The best (and worst) payment experiences

As people working in payments, we of course always take note when making purchases ourselves on how easy the transaction is and if our preferred payment methods are being accepted. As we just move past one of the biggest retail events of the year, Black Friday, straight into Christmas shopping frenzies around the world, we decided to record our experiences. Read on to find out about one of our best transactions, and one of our very worst…

Our best payment experience – one where it feels like you don’t have to pay at all…

On a surprisingly mild winter’s evening, I was on my way to have a look round the checkout free Tesco Express in High Holborn, London. I was, however, distracted by a flurry of green jackets and the lit-up amazon logo.
I was excited to realize a new Amazon fresh store had opened in central London and immediately changed course towards it. I was further thrilled to realize that as it was their first day of opening, they were offering all customers £10 worth of free goods.

A helpful green jacketed employee showed me how to use the app to check in. It was, as expected, a quick and easy to use system. Say what you like about Amazon, but there’s no denying their laser focus on the customer provides an excellent user experience. (Most of the time, though human error means they also sometimes get it wrong. See random places Amazon delivery drivers left packages.) If you already have your Amazon app set up (and these days, who doesn’t?) then you simply click on the shopping trolley icon and access a barcode. You then scan this barcode as you enter.

Cameras follow you around the store registering what items you take, and your account will be charged at the end, or not in my case as my free £10 worth covered my items, win! Sainsbury’s has just begun trialling a checkout-free grocery store in the same area, meaning there are now three of them in a one-mile radius. How long until this is reflected across London and further afield?

What’s interesting about the Sainsbury’s grocery store is that the tech is powered by Amazon. Clearly, they recognised that they needed to get on board with checkout free, and quickly, with no waiting around for their own tech development.

The Amazon fresh store provided me with a pretty seamless transacting experience and I’m sure before too long all the major retailers will be offering checkout-free stores. However, we already know in the post-pandemic landscape that people still crave physical and social interactions. Not everyone wants to walk round a shop, take what they want and then just go, which slightly makes me picture a zombie apocalyptic world. I certainly cannot imagine my grandma opening up her app and being comfortable with that technology.

Overall, I think checkout-free stores are sure to be a hit with tech savvy, busy consumers who want the least amount of interaction as possible.

Our worst payment experience – one where it’s difficult to find somewhere where you can pay

November 2021. Crime Scene: The Christmas Market in Paderborn. More than 80 stalls, beautifully decorated with the smell of mulled wine and roasted almonds, invited me to take a proper stroll around.

Being digital-savvy and because COVID-19 accelerated the digitization within the German payment’s world (finally), I usually leave the house without my purse. My debit and credit cards are stored within my Apple Wallet and I usually use Apple Pay. I already know which stores offer Apple Pay, and to be honest, I am one of those customers that will stick with what’s most convenient and just shop there. However, as it emerged later, sticking to my “convenience-routine” was not the best decision for a visit to the German Christmas Market.

After I was unable to buy some overpriced champignons with garlic sauce and a caloric chocolate crêpe, I decided to take a dedicated look at the payment methods the stalls were accepting. Disappointingly, I found very few stalls that weren’t cash only or that were even working with a digital cash register. I was surprised, as I remember well those heated debates after the introduction of the compulsory receipt in early 2020, which should have strengthened transparency and helped against tax fraud. One thing that has so far been neglected in public discussions: the new law is simply inadequate as it does not apply to “open tills”. This means that stalls working with cash only for thousands of years, are not liable to use a register, nor issue a proper receipt, either as a print-out or digitally.

So, a card payment in which the transaction would be registered? Of course not!

Especially in the times of COVID-19, when everyone is requested to wear a mask and to stick to social distancing, I expected more cashless options. I could only watch with a shake of the head at stall owners exchanging cash and handing over the bread for the champignons with the same hand. It will take more than hygiene to get our older generations to scan their e-wallets and to finally stop dishonest retailers from reaching into the open cash register for the purpose of tax evasion.

So, have you got a payment experience that tops our checkout free one? Or you have had an even more nightmarish one than being unbale to purchase at all?

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