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Invisible payments: a bumpy road ahead?

Are consumers are confident in new payment technology capabilities, and what can payment service providers do to build trust?

At the start of the 1950s, General Mills launched a revolutionary new product.

The product was to be sold under the Betty Crocker brand, which was already a household name. It tested well with focus groups. And, most importantly, it was the height of convenience: you just had to mix it with water, put it in the oven and wait for your perfect dessert to emerge.

You’ll have probably guessed that we’re talking about Betty Crocker cake mix; a product which went on to transform home baking. The story of Betty Crocker’s success is well known, but what you may not be aware of is that it didn’t do well from the get go. In fact, despite the brand’s popularity, and the product’s quality and convenience, initially the idea was a commercial failure.

The evolution of invisible payments: too much too soon?

Fast forward 70 years, and the desire for convenience is no longer confined to the kitchen. It has extended to almost every other facet of our lives, including how we pay. Just look at Uber, a company that can at least partly attribute its success to the fact that when using it consumers don’t even have to think about the act of payment. And this has inspired others to follow suit.

Case in point, UK credit card provider Barclaycard has recently started piloting a “Dine and Dash’ app. Once you upload your payment information, you’ll no longer have to go through the tedious process of attracting a server’s attention, waiting for your restaurant bill, attracting attention again so a server brings a POS to your table and then making payment. It’s all taken care of automatically.

Closer to home, smart speakers, dash buttons and even fridges that can detect when you’re running low on an item and reorder it are becoming a reality. Not only do you not have to worry about keeping track of your supplies, writing up a shopping list, and taking time out of your weekend for a trip to the supermarket, the act of payment is also completely invisible.

A much-needed dose of reality

These innovations are hitting the market because of a generally accepted belief in one simple premise; that consumers don’t like friction. Indeed, anything that gets in the way of a smooth, effortless shopping experience will make them walk out the metaphorical door and straight into a more frictionless competitor’s arms.

But are consumers really as sold on invisible payments as this narrative suggests? Our latest Lost in Transaction report suggests otherwise.

As things stand, 50% of respondents told us it’s unlikely they’ll be using smart reordering in the next two to three years. This may seem surprising given the hype around frictionless apps. But, as it turns out, even these apps aren’t as popular as previously thought. While most people have heard of them and understand how they work, only 23% told us they used them regularly, or even occasionally.

The ongoing battle between security and convenience

There’s no doubt that consumers do like speed and convenience. But not if it gets in the way of security. And, unfortunately, our latest data suggests that currently most consumers think the jury’s still out when it comes to the reliability of invisible payments.

Part of the problem is undoubtedly a lack of familiarity with new technologies and how we interact with them, and this should decrease over time. In fact, consumers are much more comfortable when the payment involves taking some kind of action, like pressing a button or using their fingerprint to authenticate a transaction.

That said, there’s no denying that the perception of invisible payments as inherently risky is very much a stumbling block. For 50% of respondents, the risk of fraud remains their greatest objection to adoption, followed by concerns about potential security breaches at 48%.

More tellingly, many consumers simply don’t trust invisible payments. They worry about being charged for items they purchased by mistake or didn’t actually buy. And they’re concerned smart reordering will make it harder to stay on budget.

The real egg moment: addressing consumer perception

So is there a lesson from history that can act as a guiding light on the road to frictionless payment adoption? If we travel back to the 1950s again, maybe Betty Crocker has the answer.

As it turned out, the problem with Betty Crocker cake mix was that it was too convenient. Using it was so simple that people felt they were deceiving their family, friends and dinner guests.

So General Mills made a small, but ultimately significant, adjustment. They changed the recipe so that home bakers now had to beat a real egg and add it to the mixture. This was enough to change people’s perception of the product. And the rest, as they say, is history. 

Clearly, invisible payments are facing their own ‘real egg’ moment. As our research shows, consumers will avoid payment methods they perceive to be risky, no matter how convenient they are.

The responsibility to change this perception — or add the beaten egg to the mix — falls fairly and squarely on payment services providers. If we can address consumers’ concerns and win over their trust, mainstream adoption is bound to follow.

Lost in Transaction: Payment Trends 2018 is available to download now.