This Startup Is Helping Local Stores ID Customers During COVID-19

Retailers, restaurants, resorts, and theaters are all shutting their doors in an effort to slow down the coronavirus pandemic. Many of these businesses are looking for ways to provide their services online, quickly launching websites to sell products and replacing in-person appointments with video conferences.

Chatbots are helping resolve customer service issues when businesses are closed and call centers are slammed, but brick-and-mortar stores are still struggling to adapt to an online-only business format. Pure play ecommerce outlets have spent years developing systems to manage transactions and verify customer identities, but most retailers on Main Street are accustomed to seeing shoppers in person and visually checking IDs.

A San Francisco-based startup called Persona is offering to help those local businesses adapt by giving away its online ID verification service for free during the COVID-19 crisis.

“We are talking to certain businesses that have been impacted by the crisis, whose services have either been significantly impacted by the crisis or are now even more critical to the greater community at large,” says Persona CEO Rick Song.

Persona acts as a trusted middleman for companies doing business online. The company secures transactions that use personally identifying information (PII), similar to how PayPal works as a trusted middleman handling payments between merchants and buyers.

For retailers and other businesses that have had to go online because of the coronavirus shutdown, Persona will help confirm that customers coming through their websites and other digital channels are who they actually claim to be. Persona does this by verifying pieces of personal information, so companies can work with their clients securely online.

Many local retailers and service providers who’ve just started offering their products and services online for the first time haven’t stopped to think about the potential risk of data breaches and other privacy issues. These businesses have been quick to set up websites and start accepting payments for services online. Persona is hoping that by offering its service for free, local businesses will reduce their personal risk of data breaches.

“Whereas for some businesses simply putting up a website may be enough, other businesses that rely on checking ID’s, or verifying people’s identity from a trust and safety perspective might need a digital identity verification solution,” says Song. “For example, grocery stores that want to deliver alcoholic beverages will have to verify age by checking a valid ID — or healthcare services that check your government ID to allow you to move forward with an appointment.”

Song says Persona offers a low barrier approach to implementing identity verification, with a hosted flow solution that allows businesses that don’t have engineering teams to still be able to collect the information they need. Specifically, he foresees identity verification being useful to local pharmacies, healthcare offices, real estate offices, restaurants, grocery stores, and financial services companies.

Beyond protecting local businesses from fraud, having an online identity verification service could add a layer of security for customers, too. People who are used to shopping on Main Street often feel uncomfortable transacting with those same businesses online, but identity verification systems can identify customers using only the “bare minimum” amount of personal information. That means local businesses don’t have to collect unnecessary data through their websites, and they’re less likely to lose control of sensitive information if a breach were to occur.

“We have always prioritized protecting people and businesses from a security perspective — namely, making sure sensitive information is being handled, managed, and stored securely,” Song says. “Now, we want to offer that safety to all of these businesses that can in turn play a big role in keeping more people safe and at home.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

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