Paying with your face and car is the new paying with your phone
Mobile payments companies are using tech to make it even easier for us to spend more money.
Katie CollinsSenior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Just as we come to grips with buying a cup of coffee with a wave of a phone, the finance and mobile industries are planning how we'll eventually pay with our refrigerators, our cars and even our faces.
Over the last four decades, magnetic-stripe cards have been the only significant alternative to paying with cash or checks. But a flood of experimentation in payment methods over the past two years has changed that dynamic. Last week, a slew of new payment concepts emerged at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona.
"We've seen an incredible pivot away from that magnetic stripe on a back of a credit card and toward imagining every device as a payments-initiating device, including a car, a refrigerator, a watch, a phone and everything in between," said Jason Oxman, chief executive of the Electronic Transactions Association, a trade group representing payments and technology companies.
This may be the next revolution in how we pay for goods and services. Tech leaders Apple and Google have already embraced mobile payments, while payment leaders such as Visa, MasterCard and PayPal have built the underlying infrastructure to support the mobile payments systems. They are now looking to apply these principles elsewhere.
Eventually, you won't need to pull out your card or even your phone to make a purchase. Virtually anything around you can serve as a digital wallet.
"Mobile is blurring the distinction between the online and in-store environments," PayPal CEO Daniel Schulman, said during his Mobile World Congress keynote.
At MWC, Visa showed off a connected car that lets drivers pay for parking or for gas, thanks to a chip that lets the vehicle talk to the parking meter or gas pump. Climbing into the Honda on display at the Visa booth, you see how the connected car's dashboard timer could save you money by only paying for the exact length of time you're parked.
Visa also sees potential in wearable technology and other connected objects.
"If it has connectivity, there's a potential that somebody might want to use it to pay, whether it's a watch or a raincoat," Sam Shrauger, Visa's senior vice president of digital solutions, said in an interview at the company's MWC booth.
This isn't unique to Visa.
Samsung's screen-clad smart fridge, which debuted at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, lets you order and pay for groceries.
So far, consumers and retailers don't seem particularly interested. Gerry Granovsky, Moody's analyst focused on technology and payment, said he's skeptical about the viability of many of the new payments concepts.
"They sound good on paper," he said, but consumers seem just as happy to stick with their credit and debit cards.
That is the same problem mobile payments have faced for years. Even the most prominent system, Apple Pay, has faced slow adoption.
Only 12.7 percent of US smartphone owners used mobile payments last year, according to eMarketer.com, though the research company forecasts that the figure will grow to 19 percent this year.
To get people more interested in new payments services, companies need to build them deeper into the shopping process, not just as another option at checkout, said Alejandra Tejada, a manager for marketing researcher Millward Brown Digital.
Instead of simply allowing people to pay with their watch at the register, she suggests letting customers do so around the store and bypass the checkout line altogether.
"You have to take a step back and put yourself in the consumer's shoes and ask, 'What am I saving here?'" Tejada said.
This hasn't escaped the notice of PayPal.
The company has expanded the reach of its One Touch feature, which lets you pay on a mobile device by tapping the screen without entering your credentials or shipping details, said Jo Lambert, PayPal's vice president of consumer products. It is the fastest-adopted PayPal feature ever launched.
MasterCard, meanwhile, announced its "selfie" payment option last year and showed it off at MWC last week. It uses the phone's front-facing camera and a single blink to verify the identity of the buyer.
One CNET reporter pounced on a spare selfie-pay-enabled smartphone to try this out. The phone's screen was projected onto a large display at MasterCard's booth. So when the payment was declined, the show floor witnessed the humiliation. The phone hadn't been set up to work with the reporter's face, though, so at least it's secure.
While these finance companies are experimenting with different pieces of tech, there's still a lot of love for simple plastic.
"The card needs to evolve to suit a world that it was not envisioned for when it was first created," Shrauger said.