A few weeks ago Visa unveiled a sunglasses prototype with payment capabilities. The pair of shades showcased at several tech events around the world looked almost identical to non-tech models with the exception of a tiny chip embedded on its side. To pay, a wearer just taps them on a Visa near field communication (NFC) enabled terminal.
Many will brush this off as a PR stunt, but the reality is that the payments industry is looking at the rise in contactless and alternative payments, and responding to market demand. The question is: Are sunglasses the best vehicle for payments? Personally, I am torn. I love the idea of sunbathing on a sunny beach and simply tapping my sunglasses on a payment terminal to pay for my cocktail. It feels glamorous and exciting! However the reality is, that the last time I took my sunglasses to an exotic beach they didn't survive my snorkeling trip in Costa Rica and ended up at the bottom of the ocean!
However, Visa is right that we need to look at which everyday items we enable for payments through card tokenisation. I believe there's more thinking to be done around which items will become essentials in the same way as our mobile phones. Perhaps if I lived in Costa Rica all year-round my sunglasses would be an essential, but as lovely as the Dutch weather is, it's hardly sunny 365 days a year. Despite that, I (like many women) have more than one pair of sunglasses, but how many payments-enabled gadgets do we really want?
The industry is placing its bets on a whole range of new gadgets and devices embedding payment technology, ranging from payment enabled jewellery to wristbands and jewellery. However, if I end up with a range of payments-enabled devices, I would probably also need some kind of mobile app to administrate all my devices and that comes with its concerns around security.
I think that for any new NFC-enabled payments device to become ubiquitous it needs to be something we will always have with us. I always wear my wedding ring, but this obviously isn't a truly ubiquitous use case. It has to be something that feels as important as our wallet and mobile phone. In fact, researchers only recently coined a name for the condition of feeling stressed and anxious when leaving the house without a mobile phone – nomophobia!
I do think that payments with NFC-enabled everyday items will take off. And women will be a big force to reckon with! Women drive 80% of consumer purchasing and household financial decisions, yet are rarely considered when financial products are designed. As they say, every woman's handbag is a mystery, but I think most of us would find it useful if we no longer had to dig around in its depths to find our purse or smartphone in order to pay. I think perhaps a payments enabled pair of sunglasses for the summer, and a 'wave and pay' scarf for the winter would do the trick for me!
Silvia Mensdorff will be joined by femtechleaders at Money2020 for a networking breakfast with the European Women Payments Network on 27th of June.