Long reads

Changing Face of Retail: Why retailers should tap into contactless

Mike Elliff

Mike Elliff

CEO , Tyl by NatWest

It goes without saying that the retail industry has changed dramatically over the past few years and that the high street is a very different place now compared to what it was ten – or even 5 – years ago. While many cynical naysayers have predicted the death of the high street year on year, the retail apocalypse is yet to come to fruition.

More recently, coronavirus tried to give retail the death knell, with the volume of retail sales in Britain falling by 18% between March and April of 2020 following imposed lockdown conditions – the largest fall on record at the time. When faced with a seemingly destitute situation, pessimists would have put money on the high street crumbling overnight and yet, more than six months into the pandemic, latest ONS figures indicate that retail sales have bounced-back to pre-pandemic levels. The quick action of Britain’s small business owners, pivoting their service models and investing in e-commerce and contactless payment services, has safeguarded our local shops. The resilient British high street didn’t die, it simply evolved.

Tapping into opportunity

Even when customers couldn’t visit bricks and mortar retailers, consumer behaviour wasn’t brought to a standstill - with shoppers taking to the web to purchase items. August’s sales figures saw the proportion of online purchases at 26.6%, down from a high of 32.8% in May.

As retailers and businesses reopen following Government guidance, contactless selling will only increase as customers show a preference for payments that reduce human contact coupled with the desire for retailers to have an e-commerce store to allow for online or remote shopping.

Some merchants quickly realised that online third-party services were convenient yet costly, as they take a substantial percentage through delivery and marketing fees. At a time when revenue was already plummeting, each merchant had to view them with a critical eye, weighing up convenience versus cost.

A survey by YouGov has revealed a dramatic shift when it comes to what’s important to shoppers following lockdown. A vast majority of Brits (87%) surveyed by YouGov said that after making sure the store they visit has the item they want, the most important factor in deciding where to shop for non-essential goods is the methods used by stores to promote social distancing (81%). From this, we can gather than shoppers will have a preference towards retailers who are taking Government guidance on social distancing seriously and inherently assume that they’d feel safer using contactless payments.

This supports findings from Tyl by NatWest that highlights from lockdown (16th March), 65% of new customers registering for the Tyl payment service since the start of UK lockdown up until September are adopting card payments for the first time. This illustrates that retailers who previously only accepted cash have quickly realised that if they failed to innovate, they could get left behind.

How integrated payment systems can lead to business success

It’s going to become increasingly important for payments systems to be fully and holistically integrated into the new ‘normal’ as our retail sector emerges from lockdown, especially if they hope to compete with retailers transitioning into e-commerce.

At Tyl, we believe that payment services should work harder for merchants, to ensure that their business saves time and money, and gather insights to help the retailer provide a more tailored, personalised experience for their customers.

While most people have recognised the need for integrated payment solutions for a while now, Covid-19 has hastened the need for retailers and other businesses to deliver contactless and mobile payment solutions to meet customer demand.

Retailers who do more than just accept cards and make best use of the tools and insights provided by a fully integrated payment system will win as they identify and respond to the wants and needs of customers, improving customer service, improve inventory management reduce admin time by streamlining payment processing and business management, and ultimately, save the business money.

Post-pandemic retailer learnings

Throughout the pandemic and beyond, retailers have been shown strong support from trade association, British Retail Consortium (BRC) who have delivered guidance to retailers big and small around how best to navigate Government guidelines.

In April, following widespread consumer demand, the contactless limit for in-store card transactions increased from £30 to £45 as a measure in direct response to the coronavirus pandemic – something that the British Retail Consortium had been lobbying for on behalf of retailers.

Banks too, have supported retailers throughout this time by advising on financial support and relief. Tyl by NatWest has waived terminal fees for Tyl customers until the end of 2020, ensuring the option to receive contactless payments is open to as many businesses as possible.

Predictions for the future

Retailers have learned that there has also been a fundamental shift in how customers are approaching shopping following retail reopening. Gone are the days of the daily post-work top-up shop, with research from YouGov revealing that 41% of Brits agree that they plan on avoiding visiting numerous shopping locations and instead opting to do all their shopping at a single retail location. So, while retailers might find they have fewer customer visits, they could find that shoppers are spending more in a single transaction.

The British public want to support their local retailers, takeaways and coffee shops so they don’t go out of business – there is an increasing desire as a result of the pandemic to shop within the local community. One in four (24%) of Brits surveyed said they would actually increase their spending with local producers following lockdown. Smaller, independent local retailers can capitalise on this by offering discounts for social media followers, for example, to make connections and build lasting rapport with customers.

The next few months are undoubtedly going to be a challenging time for all businesses, but particularly small businesses in the retail, hospitality and services sectors. Shopper behaviour has been forced to change, and new technology has had to be embraced by both customers and retailers. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Community spirit and support of the local high street is high, and retailers should tap into this. There’s still life in the high street yet.

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