Covid-19 accelerated that trend, with global digital commerce transactions set to reach almost US$3 trillion (£2.2tn) for this year.
Yet our experience of digital payments is not always a happy one. A study of European e-commerce businesses revealed that three-quarters had suffered a complete outage in their payment service, and almost half had experienced six or more partial outages over a 12-month period.
Industry statistics indicate that around one in ten online “card not present” payments fail, while more than a third of online shoppers say they have abandoned a transaction if their preferred digital payment method wasn’t available.
We’ve all been there. You spend ages choosing a product, weighing up the pros and cons, and then at the payment page, you get an error message. You’re exhausted by the process, and close your browser. How many of us then return to the same retailer any time soon?
With one report putting the 2019 value of “abandoned baskets” at £212 billion globally, shouldn’t we be doing better at a time when online payments are such a part of our daily lives? Brian Coburn, chief executive of Bridge, a Scottish-based online payments specialist, answers with an emphatic yes.
Bridge aims to help e-commerce businesses improve their payment success rates, and increase their revenues significantly, by offering a wealth of digital payments services in one location.
“Bridge puts control back in the retailer’s hands of the retailer so they can offer the speed, convenience, personalisation and trust that customers want from online retail,” says Coburn. “It drops into your existing system so there is no need to replace existing infrastructure and systems.
“We are on the side of e-commerce businesses and independent-from-payment service providers, so we can ensure payments are routed in the most cost-effective and optimum way without commercial conflict.
“We want to make their payment processes simpler, quicker and to deliver more for the bottom line. At the same time, we can improve the customer experience and reduce the frustration when a payment fails. If you don’t reduce failed payments, or act quickly when there is a problem, you lose customers.”
Stuart Williamson, business development director at Bridge, says: “There is a real opportunity for many online retailers to tackle new markets and new consumer preferences easily and flexibly.
“Payments fail for a number of reasons, but if you reduce a 10 per cent failure rate by three or four points, that makes a huge difference to the bottom line.”
Coburn thinks there has never been a better time to make headway: “The last few months have shown that where there is will, companies have been able to push through digital transformation in a few weeks, when it would normally have taken months or even years.”
Fast-paced change can create problems, especially with an online payments infrastructure that can’t always cope with sharp rises in traffic. Coburn says that Bridge is perfectly placed to help businesses cope with both increased transactions and a creaking digital infrastructure.
“We have a flexible, innovative, robust platform which can respond quickly to market changes.
We help online sellers access a range of new digital payment services from a common platform without additional integration costs. So, we can improve their customer offering and their bottom line.”
Understanding what those customers want is key to future success, argues Coburn, saying:
“The customer journey is often seen as key and payments an afterthought – a ‘hygiene factor’ to be carried out, something you don’t realise is a problem until it becomes one.
“Customers actually want a payment method they are familiar and comfortable with. They want to pay in a way they are used to and if they can’t do that, they might look elsewhere.
“We can give businesses the flexibility to give customers what they want, by introducing new services and leveraging new payment types that can support growth, create new market opportunities and drive a more innovative business culture. And, if there is a failure, we automatically reroute it elsewhere using our fully extensible routing engine.”
One of the fundamental problems in online selling, says Coburn, is that payments have not been at the strategic heart of a business.
“For many organisations, payments are not seen as the most important thing – until they become the most important thing.
“If you are only doing small sums online, you don’t worry too much, then you are suddenly doing £1 million or £10m and the light bulb goes on. You realise how important it is, but find you are locked into a specific provider and its technology doesn’t offer what you need.
“You might have done something for the right reason at the time, but you later discover it doesn’t fit strategically or operationally and that can create major challenges in terms of managing the cost and risk of change further down the line.”
Williamson agrees: “There are real issues with silos; your web channel and app might be under different business lines and poorly integrated as they have evolved separately.”
Ultimately, says Coburn, it’s all about increased revenue: “The simple fact of modern business is that to increase revenue, you must increase digital payments – and do that in a very efficient and cost-effective way. Many organisations still don’t optimise their payments infrastructure to this end, but Bridge can help them do it – from one modular platform, they can open up a whole world of payment services.
“We offer a single integration and we do all the heavy lifting. Bridge can let customers make payments with any currency, on any platform, without complexity. Doing that will drive up revenue.”
Brian Coburn cut his digital payments teeth during his 30 years – “as man and boy” – spent at Stagecoach. While working for the transport giant, he found himself at the forefront of the adoption of digital payments, in both the UK and North America.
“It was hugely rewarding to be part of the digital transformation of a business founded in the 1980s, and as technology came to underpin its retail activities” says Coburn, who was group IT director at Stagecoach.
“Those challenges remain today for many organisations as they manage ever higher volumes of digital payments, and that’s where Bridge comes in.
We can help them to handle that efficiently and cost-effectively”.
Coburn joined Bridge in March 2018, having been brought in because what he had learned at Stagecoach was invaluable to the e-commerce marketplace.
His experience told him that tackling the systemic challenges for organisations presented the most interesting opportunities for the business in the e-commerce space.
He took a “slow burn” approach, taking time to build the right team and create a strong platform to ensure Bridge entered the market as a fully-formed, cloud-based, scalable, resilient and secure proposition, able to handle hundreds of transactions per second.
Its platform is now live with First Group and Bridge is poised to shortly make a major announcement concerning a tie-up with one of the world’s largest payment and transactional services companies.
Bridge recently revealed that it had raised £2.5 million from Gloag Investment Group to scale up.
Dame Ann Gloag, founder of Gloag Investment Group, said: “Brian and the team have established the potential for revolutionising the payments space and attracted keen interest from blue-chip clients. We look forward to continuing to invest in the growth journey.”
Bridge has been set up to be a scalable global business which can support organisations anywhere. Coburn sees significant growth potential – and the benefits of using data gained from a more integrated and professional approach.
He says: “One emerging opportunity is the ability to draw insights from payments data on customers and customer behaviour. Do they like to pay using the same method? Does that change with higher value payments? How can that feed into CRM systems?
“There is so much more to explore in this area.”
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