Brian Coburn, CEO of Bridge, a Scottish-based online payments specialist spoke to Payment Expert on the importance of the transaction journey in maximising consumer engagement and how consumer expectations have changed throughout the lockdown. 

Payment Expert: Can you tell us more about BRIDGE and your background?

Brian Coburn: Bridge is a payment orchestration layer for e-commerce enterprises. Simply put, our integration layer puts control over payments back into the hands of the merchant, so that organisations can enhance resilience, quickly test new innovations, gather better insight and develop greater agility across their payment services. 

I joined Bridge as CEO two years ago from global transport corporation, Stagecoach, where I had worked my way up over a 30-year career from accounting trainee to CIO. During this time, I had seen the first computer deployed, moved from account ledgers to spreadsheets, and witnessed the way that technology had become critical in the drive for efficiency and competitiveness. 

Nowhere was that more evident than in the area of ticketing and payments. More than simple permits to travel, ticketing evolved into an area where we could innovate and differentiate to provide a better, frictionless customer experience, and I wanted to spread that insight and opportunity to more e-commerce businesses.

PE:  Have consumer expectations changed post lockdown?

BC: Lockdown restrictions, customer anxiety over physical spaces, and increased screen time across all demographics has created an e-commerce boom of unprecedented proportions but equally raised consumer expectations on how they pay for purchases. 

In these extraordinary conditions, convenience is key. And that applies more than ever at the online checkout where customers want to be able to choose how they make a purchase, and many are also looking for initiatives that help manage finances. 

Lockdown saw a number of emerging and niche payment methods thrive so that retailers now need to be much more flexible and agile in their payment offering. From PayPal to Klarna, and credit cards to pre-pay vouchers, the old days of ‘debit card only’ are long gone.

PE: Cart abandonment is estimated to cost retailers £212 billion globally, why do consumers give up on a purchase at the last minute and what can retailers do to reduce this?

BC: Cart abandonment is a perennial challenge for the e-commerce industry, and a science in itself. Yet, ‘payments abandonment’, where consumers abandon their cart having made it all the way to the checkout, can be tied to much more specific issues.

Customers who abandon their carts at the point of payment generally do so because the merchant isn’t offering their preferred payment option, or because the customer has tried to make payment and it has failed to complete for whatever reason. 

Despite this clarity, payment abandonment is rarely addressed on its own merit, which I think of as something of an own goal by e-commerce retailers. Maybe it is because merchants view payments as the part of the process over which they have least control, feeling their hands tied or daunted by perceived complexity.

Whatever the case, almost two in five shoppers say they have abandoned a transaction due to lack of payment flexibility and tackling payments abandonment is clearly a critical revenue opportunity. It is also one that can be addressed with a simple plug-in payment orchestration layer, which integrates payment silos to create a system that is more resilient, offers greater agility and returns control to the retailer.

PE: How pivotal are payment options in the increase in flexible payment options and how retailers can capitalise, particularly around sales events like Black Friday & Cyber Monday?

BC: Black Friday, Cyber Monday and, of course, the runway to Christmas are all key events in the e-commerce calendar and retailers will be considering how to maximise sales at this crucial time amidst uncertain conditions.

However, while the pandemic has accelerated online retail, many consumers will have less to spend this year and will be looking for deals and flexible payment options to entice purchases. There is a huge opportunity for retailers to win customers by helping them to spread the cost – e.g. buy now pay later (BNPL) – accepting a wider range of payment options and introducing other innovative offers.

Payment technologies are often viewed as a complex and rigid part of the eCommerce, but integration using payment orchestration technology can change this and enable retailers to use payments as a marketing tool, competitive differentiator and source of data intelligence

This year, more than ever, there is an enormous opportunity to win customers that might be starting their festive shopping early to try and secure deals or spread the cost. So, those that are equipped to be more creative in their payment options can stand out from their competition and encourage consumers not to hold off on spending.

PE: As the hybrid approach becomes increasingly important, how pivotal can Click and Collect behaviours be in bringing online customers back in-store?

BC: Retailers need to think more creatively about payment technologies to attract and retain customers, both on and offline. The hybrid Click and Collect approach is one where having the flexibility and agility to offer limited term incentives and flexible offers can translate down the line into rebuilding footfall into physical stores. 

Similarly, new technologies such as ‘scan & pay’ enable customers to use their own devices to scan barcodes and pay simply and hygienically in times when we are all sensitive to handling self-service kiosks and scanners in shops.

Of course, these innovations also put more pressure on payment systems to be seamlessly integrated with other aspects of inventory management, logistics and customer service to ensure a frictionless customer experience. It emphasises the need for retailers to be in control of their payment mechanisms so that they have the ability to innovate at speed and with the consumer in mind.

PE: What steps can be taken to build trust in the retail space?

BC: In truth, the checkout experience takes a large chunk of responsibility for consumers’ growing distrust in retail. When, how and to whom you handover your cash is a trust-based experience – especially online – that determines whether a customer goes away happy with their purchase, recommends the outlet and chooses to return. 

Consumers are looking for new incentives and options that align with their own personal shopping and payment preferences, delivered in a frictionless environment and without the need to divulge masses of personal information. 

In most cases, retailers are missing an opportunity to find out what those preferences are because they aren’t able to access insight easily from the payment end of the transaction. However, integrated payment systems can reveal a lot of useful data on what is – and isn’t – working, and why to guide innovation and build relationships.

As a final thought, after an age of mass retailing, we are seeing a turn towards consumers wanting to see humanity on display. That means being more switched on to the current environment and particularly the need to ensure a safe and hygienic – yet still easy and enjoyable – shopping experience. 

Having agility and integration in payment structures, from ‘scan & pay’ to m-wallets and contactless payment, is critical for rebuilding trust and showing that retail is acting in the best interests of the customer.