Don’t judge mobile payments by the way they work now

A few people tweeted and e-mailed to point out how app-centric commerce can be perversely annoying, citing the example of car parking given in this recent British newspaper piece.

The competitive marketplace for cashless parking has resulted in a fragmented and rather irritating experience for motorists

From Cashless parking was meant to make life easier for drivers but our phones are awash with competing apps | Features | Lifestyle | The Independent

Well, I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say “awash”, but I take the point. I’ve got RingGo and PayByPhone on my iPhone right now. I use RingGo the most. It’s super easy and convenient, except for the hello-2013 bit about paying. Although it’s on an iPhone, it doesn’t use Apple Pay. So I had to sod about typing in my credit card details when my new card arrived and every time I use RingGo I have to remember the three digit code from the back of the card (which I do, to be fair, a good four times out of five). If you want to know how an app should work, check out the new Trainline app.

Trainline Pay

Select Apple Pay, thumbprint, done. Why isn’t all in-app purchasing like this. Come to that, why isn’t all purchasing like this. Actually, it soon will be…

Apple Pay is already available to use in stores and on your phone in apps where it’s supported. Now it looks like the service could be expanding to Apple’s Safari browser, making it possible for pretty much any website to add the mobile payment service as a checkout option.

From Apple Pay said to hit the Web soon

I share the writer’s frustration that when you load a new app to do something straightforward like buy a bus ticket or park a car you have to mess about typing in all of your details, getting out your credit card and typing your financial information back into the phone for the 100th time, searching for the app when you need it and all the rest of it. But that’s because all of this stuff is currently built on yonks old web crap. Look at this screen, for example. Why is the Arriva app asking me for this? Why doesn’t it ask my Barclays app? Or use Apple Pay? Or just remember what I typed in last time?


As the example of the Trainline shows, when you build an app properly using the infrastructure that is growing up in the mobile world then it’s a different story. What should happen when you walk up to the car parking machine is that the app should be fired up automatically either because of Bluetooth beacons in a car park or some other kind of geolocation service, and if you don’t have the app you should be given the option of downloading it quickly and conveniently there and then. When you run the app for the first time it should just look and see if you have Apple Pay or Android pay or Barclay Pay or Chase Pay or Walmart Pay or Lego Pay or PayPal or whatever else pay and ask you which one you want to use. End of. And when you want to use the app you should never have to put up with the sort of nonsense I do buying a bus ticket, standing in bus queue trying to type a PAN into a small screen using a tiny keyboard.

“But if you are an online service provider of any kind – whether you are Waitrose or Airbnb – you want to provide the best experience for the customer. “The bit that’s currently the pain is the customer having to fish out their card and look for the number on the back to complete a payment, and these services avoid the need for that.”

From Google to expand Android Pay digital wallet to UK – BBC News

My point, as I said in that BBC news report, is that that apps deliver a better and more personalised service to the customer and allow the service provider to deliver a better customer experience around their purchase. What’s more, some of those customers won’t even download apps for casual purchases, they’ll just use bots sitting behind WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger whatever else it is that the kids of today are using. Imagine going to the car park at Woking station and instead of running RingGo just using Messenger are to send a message to RingGo instead. The grammar of a car park is pretty limited so is not that hard to construct a bot to manage the interaction. You don’t need Alpha Go to recognise an end time or “day” or “week” or whatever.

Mobile payments are going to be huge. Don’t visualise the commerce of the future as the half-baked agglomeration of cut-down web interfaces that you have on your phone right now, but the constellation of interacting apps on the infrastructure of the future.

Contactless, eh?

Well here I am in Canada getting ready for the terrific Toronto Tomorrow’s Transactions Unconference 2015 (you can follow it using the hashtag #TTTU2015). It’s such a great country! I love it here. You don’t need cash for anything. The taxi took cards, the coffee shop took cards, everywhere takes cards. And better still, they take contactless cards and so far all of the UK contactless cards that I’ve tried in the terminals here have worked perfectly. What a country.

Tap and pay eh

So everything was going swimmingly until, rather late in the day due to old age / jet lag / blockchain-induced exhaustion, I pottered out to get some breakfast. When I went to pay, I found this.

Tap and tip

I asked the guy at the counter what was wrong with the contactless terminal and he told me that there was nothing wrong with but that they had turned it off because it was causing so many problems. Naturally, I couldn’t resist asking what the problems were and delving into the issue a little more…

It turns out that the problem is tipping. Because of the way that the POS terminal is set up, the customer does not get a chance to enter a tip amount or tip percentage until after a card has been inserted into the contact slot or swiped via the stripe. At this point a menu comes up, the customer chooses the tip and then OKs the total. After they have OK’d it (when the contact card is still in the slot or the stripe data is still in the POS) then the transaction proceeds. There is no mechanism to pre-enter the tip amount or tip percentage before you tap a contactless card and in a restaurant this is of course a major problem because it’s in Canada and is a consequence most of the patrons, including me, both a) want to tip and b) don’t have cash.

As I had not really thought about this before, I was wondering (while using my contactless card entirely successfully to buy a cup of coffee) what should be done. New software and reconfiguration for tens of thousands of terminals in restaurants probably isn’t going to happen, so I was left to conclude that the specific issue of tipping is yet another nudge away from “tap and pay” towards “app and pay”. An app on the phone that is triggered by manual entry of a table number (or some other identifier), by Bluetooth or even by a tap on something is a much better way of allowing the customer to set the tip amount, confirm payment with a thumbprint and then just walk out.

I was reminded of my son’s enthusiastic response to his discovery of a Wagamma app. I think this is more representative of the general public’s response to new payment technology than it appears at first glance and is unlikely to remain a niche for early adopters and teenagers with iPhones. Adding contactless at POS doesn’t change any processes (which is why it frustrates me in some retailers) but getting rid of the POS and having the payment vanish inside an app absolutely does, which is why it is one of the topics that I’m looking forward to discussing at tomorrow’s unconference. See you there.

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