By Dale S. Laszig
DSL Direct LLC
The payments industry went full-throttle when COVID-19 pushed individuals and businesses to digital channels. I've been covering this story for a year through myriad twists and turns. Along the way, I've met trailblazers who had to move fast and occasionally break things in their haste to move forward. Their innovations sparked a payments revolution, taking commerce to new levels.
FreedomPay launched a roundtable series in October 2020 to explore what the company dubbed "next-level commerce" and its role in economic recovery. As moderator, I've interviewed leaders about their early deployments and post-COVID outlook. Following are highlights from our March 2021 discussion.
John Mansfield, senior vice president, global business development at FreedomPay, has seen the pandemic's impact on consumer behavior and fraud. "As a global, processor-neutral platform, we've seen acceleration of omnichannel payment requirements as consumers shift to digital channels," he said. "We've been helping our partners adapt technology and drive data insight."
Mansfield additionally noted that next-level commerce provides consumers with more options for payments and merchants with opportunities to enhance, not replace, existing systems.
Dan Rodgers, chief executive officer at QikServe, stated that familiar landmarks will be the same but different in the "new normal." QikServe shared examples in the January 2021 report Reflection, Learning, Change: The year ahead for food and hospitality operators.
"As the hospitality industry accelerated toward digital, we went really fast to plug in digital gaps and join together a lot of disparate systems," Rodgers said, adding that vertical integrations will be a massive opportunity and key focus for hospitality in 2021 and beyond.
Marilyn May, head of product management, payments and POS at IHG Hotel Group, agreed hospitality's race to digital was challenging, especially for IHG. The company's hotel portfolio caters to different demographics and preferences, she stated.
"Brands that appeal to millennials may offer mostly digital and contactless check-ins; on the luxury end of the scale, part of what guests are paying for is to walk in and have someone personally greet them, take their bags from them and hand them a drink," May said. "When plexiglass barriers come down, how will contactless technologies become a true convenience for guests who want them but not something that must be used in the full guest experience?"
Bhavin Asher, founder at GRUBBRR, described next-level commerce as collaborative and interoperable. In addition to connecting the front and back of the house, next-generation commerce solutions facilitate marketing and predictive analytics, he noted.
"We've worked with FreedomPay to put in kiosks and online ordering in what we call an omnichannel approach," he said. "Last winter when Orlando had a storm, a customer was without internet for three days but kept transacting nonstop at the store because of the offline capabilities that are built in through our partnership."
Rich Stuppy, chief customer experience officer at Kount, an Equifax company, mentioned the pandemic caused merchants to think differently about customers. "Many merchants thought of payments as the center of the customer journey and in some ways, it still is, because that's where the GDP happens," he said. "But there are hundreds and even thousands of touchpoints in the new customer journey, and each one of those touchpoints is a place where fraudsters can attack your brand and steal value. The key is understanding who the customer is and collecting appropriate signals across each step of that customer journey."
Alisa Ellis, vice president, innovation and emerging products at Discover Global Network, has seen large and small merchants leverage digital technologies. "Global ecommerce in the U.S. exceeded 4 trillion in 2020, which is more than 20 percent year-over-year growth," she said. "As I look ahead, I think the opportunity is to make commerce, better, more elegant, more informed."
Ellis observed that increased wearable and mobile wallet usage demonstrates contactless has moved from novelty to ubiquity. She added that eliminating unnecessary steps, such as signing or touching screens, will help us deliver on the promise of true digital, touchless technology.
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 email@example.com and on Twitter at @DSLdirect.
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