The way we acquire goods and services has changed dramatically over the past century. While it took several millennia to go from a barter system to a system of currency, it’s taken only a few decades to move away from physical currency to the card-based and electronic-based transaction systems we have today.
Buying has, in many ways, become easier.
That said, there’s still room for improvement. New advances in technology are making it easier to buy, and easier to manage your purchases. Let’s take a look at some of the technologies out there today, as well as some that are coming soon, that will change the way we buy:
- Near-field communications. Near-field communications (NFC) is a technology that opens a secure connection between two devices that are very close together (usually less than a matter of inches). Some Android phones, for example, are built with the hardware to support this technology. Retailers who have the technology can then accept payments via services like Google Wallet. Google Wallet installs as an app on your smartphone, and creates a secure transaction at the point of sale. You simply swipe your phone and the payment is charged to whatever credit or debit card you have connected with your Google Wallet.
- Web based payments. Increasingly, retailers are opening up to web-based payments. Online, for example, many consumers are accustomed to using PayPal. Some retailers – including some major retailers like Wal-Mart – have pilot programs where you can actually pay using your PayPal ID at the point of sale. The PayPal smartphone app even includes a GPS-based component that shows you nearby retailers that accept PayPal.
- Mobile transactions. Not only are payments becoming more mobile, so is the ability to accept payments. Businesses can use technologies like Square to actually swipe credit cards when they’re not in their normal setting. Companies can now accept payments at trade shows or even at client locations using just their smartphone and a special dongle through which the card is swiped. There are other apps that let you enter the credit card numbers manually without swiping a card (although those services tend to charge higher rates and may result in more chargebacks).
- Alternate medium credit cards. The magnetic stripe credit card has, in many parts of the world, gone the way of the dodo. These have been replaced with key-chain-size devices that are simply swiped against a payment pad. These alternate mediums don’t break as easily as credit cards do, and they are often more convenient and easy to read. Whether or not Americans will catch onto these alternatives remains to be seen, of course.
The world is changing. With each new technology, we have more and more tools to buy the goods and services we want. Time will tell the tale, of course, as to whether any of these methods can surpass the debit and credit card solution that we, as a society, seem to have grown so fond of, however.