Why Retailers Need to be Utilizing Mobile Payments, and How They Can Choose Systems Wisely

While the ecommerce market has grown rapidly in recent years, and is set to continue to boom, the fact is that most retail transactions are still actually completed in bricks and mortar stores. However, as more and more consumers get used to the convenience and quick process of buying online, it’s imperative that retailers use every tool at their disposal to streamline transactions in store, and to offer customers an excellent experience at every touchpoint.

One of the ways they can do that is through using mobile payments (mPOS). A BI Intelligence report forecasted that there will be a whopping 27.7 million mPOS devices in circulation by 2021 in the United States, up from just 3.2 million items seven years prior.
For many retailers though, the introduction of mobile payments isn’t a priority yet, so mPOS adoption continues to lag. However, if you’re an entrepreneur who hasn’t started using this tech, you’re probably not just missing out on sales, but also losing the opportunity to build consumer loyalty and increase referrals.
Mobile payments allow retailers to help customers complete checkouts more quickly, and locate stock in store. They also enable businesses to better manage inventory and to customize shopping experiences for clients, to name just a few benefits. If you’re ready to start providing this payment option to your shoppers this year, read on for some ways you can go about choosing a system wisely.

Determine Which Features You’ll Need

To begin with, before you start narrowing down your shortlist of providers, it’s important to stop and think about what kind of features you need in a system. Not all operators provide the same kinds of services, so the more clear you are about what you’re after, the easier it will be to narrow your search.
For example, you may only need a basic merchant account if all you’ll do is process debit or credit card payments on a smartphone. However, you might alternatively require a raft of features, or something in particular, that means you should look for a more comprehensive service. Some entrepreneurs want a mobile payment system to incorporate a loyalty program or some inventory management functionality, while others may prefer a company that specifically serves their business niche.
Something else to think about is whether or not you want to choose a provider that offers scalability in its features, and flexibility in its plans (this is important if your business is growing and the number of or type of transactions you have now will be different in the future). You might, perhaps, need a merchant provider that can accept things like American Express and Diners Club cards, PayPal, and Apple Wallet transactions, and loyalty points.

Evaluate Security Levels


Next, keep in mind that the security protocols of the mPOS system you choose also need to be comprehensive so that not only will your customers’ details be kept safe from prying eyes, but also your firm’s. Remember: hackers across the globe are finding increasingly sophisticated ways to break into accounts these days, plus consumers are particularly sensitive to data hacks and will typically discount companies if they’ve been hacked.
As you learn more about the firms on your shortlist, find out what level of security they can provide you with. For instance, do they use an integrated, or a safer semi-integrated, payment architecture? Plus, do they use complex encryption algorithms and have data encryption in place for all exchanges; do they enable CVV2 verification on transactions; are the highest-level SSL certificates accepted; are there restrictions on how data is sent and stored via an Internet connection; and do they provide billing address security for every transaction?

Weigh Up Fees

Of course, for most business owners, one of the prime factors evaluated when choosing an mPOS system is cost. However, while you certainly do need to think about this, make sure you’re actually comparing “apples with apples” when you weigh up the different options.
While some firms may look the most affordable at first glance, a bit of research may reveal they charge extra for things that other providers don’t. For example, they could have additional fees for setting up your account or integrating their software with your system; for taking certain types of transactions; for providing customer support; or for changing plans or canceling your account.
As well, look into the different ways companies calculate transaction fees. Some have a variable fee calculated according to the number of sales made by month or other period, while others have different plans to choose from, or may just charge a flat fee per transaction regardless of the amount of transactions or dollar value of sales per period. You’ll have to determine which option will be the best value for money for you, based on the kinds of sales figures (current and projected) you have.  

Where We’re Going With Unified Communications

A business is not an island. Businesses must be in constant communication with customers, clients, vendors, contractors, employees, partners, and more — which means businesses need comprehensive communications systems. At the beginning of the decade, communications providers began offering unified communications solutions, which brought together voice, video, instant messaging, email, and other methods into a single, synchronous service. It was a much-needed revolution in business communication.

Yet, since then, communication behavior has shifted. Technology is dramatically more advanced, and workforces are overwhelmingly mobile; traditional unified services simply no longer cover modern business communication needs.
Fortunately, this isn’t the end of unified communications solutions. The industry is shifting alongside business and consumer behavior. Read on to learn more about the future of unified communications.

