By James Booth, VP Head of Partnerships, EMEA at PPRO
It’s January 2022. Countries around the world are teeming with life again. Roads and trains are packed with employees commuting to work. High street retailers are seeing foot traffic, and restaurants are gearing up for flocks of hungry patrons. After a continued global effort to flatten the curve and months of social distancing, COVID-19 is finally in the rear-view. People around the world are relieved to be back to life as it was, but will things ever truly be the same?
COVID-19 shook the global economy as the largest pandemic since the Spanish flu in the early 20th century. Social distancing drastically shifted consumer behaviour and introduced a new set of challenges to stores and shoppers alike. But, as humanity has always done, we came together, adapted, and innovated.
We’ve entered a more stable 2022, adjusted to a new normal, and now we’re pausing to reflect on what we’ve just overcome. Let’s take a closer look at how payments and global commerce have changed in the last 18 months.
Monumental (and Permanent) Changes in Shopping Habits
COVID-19 was a major accelerator in the shift to digital for most of us; how we take classes, do our jobs, connect with friends, and definitely how we shop. Online shopping had already been the norm with Gen Z and Millennials, but COVID-19 served as the inflection point for older demographics and slow adopters. Gen X and Baby Boomers are often reluctant to change their habits, but 2020 disrupted the status quo for nearly all aspects of life. Throughout 2020, discretionary spending dropped due to a surge in unemployment rates, but e-commerce is now enjoying an all-time high thanks to its inherent convenience.
COVID-19 revealed a structural problem in our reliance on big-box retailers. At first, consumers suffered shortages of goods and frustrating checkout experiences, but big businesses responded with unprecedented agility. They quickly made improvements to overcome the new challenges of the market. Because of social distancing, many brick-and-mortar retailers were forced to go online for the first time. This was enabled by various e-commerce plug-and-play platforms that allowed small retailers or sole traders to sell online in a matter of days.
The market became a cornucopia of choice for the consumer. Millions of people who had previously resisted e-commerce – particularly for fast-moving consumer goods such as groceries – signed up with e-commerce sites. Post-pandemic, few of us have gone back to old shopping habits.
A Flood of Fierce Competition
The rapid, sustained increase in online shopping created an interesting challenge for merchants. More consumers meant higher earning potential, but it also meant more competition in the marketplace. To stand out, merchants are applying new rigor and attention to customer and user experience. Brick-and-mortar stores have largely become showrooms or click-and-collect points. Retailers have invested in connecting digital experiences to the physical using robust augmented or virtual reality and immersive experiences.
As a result of the increased quality in the market, consumers (who were already insisting on intuitive user journeys pre-pandemic) now have zero tolerance for sites that are not at least easy to use. When it comes to that all-important payment experience – the make or break moment of conversion – it’s critical to have checkout flows that feel invisible for digital natives, yet inspire trust for those late-adopters.
Local Payment Methods Continue to Drive ‘Glocalization’
In 2020, COVID-19 drove consumers to look outside their immediate geography for goods and services. Major drivers of this included price point, quality of products, and availability due to global supply chain challenges. The opportunity for merchants to sell across their borders became even greater, and acted as a solution to bridge revenue gaps and increase reach to an entirely new, global audience. Now, in 2022, most large and medium-sized retailers are selling across borders.
While it’s become easy to navigate logistics around the world, collecting funds in other markets is still an entirely different story. Like all aspects of culture, payment preferences vary from country to country. Surprising to Americans and Brits is that not all e-commerce is paid for with big brand credit cards. In fact, over 70% of global e-commerce is powered by over 450 local payment methods (which is why the misnomer ‘alternative’ has swapped for ‘local’ in recent years). Indeed, e-wallets like Alipay, WeChat Pay, and GrabPay dominate payments in Asia – now more than ever.
Offering local payment methods (LPMs) has always been a critical part of boosting conversion across borders. During the pandemic, as consumers clung more tightly to their money, the demand for payment methods that were familiar and trusted only increased.
