Posted by & filed under Social.

Does Cash Have a Business Future?

In these ‘new realism’ economic times, there is much talk about the battles for the consumer pound, and just how much ‘business battle’ has become a current buzz term.

In early 2011, communication expert Jim Nichols wrote in Forbes magazine about the ‘land grab happening now in the internet world’. He was talking about the importance of ‘location location location’ in terms of being in the Google top ten of any search customers make.

Fighting to achieve and hold high Google rankings on their mysterious algorithms is becoming ever more cut-throat. SEO has matured as an art form in less than a decade and optimising, domain aging and links have settled practices.

Customer Searching Is Outdated

However, as the battle for the coveted top spots gets hotter, the fact is that searching for a given keyword is fast becoming old hat in business struggling to push up market share.

Customers are already using other vehicles to access information about goods and services, even on the move from portable devices. They want products first and foremost, not necessarily the name and images of the provider. The new development and challenge for businesses is to get the message out to consumers who search and those who don’t!

Businesses in almost every sector and certainly their customers are waking up to the possibilities for commerce from the plethora of communication channels now available and how they can be mixed and matched.

Conflicting figures paint an often confused picture of the true health of the retailing high street, but the fact is, that personal, real life shopping is still mega business. It’s just that online shopping is overtaking it on every front.

Now the web through sites adorned with video pods and links, emails, texts, mobile communications and social media are the weapons of choice in trading. The mobile phone itself has become an increasingly important tool in shopping.

None of it works efficiently if companies cannot identify, categorise and advertise to customers as known individuals. Direct appeals through near field communication/proximity card  technology are growing in popularity and QR codes look set to revolutionise data management/advertising even more than the humble bar code did in its day.

Customer Experience is King

An entire industry has grown up in recent times to explain, exploit and expand the ‘customer experience’. These experts argue that the technology used, even the goods purchased, are far less exciting than the experience of the shopping.

There is a science in making it so good the customer will return. Supply chain, stock control and logistic training has improved out of all recognition in the past decade. Of course issues like transport, fuel and energy pricing and inflation all have a bearing on the experience for better or worse.

Coupled with that is the making it easier and easier to extract payment for goods and services. The latest is an app from Barclays, the Pingit which will permit the sending and receiving of money (between £1 and £300, with a daily max of £5000) between anybody in the UK with a current account and a mobile phone number.

The beauty of it is that no bank details will be shared, it’s on iOS, BlackBerry and Android (though people can register online in advance and then their phone system is irrelevant) and by this spring Barclays will enable it to everyone in the UK over 18, whether a Barclays’ customer or not.

Pizza Express have for some time had available the Pizza Express iPhone app that allows customers to pay for their meals at their tables and go. It meant that the company had to install wi-fi in its 385 outlets at considerable expense, but was another asset in attracting customers. It is another branch of mobile banking and one more nail in the coffin of actual coins and notes, but the fatal flaw could be human error (as always): if somebody inputs a wrong number, the cash would be sent to a stranger.

E-cash Is Inevitable

Olav Scheible, managing director of PayPal UK reckoned in February 2012 that what digital money means for business is ‘a great opportunity to reach new markets’, though some see it as a threat to what they have done traditionally.

He thought the trick was to do both conventional retailing well yet excel at e-money trading, the so-called ‘brick and click’ businesses simultaneously.

Gary Hocking, deputy Chief Executive of the UK Payments Council told Business Technology (Feb 12) that they saw the regulatory framework as neither the driver nor the inhibitor of change in people’s payment habits. ‘The key in the UK is the variety of payment options’ and how long it will take any payment option to become dominant that will ‘change the landscape’ of commerce.

Estimates put the growth of the e-tail market at 16% a year and rising fast, but multi-channeling is not confined to buying and selling commodities. Services are no different in essence from commodities and are just as easily traded on a wide variety of channels and more and more will be. So, it seems whatever business you’re in, e-cash via multi-channels is the key to survival.

Photo: Walter Baxter