Contactless is all about the consumer experience

Originally published on Total Payments.

It’s always interesting to see how payment providers approach the consumer experience when they launch new products. My recent experience with a contactless payment product trial has reminded me that however smart the underlying technology, if the user experience is rubbish, it kills the product.

A major UK bank is running an iPhone based contactless payment trial using the iCarte NFC enabled case for the iPhone 4 and 4S and an app downloaded from the iOS App Store. Unfortunately the consumer experience is terrible – it requires a previous generation handset, design aesthetics of the handset are ruined by the clunky case, the handset cannot be charged using the Apple charger without removing the case, the handset has to be unlocked to launch the app and the app is very basic (even requiring merchant details to be added by hand). In reality the consumer experience is worse than using a simple contactless card. 

Presumably the intent was to let customers use their existing handset on the trial. However ‘bending’ a non NFC handset to do NFC payments in this manner defeats the whole object of creating a simple, frictionless, customer experience. The user feedback I’ve read has been mostly negative and not an endorsement of mobile handset contactless payments. I used the iCarte a few times out of professional interest and then stuck it in a drawer. If I was a regular consumer I’m not sure it would have got that far!

Contrast this experience with using the Starbucks iOS app via Passbook. Once setup with auto topup enabled, the payment experience is simple and fast. No need to unlock the handset when you’re at one of your favourite Starbucks – just swipe from the home screen. Although limited to a single retailer, the user experience is brilliant and a great example of how contactless payments can be simple and frictionless and not just about NFC.

Mobile NFC will happen as more handsets support it but other forms of contactless payment will develop in parallel. The winners will be the products that embrace the consumer and enhance the payment experience. 

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