An Australian startup surfs for wearable payment demand in the U.S.

Register now

From rings to watches to sunglasses, wearable technology enables an entire accessory collection to function as a wallet. But while wearable computing is catching on, the technology is still seeking predictable use cases for payments.

Inamo, an Australian based wearable fintech provider that has found success by approaching surfers, is trying to change that, partly by matching wearables to specific dayparts in addition to specific tasks such as fitness. It partnered with Visa to create contactless sunglasses called WaveShades. Mostly offered in Australia, Inamo is on track to launch a pilot in the U.S. later this year in California.

There has been a lot of innovation in wearable payments, but also a lot of setbacks as the technology and use cases remain experimental. There are also concerns about security.
To overcome those challenges, Inamo will try to sell agnostic wearables that match the consumer’s lifestyle with shopping and payments, said Peter Colbert, founder and CEO of Inamo. One of its products, for example, is the Inamo Curl, a waterproof band that costs about $40 and is popular with beachgoers and surfers, Colbert said. Another wearable, The Wave, costs about $35.

While fitness is a major selling point for many wearable payment developers since swimming and working out don't fit well with smartphones or traditional wallets, Inamo is also approaching times of day when a card or phone may require more effort. Colbert is focusing on the time between 5 AM and 1 PM, since this range often involves a morning coffee or lunch, scenarios where cash or card payments slow down checkout lines when people are in a rush to get back to the office.

Inamo has drawn uptake and investors in Australia. But it may face a tougher time in the U.S. than Australia. Australia's early embrace of contactless payments for uses such as transit has better prepared the country for wearable payments, said Colbert. “Contactless in Australia has been around for 15 years so it’s just second nature to us," he said.

The banking system in the U.S. is more complex that Australia's when adding new transaction technology, Colbert said. In Australia there are only four major banks issuing terminals that merchants use for contactless payments as opposed to a vastly larger market in the U.S.. While doing market research, Colbert found a lot of merchants in the U.S. were not fully aware of the range of contactless payment options.

Like mobile payments, wearables must change consumer habits to gain acceptance. There are also challenges regarding the battery life of the devices, the inconvenience of turning on wearables, or going through security checks at the point of purchase. Cards are a more predictable, comfortable payment method.

Eventually, there will be a variety of wearables to suit specific needs, Colbert said. “You’re going to have everyone out there offering all different wearables and everyone will find their sweet spot," Colbert said.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.
Wearable payments Mobile payments Retailers Internet of things