The proliferation of payments options seems like it should be a good thing for shoppers. But as EMV changes the way they handle their cards, and mobile wallets proliferate, many customers may be asking themselves: Just how do I pay here anyway?
To get a sense of the confusion, start with the cards. The addition of the EMV chip is supposed to bring the customer and the merchant more security. But not all the terminals magically changed over to EMV the moment that the liability shift occurred. In addition, there are still plenty of places consumers frequent — gas stations and ATMs — where EMV will not become a standard for some time. Finally, consumers are conditioned to swipe their cards at point-of-sale terminals and may not understand why an EMV transaction takes longer than the traditional swipe transaction. Of course, thanks to the development of mobile technology, it might appear that that conundrum has been solved.
Open mobile wallets like Android Pay and Apple Pay are supposed to let customers use their smartphones in checkout lines that can accept contactless payments. Samsung Pay promises to take it one step further, allowing people to pay wherever their cards are accepted. The question for the shopper is whether or not paying with the phone will work. No one wants to be the person holding up the line, tapping the phone at the checkout terminal, when they could just swipe a card and go. Also, if the adoption of EMV terminals can generously be called uneven, then adoption is even more uneven for contactless terminals. Some stores have them, some will get them, some will turn them on, and some won’t. What’s a customer to do?
Customers can perhaps turn to something like Chase Pay, which is a mobile wallet designed to be accepted at multiple merchants — provided that the shopper is a Chase cardholder and shopping at merchants connected to Chase. This wallet is still in its beginnings, but it will be another option that shoppers will need to be conscious of as they make payments. MCX CurrentC is another product in this category. If and when it launches, it is supposed to be accepted at major retailers but may not be accepted at all of them. This may give some individuals pause about relying upon it too heavily.
Many retailers, encouraged by the success of companies like Starbucks Coffee Co., have decided to create their own apps. This may be the way that retailers can seize on the confusion over payment options to win customers over. There are limits to how many apps customers want to use, but if incented properly, they will likely become devoted users of the apps for their favorite locations. If a retailer can use a prepaid or decoupled debit account structure, then the company can lower its payments costs and lock in customer spending, especially with prepaid. Of course, a retailer would need to provide an incentive to change customers’ behavior, but Starbucks and others have gone a long way to cracking the code.
In chaos, there is opportunity. Right now, we are in a time of quiet chaos, where marketing hype may be drowning out the voices of the shoppers. The key is to pay attention and look for opportunities to solve the pain point of acceptance while using an account structure that solves the pain of payments costs.