Photo: Dylan Love
The big news today from PayPal was a tiny credit-card reader called PayPal Here. It lets any small business owner with an iPhone or Android phone take credit card payments.But there was actually a far more interesting technology shown today.
It lets you walk into a store and buy a product without touching your phone, money, or a credit card — or even taking your wallet out.
Like the credit card reader, it’s pretty obviously inspired by Square, whose Card Case app was introduced about six months ago. But I never actually got how revolutionary the concept of touchless retail payment was until I saw it in action today.
Here’s how it works.
You need a PayPal account and the PayPal mobile app on your phone. You use the app to look up nearby retailers that accept PayPal. If you find one that you want to shop at, you check in — just like you’d do on Foursquare or any other check-in service.
When you walk into the retailer, their PayPal app (used with the PayPal Here reader) will automatically recognise you. If you want, you can pay with a credit card or cash.
But if you want to use your PayPal account, you simply tell the person behind the counter and the amount will automatically be debited.
You don’t have to do anything else.
I didn’t get what a big deal this was until I tested it out after the event at a nearby cupcake store that had signed up for PayPal Here.
It’s like walking into your local bar and saying “put it on my tab.”
It’s so much smoother than the clunky NFC-based system that Google is using in Google Wallet, where you have to take out your cell phone and tap it against a reader.
In fact, this feature isn’t new at all. It’s called PayPal Local, and it’s been around since late 2010 in San Francisco. But I’ve never seen it in use, anywhere. That’s probably because most merchants aren’t interested in setting up this system JUST to take PayPal payments in the real world.
Either way, if PayPal or Square doesn’t do it, some other company will. Maybe Amazon or Google, maybe Foursquare or another check-in company, maybe a credit card company or bank. Or maybe some startup.
But the idea — walking into a store, being recognised, and being able to buy something without having to use any physical object to complete the transaction — is too great to pass up.