Digital Payments Tracker® Series Report

Unattended: The Payments Technology Shifting the Future of Commerce

January 2024

Unattended payments are reshaping commerce. Can businesses chart the course of innovation?

PYMNTS

Gone are the days when human interaction was essential to completing a transaction at the traditional point of sale. Now unattended technologies are steering payment experiences as businesses answer consumers’ call for speedy, efficient and touch-free payment options.
Technologies both old and new are realizing new potential in unattended payments. RFID, once used only to track items, is now part of the unattended experience. Even biometrics is no longer the next frontier: You can now pay using your palm.
Once relegated only to gas stations and vending machines, unattended payments are now making inroads into all areas where checkout lines discourage customers and where consumers want to be more in control.


Register for Unlimited Access
Fill in the form below for free unlimited access to all our Trackers and Studies.

Thank you for registering. Please confirm your email to view all our Trackers.

    yesSubscribe to our daily newsletter, PYMNTS Today
    By completing this form, I have read and acknowledged the terms and conditions.


    Unattended payments technology is about more than just efficiency and convenience — it represents the new face of payments, helping to maintain quality customer experience, service and loyalty.

    From Nice-to-Have to Must-Have: The Rise of Unattended Payments

    Gone are the days when human interaction was essential to completing a transaction at the traditional point of sale. Now unattended technologies are steering payment experiences as businesses answer consumers’ call for speedy, efficient and touch-free payment options.

    84%

    of U.S. consumers enjoy self-service kiosks,
    with 66% preferring them to staffed checkouts.

    Consumer behavior has permanently shifted.

    The strict health measures imposed during and after the pandemic drove the use of unattended payments to ensure a safe payment experience for everyone. Then pandemic-related labor shortages expanded use, helping retailers and merchants cope with a growing number of consumers demanding fast, easy and convenient checkouts.

    In the end, innovations in unattended payments and consumer expectations have permanently altered the retail landscape, making unattended payments not just another way to pay but instead — in many instances — consumers’ preferred choice.

    Consumers want more and better self-service.

    Self-service has become an essential retail feature, but good self-service is more elusive. Companies have made significant strides in recent years to increase the availability of self-service kiosks and other unattended payment options. Still, customers seek higher service and satisfaction as self-service channels evolve. Eighty-one percent of surveyed consumers said they want more self-service options at the businesses they frequent. Quantity alone is not enough, either: 36% said they want smarter unattended payment options. How businesses can fulfill that demand remains unclear, but consumers are interested in going further down the unattended path.

    Innovation relies on unattended solutions.

    The unattended market is already big, with the sector accounting for more than $31 billion in the United States alone. However, new use cases and innovations will propel this market to $129 billion globally by 2030. In addition to the sectors where unattended solutions already exist, new areas such as electric vehicle charging stations and smart cities are expanding rapidly. Many of these new projects call for unattended or self-service payment solutions.

    Self-service kiosks are one example of strong demand for unattended payments.

    Eighty-four percent of shoppers in the U.S. now say they like using self-service kiosks, with a staggering 66% preferring them over staffed checkouts. Moreover, while the unattended payments preference is particularly high among Generation Z (84%) and millennial (76%) consumers, the method’s convenience has also won over a majority of Gen Xers and nearly half of baby boomers.

    Harnessing the Power of Technology

    Technologies both old and new are realizing new potential in unattended payments. RFID, once used only to track items, is now part of the unattended experience. Even biometrics is no longer the next frontier: You can now pay using your palm.

    Amazon One boasts 3 million uses,

    transforming the payment experience at Whole Foods.

    Businesses are repurposing traditional technology for unattended payments.

    Radio frequency identification (RFID), often used for inventory management, is now being integrated into the checkout process. For instance, Uniqlo incorporated RFID tags into clothes initially to improve supply chain management. The brand has now extended RFID to enhance the retail shopping experience, as checkouts recognize the tags and calculate prices automatically, cutting checkout times in half. A convenience store in Finland selling grocery items did the same to make the shopping and payments experience automated and contactless.

    Is the future of payments in the palm of your hand?