Mobile Capability

Since their introduction, mobile devices have taken over the workplace. Many employers offer company mobile devices to high-ranking leaders, so they can stay connected wherever they go. Other employees have taken the initiative to gather their own mobile tech. At last count, more than 42 percent of organizations are executing a BYOD policy, but 87 percent of companies believe their employees use personal devices for work while away from the office.
Like it or not, the workplace is going mobile — and communications needs to keep up. The unified communications solutions of the future must integrate the gamut of mobile devices to be effective at uniting a workforce’s communications systems. Cisco Unified Communications Systems already allows mobile devices to access the corporate network, so businesses that place a high priority on mobile integration should consider transitioning to this progressive unified communications provider.

Cloud Compatibility

The cloud is spreading into every corner of business, so it should be no surprise that unified communications has caught a whiff. Most unified communications providers offer a bevy of cloud solutions — but not all of them are valuable to all businesses.
For example, startups might benefit from fully cloud-based communications, in which case it is critical that unified communications remain compatible with other business applications, like customer relationship management solutions. Meanwhile, larger enterprises with established unified communications might prefer cloud communications features that officer enhanced agility.
For businesses that have yet to connect to the cloud, unified communication systems offer an accessible entry point. As long as business leaders find trustworthy communications providers with strong, secure clouds, there is little risk in trusting the cloud for communications solutions. In fact, the cloud could be the only communications tool of the future.

Collaboration Tools


Because the workforce is more mobile than ever before and because the cloud makes digital solutions simple, collaboration tools have become vital for bringing teams together to accomplish tasks. Applications like Google Docs and Slack make it easier to organize projects, brainstorm, and carry out responsibilities in groups, but without broader, more flexible communications solutions, collaboration can still be a chore.
Thus, unified communications solutions must provide collaboration options — or else be compatible with an organization’s existing collaboration systems. Already, some communications providers offer UCC, or unified communications and collaboration, which is software designed to coordinate collaborative efforts and communication tech. However, it is vital that business leaders understand the resources required by UCC solutions before attempting to add them to their communications infrastructure. UCC can place extreme stress on aging networks, causing latency, lag, and sometimes network failure. UCC might be the future, but to reach that future, some organizations might need to update other aspects of their tech architecture.

Scalability

Scalability has long been an important issue associated with unified communications. However, now that the economy is booming and businesses are growing, it is especially critical that organizations equip themselves with communications solutions that will continue to serve them as they expand.
Unfortunately, many business leaders harbor misconceptions regarding scalability and unified communications. For example, plenty of leaders assume that all communications solutions are infinitely scalable. This is only true in theory; in practice, most systems have upper limits on the number of devices they can service. Businesses that invest in a solution without knowing those limits will either suffer downtime or waste money upgrading to a new system in the near future.
Any time a business considers a new solution, it must balance its current needs with its future projections. In the case of unified communications, this is especially true. The future of unified communications is upon us, and businesses should be ready to build bridges to these necessary technologies — or perish, alone, on their deserted islands.
Jackie is a content coordinator and contributor that creates quality articles for topics like technology, business, home life, and education. She studied business management and is continually building positive relationships with other publishers and the internet community .

TrackVia’s Low-code Platform is the Secret Sauce of Digital Transformation

Businesses striving towards digital transformation need to get their applications, infrastructure and cloud initiatives synchronized in order to be successful. TrackVia’s low-code application development platform brings order to the chaos of developing cloud-enabled applications, while also adding in critical mobile device support.

