Technology is finally reaching the levels of those science-fiction movies we saw in the 1980s, and one of the areas where we are seeing spectacular leaps is retail payments. We have seen cash fade into the background behind Chip & PIN, then contactless payments which evolved to be possible through our mobile phones. With fingerprint scanners being prepped to arrive soon, what opportunities are there for the future of retail payments... and what challenges come with them?
A giant Chinese start up is rolling out the use of facial recognition technology to impact the entire experience of entering a building. A tour of the company's offices involves having one's face scanned into the database, which is then scanned upon entry to confirm your identity and monitor your movements inside. Already, this technology is being used by over 120 million Chinese people in mobile app Alipay, where your face is the only credential you need to authorise a payment. Extended to in-store shopping environments, this could be a real game-changer for the customer experience if the AI can be tested to a point that guarantees it can't be fooled.
You may have heard about the opening of the first Amazon Go store in the USA. It requires the Amazon Go app, which you scan at the store entrance's turnstiles then begin picking up your groceries. The app will ring the items up, so there is no scanning required and no checkouts. The shelves have sensors that detect when an item is removed or put back, and cameras around the store scan the dotted code on an item's label to add it to your receipt. This streamlines the entire shopping experience and adds a new level of convenience for the customer. At present, the queues for the store are vast, but if the idea catches on then it could become a common way of buying and paying in the future.
Fashion retailer Zara, looking for a way to help shoppers avoid the long lines for click-and-collect purchases, is rolling out robot helpers that will fetch items from back of house and present them to customers. It will simply involve scanning their online order at a collection point in-store, and the robots will find the corresponding items and bring them to a drop box. It will remain to be seen how successful this solution will be, but it is refreshing to see a retailer turning to new technologies as a solution to known customer gripes.
The future of retail payments is exciting, as impressive new technologies present stunning opportunities to enhance the customer experience. The main challenges will be in guaranteeing the reliability of these emerging technologies, and in preventing fraud.