Payments and profits are, no doubt, the lifeblood of any business, no matter the size and scale of the business. Whether it is a multinational chain store, your neighbourhood grocery shop or a single-owner online business, arguably the most important factor that ensures a long and profitable run of any business is the kind of user experience they are able to provide their customers with. This includes everything from ease of product discovery and selection to billing and payment processes – the latter being a major factor influencing customer satisfaction and eventually, retention.
Up until a decade ago, traditional payment methods, i.e., cash and credit/debit cards were the norm in a majority of retail transactions, making it mandatory for merchants to equip their physical stores with a card swipe machine. Then, in 2016, UPI payments were introduced in India, adding yet another payment method to the fold. This fundamentally redesigned the way the payment system works in India, with more and more customers across all age groups moving away from traditional payment methods and the corresponding hassle of carrying around cash and cards at all times and choosing digital payment solutions over the former option. The COVID-19 pandemic that hit the globe in 2019 only further reinstated the majority customers’ preference of contactless payment solutions such as UPI and online wallets over cash and card payments.
What are the Challenges of Traditional Payment Systems?
While traditional payment options certainly worked in an economy that was yet to be digitised and in an environment that was mostly focused on retail over online shopping, the modern market of the 21st century demands certain payment options that significantly ease the process of billing and payments for customers while ensuring utmost levels of security in the process.
Let’s take a look at some challenges faced by the traditional payment methods such as cash, cards, and occasionally, bank cheques.
Multiple Modes of Payment
One of the biggest drawbacks of the traditional payment system that is further highlighted by the tremendous growth of digital and contactless payment solutions is the hassle of multiple payment modes. According to their preference, customers can either choose to pay with cash or card, which makes it necessary for merchants to invest in POS systems, secure cash registers, card swipe machines, and so on – which is an additional cost that not all merchants are able to afford. Furthermore, in the case of small businesses like grocery stores, card payments are seldom an option, which might further deter customers with a shortage of cash liquidity from choosing that business in the future.
Long Queues in Stores
Another challenge faced by retail or offline stores are long queues at the billing counter. This is only further fuelled by the presence of traditional payment methods such as cash and cards, wherein customers must present themselves at the checkout area one at a time, thus leading to even longer queues at checkout, the consequent frustration of customers and eventually, reluctance to visit the particular store and opting for other, more convenient options.
All customers at some point, have faced the problem of lack of sufficient change from the merchant upon payment. In case of small amounts of change, customers are often handed out items like chocolates at checkout as a substitute. This not only leads to an unnecessary loss for the customer – even if it is a small number – it also leads to customers developing an unfavourable opinion of that business, eventually failing to retain them as a repeat customer.
Often, small-to-medium sized businesses are unable to afford the technology that is required to enable any payment method other than physical cash. Especially in an economy like India where a large number of businesses hail from rural and semi-urban areas, integration and adoption of technology such as swipe machines can be a pain point for many business owners and merchants.
One of the biggest challenges of the traditional payment and checkout system that majorly involves cash is the risk of threat. Although digital payment methods do pose a certain level of security issues, cash payment systems are highly vulnerable to petty theft and robberies. While one remedy to this is the other traditional alternative to cash – debit and credit cards – it is not a feasible solution for all kinds and size of businesses.
What is Voice Technology?
Up until recently, digital payments in India could only be made using the internet, which includes QR code payments, NFC (Near Field Communication), and UPI. This proved to be a roadblock for many consumers, as a steady digital network or even smartphone technology has not yet penetrated the far corners of the country.
However, all mobile phones – feature phone or smartphone – are capable of transmitting and processing voice, which forms the basis of payments enabled via voice technology and therefore, provides an alternative medium of communication between the customer and the merchant at the PoS. The process of such payment begins with the merchant’s payment device emitting a sound wave that contains secure, encrypted data. Next, these waves are received by the customer’s mobile device and converted into analogue signals. Finally, the customer takes the required action to authenticate and further complete the transaction.
How Can Voice Technology Help Remedy Challenges of the Traditional Payment Systems?
A majority of mobile phone users in India own smartphones, however, a staggering number of people – 440 million – still use feature phones. Back in 2016 when UPI payments were introduced in the country, it failed to provide an alternative for these hundreds of millions of feature phone as well as digitally illiterate consumers. Through voice-led payments facilitated by platforms such as UPI 123Pay and VoiceSe, it has now become possible to include more and more consumers under the umbrella of digital financial inclusion. Voice technology is thus an extremely viable alternative for traditional and even digital payment systems as it enables online payments without the dependency on technological infrastructure like smartphones and data connection. These mediums also allow for more than just money transfer. For instance, ToneTag’s VoiceSe payment platform enables customers to not only transfer money to peers and make merchant payments, but also complete other transactions such as LPG payments, electricity bill payments, post-paid mobile recharge, and more. Moreover, in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, it also helps that voice technology is able to provide us with a completely contactless payment solution.
In more ways than one, PoS mobile payments made using voice technology can help rectify problems posed by traditional payment methods such as cash and swipe card machines. The first and foremost factor is financial inclusivity. By informing customers that they no longer need expensive smartphones and a steady data connection in order to make payments, we are now able to provide great ease of access to digital payments to even the most secluded, digitally illiterate sections of the country. This is further fuelled by the fact that technology integration for voice-based PoS payment solutions is extremely low-effort and cost-effective – thus enabling more and more merchants to choose this technology over other PoS mobile payment solutions.
Furthermore, voice technology provides a level of security that is unparalleled by any other payment system. Most e-payment systems like UPI, digital wallets, etc. are vulnerable to security threats such as data theft, hacking, and scams even with two-factor authentication. In cases of ecommerce payment systems, the lack of real-time acknowledgement may allow customers to scam merchants by showing falsified proof of payment. Voice-based payment systems make use of Blockchain-based decentralised ledgers to ensure utmost levels of security for both customers and merchants. Moreover, sound waves are encrypted end-to-end, further helping prevent security issues related to digital payments.
In essence, online (e-commerce) as well as PoS mobile payments fuelled by voice technology are a highly viable, secure, and efficient mode of payment for all parties involved in the transaction. It provides consumers with a methodology that combines the reliability and availability of cash payments with the speed and convenience of digital payments in one go. It helps bring to fruition the government’s vision for a completely digitally inclusive India without forcing consumers to upgrade their mobile devices or merchants to invest in expensive payment systems for their business.