How the Local Payments Landscape Changed During COVID-19
The payment needs and preferences of global consumers still vary from country to country. In fact, they are more diverse than ever. Still, a global trend has been the accelerated shift from traditional cash and card payments toward digital payment methods at the point of sale. Out of social distancing necessity, the pandemic led to increased use of contactless, digital payment methods like mobile e-wallets, bank transfers, and QR codes. Many retailers, particularly in the US, who have long resisted installing contactless technology due to processing fees have now been compelled to offer it.
When it comes to shopping online, installment payment methods like Klarna and Afterpay have surged in use, as they enabled shoppers suffering from the economic impacts of COVID-19 to defer payments and still buy what they wanted. Before the pandemic, apps like these were primarily used by younger demographics to break up payments on big-ticket items, luxury goods, and travel. Many consumers now prefer a ‘buy now, pay later’ option.
During the pandemic, cash obviously circulated less as brick-and-mortar retailers closed or implemented digital payment methods to avoid contact. In 2022, the markets that have remained predominantly digital are markets that had low cash use before the pandemic: the US, UK, Western Europe, and large parts of Asia. Cash-based payment methods remain popular for some economies around the world (especially places in Latin America, where there are high percentages of unbanked consumers). But make no mistake: We are closer to a completely cashless society in 2022 than we have ever been.
Innovation in a Time of Crisis
Even before 2020, the proliferation of local payment methods was only set to increase. Now, in a world that faced a pandemic that made e-commerce a necessity, we’ve seen an explosion of new fintechs, local payment methods, and product functionalities. Legacy providers struggle to keep up as new players create integrated, easier-to-use, and more secure options for consumers.
But while there’s more competition than ever, there’s also a new spirit of cooperation and collaboration. Rivals have joined forces to innovate for global consumers. COVID-19 incentivized businesses to provide simple solutions for people stressed by a pandemic. ‘Coopetition’ fueled complex advancements in payments tech.
Despite the havoc wreaked on the global economy, it’s come out stronger than before. In 2022, e-commerce continues to be a powerful force for good. Many consumers have new ways to shop, and retailers now have access to larger, global audiences. Small merchants have a bigger share of the local market and are now able to compete on the same level as big-box retailers.
Before COVID-19 upturned life as we knew it, 2020 sounded so futuristic; there were endless thought pieces in January 2020 on how the internet and AI were taking over. But, as it turned out, technology has become one of humanity’s greatest gifts, enabling us to connect, keep working, and get access to the goods and services we need.
Seven easy ways to maximise online sales by expanding your marketplaces
By Nate Burke, CEO and Founder of Diginius, a UK provider of proprietary software for digital marketing and ecommerce solutions, shares seven ways ecommerce businesses can leverage tools and platforms to quickly expand their marketplaces to maximise sales opportunities.
By now, the rise of ecommerce due to shifting consumer habits in recent months is no secret to anyone. But as an increasing number of businesses experience rapid growth and traffic on the digital channel, scaling-up practices to keep up with demand is key.
- Raise awareness
With an increasing number of retailers joining or expanding into online marketplaces, businesses can expect to face greater competition. With this in mind, online advertising should form part of any brand’s digital marketing strategy.
Pay per click (PPC) advertising in particular is a useful way to raise brand awareness and drive traffic, conversions and sales regardless of whether the brand has a new or an established online presence.
But the advertising mediums you choose to use must align with the business’s commercial objectives and operational capabilities in order to generate a return on investment. For instance, ads should be placed in channels that will reach the target audience, whether that be Google search results or in the display network, for example, as well as in languages the website supports and the company couriers can fulfil to.
And with an effective management and monitoring tool, you will be able to maximise the performance of your digital advertising activity to drive the best sales results.
Volume management is essential to any business looking to expand its marketplace operations, but it can be difficult to identify early on when ecommerce integration is needed. However, issues such as keeping up with sales levels, inventory counts or even hours upon hours spent on manual data shifting should start ringing alarm bells for any business owner.
