By Robin Mackenzie, WorldPay

Hardly a week goes by without some type of research or company announcement heralding the next ‘big thing’ in business payment processes.

Navigating the choices available has become a tough task and it’s easy to see how small businesses could shy away from what might be perceived as complicated, time intensive and expensive investment choices.

There’s a need, I feel, to return to some common sense thinking. Small business owners probably have some good payment processes in place. To keep up with the trends in the market, there are actually relatively simple steps involving adaptation and modification that will help them keep pace with the changing demands of shoppers and purchasers today.

Have a great shop window
Whether you’re on the high street or a trading estate, few businesses would neglect to consider how their store or office looks and feels to customers.

The reality, of course, is that the public’s interaction with your business is increasingly likely to be online and through their mobile phone. Aside from ensuring that you have a web presence, it’s important to consider how customers might interact with you through their smartphones.

In a study of new shopping behaviours undertaken by Streamline, a major trend was the extent to which the public are increasingly using their phones as a tool in their shopping experience. 45% of people, for example, use their mobiles to research their purchasing options and 31% to comment on their experience of service through social media.

For a small business, it’s worth ensuring that if you have a website, it’s easily optimised for mobile phones to decrease the likelihood of customers ‘checking out’ on reaching your site.

Small business owners should also ensure that they have a presence on the key social media outlets of Facebook and twitter to capture the interest of impulse buyers, promote offers to increase the revenue potential from existing customers and reach new customer audiences.

Focus on the customer experience
The thinking we all tend to follow in delivering excellent customer service is to understand what the customer really wants. It’s a sign of the times that today; the public are calling for a faster shopping and purchasing experience.

The advancement of technology, and the increasing time pressures that many people face, have led to a demand from the public to make payments quicker than ever before.
Our study showed that the public are quite simply losing patience with waiting, with 31% of us frustrated about the speed of payments in shops. Only 8% of the public we surveyed considered their local shops to have fast payment processes.

The public are also acutely aware of the time it takes for even the most simple of processes to take place. 20% complained about the time it takes to print a till receipt and 23%, claim that they don’t have time to take cash out of their wallet.

Yet addressing these behaviours may be as simple as ensuring you have Bluetooth enabled payment devices rather than the clunky and slow dial-up connections of the past.
The need for speed is also driving the use of technologies such as contactless payments, which are starting to make an impact, even among smaller businesses.

If a small business has bought a chip and pin machine in the last few years, they may well find that they are already contactless enabled. All they would need to do to activate this function is contact their merchant acquirer. As the public are using cards for increasingly smaller transactions under £10, yet expect the sales process to be quicker than ever, a contactless option allows businesses to meet customer needs completely.

Encourage repeat custom
Speed of service is a priority for purchasers throughout the entire sales cycle, even in regards to returns, and this is an area where small businesses can gain real competitive advantage. Our research showed that 62% would buy more from businesses that offered no quibble returns, and whilst this might be considered high on the hassle-factor, it will reap rewards in repeat and advocated business.

Another area business owners might wish to interrogate is the effectiveness of any loyalty schemes they have in place. Our study showed that a staggering 8 million of us are using loyalty cards less than a year before. They’re still prevalent in our wallets (9 in 10 of us own at least one loyalty card) but are gathering dust whilst there.
The major issue for shoppers seems to be that they simply forget to use it. In their rush to the till, to pay and get out, they in many ways prioritise speed over the option to save money in the future.

With this in mind, if you have a loyalty scheme, help your customers get value from it. Think about point of sale reminders to use their cards or coupons, or encourage your staff to politely remind them directly.

Evolving your payment processes and technology shouldn’t be a daunting task. Pick and choose the industry research relevant to you and think about the simple steps you can take to future proof your business.

About the Author
Robin Mackenzie heads-up the SME business at Streamline, which is part of the WorldPay group.

Streamline is the UK’s leading card payment acquiring business which allows customers to accept card payments at point of sale, over the phone and the internet.

WorldPay’s report into the future of payments can be found at: www.worldpay.com