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Living up to consumer expectations is difficult work these days for many reasons, not the least of which is that consumers are a fairly heterogeneous group of people with widely varying expectations. Baby boomers who grew up in the age of white-gloved service and millennials who are trained to hunt down everything online have rather diverse needs.
The good news for retailers, according to Vantiv’s SMB Product Leader Dusty Gomez, is that the ascendance of mobile over the past decade has really “narrowed the gap” when it comes to customer expectations.
“The on-the-go lifestyle is being enabled across the board,” Gomez told Karen Webster in a recent conversation. “There has been a shift in behavior, and as the technology evolves to support it, millennials and boomers alike are keeping up with that.”
That tougher news is that the increasingly shared on-the-go lifestyle of consumers across demographic ranges has meant that there are just some experiences consumers flatly reject these days. They don’t want to wait in line, they don’t want to see payments acceptance slow them down, they don’t want to have to fuss or fight with loyalty rewards — and to the greatest degree possible, they like their transactions to happen in the background without their having to think about it.
This last one, Webster and Gomez noted, is at least one of the problems in-store mobile wallet adoption has been having — it makes customers think about the payments (“do they accept it here?”), but other than that, it is the same experience of lining up at the point of sale and waiting to pay.
Customers want convenience, services like order-ahead and rapid pickup — where the customer can settle up long before arriving and actually grabbing their order.
“I never had to stand in line or pull out my phone. What is the difference between taking my phone or my wallet out if I had to stand in line? There isn’t a whole lot of traction there,” Gomez said.
The point, she noted, is building customer experiences around convenience — and making it easier for customers to get connected with what they want at the moment they think to want it.
And while large merchants have been evolving toward that new world order, SMBs have had a harder road to walk. Although that, Gomez told Webster, is a situation Vantiv hopes to help.
Consumers, Gomez said, have been trained to shop online — and big merchants have more or less mastered that. But small merchants are much more uneven.
“Some SMBs don’t have any presence yet — or they have a website but they don’t take transactions today.”
The demand is there, she noted, but demand doesn’t change what the capacity of a small merchant to move online is.
“And SMBs don’t have time to spend to set up these websites. They aren’t technicians or designers; they don’t have massive resources.”
Some of that, she said, can be aided by the myriad shopping cart providers that can help merchants to at last be web-active and selling within 30 minutes.
But that is just the beginning — customers aren’t just used to shopping online, they are used to a certain type of personalized experience.
When consumers are online, from Amazon to Netflix, they are barraged with recommendations. “If you liked this, try that.” And what most consumers don’t appreciate is how much technical aptitude goes into those recommendations.
“Data is really king in being able to drive that. And that is where larger merchants are able to use machine learning and aggregated data and deliver insight. They can make smarter informed recommendations and use those to drive sales.”
Shopping cart providers don’t always provide that level of insight, and Gomez noted that in much the way merchants aren’t web designers, they also aren’t data scientists who have hours to spend trying to tease insight out of piles of unstructured data.
“There are companies that specialize in that kind of granular data analysis — and Vantiv has announced a partnership with Womply to help small merchants tap into machine learning to their end consumers,” Gomez said.
The fruits of that machine learning will vary — it might be an email to notify a merchant that their competitor up the road is staying open an hour later or about a product that they might want to push due to surprise popularity.
“The end goal is to understand the consumer better,” Gomez said.
Much of what is seen and experienced by the customer is what we think of as “the consumer experience,” but as Karen Webster noted, those frontend experiences are often governed by back-end work that makes the experience possible.
Gomez agreed, noting that the future of terminals from Vantiv’s point of view are Smart Terminals, such as Verifone Carbon, that can tie together all those functions — accounting, inventory management, loyalty — and deliver those simplified solutions in a single device.
“We want to bring everything together in one place — and the smart terminal is what allows us to do that and make our merchants’ life better,” she said.
There isn’t one correct consumer experience, Gomez noted. But in an increasingly on-the-go world, there is a better way to offer it: faster. And more invisibly to the customer.