Mobile Payments

Google Goes ‘Hands Free’ For Mobile Payments

We’ve said it before and we will say it again — when it comes to mobile payments, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, any more than there is one-size-fits-all payment method.

But what is clear is that the mobile solution that will ultimately garner the critical mass needed to ignite it will solve a problem for a consumer. Paying in a store hasn’t ever really been much of a problem – until EMV, anyway — so convincing consumers that it was better for them to pull out their phone and tap at some of the places they shopped rather than pull out their card that was accepted everywhere they shopped was a struggle.

Google’s introduction of a new payments app, Hands Free, is designed to eliminate a consumer having to pull out anything at all at the POS. Instead, at merchants where Hands Free is enabled, all consumers have to do is to walk up and say, “I’d like to pay with Google” – and the rest is history.

At least for consumers who have the app on their iOS or Android phones.

Or as Pali Bhat, Hands’ Free mastermind and Senior Director of Product Management at Google, told MPD CEO Karen Webster in an interview prior to the launch: “Hands Free is really about pushing the experience forward to make it seamless.”

Here’s how it works: A consumer downloads an app called Hands Free from Google Pay or the iOS App store. The consumer fills out a profile and uploads a picture — more on why in a minute.

Leveraging the phone’s location sensors, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, a consumer’s presence can be immediately picked up once they enter a store that is enabled with Hands Free. The consumer walks up to the checkout and simply tells the cashier “I’ll pay with Google.” The cashier asks for the consumer’s initials, and authenticates the consumer via those initials and the picture. Bing, bang, boom – transaction completed – with the phone remaining in the consumer’s jacket, purse, briefcase – whatever. No physical contact is needed between the phone and the terminal.

“It’s instantaneous,” Bhat said. “We’re able to instantly make sure the transaction is processed with no friction at all.”

Calling the Hands Free experience a “blast from the past,” Bhat compared it to the experience of paying at a local bakery of a small storefront that gives its loyal and familiar customers the ability to walk in, grab an item and just tell the merchant to put it on their tab. Hands Free is the high tech, digital version of that — for a personalized, fast and frictionless experience.

“At the same time, we also wanted to explore what the future of mobile payments could look like. Imagine if you could rush through a drive-thru without reaching for your wallet, or pick up a hot dog at the ballpark without fumbling to pass coins or your credit card to the cashier. It lets you pay in stores quickly, easily, and completely hands-free,” Bhat wrote in a company blog post.

Clearly, Hands Free is Google’s play to make payments less friction-filled by bringing the future of mobile payments to as many consumers and merchants as possible. Making it cross platform – iOS 4S devices and above, and Android devices operating Jellybean and above is one of the ways that Google is casting a wide consumer net. Making it independent of NFC technology is another.

On the merchant side, it’s pretty frictionless, too. Bhat said that there are two distinct sets of merchants that Google seeks to include in its broader rollout once the beta is concluded: larger merchants like fast food giants, but also SMBs with the same needs as the larger merchants – friction-free checkout.

On both fronts, Bhat said that Hands Free simple, open API, which will make integration easy for merchants – especially if that merchant is using First Data’s Clover POS. For those merchants, Google has built the technology right into the POS.

Google is also working with other point-of-sale providers to make integration simple. But in general, Bhat said, onboarding Hands Free is easily added to existing POS systems. The only requirement is that they have a beacon and that they can add a camera to activate the to-come Visual ID aspect of Hands Free. In that version, a camera will recognize consumers as they come into the store, and send that information to the POS to make checkout even faster.

The Hands Free pilot officially kicked off today (March 2) in the South Bay region. Hands Free is currently available on Android and iOS devices and is rolling out to a small number of McDonald’s, Papa John’s, and local eateries in the area.

The interesting timing of Hands Free is that it is launching at the very same time that Android Pay appears to gaining a head of steam. New figures released by Google today show that since its launch in September 2015, there have been 1.5 million new user registrations each month (in the U.S. alone) and now over 2 million locations that accept it. Plans are also in the works to expand Android Pay into more countries, stores and apps.

When Webster asked Bhat about what merchants might prefer – Android Pay or Hands Free – Bhat said that merchants are enthusiastic about both, given the opportunity that both have to reinvent the buying and shopping experience in-store. But, Bhat emphasized, it won’t be for Google to decide. It will be a decision that consumers make based on the value that they receive. Google just wants merchants to have the ability to accommodate those preferences, whatever they might be.

Bhat will share more about Hands Free and Android Pay during the Innovation Project 2016’s discussion on mobile payments on March 17. Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google’s Commerce Chief, will join MPD CEO Karen Webster in a fireside chat to talk about the broader opportunities related to payments and commerce later that day. Click here for more information. 

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