min read

Paying with wearables: the journey from skepticism to use

by Simi Shaheed , 02.03.2015

With the launch of Apple Watch looming, wearable devices are garnering more attention than ever. We conducted a survey (Wearables: Geek Chic Or The Latest “Must Have” Consumer Tech?) to understand users’ attitudes towards smartwatches and activity trackers. One trend that caught our eye is that the idea of using a smartwatch for smart payments is met with relative skepticism.

We wanted to explore the causes of this user skepticism, and come up with ways payment providers could turn this around. So, our user experience (UX) design team started thinking about ways payments could work well for wearable users.

Deconstructing skepticism

First, we identified three user concerns potentially behind this skepticism:

  1. Convenience – Will it take longer than if I paid with my card or cash? Will it be accepted here?
  2. Trust – Are my payment details secure? Will I pay accidentally or more than once?
  3. Added Value – Why should I choose to pay with my wearable?

We then turned our hand to generating areas for improvement and innovation. Some sketching and paper smartwatches later, we had several strategies and ideas…

More than one way to pay

For transactions that find a balance between security and convenience, there may need to be a range of interactions - adapting to context and amount. For smaller payments, simply tapping the device screen or a contactless payment terminal might be acceptable.


Adding value to this interaction could be as simple as showing the payment amount on the screen – something that’s missing from the current experience when users pay by contactless card. Even better, this could also reflect remaining transit card balance, loyalty points earned, or digital receipts.

For larger amounts, a security barrier could be introduced – either using biometric recognition features of a device, or PIN entry on the interface. Some users might also feel security in knowing a payment can only be made when the watch is worn, for example.


Location awareness

Another theme that emerged in our workshop was the potential of location awareness. Unlike a smartphone, which is often in a pocket or purse while shopping, wearables finally present a compelling opportunity to adapt to locations in an engaging and useful way.


Users are just more likely to notice what’s happening on their wrist than in their handbag. Imagine being notified of an available deal as you enter or walk past a shop, and an on-screen compass guiding you directly to the offer.

The trick will be to make sure this does not stray into annoying users. If someone’s trying to check the time and has to swipe notifications out of the way first, the experience suffers.

Attracting users to wearable payments

It’s clear that there are challenges to overcome to make users less skeptical about payments via wearables. But there’s also potential to attract users to wearable payments through novel and time-saving benefits.

Some of our other ideas included High Fivers - instant watch-to-watch transfers to pay back friends and family; receipts straight to your wearable, rather than paper slips; and the end of the checkout – allowing users to tap out to pay as they leave the store with their chosen products.

Will better UX help wearable payments make a breakthrough? What do you think?

Questions or thoughts? Get in touch: simi.shaheed@gfk.com

Simi Shaheed is part of the UK User Experience team at GfK

Photo description: Paper templates from www.pxdotpt.com