Could you foresee your fridge able to make a payment for you – to buy your milk before you run out? Would it be possible to have your gas meter automatically complete a transaction for you so don’t have to remember to pay the bill?
A few years ago such actions would have seemed like something from a science fiction story – Back to the Future springs to mind with the fingerprint scanner mobile payment device in the second film. Now that 2015 – the year imagined in the film – has come and gone, progress towards a world of connected payment devices has truly come alive.
Driving things along is a new initiative from MasterCard, which is seeking to turn everything and anything into a payment device. We’ve already seen how wearable technology is able to launch payments – Heritage Bank in Australia created a suit with a built-in contactless chip in the sleeve. But MasterCard wants to go a lot, lot further.
Ed McLaughlin, chief emerging payments officer at the company, says: “This program eliminates the boundaries of how we pay by delivering a secure digital payment experience to virtually anything – rings, fitness and smart bands, car key fobs, apparel, and whatever comes along next.”
So what use cases are seen as holding the most promise?
MasterCard is teaming up with Samsung to create a system that lets consumers order groceries directly from the latter’s new range of smart refrigerators. The Groceries app will be preloaded on the Samsung’s Family Hub fridge, which will be available from May in the US, enabling shoppers to order their food from FreshDirect and ShopRite through the appliance.
Users simply add items to a cart, approve the list with a 4-digit PIN entry on the fridge’s touchscreen pad, and then make payment with their debit or credit card.
Heritage Bank’s payment suit was only a gimmick for a select few customers – but garments are seen as a key part of the discussion about wearable payments. “Technology is vital to the fashion industry, from textiles, printing techniques, and innovations in garments, it keeps fashion changing and evolving,” says Adam Selman, a fashion designer who’s involved in the MasterCard scheme.
“Usually technology’s role in fashion is behind the scenes. What sets the MasterCard program apart is that it features the technology, while still remaining invisible, yet interactive and totally functional with the wearer. It’s exciting to be part of a project that is creating something new and fresh. At the end of the day, that’s what fashion is all about.”
Christina Mercando d’Avignon, founder and CEO of Ringly, which makes so-called ‘smart jewellery’, says: “We created Ringly to keep women connected to the people, messages and notifications that are important to them. Through our partnership with MasterCard, Ringly will not only be able to keep people connected, but will provide another layer to how our customers can use their jewellery while on the go. Our mission is to make women’s lives more manageable through beautiful jewellery and discreet technology.”
MasterCard has teamed up with General Motors, but it’s a scheme launched by Visa that is arguably of more note.
The card giant has built a ‘connected car’ that lets drivers make purchases on the move. An embedded chip and Bluetooth mean the car makes the purchase for the owner. Bill Gajda, senior vice president of Innovation and Strategic Partnerships at Visa, notes that more than 250 million vehicles worldwide will include some form of embedded connectivity by 2020.
“As the number of connected cars on the road increases, so does our ability to bring secure online commerce to consumers everywhere,” he explains. “We initially focused on a specific use case – ordering a meal on your way home – but we envision a world where consumers can seamlessly make many of their everyday purchases from the car.”
These are just a few areas among many. The list of potential devices is endless. As MasterCard says, this scheme is being set up not only for the scenarios listed above, but also for “yet to be imagined categories”.