New, scalable and accessible technologies make contactless commerce a reality for any business

by Róisín Kiberd, Sunday Business Post

Conor O’Toole and Patrick Garry, co-founders of LoyLap: ‘The change in consumer behaviour isn’t likely to regress any time soon.’

The pandemic brought on rapid, dramatic and possibly inevitable change in the form of digitisation. This cultural shift will have lasting consequences, but many are still struggling to catch up. Smaller businesses, in particular those in the retail space, were faced with a difficult choice when the lockdown began.

Suddenly cash was being declared dead, and commerce was contactless, but was it advisable, or even possible, to adapt to these changes overnight?

“The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the digitisation of our economy, and this change in consumer behaviour isn’t likely to regress any time soon,” said Patrick Garry, chief executive and co-founder of LoyLap, an experience-driven commerce platform which facilitates cashless payments, online ordering and other services for smaller businesses.

“People have grown accustomed to the conveniences technology enables and they are now more likely to seek omni-channel experiences that fit with their lifestyles.”

The much-heralded end of cash is one such change. While coins and notes are unlikely to disappear entirely, the decline in their use, and the increase in businesses accepting card and digital payments seem unlikely to slow down any time soon.

“In a post-pandemic world, contactless payments will likely become a need to have, not a nice to have,” said Jason Lalor, European executive director at Square, the financial services and digital payments platform launched in 2009 by Jim McKelvey and Jack Dorsey.

Over the years, Square has evolved from offering its original Square Reader payment device, which plugs into a phone’s audio jack, to offering a platform for virtual gift cards, online bookings, payroll management and custom interfaces for retailers. “Square recently analysed payments data to assess the share of cashless businesses as Covid-19 spread,” said Lalor.

“From February 2020 to the end of February 2021, we saw the share of cashless businesses more than double in Britain.”

Joachim Goyvaerts, director of Benelux and Ireland at PayPal, said a survey last year of 2,000 Irish consumers had found that one in four bought or used certain online services for the first time during the pandemic, and one third planned to shop online more often in future.

“Going forward we expect the demand for contactless payments to surge as people continue to rely on them both when shopping online and in store,” said Goyvaerts.

Early on during the pandemic, Garry found that some retailers were struggling to adapt and experiencing cashflow issues. LoyLap responded by making it easier for customers to buy digital vouchers for their favourite shops through a URL and social media channels.

“We saw many retailers shift online in a matter of weeks, and sometimes days,” he said.

“We saw small businesses pivot business models, bootstrap online operations, and even start selling completely new products to stay ahead. These decisions were all largely dictated by evolving consumer needs.”

Over the last 18 months, both consumers and businesses have adapted to contactless commerce. A rising number of food service companies, in particular, are choosing to integrate their payments and online ordering systems in order to create as seamless an experience as possible.

“The changes we saw – like a rise in online selling, local delivery and contactless payments – weren’t just a way to make it through the downturn,” said Lalor. “Many of these trends were already under way and simply accelerated, and investing here can generate long-term success for retailers who stay the course.”

LoyLap offers a flexible system for food service companies to prepare for peak business hours, including ‘order for collection’ and ‘order to table’ options alongside delivery and rewards programmes. They also provide wearables with integrated payment technology for the health and leisure industries.

“With ecommerce, a lot depends on the size and functionality of the business. For example, a large business has the resources to hire external technologists and consultants who can get their business trading online,” said Garry.

“With micro and small businesses, it is much more challenging. For that exact reason we were motivated to start LoyLap. We wanted to create a platform that levelled the playing field so that technology is not solely the preserve of large businesses, but is available to retailers and hospitality businesses of all sizes.”

Retailers have had to create new ways for customers to pay for and engage with their products and services; it’s a challenge, but it offers the ability to reach a far broader customer base.

“Like consumers, businesses should look for a flexible, integrated and customisable solution which meets their evolving needs”, Goyvaerts said.

PayPal’s commerce platform combines the full range of PayPal products in one place, integrating and accepting payments via debit and credit cards, and local payment methods for overseas customers.

“The platform also helps simplify compliance for businesses and enhances their protection, with access to account authentication functionality and advanced risk and fraud safeguards powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning,” said Goyvaerts.

Square’s payments platform can cater to all business needs with an integrated suite of products.

“We’ve learned this as a business over time and ensure that all our products fully integrate with each other to save businesses time and to offer solutions for a multitude of complex business needs, all in one place,” Lalor said.

“Collaboration is also key. Our product’s modular architecture allows Square to integrate through APIs with other payments technology, point-of-sale services and third-party online orders.”

While card payments are generally regarded as safer than payments in cash, other security issues, including handling customer data, pose a challenge to businesses but shouldn’t prevent them from moving online.

“The biggest issue that businesses encounter when going contactless is a fear of losing control over their customers’ data,” Garry said.

“Data security is paramount, so businesses should only select credible companies with a long track record in information security. Companies should also be careful about who they choose to share their data with and ensure that they have demonstrable experience of managing data.”

However, this challenge also presents an opportunity: “Data is crucial for many businesses and having access to important insights can help with personalising experiences which will help to drive sales,” said Garry.

“More importantly, businesses need to identify what platforms are fully compatible with their existing systems so that they can ensure a seamless integration, with a focus on enhancing customer experience.”

If commerce is ‘contactless’ now, then what is the future? Goyvaerts cited another recent study conducted by PayPal, showing that 59 per cent of Irish consumers anticipate digital wallets becoming an important trend in coming years, and 45 per cent expect checkouts in shops to disappear.

Another 42 per cent expect drone deliveries soon, and the same number expect cash transactions to end entirely. “In other words, digital and contactless are undoubtedly the future,” he said.

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