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Q&A: Payments Consultancy's Mark McMurtrie

What do you think are going to be the key trends in retail technology over the next 12 months?

Investment in new retail technology will only be made if it can be shown that costs can be saved, customer service will be improved and that new customers can be attracted, thereby increasing revenue and profitability. Times are tough, budgets are limited therefore the business case must be compelling otherwise budgets will be allocated to competing initiatives. 

Retailers are recognising that it is critical now to have a single view of all customer activity and so applications and systems need to be better integrated and share data more efficiently in realtime. Technology must be seen to be a positive business enabler rather than a reason why things can’t be done.

Undoubtedly mobile will soon start to have a big impact. This brings tremendous flexibility and freedom. Store staff and managers will be better equipped to answer customer queries, provide queue busting options and make improved decision making. Tablet and smart phone based solutions allow in-store customer service improvement, support the greater use of temporary pop-up stores, as well as providing mobile payments when trading on the move.

Are there any innovations that you’ve seen or heard of recently that have caught your interest?

Mobile payments have eventually arrived in the UK. There is now a wide choice of providers offering smart phone and tablet based solutions. These new supply chains make it easier and quicker to start accepting cards. Pricing tariffs are however generally designed for micro-merchants with low transaction volumes and as such standard price lists (2.75%) will not be commercially attractive to medium and large sized retailers.

New mobile payment solutions do though also risk creating technology silos, duplication and additional compliance headaches. We have learnt from the rise of internet commerce and the growing importance of multi-channel that this should be avoided. Mobile solutions should fit within the strategic IT architecture and be fully integrated with other systems.

QR codes are an exciting technology that I predict will see increased adoption within stores and marketing campaigns. Some leading retailers are currently trialling their usage for payments purposes as well. It will be interesting to learn the results and customer feedback.

Electronic retail payments have to date relied on plastic bank cards. With the increased adoption of smart phones and electronic banking services it is not inconceivable to see electronic bank transfers in the future becoming a realistic alternative to credit and debit cards.

What is the biggest headache in your job right now?

As mobile payments is such a key topic at the moment it is a subject I am frequently asked about. It is though a term widely misunderstood. People interpret it in a multitude of ways often being unaware of the potential confusion.

Do they mean mPos as a card acceptance device? If so are we talking in-store queue busting or outdoor traders? Many are meaning NFC smart phone based contactless payments. Yet others think about person-to-person payments and international remittances. Currently the largest percentage of mobile payment transactions is probably browser based eCommerce transactions with the mobile phone just replacing your PC. Mobile banking is yet another potential area for confusion.

Perhaps we need some clearer definitions? Or at least to be more specific about the category we are interested in and what we are asking about.

What do you see as the challenges and benefits in the growth of multichannel?

Multichannel delivers many benefits both for customers and retailers. It fits today’s complex consumer purchasing behaviour patterns.

However, multichannel strategies must be applied right through an organisation. It has organisational, pricing, service and product dimensions. The technology – although a key element – is just one aspect. Too often the customer is left to see the inconsistencies and shortcomings. For most retailers they still have a long way to go on the multichannel journey.

Who is your business hero?

I greatly admire what Richard Branson has achieved during his career. He has a good eye for identifying business opportunities. Virgin is far more than just a brand. He focuses on customer needs and finds ways to offer improved service and value. He also recognises the important role technology can play and is happy to innovate and conduct trials. If a business is not going anywhere he is also not shy about letting it go and moving on to the next idea.

What’s the best example of digital engagement that you’ve experienced/heard of?

As a consumer I am a big fan of Amazon, even if I am uneasy about how little tax they appear to be paying in the UK. They make my life easier. They recognise the need to deliver choice, simplicity, service and low prices. If I want a book to read I can just download one instantly to my Kindle. If it is a film then Love Film is available. When I need to send a present then their Gift Vouchers are always available even if the birthday is today! I can avoid a trawl around the high street thanks to the huge range of products available from their marketplace. And when it comes to card payments I trust them with my details and am delighted not to be hassled by needing to complete 3D secure payment authentication routines when the time comes to check out.

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