Barclaycard's Hot Ideas for Wearables Are a Chilly Forecast for Biometrics

Register now

Fingerprint authentication may look like the next big thing in payments, being a core feature of Apple Pay and other technologies, but they're a bad option for cold weather, when many shoppers may prefer to keep their gloves on while making purchases.

Rather than try to change consumers' behavior, Barclaycard is acting on research it conducted of 2,000 consumers who told the U.K. issuer what type of wearable payment device they'd prefer. Their preference: gloves.

"Barclaycard should take pride in trying something new and making people think differently, rather than just looking at a hard-numbers business case," said London-based Celent analyst Gareth Lodge. The gloves are yet another example of the payment being separated from its traditional form factor, he said: "A card payment where nothing looks like a card."

Despite the sudden boost in popularity biometrics is getting from Apple's TouchID system, fingerprint-based payment systems have been brought to market repeatedly in recent years, with few successes. One of the most famous flare-outs was Pay By Touch, which gained early momentum with major chains like Shell Oil Co. and Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co., but shuttered its system and entered bankruptcy in 2008.

Still, many companies are keeping an open mind about biometrics. Besides Apple, Discover is testing a system with Natural Security, and PayPal supports fingerprint authentication on Samsung smartphones.

But for Barclaycard, there is a clear appeal to keeping its customers' fingers covered up.

"It's winter, cold outside and Christmas, so many shoppers are rushing in and out of stores to buy presents and want to do so as quickly and easily as possible," said Barclaycard spokesperson Chloe Wilkinson, who has worked on the glove project.

The feedback so far indicates "shoppers are keen to use the gloves … especially if it means they don't need to rummage around for a payment card in their purse when their hands are already full of bags during the shopping season," she added.

Britain has outdoor shopping districts, such as Oxford Street, that are among the busiest in the country. "We expect the contactless gloves to be the most useful there," Wilkinson said.

Shoppers can also use a smartphone's touchscreen without removing the gloves.

Barclaycard issued a small number of the payment gloves to customers to test at any of the 300,000 contactless terminals throughout the U.K. If the prototype is popular, Barclaycard plans to make the payment gloves widely available during the 2015 holiday shopping season.

The gloves join a growing list of ways Barclaycard is adapting its bpay technology for new uses. The issuer has previously incorporated its contactless payment system into stickers, wristbands, and even a donkey's saddle. It has also joked about attaching the technology to dog collars.

The glove concept has plenty of potential for use on the London transportation network that already accepts contactless payments, said Zil Bareisis, a London-based senior analyst for research firm Celent.

"It would also be good for buying a coffee or sandwich, those quick in-and-out purchases," Bareisis said.

Payment gloves would also work well at outdoor events, such as London's Winter Wonderland outdoor Christmas market, Bareisis said. The market features many stalls where vendors sell goods as well as rides in which patrons must purchase tokens, he added.

It's an idea that was bounced around when biometric authorization first entered the payments industry more than 10 years ago, said Avivah Litan, a vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner Inc.

"I remember writing about my idea of a payment glove back in 1999 or so," Litan said. "It was an idea because it was easy for a consumer to pay with their finger, and we had all been thinking about embedded chips anyway."

Plus, a glove is potentially more hygienic than a system that requires shoppers to touch the same fingerprint reader or PIN pad every time they make a purchase. "If I wore my gloves the whole time I was shopping, I might not get sick as often," she said.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.
Technology Disruptors Mobile payments