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Seamless payments the key to unlock omnichannel strategy

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Seamless digital payments are the key to unlocking omni-channel retail and retailers need to keep making it easy for consumers to transact with them in any channel, writes VICTOR DE KOCK, of MasterCard South Africa.

Technology today touches nearly every aspect of consumers’ buying decisions, from researching which product to buy to paying for it. While this has transformed the retail sales experience compared to just a few years ago, merchants’ priorities remain much the same: driving sales, enhancing efficiency and delivering a top-notch customer experience.

What has changed is that they must meet these goals in a manner that serves the needs of a connected consumer who shops in a variety of ways across a range of different channels and touchpoints. Today’s customers hop from researching products on their smartphones to viewing them in-store to ordering online without missing a beat.

These global trends hold true in South Africa. According to the Mastercard Impact of Innovation Study, South African consumers are keen to use the latest technologies to shop and pay. Among respondents, nearly half use their mobiles as their primary device to access digital services and 73% are ready to pay with their mobile phones.

Moving to an omni-channel world

Retailers need to keep up by making it easy for consumers to transact with them in any channel.  South African retailers understand the importance of moving towards omni-channel sales, but many find it challenging to deliver the checkout and payment experience that their customers expect across digital and traditional brick-and-mortar channels.

One important element of getting this right is making the transaction experience as simple as possible, but that alone is not enough. Consumers must also find their experiences with retailers to be personal, relevant, and cost-effective. This starts with thinking about how merchants can meet the needs of today’s complex, multifaceted and connected customer.

It involves shifting our focus from “channel only”—whether mobile, online or in-store – to “channel + customer + experience”. Important in this shift are payments technologies that make it safer and easier for consumers to pay and merchants to be paid – technologies that help merchants and consumers alike to escape the risks and inconveniences of managing cash.

This is the challenge we have been working to solve at Mastercard by introducing innovations such as EMV cards and contactless to South African consumers and merchants in the past few years. We have also focused heavily on digital commerce, launching our Masterpass digital wallet as an e-commerce play in 2014.

Since then, Masterpass has evolved into an interoperable solution that cuts across multiple channels – online, instore and in-app – and payment categories, making everyday payments available for everyone. It is accepted globally by more than 270 000 merchants and 5,200 South African merchants and now includes payments for mobile airtime and city municipal bills straight from the mobile wallet.

Digital payments platforms such as Masterpass offer a better checkout experience. Customers can check out faster, reducing shopping cart abandonment, and increasing conversion — all of which increase online sales. Customers can securely store their payment card and shipping address in one place for easy access during checkout.  The platforms also make it easy for customers to pay securely from their mobile devices when they shop in-store.

The easy mobile POS device

Understanding that not all merchants are large chains with the latest point of sale systems, we have worked with partners such as iKhokha and Virtual Card Services to bring simple Masterpass acceptance into the face-to-face, bricks and mortar environment in addition to their mPOS and online offerings .

Digital payments shouldn’t only be about large transactions and large merchants – they should be as accessible to a consumer buying prepaid airtime from their phone or a loaf of bread and some vegetables from a spaza shop as to a customer buying a computer online.  By providing easy and inexpensive point-of-sale devices that can be used anywhere, mobile technology has the potential to open up new channels of economic growth for merchants and enable them to meet the demands of consumers.

Fraud remains a major concern for consumers and merchants alike. It’s our mission to stay ahead by investing heavily in security innovations which use a host of new technologies. The trade-off between security and convenience is resolved by providing merchants with a hassle-free way to adopt and implement token services.

As a result, consumers get the best of all worlds: a frictionless checkout and peace of mind knowing that their card data is not at risk. Our aim is to ensure that all merchants can be paid quickly and securely, on every device so that they can meet the needs of their customers and grow their businesses.

* Victor de Kock, Head of Strategic Merchants and Acceptance, Mastercard, South Africa

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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