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Retail's shift: Contactless payment's post-pandemic impact

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a lasting and dramatic effect on shopper behaviour, reshaping the retail landscape and accelerating several pre-existing trends. From a surge in e-commerce to a more environmentally conscious (re)focus on supporting local economies, shifts in buying patterns have led to significant challenges and opportunities for retailers who have had to adapt rapidly to customer needs and expectations.

One such shift has been an acceleration in the adoption of contactless payment methods during the pandemic. In part due to concerns over virus transmission through physical contact, consumers and businesses alike rapidly transitioned to digital transactions. Tap-to-pay card options started with very small value limitations, which grew quickly during the pandemic. As a result, most everyday items can now practically be purchased this way. What was once a slow-growing preference for cashless payments – whether through credit cards, mobile apps, or digital wallets – has become nearly universal in many parts of the world. This trend is not simply a response to the pandemic but also a reflection of the global population’s increasing comfort with and reliance on technological innovations to payment methods, channels, and options.

The longer-term effect of the migration to contactless payment is still playing out but will certainly continue to influence retail trends and strategies in the post-pandemic era.

Contactless payment supports larger consumer trends
Today’s shopper is more informed and educated, expects high convenience – from ease of ordering to fulfilment to speed of delivery – and demands a better all-around customer experience that is unique to them and their needs. Because contactless payment rests on layers of technology infrastructure and produces mountains of specific, granular purchasing data, it is folded into several other umbrella trends we see in the retail space:

  • A more demanding, impatient everyday shopper: With a simple tap of a card or phone, or the click of a mouse, purchases can be made swiftly, seamlessly, and securely. The convenience factor extends beyond speed alone, as these payment methods eliminate the need to carry cash or wait for change. Moreover, with integrated digital wallets, consumers can manage all their cards and accounts from a single platform, offering greater flexibility and visibility. Many apps like digital smart receipt solution, e.pop, allow users to track their spending, aiding personal financial management. Shoppers are increasingly familiar with accessing data around their spending and transactions enabled by contactless payment technology.
  • A more conscientious shopper: Consumer consciousness around the impact of shopping choices has grown, particularly the ethical and environmental implications of fast fashion and speedy delivery. This has led to increased demand for sustainable and ethical products, more environment-friendly and equitable production practices, and a more conscientious 360-degree retail experience.

Issuance of paper receipts is not an insignificant environmental concern, particularly for younger shoppers. Annually, three million trees in the US alone are felled for paper receipt production. As is increasingly standard (yet far from universal) with contactless payment methods, the transition away from paper to digital receipts plays a substantial role in lessening environmental impact by reducing paper consumption, producing less paper waste (due to toxic ink, paper receipts are unrecyclable and go straight to landfill), and lowering energy use in paper manufacturing (not to mention transportation carbon footprint).

  • A more data-conscious shopper looking for a more unique experience: Contactless payment technologies often integrate with other services like mobile applications and digital wallets, creating seamless shopping experiences. For example, loyalty programs can be directly linked with payment apps, and digital receipts can be easily stored, managed and accessed. 

With each digital transaction, a wealth of data is generated. Shoppers have come to expect that their buying experiences – from marketing to recommendations to offers to post-purchase engagement – are as unique as they are, reflecting the individualized data they generate. This includes not just what consumers are buying but also when, where, and how often they are making purchases and via which channels.

The flip side of the coin is that shoppers are more reluctant to give up their personal information for fear of how merchants will use or abuse it.

Retail merchants are navigating a new “normal”, adapting technology to engage with customers in a post-pandemic world
After solving for requisite implementation costs and upskilling, the fast adoption of contactless payment offers retail merchants huge benefits, including improving efficiency and driving sales via better customer acquisition and engagement.

  • Better customer data: Digital payments can provide valuable data about customer behaviour, which can be used to improve marketing and sales strategies (but that’s not always the case). Retailers should use these insights to offer personalized promotions and recommendations tailored to individual shopping habits and preferences. Furthermore, by integrating loyalty programs, offers, discounts and more with digital payment systems, retailers can make it easier for customers to earn and redeem rewards, fostering engagement and loyalty. In this way, contactless payment methods are not just a tool for transactions, but a gateway to a more personalized, engaging and satisfying shopping experience.
  • Increased basket value: Some studies suggest that consumers tend to spend more when using contactless payments compared to cash. This is because the ease and convenience of contactless payments can reduce the psychological pain of paying, leading to higher expenditure.
  • Faster transactions: Contactless payment options can significantly speed up the checkout process thanks to quick processing, fewer errors, increased throughput, and ease of integration with other systems.

By reducing the time spent on each transaction, contactless payments help streamline operations, potentially leading to increased sales, improved customer satisfaction, and more efficient use of staff time.

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated a global pivot towards a more digitized, connected retail ecosystem underpinned by sustainability, which cannot be underestimated. As both consumers and businesses adapt to this evolving landscape, contactless payment has emerged as a powerful tool, offering convenience, speed, and enhanced user experience in-line with the technological innovation that is reshaping our everyday lives.

As we navigate the post-pandemic world, this confluence of technology, sustainability, and consumer-centricity is poised to redefine retail, making it more responsive, responsible, and attuned to the evolving needs of the global consumer.

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