Pay and Dismay

Tim Green
Written by Tim Green

Parking is usually unpleasant. And so is paying for it.

Being a mobile payment geek, I get a little frisson every time I see the headline ‘pay by mobile car parking comes to (insert location)’.

And it’s a headline you see fairly often. But I tell you something: it’s a big fat lie.

In most ‘insert locations’ of the world, pay by mobile for car parking means this: get out your phone, type in a 16 digit credit card number on a tiny screen, then an end date, a security code number, a billing address, a location code, a start time, and expiry time…

You get the picture.

It’s a user experience nightmare, one that bedevils so many mobile payment experiences. And it makes your heart long for the pleasing kerching of cash tumbling into the old-school parking meter.

Obviously, you know where I’m going with this. How much better if you could just text a payment to a short code – or click a link on a mobile web page – quoting some portion of your number plate, and stick it on the phone bill?

Done. In about 10 seconds.

Sweet for the punter. Nice for the parking firm too. None of the costs associated with cash (embezzling, storage, machines). None of the checkout abandonment you get from ‘phone pay with credit card’. In fact, by some reckoning, completion can be 10x better.

Tantalisingly, there are magical places where true charge to mobile for parking is possible. Far off lands called Italy and bits of the Nordics.

It’s because the governments there apply the EU’s rules of what counts as currency a little differently.

This is all to do with something called the Payment Services Directive, and I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve wasted trying to master its nuances. I could expand, but you’d start self-harming.

Anyway, their interpretations of the law make it possible to offer genuine charge to mobile for quasi physical goods like parking, tickets and vending.

The PSD is in the process of being revised, so we Brits may one day get true mobile payment for these items too.

I hope we do. Because charge to mobile scores on so many fronts. As I’ve outlined, there’s convenience for the consumer and security for the vendor.

But there’s more. Operator billing opens up payment options to people who don’t have bank cards or just prefer not to use them.

It can also speed up the transaction to the point where it becomes ‘single click’. If the consumer is on the mobile web, and the merchant knows he or she is browsing on the billing device, the ‘buy’ process needs no further authentication.

Great for impulse purchases like in-game extras, wifi sessions, charity donations and so on.

These options are already live and working in the UK. But if we’re honest, even flag-wavers for charge to mobile will concede the process been slow to catch on.

And we can’t just blame the regulators. Operators have historically charged too much. There’s been no real collective effort to market the concept. User journeys can be unpredictable.

But I’m hopeful. Today, punters are buying more and more stuff during phone browsing sessions. E-commerce is moving off the desktop and on to the phone. It’s inevitable that these consumers will demand faster and more convenient check out experiences.

In time, charge to mobile will become more of a thing. And I will no longer be seen as a geek. Instead, people will speak of my prescience with religious awe.

photo credit: an hour of magical parking via photopin (license)

About the author

Tim Green

Tim Green