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  • Thierry Spanjaard

On the bumpy road to invisible payments

Invisible payment can be described as a payment that does not require any action from the payer at the transaction time. The best example all of us have in mind is Uber, where a customer books a trip, boards a vehicle, reaches his destination and, then, receives a notification saying “thanks Mr. Smith! You have been charged EUR 23.45 for your trip today.” Mr. Smith is always impressed by the fluidity of the operation and forgets he preauthorized this payment operation when he accepted the Uber Terms and Conditions months or years earlier.

Many businesses have attempted to replicate this nice Uber transaction flow, but so far no significant success has been witnessed. Setting up an invisible payment system in physical commerce remains a complex task, as it means perfectly and seamlessly identifying each customer and his exact consumption of goods and services.

During Trustech, Gilles Bourron, from Total Group explained in detail how the company is attempting to redefine customer experience when refueling. For instance, Total proposes a smartphone app that is to be used by the customer to preauthorize a given amount before starting to fill his tank. Then, when the customer actually refuels his/her car at the petrol station, the final amount is sent to the app and the customer approves it. While this customer journey is better than going to a kiosk once or twice to compete a petrol payment transaction, it is still far from being totally invisible payments. A further step proposed by Total is to have this application added to in-car operating systems, which will create a slightly better consumer experience.

Starbucks, Amazon Go are among the few attempts to totally redefine the customer journey and set up an invisible payment system. Starbucks is known as a pioneer in the field of payment: not only the Starbucks app completes payments from a prepaid account when customer shop in US Starbucks stores, but going further in payment integration, customers can preorder their beverage from the app, prepay for it, and have it hot and ready when they reach the delivery point.

Amazon Go stores aim for a total seamless integration between shopping and payment: customers just have to take the goods they want to purchase from the store shelves, walk out and receive a notification telling them how much they have paid. For the time being this type of integration is experimental and requires so much equipment and computing power that it may not be generalized before long.

Wearables allow to identify with certainty the customers. In addition, NFC-enabled wearables can complete payment functions. They are probably the best way to progress on the bumpy road to invisible payments.

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