And by integrating your website to your other online sales channels and back-end systems, you will start to gain a number of noticeable benefits. Reduction in human errors, accurate inventory management and increased sales channels, without losing operational efficiency are just some of the topline benefits business owners will begin to experience.
In fact, without integrating stock and price data, you will not be able to expand to multiple marketplaces, as those such as Amazon require very high levels of accuracy which without, your account will be suspended. With orders coming in from multiple sales channels, it is generally not feasible to keep accurate counts in the different channels without automation.
As your ecommerce grows, there will no doubt become a time when current systems and processes become highly inefficient to your operations. Manual, repetitive tasks become laborious and can lead to disaster with overworked and unenthused employees tapping away at keys when they’d rather be strategising or working new leads.
Automation can churn things like inventory management, lead generation and strategy and decision making into self-fulfilling automated tasks. As you automate basic items like price updates, order inputting, returns and stock updates, you can then move into the second phase – automation of updated advertising algorithms based on margins, stock levels, competitor pricing and related factors, all of which drive efficiency and a competitive edge. Invoicing and financial data can be moved paperless and customer service processes can be automated or streamlined in a variety of ways.
The key in the automation process, is to start with a solid foundation of your website and finance system to fully automate order flows and marketing information. Following this, you can then continue a relentless cycle of manual testing, which will determine what works and what is truly repetitive on a daily or hourly basis, rather than trying to automate tasks that you may only perform from time to time.
- Own website/marketplaces?
While some businesses only focus on their website and others sell solely on Amazon/Ebay, a robust approach across the major channels that customers use tends to drive more value and be a more sustainable approach for any business.
For example, if a company only sells in the marketplaces, it is common for Amazon to suspend an account for not hitting performance metrics, which causes a major disruption in cash flow and sales. Additionally, the marketplaces tend to restrict access to the customer, so it is not possible to market directly to your customers.
Consumers that come and purchase from your website develop a relationship with your brand, are easier to communicate with in the sales and delivery process, and you can continue to market with email and other methods for a higher lifetime value per customer. Additionally, the larger buyers will tend to prefer to deal with you directly rather than through a marketplace.
However, particularly as you expand out of your home country, digital marketing can be costly to run and cultural differences, languages and currencies difficult to manage at small scales.
Therefore a blended approach of digital marketing to your website and marketplace expansion tends to reach more customers efficiently and faster, which you can adjust as you grow and master different areas of digital sales.
- Multi-channel approach
One of the best ways to scale-up a retail business is to adopt a multi-channel approach. This may include a mix of various ecommerce sales channels as well as a physical in-store offering, for example.
However, the channels you choose to use must align with the business’s ethos and goals in order for them to be effective in maximising sales. If not, they could end up creating a greater cost than return.
For instance, a downloadable software provider may see more value in investing in online routes than in a bricks and mortar store offering. In this case, the multi-channel mix may include different marketplaces or use of various marketing and communications methods instead.
But either way, a multi-channel approach maximises the amount of touchpoints between a brand and customer and in doing so, the likelihood of the brand sticking in the mind of the consumer is increased.
- Streamlined management processes
When expanding into different marketplaces, a common problem businesses encounter is effectively managing the ramped-up level of activity. But with an insights platform, businesses can manage and monitor their digital activity across various channels on a single centralised dashboard, as well as automatically update prices, stock levels and order management.
This provides a more transparent and holistic view of performance, with data and insights that can be used for reporting and informing future decisions.
Not only does this create greater efficiency, but it also reduces a lot of the admin burden placed on employees, allowing them to focus on other business-critical tasks.
- Customer service
Due to the distance and physical detachment between customers and brands in the online realm, customer service is often overlooked. But, providing high quality customer support should in fact, be a core business activity, especially as the brand and consequently, the customer base, grow.
In doing this, you will keep both new and existing customers satisfied. This can encourage loyalty, repeat purchases and positive word of mouth, which can then be spread through customers’ personal social media networks to generate greater traffic and sales for the business.
