By Crystal Lindell
Associate Editor
So , I can’t decide if I: A: cannot wait with all my heart for the day when I can swipe my cell phone across the counter and pay for my bag of M&M’s. or B: The idea of turning my Android into “a debit card that also makes phone calls” scares the bejebus out of me.
For my Retail Profile this month, I interviewed Scott Hartman, president and ceo of Rutter’s Farm Stores. He has led efforts at Rutter’s to smoothly transition into new technologies, such as computer-run food ordering kiosks as well as the launch of a popular smart phone application (app).
With an obvious ease for getting the latest pulse on the market, he has some bold predictions about paying with smart phones; namely, Hartman believes his stores will be offering the option within the next one to two years.
“The phone is becoming the customer’s electronic wallet,” he explains. “The younger folks don’t think twice about using plastic, and the phone will be the better, more efficient way.”
At 27 years old, I’d like to think of myself as “younger folk,” and I have to say he’s at least right about my plastic addiction. Just yesterday, I literally charged $2.37 to my debit card for a two-liter of soda. As a footnote, the fact that the deli in my building only takes cash precludes me from buying anything from there.
That doesn’t mean I’m necessarily ready to jump on the latest incarnation of “pay by phone” though.
Questions that come to mind include, but are not limited to: If I lose my smart phone, will someone be able to wipe out my bank account? Will I accidentally be able to swipe my phone when I’m just trying to send a text and pay a the same time? How long will it take for stores to install the technology? Will people still ask for a pin? If I give my phone to my mom when she runs to the store, will she be able to use it to buy a Snickers bar?
For retailers though, there’s only one question, and it’s not whether or not they want to install a mobile payment system, but when exactly customers will expect that they already have.
Starbucks is among those not waiting to find out. In January, the coffee chain began accepting mobile payments via the Starbucks Card Mobile iPhone and BlackBerry apps, the company website says. The app works by displaying a barcode that can be used just like a Starbucks Card to make a purchase. Customers can simply hold their phone up in front of a scanner on the counter top and swipe to make a purchase.
From my view, it’s one small step for smart phones, one giant leap for payment methods. I honestly still cannot decide if I’m a huge fan of this particular giant leap or not, but I do predict that someday soon I will look back at this column and wonder what I was so worried about in the first place – the way I can only assume the generation in front of me wonders how anybody could have resisted the idea of cell phones in the first place.