There are now many payments types or channels available to both merchants and customers (cash, cheque, credit card, debit card, pre-paid card, direct debit, Internet direct bank transfer, e-wallet transfer etc). However, they all present different advantages and disadvantages, and these may be quite different for a consumer versus a merchant. However, by drawing together a range of international literature about payment systems and how they are used by people and organizations of all kinds, six attributes of payment products appear to be most relevant to the choices that are made of both merchants and their customers alike*. These six factors are:
- confidence and
Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail.
Capability refers to the functional ability to actually use a particular payment type or channel. For example, capability in cash transactions (the oldest and most ubiquitous of payment types) relates to a person or an organization being in a position to hand over a payment (having cash in an acceptable denomination/currency) and then receive the payment (also in an acceptable denomination/currency of course). This becomes a threshold issue in non-cash payments, which often involve technical issues such as the establishment of a means of communicating over distance, ability to verify the parties in a payment transaction, and many other factors.
All payment systems involve some costs (including cash). Both consumers and merchants are likely to seek to use lower cost payments if they can. This is especially the case if they can readily know what the use of each payment will cost them (sometimes this is transparent and sometimes it is not of course). The cost of a payment is not always spread evenly between the parties. Vendors of payment products will often seek to make some approaches appear to be no-cost or low-cost to the customer-but this may or may not be true. The cost structures of payment methods also differ; some have a fixed transaction charge while others are proportional to the size of the transaction.
Convenience refers to the ease of use or “user-friendliness” of a payment method. A need for registration before using the payment method, or the speed of payment (for example, the time taken to approve a payment) can be factors affecting convenience. Consumers generally view cash as convenient to carry for small purchases at the point-of-sale. This means that to be competitive with cash, electronic payments systems have to offer a high level of convenience (hence all the current interest in mobile phone usage for payments). Businesses however typically have a very different perspective on convenience to that of consumers. They are likely to seek payment products and services that fit reasonably well into their broader processes and systems.
Coverage refers to how widely a payment method or system is accepted by merchants and other recipients of payments, such as businesses receiving payments from suppliers. An important objective for all payment types and channels is therefore clearly to be widely accessible to merchants, traders, consumers and other users without high-entry or ongoing costs. Similarly, consumers should encounter as few barriers as possible in undertaking transactions using the chosen system.
This refers to a customer’s belief that a payment will be successfully executed and completed, and that the value of a payment method will be respected. Confidence rises where arrangements are secure and value does not ‘leak’. The confidence that consumers have in a payment method also depends on the associated payment channel. For example, online payments with credit cards differ from offline payments, in that the card is not physically provided by the customer and the merchant does not obtain a signed confirmation from the customer. Some card schemes provide a system of cardholder authentication, usually through provision of name, credit card number and expiration date. To prevent illegitimate interception, this information is typically encrypted so as to increase levels of confidence in the payment system.
As a payment type only cash maintains payer and/or payee confidentiality. Non-cash payments often involve the collection of information that becomes valuable. Users of payment systems are often concerned about the collection and use of this often personal information, and its potential release to other parties, if not properly secured. For example, in general, credit card payments are made via an identifiable account, resulting in the loss of anonymity. This means that some individuals are uncomfortable or unhappy about using payment types or channels which cannot reasonably protect their personal information (and may increase the risk of theft or fraud).
Payment type or channel choices are complex for both a given consumer or merchant. However, in this article we have described six factors which seem to be most influential in the decision-making process. Although these factors all stand alone, they are not necessarily independent of one another of course. In other words, the boundaries between factors are often blurred of “fuzzy”.
In addition, it is also worth noting that any one of these factors can be primary, depending on a given individual or organizational perspective. For some consumers and/or merchants therefore, cost and convenience may be first and second (with other factors making little difference). However, for other consumers and/or merchants, capability, coverage and confidentiality may all have equal significance, for instance.
In the next article, we will explore this subject further from the merchant’s perspective.
*The report by the Australian Government called “Exploration of future Electronic Payments” was extremely useful in assembling and describing the factors in more detail.