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Merchant Payments in a Socially Distanced Environment: A Lifesaver for Small Businesses

April 17, 2020
Many businesses are adopting virtual payment platforms to expand into new revenue streams and help their business going. (Photo credit):

The latest tools to help merchants take orders, accept payment and send customer notifications online

For many small businesses—pizza parlors, clothing stores, coffeeshops—allowing customers to place an order by phone or laptop and walk inside to pick up their purchase was normal. Since the COVID-19 shutdown, however, the payment landscape has evolved to a whole new level.

Previously, some merchants did not have online tools, and the acceptance of payments revolved around in-person-only methods. The technology to go virtual has been available, but many businesses did not feel the need to adapt.

Now, customer behavior has changed, and the need to embrace the technology has emerged. Business owners realize that, if they’re to survive the unprecedented catastrophe created by the coronavirus, they’ll need to become creative. Many are adopting virtual payments platforms to expand into new revenue streams.

Digital commerce for brick-and-mortar retailers had typically been limited to simply ordering ahead. That’s had to change in the coronavirus shutdown. Countless restaurants, for example, now offer takeout and curbside pickup. It’s been made possible largely through virtual payment solutions.

“Typical small businesses that have been traditionally dependent on foot traffic never felt the need to be able to transact online or use a virtual gateway,” said Disha Lal, senior product manager at East West. “The COVID-19 pandemic has created a dramatic shift in consumer behavior, necessitating immediate action by businesses to be innovative and be quick to market.”

Restaurants must adapt or face potential catastrophe

The threat to small business owners in the restaurant space is real and immediate. Between March 1 and April 13, restaurants lost more than 3 million jobs and $25 billion in sales, according to the National Restaurant Association. Thousands of restaurants have been forced to close dining rooms to prevent the spread of the virus. State and local governments have implemented shelter-in-place policies, or they have limited the size of public gatherings.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created a dramatic shift in consumer behavior, necessitating immediate action by businesses to be innovative and be quick to market.”

-Disha Lal

(Photo credit): Images

The social distancing mandate has drastically changed a restaurant owner’s business model—at least for now. Restaurants need to be agile and adapt to new ways of doing business to maintain their revenue streams.

Mamacita’s Mexican Restaurant in Texas recently adopted a wireless payments terminal called Poynt that enabled them to take payments at curbside. The terminal also has “smart” capabilities that allows the business owner to instantaneously change their menu without requiring a technical expert. As their inventory changes, the payments terminal can be dynamically updated.

“The Poynt terminal has added more efficiency for our takeout and curbisde platforms,” said Gina Gonzalez-Kuper, controller for Mamacita’s. “Our customers are able to wait less and go!”

After successfully using it at one location, they are considering expanding the use of mobile terminals at other locations.

Alternate methods of accepting payments are something that many business owners never needed to consider before, even though it doesn’t take long to set up, in some cases as soon as 24 hours.

“Many business owners are unaware of all the merchant payment options available today. The time to embrace new technology is now,” says Dustin Sullivan, vice president and GTS merchant sales manager at East West Bank.

In speaking to merchants about online payments, Sullivan said he was surprised to find out how few businesses owned websites that were equipped to accept digital payments. Once these businesses add this feature, it’s something that many will likely want to keep even after life returns to normal, he said.

Choosing the right system

Merchants can choose among several different options for how to accept payments. What’s best for one business might not be best for all of them, and some might need to pivot to market needs, Lal said.

Keep these choices in mind when considering systems:

  • Technology that does not require a lot of new hardware or software upgrades
  • Smart terminals to expand your payment acceptance capabilities
  • Easy to use technology that does not rely on a tech-savvy employee to set up or modify your online shop
  • Features that enable multi-level menus or product classifications
  • Tools that track and catalog your inventory
  • Flexibility to accept orders and payments online
  • Ability to send order status and notifications

The point-of-sale solution, Talech, has expanded capabilities to not only accept payments, but also give merchants the ability to add online ordering and charge customers through a credit or debit card. Talech also provides online order notifications, status updates and tracking capabilities. Converge is another payments system that lets retailers take payments either online or through a mobile app.

Business owners can either rent or purchase the Talech or Converge systems, depending on their immediate financial situation, Lal said.

For business owners who have never before offered it, online sales could be a valuable new source of revenue when the economic shutdown is lifted. That’s something any business owner should be on the lookout for.

“We will see a shift in the way businesses operate and in consumer expectations,” Lal said. “Merchants need to better meet the shopping and fulfillment needs of today’s mobile-first consumer.”

Many restaurant owners freely admit that takeout and curbside service, even when powered by alternative payment acceptance options, won’t completely fill the void of the sales they’ve lost. The same can be said for other types of business. But for many, it’s a way to tread water and to survive the COVID-19 lockdown, Sullivan said.

Contact East West Bank Merchant Services Team

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