Today’s consumers are using technology in ways that completely change commerce. In fact, purchasing that is influenced by or made online through mobile devices is estimated to make up 86 percent of consumer spending by 2020, more than double the percentage in 2010, according to RetailNet Group.
Small businesses can take advantage of consumer trends by offering convenient, consistent access to the applications they want regardless of whether they are at home, walking down the street, shopping in-store, or somewhere in between.
An example of how this can look is when customers are able to make purchases at an online store then pick up the merchandise at a physical store. Add email or mobile alerts to notify customers when a product or new inventory becomes available, and we are now talking about real time interactions that can drive behavior and provide added convenience.
Even more, new solutions today enable offer publishers to electronically attach deals, eCoupons and loyalty programs to one or more payment cards that can be stored and tracked in their mobile wallet for a streamlined and automated offer redemption process at the point of sale (POS).
This is an example of how the lines are blurring between in-store commerce, eCommerce, and mobile commerce (mCommerce). Consumers want the best deal in the most convenient and personalized way, no matter where they are. They’ve come to expect personalized access to information and products anytime, using any device. They expect a shopping experience that seamlessly crosses online and offline channels. They expect Universal Commerce.
Today, small businesses are at the crossroads of retail, eCommerce and mCommerce, where countless opportunities exist to create a more integrated and personalized experience for today’s connected consumers.
To broaden payment acceptance options and focus on building an integrated, multi-channel marketing program, the following strategies are suggested especially for smaller retailers:
“Mobilize” Existing Payment Programs
With the help of advancements in mobile technology, small businesses can take advantage of mobile wallet capabilities to offer highly targeted incentives that offer value and increase loyalty and retention. With tools like Google Wallet, consumers have a new way to pay which may decrease their use of physical credit and debit cards, checks and cash.
Start the process of integrating branded payment programs, including retail credit cards, loyalty card programs, and prepaid cards, into popular mobile wallet applications. Cards and other payment options that are easily accessed through a mobile wallet may be used more readily than those stuffed in an old-fashioned wallet.
Update Point-of-Sale Equipment
Advanced mobile devices are giving consumers more control over monitoring their finances, making purchase decisions and paying for transactions. While millions of consumers are equipped with contactless-enabled debit and credit cards and other contactless payment devices, adoption among consumers is likely to grow rapidly with the emergence of mobile phone-based near-field communication (NFC) payments.
In fact, the pay-by-phone market will make up $22 billion in transactions by 2015, according to a forecast by research firm Aite Group. Small businesses that plan for this change will find success in mobile commerce.
Small businesses are nimble-enough to adapt quickly and all indications show that contactless payments are the wave of the future. Timing will be critical however as the mobile payments revolution will likely come in small spurts of users jumping on board rather than a mad rush. Proactively investing in smart solutions that work today will ensure that small retailers are prepared for what’s ahead.
The good news is that updating POS equipment to accept mobile payments is easier than most business owners think. It may be a matter of adding a peripheral device to an existing system. While some upgrades can be accomplished through software, others (contactless payment, for instance) may require hardware changes, although many newer POS devices are being built with contactless capability as a standard feature.
Create a Multi-Channel Marketing Program
New technologies such as mobile coupons, vouchers, and offers that can be electronically linked to payment cards, enable small merchants to run specialized promotions designed to build new business, increase visits by existing customers, and accelerate sales in targeted product categories.
As noted above, for example, advanced solutions and technologies today allow offer publishers to electronically connect offers while simplifying the redemption process for customers by linking directly to any type of payment card. Offers are redeemed in real time at the merchant’s POS with immediate feedback via the payment terminal or smartphone.
Paper receipts of online offers or other coupons are no longer required when redeeming at merchant locations; instead, consumers can link their offers directly to a payment type of choice (credit, debit, or through a mobile wallet) and redemption is automatically applied when that payment card is swiped at the POS.
Specialty offers not only drive business, but they give merchants more information about consumer behavior and preferences in order to create targeted deals that are even more attractive. In addition, merchants can leverage social media channels and traditional gift cards to enhance the in-store experience, providing a well-rounded, consistent buying experience across all channels.
Adopting a Universal Commerce Strategy
There’s no right or wrong place to start when adopting a Universal Commerce strategy. It depends on the essential building blocks – smart devices, actionable intelligence, integrated applications and an enabling infrastructure, all accessing data in the cloud.
However, small businesses do not have to address these building blocks alone or take it on all at once. Integration partners are the glue that binds the Universal Commerce strategy. Small businesses can work with a partner or partners that have relationships across the full Universal Commerce ecosystem, and take advantage of today’s opportunities to thrive by providing an engaging, consistent, and seamless consumer experience.
Mobile Credit Card  Photo via Shutterstock