2019 Retail Tech Trends: mobile payments

According to new research, the UK currently ranks third in the world for mobile wallet adoption, with almost a quarter of smart phone users now opting for this payment method at the checkout. It may lag a long way behind China, which placed first with 47% adoption, and Norway, in second place with 42% – but it is nevertheless a significant uptake, given that Apple Pay was only launched four years ago.

The fact that consumers are actively using mobile apps should come as no surprise when ease-of-use is a factor in so many transactions. It is the next logical step after contactless and makes me wonder if it’s only a matter of time before physical bank cards go the same way as Oyster cards.

Of those surveyed, almost half of 18-24-year-olds already had a mobile wallet, and a further 32% were ‘attracted’ to the idea. While adoption at the other end of the age scale is much lower, it is telling that just under half of those aged 65 or over either use a mobile wallet or see it as an attractive payment option.    

Perhaps the question is not whether mobile payments will continue to grow, both in number and value, but which app will prove most popular. Apple Pay has dominated the UK market, yet worldwide it ranks fourth behind WeChat Pay, Alipay and PayPal. Even the idea of paying for goods at the till may soon feel archaic when apps like Amazon Go and SmartShop at Sainsbury’s are rolled out further. If retailers want to get a real sense of where this is all likely to end up, they should keep a regular eye on developments from the Eastern powerhouses, JD.com and Alibaba.

I also expect voice to become the interface of choice for mobile devices in the near future. We are already seeing investment in chatbots by retailers for simple customer service operations and this will become extended as AI and machine learning capabilities develop, as long as it delivers first contact resolution. Voice will supersede touch as the mobile search interface, facilitated with the arrival of 5G technology towards the back end of 2019.

These are transformative and exciting times for the deployment of mobile technology in retailing. With demand and margins under so much pressure, the greatest challenge for decision-makers over mobile technology is when and in what to invest. In this world of uncertainty, one thing is inevitable: future life will involve endless series of technological upgrades, released at ever accelerating rates of speed. Standing still is not an option.