Experience Design Is The Future of Mobile Payments


A Holistic Customer Experience is the Future of Mobile Payments

In order for an experience to be successful, it must meet people’s basic needs before it can attempt to satisfy higher level needs [1]

Mobile payments is the next big thing.In the past 12 months there has been much hype around mobile payments with lots of articles espousing the “next great wave” and the promise of new revenue streams, product, and services.

And here’s why:

  • Handset manufacturers, such as Nokia, announcing the imminent introduction of smartphones embedded with NFC chips. Smartphones introduced by the company in 2011 will come with NFC.
  • Manufacturers, such as VeriFone, including NFC as standard in all their new point of sale (POS) terminals.
  • The announcement in late 2010 by three U.S. wireless carriers — AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless — of the formation of a joint venture chartered with building “Isis,” a national mobile commerce network.
  • Google’s launch in May 2011 of “Google Wallet,” a mobile application for smartphones that will use NFC to enable mobile transactions, coupled with “Google Offers” — online deals that integrate into Google Wallet.
  • Orange and Barclaycard launching “Quick Tap” NFC mobile payments in the U.K.
  • PayPal’s mobile payment ambitions to offer a seamless end-to-end experience from product lookup, comparison shopping across local retailers, coupling, payment, and fulfillment.
  • American Express announces its SERVE digital wallet service platform in August 2011, in direct competition with PayPay.
  • Facebook Credits expansion announced March 2010 that will turn retailer’s FaceBook pages into commerce sites, offering limited edition product or at discounted prices, loyalty programs, and more.
  • Amazon announces mobile wallet initiative.
  • In November 2011, Visa announced its V.ME digital wallet initiative

But what do consumers value more: utility/interoperability/partnerships or a holistic cohesive experience?

There will always be the technocrats and first adopters who will engage in mobile payments out of interest, curiosity, and perhaps even necessity, in spite of any pain points or hurdles inherent in the experience. But for most consumers, well designed use cases and experiences will motivate them to switch from cash/cards to using mobile payment services. It’s the experience that will likely be the catalyst for consumer’s change in behavior. To ensure widespread adoption, the experience has to be seamless, purposeful, effortless, informative, and convenient. There’s much more happening inside the realm of mobile payments than just paying for items but currently mobile payment services don’t fully address the purchase behaviors of consumers; the moments before, during, and after in a meaningful way.

Mobile payment services won’t matter if consumers don’t adopt it. And, in order for consumers to adopt it, it must meet their needs. A holistic design approach that addresses people’s psycho, physio, socio, techno, and cultural identity, will help ensure mobile payment adoption and up take.

One design approach to consider is inspired by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This hierarchy of need principles specifies that a design must serve the low-level needs (i.e., it must function), before the higher level needs, such as desirability, can begin to be addressed. There are five key levels:


Functionality needs focus on meeting the most basic design requirements. For example, NFC in a customer’s mobile device must provide the capability to make a connection with another NFC object.

Usability needs have to do with how easy and forgiving a design is to use. For example, configuring your mobile payment preferences to facilitate types of payments and choice of merchants, the interface should be tolerant of errors and mistakes.

Reliability needs are about establishing stable and consistent performance. For example, if lack of interoperability between mobile payment partners results in a service that behaves erratically or is subject to frequent failure, reliability needs will not be satisfied.

Confidence needs address security, customer support, contact methods, policies, and giving users control. For example, a mobile payment service must ensure privacy and security of customer’s personal and financial information. A breach in this will result in lack of trust and result in non-adoption.

Desirability needs focus on personalization, community, flexibility, and customization. For example, if a mobile payment service allows customers to personalize and control their payment experience, and creates a seamless experience across product, services, and channels, desirability needs will be satisfied.

The Opportunity

A holistic experience is key to the future of mobile payment services. No one player currently owns the mobile payment eco-system but those who emerge as the preeminent players will be the ones that embrace seamless integration of partnerships, interoperability, product, services, and user experience. There’s an opportunity for the major/minor players of mobile payment services to create a differentiated, distinguishable, and ownable service experience (i.e., Apple iOS and iTunes). Lastly, those who pay attention to and design for local market needs and use cases, will dramatically increase mobile payment’s chances for widespread adoption and success.

By Perry Chan, Creative Director, Experience Innovation

This post was originally published on February 15, 2012.

[1] The hierarchy of needs is based on the following: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid, “Universal Principles of Design” Lidwell, Hodlen, Butler, and “Designing Pleasurable Products” Jordan.

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