By Dale S. Laszig
Like an autumn wind that strips trees of their last remaining leaves, COVID-19 has altered the commerce landscape. But unlike leaves that return in spring, many old ways will never grow back. While shifting from physical to virtual commerce, companies that had slouched toward digital transformation were pressed into service as touchless commerce trends took hold. Businesses of all sizes pivoted to new technologies as millions of consumers transacted at virtual kiosks, mobile apps and the internet, many for the first time.
The payments industry rose to the occasion in numerous ways, helping business owners stay solvent and connected to customers during harsh economic conditions. The Green Sheet celebrated these examples in news stories and feature articles. As the world conformed to quarantines and social distancing, payments professionals were inspired by these stories. People outside the industry began to talk about QR codes and NFC. Digital wallet adoption soared. Apps that had run invisibly in the background were thrust into the spotlight.
Liesl Smith, senior vice president, marketing and communications at FreedomPay, described digital commerce as one of the most exciting landscapes in the world. Noting the pandemic's catalyzing impact on the payments ecosystem, she suggested that beyond helping people safely connect and transact, digital commerce solutions are powering the American economy and GDP.
Chris Kronenthal, CTO and President of FreedomPay, also observed the pandemic's lasting impact on human behavior. "Businesses must now focus on the technology to create a frictionless journey for the consumer," he said. "And there is no doubt that consumer driven commerce technology is critical to growth and success in the months and years ahead."
FreedomPay recently published The American Payment Revolution: Next Level Commerce. The white paper found contactless payments are scaling faster than legacy chip and PIN systems in the United States. Consumers expect a variety of mobile and digital options at the POS as well as security, data privacy and touchless commerce, FreedomPay researchers noted.
"Now that we have established contactless and digital payments as the growing preference for consumers across the U.S., it's important to note it's not just payments that are being revolutionized, but also technology that drives the consumer experience itself," the researchers wrote. "Leading technology companies are re-imagining the process of ordering and check-out through the lens of a completely touchless experience."
For a closer look at the lasting impact of digital payment technologies, FreedomPay gathered partners around a virtual roundtable to explore technology's role in the marketplace. The Oct. 29 event, which I moderated, brought together fintech leaders from Delaware North, Forter, FreedomPay, Grab, HMSHost, Mashgin, Mastercard and Ready.
How can our industry balance consumer privacy and data collection? How can we help first-time consumers and merchants realize the full potential of mobile and digital commerce? In addition to addressing these questions, we polled the audience throughout the session and obtained the following results:
The spirit of optimism shared by FreedomPay researchers, partners and audience members reaches deep into our past and far into our future. As we replace the stifling uniformity of old POS options with agile, responsive digital commerce, we trade up from friction to an ever-expanding universe of connected touchpoints. Our belief that we are stronger together leads us out of a locked down, proprietary trap and into an interactive era of seamless digital commerce.
As fintech leaders discussed the payments journey at the virtual roundtable, it became clear that vibrant partnerships comprise the very core of modern payment technology. As they debated approaches to data sharing and consumer privacy, I marveled at our industry's progress from uniform proprietary systems to open source interoperability. These days, instead of popping tiles and running cable, we're meeting in the cloud and digital channels, making payments invisible.
Looking back at a trail littered with end-of-life equipment and physical hardware swaps, I recall a simpler time when people used the POS to perform a few basic functions. These legacy systems are still with us but share an increasingly crowded stage with new technologies. There was a time when embedding a PIN pad inside a countertop terminal was considered revolutionary. Today's revolution, according to FreedomPay, is not about unified hardware, but unified customer experience.
Dale S. Laszig, senior staff writer at The Green Sheet and managing director at DSL Direct LLC, is a payments industry journalist and content strategist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @DSLdirect.
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