By Ralf Gladis, CEO, Computop
Shopping for many is therapy…until they reach the queue for the checkout. It's easier online to pay for goods, but physical retail, with all the sensory benefits it offers the shopper, would be so much easier if payment was quick and easy. In an industry that has proven it can reinvent itself, its time to focus on the point of sale.
Shopping serves less to satisfy our basic requirements than it does to satisfy our love of new things, our desire to spend money, and our curiosity. It's an experience, and we're not interested in spending time on anachronistic, time-consuming procedures like queuing at the till. In a digitalised world where everything can be seen and bought in seconds through a smartphone, what we want from shops is a new approach, and the point of sale is not living up to expectation.
The reason for this lies in retailers' reluctance to invest in IT infrastructure a decade or so ago, when smartphone app developers were experimenting with location-based services. They could have enabled customers to use their mobile phones as indoor navigation systems, guiding them to the goods they were looking for, or to items they were promoting online. But they were wary. What if network access allowed customers to see if they could get a better price for products before they paid? Would they be able to work out the margins that retailers were making? This reluctance was pointless since customers could just as easily leave the store to do a quick online search, and who's to say whether they would ever return?
In an age in which the range of goods on offer offline and online is identical, the shopping experience becomes a differentiating factor alongside the price – for better or worse. In order to retain regular customers, it is no longer enough for a store to carry a brand and have the right articles of that brand in stock or be able to obtain them quickly. Shopping must stimulate the brain's reward system from the initial contact with the goods – looking, touching, feeling, grasping – to spending money.
Payment points in stores, particularly department stores are positioned around the edges of the shop floor for historic reasons – they used to be close to the offices and safes where the cash was stored before being taken to the bank – but why make customers walk any distance at all when they could pay exactly where they are already standing? In the Apple Store salespeople move around with their iOS mobile devices and they can provide information and process payment. There's not even the need to provide a paper receipt because it can be sent by email. Some stores are offering apps that allow their customers to pay on their own smartphones once they've scanned the barcode of the item they want to purchase.
The way forward is to think about stores as showrooms. Assistants are there to provide information and seamlessly enable payment, not to stand behind a physical POS. If the customer would rather not lug their shopping bags around with them, the assistant can arrange next day delivery as they are paying. If an item isn't in stock, it can be ordered at the same time. In fact, some retailers are now specialising in the display of goods, particularly clothing, in just one size and if the consumer likes the look of it, they scan the label with their phone, reserve a changing room and the item is ready for them to try on when they enter.
But when it comes to actually making payment, retailers have all the technology they need at their disposal. Contactless payment by card or mobile phone, for example, takes just seconds, and with biometric authentication now such an integral part of electronic payments, both retailers and customers are infinitely better protected from fraud than they have ever been. Biometrics are also attractive to retailers and consumers because they reduce time spent securing payment, and smartphone-supported payment methods such as Apple Pay which can be combined with self-scanning are increasingly being used by shoppers in a hurry.
If retailers are committed to keeping their physical stores relevant and attractive, they could do much worse than to make paying for goods as frictionless as possible. Make payment part of a great customer experience.