My son is a digital artist. A graphic tablet and a workstation are the tools of his trade. About a week ago, his machine started to exhibit weird behaviors: unexpected shutdowns, slow response and seemingly random error messages.
Was it a virus? Was it a hardware failure?
After much probing, we changed a hard drive, re-imaged the machine and loaded software and files for two days. It was a long and painful ordeal of loads, patches and updates, installs and uninstalls.
As I reflected on that experience, I recalled the time more than 15 years ago when I abandoned my Mac for a PC. My reason then was simple: the Mac was inflexible, while the PC could grow with me. Fast forward to this century: today my most trusted computer is an iPad. I use it to read; watch movies; play games; check the weather; browse the Internet; scribble notes and draw ideas; communicate via e-mail and FaceTime; write and review documents. It is always on, takes seconds to be ready, updates itself in the background and it doesn’t crash due to incompatible software. It communicates with my TV and with my other computers. It stays in sync with the apps on my iPhone. And, God forbid, should I drop and break it, driving to the nearest Apple store will be longer than getting my replacement set up and personalized. In other words, it delivers utilities and functionalities, without requiring me to know how it works. It’s a great experience end-to-end.
Now what does this have to do with payments you might ask? I find the parallels striking. Twenty years ago, when card payments really took off with the adoption of debit, the cards promised a simpler way to buy and shop and experience life. Visa promised a fast checkout experience without having to check an ID, while MasterCard let us focus on the Priceless moments of life. Payments promised to liberate us and empower us, compared with cash and checks.
Following the dotcom craze came ten years of disjointed concepts, technologies and false starts. From NFC to sound waves, to battery powered cards, energy was spent on technology – the how – rather than the experience – the what. For example, for the privilege of using a smart phone to pay, consumers were asked to do more work, from complex set-up to multiple steps in the store. Adding insult to injury, security breaches made using a payment card feel risky. Traditional payment platforms became complicated, rules convoluted. Somewhere along the way, the industry forgot to put the consumers and the merchants at the center of what it did.
Suddenly, things are changing. Payments are being integrated to redesigned buying experiences, transformed by user-friendly services and apps. Around the industry, Innovation Labs are sprouting up to develop end-to-end experiences. Design is meeting functionality; paying is taking a back seat to buying: friction points are removed. Witness the Uber experience – possibly the “iPad of commerce” – which users talk about with the same fervor as TiVo users did 20 years ago. It marks a different way of thinking about commerce. One that doesn’t require the consumer to focus on the how. Instead, it frees him or her to enjoy the what.
We have seen a lot of interesting announcements of late, with more expected to come. HCE is providing a path to include NFC in cloud based services; PayPal launched drag and drop integration, and One Touch experience; key hires point to a new wave of mobile products and services. My thesis about the change of perspective, the rebirth of a consumer and merchant centric approach will be tested. I will be listening and looking, not for technological choices, but for new simpler, safer, ways of bring together consumers and merchants, to deliver on the promise of connected commerce. I hope I am right. Today’s stretched out consumer deserves better than a deluge of marketing and promotions, lost time looking for products they want and spotty in-store services. If I am right, we might be witnessing the dawn of a new commerce revolution. One that is made of rich experiences, that is context aware, and that uses technology platforms to remove friction points, end-to-end.
General Manager, Emerging Retail Services at PayPal
Patrick Gauthier (twitter:@prgauthier) is General Manager, Emerging Retail Services at PayPal, providing Demand Generation services to connect merchants and consumers. However the ideas expressed here are his and his alone, and do not represent eBay, or PayPal in any way.