Say Goodbye to the Dollar Bill?

CIW will explore The Future of Retail on Monday, October 12, 4 – 5:30pm.

How often has an amazing experience been ruined by a terrible ending? As a Chicago Cubs fan, I can name a few. Just take the 2003 season. Or consider any movie that fades out on an open-ended question that frustrates rather than provides a sense of closure. Hello, The Matrix Revolutions.

Your grocery store experience starts like this. Then, there are the lines.

Your grocery store experience starts like this. Then, there are the lines.

What about a shopping trip? I’m sure you’ve been to grocery stores where you can have a fine glass of wine, some oysters and good conversation while the notes of a Bach toccata gently waft in the background. Strolling through the well-arranged store, you find all of the brands you are looking for in the serene aisles. But when it comes to checkout, invariably the line is long and filled with multiple roadblocks.

Americans spend an estimated 37 billion hours waiting in lines every year. No Bach toccata is going to make up for that. In fact, checkout frequently turns a good retail experience into a frustrating, vexing ordeal.

We’ve all watched someone fumble through his or her pockets or purse in a mad search for exact change. Then there is the shock and dismay caused when the person paying at the front of the line suddenly turns into The Check Writer. You stand there, mouth agape, while he or she takes the time to write neatly on the lines, diligently enters the transaction in the ledger and fumbles to produce two forms of identification.

I usually close my eyes during these moments and channel Obi-Wan Kenobi. “You don’t need to see his identification. These aren’t the droids you are looking for. You can go about your business.” But it never seems to speed up the process.

Of course, technology is continually advancing payment methods, making them as convenient as possible. Some new payment options are already available, while others may have to wait a few years.

When thinking about these future-forward ways to pay, keep in mind that the Boston Federal Reserve released a report in 2014 that said cold, hard cash is used between 46 percent and 82 percent of the time. Yet there are a number of exciting developments that will most likely change this, as Statista reports that the volume of mobile payments is predicted to rise over 500 percent in the next 3 years.

For those of you reading this on an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus or any phone with Android Pay, please tell me that you’ve tried the NFC-based payment system baked into the phones. I’m a die-hard advocate for this seamless way to pay. It’s somewhat magical not having to take out my wallet when I buy things.

Next, we move on to other forms of currency that don’t involve cash. While I won’t even begin to talk about crypto-currencies or good old gold, being able to pay with a photo on Instagram or a tweet feels super-cool. Companies like Popular Pays allow people with more than 500 followers on Instagram to get free things just by taking a picture of a product and posting it to their feeds. Or, taking a completely different spin on this, brands are using recycling to reward people with cash equivalents. Unilever did this last year in Brazil when they launched the Seda Recarga Natural hair care line in São Paulo. People brought any type of used shampoo bottle to a recycling vending machine and were rewarded with cell phone credits.

And now we move on to the future. One thing you probably won’t need there is a nice leather wallet filled with bills. Why would you, when you can order a pizza from your car’s dashboard on the way home, or strap a bracelet around your wrist that enables you to authenticate payments with your heartbeat? Better yet, how fun will it be to simply walk into a McDonald’s and say that you’ll pay with Google?

How can it be that with all of the different frictionless ways to pay, we still find ourselves stuck in that line? Maybe, thanks to all the new payment technology, it won’t be necessary anymore. I’m sure the trade-off for this convenience will have a cost, but how much is 37 billion hours worth? Probably a couple of Bitcoins. The question then is: Who’s going to tell The Check Writer?

Tod Szewczyk is VP, Director of Innovation at Leo Burnett. He spends his time incubating ideas in the agency’s Retail Innovation lab, curating content around how brands are using technology to reach consumers and producing large scale, global innovation events.

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