Opinion

Time for SMEs to rethink payment acceptance strategies

7 min read

07 April 2016

It goes without saying that no SME owner goes into business fuelled by their love for payment technology. However, no payments equals no business.

SME owners are already tight for time, battling tasks including invoice tracking, stock control and inventory, staff training, and marketing strategy (to name just a few).

Against this constant buzz, it’s fair to say that payment strategy does not always make it to the top of the pile. Payment is the final stage, the last hurdle – how relevant can it be for business growth?

Keeping on top of changes in the payments world can be (and is for some) a full-time job. The battle between cash and digital, changing transaction limits on contactless payments, and rising popularity of mobile transactions are just some of the headline-grabbing topics that will likely have caught the eyes of vigilant SME owners.

There is a wide variety of factors that come into play to determine the appropriate payment acceptance strategy for each business. In this fast-paced industry, it’s somewhat a “moving feast”.

SMEs would be wise to take stock every now and then, to ensure they are not only offering the seamless service that customers expect, but that they are taking advantage of the insight that can be gleaned from integration of transactional and businesses data.

In line with an assessment of their location, customer demographic and average price tag, here are some other areas that SMEs should bear in mind as we move further into 2016.

Cash’s price tag is growing

As a customer, there is nothing more irritating than hearing the “sorry we only accept cash” line at a shop counter. Depending on whether you are located near an ATM or not, these words could mean a lost sale.

As the co-founder of Microsoft and philanthropist Bill Gates once said: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” And what says unhappy like seeing customers put their wallet back in their pocked and head out the door?

New payment technologies, like Apple Pay and contactless cards, have resulted in a steep decline in cash payments in the UK – and certainly customer expectation that they will be offered the option of different methods. With the price of accepting, holding and transporting cash rising – it takes an average of 4.5 days for cash to reach a small retailer’s bank account – time is money.

While interest rates are low, it makes little difference if your business’ money is in your till, under your mattress or in the bank. However, with rates on the up, this time in transit will start to count.

Cash handling SMEs should also be prepared for the introduction of the new polymer £5 notes and new £1 coin. According to the CMSpi, the move to polymer will cost retailers around £230m

Read more on the cashless society:

Cut time handling cash

It’s not just the external costs of cash to bear in mind. The introduction of the UK living wage will see workers being paid £9.20 per hour in the next five years – meaning that more time spent by SME staff handling cash, the more cash is costing a business.

Are your staff staying late, dipping into their overtime tallying the cash register? If so, their time is due to get more expensive and it may be time to think about how accepting new payment methods might cut those hours down.

Card payments aren’t as pricey as thought…

While cards are still seen by many SME owners as the “expensive” option, new regulations which came into force at the end of 2015 cap interchange fees on card payments.

Respectively debit and credit card interchange fees are capped at 0.2 per cent and 0.3 per cent of the transaction value. According to the British Retail Consortium, this cap could save UK merchants £480m each year. This proves once more that cash is longer king.

Attract loyal customers using data

We have come a long way from stamps on a small piece of card offering a “5th coffee free”. Although they still exist and are good encouragement for customers to return, the connection between business and customer goes no further than that.

As SMEs become increasingly business tech savvy, many are looking at how they can feed transaction data into apps which are helping to revolutionise their inventory management, marketing, loyalty and payroll systems.

In addition to being customer friendly, card payments can also be integrated more easily with loyalty schemes in providing businesses with valuable transaction data.

Smart SMEs will see payments as more than an exchange of coins and paper, but as a source of valuable data, and route to customer loyalty and retention.

Talk of “cash registers” and “tills” is fading out – your point of sale is a point of customer interaction. And a point of opportunity.

Businesses from London’s taxi industry have joined forces to revolutionise the city’s black cab, making them faster, smarter and greener, and they’re calling on Boris Johnson’s replacement to support the cause, which will include support for cashless transactions in all vehicles.

Richard Simon, commercial director at First Data Merchant Solutions