The Very Point of Sale: Hospitality’s Magical Commerce Journey
By Dale Laszig, The Green Sheet | July 24, 2023
HITEC, held June 26 to 29, 2023, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, was a hive of tech, from guest-room towel tracking systems to in-room entertainment and self-attended check-ins. Assorted solutions reflected technology’s proliferating role in the hotel guest experience.
Produced by Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals, a global nonprofit hospitality association, HITEC Toronto featured an exhibit hall filled with solutions introduced during the pandemic that continue to scale due to convenience, flexibility and ease of use. I discussed these trends with IHG Hotels and Resorts, Worldpay, Toast, and FreedomPay executives at the Toast and FreedomPay booth. Our discussion coincided with the publication of a white paper, “Implementation vs. Rewards of Tech Investments,” prepared by Hanover Research for FreedomPay, Worldpay and Cornell. Researchers identified five considerations for tech investment: data privacy, security, reliability, ease of use, and customer satisfaction.
“Customer satisfaction is the highest priority for the largest share of companies when purchasing payment solutions,” Hanover researchers wrote. “More than half (59%) believe customer satisfaction is a high priority. And yet, when it comes to considering customer preferences, less than a quarter (23%) said they would strongly consider customer preferences vs more than half (67%) who would moderately consider their customer preferences.”
Magic behind the scenes
In opening the discussion, I congratulated FreedomPay for winning a technology innovation award from Hospitality Upgrade magazine and mentioned how the guest experience has improved in recent years, largely driven by the behind-the-scenes magic of unified commerce.
Marilyn May, head of product management at IHG Hotels and Resorts, noted that commerce fascinates payments professionals but is hardly top of mind for consumers. “No one ever came back from a hotel or a restaurant raving about how great it was to use their credit card,” she said. “They usually talk about a server or front-desk agent, and if we’ve all done our jobs, we’ve made it better for them to do their jobs by taking technology out of the equation.”
Jeff Walls, vice president, solution sales at FreedomPay, stated the magic behind the scenes enables FreedomPay and other gateways to deliver complex solutions in simplified ways.
“We make it look easy, where our partners are plugging in devices into their workstations, whether it’s PMS (property management system), POS, or connecting remotely,” he said. “We’re configuring that technology and have the ability to make it look easy because our middleware is communicating with the point of sale, PMS systems and [payment] processors.”
Kelly Esten, senior vice president and general manager, enterprise at Toast, pointed out that digital commerce, like our phones, is embedded in our lives.
“We’ve all been using [smartphones] for a long time and they’ve become part of us, something that we don’t ever leave the house without,” she said, adding that during COVID, numerous technologies that were nice to have, like the ability to order online or on your phone, or to grab a menu and interact digitally with a restaurant, have become a hotel guest expectation.
In concert with advancements in technology, guest expectations have changed the way restaurants and food and beverage outlets and hotels are approaching technology, which has evolved from “these things I can offer my guests” to “things that my guests really can’t live without,” Esten said.
May agreed, stating that hotels are still evaluating which pandemic-related solutions will stick. She noted that contactless payments and remote ordering are still popular, but queried whether other solutions, such as QR code menus, will go back to being nice-to-haves. Throughout this process, she added, our partnership with FreedomPay will give us a strong foundation to build on to create memorable guest experiences where no one even notices how they paid.
Security as table stakes
As Hanover researchers noted, protecting against data breaches and cyberattacks is a clear priority: 86 percent of respondents viewed data privacy as a highly or moderately important attribute of their POS and PMS systems.
“Data breaches can wreak havoc on a company’s reputation and the satisfaction of its stakeholders,” researchers wrote. “84% of respondents suggest that customer satisfaction is important for them, and securing valuable personal customer and transactional information is vital to maintaining the trust of customers, investors, and all other stakeholders.”
Elliot Bunney, senior strategy manager at Worldpay, concurred with researchers that data breaches can wreak havoc on a brand’s reputation, stating restaurants and hotel brands are hardening their security postures following years of bad press about high-profile data breaches.
“Security has always been an issue in the hospitality industry, but not long ago it was lower down on the investment list,” he said. “Merchants didn’t care about data breaches but history has done a lot to change that, with data breaches occurring on a massive scale.”
Tech that just works
Bunney also mentioned that implementation has become less of a pain point for hospitality stakeholders in recent years.
“Implementation for hotels and restaurants at scale is easy when you partner with the right people,” he said. “I remember installing restaurant solutions in my early payment days that could take up to six or eight hours to complete. With today’s plug-and-play solutions, you no longer need to close the restaurant for an installation. You do that in an hour before it opens.”
Wall agreed, stating, “There’s no closing the hotel; we’ll do this off hours, before you open,” he said. “People who haven’t invested in payment technology in a while are really surprised by not only how quickly and efficiently we can implement, but also by the fact that there’s limited training; everyone knows how to use a credit card machine; everybody knows they can tap their card or watch or phone. There’s this common knowledge in the industry about how these things work.”
Esten said easy integration was one of the reasons behind starting Toast. “Our founders wanted to create a consumer mobile app,” she said. “When they couldn’t integrate all the legacy technology, they decided to build a POS from scratch. Ten years later, after building all that tech, they joke that they finally got to launch the app.”
Read the original article here to see what other experts had to say.