Overarching theme for 2017? Convenience

Convenience to customers has long been the name of the game. And attending last month’s NRF Big Show, I saw how much it still is. But the ways in which convenience matters continue to change, and they’re more important than ever.

Convenience in the merchant space equaled location, location, location not that long ago. Today, convenience means easier, faster and better consumer experiences – easier, faster and better shopping, payments and fulfillment.

They expect immediacy. They expect their transactions to be processed as fast as cash, but with the convenience and rewards associated with cards and mobile wallets.

So, with the bar rising, what’s on the horizon to boost consumer convenience?

Some notable examples of upping the ante on consumer convenience solve problems around convenience goods such as groceries and gasoline – frequent purchasing events for most consumers. Many food retailers are testing and implementing solutions to address the inconvenience of the “long line” at checkout.

Amazon Go, which eliminates the line by automating checkout with its “Just Walk Out” technology, is currently getting the most press even though it’s only one small-footprint grocery store for employees and it’s still in pilot. Kroger, meanwhile, has introduced Clicklist, which enables consumers to order groceries online for pick up from their cars. Clicklist is a more conventional approach to solving the issue of long lines, but one that also showcases the value of data; With its sophisticated customer analytics system, Kroger knows what their loyalty card customers regularly order and prepopulates a favorites list of commonly ordered items, which further saves time for users. Consumers choose a pickup time slot (within an hour window) and pay a charge of $5.00 per order.

Why is solving the problem of the long line at the grocery store important? According to a recent New York Times article, Americans spend 37 billion hours annually waiting in lines. Research shows that the dominant cost of waiting in line is emotional – the feeling of squandering precious time. With Amazon and other online grocers eliminating this pet peeve of shoppers, physical grocers must also find a solution to avoid further disruption in the retail space.

Other solutions that boost consumer convenience include self-service options. For example, new technology will enable payments at pumps to connect with gasoline store sales for ordering goods, buying lotto tickets and interacting with loyalty points. Customers will also soon be able to pay for their gas with their mobile phone or smart-car, without ever interacting with the pump to pay. Self-service points of contact in physical stores, such as gift registries and price checkers, also are becoming self-service points of commerce.

What does this mean for processors and their partners?

Competition remains fierce, disruption will continue to accelerate, customer analytics are a competitive advantage and technology is transforming the checkout process. Table stakes are increasing with the rapid adoption of innovations such as Amazon’s Echo, which makes a transaction so easy that a child can (and occasionally does, much to their parents’ dismay) place an order just by asking.

What this means is that the consumer experience must be central to the design process. In physical settings, POS tools must be super easy to use, by both merchants and their customers – no clunkiness and no figuring out whether to swipe or dip or which way to orient a piece of plastic. Despite the self-service, online checkouts must be even more seamless for consumers since they don’t have the benefit of someone helping them through the process.

Seamlessness is the future. And you need to find your way there, now. Consumers continued business will be your thanks.

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