When Apple Inc announced the iPhone 6 and its new digital payments system last year, CEO Tim Cook painted a picture for us of millions of consumers, all energised and joyful over the opportunity to complete transactions with our mobile phones instead of fumbling with cash.
His preso was upbeat. “You’re all going to love ApplePay,” the pundits said.
That may well be true… somewhere else. Here in Texas, it really hasn’t caught on yet. I’m not suggesting that there’s anything functionally wrong with ApplePay – it does work much better than Google’s equivalent solution for Android devices. The pay-with-your-mobile system does exactly what it says it’ll do when you’re at a merchant that accepts the service. The problem that I have with mobile-based payments lies in the essential fact that a consumer is fumbling with their mobile phone at the front of the queue instead of paying and getting the heck out of everyone’s way.
I’m not sure why Apple (et al) didn’t see this coming. When Starbucks first introduced the ability to pay for a coffee with their iPhone app a few years back, it frustrated everyone. To be fair, the app did do what it was supposed to do… but it did it slowly. Worse, most consumers using it didn’t use it efficiently. That made for some aggravating encounters.
I watched this happen when their app was new: a rather well-to-do lady approached the cashier, placed her order, and pulled out her iPhone. She then proceeded to unlock her phone, hunt for the Starbucks app, log into her account (having forgotten her password), pull up the screen that displayed the QR code linking to her plastic payment card, and then hold her phone up to a barcode scanner at the till to complete her transaction. She ran it back and forth under the scanner eight times before quitting the app… and reloading it to try again. Meanwhile, my coffee sat forlornly behind the register, getting cold, while the checkout girl struggled valiantly to keep her customer service smile from collapsing. Behind me, I saw 11 more customers growing increasingly irate. I finally had to volunteer to pay for the ditzy woman’s frothy-whatsit so that she’d put up her phone and go away.
This is the same reason why I won’t use the drive-through window at a Starbucks if there are any other cars in front of me. After waiting ten minutes for one silly twit to figure his mobile phone payment out, I was ready to scream. I couldn’t leave, either, thanks to the concrete kerbs trapping us all in the vehicles queue. Then he dropped his phone, and was too close to the store to reach it from partially opened car door. AAARRRRRRGH!
That, right there, is why I suspect that small commercial payments are still going to be accomplished with cash and charge cards for the foreseeable future. I’d prefer to shift to a digital payment system just for peace of mind. On the other hand, I’m opposed to waiting behind a gormless idiot who does in five minutes what I can do in five seconds with a wrinkled old banknote.
I want ApplePay (et al) to succeed, I really do. It’s just that I also want my leave whatever store I’m in as fast as humanly possible more than I want to be hip and trendy with my payment method. I expect NFC-based payment systems will catch on fastest where transactions simply can’t be done quickly – at a grocer, say, while you wait for your purchases to get bagged.