BLE and Mobile Payments: The Next Big Step for Stores?

Many companies are focusing on mobile payment technologies to make checkout at stores a quicker and easier experience for customers. One mobile payment technology showing promise is Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) payments. This technology uses the bluetooth device on a person’s phone but uses very little energy, unlike regular bluetooth, so phone battery drainage is not an issue.

PayPal has announced a new mobile payment technology that uses BLE called PayPal Beacon. With PayPal Beacon, customers can enter a store and buy a product without having to wait in line for the cashier. The Beacon app would simply transmit the sale through BLE, charging the credit card the user has on file, and the store’s system would be notified of the payment. Beacon solves BLE privacy issues by placing control of when BLE is in use in the user’s hands. The user sets up which stores the technology can be used at and checks in on the app when entering the store to allow charges to be made.

If PayPal works as promised, it will change the shopping experience for customers, assuming that stores get on board with the program. For example, a customer could walk into an electronics store, check in with the Beacon app on their phone, pick out a few items and simply walk out of the store with what they wish to purchase. Beacon will automatically charge the user’s credit card for the goods they leave the store with. Both the user and the store save time because neither have to interact with each other to collect payment.

Another advantage to BLE is marketing. When a user is checked in on the app and in proximity of a store, the store can automatically send coupons to the user’s phone. Some users may find it useful to have promotions, coupons and store specials automatically sent to their phone when they are shopping.

So how does BLE differ from current Near Field Communication (NFC) technology? BLE is a more passive experience. To interact with a store’s payment system or to receive coupons, all a user has to do is simply check in on the app. NFC on the other hand, is more user initiated. To make a payment, the user must have the app open and hover the phone over a payment machine. The same goes with coupons. If a NFC user wants store coupons, they must hold their phone, with the app open, over a coupon machine.

Both BLE and NFC mobile payments have pros and cons. Some people may prefer the passive BLE, while others may want more control over when the technology is used, when getting coupons for example, and will prefer NFC. The biggest issue is which technology stores will grasp. If the stores don’t set up the technology, users can’t take advantage of it. The time-saving aspect of BLE may be a big draw to consumers and stores alike, but the big downfall is that BLE is expensive for stores to implement.

Right now it is too early to tell which technology will be the winner as not many stores currently utilize either technology. Will PayPal Beacon be the app that finally convinces stores that it’s time to welcome mobile payments? Only time will tell.