Almost half of Irish small businesses surveyed by payments company Visa said they were now offering contactless payments options to their customers for the first time.

That is up from 15% of firms who said they were doing so in June of last year, as businesses were adapting to new demands amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Visa surveyed 250 small Irish firms in late November for its latest Back to Business Study, as well as canvassing the views of 500 adults here.

Almost two thirds of consumers who took part in the study said they would prefer to use contactless as much, if not more, after the pandemic.

About two in five said they were unlikely to shop at a store that did not offer a digital payment option.

Hand in hand with the demand for greater digital payment options comes greater attention to security and card fraud.

The Visa study found that around 80% of consumers had taken steps to protect themselves from fraud.

The pandemic saw a surge in fraud attempts as more and more consumers shifted their shopping and financial transactions online in greater volumes.

Even with proactive consumers, businesses have a crucial role to play in protecting payments.

Last month, Strong Customer Authentication (SCA), a new EU regulatory requirement aimed at reducing fraud, came into effect in Ireland.

Businesses that fail to prepare may find that banks will decline customer payments.

SCA requires banks to check that payments are being made by the correct cardholder – and not a fraudster – by asking them for two methods of identification such as a fingerprint or one-time passcode.

Other aspects of the study included a finding that the single biggest business challenge arising from the pandemic is changing consumer behaviour, which was identified by almost a third of businesses.

That was followed by keeping staff safe (26%), access to capital (22%), employee retention (17%) and technological barriers (26%).

“Small businesses have shown determination and resilience throughout the pandemic, with many adapting quickly to a new normal,” Dominic White, Acting Country Manager for Visa in Ireland, said.

“As people continue to shop online and use digital payments in store, there is great opportunity for small businesses to keep innovating and finding new ways to serve their communities,” he added.