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Comment: Retail needs a pay-tech-focused community

Earlier this year, I chaired a series of private roundtable dinners hosted by the Emerging Payments Association (EPA), a leading community for the world's most progressive payments companies, supported by SVS (storedvalue.com) and Savvee (savvee.com).

Retailers from a range of sectors, including Sainsbury's, McDonald's, Ocado and The Post Office, were invited to share and discuss the challenges they faced when assessing and adopting PayTech innovations. In openly sharing and discussing the individual challenges we faced, we found a lot of common ground.

Strength in community

The conversation at the dinners proved something I had long suspected: we retailers are working in silos to address a range of payments-related challenges when, in truth, we all believe that cross-industry knowledge-sharing and collaboration would be a far more effective way to engineer solutions for some of the challenges we face.

This was the watershed moment and discussions shifted toward the EPA bringing together a PayTech-focused retailer community to learn, share and collaborate.

Juan Andrade, payments manager at Secret Escapes, attended one of the dinners. He told me: "Retailers have a clear requirement for a platform that brings together payments expertise from across the retail industry – a demand that is not currently being met.

"As part of our recent global expansion, we've faced challenges that could've been avoided and ultimately slowed us down. These are not problems of our own making, they are fundamental challenges faced by retailers of all shapes and sizes, across sectors.

"For example, with our continual focus on conversion and recent expansion in Asia, we've noticed a surprising amount of ambiguity around issuer processes that has had a direct impact on our profit potential. A clearer communication channel between banks and retailers is all that’s needed to drive much needed change on both fronts. The retailer issuer dynamic leaves a lot to be desired."

Listen to requirements, the results will follow

Supported by our sponsor Compass Plus, the EPA and I are now collaborating with retailers to develop the Retail PayTech Forum, which will meet the requirement to bring together a PayTech-focused retailer community. Retailers told us that the forum should deliver:

As the forum's retailer ambassador, it's my job to ensure it remains a retailer-focused initiative and continues to be relevant, build credibility and gain traction. I've seen a number of initiatives fail because they are developed and launched without gathering any insight from the intended audience. You've then got a tough job convincing anyone to attend and no-one sees any real value.

The only way the forum will work is through collaborating with retailers on content and structure. So, in July this year, we questioned retailers about the topics and challenges they expect the forum to address. Our analysis revealed a set of key responses, common across most retailers, plus a long tail of individual responses, which supports the insight gleaned at our roundtable dinners.

In addition, we asked retailers who they want to see speaking at forum events. Originally we thought forum content would be delivered exclusively by retailers.

However, retailers are keen to hear from PayTech companies, provided there is specific relevance to a topic or challenge voiced by retailers. This positions the forum as a curator of speakers and content, on behalf of retailers. Having direction from retailers enabled us to hone in on and, I'm really pleased to say, secure Nathalie Oestmann, director, head of Samsung Pay Europe as our keynote speaker for the 29 September event.

Get involved

Over 70 UK retailers have engaged with the forum, including Wyevale Garden Centres.

Wyevale's head of commercial development, Martin Alden, told me: "Retailers need to get to a point of common understanding as to the challenges in front of them. We don't have a crystal ball, so access to a platform for discovery, knowledge sharing and discussion, ultimately linked to a principle of best practice and, critically, retailer-led is an important first step in the right direction.

"There is so much in the way of technological innovation that, as a business, it's a challenge to keep pace and cut through the hype to those that solve real problems. For us, that means starting with the customer, then working backwards. For example, one touch purchasing sounds interesting and it does solve a problem, but is it relevant to our specific customer audience?

"Then there are longer-term strategic challenges, such as the desire for a platform agnostic future. Will that become a reality, or is it just a pipe dream? No-one has the answer to that right now, including the forum, but by coming together to share and collaborate, retailers can establish a collective set of requirements that should see robust, unfragmented solutions being developed."

Attending the forum is a no-brainer for retail colleagues involved in PayTech projects.

And, because no-one typically owns payments, we've been meeting a real mix of talent, including product owners, customer experience specialists and those leading the fight against fraud. This unique mix of cross industry, cross-functional expertise means our collaborative potential is huge.

The forum, sponsored by Compass Plus, launches on Thursday 29 September 2016 at the Andaz London Liverpool Street. Retailers can register for the afternoon session (3-6pm) followed by dinner and drinks, for free, here.

To learn more about the forum, discuss the challenges you are facing and the value you expect to get from the community, email info@emergingpayments.org.