Cashless and contactless payment systems have been used for decades in various countries around the world. But the ongoing pandemic has also expedited technology adoption here in the United States, where foot-dragging has sometimes been the name of the game. Faced with health risks and wary customers, most small business owners are rethinking how they collect payments at the point of sale. Traditional credit card readers undoubtedly contain impressive technology, but they sometimes seem like fossils in our new reality. How can you assure customers that you’re doing everything in your power to provide a safe shopping experience then ask them to push dirty buttons on a card reader and sign their name using the same stylus as all your other customers? “The cash register has emerged as the most dangerous place in the store, according to public health and worker safety experts,” reports CNN.com. “Every item cashiers touch, scan, and bag has been handled by customers and other workers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is possible that a person can get coronavirus by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it.” You might have cleaning protocols in place, but it’s unrealistic to expect your employees to follow them perfectly. Even if they do, it’s not necessarily a prime solution. Given a choice, nearly every customer would prefer not to hold the same stylus as hundreds of strangers, regardless of how recently you cleaned it. “There are many uncertainties about how the coronavirus will impact people’s health, their jobs, and the economy, but some consumer trends have already become so obvious that they suggest a long-lasting shift in people’s behavior when the COVID-19 crisis finally departs,” says finance expert Ben Fox Rubin. “One of them is the move toward contactless transactions in the US getting supercharged, as shoppers try to restrict what they touch in stores—if they go out at all—to avoid catching the virus…Now retailers that remain open are scrambling to respond to this new consumer need.” You can’t simply make assurances in the era of COVID—you need to change the way your business operates. It’s survival of the fittest, so adaptation is crucial. Rewards of Going Contactless and Cashless Implementing new technology into your business can certainly get expensive. You’ll need to replace existing equipment and train your employees on their usage. With the wide array of pressures in today’s business climate, these demands might seem more daunting than ever. But what if this were as much a financial issue as a safety issue? The good news: implementing better technology for customers often becomes an “If you build it, they will come” phenomenon. Of the businesses thriving during the pandemic, more than a quarter report that contactless payment technology is a major contributor to their success. As hundreds of small businesses close each day and the pandemic’s end remains elusive, a business-boosting decision like this should never be underestimated. You don’t know when any degree of normalcy will return, but you can potentially boost sales in a hurry by implementing better technology today. Recognizing the rising demand for contactless and cashless payment, Visa, Mastercard, and other companies are increasing the value limits for contactless transactions around the globe. With these helpful changes paving the way, consumers will become even more confident using new payment technology, and the processes will grow increasingly seamless. “As our data shows, there are definitive impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the American small business,” says payment technology guru Mike Strawhecker. “But we also see bright spots in the midst of this challenging time—optimism from small business owners and an ability to capitalize on socially distant commerce like contactless payments and online shopping.” If you’re already using cashless and contactless payment solutions in your business, now is the perfect time to look at refining your approach. Keep what’s working, and look for additional ways to deliver a safer and more convenient shopping experience for your customers. Unsure of how to identify areas for improvement? Start by talking to other business owners in your industry. Reach out to your broader network and find out what payment solutions have helped. You should also contact your business mentor and get their insights—even if your mentor retired before contactless technology was a thing, they can still offer timeless advice to help you implement the tech in the most effective way. Finally, you need to go straight to the source: your customers. The most effective way to gather insights from your customers might be through an online survey. Send an email to your customer base and ask them about their shopping experience. What’s working well? What needs improving? Seeking input from the very people you’re trying to help is a proven recipe for success. Be sure to thank the survey participants for sharing their insights and consider offering an incentive to show your gratitude. For example, you could send them a coupon for their next purchase or enter them into a fun giveaway. What to Look For in Your Payment System Armed with ideas you’ve gathered from your mentor, colleagues, and customers, you’ll be ready to improve the payment experience. There are thousands of products on the market, with many more released each year. Due diligence is absolutely required to find the right system. Here are some of the key features to consider: Is It Easy to Use? Your new system should make checkout faster and more predictable for your customers. When a system isn’t intuitive and streamlined, you can end up causing more harm than good. Likewise, a good system should make life easier for your employees. There will inevitably be a learning curve for use, but if it takes longer than a weekend for your employees to understand the system’s basic functions, you should probably look elsewhere. Will It Save Time? Another major benefit of these systems: they reduce or eliminate the need to handle cash. How many times have you been standing in line at a business while an employee slowly counted out change for a customer in front of you? It’s tedious and feels like a waste of time. Also, you won’t need to dedicate time to cash balancing. Instead of counting out grimy currency in your till, you can use your energy for more important tasks—such as a social media campaign that touts the benefits of your streamlined checkout experience. Will It Improve Your Security? Another major benefit of a good payment system: it can greatly improve security for your business. The upgrade from an old-school cash register is obvious, as there’s no cash in the drawer for a thief to target. Also, you won’t need to worry about money vanishing through employee negligence or criminal intent. But contactless systems aren’t impervious to threats. Your system must have robust security features that can repel data breaches and keep your business safe from danger. By seeking out a system that’s specifically designed to protect your business, you’ll greatly reduce the risk of being targeted. You’ll still need to