The global economy was shaken by COVID-19, and the pandemic’s impact brought significant challenges and uncertainty for virtually every industry. Many industries struggled to adapt to new ways of working, and the dramatic shift in customer expectations didn’t help.
One area that remained at the heart of commerce throughout the pandemic was payments. Nearly any business that touched a payment system was tasked with finding and adopting new ways to transact business safely while still delighting customers. And, while economies are attempting to reopen and return to some semblance of the way they were, many of these payments and commerce trends that were sparked by the pandemic are here to stay.
Cashless Transaction Capability
One of the biggest changes in consumer habits brought about by the pandemic was how people shop. With various degrees of national and local lockdowns, and social distancing measures to be adhered to, more and more people switched to shopping mainly, if not wholly, online. Online sales figures soared throughout the pandemic and continue to rise as consumers got used to the convenience and safety of shopping from their couches.
Even when in-person sales occurred during the height of the pandemic, both customers and merchants preferred contactless, cashless payments. Many merchants were reluctant to take cash, and health and safety-conscious customers were happy to oblige.
Despite the advancements in payment technology over the past few years, not all consumers were ready for touchless or cashless transactions. But the pandemic has fast-tracked changes in payment habits and adoption at a remarkable rate, including a move away from cash.
With the surge in online shopping instigated by the pandemic, it’s no wonder that consumers are expecting more from their ecommerce experiences. Companies that can effectively deliver flexible payment options will win over more customers.
Buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS)
Retailers had to develop omnichannel sales strategies when physical stores had to remain closed. BOPIS offered the best of both worlds, the convenience of online shopping, and the ability to avoid crowds. for consumers and sales for retailers. Shoppers in the U.S. spent over $70 billion in click-and-collect purchases last year, and this volume is expected to grow annually around 18% growth through 2024.
Buy now, pay later (BNPL)
BNPL financing had already been around for a few years prior to the pandemic, but its adoption accelerated during the pandemic. As an interest-free alternative to credit, BNPL became an increasingly popular payment option in a time of financial upheaval.
Modernized Card Issuance
The pandemic strongly tested the existing card infrastructure, and it was clear there was room for improvement.
If the recent economic lockdowns have made one thing clear in terms of customer experience: consumers want to continue benefiting from the ease and convenience that merchants offer. The ability to make fast, easy, one-click payments without entering card details again and again, and while keeping their card details secure, is something that will turn one-time shoppers into loyal customers.
A system that connects multiple Payment Service Providers and acquirers in order to authorize payment transactions (with the added benefit of merchant-driven rules), a payment switch is flexible, scalable, and helps merchants speed up transactions.
White Label Card Options
Whether it’s a stimulus payment, individual refund, or any other forms of payment, individuals now need to be compensated quickly and safely. Previously, checks and ACH payments seemed sufficient, but offering brandable, prepaid cards can be cheaper, and easier to track. The U.S. Economic Impact Payment (EIP) card, for example, is a VISA-branded debit card issued to more than 4 million recipients for pandemic relief. Businesses can leverage the same capabilities and create their own branded card and easily create a better customer experience.
COVID-19 also drove growth in payment middleware technology, with many companies having to scramble to restructure significant portions of their business models to accommodate changes in consumer behavior.
The need for digital transformation triggered by the pandemic meant merchants needed to focus on having an online presence, something that was easier for consumers and kept many businesses afloat during the crisis, but also meant a significant spike in fraud cases. Fraud monitoring and prevention based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) is fast becoming essential, no longer just a ‘nice to have’. It offers faster, more accurate decision-making, and is able to handle higher volumes of data.
With businesses competing to provide the best customer experience (CX), middleware that offers a sleeker, better User Interface (UI) is a significant differentiator.
Driving Significant Innovation
While the payments ecosystem certainly felt the negative impact of the global pandemic, we’ve also seen significant change in terms of the speed of technology implementation. Consumers increased the pressure on merchants and payment providers to up their game and improve CX, driving change and innovation. We may have COVID-19 to thank for the acceleration of these trends, but they’re not going anywhere any time soon as the economy reopens.