This year started with hope and promise no different from years prior, but it took a sudden and unexpected change, COVID-19, that has challenged us all in different ways. For some, the challenge has been centered around how to keep the country fed and employees safe. For others, it has been focused on how to keep businesses viable. In a matter of days, we were creating new business practices to serve our customers in ways we had not considered in the past while also accelerating pilots of new operational models to serve their expectations.
The unprecedented change in the business environment also had an impact on a personal level for so many people. General routines for school and office work changed overnight, causing many of us to re-evaluate how both could get done in an effective manner. In addition, we all learned new safety protocols to reduce the chance of spreading the virus. Travel was cancelled and life events like weddings, graduations and saying goodbye to a love one all required changes to original plans.
Unfortunately, the stress of the pandemic for some businesses caused layoffs or furloughed employees and, in some cases, total liquidation. These challenges have caused many of our peers and colleagues to search for new opportunities both inside and outside of the payments industry. It is never a good time to uproot your family for a job change. It is even more challenging during a period of great uncertainty.
Through it all, though, the resilience and creativity of the payments community has shined. Instead of approaching this pandemic as a problem which needed to be fixed, many saw it as an opportunity to serve their customers in new ways. We have seen solutions pop up throughout the industry allowing for the continuation of critical services. The grocery sector worked at perfecting order online and pick-up in store models. Think about how many signs you see in parking lots today with dedicated spaces for customers to just drive up and park while store associates deliver products curbside.
The rise of touchless transactions did not just happen in the grocery sector. We have also seen it in home improvement, electronics, pet supplies, restaurants and many more verticals. For instance, curbside pick-up for restaurants became a lifeline with pay online making the process easier to complete. Turning store locations into online fulfillment centers with same day pick-up allowed people to establish home offices quickly, so the workforce could transition their office environments. Another example of expedited expansion was the ability for SNAP consumers to purchase online in a handful of states to over 47 in a matter of months.
All of these solutions show the determination of a nation not allowing a virus to take control but rather finding ways to serve customers until the virus can be controlled. At the MAG we also looked at ways to adapt. We held both the Tech Forum and Annual Conference virtually with more merchants in attendance than when we were together last in-person. The number of webinars increased to help process through the new environment we all faced. Communities of Practice got to work at creating white papers and developing best practice guides to help merchants better navigate the environment. We worked with the networks and acquirers to identify which protocols needed to be amended to work in this new environment.
We also have been hard at work creating new digital resources to find and digest information easier. At the beginning of November, we launched our new website and learning center. Please visit merchantadvisorygroup.org and take a look at the new site. You will also notice we changed the distribution of the stories within the newsletter to help make them easier to digest. Sign up through the website for a subscription to MAG Insights to receive the latest MAG articles.
At the end of this year, we will launch our new baseline payments training called Merchant Payments 101. This will include five fundamental classes which will cover everything from the history of payments to how to review an acquirer statement. We are excited to offer these classes free of charge to our merchant members for the first year the program is offered.
As we closeout 2020, I am grateful for all the merchants, sponsors, staff, board and friends of the MAG that have helped continued to make us successful. Through our ability to come together and collaborate we have solved many of the industry’s problems. There are a couple of key metrics I would like to share regarding our community. First, 100% of conference survey respondents said they would recommend MAG to a peer. Second, 98% of survey respondents felt the MAG was making progress in the merchants’ voice being heard in the payment industry.
I know everyone has tough choices to make on where to spend both their dollars and time – especially this past year – and I am grateful so many chose the MAG.