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South African payments startup SnapScan is today announcing its first major update since its QR code payments feature was popularised in 2013. The new payment channel, called SnapBeacons, is meant to provide users a frictionless alternative solution to pay for stuff.
Instead of just being able to pay by scanning a QR code, SnapScan customers can now simply tap a button in the app to initiate the transaction via Bluetooth. A message on the customer’s phone will alert them when the option is available.
“The key difference is essentially the ability to provide even more convenience and speed to improve the payment process,” CEO of SnapScan Kobus Ehlers explained in a phone interview. “They can now complete the payment anywhere within the range of the store’s beacon.”
The new functionality is already available at 30 SnapScan merchants in Cape Town and 20 others around the country which have iBeacons. See the list here.
“If you have the feature enabled, and you walk into the range of one of these beacons, it’ll simply display a Pay Here button,” he explained. iPhone users will even have a Merchants icon on their lock screen which means that you don’t even have to open the app to pay.
Several major international companies like Virgin Atlantic, Apple, Macy’s and Walmart are already adopting beacon technology and proximity-based products are a growing trend. “We’re the first in South Africa to roll this technology out and we want to see how we can improve the user experience accordingly,” Ehlers boasted.
An added feature, not a pivot
Ehlers noted that from the beginning, the Standard Bank-backed company wasn’t tied to just QR codes. It’s always been looking at new technologies to make mobile payment processes better. “To that end, we constantly play with a whole host of different technologies in the payments channel, of which the one that really got us excited was iBeacons.”
An added bonus, the CEO notes that SnapBeacons will only be available to those who are keen to try it out. You can disable the feature if you want to.
“We’ve decided not to turn it on by default because we’re quite sensitive that people may want to consider whether they want this feature and reassure themselves that it’s not a big change that will happen over night.” It’s worth noting that this isn’t a complete transition. In some occasions SnapBeacons will make sense, while in other, it won’t.
Furthermore, because it’s a hardware based product, it will only be compatible with a certain range of phones like the iPhone 4S and up or most smartphones running Android 4.3 and up.
Asked about what this technology could enable SnapScan to do in the future, Ehlers said that SnapBeacons enable the company to know where the user is without being a stalker, but just context aware:
We can track what the user behaviour is. So when you walk into a store, the app knows it and you happen to have a gift credit at that store, it will display that to you because it knows you are there without you having to go and scan a code.
Ehlers does, however, reassure us that SnapScan is not looking to use this as some sort of marketing channel. “If you look at what a lot of people are doing with iBeacons, a lot of them go down the very active marketing route. We’ve decided to stay on the side of caution and not spam users with special offers and so on.
Although it’s been in stealth testing phase for the last few months, SnapScan hopes to learn a lot more from its users and refine the product accordingly. “It’s still early days but for us a sizeable chunk is for us to understand what the users want and to have a conversation with them,” he said.