Voice Payments On The Horizon

Google attempted to develop a way to make purchases with just your voice rather than pulling out your credit card.  However, they just scrapped their “Hands Free” pilot, a retail payments program it began testing almost a year using facial recognition technology to pay for store purchases.  All a user had to do is say, “I’ll pay with Google.”

Google previously stumbled with Google Wallet in 2011, their first attempt at a mobile wallet for consumers that never really took off and was overshadowed by Apple Pay, which launched months later.

But now, Google has a leg up in the voice payment space, which is probably the next shift in consumer trends and as a result, consumer payments. The same is true for Amazon. Google’s Hands Free facial recognition experiment may not have caught on, but the popularity of its Home Assistant, as well as Amazon’s Alexa, are rising rapidly. Both Google Home and Alexa grew their third-party developer bases more than 1500 percent.

It appears Apple has missed the “voice-command-for-payment” boat, which is odd considering that Apple Pay, the fingerprint-enabled mobile payment service, took the lead in the mobile credit card payment space after Google Wallet’s failure to launch.

Fingerprint technology is different from voice. Even though Apple’s digital assistant, Siri debuted before Alexa and Google Home, it differs in the types of information users feel comfortable sharing and what they can share with Alexa or Google Home.

Here’s a comparison of three biggest players vying to lead the way with voice payments:

This week, Starbucks launched a test version of its voice ordering function for iOS and Alexa users. About 1,000 users in the U.S. are ordering coffee with speech commands.  People who bank with Capital One can ask Alexa for information about their banking activity. Alexa has the greater information sharing and reading capability, for now, than any competitor.  There are an increasing number of service providers bringing Alexa integrations to enable transactions by voice. It adds a level of convenience to small purchases, like a cup of coffee or an Uber ride.  Most likely, voice payments will be driven around products where convenience is a factor such as food ordering.

Google Home
It is likely that the use of digital assistance products such as Google Home will accelerate as quickly if not more than the original iPhone did in its debut and smaller uses such as ordering a pizza will take off.  The recent Super Bowl game featured three ads for digital assistance products.  It’s not clear what Google’s next move is since they slashed the Hands Free program but you can see they are poised to run with the concept.  They have publicly stated they are in a race with Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft who are all poised to develop digital assistants that can order product and pay for the order at the same time.

It has been rumored that in the very near future, Google Home will initiate payments for routine home bills such as utilities, mortgage payments and credit cards while allowing a multitude of choices on where the funds will come from to pay the bills such as checking, savings or credit cards.

Developers have already built a voice activated peer-to-peer payment capability into the latest iPhone operating system with Square. The next update will include a voice-activated bill pay function according to Apple.  But, because Siri requires the person’s fingerprint to authenticate and send the payment, it will still feel like a mobile payment rather than a true voice commanded payment.  Apple’s best effort to date in voice command have been between Siri and its new AirPods, wireless headphones made for better listening experiences and interaction with Siri.

Nevertheless, Siri as a digital assistant lags behind the two others. Customers feel the difference when asking Siri questions and she often directs them to web searches requiring they do further research instead of replying with a complete answer as Alexa and Google do.