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By Nick Corrigan, UK&I managing director & president at Global Payments

The past decade has brought with it many changes that have impacted our way of living. Among other things, the vastness of the internet has evolved our means of consumption and has fundamentally led to a shift in the purchase process. E-commerce has, in effect, turned the internet into a virtual shopping place. In the UK, e-commerce sales by businesses were £688 billion last year, rising by a substantial 18% in annual growth, while total e-commerce sales have been largely driven by an increase in website sales (Office of National Statistics). Essentially, outside of the 2008 economic decline, online growth has seen an upward trend year on year over the past ten years.

Today, the ubiquity of digital handsets and devices means that even within e-commerce, there have been significant developments. Mobile traffic has grown exponentially and is increasingly leading the way for popular online consumer websites like Amazon and ASOS.

In ten years’ time the internet is expected to account for 53% of retail sales, an increase from today of approximately one fifth according to Retail Economics. However, while online and mobile purchases are two pieces of the jigsaw, digitisation is also affecting the way payments are made for these purchases. In a survey of 500 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across a range of industries in the UK, we found that 2020 will signal a significant shift in the way payments are expected to be made. While cash is still present in our lives, the decision-makers within the small businesses questioned expect the next decade to bring with it a changing tide that will see digital and alternative payment options pushed to the forefront of payment culture.

The research, conducted by Censuswide, showed that SMEs predict that alternative payment options, such as mobile digital wallets (41%) and alternative digital payments, such as Pay By Bank – where a consumer can initiate a payment directly from their bank account (44%) – will be the methods most used for the majority of transactions. What’s more, in 2019, only 7% of SMEs said that alternative mobile wallets, such as Alipay and WeChat Pay accounted for most transactions, but this is set to more than double in 2020 (16%).

The research also shows that almost half (46%) of small businesses expect to see e-commerce far exceed the activity in their physical stores in 2020, which could be indicative of the move to accepting more digital payment methods. Over a third (39%) will accept more mobile and digital wallets, nearly a quarter (24%) will accept Pay By Bank and some will even accept pay later solutions, like Klarna (11%).

Amidst this changing payment landscape, many SMEs are left wondering how to navigate these changes moving forward. Being aware of the variety of payment options is a good first step. Merchants that have an awareness of their consumers evolving payments needs will always be ahead of the curve when it comes to preparing the business for change.

Second to that is facilitating transactions. Whether it’s Pay By Bank, Alipay or simply a broader range of cards, merchants need to be prepared to accept the consumers chosen payment method. This requires a frictionless, end-to-end payment system that is seamless, secure and simple for both the consumer and the company delivering it.

Add to that, the importance of adopting a system that supports business growth by monitoring consumer payment behaviours, aggregating data and extracting consumer insights. In this sense, payment acceptance begins to look like less of an annoyance and more like a very welcome revenue stream. This kind of advanced payment technology will support those ambitious small businesses focused on staying on top. In fact, almost a third (30%) are looking to receive data or management information about their payments and transactions in 2020 and beyond.

Thirdly, it’s never too early to plan. The new decade is virtually here and although we don’t expect every consumer to suddenly materialise mobile payment apps immediately after the countdown, merchants should be mindful of underestimating the uptake of technology. It takes a very short amount of time for word to spread about more efficient ways to get things done, and today’s consumer is more resourceful than ever before. Moreover, they hold customer experience in the highest regard and those first to market with innovative but effortless experiences will gain an important foothold in an undoubtedly crowded market.

For this to be a reality, we can’t overlook the importance of having a trusted partner. Processing alternative payments end-to-end is the critical first step for payment acceptance in the coming year but for ongoing success, having the right payments partner will be key. A valued payment partner will support merchants by providing guidance and insights in an ever-changing payments landscape. With the right technology to do all of the hard work and the right partner to guide the process, SMEs can meet consumer payment objectives while riding the digital payment wave into endless possibilities.