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During the FN CEO Summit, Frank Keller, senior vice president of consumer in-store and digital commerce at PayPal, and Scott Compton, senior analyst at Forrester Research, hosted a session on the main stage to discuss what the shopping experience of the future will look like and the role of payments as a strategic partner. The picture they painted was a retail landscape fully transformed by the global pandemic.

Immediately after the keynote presentation, Compton held a workshop for industry executives where he went into greater detail with a focus on the role of physical stores.

During the keynote, Keller said the pandemic accelerated innovation and consumer behavior by compressing five years of advancement to just three to six months. And he said a topic on many retailers’ minds right now is how consumers will shop once the pandemic is lifted: Is the way consumers shop permanently altered or will people look to go back to old habits? The simple answer is “yes.”

According to data from Forrester Research, while consumers are eager to get back in stores, they will be coming back with higher expectations fueled by digital acumen, research and learned behavior for convenience.

“Polishing the omnichannel journey with your customer is a really worthwhile endeavor,” Compton said. “In fact, 97 percent of shoppers have backed out of a purchase because it was inconvenient for them. We’ve been doing this now for about a year and the customer has become used to interacting with us this way and having fulfillment [options] that they choose. And we’re also seeing consumers look for more choice and flexibility, especially related to payments.”

Things such as digital wallets, contactless payments, cashier-less checkout, ensuring last-mile delivery demands and curbside pickup will persist, Compton said. Buy now, pay later is one key example of how providing multiple financing options can be critical in meeting consumer expectations for choice and flexibility.

According to PayPal, its research payment platforms can help bridge the gap between online and in-store with an omnichannel crossover. Notably, the company reports more than 70 million new users coming online during the pandemic, with most saying they had never used online shopping before.

Further, PayPal’s BNPL services show an average order volume goes up by 39 percent compared with standard transactions, with 65 percent repeat use — thus driving overall loyalty. Customers of the company’s BNPL service largely fall in the age range below 30 years old, hitting both the Millennial and Gen Z demographic.

“We really just don’t want to get left behind as retailers. We want to be adaptive, we’ve got all kinds of things going on in the mix nowadays, related to predictive supply networks, store associate toolsets,” Compton said. “And now the customer literally has more information than a lot of your associates do when they try to interact with the brand. So those are the pieces that we want to bring together, and your competitors will be doing it, and they’re literally just one click away, so staying in front of the pack means staying in touch with the customer. Overall, we have to be thinking about our customers and our data in new ways.”

During the post-presentation workshop, Compton hosted a workshop session aimed at helping brands with rethinking the in-store experience. He said as consumer behavior shifted during the pandemic, many shoppers found more ways to shop, seeking convenience, safety and flexibility to meet ever-changing needs. And while vaccinations are leading to a more secure consumer, many new behaviors are proving to have staying power.

In fact, according to data from Forrester Research, 24 percent of U.S. online adults who started using curbside pickup during the pandemic expect to continue after the pandemic is over. And 57 percent of U.S. online adults who started using digital or contactless payment methods during the pandemic expect to continue once the pandemic has ended.

Moreover, as retail technology investments boomed in 2020, digital wallets and mobile payments — as well as automated checkout technology and frictionless payments — proved to be top priorities.

“There are a ton of emerging use cases in mobile retail,” Compton said. “We’re expecting mobile commerce to pass 17 percent [market share] in 2024.”

Notably, retailers note there are key actions that consumers are taking on their own mobile devices at every step of the journey, including before shopping, during a store visit and after shopping. In the U.S., Forrester Research found 19 percent of online adults used a digital payment in-stores for the first time in May 2020. At the same time, 62 percent of U.S. consumers used their phone to make a contactless payment, and 56 percent used their credit card to make a contactless payment. Further, across the U.K., France and Italy, instances of self-checkout using a mobile device have doubled and, in some cases, tripled since 2019, with interest in mobile checkout rising quickly.

Making these services as easy as possible to use is important in adapting the new behavior and creating an ideal consumer experience. In fact, it is imperative to drive the consumer experience to provide the best journey.

Online solutions like PayPal One Touch are intended to enable a frictionless consumer experience, where the merchant experience is also built to be streamlined and automated. And amid the pandemic, the resurgence of QR codes became an extremely easy way to communicate between merchant and consumers, providing a contactless way to share information and pay. Moreover, implementations of buy now, pay later options have provided the consumer with more options and flexibility in payments, ultimately building brand loyalty.

“What we’re seeing is that consumers have used it and are interested, and the gap between who has used it and who is interested is awareness,” Compton said. “When we survey folks about awareness, or about contactless payments or streamlined checkout, what we find is that there’s an equal number of people who have used it to the number of people who have not used it but weren’t aware of it.”

The future of the digital store, Keller said, is to think outside the box and put yourself in the shoes of your customer to try to figure out how to serve them in the most efficient way and how to provide a great experience.

“It’s going to be an exciting time these next couple of years. We’re going to see some pretty massive change,” Compton said. “Acceleration was forced upon the industry, but the industry is going to benefit from that.”

FN CEO Summit sponsors include presenting sponsor PayPal and event sponsors Aetrex, Caleres, FDRA, K-Swiss, Riskified, SkyPad, Sperry, Two Ten and Zappos.

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