Lately, I’ve become deeply troubled when I pay for items at most stores. And no, it’s not because I’ve run out of money due to poor budgeting. Nor am I suffering from kleptomania. Instead, I’ve simply grown tired of the ridiculous process that accompanies most in-store payments.
I mean seriously, what’s the deal with having to play a game of 20 Questions when making credit/debit transactions at most stores, gas stations and other venues? Are all of those questions necessary in return for the privilege of spending my hard-earned money? For example:
- Debit or credit?
- Would I like cash back?
- Do I want the entire transaction on one card, or do I want to split it among multiple cards (ahem, Target)?
- Will I confirm the total amount?
- Would I like a receipt for my transaction?
All I want to do is swipe my card. That’s it. No additional steps required. At worst, I’d like to make a quick card swipe and then answer one prompt to confirm the payment, similar to the process that Starbucks has put in place for its payment solution for mobile devices, Starbucks Card Mobile. Of course, the payment scenarios covered in the questions above need to be accounted for, but they should be subordinate to a quick-pay process.
Hopefully, the hour of a less-maddening, wide-scale payment process is at hand. Major players — from credit card companies like Visa and MasterCard, to mobile operating system manufacturers like Apple, Google and Microsoft — are all building solutions using Near Field Communication technology that will position mobile smartphones to someday replace wallets for many consumers. If you’re not familiar with NFC, then you can check out quick primers on how it can change our daily lives and why you should care about it.
But while I’m excited about NFC (which I’ve written about before), I’m left to wonder about whether it will truly ease my pain. Porting the standard payment process from wallets to mobile phones won’t cut it. Instead, for NFC to gain quick traction as a mainstream payment option, it needs to improve the payment experience for consumers through:
- Simplicity. See above. Hint: No more games of 20 Questions.
- Password flexibility. Entering a password for every payment is untenable. Consumers should be able to choose from a range of timeout intervals to prevent frequent password re-entry (though Apple recently tightened controls in this area).
- E-receipts. If you’ve bought anything at an Apple Store lately, you’re familiar with the standard — and wonderfully convenient — option of receiving a purchase receipt by email instead of in paper form. Manufacturers of NFC hardware and software should relegate paper receipts to a secondary, optional function, requiring an extra 1-2 screen taps.
- Security. Consumer confidence will be a key driver of NFC adoption. Scare tactics — such as Verifone’s alarmist letter demanding a recall of Square credit card readers — are are almost inevitable as companies battle for share in the emerging mobile payments market. But these tactics won’t slow NFC adoption if the payment options from the top providers prove stable and secure early on.
- Multi-Account Support. I’m not backtracking from my assertion that a quick-pay process is a matter of paramount importance, but NFC payment services need to support multiple bank, credit and online (i.e. PayPal) accounts.
Are these things really too much too ask? If anyone from Visa, Apple, Google, etc. needs help understanding the key requirements for NFC payments, then I’ll be happy to answer their questions. By now I’m used to answering a lot of them. I have tolerance for about 20.
What do you think it will take for NFC to gain acceptance as a mainstream payment option? Let me know with a comment below!