The nudge potential of mobile payments

Starbucks Corp CEO, Howard Schultz, described the arrival of mobile payments as part of a “seismic change” in consumer behaviour. For Starbucks, which is leagues ahead of any other high street retailer in taking advantage of the technology, this change has proved extremely profitable and earlier this year they reported record revenues as a result.

The “unbelievable way in which mobile payment and mobile commerce is going to change the way in which consumer buy things” will be, for most and for some time to come, about maximising profits.

However, this “seismic” activity also marks the arrival a huge opportunity for those looking build positive behavioural prompts and nudges into the consumer experience.

As our initial research and testing is showing, this opportunity is vast but it is not going to be easily realised.

Undoubtedly, there will be a lot of clunky “for good” behavioural solutions to begin with that could only ever appeal to the 1%.

It will be easier, for example, to integrate information about ethical, environmental and healthy consumer choices into the purchasing experience, but putting this information closer at hand won’t suddenly make everyone want to be chastised every time they buy something.

Moreover, additional information integrated into the mobile shopping experience will be overwhelmingly dominated by offers of similar or repeat purchases from advertisers, as it is online. This is going to become competitive new space and information like “the Wotsits you just bought have a carbon footprint of 72g” is going to lose.

So what developments could help us exploit this new area of consumer behaviour?

Online and mobile purchase integration – we’re surely a very small step away from having complete integration of our mobile and online consumer activity which will, eventually, account for most, if not all, of our purchasing. Bringing this information together will allow us to not only better understand and control our spending, day-by-day, which will have major benefits for personal financial planning and debt control, but will also enable prompts and nudges to be based on a full data picture

The relationship between pre-purchase scanning and buying – at the moment, barcode / QR code scanning is used mainly for price comparisons on larger items, but it seems inevitable that as in-store purchasing starts to revolve around our mobiles, pre-purchase scanning will become integrated and ubiquitous, making till point payments considerably more efficient or even unnecessary. Again, this integration will enable us to build in more effective pre-purchases nudges.

Appetite for an informed choice – even if most of us don’t want to be judged, we do often want to avoid being confused when we’re actively looking for information. Product information on packaging is limited, complicated and controlled by the brand. Healthy choices is a prime example and our testing has shown that its almost impossible for consumers to make genuinely informed choices about eating healthily, not least because ‘healthy” means so many different and sometimes mutually excluding things. If we want to be buying food that will not overload our blood sugar levels for example, then purchase-specific, neutrally brokered information on this will be much easier to build in.

Government interventionwith the success of David Halpern’s Behaviour Insight Team, the government should have a good appetite to get involved in new areas like mobile payments and mobile finance more generally. As Halpern says, the government has a valid role in giving people “more information about the consequences of their choices for themselves and others.” To this end, within this new world of mobile payments as in many other commercial spheres, the government has to negotiate and legislate a balance between information that makes us buy more stuff and information that helps us make more personally, socially and environmentally positive choices.