Can I use Apple Pay? What’s applespay? No, Apple Pay.

I mean, can I use my phone to pay for this? Um, like Google or whatever? I wouldn’t, it’s super unsafe, like, people can steal your stuff.  Since I didn’t have time to explain to the Sephora cashier that not only is Apple Pay more secure than “Google or whatever”, but it’s particularly more secure than my alternative, which would be my U.S. Bank magnetic stripe debit card (U.S. Bank has yet to issue me an EMV debit card). This is not the first time this has happened to me. Many times I have asked cashiers, “Hey does this take Google Wallet or Apple Pay?” or “Can I use my phone with this? Sometimes I ask already knowing Apple Pay has not been endorsed by that particular merchant but still am curious as to what the cashiers have to say. A lot of the time I just get a “No, I don’t know…” or just a blank face and an uncomfortable laugh. And sometimes I get a “No, I wouldn’t, it’s unsafe.” Which is decidedly much worse. With queues being as sensitive as they are I am not likely to string out a long, tiresome explanation of what NFC is or how it works. I am however, convinced that this middle man (the cashier) has been completely ignored and in a small way is the “gate keeper” to mobile proximity payments adoption.

From an industry perspective Apple Pay has brought some legitimacy and normalization to mobile proximity payments. Let me repeat, from an industry perspective. Meaning, banks and vendors are starting to accept the fact that a digital substitute can be both secure and convenient. From a consumer perspective, Apple loyalists know all about Apple Pay. Conversely, most Android-using tech enthusiasts know all about Google Wallet. And big box retailers, or at least management, know all about mobile proximity payments (NFC/contactless payments or bar code-based payments). But, the payments industry as a whole as been very naive in thinking that cashiers don’t matter. Or worse, they are unknowingly relying on consumers to train cashiers.

Mobile proximity payments have potential. Within the mobile retail market, mobile proximity payments represented $3.1B in 2013, and are projected to grow at a robust 61.88% through 2018 Javelin maintains that security concerns and habit are the two main factors why consumers are slow to adopt. Not only is the consumer using a new device (their phone) but the action is very different. Where does the phone go? How many times do I have to tap it? Did it work? And who normally answers these questions for us? The cashiers. Think about your normal checkout experience. How many times have you pressed the wrong button on the PIN pad and immediately looked up to the cashier for help? If you’re like me you normally freeze with card in hand waiting for instructions.   “Oh sorry! I pressed cancel instead of ok.” “That’s ok, people do it all the time…” and he or she casually coaches you through the next go.  

This is not the same experience with NFC and it won’t be until stakeholders realize that the middle-user will need as much coaching as the end-user. If security concerns are one of the roadblocks to adoption then let’s consider how much trust consumers assign to cashiers, at least when it comes to the checkout process. If cashiers become educated advocates of mobile proximity payments it’s just one more step towards reducing friction at the POS and increasing mobile payments adoption.