Months into the COVID-19 crisis, Americans are wary of touching surfaces, including using cash and payment terminals. That can make accepting payments tougher for small businesses. But it also presents an opportunity to help improve the customer experience by offering contactless payments.
During the COVID crisis, small business owners noticed more customers were asking for contactless or digital payment options, yet many businesses hadn’t updated their payments systems to account for this preference.
Seizing the opportunity to go contactless may help you well beyond COVID; contactless payments have long been gaining popularity, and the trend in the U.S. has been moving away from cash toward more digital payments.
Here are four opportunities to use contactless payments and help improve the customer experience.
1. For cash-only businesses
Consider a food truck, small convenience store, or barber shop — small businesses that deal primarily in cash.
Customers are carrying less cash during COVID-19; ATM withdrawls are down around the world. Customers want to pay in a safer way; they want to use contactless payments.
Business owners can adapt to this shift by making an effort to accept digital payments and debit and credit cards.
Digital payments include various platforms that allow customers to make payments directly from their account to yours. One example is Zelle®, which allows you to receive payments typically within minutes1, using an email address or U.S. mobile number.
You can also consider accepting debit and credit cards. If fees were an impediment in the past, keep in mind that accepting cards may expand your customer base, which can help offset those fees.
Action: Research digital payment options as well as point-of-sale (POS) payment systems that can help you move away from cash and toward contactless payments.
2. For businesses who accept cards in person
The COVID-19 crisis is prompting some businesses to think beyond accepting debit and credit cards in store.
Some businesses are allowing customers to pay by phone, or are setting up e-commerce, so customers can buy online, then pick up in-store, curbside, or via shipping. While accepting card payments by phone or online may carry different fees than using a point-of-sale device, it may also help boost business, even as physical stores reopen.
Action: If you don’t have a website, investigate how you can still take card payments online or by phone using web-based solutions. You can also create a website and add an e-commerce feature.
Businesses with brick-and-mortar locations might also go contactless in-store by using a POS system with near-field communication (NFC) technology. This means devices can communicate from a few inches apart so customers can place their smartphone, credit or debit card near your POS device to complete a transaction. There’s no contact required, and the process is encrypted for security.
Your POS equipment may already have contactless technology that you’re not using. To check, look for the contactless symbol . According to the International Card Manufacturer’s Association, 60 to 70 percent of U.S. terminals are equipped with the functionality, but aren’t activated.
If you don’t see the symbol, you may need to upgrade your device. Doing so won’t limit your customers to only use tap-and-go; they can still insert or swipe their cards.
Action: Look for POS systems that enable contactless payments in addition to swipe and dip, since tap-and-go may help your business in this environment. You can generally use these same systems to accept online payments, too.
3. For service-based businesses who use billing
Consider a law firm, accounting firm, or any business that invoices its clients.
Going digital can help these firms move away from asking customers to mail checks to pay bills, which can help businesses better manage their money.
One lawyer based in upstate New York told the ABA Journal that she recently added contact-free digital payment so clients could pay by credit card as well as checks. She explained that she was motivated to update how she accepted payments by the current crisis, since giving clients new payment options might make it easier for clients to pay on time when cash flow is tight.
Plus, online payments generally automatically sync with your accounting software so you can send e-invoices and streamline accounts receivable.
Action: Research online payment systems, or you can talk to your banker about options. Some systems may require specialized software.
4. For businesses who use billing and accept cards in person
Many health care practices, professional services businesses, and businesses that primarily accept payments from other businesses need ways to accept payments in person, using POS systems, while also billing or invoicing patients, clients, and customers.
To reduce in-person contact, these businesses have a few options.
You could switch to a contactless POS system to minimize contact at checkout. You could also offer clients the option of paying online or by phone (both of these options are described in more detail in section two).
Another option is to bill clients for transactions that you normally do in person. (If you need help updating your billing software to be more efficient, and to reduce contact even further, see section three).
Action: Upgrade your billing system to accept online payments and add a contact-free payment option to your physical location.
The current crisis is changing how your customers want to pay. Adjusting the way you accept payments can help improve the customer experience, and help your business continue to drive sales. And with payments moving in the direction of digital and contactless around the globe, any changes you make now may continue to pay off in the future.
1 Enrollment with Zelle through Wells Fargo Online® or Wells Fargo Business Online® is required. Terms and conditions apply. Transactions typically occur in minutes when the recipient’s email address or U.S. mobile number is already enrolled with Zelle. Available to almost anyone with a U.S.-based bank account. For your protection, Zelle should only be used for sending money to friends, family, or others you trust. The Request feature within Zelle is only available through Wells Fargo using a smartphone, and may not be available for use with all small business accounts at this time. In order to send payment requests to a U.S. mobile number, the mobile number must already be enrolled with Zelle. Neither Wells Fargo nor Zelle offers a protection program for authorized payments made with Zelle. To send money to or receive money from an eligible small business, a consumer must be enrolled with Zelle through their financial institution. Small businesses are not able to enroll in the Zelle app, and cannot receive payments from consumers enrolled in the Zelle app. For more information, view the Zelle Transfer Service Addendum to the Wells Fargo Online Access Agreement. Your mobile carrier’s message and data rates may apply.
Zelle and the Zelle related marks are wholly owned by Early Warning Services, LLC and are used herein under license.
The Contactless Symbol and Contactless Indicator are trademarks owned by and used with permission of EMVCo, LLC.