Apple Pay and the Perfect Checkout Experience

Apple Pay Logo

Apple Pay is potentially the perfect checkout experience at brick and mortar stores, but the implementation at particular stores often leaves room for improvement.

The perfect register checkout experience for me would be: once my goods are rung up, the cashier announces the total. I present payment, which is accepted instantly. I leave with my purchases. Anything else that interrupts that flow is unnecessary, and detracts from the experience.

Brick and mortar stores are now competing with on-line retailers like Amazon. Customers have become used to a friction free on-line checkout process, ala Amazon’s “Buy with One Click”.

Life Without Apple Pay

Some stores clearly appreciate the value of quick checkout to customers: Publix posts signs at the checkout reading “Now for the easy part”. Ironically, unlike Food Lion, The Fresh Market and Winn Dixie, however, Publix doesn’t accept Apple Pay — the one thing that would make checkout significantly easier.

When paying with a credit card, the experience is usually something like this: You put your card into the machine, but the clerk says you inserted it too soon. You remove the card. Five seconds later, the machine beeps and says “Insert card”. Now it says “Do Not Remove Card”. This stays up for an annoyingly long time. Just as your attention wanders, the machine beeps frantically saying “Remove Card”, like it’s your fault it’s been in there so long. As you are attempting to get your card back in your wallet, the cashier simultaneously hands you a receipt, and pushes your purchases towards you. The person behind you is impatient as you frantically try to do three things with two hands.

Do You Take Apple Pay or Not?

When visiting a new store, it’s surprisingly difficult to determine if they actually accept Apple Pay. The clerk often has no idea. If they say yes, it may be because they have seen someone checkout with their phone, not realizing it was the Samsung Pay hack, not Apple Pay. Samsung Pay tricks mag-stripe readers into thinking you swiped a card. That was a brilliant trick, but won’t work in the future because merchants are no longer accepting swiped cards, but only chip cards.

If the clerk says Apple Pay doesn’t work at that store, it may be that it does work, but nobody has tried it before. It usually doesn’t hurt to try it. I have amazed a few clerks when it did actually work.

The Generic Contactless Payment Logo

If a store displays the contactless payment logo or the Apple Pay logo, then they are supposed to accept them. But, I have seen too many stores where they didn’t accept Apple Pay in spite of the logo(s) on the register.

One store had a handwritten note saying “NO Apple Pay” next to the Apple Pay logo. When I asked them about that, they said that Apple Pay seemed to work at their register, but then the store could not get their money. Obviously they didn’t want it used in those circumstances.

They Just Don’t Get It

Many stores accept Apple Pay, but most don’t take full advantage of the convenience it can offer the customer. After submitting payment with Apple Pay, I have had some registers insist that I sign on the line. Signatures have been irrelevant to credit card security for years. No one ever looks at the signatures. You can write any foolishness on the line and your purchase will still go through as normal. There is serious talk about removing the signature from all credit card purchases. To ask for a signature with Apple Pay is like insisting that your Tesla be equipped with a buggy whip.

Some registers, especially gas pumps, ask for your zip code. This is either irrelevant security theater, an attempt to track you or bad programming; I’m not sure which. A zip code is a trivial security measure next to the security of Apple Pay and your iPhone or Apple Watch. You’re just asking your customer to do one more stupid step that your competitors might be smart enough to skip.

Stores should not ask customers any questions at checkout. None. They are unexpected, slow down the process and hold up the line. NO, I don’t want to join the loyalty program. YES, I speak English and told you so the last 10 times I was here. NO, I won’t give you my email address. I’m already getting an electronic receipt — I used Apple Pay! NO, I don’t want to contribute to the charity of the day. NO, I don’t want to leave a tip in a traditionally non-tipping environment, like a fast food place. Don’t even ask. Just pay your employees yourself.

The actual paper receipt is optional and unnecessary, and holds up the process, especially if it takes any time at all to print.

I have abandoned my purchases at a store and left because the person ahead of me was holding up the line by joining a loyalty club. On the other hand, I was so happy that Walgreens accepted Apple Pay in a convenient manner, and that their loyalty card was Apple Pay compatible, that I joined Walgreen’s loyalty program as a reward to them for a nice checkout process. (I signed up via the web, not while holding up the line.)

The Joy of Apple Pay

For me, much of the appeal of Apple Pay is that it is fast. It is much quicker for me to get my phone out than to get a credit card out of my wallet. The Apple Watch is even quicker, and since it’s strapped to my wrist, I don’t have to give up a hand to deal with it.

The Apple Pay transaction itself is fast. Apple Pay transactions go through in milliseconds, compared to normal credit card transactions, where the seconds drag on.

Apple Pay is secure. When the next major breach is announced, and your favorite store discovers that hackers have captured all the credit card numbers used last month (or last year), Apple Pay customers have nothing to fear! Apple Pay has never handed over your actual credit card number to anyone. It only uses a temporary, one-time number which cannot be used again.

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