User story: the flustered customer and contactless payment

User story: the flustered customer and contactless payment

This is a rural community. Queues form in the local store not because there are too many customers, but rather because what few customers there are stop for extended conversations about the weather. Outside, a pick-up truck sits with its engine idling, the keys left in the ignition. A few dead birds are scattered in the rusted metal back, but passers-by don’t give it a second glance – game season is in full swing at this time of year.

However, the most prominent sticker on the shop’s door is an ‘Apple Pay’ logo, less than two months after it launched in the UK.

The customer at the front of the queue inserts their credit card into the terminal and the lady behind the counter looks momentarily confused. She taps a few buttons on the touchscreen in front of her to adjust something.

“Oh, you’re going to do it that way?” She asks, sounding ever so slightly surprised. “No, that’s ok… It’s just I’m used to people doing it with ‘the tap’ now.”

‘The tap’ refers, of course, to contactless payments. In this case they are still most likely to be initiated by plastic cards, but how much of a jump will it be before it is iPhones? This store only received compatible terminals a few months ago, but the gestural language of ‘tap to pay’ has now become familiar enough that physically pushing a card into the reader and pressing a pin number into the keypad feels like a break to routine. You might expect it in an urban centre, but this is not the sort of place traditionally associated with rapid adoption.

“It’s probably better to do it with the PIN,” she consoles the customer, who looks a little flustered, perhaps conscious of the queue behind him. “I mean, it’s a bit more secure, isn’t it?” It’s the same tone staff at the Post Office adopt when serving a customer who has come in to exchange their plastic bags full of 2p coins for a £5 note.

I notice the Apple Pay logo is repeated beside the new contactless terminal. It is incongruously sited next to a clipboard where regulars can write down their phone number to enter a raffle, using a pencil attached by a piece of string. Most of the numbers on the paper sheet are 6 digit landlines, written without the area code. Unsurprising, perhaps, in a place where mobile reception is found only in rare pockets and everyone in a 10 mile radius shares the same area prefix.

Nearby, in the local coffee shop, a different scene is unfolding. There’s no traditional checkout here. Instead, the counter is uncluttered apart from a Macbook playing a Spotify playlist and an iPad connected to a portable card reader.

There’s only one server in the small store, multi-tasking between pulling shots of espresso, ferrying them to tables and taking payments.

A lady gets up from her table and presents a credit card at the counter to pay for two coffees and two cakes.

“Can I use your contactless?” The server asks her, holding her card poised above the reader at an angle, as if to emphasise that he hasn’t – and wouldn’t – do so without her permission.

“Oh yeah, sure!” She replies quickly, in a Home Counties accent which suggests she’s unlikely to be the owner of the rusted pick-up outside. “It’s better that way – it doesn’t feel like I’m spending anything then,” she laughs.

The mobile industry has been talking about payments for as long as I can remember. These conversations have perennially been dominated – and stalled – by talk of security, ‘owning the customer’ and complex, political strategy among a web of vested interests comprising banks, payment processors and retailers. The resulting prevarication has ensured that, more than 20 years after it became technically possible to pay for goods and services with a mobile device, it is only available to a niche of early adopters in a few select markets.

Strategies have been guided by an assumption that in matters of finance users would be driven primarily by logical decisions, trusted relationships and guarantees of cast iron security.

Observing users in the real world, however, paints a different picture. Finance often brings out the most illogical behaviours in users and, in many markets, is driven as much by emotionally charged factors ranging from prestige and secrecy to fear and laziness.

There are myriad nuances – with considerable variation from market to market – which will govern who succeeds in establishing the dominant mobile payments platform. However, clues we can see in user behaviour suggest convenience of setup, retail visibility and transactional simplicity will determine leadership.

On that basis, Apple Pay is already making a strong showing. It has a streamlined approach to adding existing credit cards to the service. The appearance of Apple Pay stickers at retail checkouts is establishing the environment of implicit permission which gives users the confidence to try paying for goods for the first time. The transactional simplicity is equivalent, or in some cases, superior to that of contactless cards. As we’re starting to see in these user stories, those behaviours around ‘the tap’ take off quickly, even in rural backwaters.

Part of an ongoing series of MEX User Stories which apply the lens of real world behaviours to digital experience strategy. Read the full collection here.


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