Heather Petersen, the Founder and CEO of National Merchants Association

We recently spoke with Heather Petersen, the Founder and CEO of National Merchants Association. She helped shed some light on the responsibility of the NMA to educate merchants on payment compliance, the popularity of mobile payments on retail and the reason why it has failed, in part, to take off in the United States. 


FTC: You recently addressed Members of Congress and representatives from the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, Federal Reserve, and Treasury on payment industry issues. How important is it for the National Merchants Association to inform elected representatives about the new frontier of payment initiatives and jointly stay on the forefront of any proposed legislative changes?

HP: National Merchants Association is first and foremost a merchant advocacy group. We work on behalf of our merchants to support and foster their ability to conduct business openly and affordably. As the landscape of payment processing changes, not only do we have the responsibility to educate our merchants on how they can continue to be compliant, we owe it to them to ensure that their voice is heard in Washington D.C. by legislators and policy-makers.

 

FTC: How large a part do mobile payments play in commerce transactions in the United States at present and what kind of advice do you offer to merchants eager to begin accepting online payments?

HP: Mobile payments represent emerging technology that is growing in popularity largely because of its increased convenience as well as the improved security it offers. With 50% of American consumers already doing most of their shopping online and half of those using smartphones and other mobile devices to buy goods, merchants need to be aware of how their customers are choosing to pay. Designing a website that’s mobile-first is a good start, but creating a checkout experience for customers that’s frictionless and caters to newer payment methods like mobile is even better.

 

FTC: Is there a certain demographic which online payments appeal to? How can merchants empower other demographics to embrace the change?

HP: Obviously, younger people are more receptive and even eager to try emerging technologies like mobile payments that increase convenience for them. In fact, 72% of mobile payments users are Millennials or Generation Xers. The rise in smartphone and mobile device users is something that cannot be ignored and, in a sense, they are essentially their own demographic. The key will be ensuring that these users are able to make purchases quickly and safely from their devices.

While merchants might not necessarily be able to “persuade” other demographics to be part of the evolution of payments, the least they can do is accept multiple forms of payments like mobile, allowing slow-to-adopt buyers to understand the benefits as well as see what the future represents.      

 

FTC: How would you evaluate U.S. merchants’ readiness to integrate multichannel solutions into their offerings?

HP: Merchants are cautiously entering the age of multichannel marketing and slowly but surely, they’re getting there. As newer and better technologies continue to advance innovation, the need for multichannel solutions will increase and merchants will definitely benefit from implementing them. There will definitely be added emphasis on the fluidity between online, mobile, and physical channels where frictionless buying experiences will not only be commonplace, they’ll be expected.

Third-party selling through affiliates will be another way to market products. For example, online stores like Amazon and Walmart are already popular hubs where merchants of all types can sell their goods. Merchants hoping to expand their offerings should explore different avenues and sales channels to maximize exposure and selling potential.

U.S. merchants have been a little slower to adopt newer payment solutions like mobile payments compared to countries in Europe and Asia. Those countries are currently leading the multi-channel solutions charge, which includes mobile payments and EMV among others.

Part of the reason why merchants haven’t fully committed to mobile payments yet is because their customers aren’t necessarily demanding it – yet. Even though a growing number of Millennials and Gen Xers are using mobile payments, there are fewer of them compared to their peers in other countries.

 

FTC: What is your vision for the future of merchant payments?

HP: Mobile payments are probably just the beginning. The way technology is moving and with advances being made in biometrics and near-field communication, we could see automatic payments without having to swipe a phone. This could become a reality and is most likely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to consumers paying for goods in brick and mortar establishments.

Online payments will need to remain safe and become faster. Will digital wallets be the answer? Will merchants adopt technology that allows them to take these forms of payments during card-not-present transactions? Time will tell and it may be sooner rather than later.

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