For most of the time that retailers have existed, the only option shoppers had when they wanted to buy something was to go to a physical store and purchase in person. Then came eCommerce, which added online shopping to the mix, and more recently, the emergence of the omnichannel commerce concept, which some industry players have called “the future of retail.”
According to James Allgrove, chief revenue officer at Fidel API, the pandemic has further accelerated this trend toward omnichannel, enabling customers to transact seamlessly across mobile, social platforms, websites and brick-and-mortar stores. That forced small businesses previously operating solely offline into the online world for the first time. Many of these small businesses had been planning on going online for years and the pandemic provided the impetus to do so.
Online retailers like Casper, Warby Parker and Amazon, on the other hand, have also moved into the physical world, opening stores as part of expanding their omnichannel strategy and engaging more deeply with consumers. All of this, Allgrove said, has resulted in “a big convergence of online and offline retailing.”
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And whether it’s expanding online or offline to develop an omnichannel retail strategy, Allgrove pointed to the huge benefits retailers stand to gain by creating a seamless experience for their customers no matter what channel they’re using.
“Imagine being able to make a return in store for an item that you bought online or having access to digital receipts and your purchase history — [these are all things that] can really enhance the experience for shoppers,” he told PYMNTS in an interview.
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In addition to that, the ability to build loyalty programs that cut across both online and offline platforms allows retailers to better engage with their customers. “There is a lot of power to it, but there’s a lot that needs to be done to be able to fully capture its potential,” he added. These innovations can provide retailers with powerful mechanisms to drive growth and customer retention.
A Coherent, Consistent Experience
According to Allgrove, leveraging that full potential lies in the way retailers collect data and create consistency across various channels and platforms.
It’s an area where Fidel API’s global financial infrastructure platform can help, he noted, allowing retailers to create a coherent, consistent experience across all channels.
“Once you’ve connected using our APIs [application programming interfaces], you get access to that real-time transaction data to determine as and when a transaction is happening and regardless of what channel [is being used],” Allgrove explained. That then allows retailers to “build powerful experiences” on top of that data by providing offers at the point of sale, in loyalty programs or on digital receipts.
However, he cautioned against the improper implementation of the strategy, such as separating online and offline operations and having distinct point-of-sale systems for each channel, as some companies have done.
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This approach leads to siloed, inconsistent data, making it difficult for retailers to create that smooth and seamless experience customers expect across all channels. And that disconnect, he said, is holding a lot of retailers back from taking full advantage of an omnichannel retail strategy.
Appropriate, Secure Handling of Card Data
Another key data-related issue revolves around consumer privacy and security, an increasingly growing concern due to the rapid surge in digital fraud triggered by the pandemic.
Here, too, Fidel API steps in to help its business clients, leveraging their robust security infrastructure and using encryption to ensure that sensitive cardholder data is handled appropriately and securely.
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“In having fewer parties handling the data, you are reducing the risk and on [Fidel API’s] side, as soon as we receive any card data, we tokenize it and delete the actual underlying card number, [eliminating a lot of risk in the process],” he further explained.
Executives at Fidel API are “big believers” in giving cardholders and consumers real control over their data. It’s why the U.K. firm ensures that the end-user knows they’re consenting to share their transaction data and who they’re sharing it with and the option to stop sharing it at any given point in time.
It’s the responsibility of all players in the payments and broader FinTech ecosystem to work to maintain that trust and together “demonstrate that we are safe custodians of [consumer data],” Allgrove said.