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Why De Vleeshalle, the Mercado from Mechelen (Belgium), went cashless and why this is a right way to go: an interview with the founder

Thu, 02 May 2019

Rik Coeckelbergs Founder and CEO The Banking Scene

Last week I blogged about my cashless experience of De Vleeshalle, a new mercado in the centre of Mechelen. Given the interest in this blog, and the fact that the Digital Payment Day of Febelfin is coming up (on May 11), I was very excited to have a chat with Kevin Goos, the co-founder of De Vleeshalle.

What made you decide to go cashless with De Vleeshalle?

Going cashless was not an easy choice.

The idea of creating a mercado dates already from 3–4 years back, before similar initiatives in Ghent and Antwerp came up. De Vleeshalle needed to be a mix of all kinds of business ideas we had along the years, a total experience center for business, tourists and local consumers.

Due to circumstances the project took more times than expected. Today, we understand this was an opportunity. We saw what worked for the other mercados, and what didn’t. We learned from other initiatives, and improved our concept.

Having travelled a lot and enjoying similar initiatives abroad, including the Netherlands and Scandinavia, we realised that Belgium is running 20 years behind when it comes to digital payments. That triggered us to go cashless in De Vleeshalle.

Vleeshalle middelgroot

We want to be a front runner in Belgium, and an example for many others in the future. Today 60% of store purchases are paid in cash. With a cashless mercado in Mechelen, we want to show that you can also run successful hospitality businesses without accepting cash. We sincerely believe this is the future, also in Belgium.

How do you deal with Belgian consumers that remain very loyal to cash?

Indeed cash is part of the DNA of the Belgian citizen. We see that in our liquor store, that we run alongside De Vleeshalle, still 60% is paid in cash. That lead to our idea of being a pioneer over all segments in the market hall. Moreover, we take an explicit distance from the title of food market: on the longer term we want to become a smart market. Payments is one aspect thereof, and an important one at that.

So we were very glad that during our opening weekend, you reached out to us to talk about our payment methods. In the mind of people, hospitality in Belgium is still linked to cash. Therefore we really want to make a statement. Yes, we are in Belgium, and in hospitality, but we have a vision that is legitime and future proof. You absolutely can open a hospitality business without reliance on black money and cash.

We hope we can be a trail blazer here, and that we can inspire many other hospitality business with this, whether it is a bar, a restaurant, or a brasserie.

Nevertheless, let’s be clear, there is still a lot of work in this area, also for the suppliers of payments services! Synchronisation of payment services with cash registers remains a problem, moreover in a phygital (digital + physical) environment, whether you talk to the big players or a small challengers. Suppliers do not seem to be able to seamlessly integrate both point-of-sale and online orders. We want to be a front runner and every day we are confronted with new problems, the whole week we were open already. That is very unfortunate, because we could have been a showcase for their services towards many other businesses.

Besides the technical problems and the weak support of providers, I think reducing the cost of card transactions would be an enabler to promote digital payments. If we want to boost cashless payments in Belgium, card transaction charges must go down.

Today commercial business are still confronted with the fact that cash is a legal means of payment payments mean, so in theory you are obliged to accept cash. To make it very concrete, when we visited De Vleeshalle, we witnessed a situation of a guy who claimed not to have a bank account.

Indeed, we got this remark before. That is unfortunate, but on the other hand you could raise the question why he doesn’t have a bank account, notably in Belgium. Isn’t he more making a statement rather than telling the truth?

We understand that cash is a legal tender, but up ’til now, our customers are OK with it. At first people tend to be a bit confused, a second reflexion makes them change their payment habits and in the end, they like the approach.

As you know, it is a matter of being able to make that ‘click’ in the heads of people.

Did innovation play an important role when choosing the right payments provider? You currently work with Loyaltec, a small fintech player.

Innovation was not a key criterium. We went for idea of collaborating with a smaller player that likes to stand up against the industry players. In our other business we already worked with all the big players, but their services towards smaller companies like ours is hopeless. That’s why we were looking for a new provider.

By collaborating with a smaller provider, we hoped to get a closer contact for a better service. We did achieve this to some extent, but there is still room for improvement.

Would you like to test with new innovative payment solutions in the future as well?

We’d love to! Companies can always contact us for pilot projects. , This is the future, whether we like it or not and we’d like to get on board!

A study of The Banking Scene showed that in The Netherlands, most young consumers (below 35) liked the idea of payments based on facial recognition rather than on wearables (7,3% vs 5,7%).

I’m a fan of those kind of solutions, even if it is not my core business. Our approach of going cashless contributes to the experience of our concept, people will talk about it. Imagine what impact new payment methods would have. It sounds minor perhaps, but all these small things are part of the total puzzle.

That is correct. Like the prepaid card for wine: you provide a prepaid card to let guests experience the recommended wines by using a self-tap machine.. It allows people to choose the amount of wine they like, no need to queue. Especially if you fancy the minimum amount of 3cl, avoiding the effort of a queue is crucial. As a result, the prepaid concept does not feel like an additional step in the process of buying wine, because it is one element in the whole experience. It is different than a prepaid card in e.g. a football stadium, where the prepaid card is just an extra step in the process of getting a drink, without any added value for the user. The only advantage is for the club, that can lower its cost of payments due to the fewer transactions via debit or credit cards.

Indeed, the prepaid card needed to add value for consumers as well, otherwise we would not have done it. As such the idea is no rocket science, but it contributes to the experience of consumers who like tasting wine. On the longer term, we also hope to make food pairings possible through the prepaid card.

Perhaps a prepaid gift card in the future?

This is definitely something we are looking at, but we’re currently facing the issue of redistribution: all the stands are independents, how do we get the money from the central account to each individual independent where the prepaid card is used? If you know anyone who can help with that, let us know! ?

For the die hard cash users, this may just be the solution: they buy a gift card in cash, and all consumption is done electronically.

You found a loophole!

For those who got intrigued by De Vleeshalle, you can find them in Huidevettersstraat 7, 2800 Mechele

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