Retail payments post pandemic: blending the physical and digital

The COVID-19 global pandemic has put extraordinary pressure on companies to pivot how they do business—especially on customer-facing retail businesses that rely on in-person payments to keep their business running. For companies considered providers of essential services, like grocery stores and pharmacies, customers can see how quickly changes have been made to make sure physical payments are conducted safely.

In many cases, plexiglass has been installed between the customer and the cashier to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Stores limited the number of customers who can shop at once and hyper sanitization practices have been put into place. In addition, contactless chip and tap technology has become more popular with customers encouraged to use contactless payments through their cards, smartphones and smartwatches. The less cashiers are made to handle cash and cards, the safer it is for everyone.

But will these changes last post pandemic? What alterations in payments, which have been brought into brick-and-mortar retailers are here to stay long after the threat of COVID-19 has passed?

Canadian e-commerce company Shopify has taken a bold step during the pandemic. It has announced how it will help retailers with physical stores survive post-pandemic. They recently announced they are bringing contactless payments hardware to Canadian retailers using Shopify point of sale (POS) including their Shopify Tap & Chip Card Reader.

In a press release issued in May, Shopify says, “The Tap & Chip Card Reader hardware device allows businesses to offer ‘tap’ payment options like credit and debit cards, Apple Pay, and Google Pay.”

For retail customers tap is nothing new, but Shopify is hoping its software will stand out from the rest for its retail users. For one, they say, their software will empower Canadian retailers to unify their online and offline businesses in one place, so they can continue making sales whether consumers are in-store, around the store or at home.

Chocolate maker Mathieu McFadden and Shopify POS user when asked about the launch of tap payment options said: “We can now accept payments anywhere in the store or curbside to avoid line ups. It also lets us give our customers more options to pay including Interac debit, credit or their mobile wallet, which is a must-have.”

When retailers start to re-open up during the pandemic the need for touchless POS methods will be paramount to the success of a small businesses.

“We want to help local businesses in Canada to become more resilient, and we know technology can help,” said Ian Black, Director of Retail at Shopify.

Contactless payment options will be almost mandatory post pandemic. Mastercard Canada recently conducted an online poll of 1000 users. It found the vast majority of Canadians will prefer to use contactless payment post pandemic as a cleaner, safer, faster and more convenient way to pay compared to other methods.

“Canadians have adjusted to social distancing and other new challenges when shopping for everyday groceries and supplies. This shift in consumer behaviour is particularly clear at checkout where there is a growing preference for contactless payments,” Mastercard says.

As physical retail starts to open up, it will take the form of a new normal. We may not be picking items up on the curbside or ordering all our items online at the same rate, but customers will want to feel safe purchasing everyday items. The new retail experience has to be the same across platforms, where customer can buy in-store and online and get the same experience.

This could mean that brick and mortar stores become showcases for products that are then purchased online. But customers will demand the same level of service they get physically but a degree of healthy and safe that only contactless payment can bring.

As physical retail establishments start to reopen they will have to rethink how they will better integrate digital into their payment structure. Most will already have some kind of digital contactless way to pay, but post COVID-19 they will have to ensure that it is a reliable, safe and easy to use method of payment.

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