Yes, it’s frustrating to need to reach for my wallet and type in my credit card number every time I want to complete a purchase online. According to a recent MasterCard and Harris Interactive survey, 58 percent of consumers agree with me. Consumers even abandon their online shopping carts when the check-out process requires too much effort.
That might be good news for consumers. If a small barrier is all it takes to prevent someone from making a purchase, perhaps that purchase was not a necessity. Leaving more money in the bank rather than spending that money on some product that does not drive enough desire to get through a relatively painless process can only be beneficial to the shopper’s financial condition. Retailers, on the other hand, will obviously see consumers’ lack of purchase consummation as a problem, directly affecting sales and revenue.
The solution is to store the details pertaining to your payment method so it can be automatically retrieved at the point of sale. Amazon.com is certainly a pioneer with this approach. This company’s one-click purchasing process using stored credit card or debit card information makes buying a smooth process, although it created an uprising about patents when this feature was introduced many years ago.
PayPal has a good solution as well. Stores that allow payments through PayPal enable users to associate a credit card and avoid the need to type in a credit or debit card number each time.
Consumers can also use browser add-ons or downloadable programs, like LastPass, to store credit card information retrievable with a click or two.
Purchasing items online is much safer and more secure than being out in the world, carrying a wallet with all your credit cards and cash, and handing your credit cards to a waiter or gas station attendant who disappears for several minutes. Online security, as long as you confirm you are visiting a secure website, is trustworthy. No one is going to intercept my secure internet connection when I’m buying something online, and for the most part, I trust companies not to expose a database of credit card numbers to the public. That exposure is just as likely to happen when shopping in brick-and-mortar stores as when shopping online. The situation is unlikely, and shopping online does not add to that risk.
There is no universal solution, a one-click purchasing experience like that on Amazon.com, available to all retail websites. But there is also no equivalent to the one-click purchasing experience when you shop in store locations, either. Swiping a payment card or transmitting a secure wireless signal from your mobile phone gets close to the experience, but you still need to take out your wallet or your phone.
While retailers want to make it easier for consumers to pay money, consumers should be careful about making this process to automatic. Trading money for an object of some type should involve at least some opportunity to stop and consider the purchase. Technology makes it incredibly easy for consumers to part with their cash or increase their debt burden, and retailers want to make it easier. Consumers should be working against that trend and moving in the opposite direction.
If not, retailers will soon be able to simply reach into consumers’ pockets and take that money. Some companies offer free trial periods for their products and services without making it blatantly obvious that customers will be charged at the end of the trial period. Some create significant barriers to canceling the service in advance of the ending of the trial period. Consumer groups often criticize these policies, and some might be considered scams. If consumers make it increasingly easy to give up money without thought, then we’re just as much to blame.
Published or updated May 7, 2012.