Finance plus fashion – could wearable payments take off?

Image credit: iStockphoto/SanneBerg

Over the last couple of years, the way we pay has undergone something of a revolution, with many new methods of completing a transaction being offered, from contactless debit cards to mobile wallets.

A key driving factor in many of these is to make paying for everyday goods as easy and hassle-free as possible. Not having to type a PIN into a POS terminal or root around in a purse for change may only save a few seconds every time, but this quickly adds up – for both consumers and merchants.

With convenience being key for many people at the moment, one prospect that may be of interest to many consumers is wearable options, so people would not need either a phone or a wallet on them if they have to make a quick stop in the shops.

Barclaycard unveils jewelry payments

For many people, the concept of wearable technology is assumed to mean a chunky smart watch or Google’s ill-fated Glass idea. But at least one company thinks that you shouldn’t have to sacrifice fashion in order to take advantage of wearable payments.

Barclaycard, for instance, has recently announced a series of partnerships that will see its bPay technology embedded into a range of consumer jewelry and watch brands in the UK. Among the agreements is one with DCK Group to add payment capabilities to its ‘Tutch’ range of jewelry, while another is with Tappy Technologies, which embeds payments functionality into watches to transform a standard timepiece into a wearable payment device.

Tami Hargreaves, commercial director, digital consumer payments, at Barclaycard, said: “Consumers are looking for even more convenience when it comes to paying and these partnerships show how the worlds of fashion and technology can combine to provide consumers with quick, easy and convenient ways of making secure payments.”

Visa refloats smart glasses

Google Glass may have been somewhat of a flop, but Visa clearly thinks there’s still mileage in technology-enabled glasses. At this year’s SXSW festival, it showed off sunglasses equipped with an NFC chip that allow people to make a contactless payment by tapping the accessories to a terminal.

Crucially, the sunglasses look identical to their non tech-enabled alternatives, so there’ll be no obvious evidence of their payment capabilities, and users wouldn’t have to make compromises on their style to take advantage of the technology.

Chris Curtin, chief brand and innovation marketing officer at Visa, said the trial ties into the brand mantra of being available “everywhere you want to be”. He added: “Our view is we take form factors that you don’t expect to be payment-enabled, like sunglasses or maybe like a ring, and expose to the market that maybe it can be.”

Will they catch people’s imagination?

Currently, Visa is still in the testing phase, assessing whether enough demand exists to put its glasses into production, and looking for brands or banks to sponsor it.

It remains to be seen whether wearables payments are likely to be a viable mainstream option, or if it will just be considered a gimmick. Certainly, the same concerns about the potential for contactless fraud will still have to addressed, as there’s no authentication when using the accessories, and as sunglasses are frequently-lost items at the best of times, care will have to be taken to reassure users of the security of the technology.

Overall, the jury is still out on the usefulness of wearable technology, with companies such as Fitbit and Jawbone laying off staff. But investment is still strong, with CNBC noting companies are still showing interest in the space. If they are to succeed, payments capabilities would be a clear benefit.


Written by Andy Brown

Andy Brown

Andy is marketing director for payments at NCR. He has nearly 30 years' experience in e-payment systems from the delivery and support of systems in the Far East and Europe, from both the product management and marketing perspectives. Based in the UK, Andy is responsible for marketing NCR payment solutions.

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