How payments tech is changing the UAE


Card payments are part and parcel of modern life. When you go shopping, it’s a reasonable assumption that you’ll pay for items using your credit or debit card – it’s easier than carrying loads of cash, after all.

But despite paying by card being easier and faster, according to Omnia Pay, a payments company, Middle East consumer are still very loyal to traditional payment methods. Indeed, in the UAE, cash is still king, with 80% of the population unbanked, according to the Payfort report and Omnia Pay’s statistics.

“Customers need to be educated about new payment methods and see the benefits as well as experience the added convenience for themselves for it to gain traction,” says Maseeh Ahmed, CEO of Omnia Pay.

As an example, the traditional point of sales (POS) system, the cashier machine that the seller plugs your card into, works well in accepting card payments. But there are disadvantages – that’s where the mobile point of sales comes in handy, or mPOS for short.

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But the thing is, if consumers are going to be excited about it, the mPOS system’s advantages need to be highlighted. Omnia Pay, which makes the mPOS, says that it adds convenience and a personal shopping experience with one-to-one interaction. The sales assistant can engage with the customer right from the start of the shopping experience. As a result, the customer receives a dedicated, personal service.

“Merchants need to ensure their sales staff are well trained to be able to clearly explain to customers the mobile payment transaction process and its benefits…customer loyalty data can be integrated in to the mPOS device and customer, preferences and shopping behaviour analysed in order to provide targeted, relevant promotions and offers in real-time,” Ahmed says.

But let’s face it, most people don’t care about the POS technology in the shops they visit, but this is how Omnia Pay wants to help. In the UAE, there are “20 million mobile phones, which equates to two mobile phones per person”, so that means that consumers can start using their smartphones for more than calling and texting.

With that in mind, Ahmed says that mobile payments are something that consumers can get excited about, but admits that there is still work to do.

“There is still some way to go in terms of turning cash transactions into card transactions and in turn mobile wallet payment transactions. There are certain segments,” he explains.

The Middle East is currently under-serviced compared to the rest of the world – particularly in this segment. There are limited deployments in the retail sector, but it was recently reported that Omnia Pay’s mPOS has been approved by Visa for inclusion in the Visa Ready Programme. This follows the earlier approval from MasterCard. This could be a sign that mPOS will start gaining popularity with everyday consumers.

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While mPOS was primarily launched in the UAE market as a solution targeted to displace cash payment in the home delivery segment, things are changing and it’s being now positioned as an ‘integrated in-store queue buster’ solution. The mobility of point of a sales system goes a long way in positively impacting the overall consumer experience.

A similar system works particularly well in the UAE’s Apple Stores. In these stores, Apple ‘Geniuses’ are able to take payments from the consumer anywhere in the store, meaning there’s no need to queue up to pay for the item you’ve just selected. Omnia Pay sees such systems as the future to retail.

Omnia Pay also purports to make payments cheaper with its mPOS system. All that’s needed for an mPOS system is a smartphone with internet access. mPOS eliminates the requirement of a fixed line, and the hassles of applying for and maintaining a POS from a bank. This saves time and money for merchants.

That said, for the time being, mPOS can only save money for the merchant, and Ahmed is “not sure how much of this saving would be passed on from the merchant to the consumer”.

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