Small and medium-sized merchants plan to adopt multichannel retailing in a big way in the next 12 to 24 months, says an executive at SecureNet, an Austin, Texas-based payments processor and acquirer.

That’s one conclusion about multichannel retailing—which combines bricks-and-mortar stores, online shopping and mobile payments—that emerged from a SecureNet survey , says Mark Engels, the company’s executive vice president of business development.

The poll of about 7,000 merchants conducted in late September and early October indicates 88% of retailers find multichannel initiatives important, and 60% already accept payments in more than one channel.

Merchants are shifting quickly to multi-channel retailing because consumers demand it, says Engels.

“Traditionally, large-volume players have pushed new technology down to the market,” he observes. “Now the consumer is dictating to the merchant.”

Consumers have begun using physical stores as “showrooms,” where they see, hear and touch merchandise, he says. Instead of simply making the purchase in the store, however, they may go online to shop for a better deal.

And that’s not the only way consumers are combining retail channels. Shoppers may, for example, buy merchandise online but then return it at a physical store, Engels says.

Such mixing can cause headaches for merchants that have not integrated the sales channels, he notes. Some are dealing with three statements and more than one pool of inventory. They may even have three or more service providers.

In fact, 27% of retailers use three or more software vendors to facilitate payments across the various channels, according to the survey.

SecureNet claims to end all that by merging the channels, according to Engels.

“We’re trying to take the friction out of the market,” he says.

He tells of a high-end retailer who locks up the store at the end of the day but continues to sell goods over the internet in the evening. When he comes in the morning, the inventory is reconciled regardless of the sales channel.

At the same time SecureNet is providing retailers with business intelligence that helps them run their enterprises, he maintains.

That intelligence could provide useful details, such as what time of day merchandise sells most quickly online, Engels says.

SecureNet, which got its start about 15 years ago, operates as a processor but does much of its own acquiring. Independent sales organizations and sales agents account for 10% to 20% of the company’s volume.

Besides servicing small and medium-sized merchants, SecureNet handles large accounts that include GEICO Insurance, Schwan’s Food Service Inc. and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

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