Voice of the Industry

Responding to the pandemic: future trends in global payments

Monday 28 September 2020 10:54 CET | Editor: Andra Constantinovici | Voice of the industry

Wei Zhihong of UnionPay International takes a close look at the ecommerce trends that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic and how will the industry look like from now on.


The spread of COVID-19 has created unimagined challenges for societies around the world with businesses having to adapt to serve their customers. As countries emerge from lockdown, it will be important for payment companies to acknowledge the challenges merchants will face over the coming months. 

Adjusting to the new reality 

The reduction of in-store foot flow has significantly affected the physical business and the economy in the European market. Industries more dependent on offline channels are having a harder time, however many businesses are actively adjusting to, if not embracing, the new reality. In the long run, the pandemic is likely to be the impetus for these businesses to accelerate the integration of online and offline payments, speed up digital transformation, strengthen online promotion and apply new technology tools as well as enhance their customer data resources. 

The stay-at-home orders required most consumers to purchase food, personal toiletries, and other daily necessities through online channels. This has prompted many merchants to shift their sales channels online. Online transactions in areas such as food delivery and public utility payments have also grown rapidly. 

To meet consumers’ growing demand for online purchases, payment companies are actively expanding their online network, allowing customers to use their credit cards or electronic wallets with more merchants. For example, we have enabled more ecommerce merchants to accept UnionPay, including partnering with Glovo, a fast-growing on-demand delivery service provider in Europe. 

These measures not only help minimise the impact of the pandemic on people’s lives, but also bring customers to businesses. 

Custom control procedures have been introduced in countries around the world, in addition to severe international travel restrictions. Customers who are unable to travel abroad and make purchases while away, have switched to ecommerce platforms or individual online stores to meet their purchase needs. We expect cross-border shopping habits and the demand for overseas products to achieve significant growth in the next few months as customers become more comfortable with making purchases above and beyond necessary essentials. 

The lockdown has also boosted demand for indoor entertainment with consumers spending more time and money on online video, audio, and gaming platforms. For instance, transactions made with UnionPay cards at the world’s top online game stores have multiplied several times during the pandemic. 

As many countries ease restrictions and we return to more ‘normal’ times, offline shopping, especially in Europe, is very likely to remain dominant for many merchants as they seek to re-coup costs lost during the pandemic and attract customers into their stores. 

Yet it is important for businesses prioritising the high street to examine the trends we have seen during the most severe lockdowns and use that experience to embrace new technology, in order to create immersive online shopping experiences.

This might include re-adjusting their business strategy to create new experiences through content creation, VR (virtual reality) product display, one-to-one online shopping appointments, and VIP delivery services. After all, merchants will have to focus on customer demand and strive to meet the needs of new and returning customers to improve their shopping experience. 

The longer-term impacts on business and society 

Several new payment trends will emerge as a direct result of COVID- 19, including the rapid spread of cashless payments. Nations are reducing the use of cash or banknotes and promoting online and mobile payments. 

Contactless payments, already common in markets like Australia and Europe even before COVID-19, are gaining steam in many more markets since the outbreak, in some cases with increased spending limits to boost their utility. For public transport in particular, electronic payments such as contactless are likely to become not only the preferred method of payment for consumers, but also for transport operators, with many only accepting contactless payments to ensure front line workers avoid close contact with transport users. In China, for example, metros of 34 cities and buses of over 1,700 cities/counties accept UnionPay mobile payments. UnionPay contactless payments is also accepted by public transit networks in Russia, Southeast Asia, South Asia and many more markets. In the short term, this helps prevent the spread of COVID-19, and in the long term becomes much more efficient for the operator. 

We may also see the rapid expansion of electronic payments among new groups of consumers such as the elderly, who have had to adjust to new types of payments in lockdown. Once new habits are formed, the elderly are likely to be loyal users of electronic payments. 

The retail industry will also more readily embrace new technology. In China, for example, a large shopping centre enabled consumers to buy from the merchants located within the mall using its official app. Shoppers could then access all the brands they wanted as well as benefiting the merchants who were able to sell through the app. 


COVID-19 has undoubtedly necessitated a hurried shift to everything that is digital and we have witnessed this also within the payments industry. As countries start to emerge from lockdown, more consumers and merchants will embrace contactless and online payments. Payment companies will need to work with consumers and merchants, striving to innovate and provide new digital and technological solutions to ensure that we can continue to meet the changing needs brought about by the global pandemic.

This article was published in our Payment Methods Report 2020, an extensive overview of what’s new in how people pay in the most relevant ecommerce markets.

About Wei Zhihong

Wei Zhihong graduated from Graduate School of the People’s Bank of China with a PhD Degree of Economics, after he earned two Master Degrees at Loughborough University and Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, as well as a Bachelor’s Degree in at Shanxi University of Finance and Economics. 

About UnionPay International

UnionPay International (UPI) is a subsidiary of China UnionPay focused on the growth and support of UnionPay’s global business. In partnership with more than 2000 institutions worldwide, UnionPay International has enabled card acceptance in 178 countries and regions with issuance in 61 countries and regions. UnionPay International provides high quality, cost effective, and secure cross-border payment services to the world’s largest cardholder base, and ensures convenient local services to a growing number of global UnionPay cardholders and merchants. 

Free Headlines in your E-mail

Every day we send out a free e-mail with the most important headlines of the last 24 hours.

Subscribe now

Keywords: Wei Zhihong, UnionPay International, payment methods report, ecommerce, online payments, ecommerce payments, lockdown, online transactions, on-demand delivery, pandemic, ecommerce platform, electronic payments
Categories: Payments & Commerce
Countries: World
This article is part of category

Payments & Commerce