As a collective of societies, the way in which we make payments to each other is ever-evolving, especially as the unpredictably of current political, social, and economic events take sway. In China, for instance, the authorities are either destroying yuan units or disinfecting the currency to combat COVID-19; in the US, there is a shortage of coins throughout the nation, leading businesses to demand exact dollars and cents for their purchases. Sweden, meanwhile, is still putting faith in its pioneering digital system, while central banks everywhere are creating their own cryptocurrencies with the future in mind.
Therefore, it is safe to say that a lot has changed over the last century in the way we pay for goods and services. Gold-backed certificates, banknotes, cheques, pieces of plastic, and mobile devices; these developments have made the discussion over the future of payment technologies a fascinating one. It also raises questions around as yet undiscovered methods: how else will we pay for everyday consumer goods? Will it be through a flick of the wrist? A heartbeat? Telepathy?
The Future of Payment Technology
These suggestions might not be as far-fetched as you think; after all, most people could not conceive even 30 years ago of buying a pizza on a computer. One thing is for certain, though: whatever the option, it's highly likely that it will be digital, whether under the guise of wearable technology or a voice assistant. Cashless payments have long looked set to have an expiry date, too: with in-store payments having increased gradually in the US and other key markets in recent years, contactless penetration is only going to be more prominent in a post-COVID-19 world.
So, with these fascinating developments in mind, we've decided to look at what the future holds for payment technology and, more importantly, how it may affect you as a business owner.
This is what we found out.
1. Is This the End of POS as We Know It?
Is it time to say goodbye to point-of-sale (POS) systems? Well… not today. In fact, maybe not tomorrow, either. But there is no ignoring that many merchants are integrating mobile payment technologies into their payment systems, including quick-response (QR) codes. Under this system, shoppers will scan a product's QR code, and then the item is immediately purchased and shipped to them.
This concept is somewhat similar to Amazon's cashierless store whereby customers walk in, take what they want, and leave, having been automatically charged for their purchases. This may only be viable due to the tech giant investing vast sums in machine learning technology, but it is an indication of the way things are likely to go as technology developments begin to enable such concepts.
2. Getting Under the Skin
Chips implanted under the skin of consumers has been a science fiction trope for decades now – but paying for things with the swipe of a hand is not so far out of the realms of possibility in today's world. Credible organisations such as MasterCard have already considered this prospect with their ADS VeriChip, although the credit card juggernaut has not bought anything to market just yet.
The Swedish tech firm Biohax has taken that step, however, with thousands of Swedes willingly installing microchips in their bodies to pay for goods or to interact with their ubiquitous surroundings. Given the country's reputation for digital progression, this is perhaps not surprising, and there is a whole host of ethical concerns that would need to be overcome before any widespread global adoption. It is a technological advancement worth keeping an eye on, though.
3. Geolocation, Geolocation, Geolocation
Geolocation technology is becoming an integral part of the retail experience, for both consumers and businesses. Indeed, one of the biggest developments in this niche is companies sending direct digital advertisements, coupons and special promotions to a user's phone in a particular geographic area, opening a world of possibilities to business owners. You can even send special offers to smartphones once the device signals that it is inside your store, leading experts to wonder if the technology can be incorporated into direct payments, too.
Again, there are clear privacy concerns at play here, but consider the way in which consumers have embraced geo-tagging in the last decade. This reasoning has already justified numerous investments in m-commerce and m-marketing, and it’s an area that could affect your payment processes in the near future.
Biometrics is another advanced field that has seen its public perception slightly distorted by Hollywood theatrics, but it is undoubtedly a viable payment solution. Defined as physical or behavioural attributes that can be utilised to digitally identify a human, biometric identifiers are currently used to access devices, information and systems, making them perfect for payments, too.
Indeed, it is estimated that approximately 18 billion biometric transactions will be executed this year, while the incorporation of biometric technology into mainstream consumer smartphones suggests a logical evolution into payment technology.
5. Paying by Voice
“Alexa, buy me a roll of paper towels. Alexa, order me an Uber to the airport. Alexa, order me sushi for four from Sushi Palace”.
Although critics are sceptical, the capabilities of smart speakers have evolved massively in a very short space of time. Whether coming under the umbrella of Amazon or Google, they have become money-making machines for their parent companies, with customers able to order AA batteries off the cuff, or restock their Nespresso machine by next Monday. This kind of efficiency and effortlessness is hugely popular among younger generations, meaning that it is a technology worth exploring further.
6. AI and Machine Learning
Some years ago, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed that the company was working on a technology that can order you something before you even realise you need it. This groundbreaking process is achieved through artificial intelligence and machine learning, a system that automatically learns and improves from experience without requiring additional programming from a software engineer. Machine learning computers have access to astronomical amounts of data, using it to learn and adapt and create outputs accordingly.
Consider this from the perspective of a consumer. One day, they are going to come home from work and find a bag of toilet paper that they did not order. They will place a few rolls in the bathroom and discover that, actually, they really did need toilet paper. Could this lead to widespread adoption, or will consumers resist this as a system that is too prone to potential error? Given the growth and potential of machine learning, do not count this out as a viable means of doing business in the future.
As bitcoin establishes itself in the mainstream, a growing number of major retailers and smaller businesses are starting to embrace digital currencies – a move which is further legitimised by the gradual acceptance of such platforms by governments around the globe. The real magic of bitcoin, however, is the technology it is built upon, a publicly distributed ledger known as blockchain that records transactions across a vast peer-to-peer network.
Indeed, according to analysis by Goldman Sachs, blockchain is "the new technology of trust", and will represent the building blocks of the entire future of commerce payments.
"Blockchain could be a revolution in the way everyone – businesses, governments, organisations and individuals – work together," states their report. "It provides a simple, secure way to establish trust for virtually any kind of transaction, helping simplify the movement of money, products or sensitive information worldwide".
8. Social Shopping
As a society, its often deemed that we spend too much time on social media. As business owners, however, this is an opportunity to reach broad audiences, and the various social media giants – Facebook, Snapchat and TikTok – understand this. This is why they have invested heavily in social shopping experiments, with Facebook even planning to launch its own currency to support such efforts.
Social shopping is seen as the way of the future for younger consumers in particular, especially as Generation Z develops into a major consuming force. The concept is simple, too: you find something you like on Instagram, click on a "buy now" button, and the purchase is complete, without ever having to exit the application. Social shopping will become a streamlined process that removes the middleman and presents a whole new playing field for small business owners.
From technological advancements to demographic shifts, there are plenty of reasons why companies are investing in and creating new methods of payment. In today's hyper-connected global economy, there will inevitably be payment innovations, requiring businesses – large and small – to adopt whatever technology they can to remain one step ahead of their rivals.
We might have a conservative estimate of what will occur in the next decade, but in the longer term, the possibilities are endless. Becoming an early adopter of such technologies could serve you well in the long term, particularly as the traditional way of doing things becomes just that: a thing of the past.
What other exciting future payment technologies have we missed? Let us know in the comment section below!