May 9, 2024

Payments and Seamless Shopping

Airports are fascinating technology incubators. Every time I walk through one, I notice some kiosk that’s implementing a new business model or technology. It’s fun to be the guinea pig trying out all the latest payment flows and self-checkout technologies.


My mind always looks for improvements and how these new technologies might permeate daily life. With so many new technologies being presented into our shopping experience, here are a few that have really left an impact.

New Shopping Experiences

I never bothered to try Amazon’s gimmicky “Just Walk Out” implementation. Still, my local airport has a self-service gas station-style convenience store where you walk in, grab what you want, and quickly make your way to one of the many self-checkouts. This shopping experience is simple and low friction. While I know there are employees monitoring the cameras, I only see a few associates actually managing the store. From this example, one might conclude that self-service is the new model, and at least in my daily life, most large-scale gas stations and general stores already have an implementation.

New Payment Experiences

With the advent of digital wallets and NFC, the last decade has been fascinating all around for consumer payments. Apple Pay and Google Pay are accepted practically everywhere, and contactless payments are now ubiquitous in physical retail, with few major exceptions. Still, paying with a smartwatch is often seen as a cool parlor trick, with folks remarking, “Wow - I should really set that up someday!”. But the truth is breaking the habit of reaching for a plastic card versus pressing a button on your watch or phone is too big of an ask for most consumers.

Amazon’s newest payment system, “Amazon One,” brings us one of the first biometric-based payment systems where it all works from a camera that scans your palm print. This is notable as it doesn’t require a device on the user at all. With this technology, I can walk into a store without a wallet and make a purchase all on my own. In a phone-keys-wallet world, this is the first small step into empty pocket territory. Amazon wants to build a better mousetrap here in an effort to pre-position themselves because this is a future market that nobody else has the vision or resources to service. Amazon will experiment in this space and maybe if this catches on they’ll build a stranglehold.

What to Expect in the Future

The innovation arms race is in full display all around us. Competitors try new models; some even manage to tweak it to some relative success. Every once in a while, a brand can break through to dominance and might even become the standard. And while most of these payment models fail, they’re always interesting and speak to the high-tech future we all want to live in.

It would be easy to say that in the future, stores will be totally frictionless, and, much like that old TV commercial, you could walk out with a trench coat filled with goods and have the whole thing be digitally tracked and charged. That reality exists somewhere now, and will be ubiquitous sooner or later, but it’s fairly clear that it won’t be the sweeping change we all expected.

Digital surfaces are still a fairly primitive medium. We’ve begun to fully realize the web channel, but the interplay of physical and digital is still an unsolved problem in this day and age. Adding even the smallest layer of friction or complexity to an otherwise painless physical or digital transaction can be a recipe for disaster.

Web channels are seen as the baseline digital channel, the one every other channel plays into by introducing it somewhere in the purchase cycle near the end of the funnel. This takes the form of a social media campaign that deep links to a product page or an actionable landing page. This purchase has to take place somewhere, and oftentimes it’s driven to the web channel out of convenience and favorable transaction rates.

The good news is that web channels have terrific support for digital wallets and payment technologies. They provide a foundation for building outer-channel experiences that integrate well into social media and ad campaigns. Consumers are flighty and innately looking for any reason to flunk out of a purchase opportunity. Focusing on minimizing possible friction and reducing barriers to purchase like manual payment and personal information entry can help take engagement to the next level.

That’s not to say you should solely focus on a web channel. Mobile is another major digital channel, and many consumers put more and more emphasis on user experience. Often, investments in mobile can lead to major differentiation between competition, building brand loyalty, and entrenching a customer base. This can be a tricky balance to strike, as for most brands the web and mobile channels are either fairly primitive or built up but disjointed making it difficult to build a unifying multi-channel strategy.

The multi-channel strategy problem compounds when you consider the complexity of payments, which would need to be introduced to both a web channel as well as with any potential mobile apps. Oftentimes things spiral out of control when technology selections make adopting certain vendors and payments more difficult for one channel, you may end up making compromises or defaulting to the web for a weaker customer experience.

If you're interested in learning more about how to improve your shopping and payment experiences, contact Blue Acorn iCi to learn more.