Reimagining payments, by Amazon’s Amira Aboushousha

Amazon Payment Services’ head of marketing Amira Aboushousha is reimagining payments beyond the new norm.

When we see a successful person or business, we often fail to appreciate the many obstacles that have been overcome to achieve that success. Success usually requires innovation and reimagining the way things are done to come back stronger.

As businesses around the world consider how to bounce back from the turmoil inflicted by the pandemic, these tales of business turnarounds provide food for thought. How has the past year affected the way consumers behave? How have businesses and their customers’ needs changed because of Covid-19? What will it take to reimagine payments beyond the new norm?

Hygiene concerns caused by the Covid-19 crisis have prompted consumers and businesses to rely more on digital and contactless payment options. This trend towards cashless transactions has led to an increasing number of digital payment gateways and service providers, with early e-wallet services like PayPal now joined by hundreds of cashless payment options today.

Today, 80 per cent of young Arabs shop online frequently, compared with 71 per cent in 2019. In addition, 50 per cent of those aged 18-24 in MENA are shopping more online after the pandemic. As a result, the sector reached a value of $22bn by the end of 2020, according to research from the MIT Legatum Center and Wamda.

Holding on to these newly converted customers is now a priority as vaccination campaigns take effect, lockdown measures ease and consumers partially revert to old habits. A recent survey by research company Sunstream Research & Consulting found that six in 10 consumers in the UAE still prefer to buy their groceries in person, with only two in 10 people opting to buy their food online.

This brings us to a critical element of the relationship between customers and retailers: the ‘payment experience’. While many companies will spend tens of millions of dollars on advertising, branding and PR campaigns, and yet more on the user experience (UX) of their online shopping portals, many do not give equal consideration to that most crucial stage of the customer journey, the decision to pay for a product or service. How can you ensure that your payment processes are part of a strong customer experience?

In the past, it was necessary to offer cash-on-delivery (COD) to enable e-commerce due to low credit card penetration rates and a general lack of trust in paying online. Nowadays, fintech and e-commerce exist together in a symbiotic relationship. The right fintech solutions ensure a smooth and seamless experience for consumers. E-commerce, in turn, drives disruptive innovation in the fintech industry. The sheer volume of digital transactions taking place around the world creates fertile ground for start-ups looking to cash in on the action.

From buy-now-pay-later services, which offer quick and easy payment plans for consumers making a big purchase, to instant access to business loans for merchants based on their digital cash flow projections, fintech innovators are identifying and addressing the needs created by e-commerce activity at an ever-increasing rate.

However, there are many ways the customer journey can falter at the payment stage, all of which reflect poorly on the brand they’re attempting to engage with. What if the customer is unable to pay for their chosen product with any of the options provided by the merchant? What if the payment fails, or is taken from the customer, but doesn’t reach the merchant? What if the customer wishes to make a purchase on a big-ticket item, but doesn’t currently have the funds to pay for it?

Any of these issues could cause the customer to walk away from the transaction entirely, rendering all the other investments in branding and customer engagement entirely pointless. At the very least, a clunky and onerous payment process does not encourage a customer to return for repeat business.

It’s essential to ensure that the payment experience is truly ‘zero friction’. Customer expectations are rising for digital payments along with measures such as convenience, security, affordability and familiar payment methods. Your customer’s trust is the most valuable commodity today, so if you don’t guard it tightly, you could face a ruinous backlash.

The ideal payment services provider removes these hassles by managing all aspects of the financial transaction for their merchants. They ensure that customers can complete transactions by offering a wide variety of international and local payment options that are familiar to customers.

In addition, maintaining round-the-clock vigilance with advanced fraud detection systems is key to ensuring that transactions are seamless, safe and secure, and that any issues are resolved swiftly to the customer’s satisfaction. This, in turn, maximises conversions and decreases the risk of chargebacks.

Your relationship with the customer doesn’t end with a purchase. Hopefully, they enjoyed the shopping experience, and they’ll wish to make further purchases from you. Customers are more likely to remain loyal to online stores that make it easy to transact and engage with them. There are also invaluable insights to be gained from data collection and trend analysis that can be used to improve other services your business offers. You can get to know your customers better through detailed reports, expert analysis and real-time monitoring of their payment activities.

The next normal is still taking shape, and customer expectations will continue to shift in response. Retailers that focus on customer experience and respond with agility and innovation in their omnichannel experience will fare better and strengthen their ties to consumers.

The right digital payment service provider can empower a business to take its relationship with their customers to the next level and create a seamless experience from start to finish.