A truly delicious (and lovable) contactless payment experience

by: | Oct 12, 2021

There are some lovable apps products that can literally be life-changing. Others are no-brainers that when we look back years later we think, “I can’t imagine living without that.” And then, there are certain things that get close, but fall short on the whole product experience.

I’m convinced that truly contactless payments — where we only touch our personal devices to complete the entire transaction — will eventually deliver on that whole product experience. We have some pieces of the puzzle solved, but we’re not there yet. However, I recently had a delightful dining experience that made me see where we are heading. And it’s great.

Why contactless payments matter

Mobile wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay already fall into the category of app features that many of us can’t imagine living without. In the grocery store checkout, it’s just so easy to extend our phones and tap the credit card terminal to register a payment. And while it may not be the primary reason to pay this way, mobile wallets offer additional security over physical credit cards.

For years, brick-and-mortar companies that support mobile-wallets in their checkout processes have boasted about the “contactless payments.” But they aren’t really contactless. At least not yet. And the pandemic has crystalized this fallacy.

To complete in-store purchases with our devices, we almost always need to actually touch a merchant’s point-of-sale (POS) terminal to confirm the amount and/or enter our phone number for the loyalty program. Sometimes we even need to grab a shared stylus to scribble something that’s supposed to represent our signature. Right.

Those touches may not have mattered so much pre-COVID. But now, we’re hyper-aware of putting our fingers on anything that someone else recently touched.

A truly contactless purchase experience would start and finish entirely on your own phone. You could complete the whole transaction — including confirming the amount, entering loyalty programs, and signing (if that’s even necessary anymore) without touching any other device but your own. I’m convinced it will happen. It has to.

And while I was thinking about this post, I reached out to someone in my network who works at one of the major POS solution providers. He confirmed that a truly contactless payment system “is being developed as we speak by many players in the industry. We agree on the need!”

I can’t wait. And I had a taste of what it might be like while recently dining at a restaurant.

My lovable contactless payment experience

During a recent trip to Chicago, I had some delicious deep-dish pizza at Pequods (hard recommend!). After devouring our meal, our waiter placed a printed check on the table. It had a “touchless payment option” with a QR code to scan with my phone and pay. It looked something like this:

Contactless Payment QR Code

SOURCE: Toast.

So, I scanned it. In an instant, it showed the digital bill and provided different tip options. Then I completed the transaction using Apple Pay, all within a few seconds.

I didn’t have to wait for the waiter to come back. No need to pull out my wallet or credit card. No signing with someone else’s pen. And I didn’t have to touch anything but my phone. So. Dang. Easy. And lovable.

Toast gave me a glimpse of the future of in-store commerce

The wizard behind the curtain for this lovable contactless payment experience is a company called Toast. Toast makes software for restaurants to help staff take orders, deliver food, and process payments. Thousands of restaurants use their products.

As someone who leads an app development company, I couldn’t help but notice an important detail in the Toast experience. On my iPhone, the QR code launched an App Clip. We’re big fans of App Clips because they allow you to deliver an app-like experience (way better than a web experience) without requiring users to download the app. Sadly, they are underused by many businesses.

After I completed the purchase through the App Clip, my digital receipt included a link to download the full Toast app. I could use it to track my restaurant purchases over time — if I wanted to. This kind of additional “discovery” is important for brands and businesses. App Clips (along with Instant Apps on Android) offer a try-before-you-buy experience. And beyond their in-the-moment utility, App Clips provide another marketing channel to encourage app downloads to foster a stronger connection between businesses and their customers.

The lovable Toast restaurant experience made me wonder why more POS systems don’t use QR codes to go completely touchless. Today’s POS systems all have displays that provide directions, like “Insert Card” or “Remove Card.” Why not show a one-time use QR code on the display and let people have the same experience via an App Clip? It would allow people to complete the entire transaction right from their device and give the store an opportunity to promote their app. Imagine an App Clip for The Gap that appears at checkout and encourages you to then download the full Gap app. It’s a win/win for customers and the merchant.

Truly contactless payment is coming

Whether it’s via an updated POS system, a QR code, or some other technology, truly contactless payments are coming across industries. Amazon, arguably one of the most innovative retailers of the last decade, is certainly planning for a touchless future with its new “Just Walk Out” technology at some Whole Foods stores.

Years from now, we’ll think of contactless payments as an example of app experiences that were accelerated by the pandemic. Truly contactless payments will offer no-brainer convenience — and they’ll also be safer.

And thanks to my love of deep-dish pizza and my payment experience, I had a taste of the future of in-person commerce. It was as delightful as it was delicious.

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