    Amazon’s ambitious biometric project, Amazon One, is another step in the unattended payments race. The biometric solution has exceeded 3 million uses at the more than 400 locations where it is deployed, including Amazon Go stores and 200 Whole Foods markets in the U.S. The tech giant aims to offer Amazon One in all 500-plus Whole Foods stores by year’s end. Going contactless is in such high demand that the company has already inked deals to install its unattended payments technology at a host of partner establishments, including airport stores and concert venues.

    Where Unattended Payments Are — and Where They’re Headed

    Once relegated only to gas stations and vending machines, unattended payments are now making inroads into all areas where checkout lines discourage customers and where consumers want to be more in control.

    70%

    Share of restaurant managers who believe unattended payments will easily replace drive-thru operators
    59%

    Portion of restaurant managers who believe unattended payments will easily replace cashiers

    QR code payments are on the menu.

    Beginning with implementation during the pandemic to eliminate physical menus, some restaurants continue to explore the full potential of QR codes to improve dining experiences. At On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina, customers can now pay conveniently and instantly at the table by scanning a QR code when they order. There is no need to download apps or create an account. Simply scan, pay and go.

    Fast food’s new speedometer is unattended payments.

    Shake Shack is not just serving burgers: It is serving convenience. By embracing self-service ordering kiosks, the eatery not only has heightened the consumer experience but also has seen sales skyrocket — doubling year over year in the 250 locations armed with the latest unattended ordering and payments technology.

    Unattended payments turn kiosks into micromarkets.

    Fully automated and unattended payments are not just for stores. Cantaloupe, a leader in self-service commerce, is expanding its partnership with GlobalConnect in unstaffed vending solutions. Called Bistro to Go!, Cantaloupe’s micromarket kiosks make it simpler to operate everything from break-room vending to hotel pantries.

    Hotel check-in just became semi-unattended.

    Twin Peaks Lodge & Hot Springs, a 93-room hotel in Colorado, recently added three self-service kiosks to provide guests with a fast and convenient check-in experience. The kiosks help guests in the process and guide them to their rooms with minimal intervention from the hotel staff.

    The Importance of Being a Part of the Unattended Evolution

    Businesses clinging to traditional payment methods risk more than just falling behind — they miss out on efficiency gains and neglect the evolution of commerce. As unattended payments improve consumers’ shopping experiences, businesses should keep these points in mind:

    • Recognize that traditional checkout methods are no longer the default go-to. The rise of unattended technologies, from self-service kiosks to biometric innovations, is a transition that businesses must embrace to unlock heightened efficiency, enhanced customer satisfaction and increased revenue potential.
    • Provide top-notch service, not just quantity. It is not enough simply to provide more unattended solutions. With only 15% of consumers highly satisfied with the self-service tools offered them, merchants must exceed customers’ expectations in doing so.
    • Semi-unattended solutions may help in the transition. Not all businesses are ready for unattended payments, and merchants may also prefer to maintain personnel to provide white-glove customer service.
    • Forge partnerships with experts rather than navigate the adoption of unattended payments alone. Collaborating with proven unattended innovators and other seasoned experts can shepherd your business through technology adoption, regulatory compliance and the complexities of building customer trust.

    Unattended payments offerings are set to become the cornerstone of global commerce within a short time. Business leaders therefore find themselves at a crucial juncture: Harness these payments innovations or risk being left behind.

    It’s clear that consumer behavior is driving growth in innovative unattended payment options. These solutions have become more prevalent at consumers’ go-to locations, as convenient self-serve purchasing is becoming table stakes. As technology further progresses, so will the need for providers to adapt and offer advanced solutions to meet the evolving needs of the consumer.”

    Ellie Smith
    Global Head of Digital Acceptance

    About

    Discover® Global Network, the global payments brand of Discover Financial Services, processes millions of cardholder transactions each day. With industry expertise, innovative technology and a closed-loop infrastructure, Discover Global Network provides effective, customized solutions that evolve as needs change. Discover Global Network has alliances with more than 25 payment networks around the world and is led by three Discover businesses: Discover Network, with millions of retail and cash access locations; PULSE®, one of the leading ATM debit networks; and Diners Club International®, a global payments network with acceptance in more than 200 countries and territories. For more information, visit DiscoverGlobalNetwork.com.

