Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Coronavirus pandemic causes ‘seismic shift’ in EU payments industry, retail trends

Forrester says that payment services and patterns in the EU have shifted, perhaps for good.

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The COVID-19 pandemic is a catalyst for "seismic shifts" in the EU payments industry, new research suggests. 

When stay-at-home orders and lockdowns were imposed in the European Union, stores closed their doors and many of us turned to online services in order to buy everything from the weekly food shop to clothing. 

Many businesses also made the decision to stop accepting physical cash entirely, asking customers instead to pay with contactless cards or chip-and-PIN instead. 

We are many months on and the retail industry -- alongside many others, including hospitality and events -- are still suffering. Physical stores, pubs, and hotels either have or are at the risk of closure, and some companies have chosen to shift their entire businesses online. 

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Without a return to 'normality' on the horizon, the novel coronavirus has prompted radical shifts not only in the way we shop but also the way we pay.

New research into changing EU payment trends, recently published by Forrester, suggests that high street interruption, consumer fears, and changing spending patterns caused by COVID-19 will impact payments if not for years, then permanently. 

Forrester says that one in five adults across the EU tried out digital payment methods for the first time during the first wave of the pandemic, including contactless, mobile, and digital wallets. 

The use of notes and coins has plummeted; for example, Visa has reported a 50% drop in UK customers accessing ATMs over this year. 

A survey conducted by Forrester found that close to half of EU residents plan to use cash "less" after lockdown periods end, and as Europeans work out how to balance "risk and convenience," global offline sales are expected to decline by 7.9% over 2020 in preference for online shopping. 

The report estimates that revenue made from offline sales will not recover and rebound to 2019 levels until at least 2024.

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In addition, the purchase of big-ticket items has been delayed, with up to a third of adults in the UK, France, and Italy choosing not to buy cars or go on holidays, for example, due to economic uncertainties. 

Forrester predicts a 3.6% contraction in overall retail sales across the UK, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy this year, a loss of €103 billion ($121bn). 

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These changes will require retailers and financial companies alike to adapt to changing consumer payment preferences or risk their survival. While larger organizations such as banks and digital providers -- including PayPal and Square -- may benefit in the long run by reducing reliance on physical cash, fintechs; too; can capitalize on new trends. 

TechRepublic: Visa: Contactless payment and online stores key to small business survival

However, fintechs will only be able to do so if they have diversified portfolios, are sensitive to customer demand and changing needs; are able to adapt rapidly, and also have robust financial health -- at least, at the start of the pandemic. If they are too narrow in focus, the market research agency believes they will face broader economic challenges and are not only at the risk of takeover, but also collapse. 

"Even when a vaccine is administered, many of the new behaviors that consumers are developing will persist as they find their balance between safety and convenience," Forrester says. "[This] will present banks and payments firms with opportunity -- but also considerable challenges."

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