Ad Blocking and Tackling: What 2015’s Ad Blocking Means for 2016’s Marketing

2015 was the year when an unprecedented number of users took action against the ads that slowed web pages and turned the online content experience into a frustrating game of close-that-ad. According to a PageFair and Adobe report, U.S. ad blocking grew 48% in the twelve months leading up to June 2015. That’s 45 million users—16% of the population—who just said no to digital and, in particular, mobile web advertising by downloading ad blocking applications.
With eyeballs and revenue on the line, thought leaders debated whether the ad blocking trend would destroy or save advertising. The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) blamed the digital ecosystem. The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) blamed themselves for having “lost track of the user experience.” (They also notably took ad blockers to task for disingenuous practices, most specifically paid “whitelists” for publishers.)
The cost of ad blocking is significant, with an estimated $781 million dollar loss for the industry. But another resonating impact of the Great Ad Rebellion of 2015 will be found in its influence on marketing investments. What will marketers do differently to navigate the digital/mobile landscape in 2016?
Revisiting advertising
Lest there is any question, ad blocking will not prompt an all-out surrender by the ad ecosystem. Some publishers, like GQ, Forbes and more recently Wired, are fighting fire with fire, by blocking users with ad blockers. But the longer term strategy is to address the issues with ad experience. Some of this responsibility falls on publishers, who determine the degree of disruption that must be tolerated to access content, as well as the ad tech landscape, where fierce competition can inspire extreme approaches to ad engagement. (To steer publishers and platforms to a more user-friendly approach, and as part of its mea culpa, the IAB introduced new guidelines that emphasize ‘light, encrypted, ad choice supported, non-invasive ads’.)
But no change can succeed unless marketers direct ad dollars to those that are innovating in favor of an improved experience. This isn’t a simple task, given that site-by-site scrutiny can work against the efficiency gains of programmatic buying, a practice that has itself been blamed for the surge in ad blocking. As such, there will also be other moves to optimize ad impact, including increased investment in emotionally-aware ads, where data is used to extrapolate insights about a user’s psychological state in a given moment. Incorporating a measure of receptivity into ad delivery could prove to be the much-needed difference between engaging a consumer and ticking them off.
Thinking beyond advertising
Ongoing concerns about ad ROI will prompt more marketers to deepen investments in other approaches. Native advertising, the modern day equivalent of the advertorial, offers a worthy complement to traditional ads. Content marketing and branded content will help brands meet the need to feed social channels. Influencer marketing will gain practitioners as marketers struggle to connect with elusive millennial audiences. We’ll also see more brands practicing corporate social responsibility and, of course, promoting those good deeds via social channels.
Each of these tactics offer a subtler alternative to the traditional advertising message. And while this can be a strength in an oversaturated landscape, there is a fine line between subtle marketing and the calculated manipulation of audiences. The FTC tuned into this, releasing guidelines to ensure consumers can distinguish native advertising from content. But marketing’s most powerful critics are the consumers themselves, which leads to the next point…
Embracing feedback—in all forms
In a world of 24/7 marketing, brands are constantly challenged to creatively and authentically engage consumers in “conversation”.  The always-on dialogue represents tremendous opportunity, but it doesn’t come without risk. Today consumers are quick to call brands out when they’ve missed the mark, even when it’s as seemingly innocuous as Red Lobster’s slow response to a shout out from Beyoncé. Success doesn’t grant immunity either, as is evidenced by the less than warm welcome REI received on Reddit following its widely-celebrated #optoutside campaign.
This vulnerability could make one want to crawl back into the safe confines of traditional marketing, but of course that’s not an option. In 2016, more marketers will have strategies in place that allow them to creatively participate in the two-way dialogue while also managing the inherent risk. This means more than having an ear to the ground; brands need a plan that allows them to quickly gauge when and how—or if—it makes sense to engage or respond. (Arby’s farewell to their consistent critic Jon Stewart is a stellar example of a brand creatively and effectively steering into negative feedback.)
It may be that consumer ad blocking is really only part of this feedback cycle— less a mass exodus from advertising than it is an aggressive critique of its current form. Either way, it is a milestone in the ongoing transition from one-way marketing, perhaps one of the last nails in the coffin. Today, consumers have more than just a voice—they control the levers on which messages they receive and when. Marketers will need to keep in mind throughout the execution of every strategy and tactic to have an edge in 2016 and beyond.

