What is the future of e-commerce? How can both merchants and regulators keep up with changing consumer demands? How can small merchants compete? These were just some of the questions that were discussed at the 9th Annual European e-Commerce Conference in Brussels, March 8th.
I was honoured to be a keynote speaker alongside MEP Anneleen Van Bossuyt, as well as a senior official from the European Commission. The focus for the policy makers was how to achieve a regulatory framework that simultaneously supports digital growth while keeping consumers safe. For me, it was an exciting opportunity to share how Visa helps consumers, merchants and economies thrive.
Merchant challenges are driven by consumer demands. Consumers expect to be able to transact from apps on their mobile devices, through wearables, on their computers and in person, and expect merchants to recognise them as they move across devices, online and in-store. The complexity of the emerging marketplace is daunting for merchants of any size, but it can be especially difficult for the small businesses that drive two thirds of employment and over half of the economic activity in Europe.
It is not all challenges and obstacles for smaller merchants. E-commerce is opening up markets and opportunities that would never have been possible in an offline world. Small merchants can now address customers that previously were unreachable. 25 years ago, the customer base of a small merchant was limited to the population within physical proximity and the occasional tourist, those who could walk, drive, train, or bus to the store. Now, there is practically no limit to where a merchant can find a customer.
Visa’s role is to connect the world through the most innovative, reliable and secure digital payment network that enables individuals, businesses and economies to thrive. With this in mind, one of the ways we support consumers and businesses is to help them manage their cash flow and capital, whether through faster payments for those in the gig economy or point of sale financing options that help the merchant get paid quickly while the consumer is able to budget as he or she wants.
The number of settings and ways that people will pay is likely to explode over the next several years. It has taken Visa nearly 60 years to get to over 40 million points of interaction between merchants and consumers. Those points of interaction are expected to increase massively over the next five years, driven by the Internet of Things, wearables, mobile Point of Sale, other technologies and changing consumer behaviors.
Following the keynote session, a number of innovative small merchants showcased how they are experimenting with new ways to engage the consumer, including Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence, and how these can augment the commerce and payment experience. An example is sending a virtual technician to your kitchen to support new product choices.
As the world continues to move from cash and cheque to digital interactions, Visa is investing more than ever in our global assets, infrastructure, and digital capabilities to reshape the future of commerce. We will continue to explore many of the disruptive changes facing merchants in Europe, and remain committed to helping merchants and policy makers to deliver for tomorrow’s customer.