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Three Lessons from Three Markets: Europe Shows Retailers How to Grow Beyond Borders

by: Jeffrey Burke
Thursday, December 06, 2018

I’ve spent many years working in Europe and recently returned from a trip to meet with partners, speak with customers as well as accompanying our CEO Jeff Sloan as he talked with media outlets in Barcelona, London and Dublin. Beyond the beauty and energy that is always evident across the continent, I was struck by another constant apparent during our travels and conversations: every market – and every business – is at a different stage of evolution.

Let that sink in for a second. On one hand, you have Spain’s recent tech-driven economic revival and Ireland’s thriving innovation economy. On the other, Brexit’s looming uncertainty in the United Kingdom continues to shake confidence, particularly among retailers whose front-of-house and back-office successes depend on the continued, frictionless flow of goods and services across borders.

"Our customers and partners are greatly concerned about continued and ever-growing complexity."

And while our customers and partners are NOT fearing economic collapse or permanently closed borders like years or decades past, they are greatly concerned (and rightfully so) about continued and ever-growing complexity. This is particularly acute for our global retail customers – those that know that the best opportunity for growth is often geographic expansion. Whether the flagship store sits in Madrid’s Golden Mile, on Regent Street in London, or even online, a top challenge for our European customers is navigating a payment ecosystem with varied policies and regulations, numerous fees and currency conversions and many vendors and partners.

Through this experience, I’ve identified three key takeaways for how any business – big or small – can reduce complexity to grow globally.

1. Unify. Unify. Unify

Consumers demand a seamless shopping experience on- or off-line, anywhere in the world. Regardless of where they live or how they want to pay, to reach the greatest number of consumers – all while reducing the complexity and costs associated with managing multiple, market-specific vendors – a single, unified commerce platform is always the first and best recommendation.

"To reach the greatest number of consumers while reducing complexity...a single, unified commerce platform is always the first and best recommendation."

At Global Payments, our unified commerce platform and single technical integration is a fast, simple and more secure path for processing payments. Whether that’s using AliPay to tap into the growing number of Chinese tourists, or the newest tap-to-pay POS terminal, retailers that employ our unified commerce platform can more easily expand into markets worldwide.

2. Be Local to Grow Global

Despite the perceived ease of a “one Europe” marketplace, business owners looking to expand within the union still face numerous challenges navigating different nations, cultures and governments. It’s critical that any business entering a new country understands local taxes, regulations, cultural customs and consumer habits. This level of complexity can be daunting to a retailer, as well as costly.

At Global Payments we are uniquely positioned with the largest geographical footprint of any payments partner, locally serving businesses in 58 countries, supported by more than 11,000 employees. Our worldwide payment solutions not only removes complexity and cost around the transaction, but our local teams meld in-market relationships with card issuers and payment brands with localized data to give our clients the added intelligence to make cross-border commerce easier.

This real-time perspective on performance across banks, channels, currencies and preferred payment methods helps businesses stay on top of global trends and how they impact local market behavior.

3. Innovation is Everything

As we spoke with Spanish retailers gearing up for the holiday season, they were focused on how best to capture a market opportunity that is expected to grow by almost 10% in the next three years. Consumers and business owners across Spain are leaning into technology more than ever before, with nearly one fifth of Spanish companies selling online.

Conversely, Irish merchants worried that any lag in ecommerce innovation would turn off consumers from first-mover markets such as China. While “innovate or die” is a much-overused maxim, in the case of payments, it does ring true. Global consumers are abandoning cash and at record rate: up 10% in 2016 alone and picking up steam, according to Capgemini and BNP Paribas’ 2018 World Payments report. So, recognizing and adopting new payment innovations (such as artificial intelligence) will be key for globalizing businesses that want to reach everyone, everywhere.

"Adopting new payment innovations will be key for globalizing businesses that want to reach everyone, everywhere."

Nowhere am I reminded of this fact more than when I’m at our Barcelona Payment Innovation Hub, a Global Payments-led joint venture with some of our key customers and partners, including CaixaBank. Here we are exploring the use of biometric technologies, including the Internet of Things solutions, as well as revolutionary technologies such as Blockchain and Machine Learning to fuel the growth needs of our customers, without the complexity.

As global commerce digitizes and democratizes, retailers must be equipped to sell anything, anywhere. This most recent engagement with customers in Europe confirms what I firmly believe: that entering markets seamlessly and keeping the consumer experiences simple and streamlined is more essential than ever.