The Shape of Shopping in 2016: Holiday Shopping Trends Inform the Coming Year

We’ve made it through that time of year again, when consumers struggle to manage busy schedules, tightening budgets and the pressure to bolster holiday memories with the perfect gift. For the trend watchers among us, the holiday season also turns out to be the most wonderful time of year to gain some insight into current shopping behaviors. How were shoppers shopping this season, and what can that tell us about the year ahead?
A rise in online (and mobile) shopping
It’s not surprising that e-commerce is continuing to grow its share of the shopping experience, with mobile’s role increasing. According to the IBM US Retail Black Friday report, more traffic was generated from mobile devices than desktop on Black Friday, driving a 30% increase in sales via mobile devices compared to the previous year. Cyber Monday told a similar story; Adobe data showed that 49% of shopping visits could be attributed to mobile devices. This is both an opportunity and challenge for retailers; they’ll need to ensure their properties are optimized to engage and convert mobile users while also exploring new incentives to drive traffic to brick and mortar locations.
Shopping starts earlier; fragments
And while Black Friday and Cyber Monday have long served as the groundhog-like indicator for holiday sales, there are signs of a shift. A Google/Ipsos Media CT study indicated that shoppers are starting earlier; in 2014, 61% began gift research before Halloween and 48% completed shopping by Cyber Monday. This may be a reflection of increasingly fragmented shopping driven by m-commerce; the same study showed that marathon shopping excursions are giving way to spare time shopping on mobile devices. In 2016, retailers will need to employ year-round top-of-mind strategies in order to capture more of those shopping moments.
What we’re buying
There was no shortage of buzzworthy gadgets in 2015, but did that buzz translate to sales? While there are some discrepancies in the estimates around Apple Watch’s overall sales, recent data from Best Buy stated that customers purchased twice as many wearables this year compared to the 2014 holiday season. That 100% increase is notable, but also suggests that the true Wearable Revolution has been postponed until at least 2016.

This post is sponsored by Samsung. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Meanwhile, other gadgets experienced a few bumps in the sleigh ride leading into the holiday season. Citing safety concerns, the Federal Aviation Association established a registration policy for drone owners, for which non-compliance could result in a fine. Hoverboards (more accurately known as “self-balancing scooters”) aimed for explosive holiday growth, but some were removed from shelves as it became evident that the self-balancing scooters were at risk of, yes, exploding. While both still made a strong presence under the tree, both Adobe and IBM’s data showed that Samsung TVs ranked as the most popular purchase on Black Friday 2015.
The wallet goes mobile, sort of
Consumers had multiple point of sale payment options to choose from this holiday season as the mobile wallet wars heated up. Despite the intensity of the battlefield, however, a study from InfoScout showed single-digit activity in this area. Credit cards, in comparison, accounted for 79% of in-store payments, making mobile payments another entry into the “maybe next year” category. Noting that younger generations will drive growth in this area, eMarketer projects a 210% increase in mobile payments in 2016.
Social commerce debuts
The pressure to monetize social media is on for both brands and platforms, and so 2015 saw a push for social commerce. Designed to usher social networkers down the path to purchase, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest promoted their respective “buy buttons” in 2015. Still, while some brands and users experimented with the option, there was not yet a groundswell of activity in social commerce. Like mobile payments, the buy button needs a little more time to heat up.
This holiday season showed us that consumers are developing a mobile shopping habit, one that may have a measurable impact on brick and mortar traffic and sales in 2016, but other trends will take a little more time to hit the mainstream. For social commerce, it remains to be seen how easily users in a social mindset can be converted to buyers, but brands (and the platforms that support them) are motivated to monetize the critical channel. Mobile payments have the opportunity to gain a lot of ground in 2016, as long as providers continue to educate shoppers and assuage obstacles like security concerns. While change won’t happen overnight, it’s very likely that by this time next year we’ll see a notable increase in items (perhaps wearables and safer hoverboards) purchased in non-traditional ways.

Embedded Experiences Are Coming to the Browser

One of the most interesting and valuable developments in enterprise social software (ESS) over the last few years has been the introduction of embedded experiences. Simply put, these are event-driven notifications, usually from other enterprise applications and systems, that surface within the activity stream of an ESS application. Embedded experiences go beyond merely notifying of something important; they also allow one or more actions to be taken to move a business process to the next step.
chatter notification vacation approval
 
Embedded experiences are great, but they have been written in proprietary code tied to a specific ESS vendor’s offering. It has not been possible to reuse actionable notifications across vendors’ solutions.
Google has announced a new feature in the latest beta version of its Chrome browser that will provide an open standard alternative for the delivery of extended experiences. Chrome 48 Beta enables developers to quickly create notifications with buttons that let users complete tasks. Those notification can be pushed from browser-based applications and webpages, as well as from Chrome OS applications and extensions to the Chrome browser.
Google and Mozilla employees have contributed to the development of the fledgling Notifications API standard under the auspices of the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) community. This specification is what has been implemented in Google’s Chrome 48 Beta.
A Notification Generator built to define HTML-based embedded experiences has been created by Peter Beverloo. The generator shows how easy it is to define an embedded experience that can appear in any HTML5-compliant web browser.

