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Payments is a constant work in progress, says Aldi

Grocery retailers that are developing a strategy for in-store payments must use a partnership approach that draws upon the expertise of internal stakeholders, external experts and trusted customers.

That’s the view of Sireesh Nallanthighal, national IT director at Aldi. The retailer currently supports cash, chip and pin, contactless and NFC payment mechanisms, but Nallanthighal says the speed of change in the area means retail executives must stay alert.

“There’s an awful lot happening in payments,” he says. “There’s many innovations currently taking place, including chip and pin, contactless, mobile and digital wallets. There is so much opportunity to allows customers to pay for goods in a way that’s right for them. But retailers need to be aware of the danger of creating a disjoined strategy.”

A tight grip on strategy

Nallanthighal says retailers that don’t take a tight grip on payments risk creating confusion amongst their customers and their workers. While firms need to ensure they offer a range of in-store payment mechanisms, they also need to create a clear strategy that offers flexibility and which fits well with the current regulatory environment.

Retailers, says Nallanthighal, should spend time talking with as many partners as possible. In Aldi’s case, these partners come from a range of internal business departments, particularly the store operations department, whose employees run the firm’s shops from a business perspective. He says external stakeholders should also contribute to strategy discussions.

“We’ve created a professional team that includes our bank, our payments provider, our networks provider and our own, internal specialists who know what our customers require,” says Nallanthighal. “You must analyse what types of payment technologies are available and understand how these can be delivered back to the consumer.”

The retailer traces customer demands by analysing social media and industry research, and by running focus groups. “We’re constantly monitoring and trying to understand what our customers want,” he says. “We have to set these demands against the business and regulatory environment.”

PCI DSS and training staff

Nallanthighal points to the onerous requirements associated to the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), which is an information security framework for organisations that handle credit cards. He says it is crucial to keep staff updated about potential changes around payment mechanisms.

“We’ve created a professional team that includes our bank, our payments provider, our networks provider and our own, internal specialists who know what our customers require. You must analyse what types of payment technologies are available and understand how these can be delivered back to the consumer.”

“You can’t have enough communication,” he says. “Go for repeated training, with short, sharp sessions that really help get your employees in the right mind set for potential changes in payments. Wherever possible, you need to get the business to help lead the decisions you make as a technology team.”

A partnership approach

Nallanthighal says payments is a constant work in progress. He says the technology became a significant item on the strategic agenda about six to seven years ago. It was around this time that Aldi began developing its partnership approach to payments. Nallanthighal says smart executives take a proactive approach to all areas of digital change.

“Being in the IT department of a retailer means we need to stay six, 12 and even 18 months ahead of what we think the business wants,” he says. “There’s a range of factors, like seasons, spikes in sales and new store openings. We must make sure our infrastructure is set up to support those concerns. A lot of our day-to-day thought processes are centred on staying one step ahead, so it’s intrinsic to what we’re doing.”

When it comes to lessons learnt, Nallanthighal says other retailers must take a pragmatic approach to payments. “You’ve got to balance the aims of the business, with the demands of the regulator,” he says. “Our partnership approach means we can move quickly when we need to take on a new form of payment or react to a new piece of legislation.”