To Sell More, Make It Easier and Safer for People to Purchase From You

Less than half of small businesses operate an ecommerce website, and few of those offer the purchase and payment features shoppers have come to expect.

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By Jill Calabrese Bain

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Consumers are savvier than ever, and their shopping habits are changing fast. They're growing accustomed to new payment types such as mobile wallets, one-click payments and even paying via facial recognition. Further, they expect the same simple, easy and seamless shopping experience at whatever size business they frequent. Yet many small businesses haven't kept pace, and in today's hypercompetitive market, failure to adapt risks losing customers.

Still, there's good news for business owners. It's easier than ever to adopt new, secure payment options that meet consumers' evolving needs and expectations. In 2017, Bank of America Merchant Services surveyed consumers and small-business owners, and discovered that businesses that are slow to catch up on purchasing trends risk losing business in the coming years. The survey also found that for small businesses to succeed, they must offer the purchasing options that their customers want and expect.

Related: 6 Trends Impacting the Future of Payments

Embrace online sales.

Mobile devices and near-constant internet access have revolutionized the retail scene. More than half of consumers say they're shopping online more than ever before, enabling them to compare products and providers in seconds and buy what they're looking for almost immediately. To that end, 44 percent say they are more likely to research a product or service online than they were five years ago. When they are ready to make a purchase, consumers expect the online transaction to be fast, easy and secure.

According to the survey, many small-business owners understand what their customers expect. More than half of small businesses believe customers are more likely to have researched a product or service before buying than they were five years ago. More than a quarter of small businesses say customers have compared prices on an item or service on their device before making a purchase.

This research suggests that for small businesses to remain relevant and competitive, consumers must be able to find them and buy from them online. A user-friendly website with a professional look and a simple, safe way to make purchases is imperative, yet only 44 percent of small businesses operate an ecommerce website. Among those that do, few offer the features shoppers have come to expect, such as a streamlined interface and free shipping.

Moreover, many small businesses overlook the potential for ecommerce to increase their exposure and sales beyond local shoppers.Our research found that the lack of a confidence-inspiring online presence is hurting many small businesses' ability to keep existing customers and win new ones -- suggesting that they should consider embracing ecommerce solutions.

Related: The 15 Most Popular Online Payment Solutions

Adopt new payment types.

Small businesses also need to keep up with changes in the ways consumers pay for purchases, online as well as in brick-and-mortar shops. Cards and cash remain the most common and familiar payment options, but that may not be the case for long.

Our research indicates that consumers are growing more comfortable with new technologies that let them make quick, convenient and secure transactions with businesses, both online and in-store. Cash in particular may be on the wane: Nearly half of consumers carry less cash now than they did five years ago, and most small businesses expect cash to become less relevant over the next five years.

However, some small businesses are keeping pace. More than one in four have started accepting payments via digital wallets. Still, another 38 percent have not changed the types of payments they accept in the past five years. And less than 10 percent of businesses have their own branded app that accepts payments or allows money to be loaded into a prepaid account. Evolving with customers as their payment preferences change will prove key as small businesses try to attract and create loyal shoppers.

Related: How Digital Wallets and Mobile Payments Are Evolving and What It Means for You

Keep information safe.

Whether customers are paying online or in a store, they expect the companies they do business with to keep their personal data secure.

Consumers are likely to be wary of businesses that have experienced a security slip. It can be difficult for small businesses to bounce back from the damage a breach can do to their reputation and to customer loyalty, not to mention the costs of trying to remedy the situation. For these reasons, safeguarding customer information should be a top priority for small business owners.

Consumers' shopping habits and preferences are rapidly changing. Those changes represent a risk to businesses that don't keep up, but also an opportunity for those that do. Is your small business doing enough?

Jill Calabrese Bain

Managing Director, General Manager, Head of Small Business Sales

Jill Calabrese Bain is general manager and head of Small Business Sales for Bank of America Merchant Services. She is responsible for managing Small Business from an end- to-end perspective, leading sales, development and delivery of critical business priorities.

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