Whatever you think of him, Steve Jobs was excellent at product development.  Consumer friendly, intuitive design was the at the core of every product he introduced.  He felt that the user should be able to effectively use a device or software without being told or shown how, and he did this with devices and apps the world had never seen before – the iPod, iTunes, iPhone, etc.  As further evidence of this end-user design focus, Apple was among the first to ship fairly complicated hardware without a lengthy user manual.

Players in the payments industry, in a rush to be the first to market, have overwhelmed consumers with new products and services.  In this haste, ensuring consumers understand how to effectively use this technology has become an afterthought.

Consumer Expectations

A focus on innovation coupled with intuitive design has become the norm for consumers.  They expect innovation, but they also expect things to “just work”.  In the best case, poor design can result in a tepid launch of a product and keep otherwise good ideas from reaching critical mass in the marketplace. At its worst, a poor user interface can discourage users from regular use of the product or service. Mobile applications serve as a primary example of this evolution in consumer behavior. According to TechCrunch, CompuWare conducted a study on app usage which found that approximately 90% of apps are used once and never again.  This abandonment is attributed not only to buggy design, but to difficulty in setup, registration, or use.

Consumer Payments Bombardment

Consumer payment innovations have been fraught with similar reception.  Historically, the complex network of ecosystem players was largely transparent to the consumer.  Consumers presented a physical credit card to a merchant who processed it.  The only players visible or relevant to the consumer was the card brand and the issuing bank, and even those were occasionally synonymous, as in the case of American Express and Discover.

Today the consumer is bombarded with brands that the players want them to know.  Below is a sample list of major payment “brands” or technologies that the average consumer has been exposed to the in past 5 years:

ApplePay PayPal EMV/Chip Cards Chase Pay
NFC Clover SamsungPay Venmo
Square Amazon Wallet Bitcoin SamsungPay
Visa Checkout Apple Wallet MasterPass Bill Pay

Some payment professionals can’t explain the differences among these systems.  The industry cannot expect technologies to achieve significant market share when the use case is not easily apparent to the average consumer.

Some Successes

A handful of payment innovations such as Venmo have managed to quickly reach market relevance by addressing a specific problem and wrapping it with features and functionality that make it fun and easy to use.  Venmo wrapped P2P ACH payments with social functions that allowed users to interact and transact with minimal friction.  It’s worth noting that they accepted a certain amount of risk in the product (failed ACH transactions), but gained critical mass quickly so as to mitigate that risk. An intuitive user experience and thoughtful design on the front end of a product/service should be viewed as being of equal importance as the technology that is powering the backend.

Finding Intuitive Design

First, let’s acknowledge that intuitive design is somewhat subjective.  Not all consumers are tech savvy, nor are all consumer at the same level of innovation engagement.  Many believe that existing systems aren’t broken.  They are not wrong.  Let’s not force these users down a path they do not want to go down.  A bridge between tried-and-true and innovation is needed.

However, there are many cases where we do have engaged consumers.  These early adopters should be guided down a well paved path.  When changing existing consumer behavior, the path must be clear, especially in the early stages of adoption.  EMV terminals that sound an awful alarm when the card has been left in 1.5 seconds too long is not the answer.  Cashiers who don’t know if their store accepts contactless payments make consumers have second thoughts about attempting to use it elsewhere.

In general, focus on the end user perspective.  Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Provide a clear path to download apps or to a website. Graphic images with links work well.
  • Keep registration as frictionless as possible. Use Facebook/Google/Twitter integrations to speed up the process.  Only collect user information that is actually needed.
  • Test, test, test before deploying code. Do this across multiple platforms, browsers, and O/S’s.  Users will not tolerate buggy.
  • Consider quick, simple, tutorials when a user is on a site or uses and app for the first time.
  • Point-of-Sale (retail) signage/prompts should be clean and clear. Staff must be trained.  A handwritten “no chip – swipe” sign stuck in the EMV slot is better than nothing, but upgrading terminals to process chips cards, as most merchants now do, is far better.

By ensuring that payments innovation isn’t driving more confusion for the consumer, the industry will ultimately win through adoption.  Recent history has provided many examples of what not to do.  Let’s learn from them and instead put consumers at the forefront of intuitive design.

For further discussion, contact Nick at nfredrick@wcapra.com.


What Have We Done To Consumer Expectations?