Notification GeneratorSource: http://tests.peter.sh/notification-generator/#actions=1;;requireInteraction=true

As previously noted, embedded experiences have been proprietary to individual vendor’s applications and platforms. Google’s beta implementation of the WHATWG’s Notifications API specification is a first important step toward embedded experiences that will work across operating systems and applications. When the feature is properly vetted and becomes part of the stable release of Chrome (and, we assume, Mozilla’s Firefox browser), open, actionable notifications will be reality.
This is important because it will make the development and use of embedded experiences far more practical and widespread. Enterprise software vendors who choose to implement the WHATWG’s Notifications API specification will empower their customers to more easily create interoperability with other vendors’ browser-based tools. Actionable data embedded in notifications will be able to be passed between systems, business process execution will be accelerated, and personal productivity will be increased.
This news further intensifies the browser-based versus operating system-dependent application debate, especially with regards to mobile computing. The current preference for native applications on mobile devices will be challenge to the uptake of the Notifications API specification, given its dependence on the Web browser. Development of more of these types of Web standards is precisely what is needed to swing the pendulum back toward browser-based applications.

Square’s IPO- are payments really that hard?

Square’s public market debut has put a focus how hard the payments business is, even for one of the apparent leaders. Is great design and user experience going to be enough to create and maintain a revolution, or is it just that, a beautiful product that ultimately struggles to be an amazing business?
What’s so new here?
One of the payment back end capabilities that was revolutionary behind Square was the extension of the merchant aggregation model for credit card acceptance from the internet (which Paypal has used so well) to the real world through an elegant point of sale solution. Innovating in one point of the chain the small merchant counter top (in this case beautiful design for the card payments themselves, combined with a new approach to credit card acceptance for merchants) is certainly interesting, but often ignores the other changes that are happening in the broader ecosystem- ubiquitous smart mobile devices are likely to have a very big impact on credit cards, as my colleague Jon Collins pointed out recently.
Small businesses don’t stick around
The businesses Square deals with themselves go out of business very fast. Smaller businesses tend to go out of business with depressing frequency. It’s quite likely that even with perfect retention at the operating level, enough of the small businesses that Square services will go out of business in a given year to create what would look like a churn problem.
What services complement payments?
Square, like others in the payments space, has experimented with a variety of other related services. Part of the challenge here is that payments are typically the end of chain, and unless you have a loyalty type program based on purchases, it’s not been clear how a payments player is well positioned to deliver upstream services- it’s more likely that payments might complement another service than vice versa. There are more and more examples of good loyalty programs with embedded mobile commerce as part of the offer, but these are usually account based systems, which tend to make less sense for smaller businesses with infrequent purchasers. More basically- many embedded mobile commerce and account based payments take the card out of the equation- most of this is in experiment mode, but it is happening, and clearly works well for small start ups like, say, Uber.
Larger businesses can get better deals
Square is calling out the Starbucks deal as a separate line item in their financials, which makes sense, especially if it was “a disaster,” as some have characterized it. Perhaps more generally relevant is the challenge that as customers get larger they can typically start to negotiate better credit card deals with providers, so many of Square’s customers will either stay small, or grow out of being customers, without that necessarily creating larger Square customers. Square is certainly not the only SaaS business with this challenge. Many of the advantages of SaaS on the user side are based around flexibility, and typically per unit costs are relatively high because of that. Once a business has a predictable base load of usage of resource x, the CFO is going to start looking harder and harder at those line items, and often a fixed investment, or new business terms with the provider, will start to make sense.
SaaS economics (or not?)
With payments, especially charged the way Square does, you only get paid when people actually use you- it’s worse than regular SaaS. There are a number of great resources for SaaS business model economics on the web (see for example Jeff Bussgang’s work here). Those businesses typically work or don’t work based on how much a customer costs to acquire, and then how long they remain a paying customer. The problem for Square is that they only get paid when a customer actually uses the service (i.e. to accept payments). This is perhaps partially mitigated by their market leadership, which likely translates into better customer acquisition metrics, indeed they say half their customers “find them.”
Is it all doom and gloom? There are some good signs, an increasing number of medium sized businesses are using Square, and the company is definitely still innovating with newer products (including IFTTT integration), and offerings like Square Capital (micro loans to businesses based on Square understand their business history, rather than traditional credit scoring techniques) are definitely interesting, as they use data from usage of the service to provide value, rather than attempting to sell something else. Perhaps the biggest question mark is how long we will be using credit cards for, and if that changes will Square be positioned to be part a newer way of paying?