Kaushalya Somasundaram
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Member Article

Reaching new audiences and experimenting with payment options in a post-Covid-19 Britain

There’s no denying that the past year has had an everlasting impact on consumers and businesses alike. The sudden shift to digital meant companies of all sizes had to re-think their operations, whilst consumers had to explore new ways to interact with their favourite brands.

As lockdown restrictions continue to ease in some parts of the UK, businesses find themselves facing a new type of customer: one that expects a seamless shopping experience both in-store and online. To deliver on these expectations, businesses are working hard to be more flexible and agile, whilst listening to their customer needs and demands at the same time.

A pivot in consumer payment preferences

A significant change brought on by the pandemic was an accelerated shift in consumer payment preferences. Our own research - Cash and the Pandemic 2.0 report - found Britons turn towards cashless payments as a safer option over the pandemic. For example, a third of consumers used contactless payments for the first time ever.

In response, small-and-medium sized businesses (SMBs) across the country showed immense resiliency to these demands by adjusting their business models practically overnight. Between a 12 month period from February 2020 to February 2021, the share of Square businesses that went cashless rose by more than 4x, with the number of businesses accepting online payments seeing a 79% increase in the same time frame.

Despite this shift in payment preferences, brought on by health and safety concerns, the majority of the UK public would still like cash as a payment option to exist in the future. From a business perspective, this is a very important aspect to bear in mind as it is likely to have a significant impact on revenue streams. For example, supplementary research commissioned by Square to support the Cash and the Pandemic 2.0 report found that more than half of Britons said that having a broad range of payment options would increase the chances of their return to a shop.

Ultimately, businesses that are able to provide consumers with a variety of payment and shopping methods can benefit from increased sales and will be able to reach a wider customer base. What’s positive to see is that the same data found that half of the UK public reported that their local businesses do offer a variety of payment options. This is further indicative of the level of flexibility and resilience UK SMBs have shown during the pandemic.

Supporting ‘local’ during-and-post pandemic

The pandemic provided a unique opportunity for local independent stores to engage new customers on a national scale. Our research of UK consumers found 41% of consumers have been using local independent stores more since the start of the pandemic, with half planning to continue shopping with these businesses once lockdown measures are eased.

The pandemic and multiple lockdowns has also given SMBs the chance to experiment with new ways to reach customers nationally, not just locally, and continue to stay open. Take Emma Beattie, a small business owner, who runs Mrs Macs Sweet Treats, a bespoke cake shop in Woburn Sands, Milton Keynes, as an example of a business that was able to tap into a much wider customer base beyond the geographical limits of the shop by pivoting online. Prior to the pandemic, her business had never sold online before but within three minutes of offering deliveries her business sold 300 boxes of its treats. Adopting digital payments has helped the business to double its turnover which they’re re-investing to get their treats to more customers.

Building back stronger in the ‘new normal’

Covid-19 has been an unprecedented challenge for SMBs across the UK. It has forced many to make dramatic changes to the way they operate, whether that was pivoting to sell online or choosing card over cash to sell more safely. But for those that exhibited resilience and agility, they have been able to reach a wider audience and experiment with new payment options.

A major factor of this has been the omnichannel customer experience. An early appetite to return to ‘normal’ and get back on the high street has highlighted the need for retailers to successfully operate an omnichannel approach to provide their customers with both choice and convenience. Being able to offer customers the benefits of both in-store and online, and by providing a variety of payment options, is helping SMBs to gain a significant competitive edge during what continues to be a challenging period for all.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Kaushalya Somasundaram .

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