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Is your phone replacing your wallet?

| June 24, 2015
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It was a Wednesday afternoon, and that meant food trucks would be lined up outside the office for lunch. I had a craving for Pad Thai, and it just so happened the Thai truck was right there waiting for me. I bellied up to the window and placed my order. Then I reached for my wallet, only to realize I’d left it at home. The cashier saw the distress on my face and asked if I had the PayPal app on my phone. As a matter of fact, I did! I whipped out my phone, opened the app, and in a matter of moments, I’d paid and was off to eat a tasty lunch.

That made me wonder. Do I really need a wallet after all? I can’t recall the last time I really needed cash. And according to a survey, 40% of Americans carry less than $20 on a daily basis. Now pair that with the dramatic increase in mobile payments—from 8% in 2013 to 40% in 2014—and cash’s future starts to look a bit grim.

Mobile wallets

Physical credit cards could be next. Apps like Apple Pay and Google Wallet are taking electronic payments even further by keeping everything you’d need in your phone. Near Field Communication (NFC) technology makes paying for your purchase as easy as waving your phone over a NFC card reader. No digging for your wallet, no searching for correct change.


UX and CX for mobile payments

So what does this mean for the customer experience for mobile payments? While UX fundamentals still apply, mobile payments have their own unique set of customer experience challenges.

Convincing customers to ditch their wallets will take some doing. And that’s where good UX and CX play a part. PayPal’s Senior UX Lead Skip Allums literally wrote the book on mobile payment UX. And in one of his talks, he shared some great insights on what’s important for creating a great mobile payment experience. Here are the key takeaways from his presentation:

1. It’s not about the app

One of the most interesting things I picked up from Skip’s talk, was a reminder that customers aren’t really interested in the app, they’re interested in what it can do for them. The ultimate goal is for your customers to get in and get out as fast as possible, with as little friction as possible. If paying with your app isn’t faster or more convenient than using cash or a credit card, they’re not going to use it.

2. Payments are a conversation

One benefit of an app or website is that it removes the friction of dealing with other people. But as Skip points out, that doesn’t mean a conversation isn’t still part of the purchase.

And that conversation doesn’t require you to speak with anyone. Mobile payment apps just need to be sure they communicate exactly what’s happening during a transaction, and what’s going to happen next. If you’ve entered your PayPal account information and the purchase is being processed, the status screen should clearly tell you what’s happening.

If you need the customer to provide additional information, or if there are additional steps after the purchase has been confirmed, tell them what to expect next.

Imagine how you’d train your customer service team to interact with a customer in person, then design your app to include those prompts. And don’t forget to say thank you.

3. Skip the jargon

This is a good UX practice in general, but it’s especially important for mobile payments. Describe what’s happening as simply as possible, even if it’s a complex process. Your customers have limited time, patience, and screen space, so they need to be able to quickly scan their screens and understand exactly what’s happening.

Image courtesy of Skip Allums.

Image courtesy of Skip Allums.

4. Lock it up

The number one reason users cite for shying away from mobile payment, is concerns over security and privacy.

Skip suggests using mobile passcodes and PINs rather than usernames and passwords. It’s also advisable to require a complex PIN or passcode. Don’t allow the user to use something like 1234 or 1111. Additionally, be sure to use large, easy to read numeric keypads that are customized for your app. Not only is this is a better experience for users, it also helps establish trust in the app.


Biometric security options are also gaining popularity. Apple’s Touch ID (available on the iPhone 6 models) uses biometrics by scanning a person’s unique fingerprint as a password, and is required to authorize payments through Apple’s mobile payment app, Apple Pay.

Mobile payments are still in their early stages of adoption—both by users and vendors—but if current usage is any indication, it may not be long before credit cards find their way into the shredder, and wallets are retired for smartphones.