A 2018 resolution: Smoother mobile payments

9. February 2018.

We’re in second week of 2018, so it’s not too late to make New Year’s resolutions and keep them.

With that being said, let me suggest something the payments industry should strive for this year: a smoother mobile payments experience.

Today’s mobile payments experience has too many potential cracks in the system waiting to form that put a snag in the potential of a smooth ride start to finish. That is a ginormous problem for the industry because consumers can be finicky and have a one-and-done mentality about the products and services they choose to try. If something doesn’t work on the first couple of tries, they’ll move on.

And some will move on after one bad experience.

But what happens when the initial attempts are successful, but a problem occurs down the line? That’s another stumbling block for the industry as the new year gets started. If the industry as a whole needs a resolution, it should be to work together to prevent those cracks from forming before they turn into a full-blown pothole.

The reason I mention any of this is because two separate incidents I had with proximity mobile payments last month has caused doubt in my mind about using my smartphone to pay for something in certain situations.

Coffee run

After an initial problem with Samsung Pay (another issue altogether), I reloaded my card into the wallet and finally saw that my purchases were going toward my Samsung Rewards stash.


So, I started using Samsung Pay everyday to pay for my coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. Except, one day, it didn’t work on the first try.

I went to pick up my coffee at the designated area and the person behind the counter asked me to come back because the payment didn’t go through. I walked back to the register, tapped my phone again, and we both stared at the terminal. Then, after about 20 seconds, everything was all good.

Was it just an anomaly? Maybe. I haven’t had another problem since then, but the experience planted a seed of doubt in my head. Would I now need to carry my wallet every time I made a coffee run?

Yes, this is a first-world problem, but think about what the card networks and mobile payment providers are trying to do. This idea that you should be able to make a payment at any time with the device of your choice is something we’ve been hearing and reading about for some time. But if I can’t truly do that, then how I can feel comfortable leaving my wallet at home like the industry suggests I do?

Transit issues

My second incident is way more severe than my coffee problem because it involved a call to my bank to get some charges reversed.

I tweeted about the situation last month.

Ended up having to use my Ventra card as a back up. But guess what? My bank still ended up charging me for the two reps. So now I have to call the bank to get those charges removed. Mobile payments!

— Will Hernandez (@W_Hernandez16) December 10, 2017

You can see why the experience was infuriating. That type of stuff just can’t happen, especially in a transit environment where there’s likely someone or several people behind you waiting to board a bus.

And this is not the first time I’ve had this problem on the CTA here in Chicago.

I understand glitches can happen. They’re inevitable. But when you experience those type of failures within days of each other, doubt creeps into your mind.

No matter how many times I want to just grab my phone and walk to Dunkin’ to buy a coffee, I still have my wallet on me as a backup just in case.

That same mentality applies to my transit adventures. I now make sure my Ventra card has value on it just in case something goes awry with Samsung Pay. But that shouldn’t be a worry if everything just worked the way it’s advertised.

Going forward

We’re past the stage in the U.S. about unfamiliarity with proximity mobile payments. The majority of consumers are aware of mobile wallets and have tried them. What we’re still not past is whether such transactions will go through 100 percent of the time.

An app itself might work great and be intuitive to a consumer, but if the final leg in the journey (the actual payment) hits a wall and doesn’t work, then everything that preceded the final actions meant nothing.

I understand there are a lot of moving parts. You have the mobile wallet providers, card issuers, processors, point-of-sale manufacturers, merchants, etc. All of those have to be on point to eliminate problems going forward.

And that’s what the industry should resolve to work on in 2018. Be better. Be nearly flawless.

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