By Dale S. Laszig
DSL Direct LLC
When I visited Denver recently, several people said, "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes." That's how rapidly the city can transition from a blizzard to a warm sunny day. The same notion might apply to the payments industry. Viewed through the lens of history, the industry has moved with dizzying speed from isolated countertop terminals to integrated mobile and digital devices. Now, the expanding payments sphere is big enough to hold every "season" yet small enough to be a subset of a larger retail universe.
Merchant level salespeople (MLSs) have consistently weathered ever-changing trends in regulatory and compliance issues, technology and consumer behavior. Most understand that it takes more than a smile and a demo bag to be successful in this mature, competitive environment. Selling merchant services in the digital age requires a different kind of mindset.
"Stand strong, and put together a program that helps you grow and build your business," said Zachary Ramirez, Branch Manager at World Business Lenders LLC. "Learn how to use technology to the fullest extent. I'm sure there were candle makers who were very angry at Thomas Edison, but at the end of the day, that's the price of progress."
Devices are not the only things that have gone from analog to digital: people have changed as well. Consumers shop differently and merchants must use different marketing methods to reach them. Omnichannel marketing enables merchants and brands to deliver a consistently enjoyable consumer experience in store lanes, online, on mobile platforms and across an array of communications and social media.
"We live in an era where every few weeks we have a new idea," said Ben Yaniv Chechik, Head of Product at Zooz Inc., a global technology company. "Merchants who want to sell more and find more customers will need to have an existence in all channels in order to survive."
Chechik noted that digital platforms can help businesses convert first-time buyers into loyal, repeat customers. "Occasionally, someone just needs to go and buy something; how does a merchant keep that person in the store?" he said. "From the moment a consumer clicks in to a website or enters a store, merchants need to be thinking about how to hold their interest."
Chechik offered the following three approaches for enhancing the consumer experience:
Chechik also noted that business owners "can use social media to find customers who are searching for their products and reach out to them with specific, targeted messages." As an example, he cited Waze, a popular traffic and navigation app.
Users of the Waze app, type in destination addresses in their smartphones and keep the app open while driving. The app parses traffic and road data, and users can also notify each other of accidents and obstacles along the route. "By connecting drivers to one another, we help people create local driving communities that work together to improve the quality of everyone's daily driving," the Waze website states.
In addition, retailers can deliver targeted promotions on the Waze platform, using geolocation technologies to notify drivers of nearby restaurants, ATMs and flower shops. "If I'm driving home at 5:30 on Valentine's Day and I need to buy flowers and chocolate, my retailer app may not be open, but my GPS can alert me to nearby stores while I'm at a red light and even send me limited time offers to use when I visit them," Chechik said.
Unlike e-commerce, where the focus is on converting browsers into buyers, a different psychology is behind POS technology in brick-and-mortar stores, Chechik stated. "Merchants are interested in getting more sales and need to sell as much merchandise as possible," he said. "Sometimes consumers just need to go and buy something, but most merchants are very motivated to turn their short errands into extended visits and add-on sales."
Savvy retailers know that customers who are looking for a specific item may be receptive to accessorizing a purchase. Quick response codes and instant promotions delivered to smartphones and scanned at the POS can add value and profit to transactions. Games, scratch-off coupons and flash sales can help create loyal customers.
Similar to pop-up stores, retail apps and technologies come and go. Even cash registers, which have been around since 1878, are being replaced by tablets in the hands of sales associates. "Stores say customers' expectations have risen with the success and ease of online shopping, making waiting in line seem unenlightened," wrote Ray A. Smith in a March 2016 Wall Street Journal article titled "Where Did the Registers Go?"
Throughout the changes in payments and retail, MLSs have remained steadfast and relevant, noted Marc Beauchamp, President at PayProTec (short for Payment Processing Technologies LLC). "The sales process hasn't changed that much, but the universe of solutions has," he said. "MLSs have migrated from selling the basics ‒ like hardware, check, gift, debit ‒ to total solutions, offering merchants a full suite of not just payment applications but also, in many cases, integrated software solutions, data analytics tools and full-featured POS systems."
Dale S. Laszig, Staff Writer at The Green Sheet and Managing Director at DSL Direct LLC, is a payments industry journalist and content provider. She can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at @DSLdirect.
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