By Dale S. Laszig
Castles Technology Co. Ltd.
When smartphone payments and mobile coupons become as American as baseball and apple pie, it's time merchants get in the game. Emerging technologies, social media and mobility are changing every aspect of work and play, including how we communicate, transact, and share information and services. These technologies are also widening the playing field for electronic transactions.
In the new game, transactions are no longer restricted to card swipes through stationary readers. Payments can be contactless, card-not-present or MO/TO, e-commerce or recurring. Additionally, payments can run the gamut from credit, debit, and electronic benefit transfer, to an expanding array of alternative payments like those provided by PayPal Inc. and Google Checkout.
No longer relegated to backroom activities in stores, restaurants and online, transactions are increasingly being woven into our lives wherever we are, whether at the restaurant table, in the dressing room or at the ballpark.
These trends are impacting merchants in a number of ways. Consumers are beginning to ask whether merchants accept mobile coupons at the POS, if they can "check in" via geolocation applications, and what kind of loyalty, gift, and frequency programs are being offered both at brick-and-mortar locations and through merchant websites.
Since merchants prefer to answer yes to these questions, more than ever they are turning to merchant level salespeople (MLSs) to steer them to the right technologies. There has never been a better time for MLSs to demonstrate industry knowledge and thought leadership by helping merchants adopt mobile strategies and technology solutions that leverage new trends in relationship marketing and payments technology.
The payments community has yet to achieve a consensus on the best approach to mobile payments and social media, but that's exactly what keeps our business vibrant and energized. The list of certified and proven solutions available to merchants continues to expand. So reassure merchants they won't miss the technology bus by offering them basic gear to get them in the game. Here are ways to get merchants started.
Promote contactless solutions. The use of near field communication (NFC)-enabled smart phones for payment at mass transit and the POS is a prevalent trend in Asia and Europe, but it's just beginning to catch on in the United States. Many new smart phones come equipped with contactless chips that support mobile wallet applications. Older smart phones without internal contactless chips can be retrofitted with external stickers to provide the same functionality.
Willem Bulthuis, Chief Technology Officer and Group Vice President at Giesecke & Devrient GmBH, noted "a strong trend towards convergence of secure solutions for transit, between tickets and mobile phones with NFC, and between transit and other payment schemes." Merchants can choose from an array of contactless readers integrated into POS devices or standalone peripherals. Check with your processor or support desk for a list of certified and supported models.
Rapidly changing mobile applications and relationship marketing can overwhelm merchants. Charles Di Bartolo, a website and Internet marketing specialist with a payments industry background, recommends a measured approach when introducing merchants to social media. On his website, www.charlesdibartolo.com, he commented, "In a virtual sea of social media, it's easy to get caught up in too many social media sites. Pick one or two that fit your market demographics and begin there. Don't spread yourself too thin."
"It's not always what you say but how you say it" is an axiom that definitely applies when setting up a Facebook page or Twitter account. Encourage merchants to plan carefully and adopt the right tone before publishing anything on the Internet. Di Bartolo advises businesses to plan what they are going to say and not react too quickly when negative situations occur online.
"Once you publish on a social media site you may never be able to retract it," he added. "Too many comments are put together in haste that can cost your company revenue and even a bad reputation. Also remember that your competitors can read everything you post."
According to Di Bartolo, another thing to keep in mind is to remember that social media marketing is not what you say about yourself, but what others say about you that matters. "You can self promote until you're blue in the face, but one kind word from a customer or a rave review is worth one thousand self promotions," he wrote. "Use positive feedback and testimonials in your advertising. It is much more effective."
It's best to adopt a two-pronged approach when discussing mobility with merchants. First, review the benefits of accepting payments from anywhere, and then help them create the right kind of consumer environment that supports mobile payments and coupons from smart phones.
Seasonal merchants with high transaction volumes, such as fireworks stand operators or holiday craft dealers, need rugged, high-performance mobile POS devices. For merchants with low transaction volumes, such as consultants or contractors, a smart phone paired with a card reader and printer may be a more practical solution.
Getting merchants involved in emerging technologies and relationship marketing can be fun and profitable. Encourage them to think about what makes their brands unique and special. Show them Facebook pages from other businesses in their industry so they can see how others promote goods and services.
Additional tips can be found in Mitch Meyerson's book, Success Secrets of the Social Media Marketing Superstars. Meyerson suggests that the biggest game changer of all for both merchants and MLSs is a winning attitude. "You absolutely must care about your customers, your peers, your prospects, even your competition," Meyerson wrote. "This is about going the extra mile, delivering exemplary customer service, keeping your finger on the pulse, and looking for ways to really demonstrate how much you deeply and passionately care about your people." What's new about that?
Dale S. Laszig is Senior 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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