    Ingo

    PYMNTS Intelligence is a leading global data and analytics platform that uses proprietary data and methods to provide actionable insights on what’s now and what’s next in payments, commerce and the digital economy. Its team of data scientists include leading economists, econometricians, survey experts, financial analysts and marketing scientists with deep experience in the application of data to the issues that define the future of the digital transformation of the global economy. This multilingual team has conducted original data collection and analysis in more than three dozen global markets for some of the world’s leading publicly traded and privately held firms.

    The PYMNTS Intelligence team that produced this Tracker:
    Managing Director: Aitor Ortiz


    We are interested in your feedback on this report. If you have questions or comments, or if you would like to subscribe to this report, please email us at feedback@pymnts.com.

    Disclaimer

    The Digital Payments Tracker® Series may be updated periodically. While reasonable efforts are made to keep the content accurate and up to date, PYMNTS MAKES NO REPRESENTATIONS OR WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, REGARDING THE CORRECTNESS, ACCURACY, COMPLETENESS, ADEQUACY, OR RELIABILITY OF OR THE USE OF OR RESULTS THAT MAY BE GENERATED FROM THE USE OF THE INFORMATION OR THAT THE CONTENT WILL SATISFY YOUR REQUIREMENTS OR EXPECTATIONS. THE CONTENT IS PROVIDED “AS IS” AND ON AN “AS AVAILABLE” BASIS. YOU EXPRESSLY AGREE THAT YOUR USE OF THE CONTENT IS AT YOUR SOLE RISK. PYMNTS SHALL HAVE NO LIABILITY FOR ANY INTERRUPTIONS IN THE CONTENT THAT IS PROVIDED AND DISCLAIMS ALL WARRANTIES WITH REGARD TO THE CONTENT, INCLUDING THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, AND NONINFRINGEMENT AND TITLE. SOME JURISDICTIONS DO NOT ALLOW THE EXCLUSION OF CERTAIN WARRANTIES, AND, IN SUCH CASES, THE STATED EX CLUSIONS DO NOT APPLY. PYMNTS RESERVES THE RIGHT AND SHOULD NOT BE LIABLE SHOULD IT EXERCISE ITS RIGHT TO MODIFY, INTERRUPT, OR DISCONTINUE THE AVAILABILITY OF THE CONTENT OR ANY COMPONENT OF IT WITH OR WITHOUT NOTICE.
    PYMNTS SHALL NOT BE LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGES WHATSOEVER, AND, IN PARTICULAR, SHALL NOT BE LIABLE FOR ANY SPECIAL, INDIRECT, CONSEQUENTIAL, OR INCIDENTAL DAM AGES, OR DAMAGES FOR LOST PROFITS, LOSS OF REVENUE, OR LOSS OF USE, ARISING OUT OF OR RELATED TO THE CONTENT, WHETHER SUCH DAMAGES ARISE IN CONTRACT, NEGLIGENCE, TORT, UNDER STATUTE, IN EQUITY, AT LAW, OR OTHERWISE, EVEN IF PYMNTS HAS BEEN ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES.
    SOME JURISDICTIONS DO NOT ALLOW FOR THE LIMITATION OR EXCLUSION OF LIABILITY FOR INCIDENTAL OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES, AND IN SUCH CASES SOME OF THE ABOVE LIMITATIONS DO NOT APPLY. THE ABOVE DISCLAIMERS AND LIMITATIONS ARE PROVIDED BY PYMNTS AND ITS PARENTS, AFFILIATED AND RELATED COMPANIES, CONTRACTORS, AND SPONSORS, AND EACH OF ITS RESPECTIVE DIRECTORS, OFFICERS, MEMBERS, EMPLOYEES, AGENTS, CONTENT COMPONENT PROVIDERS, LICENSORS, AND ADVISERS.
    Components of the content original to and the compilation produced by PYMNTS is the property of PYMNTS and cannot be reproduced without its prior written permission.
    The Digital Payments Tracker® Series is a registered trademark of What’s Next Media & Analytics, LLC (“PYMNTS”).