The way we shop and pay for goods is undergoing a radical transformation. Scan-as-you-shop technology is now widely used in many UK supermarkets and Sainsbury’s is even trialling stores where there are no checkouts. And while cash and chip and pin cards are still popular, there are various new payment methods now available for shoppers to use – even ones you can wear. Here are some of the ones to watch out for.
Smart watch and fitness tracker payments
Just as technology has transformed our phones into multifunctional devices, the humble wristwatch, too, has become a focal point for developers. More than just a fashionable way to tell the time, it can now be used to play music, make calls and track our fitness. This last feature, in particular, has made the wrist-worn fitness tracker the must-have accessory for today’s growing population of exercise enthusiasts, enabling everyone to count their steps, monitor their heart rates and log their jogging and cycling routes.
Of course, when you’re out, pacing the pavements, it’s unlikely you’ll want to carry your wallet or purse and with their ability to play music, there’s no need to carry a phone, either. So, if you want to pick up a bottle of water on the go, how do you pay for it? The answer is by using your tracker. Over the last two years, the number of smart watches and fitness trackers that have incorporated NFC payment methods has grown dramatically, enabling you to use services like Apple Pay and Google Pay to buy goods just by tapping your wrist.
Non-connected wrist payments
Wearable wrist payments are becoming so popular that the technology is being used in items that don’t even need an internet connection. In 2016, the watch brand Swatch created an analogue model for use at the Rio Olympics which users could pre-fund in order to pay for items without needing an online connection.
NFC enabled payment wristbands, like those from Universal Smart Cards, are being used by a multitude of organisations to help their customers undertake cashless vending. These items are the ideal solution for festivals, sports events, theme parks and universities and are available in a range of designs and materials. There are low-cost payment wristbands designed for short-scale use, such as at a trade fair; durable silicone wristbands for long term use in businesses or on campus; and even more fashionable wristbands for helping with branding, perhaps for use in upmarket hotels and resorts.
NFC payment solutions don’t need their own power supply to operate. Instead, they can be activated by coming into contact with the payment readers. The act of paying, therefore, requires the user to reach out and tap the payment device on the reader. In order to be practical, a user-friendly wearable will be one which is worn on (or near to) the wrist or hand so reaching out and tapping is easy to do.
This does not, however, limit payment wearables to wrist-worn devices. One alternative is the payment ring. Here, UK companies, like K Ring, are leading the field in developing on-trend, stylish ways to pay. The K Ring, originally known as Kerv, was even featured on Channel 5’s Gadget Show. It makes chic looking, scratch resistant, zirconia rings that enable owners to make payments anywhere that accepts Mastercard. It has become very popular with Transport for London users as it works with Oyster readers.
Another practical solution is the payment glove. Originally developed by Barclaycard as a way to help users pay for goods when their hands were full of shopping, the idea was seen as more useful at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang where freezing temperatures would make it difficult for glove wearing spectators to fumble in their pockets for cash, cards and mobile phones. The solution was to design gloves where the NFC chip was sewn into the back of the hand. These prepayment chips enabled transactions to take place easily and without the need to take the glove off. Payment gloves have the potential to be very useful in places like ski resorts as well as at outdoor, winter events like football matches.
Mobile payments of a different kind
If the definition of a wearable is something that you place all or part of your body in, then, tenuously, we can blur the edges and consider the car as a sort of wearable device. With Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS and computer systems now intrinsic to the modern vehicle, manufacturers are looking to create easier ways for drivers to pay for things.
Honda in partnership with AutoNavi is looking to create services that let drivers make reservations and pay for parking. There are other applications being developed that will allow drivers to pay for petrol straight from the dashboard instead of having to visit the kiosk or insert a cash card into the pump. If that works, the technology will almost certainly get taken up by drive-thru takeaways and toll-road operators. In the US, General Motors is currently adding digital wallets to its OnStar Go services. This is a service which will let you order while you’re on route and pay when you get there – all without the need to get out of the car.
While the technology for contactless payments has now been in use for several years, innovators are only at the beginning of the journey when it comes to creating wearable devices that enable us to pay in more convenient and practical ways. Today we can use smart watches and fitness trackers, wristbands, rings and gloves, who knows what the future will bring?