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Deep Dive: What Consumers’ Changing Payment Preferences Mean for Rewards Disbursements

Consumers grew more adventurous with their payment choices in 2020, leaving behind the predictability of paper checks and cash transactions for digital-only mobile wallets and peer-to-peer (P2P) mobile apps.

Sixty-two percent of consumers have adopted at least one such payment app, according to one survey, up from the 54% who were using them the year before. Contactless payments use in general has skyrocketed over the past year. An August 2020 report found that 58% of consumers had used touchless credit or debit cards to make transactions at the point of sale (POS).

Today’s digital-first shoppers have evolving expectations for the payments they make both online and in stores, making it essential for businesses to keep pace. Many retailers realize this and are already closely eyeing contactless payments, with 94% of businesses in the same August 2020 survey stating that they expect a growing number of consumers to use such methods. Meeting consumers’ needs and building loyalty also requires retailers to take stock of how individuals prefer to receive funds, including disbursements related to rebates or rewards programs. Businesses have long relied on offering rewards to win customers, but failing to send them funds using their preferred disbursements methods could strain the relationship from the start.

The following Deep Dive analyzes how consumers’ payment preferences for retail transactions have shifted, including their changing expectations for rewards or rebate disbursements and what these can mean for businesses. It also examines how implementing instant payments can help companies meet shoppers’ new payment and disbursement needs.

Retail Transactions Inch Toward Instant

Consumers’ desires for speedier, more convenient payment methods have driven many of their new shopping and payment preferences over the past year. They are becoming increasingly frustrated with transactions that require multiple steps, such as those that force them to sign their names when making credit card purchases. One November study found that 72% of consumers preferred to avoid giving their signatures when paying and that 51% of shoppers were already using contactless payment methods such as Apple Pay or tap-and-pay cards.

There also is no indication that consumers are willing to give up their new penchant for touchless payments, even though public health and safety concerns have eased somewhat. In turn, this has left retailers scrambling to adopt such methods or upgrade their existing ones as consumers place more and more value on smooth, seamless transactions. PYMNTS data suggests consumers are even willing to shell out money for access to quicker payments. This is especially true when they are on the receiving end of transactions, as 20% of consumers are willing to pay fees to receive nongovernmental disbursements instantly. Supporting instant payments that enable customers to seamlessly transact and swiftly receive their funds is understandably becoming a higher priority for more businesses, and recent Federal Reserve data found that three out of four companies consider it vital to offer faster payments.

Enabling the instant transactions consumers now want is key to enticing them to try new brands, but it is equally necessary to allow them to access disbursements such as rebates or receive cash back just as quickly. Today’s consumers are also more exacting in terms of what they want out of retailers’ rewards experiences. This means that merchants must figure out how to adjust their loyalty and rewards experiences to keep pace with consumers’ newfound needs for instant transactions.

The Changing Rewards Disbursement Landscape

Today’s consumers expect retailers to go the extra mile to win their business. One study found that 56% of individuals consider it the retailer’s responsibility to track their spending and offer the appropriate rewards. Getting users to sign up for rewards in the first place can also be a difficult task, with 37% of consumers claiming that loyalty programs are not worth the trouble. This share is even larger among millennials and Generation Z consumers.

Enabling fast rewards collection could go a long way toward persuading reluctant customers to give loyalty programs a try, but retailers must be able to accept and send out funds instantly to meet their expectations. This means finding faster payment providers that allow for seamless transactions through various payment methods could present a key opportunity for retailers. Failing to implement any instant payments solution could prompt consumers to leave businesses behind for competitors that are quicker to innovate.

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