Imagine you’re at Macy’s, trying to decide whether you want to buy new shoes. You pick them up, examine them closely, try them on, walk around a bit, wonder how they’d match what you already own. You have an internal debate about whether or not you should spend the money. You go to the customer service desk and wait in line. When it’s finally your turn, the clerk scans your item and it’s time to pay. Paying itself takes several steps: taking out your credit card, waiting for the machine to process the payment, signing the receipt. Finally, 45 minutes later, you have a new pair of shoes.
Now let’s imagine that instead of being at Macy’s, you’re on Zappos.com. You see a pair of shoes you like, and click a few times to see different angles. You envision what they’d look like with your favorite pants. You add them to your cart, click the purchase button, and start the checkout process. Zappos has your credit card info stored, so it only takes a couple more seconds to complete the order. You don’t know if they’re going to fit, but you’re not too concerned, because you know you can always send the shoes back if you don’t like them, all from the ease of your own home.
Of those two scenarios, the second one sure sounds easier, doesn’t it? Sure, you lose the tactile element of shopping in a store, and you have no idea if the shoes will actually fit. Still, it was a much more seamless experience. I’m not here to debate the merits of online shopping (and, admittedly, I love to do it myself). But one thing that really fascinates me about e-commerce, or any sort of mobile payment, is just how darn easy it is to forget you’re spending money.
Consumer research shows that the easier it is to pay, the more likely consumers are to buy. Once the barriers to payment are weakened or removed, consumers put less thought into their buying decision. Every step toward a chance for you to back out, to give up, to decide you shouldn’t spend the money. Interestingly, the same trend holds true for currencies that don’t “feel” like real money. The less something resembles normal currency, the more people use it to buy things. That’s one reason so many people rack up credit card debt- it just doesn’t feel “real” to them when they swipe the card. They don’t feel like there’s a tangible transaction.
These two phenomenon seem to converge when it comes to e-commerce, mobile shopping and mobile payments. It’s just so easy to buy things through technology, and so easy to feel like you’re not “really” spending money. There’s fewer steps between “do I need that?” and “that’s mine.” And since you don’t go through a traditional transaction process, it almost feels like you’re not paying at all. Think about all the sites that want to store your credit card info. Sorry, but they’re not doing that to be helpful. They’re doing that because it takes away some barriers to purchase. They are slimming down your steps to buy, and telling you it’s “convenient” because you don’t have to enter your credit card info. Convenient it may be… but it also makes you think less about what’s called the “pain of paying.”
As our world becomes increasingly mobile, increasingly technological, increasingly “one-step-to-everything,” the pain of paying will continue to go down. And I’m curious to see where that takes us, as consumers. Will we buy lots of things we don’t need? Will we stop using physical currency altogether? Will store clerks go extinct?