So, remote customer service providers must be responsive, helpful and well-informed in order to have the desired effect. And to make their jobs that much easier, CRM tools can equip providers with the data and insights required to offer an efficient and effective service every time.
One third of money management tools face closure by the end of the year if they do not embrace open banking
- New research from Yolt Technology Services shows 35% of Personal Finance Managers aren’t using any open banking technology
- Imminent screen scraping ban set to cause major disruption for consumers and businesses with just two months to go
- 1 in 5 PFMs have never even considered using open banking
- 28% cited data privacy as a reason for not adopting open banking technology
An international study of over 1,000 senior professionals in the banking, lending, PFM, investment, and retail sectors by leading open banking provider Yolt Technology Services has revealed that over a third (35%) of Personal Finance Management (PFM) platforms aren’t using open banking technology. These businesses will face an urgent transition when screen scraping is phased out in Europe at the end of 2020 if they are to avoid major service disruptions.
The final leg of PSD2, Stronger Customer Authentication (SCA), comes into effect in Europe on 31st December 2020 and will add an extra layer of security to log-in processes. This will force many banks to withdraw screen scraping facilities, which are currently used by PFMs to automatically extract on-screen data from the bank’s online banking page or app. This data is then used as raw text in the PFM to generate spending insights for users, but is less secure, less efficient, and creates a more cumbersome log in process.
As a result, many PFMs will have to look for alternative methods to gather customer data efficiently and securely, but despite being early pioneers of open banking, the survey showed that 35% of PFMs are not using open banking products and services such as AIS systems. In fact, nearly 1 in 5 respondents (19%) stated that they have never even considered using open banking.
More surprising still is that among those who were using open banking, only half (55%) were using Account Information Services, while over three quarters (77%) were using Payment Initiation Services (PIS). While PIS can deliver significant value for users, enabling settling between accounts or payment into regular savings accounts, its functionality is not a core part of the PFM offering in the same way as AIS.
Among those who haven’t yet adopted open banking technology, 35% of PFMs said it was too early to invest, and 28% named data privacy as the chief reason for not adopting. Despite this, PFMs do still show an above average adoption rate (68%) after being one of the first sectors to take advantage of the technology, compared with the banking and retail sectors, the next highest, on 63% and 62% respectively.
And the adoption of open banking technology is proving to be lucrative for those PFMs that do make the switch. Over 90% of PFMs who keep track of the monetary gains of open banking said that it is worth between £1m – £5m to their business each year, compared with 70% of respondents across all sectors, so there are financial gains to be had. This may be because open banking is central to service delivery for the majority of PFMs, but in other sectors it is a differentiator and its use is optional.
For all of this promise to be realised, there are clear issues to be addressed, but PFMs stand to benefit if they lead the charge.
Leon Muis, Chief Business Officer at Yolt Technology Services, comments:
“As pioneers of open banking, Personal Finance Managers have incredible potential to propel the technology even further – but only if steps are taken now to address the issues our survey reveals. That starts with more adoption – platforms which rely on manual methods of information gathering like screen scraping are not only less efficient, they deliver a worse service for users. To see a third of all PFM platforms using no open banking technology at all is a concern, and one that they will have to deal with sooner rather than later, with the upcoming ban on screen scraping.
“Data privacy concerns are a key reason behind this adoption rate, but this is built on fundamental misunderstandings not only about the technology, but the rules which govern its use. That over a quarter of PFM platforms don’t understand how open banking legislation works is a signal that we need to do better as an industry to champion the benefits of the technology, but also showcase the core safeguards and secure foundations upon which it is built.
“What is also clear is the power open banking has to differentiate platforms, and those which can most effectively implement it stand to benefit the most, both financially and in service delivery. And, with the phasing out of screen scraping coming into effect at the end of the year, PFMs need to act now to better support their customers and avoid being left behind.”
Accountants have become critical to the survival of businesses and their reputations during Covid-19
The opportunity for fraudulent activity to flourish as finance departments operate remotely with less oversight in these extraordinary Covid-19 times is inevitable. Government loans and financial support have been given out with little or no accountability to businesses that are struggling with the change in their trading environment and as a consequence businesses find themselves in financial need.
