By Dale S. Laszig
Castles Technology Co. Ltd.
Remember the early days of relationship marketing? Our job back then, as merchant level salespeople (MLSs), was to show merchants how to optimize customer-facing POS solutions, from PIN pads with basic black and white monitors to full-color signature capture touch screens.
Add a video or coupon to the monitor, we advised them. Leverage your customer relationship management database by offering discounts to your customers on their favorite items. It's about building relationships. Today, merchants and customers have taken relationships to a whole new level. They follow each other on Twitter and "friend" each other on Facebook. We'd insult their intelligence if we suggested they become better aqua-inted. They're not dating anymore; they're married. In a post-analog world, a merchant's traditional media mix is getting a makeover via mobile commerce, social networking, blogs and chat rooms, online ordering, and in-store digital content environments. MLSs need a high-level understanding of these applications, so we can partner with merchants who are looking for ways to seamlessly integrate payment processing across an enterprise. Merchants need to connect with their customers anytime, anywhere and on any device.
Virtualization is a driving force in the new POS landscape, forever changing traditional concepts of time and place. In an always-on, always-connected merchant/customer relationship, leveraging five seconds at a checkout counter is no longer mission-critical.
It still makes sense for merchants to offer instant coupons, but if their customers don't seize the PIN pad moment, they can always opt-in later, with an online order, text or e-mail.
The on-demand component of the digital age has freed consumers from the constraints of scheduled programming. Television shows can be recorded by DVRs, to be screened at the viewer's convenience, commercial free. Meetings and tutorials can be posted online, to accommodate busy and changing work schedules.
In Always On: Advertising, Marketing, and Media in an Era of Consumer Control, authors Christopher Vollmer and Geoffrey Precourt of Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. address the new consumer-centric playing field, which has made it necessary for merchants and advertisers to personalize their overtures to target audiences. Market research has been replaced by one-on-one, interactive communication.
They wrote, "In an always-on world in which media usage is migrating to digital, advertising can be blocked or skipped, and content can be consumed on demand, marketers have to find new ways to distinguish between those aspects of consumer behavior that will remain the same and those that will change. Many are turning to direct observation of and contact with consumers."
For more information about the book, visit http://books.google.com/books?id=GV5EomJuc68C&printsec=frontcover&dq=Always+On+by+Precourt&source.
Interaction isn't limited to the cash register or credit card terminal anymore, or even the brick-and-mortar store. It happens everywhere we go, through laptop and smart phone browsers that keep us connected to friends, families, employers and suppliers. It's hard to imagine life without the mobile Web now that it has become so embedded in our collective consciousness.
Internet access, once considered the exclusive province of computers, has gone unplugged. According to Dmitriy Lerman, Director of Marketing at Charge Anywhere LLC, "Smart phones are replacing computers in our everyday lives. Simple tasks like writing an e-mail, reading an attachment, staying in touch with people, getting informed on news and weather, and organizing one's day have comfortably fallen into the realm of a phone, no longer a computer. Payments are not immune to this paradigm shift."
Today's merchants have more choice in POS hardware. Credit and debit cards can be swiped on portable and countertop terminals or on card reader peripherals paired with laptops and smart phones. Secure encrypted cardholder data can be managed by payment gateways.
A major component in the payment value chain, gateways optimize the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, increase transaction visibility through secure Web portals and empower business owners with real-time access to transaction data from broad populations of devices. They offer reporting tools to manage that data and the ability to react quickly to questionable transactions and communications failures. For a list of validated payment applications, visit www.pcisecuritystandards.org.
We're living in an age of one-hour sales and text messaging from banks on available lines of credit. POS technology has expanded in scope, beyond countertop devices and customer-facing screens, to a multidimensional, interactive consumer environment. This environment is more conversation than transaction. What does that mean, exactly?
Consider how frequently you receive an e-mail after making a purchase, inviting you to write a review. The company would like to know more about you and your preferences and will post your comments, good or bad, on its Web site, to be shared with other prospective buyers. Or how about the e-mails you receive from manufacturers and credit card issuers, inviting you to join online communities where members can exchange ideas and information?
It's all part of the new online experience. Anyone can host a Web site, post a real-time video, write a blog and participate in live chat. The media is watching us. Every day, ordinary citizens are pulled from obscurity and elevated onto the world stage. Newly minted celebrities who surpass 1 million hits on YouTube are approached by advertisers who pay to post banner ads and product placements on their sites to be proudly displayed on millions of tiny screens.
While the monetization of social networks and YouTube is being debated, it's clear that the ever-broadening online marketplace will need fast, secure and reliable methods to process payments, because there's no place for hard cash in the virtual world.
In my next article, I'll take a closer look at some cool, new applications that leverage mobile technology, enrich electronic transactions, and deepen the relationship between merchants and consumers. The mobile Web is the next frontier of payment processing and an opportunity for MLSs to demonstrate knowledge and leadership. To paraphrase Visa Inc., it's everywhere we want to be.
Dale S. Laszig is Vice President of Sales in the United States for Castles Technology Co. Ltd., a manufacturer and global provider of smart card, contactless and POS solutions. She can be reached at 973-930-0331 or dale firstname.lastname@example.org.
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