remain vigilant and watch for ways to further insulate your business from danger. Other Considerations Specific to Your Business Of course, there are other features that’ll be important for your business. Work with your team to identify the unique pain points that exist for both you and your customers, then use this intel to guide your search further for the best payment system. Don’t be afraid to spend more time searching up front so that there’s less time wasted on the back end. It can be beneficial to find an option that offers a free trial—this way, you can take the system for an obligation-free test drive before you’re required to make any kind of payment. What Our Cashless Future Looks Like The convenience, safety, and security provided by cashless payment systems are hard to dispute. But not everyone has the desire or ability to transition away from cash, raising thorny issues that must be addressed by any country that wants to fully embrace the technology and do away with cash. Many observers look to Sweden as a model of how this approach can work. The nation’s residents are tech-savvy and have seized upon the many benefits offered by fintech. “Sweden is leading the race to become the world’s first almost cashless society: the use of cash has been declining for years, and instant mobile payments and other new technologies have gained prominence,” reports the European Payments Council. “The use of cash is declining in the country and leaving space for electronic means of payment such as bank cards and Swish (a mobile payment system in Sweden). Digital payments via card or mobile apps are so common and trusted that many Swedes no longer carry cash. However, even though Swish is becoming increasingly popular, debit cards are still dominant among electronic means of payment. The cash now represents only 1% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and the number of cash withdrawals has been declining by 10% per year. On the contrary, the use of different kinds of cards keeps increasing every year.” One of Sweden’s noted primary contactless benefits: a lower crime rate. While this trend can’t conclusively be linked to the cashless transition, there’s no doubt that many crimes have become more rare due to the greater ability to catch perpetrators of electronic theft. When cash is stolen, there is often little that can be done to track it. Instant electronic payments are harder to infiltrate, and even when they’re successfully stolen, there are often bread crumbs for police to follow. Likewise, money laundering and tax evasion become more rare in a cashless society. Electronic transactions identify the source of the money and record other details, making it harder for criminals to operate in obscurity. From a business perspective, it’s nice not to have to spend as much time and resources counting, protecting, and depositing money. And international payments are much easier to facilitate, with no exchange rates or fistfuls of native currency to worry about. This streamlining of international business can make it easier for your business to source certain products and can also attract new customers from afar. Of course, the concept of a cashless society is not all rainbows and sunshine. Here are some of the drawbacks that can arise from the use of cashless technology: Increased Risk of Economic Inequality Despite the benefits that most Americans would realize from a cashless system, our most vulnerable communities often remain left in the dust by financial innovations. The primary reason: a lack of bank accounts. “As policymakers continue to stress the role of financial institutions in alleviating poverty, it is important to question why people are avoiding banks in favor of riskier and less convenient alternatives,” explains a financial analysis from the Berkeley Economic Review. “One issue is that the banking system is not designed with low- and middle-class households in mind. At major banks, such as Wells Fargo, Chase, and Bank of America, 25–40% of checking accounts are simply not profitable and are described as ‘money losing.’ To combat this, overdraft fees, debit card swipe fees, ATM withdrawal fees, wire transfer charges, and other charges and fees are imposed. These charges that appear around every corner of the banking system create a significant burden and barrier of entry for low- and middle-income individuals…As a result, while banks hunt for ways to maximize their profits, low-income families are burdened with an excess of fees.” Another barrier for many disadvantaged individuals is the lack of a smartphone. While we might take such portable technology for granted, it’s unobtainable for many individuals in our nation’s low-income communities. Increased Visibility While it’s true that transparency is usually a wonderful thing, there are times when it can be a negative in the financial world. For example, let’s say that you buy a new TV using a service like Zelle. Most likely, the transaction will go smoothly, and everyone will be happy. But if Zelle was hacked, your bank account information could be compromised. That wouldn’t have been a threat if you’d simply paid for the TV with cash. Here’s another example that has much lower stakes but illustrates how the digital trail left by cashless transactions can occasionally have unintended consequences. There’s a popular dating show where a guy dates dozens of women and then chooses 1 to be his wife. In the weeks leading up to the season finale, there’s always speculation and debate about which of the 3 finalists was chosen. A couple of years ago, online sleuths figured out who had won simply by looking at the man’s Venmo account. His feed showed multiple transactions with 1 of the women (along with heart emojis), so it became obvious who he’d begun a new life with after the cameras had stopped rolling. Potential for Technology Disruptions We’ve all experienced some form of the tech disruption dilemma. Maybe you walked up to the checkout counter of a store only to realize that your phone was dead and you wouldn’t be able to purchase your items—or your phone might’ve been fully charged, but the cashier informs you that “their system is down” and they can only take cash at the moment. These glitches are usually few and far between, but it never feels good to have the ultra-slick highway of digital transactions come screeching to a halt. Embracing Contactless and Cashless Changes As cashless payment platforms continue to evolve, the security features and reliability they offer are improving exponentially. You can set yourself up for success by being aware of the risks and only choosing partners who are committed to improvement and have the resources to deliver excellence. Likewise, the issue of economic inequality is also being tackled by brilliant minds. Solutions are on the horizon to help improve accessibility for those who most need it. In the meantime, your business has the opportunity to harness the power of cashless payment systems. Doing so empowers you to accept more payment options, speed up the checkout process, improve efficiency, elevate safety, and ensure that your business stays relevant in our increasingly digital world.