Retailers are looking to payments technologies to empower them to provide a more personalized shopping experience, one that improves consumer engagement at the point of sale and helps build customer loyalty, according to experts who spoke Sunday at the National Retail Federation’s annual convention in New York.
Retailers should strive to do more than just accept payment for their goods and instead, provide consumers with a “broad exchange of data and services,” said Dom Morea, vice president of advanced solutions and innovation at payments processor First Data, who spoke as part of a panel discussion.
However, Morea warned that merchants must be cautious to not take these efforts too far and alienate customers. “It’s a delicate relationship how you use technology to build the relationship, but not get to the point of being creepy and losing the customer,” he said.
Many consumers today engage in a multichannel shopping experience that can start online at a desktop computer, but then continues to a mobile device and on to a physical store, before returning back to a computer, Morea explained. That’s why it’s critical for payments, inventory and other systems to work seamlessly, particularly at the critical step when a consumer actually pays for merchandise.
“Every vertical of our clients is trying to understand and reimagine how checkout is changing and how the customer is changing,” Morea said.
Tim Katz, another panelist and the e-commerce operations director at Pacific Sunwear, agreed.
“If you have that one bad experience at that final critical step, that’s when you lose the customer,” he said.
Katz said that Pacific Sunwear’s online traffic from mobile devices has grown from 5% of overall activity to 22% and the clothing retailer has responded to this trend by incorporating mobile components to all of its online and offline marketing campaigns. The merchant was also an early adopter of V.me, the digital wallet developed by Visa, for its online store.
“We really do see that as the next evolution of payment,” he said.
In the virtual world, merchants have a narrow window of opportunity to earn their customers’ business, said panelist Alisa Maclin, IBM Software Group’s vice president of smarter commerce marketing.
“The importance of the mobile device is critical and yet we’re also seeing 44% of consumers will abandon a site on Web or mobile if they don’t find what they want on the first page,” she said, citing the results of an IBM study of consumer retail trends. “So it’s critically important to provide what the consumer is looking for on that first page.”
Sharing more results of the study, Maclin said that online sales via mobile devices increased nearly 51% from 2011 to 2012. However, 82% of U.S. adults who have conducted a transaction online or through a mobile device report experiencing a problem and 63% of all online adults are less likely to buy from the same company if they experience a problem with a mobile transaction.
Beyond simply providing a seamless multichannel experience, Maclin said consumers are demanding a more robust experience that builds on transaction data aggregated over a given customer’s repeat business and provide additional services, like product suggestions based on the previously purchased goods and services.
“What they’re really looking for is that seamless experience and the relationship that shows the retailer knows them,” she said. “If you demonstrate that you can retain customers and build loyalty.”
These trends have effects across all merchant types, including restaurants. Melody Roberts, McDonald’s senior director of experience design innovation, explained that while face-to-face customer engagement is a critical component to the company’s operations, new fulfillment methods provide consumers with more choices.
For example, in Asia, the “McDelivery” service allows customers to order online and either pay with a card over the Web or with cash at delivery. In Europe, customers can place an in-store order at a kiosk.
“We anticipate in the future that all of our stores will have one or more options for self-ordering,” Roberts said. “We think this is going to change a lot of other things, like the way we handle payments in the restaurant.”