Digital takeover: How ecommerce is driving the in-person payment experience

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Rory O’Neill
February 19, 2024
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Digital takeover: How ecommerce is driving the in-person payment experience

Nobody “likes” to pay for anything.  

When we consumers elect to reward merchants with a purchase, we never reflect on the channel we are in, we just spend. That means there might be no such thing as a  “payment experience”. After all, no consumer actually likes to pay for anything! A masterful payment experience is simply one that is invisible. When we remove any friction from the point of sale and help consumers enjoy the experience with their chosen brand.  

So is it better to focus on your customer or the channel in which they transact? I’m afraid that's a rhetorical question the payments industry sometimes finds it hard not to get lost on. Too often in payments we become obsessed with the payment channel. We are trained to decipher the payment channel by building rigid beliefs around “card-present'' and “card-not-present”. I mean, as consumers, is our card ever not present? Indeed, if a card is really determined to be “not present”, we probably make a rapid phone call to our bank!  

Let’s put the great debate on in-person versus online versus omni-channel to one side. While these are clearly important channels, they only need to be understood in the context of how they support the desired consumer experience.  

Digital experiences are taking over physical experiences  

Digital experiences now feature in many traditional brick & mortar stores. In fact, the use of in-store digital payments grew by 9% in 2023 and already has an adoption rate of 32% among 18-24-year-olds. It’s clear that the convenience of the online world delivers a better experience to consumers, as more and more move to this space from the traditional physical methods of purchase. 

You can see examples of these digital experiences everywhere you look. When we enter quick service restaurants, we are often presented with large touch screens in which to browse and place our orders. There is an integrated payment terminal in this kiosk, which apparently manages our “unattended payment” (see rant above that the payment channel is not one that consumers understand). We are also increasingly presented with QR codes to read menus and to pay from our table. We can click and collect, to offer certainty of fulfillment. And in grocery stores, you can now shop and pay directly from your phone. SmartShop from Sainsbury’s is a great example of how using digital payments in-store offers consumers a quicker and easier shopping experience. 

For too long, physical cards have dictated or presented barriers to invisible payment experiences. What if the future of payments is not defined by carrying physical cards? We have begun to see real innovation here. For example, Apple Card does not have a PAN number or CVV. And the number of virtual cards are increasing in our commerce experience. At, we’ve already issued over one million virtual cards to brands – such as Jow – optimizing payment flows and creating new services for their users.

Farewell T-9...again.

Ecommerce experiences are already driving change, but will they completely replace the traditional in-person experiences we still have today? The physical payments world attempts to connect a myriad of dated software to consumer experience via the payment terminal. That’s right, those Nokia-looking devices with a T-9 keyboard, are all too often presented to us at the moment of payment. It’s not a genius prediction to state –that just like in the smartphone world– consumer technology is going to rip through the in-person payments world.

Look at the growth of Android and iOS in the physical payments world. Consumer technology will totally disrupt the payments world, because of how it behaves - it’s much closer to the digital experiences we have online or in app.  

Consumers don’t care about the difference in channels - we just explore and shop. Of course demand an experience regardless of whether they are online or in-person. We see more and more eCommerce-like experiences in the offline world. See emergence and prominence of click and collect, buy online pick up in store, buy in store ship to home and even endless aisle initiatives - all are closer to ecommerce and therefore digital experiences.  Brands know this and are dismantling any remaining silos between online and offline. The digital experience is driving the in-person experience not the other way around.

What would your board prefer? A unified commerce strategy or a unified consumer strategy?

And the payment industry reaction to this phenomenon? Is simply to categorize yet another payment channel. Enter omni-channel…(in fact we are still debating the merits of whether it should be called unified commerce or omni-channel). Of course, consumers want to experience their brand of choice in any way that they care to select, but do they really think of themselves as “omni-channel” shoppers, or just shoppers?  

There is an old Harvard Business Review article that sums this debate up succinctly. “Consumers want the advantages of digital, such as broad selection, rich product information and customer reviews and tips”. But the author noted that these same customers also wanted “personal service, the ability to touch products and shopping as an event and an experience”. For the great brands out there, who have always focussed on experience, we salute you.   

Great brands will always focus on experience, and they will continue to do that as the number of “channels” continues to rise. In time, digital commerce will move beyond the web or the app and present us with even more channels - our cars, our watches, our TVs, our smart speakers, and so on…

The debate is not about omni-channel or unified commerce, it’s not about in-person or digital. Great brands care about how they perform and consumers care about their experience. Putting too much focus on the channel can be more than a distraction.  

What is perhaps a little clearer, is that the role of the payments provider is not to offer you an integrated method of in-person and online payment. It is to give you your data on your consumer so that you can mine and power your intelligence on your consumer. And for most brands, it’s arguably not a good strategy to invest in pre-configured omni-channel experiences that offer little more than unified card commerce. Or to spend millions mining the data to try and personalize the experience, but not achieve it. Just provide consumers with all the product and service information (availability, shipping, pricing, returns etc.) and let them decide how they want to buy.

It’s likely that your future target consumer experience will be driven by digital

It is then without a shadow of doubt that digital experiences are driving the physical world. At we believe the world is already a digital economy, and it’s our job to help our customers thrive in this digital economy. We came from digital payments. We only do digital payments. It’s our view that every transaction begins as a digital transaction, and that the digital experience will drive change in the physical world. That’s why we put every investment dollar we have into expertise, innovation and care for customers in this digital world.  

It’s a digital world already. And we are proud to play a tiny part to help brands serve their customers better.  Because it’s simply never about us, it is always about our customers and how they perform for their consumers and communities. 

We are and we are where the world checks out.

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February 19, 2024 20:55
February 19, 2024 20:55