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Digitalization rules – consider the future today

COVID-19 has hit many retailers hard. All stores that are not essential for serving basic needs have had to be closed for weeks, and these restrictions will only be lifted gradually. Especially those businesses that do not have an online shop by now realize that there is no way around digitalization in the future. But also companies that already sell their goods online often have room for improvement. After all, it's not only being present online that counts, the associated processes also need to run smoothly – in order to retain customers today and tomorrow.

Behavioral changes are likely to persist after the coronavirus crisis

In recent weeks, many people have come to appreciate the advantages of digitalization in a wide range of sectors: They have used the internet to communicate with their family, regularly access the latest news and conduct shopping and business online. Particularly pharmacies and shops with household products have been able to record an increase in their online sales. What’s more, I assume this trend will not be completely rolled back once the COVID-19 crisis is over. This is also confirmed by a study by Kantar, which concludes that the outbreak of the virus will significantly accelerate the shift towards online commerce. Previously expected to take three to four years, this trend will now likely proceed in just a few months.

The focus is always on the customer journey

Retailers considering a second income stream online for the future as well as merchants that already sell some of their goods online, should keep their eyes set on the customer journey – i.e. the experience of the customer during the online purchase process. These customers are meanwhile accustomed to convenience and accessibility when it comes to visiting virtual businesses, product searches and descriptions, the payment process, communication with the merchant and, last but not least, the returns process. If their expectations are not met, they will quickly abandon the purchase process and turn to another provider. One example for this is the range of payment methods available, from which the customer wishes to choose the option they are most comfortable with. If certain payment options are not available, such as purchase on account, as preferred by the majority of German consumers, the customer may abandon their shopping cart. This is not only true for times of crisis, but also for the future afterwards.

Smooth and digital finance processes are one success factor

Besides the customer journey, the integration of external partners and interfaces with accounting, returns or receivables management on a platform, for example, are a key success factor for an online business. This simplifies the sales process for merchants considerably and makes the complex operations required in e-commerce, going far beyond classic accounting, much more efficient. Ideally, everything should work flawlessly from invoicing and the payment process, to the booking of incoming payments and dunning processes. There are also solutions for integrating services such as risk and fraud management, payment services and dunning. Particularly in these areas, merchants that already operate online still often have potential for improvement.

To summarize, I believe merchants that have now realized that they are not yet optimally positioned online should now definitely think about the future:

Drive digitalization in your business forwards. Could your online positioning in recent weeks be optimized? Analyze your weakpoints now, and find the right balance between ad-hoc investments and measures that also deliver optimal processes even after the crisis. Only those who run an online shop flawlessly at the highest level will be successful. And if you start now, you will already set yourself apart from the competition, offering your customers more convenience and service.

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