When you think of the term mobile payments, what comes to mind? For many, especially those not connected to the tech world, it involves a traveling salesperson, making easy sales as he travels door-to-door. Yet that only scratches the surface of the potential we have with the advancement of mobile payments. With many systems set up, and with trust increasing, retailers of all types can ride this wave to new sales and distribution methods, and in turn benefit from closing productivity gaps within their business.
A recent report from Javelin Strategy & Research highlights just that potential. As they put it, mobile point of sale payments will grow to include $5.4 billion annually in the next five years. That, of course, represents an estimate given what we know now with reasonable assumptions for future development. But with mobile payments, adoption and development could occur more quickly than anyone anticipates.
BENEFITS FOR SMALL OFFLINE BUSINESS
When I walked into the tailor to pick up my suits, the guy was busy with another customer. That gave me a chance to look around and survey his work space a bit more than I did a few days ago when I dropped off those suits. The guy keeps things to a minimum, especially on the business side. He had an old school cash register — and no credit card machine.
That put a scare into me. If you’ve ever had three suits tailored — one of them removing the pleats — you know that the cost can run up there. This tailor is good, by far the most highly recommended in my area, so he charges premium prices for premium work. With just a few 20s in my wallet, there was no way I could pay cash. So I asked, “I don’t see a machine; do you take credit cards?” He told me no problem, just hold on and he’d be with me in a minute.
After I tried on my suits, we returned to the counter to finish business. I pulled out my credit card with some hesitation, still not sure how he was going to take it. That’s when he pulled out his iPhone. After taking my card he punched in the numbers, asked for my email address, and said we were squared up. He had emailed me the receipt and everything. I asked him what software he used. He said he used WePay to accept credit card payments, and that he’d been unable to accept credit cards previously. He’d tried other solutions that allow you to swipe cards on an iPhone, but found the hardware broke constantly.
Small businesses that avoid credit cards because of the cost and hassle can find new solace in these mobile payment systems. The fee is typically lower than they see from physical terminals. At the same time, it opens up business for them that they otherwise might have missed. If I’d have had to walk to an ATM to get cash for him, I don’t know that I’d have gone back. But because he takes credit cards now, I’m more likely to go back to him next time I need clothes tailored.
BENEFITS FOR BIG BOX RETAILERS
Imagine walking around Walmart on a busy Saturday. The place is mobbed, everyone looking to pick up odds and ends for the week to come. You, too, are there for a few things. As you near the end of your list, you feel that pit of dread in your stomach. You know that when you proceed to the registers that you’ll wait quite a while before being checked out. There is perhaps no retailer with slower checkout times than Walmart. If you ever see an abandoned cart near the checkout registers, it likely comes from a customer who lost patience.
When you roam the aisles of Walmart, or Target, or Best Buy, you’ll see a number of uniformed employees walking around and helping customers. Yet they can’t help you with the task that will save you the most time: checking you out. Now imagine those same employees walking around with iPads and iPhones that contain virtual terminals. You walk up to one with your cart, they scan your items (with a different attachment, of course) and then swipe your credit card through an iPhone/iPad attachment. They print out your receipt, and you’re free to leave. As you exit you have a good laugh at the line of people at the registers (or maybe not, since plenty of people will take advantage of the roaming checkout registers.)
This is more likely to affect department stores first, since the volume of purchases there is a bit lower. If you go to Macy’s you’re more likely to pick up a few articles of clothing, while at Walmart you can fill a shopping card with odds and ends. No matter the environment, mobile payments will get us out of stores faster than ever. That means reduced friction, which can lead to more — and more frequent — sales.
BENEFITS FOR ONLINE BUSINESSES
Brick-and-mortar retail might not be dead, but it is certainly reeling. The convenience of online shopping has consumers flocking to their computers, and not a retail outlet, when they need to make a purchase. Yet online retailers lack that in-person feel of a brick-and-mortar store. People can browse, but they can’t touch. They can’t see more than a few images, and they certainly can’t try on anything. That advantage goes to physical retailers.
That also creates incentive for online businesses to try out physical locations. But who wants to go through the trouble of finding available retail space, signing a lease, and then buying all the equipment needed to display merchandise and check out customers? The costs almost certainly wouldn’t justify the increase in business. That is, unless there was a middleman to broker reasonable lease rates on a short-term basis. And if there were a way to avoid equipment fees.
The startup Storefront helps find short-term retail space. This is ideal for online businesses that want to set up shop for a short period, whether for a promotion or for an experiment. When it comes to checking out customers, they don’t need a new POS terminal, which can cost thousands of dollars. They can use the same mobile payment solution my tailor uses. The combination allows online businesses to create physical presences for any number of reasons, while keeping the costs in check.
In the next five years there is no doubt that we will see a huge rise in mobile payment usage. The only question is to what degree we will see that growth. As we see more players get into the game, including complementary businesses such as Storefront, we could see an astronomical rise of mobile payments. It presents a win-win situation, too. For retailers it reduces friction, making sales easier. For consumers, well, it does exactly the same. They get in and out faster, leaving them with more time for other things they enjoy.