Mercator Perspectives

Good Mobile Payments App Design Is A Lot More Than Linking A Card

Mobile apps have become the next big thing in payments, but in the land rush for space on smartphones many app designers are being one-dimensional in their thinking. Apps are being designed it seems to solve a single problem – making a payment, collecting loyalty points, buying a ticket, scanning groceries. But for the user, solving a single problem can often make their lives more complicated.

Let’s take two examples from the list above: buying a ticket and scanning groceries.

Many transit systems offer a mobile-ticketing app that enables riders to pay a fare using their phone. But for a frequent public transportation user, this is just one piece of a transportation puzzle that they need to put together. For a daily trip that a commuter takes all the time, the route and fare are well known to the user. But there are times, usually every weekend, when a transit rider needs to vary from their routine.

That rider needs an app that can let them pay a fare, but also find a route. For commuter rail and transit systems where the fares vary by zone, they need a way to calculate the fare. In addition, everyone wants to know when that train or bus will actually show up. Sometimes, they have been given a ride by a friend with a car or they have taken a taxi, but now they need to know the closest stop. By tapping into the global positioning system on smartphones, an app could easily provide the closest station or stop, the next station, the cost of a fare, and the means to buy a ticket.

Let’s say our transit rider has taken the bus to the grocery store, where s/he can use a mobile app to scan groceries as they are put in the cart. Many mobile wallets and apps store the users’ loyalty cards, and some even present offers. For a store allowing self scanning, they do want the customers bringing their carts to the check out to pay, even if a payment card is stored so that the store has the ability to check a cart and make sure someone is not paying for one item and walking out with ten.

While the grocery store combines several functions – loyalty, scanning, and instant offers – there is an ability to make life easier on the shopper, on the store, and offer marketing services to the store’s partners.

In using the SCAN IT! App from Stop and Shop, what I wanted the most was a list function. I found myself juggling a phone, a shopping list, a pen, and an item from the shelves in my effort to scan and mark the things on my list. I ended up putting a pen into a loaf of bread at one point and wishing that my phone would let me store the list and automatically check off the items as I scanned them.

This got me dreaming. Imagine a mobile app that would not only store the list and check off items, but organize it and present offers related to the items on the list as you went through it. One of the main problems with coupons connected to loyalty cards now is that they are presented at checkout, once you have already purchased an item. Frequently shoppers receive coupons from one brand when they have purchased another. Imagine the conversion rate if that was presented when you entered the store, next to your list. For a list that included a generically described item, it could try to steer customers towards a brand with an instant coupon.

That seems fairly easy to execute, so let’s take it one step further. Imagine an app that would organize the list and remember frequently purchased items. Okay—easy enough, now one more step into the realm of science fiction—imagine an app that would organize the list by aisle in the store.

For example, the Stop and Shop app asks for the shopper’s preferred store. Now imagine if it told you what aisle each thing on your list was in and organized it in that way. This might be a bit labor intensive to set up initially, but it could save a lot of time and search both for the customer, and for the staff as many requests for help are solved by the app.

If you wanted to get really advanced, you could try to connect a phone’s NFC chip (sorry iPhone users) to transmitters in the store so that the app would know where people are in the store and can help them find items. Much like the transit app above, someone could know where they were and how to get to the next place they wanted to go.

Storing frequently purchased items could even lead to a budgeting feature so that people would know how much they spend on groceries and how to manage their coupons, brand choices, and other offers to reduce their grocery bill.

In looking at these ideas, anyone who has a familiarity with the universe of mobile apps will make the observation that all the capabilities described already exist. The maddening reality is that the capabilities exist, but they are not combined to enable the design of a mobile app that can add real value to a mobile application.

As merchants, issuers, and service providers work to design mobile applications and wallets, they need to immerse themselves in the customer experience as they work to solve problems. Instead of thinking in terms of just payments, or just loyalty, or even just mapping, they should think about what the customer experience and figure out how to design the application to address the many facets of that experience.

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