The last decade in high street retail has been one of apparently unprecedented change and evolution. Stores are now retail experiences, showrooms for consumers to browse before buying online.
Although true in many respects, if you put the likes of the App Store to one side for a minute, in 2015 little seems to have really altered in the way we shop day to day with the majority of retailers. I still seem to wander aimlessly around Sainsbury’s looking for what aisle they have decided to put the pesto in or queue for the changing rooms to find out if I am a large or extra-large in my latest foray into t-shirt fashion (currently a large for those who are wondering).
The one exception across the board however is payment, and we have an increasing expectation that the checkout experience will be easy and efficient.
It seems an age ago (over 12 years!) since we started the transition from signature to chip and pin and the genuine step forward came in the form of contactless in 2008. Now in 2015 we spend over £2.3bn annually by contactless alone – up 255 per cent year-on-year. For many, including me, the process of having to put a four-digit pin into a machine seems like a gigantic effort; god knows how people got stuff done with cheques in widespread circulation.
Now, the next significant step forward has arrived in the form of Apple Pay… or has it?
Initially a few one off purchases felt like it may be robust enough to start to get to grips with what Apple Pay really means for consumers. However, over 250,000 locations accept Apple Pay already across the UK and if, like its potential predecessors before it, Apple Pay is to become ‘the norm’, it needs to be quick, seamless and desirable across all parts of life at any point throughout the retail day.
Therefore, I took on the task of using Apple Pay and only Apple Pay for one full week to determine whether we are already in a world of mobile payment or if this new trend still has some way to go…
The start of the seven-day product test
It works! Hurrah!
OK, an obvious statement to most but for somebody such as me whose finest tech achievement is reaching over 3,000 on Snake using a Nokia 3210, I am rather impressed.
So at 8.32am I purchase a medium cappuccino from Starbucks (no chocolate on top) using Apple Pay. After getting over the fear of being ‘that guy’ who has a watch but no idea how to use it, I managed to within three button taps and a slightly awkward turn of the wrist pay the sum of £2.60 for my morning beverage. All rather simple and it even created conversation with the friendly barista (no, I don’t want the Kenyan blend). This payment thing could catch on…
‘No, we don’t accept contactless’
It was all going so well. If anything, I was starting feel at home using Apple Pay. My wallet was collecting dust (and not just from my inherent nature to lose it when it’s my round) and it genuinely felt faster to pay for my goods across the week. That was until walking into HMV on Oxford Street.
Maybe it was inevitable that HMV wouldn’t accept contactless; punishment from Apple for wanting to purchase a DVD instead of a download. Who actually buys CDs and DVDs anymore!? [Looks at recently purchased copy of Grand Budapest Hotel]. It was in this moment, with a birthday present Blu-ray in hand and a confident nod of my head towards the Apple Watch I was wearing when I realised that I would be walking out empty handed.
This was an early tremor that the new form of effortless contactless payment hasn’t quite reached all major retailers, even on the UK’s busiest shopping street. I was unable to pay and the easiness I had felt up until this point now suddenly turned to a slight level of embarrassment having to walk away and consider my options for an alternative birthday present to buy before 7pm (in hindsight, he may not have liked Bridesmaids anyway).
Now, whilst the high street was an obvious place to swap my wallet for the watch, I did find myself in situations where I knew presenting my wrist wasn’t going to work. Queuing for beer in a plastic cups at Brixton Academy, for example, doesn’t lend itself very well to trying the new tech. The same goes for travelling anywhere outside of London (yes, I am generalising). Going to visit friends in Hampshire left me shamed-faced and with multiple ‘I.O.U’s’ as I committed wholeheartedly to the challenge and was unable to pay my way.
Similarly my weekly (daily) trips to the local enabled me to become incredibly generous to my collegues and pay with what felt like imaginary money! Not only was my head sore in the morning, but so was my bank account.
This aside, the week flew by with relative ease and it was surprising how quickly I became used to Apple Pay; I would go as far as saying that at certain points I not only got used to using it, but quite enjoyed paying for my £6 salad!
In just seven days, I have turned from a slightly skeptical technophobe into a pro-Apple Pay user, no question.
Mobile vs watch
Despite some barriers to payment in particular locations, it is already clear to me that using Apple Pay through the Apple Watch is a success story. It makes your life easier and quicker as promised and going back to digging out my debit card sounds like enough effort to deter me away from a 3pm biscuit run.
However, if using the Apple Watch is a 100m sprint, using the iPhone 6 feels like the 110m hurdles – still speedy but there just seems to be a few too many hurdles that stop you from the ease and quickness that you desire. Instead of the a double tap and slight movement of the wrists, the process you go through to pay with your iPhone feels the same as what you would do with your contactless debit card. For a nation that is already quite advanced in contactless payment, whether we will want to convert to a new method or stick to what we are already comfortable with remains to be seen.
Apple Pay and mobile payment in general will, as its predecessors before it, be a success story as it answers the brief that we as a populous demand. That is, as Apple puts it, the desire to “do familiar things more quickly and conveniently. As well as some things that simply weren’t possible before”. The one point to note however is that to get there, we may just need to wait for wearable tech to itself become the norm.
Andrew Darby is client account director at Manning Gottlieb OMD