RCS and so on), loyalty cards, coupons, vouchers, gift cards and mobile payments are now all in the mix when it comes to payment. And customers expect the transactions to be seamless.”
Steyn uses a local example to explain the complexities: “Let’s take your average expected experience at a national retail chain, for instance.
“A customer may ask to pay with a combination of coupons, a credit card, eBucks and a gift card. They will also want to swipe their loyalty card to ensure they earn valuable rewards. They could have also purchased virtual products such as prepaid airtime and electricity as part of their transaction.
“But what if they change their mind midway through the transaction, the teller makes a mistake or one of the transactions is declined? How do you void one item in a complex purchase transaction and will this mean starting the transaction all over again?”
According to Steyn, retailers are seeing significant benefits in offering a plethora of payment and value-added services options, but store owners are not always applying themselves to the customer experience as the options grow.
“Point of sale developers need to manage the complexity of a multitude of parameters via a host of third-party servers, applications and switches. But, quite frankly, the customer doesn’t care. The transaction still needs to be quick and accurate. They don’t know about the complexities and ‘user–error’ is simply not an option.”
Financial results from a number of the bigger retailers have pointed to their loyalty programmes, gift cards and coupon projects as contributors to their bottom line, and even smaller retailers are quickly moving to implement their own schemes, or at least support the larger ones. However, Steyn warns that this should not be done without the required consideration.
“There is no doubt that payment and value-added services could make a real difference this festive season, but if you get the service implementation wrong from an application perspective, what could have been a boost to your incremental revenue, could end up with a retailer losing repeat business to a competitor.”