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A virtual reality kick in the trousers

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Things in retailing are getting a much needed virtual reality-shaped size nine to the back of the trousers thanks to pioneering work from, among others, Barclaycard and Worldpay.

Like most people, I have never particularly admired banks and bankers, but if Barclaycard’s Grab+Go ‘pocket checkout’ lives up to its promise to end queuing to pay then I may just have to kiss a banker. The idea that I can just walk around a store scanning stuff and then automatically paying without actually doing anything is so appealing I am almost giddy.

WorldPay, meanwhile, has gone a whole hog further and developed a virtual reality shopping experience, replete with VR payment tools. In WorldPay world, shopping is going to be a virtual experience where one does what one would do in a store, but in the comfort of one’s own home. It make online shopping more like the real thing, but without all the travel, parking, other people and germs.

I can see many of you about to ask: but why do the shopping mall shuffle at all? Well in some ways you are right – why would I literally go through the motions to shop while standing in my pants in the garden? Well you wouldn’t were it not for the virtual payment. Not only do you get to tap a virtual contactless card on a virtual card reader, but you also, if you spend more than £30, get to not enter a PIN but grab the PIN numbers out of the air as they float around in front of you! How cool?

While both these things are clearly on the cusp of the silly season (which come 9 June – election boxing day – I suspect things will be far from silly, but I digress) they do demonstrate something very important. Retail needs to embrace this sort of thinking and use these ideas and technologies pronto tonto to stay relevant.

I rarely visit actual shops, but when I do I am frankly appalled. Trudging round picking stuff up and putting it in a basket or trolley? Queuing up to pay? Urgh its horrid. The idea behind Grab+Go is really sound and plays beautifully into Amazon Go revolution that is coming (even if Amazon Go doesn’t take off, the idea behind it is the future of retail). We need less friction to buy not more – nor the same old same old friction. Cutting out queues is vital.

WorldPay’s view is much more ambitious and is one way of looking at the ecommerce to make it more like the real world.

Somewhere, in between these two views is where retail is going to go. VR ecommerce is a great idea – as is grabbing numbers out of the virtual air – but really the VR shopping experience needs to build in the ‘invisible payment’ ethos espoused by Barclaycard.

While VR is clearly a technology that can be put to use in the retail world, the concept of invisible payments is one that carries far more weight.

I have long argued that to improve payments is going to be hard. Contactless makes an incremental but important step in making it quicker, but as we have seen with Uber, removing it all together is even better. This is a step change in the store retail process that could really hit home – and make a difference right now.

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