Back To Business: What UAE Merchants Should Stop Doing Now (And Beyond) The COVID-19 Crisis Visa's latest study found that nine out of every 10 consumers in the UAE have changed how they pay for purchases, including preferring to shop online when possible (59%).

By Marcello Baricordi

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More than six months have passed since the novel coronavirus became known worldwide, and the challenges of coping with life during the ongoing pandemic continue to evolve.

For businesses, the particulars of COVID-19 have made it exceptionally challenging to respond to the changing needs and concerns of customers.

A virus that spreads through touch and close contact has compelled both small and large enterprises to rethink their every physical interaction with the community, including how they collect payments.

Visa's global Back to Business study, which assessed the financial impact of COVID-19 on small and micro businesses (SMBs) worldwide, found that nine out of every 10 consumers in the UAE have changed how they pay for purchases, including preferring to shop online when possible (59%).

The study, conducted as part of Visa's regional "Where You Shop Matters" initiative to provide merchants with insights that will help them weather the crisis, also found that four out of 10 customers are now avoiding the use of cash (40%), and more than half are using contactless payments (52%).

Whether cash still has a future after COVID-19 remains to be seen, but the outbreak has radically changed how we transact, and merchants urgently need to find ways to reduce physical interaction to accept payments even from cardholders to protect both staff and customers.

Businesses should immediately end any practices that encourages their staff to touch the customer's card(s). Merchants should not require cardholders to produce identification as a condition of accepting a Visa payment product or need to capture a cardholder verification value 2 (CVV2) for card-present and face-to-face transactions. Not only do these interactions increase risk, they are also not permitted under the Visa Rules.

To redesign in-store payment policies to reduce physical contact, merchants should look for new ways to reduce or eliminate the need for customers to physically interact with POS terminals. Some examples of policies that can unnecessarily lead to contact include confirming the transaction amount of a purchase. This is not a Visa requirement, and has no impact on transaction processing or dispute resolution.

Additionally, transaction receipts can be provided electronically rather than on paper –a more sustainable option too– and customers should no longer be required to key in phone numbers or email addresses for loyalty purposes at store terminals. The information can be captured verbally instead, or by encouraging customers to sign-up from home in exchange for incentives.

Nearly all (90%) shoppers polled as part of Visa's Back to Business study said they would switch to buying from a store that installed contactless payment systems, highlighting the critical need for businesses to shift to contactless commerce. Almost three in four consumers said they would no longer shop at a store that only offers payment methods that require contact with a cashier or other shared devices.

To make the shift, small businesses can consider options like Tap to Pay, which enables payment between contactless-enabled cards or payment-enabled devices thereby reducing the physical interaction with POS terminals. Merchants can further reduce risk by positioning their contactless POS terminals in a customer-facing orientation and within easy reach of the customer, in order to enable a contactless transaction without any need for the merchant's staff to handle the customer's card.

Another way to reduce cardholder interaction is to use the Visa Easy Payment Service (VEPS), which eliminates the need to capture a CVM (signature, PIN, or consumer device cardholder verification method) for transactions up to a certain amount. VEPS helps create a seamless checkout experience for cardholders and, because no CVM is captured, reducing the need for customers to touch POS terminals.

Meanwhile, using EMV® chip technology and EMV-capable devices (i.e., tap, dip, and swipe) can also help merchants reduce or eliminate the need for physical interaction at points of sale. Merchants deploying EMV chip technology for transactions conducted via all interfaces at EMV-capable devices are not required to capture and validate a signature.

If you're weighing up whether making the move to contactless will help your business not only during COVID-19 but also beyond, consider the many ways contactless payments could help you, including that it offers customers a fast, easy, safe and secure payment experience at checkout. It may also lead to a lasting overall growth in tap to pay transactions, and –most importantly– that it significantly reduces exposure of your employees and customers to each other by allowing your customers to pay without contact.

A report from management consultancy Kearney found that some 80% of consumers in the UAE have shifted their shopping habits in response to the outbreak. More than half stated their intention to maintain the altered habits even after government measures are fully relaxed.

These altered shopping behaviours, if carried over post-pandemic, could have a major impact on how merchants do business in the future, making it important to consider once the economy begins to return to normal- or establishes a new state of normalcy.

It's safe to expect a crisis on this scale will change the world permanently. Merchants will need to continue to evolve their coping and resilience strategies as the crisis continues.

For more insights, tools and resources, small business owners and sellers can also access Visa's Small Business Hub, a merchant platform launched as part of Visa's regional "Where You Shop Matters" initiative.

Related: Where You Shop Matters: How Thinking Local Can Help Kickstart The COVID-19 Recovery

Marcello Baricordi

Group General Manager, Middle East and North Africa, Visa

Marcello Baricordi is the Group General Manager, Middle East and North Africa, Visa.

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