There is already evidence of corporations handing back furlough grants as HMRC offers a 90-day amnesty, but without rapid data-driven insight and risk stratification, businesses may not know the extent of their exposure. Indeed many businesses face the daunting prospect of repaying loans at the same time as paying deferred VAT early next year in a far from certain trading environment. Stuart Cobbe, Director of Growth, Europe, MindBridge explains that the role of the accountant has now become critical to businesses and their reputations.
The Covid-19 landscape is fluid and ever-changing, and businesses require accurate visibility of all aspects of their business in order to plan effectively for the future and to understand their financial position. As the economy continues to recover to a new ‘normal’, companies need to focus on the next 6 months. How many ‘zombie’ businesses are only operating due to deferred VAT payments? How many companies will fail when they cannot repay loans? The role of the accountant is vital in unlocking this transparency to provide data-driven, actionable insights.
After all, there are many questions around how government financing has been used, from grants to loans, furlough payments to VAT deferments. As of the 20th September, the total cost of furlough claims has reached a staggering almost £40 billion, despite 30,000 applications being rejected, with many likely to have been attempts to defraud the taxpayer. Research by economists from Cambridge, Oxford and Zurich universities found that as many as two thirds of furloughed workers continued to work.
For businesses that do not understand the extent of their exposure, they risk facing a HMRC-imposed tax charge equivalent of up to 100% of the grant to which any recipient was not entitled and was not repaid. It is, therefore, interesting to see the number of large organisations now publicly revealing plans to repay all furlough payments. For many, this is an opportunity to boost corporate reputation and demonstrate a commitment to rediscovering business as usual. However, given the huge pressures businesses have been under in recent months, many CFOs and FDs may not have the full visibility they require to effectively manage this without the power of audit.
This is about far more than reputational damage, the potential misuse of furlough is far from the only financial risk. The extraordinary shift in every business’ modus operandi over the past few months has opened the door for opportunistic fraud. New sources of income; staff working from home with limited oversight; the financial pressures – both business and personal – created by the recession. The misappropriation of assets should be a very real concern for businesses of every size.
For organisations that have relied upon grants and loans to survive, an employee exploiting the lack of oversight to syphon funds for personal use could tip the company into failure. Companies must determine how – or whether – deferred VAT payments and loan repayments can be made. Is the company truly solvent or no more than a ‘zombie’ business operating with a balance sheet propped up by short term government finance?
Business resilience and reputation is a priority in this era, and CFOs or FDs may be struggling to establish trust across businesses now operating under a whole new range of pressures, from slimmer margins to a disjointed, remote workforce. There is an obvious need for complete visualisation of financial risks, and accountants play a crucial role in unlocking this data.
The rapid identification of mistakes in government support applications, potential fraud and the analysis of which deferred payments and loan repayments can be made and when – whilst ensuring other risk factors do not jeopardise business stability – is essential to futureproof the business, and accountants can assess data to provide this information in a complete and actionable format to lead smarter company decisions. This is the data insight CFOs and FDs need today.
Traditional financial risk assessment models will not be adequate. At best, problems will be revealed months after the fact. Companies need rapid identification of areas of unexpected activity today. This is where accountants and finance departments using sophisticated machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques can deliver real business value by rapidly assessing financial data and surfacing unexpected activity. Armed with this information, finance teams will know where to focus activities, the questions to ask and the remedial action to take. This information will drive departments and remedial action to ensure business success and growth as the nation gets back to its feet.
In short, accountants and finance professionals can provide the answers businesses need today, whilst helping managers to plan for the future effectively, despite the changes in policies and protocols as the pandemic continues to throw curveballs. An audit can quickly identify problems including but not limited to, cash flow, fraud, misuse of grants, loan repayment issues – all whilst offering the guidance and steps to safeguard the business to promote resilience and protect the solvency and reputation.
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