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What is the future of SoftPos?

I’ve talked before about SoftPos, the shift changes it requires in user behavior, card and device security and mindset changes required of pretty much everyone involved in the card payment industry. But what I haven’t delved into is what I think Softpos will do to the retail experience and how it will impact card payment in the future.

I must admit that as recently as the end of 2020, I, and many other people in the industry, still saw SoftPos as a replacement for hardware mPos devices. A way to achieve mass-scale of card payment acceptance, with nothing required other than a software download of an app. I think that replacing mPos with just an app is certainly one large market for SoftPos technology, but I also now believe that the rule and mindset changes will enable so much more. Being able to perform card transactions on what is basically an insecure and untrusted device will be much wider reaching than just enabling your window cleaner to take a card payment from their smartphone.

The retail marketplace is changing, in grocery stores self-checkout is becoming the norm, in some stores self-scan on a custom device or a smartphone is often how you interact. We are seeing stores where cashiers take payment from you on portable devices anywhere in the store, others where you pay by passing your palm over a reader, others where you check in with a smartphone and pay by just walking out.  

All these innovations have changed the consumer journey and many changed the payment experience. Today however, many of these methods still rely on a physically secure, tamper proof payment device with a secure PIN pad. I believe that the SoftPos specifications, being created now by PCI and the card schemes, will end up being the technology used for many new payment experiences. Why buy an expensive dedicated piece of hardware for payments, when a standard tablet, phone or maybe even PC has the necessary components built in? I think there are lots of opportunities for innovation now we have the tools to make secure payments without traditional hardware.  

There’s another angle worth discussing too, and that’s about the card present versus card not present argument. Traditionally, card not present transactions, those made over the internet, phone or mail order have incurred higher fees for the merchant, and have generated higher revenues for the acquirers. However, imagine a world where your phone can read your card, and take a PIN entry, doesn’t this mean its soon going to be possible to perform card present remote commerce transactions? Your supermarket shopping app may ask you to tap your card on the phone to perform a proper EMV authenticated transaction. Maybe that’s a discussion for another day, but I can see SoftPos having a bigger impact on card payments over the next few years than I ever expected.

Paul Butterworth

Paul heads up Abrantix in the UK. He has over 30 years experience working in the card payments and digital security industries. He has a particular interest and focus on the convergence between payments and mobile devices.

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