By Connie Spencer-Adams
The global economic and social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be profound and long-lasting, and we are only seeing hints thus far of its potential future effects on our society and economy.
The sad fact is many of America's small businesses will not survive this socioeconomic shock, and those that do will have to adapt quickly to new changes and requirements across many areas of their businesses.
Payments professionals have often stressed the importance of merchant level salespeople (MLSs) moving into the role of valued consultants and advisers to their merchants, rather than simply acting as salespeople. One vital way MLSs can assist merchants in this critical period is by becoming local experts on their state's reopening guides and restrictions, as well as informing merchants about safer ways to accept payments.
Becoming an expert on your area's business reopening guides and regulations can be a fairly tall order. California's governor, for example, recently released a 12-page document, https://covid19.ca.gov/pdf/guidance-dine-in-restaurants.pdf, detailing stringent restrictions and procedures for local restaurants wishing to reopen dine-in service. Most states have issued similar directives, many with unique requirements for different verticals.
Many of the sanitization and social distancing requirements are similar from state to state, but your local area may have specific or stricter rules. If you spend the time to bone up on the health directives applicable to your merchants in each vertical, you will stand out as a valued resource in a time of desperate need and confusion and, hopefully, help prevent the massive churn that has already started rearing its head.
So-called contactless payments using RFID or NFC technology are nothing new, but there has been a resurgence in interest by local merchants—and customers—for obvious reasons during the coronavirus panic.
While " tap to pay" smart cards, wearables, and mobile devices certainly remove much of the concern related to physical contact and potential spread of pathogens, they do have a higher rate of fraud than EMV (chip) card payments that validate the legitimacy of the actual smart card via an encrypted chip and require a PIN or signature.
For this reason, contactless payments have usually been associated primarily with lower-dollar transactions. But with the surge in interest, and the fact that most small businesses don't deal in high-dollar transactions anyway, this technology may be the answer to many merchants' primary concerns regarding accepting payments safely.
As you familiarize yourself with your processor's/ISO's offerings for contactless payments, you can solve multiple issues for merchants and concerned customers as businesses reopen and adapt to new rules.
Since many merchants were forced to either shut down completely or adopt new curbside and/or " pay in advance" service models during COVID-19, there has been a surge in interest in online payments, ecommerce-type shopping carts, and app-based ordering and payment options.
Many merchants that were previously reluctant to adopt an omnichannel or unified-commerce business model have been rudely awakened to the urgent need for even local businesses to establish and utilize multiple avenues for selling their products and services, and this is likely to have far-reaching impacts well into the future.
Depending on your unique product offerings, many POS systems already have provision for accepting online/mobile or app-based payments, so be sure to explain the benefits to merchants looking to meet customers' needs while adhering to new health regulations for businesses.
EMV payments, or chip cards, have been effective in reducing payments fraud, since "dipping" or inserting a chip card into a POS terminal allows the internal chip to be read and validated. Since this is usually backed up by either a user's PIN (most common in the United States) or a digital signature, these payments are more secure than the older-style magnetic stripe/swiped card payments.
However, there is the obvious downside during COVID-19 of the necessary physical contact between card and terminal, as well as contact between the customer and the PIN pad, touch screen, or pen/stylus in the case of signature validation.
These types of payments also require closer-than-six-feet proximity of customers and employees who are facilitating the transaction, similar to contactless payments discussed above.
Plexiglas barriers, sneeze guards or other dividers between customers and cashiers can help reduce the transmission of airborne or contact-transferred pathogens. Regularly sanitizing all contact surfaces in accordance with the CDC's and your local health department's directives is key as well.
Familiarize yourself with all the POS hardware you offer. Is it potentially damaged by common disinfectants or sanitizing agents? How can this be meliorated?
The simplest way for merchants to adapt their existing POS process to a no-contact payment method is by dusting off the good old-fashioned telephone. Customers can call in orders, and merchants can choose to input their payment information manually, usually a credit or debit card.
Nearly all POS systems allow this type of payment. Most processors charge a higher fee for this type of card-not-present (CNP) payment due to the increased risk of fraud, but merchants can use address and/or CVV code verification to reduce some of the increased risk for this type of payment.
Additionally, there is the issue of phone payments taking more time than self-checkout, online/mobile payments, or other social-distance-friendly options. You may advise merchants with tight appointment schedules (like barbershops, salons, pet services businesses, auto services, and many restaurants and ice cream shops that are also now operating by appointment only) to add extra time between clients to allow for both increased sanitization procedures as well as any added time it takes for each customer to pay.
The COVID-19 pandemic is certainly devastating to the economy and to the lives impacted by the virus. However, one silver lining is that merchants who are educated and proactive about adapting to new health restrictions will come out of this stronger, smarter and more prepared for exponential growth as things start to normalize. MLSs who help merchants meet the new requirements quickly will build strong relationships that will last through this crisis, and the next.
Connie Spencer-Adams is vice president of partnerships at Womply, a leading software and API partner to the payments industry and the top provider of front office software (https://www.womply.com/about/our-customers/to small businesses). Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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