Coronavirus nudges small merchants to streamline checkout process

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As retailers search for ways to reduce shoppers’ exposure to coronavirus, smaller merchants are reaping some unexpected improvements in checkout speed and convenience.

As they try to reduce contact with potentially contaminated payment terminals, smaller merchants are discovering they can enable contactless payment capabilities built into payment terminals, putting them on par with national retailers with NFC payments including Walgreens, Target and McDonald’s.

The COVID-19 outbreak also has cast a spotlight on the fact that merchants don’t need to collect a signature on payment card receipts, and it's already radically streamlined the checkout process for thousands of smaller merchants, according to American Express Co.

“Under the pressure of coronavirus, we’re seeing some real advancements in streamlining the checkout process, especially for smaller merchants, said JJ Kieley, vice president of the card network’s payments consulting group.

In late 2017 Amex followed Mastercard in signaling plans to drop the signature requirement in April 2018 and Visa soon followed. Many large merchants began phasing out signatures in 2018, but smaller merchants didn’t get the memo.

One reason is that larger merchants often directly control their payments checkout processes, and most made the decision to drop signatures for all four card networks at the same time, Kieley said.

It's different for smaller merchants, who typically require assistance from their processor to disable the signature-prompt for in-store transactions.

“Most smaller merchants did nothing,” Kieley said of the elimination of the need to get customers' signatures at checkout.

But coronavirus is acting as a catalyst for change.

“We’ve received a lot of calls from merchants looking for a cleaner and more streamlined way to handle checkouts, so we’re spreading awareness about contactless payments and eliminating the signature requirement,” Kieley said.

In most cases, merchants must contact their processor to change payment terminal prompts and switch on contactless, which can take anywhere from days to weeks. Many merchants need processor assistance to eliminate the signature prompt on their payment terminals, but with some hardware, merchants can make the change on their own.

Amex is offering direct advice to merchants on both fronts.

“Anecdotally we’re seeing that because of coronavirus, smaller merchants are showing a lot more interest in both contactless and eliminating signatures,” Kieley said.

Since the beginning of state shutdowns, Amex also is fielding many calls from small and midsize merchants looking to add online card acceptance for the first time.

“Right now we all need to work together to get through this virus, but the benefits coming out of this for small merchants speeding up and streamlining their point of sale experience will go beyond the immediate situation,” Kieley said.

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Coronavirus Merchant American Express