Why don’t people connect payment methods to digital assistants?

Though still a burgeoning technology, most Americans today are at least familiar with digital assistants (like Apple’s Siri voice recognition software or the Google Assistant virtual personal assistant), even if they don’t have one of their own. But recent Worldpay research has uncovered that, even among early adopters, the majority haven’t connected a payment method. This means that while people are using their assistants to perform myriad tasks like setting alarms, playing music, and making calls, many are not yet relying on them to order food, clothing, or home supplies. Perhaps most shockingly, adoption among GenZ has not hit a tipping point for ordering products through digital assistant apps or devices. The fact that only 19 percent of this group expressed an interest in ordering something other than food or groceries using a digital assistant shows there’s still a roadblock to significant adoption.

A few years ago, the world was abuzz with the possibilities digital assistants held, including the potential for shopping sprees—so why the reticence?

I was curious to get to the bottom of this question. Digital assistants seem to bring so much convenience to our lives, and I found it surprising that even the most tech-fluent generations haven’t embraced this particular feature.

After reviewing the results of the report and looking at major trends, I’ve identified several reasons people may not be connecting a payment method to their digital assistant.

Privacy and security concerns

It’s impossible to talk about the Internet of Things (IoT) and connectivity without bringing up privacy and security concerns. The United States has weathered several major breaches in the past few years, each of which has rightly brought consumer skepticism about how they elect to share their data.

Privacy rights advocates are similarly wary of digital assistants for their potential to encroach on consumers’ privacy rights—and consumers may be equally skeptical. Understandably so, as the cost of the average fraud case for consumers was $1,038 in 2016.

With media attention around fraud and data breaches, combined with the sheer cost of recovering from being a victim, consumers may simply not find the benefits outweigh the risks.

There’s also some skepticism around the ‘always-on’ feature of most digital assistants. In order to effectively serve, they have to constantly be ‘listening’ for the right cue word, but this also means they could misinterpret a command, inadvertently activate, or even send messages without having been commanded to do so. Though these cases are rare in the scope of consumers’ daily use of digital assistants, they are sensational examples of technology gone awry. Even if people aren’t concerned with data breaches and financial fraud, they may simply be wary of being the exception to the rule—though this recent Worldpay data suggests that’s not the strongest disincentive, as about 46% of people find the always-on feature more helpful than concerning.

Not convenient enough

The major tech companies are all experimenting with their own version of a mobile wallet or electronic payment integration. Apple has introduced Apple Pay mobile payments solution; Amazon allows you to make purchases through its Prime app, which automatically uses the credit card associated with the membership; and Google has recently launched Google Pay payment service—to name only a few players on the field. The quantity of mobile payment options, combined with Worldpay’s recent data, reaffirms that the economy is still in the early days of cashless payments, with competitors still vying for the distinction of ubiquity.

What this means for consumers, more importantly, is that though they may own a digital assistant and potentially be inclined to attach a payment method to the device, the vendors they are capable of purchasing from are limited. Many merchants haven’t enabled any of these mobile payment methods, let alone all of them.

Considering these limitations, it just may not be convenient or consistent enough to bother.

Too difficult to set up

Perhaps the biggest inconvenience, however, may just be setting up payments accounts to begin with. Because of the initial hurdle of setup, this may prove too much of a barrier to widespread adoption.

For example, a consumer who owns a voice-activated digital assistant and has an associated membership account integrated with the device can only make purchases via that membership account. They can’t, say, order a pizza without first downloading a pizza vendor’s app, inputting their payment and other profile information again (after having already taken similar steps with their device’s account), then ordering their pizza. And even then, the number of pizza merchants providing integrations with that membership account is very small.

Consumers would then have to do this again for each additional app through which they want to make purchases. While the process isn’t the same across all digital assistants, none of them appears to be making it quite easy or seamless enough to woo the masses. And as we’ve seen time and again, the golden ticket to winning consumers—especially the younger generations who are gaining ever more buying power—is a seamless experience.

Will digital assistant-enabled purchasing take hold?

The dearth of attached purchasing accounts raises some other important questions: Will the tech giants be able to overcome these significant hurdles that currently prevent widespread adoption? When consumers do become more active making purchases with digital assistants, which company will emerge with the most-used product?

With PayPal still a dominant force in mobile payments, plus international competition like Alipay looming on the periphery, a clear dominant player has yet to emerge in the US. Despite current lethargy in this corner or the payments field, the Worldpay report shows that consumers believe purchases with digital assistants are set to become more common in the next 2-5 years, so it’s likely that one will become clear soon.

Casey Bullock is general manager, Global eCommerce, WorldPay

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