Trends & Features

Connected payments can improve the sports experience

Over the past 12 months we have seen a dramatic change in awareness of, and interest in, connected payments – in other words, payment systems that can be seamlessly incorporated into items such as clothing, wristbands, jewellery and more.

The time is ripe for connected payments to enter the limelight; as contactless card payments reach mainstream adoption, consumers are increasingly familiar and comfortable with new payment technology, and are open to new methods. Connected payments are poised to become the next cuttingedge technology for forward-thinking consumers seeking the latest innovation.

It’s a hugely exciting time for the sports industry in particular because, as consumer interest grows, there’s a growing opportunity to integrate this technology into the latest developments in health and fitness. From workout accessories in a gym, to tickets at a football match, connected payments have the potential to revolutionise the customer experience of sports lovers.

Payment technologies with you – anytime, anywhere

New mobile payment technologies, such as bPay, Barclaycard’s ‘next generation’ technology enabled by a flexible payment chip, can be incorporated into lots of different types of products, making it easy to embed it seamlessly into workout accessories. With bPay, customers set up an account, activate their device and then make payments of up to £30 without a card in sight and top-up funds on-the-go using a mobile app.

But what does this mean in practice? It means it’s easier to pay anywhere and anytime. The evolution of connected payments has made it possible to tailor the payment journey to each person’s individual lifestyle. For the sports industry, this means enabling purchases onthe- go – even mid-workout – without interfering with the consumer’s activity. The technology also provides forward-thinking brands with an unprecedented platform to put themselves ahead of the competition.

A helping hand for gym-goers and gyms

Wearable devices are increasingly popular, with brands like Fitbit introducing fashionable and multifunctional wristbands and fitness trackers. The usefulness of such devices can be taken a step further by embedding them with connected payment technology such as the bPay chip, making the customer journey faster and simpler. For example, we recently partnered with Suunto, the Finnish manufacturer of GPS and fitness trackers, to develop a bPayenhanced version of the Suunto 3 Fitness watch, launching later this spring. We are also excited to have partnered with fitness band provider Nuband to incorporate contactless payment functionality. The contactless-enabled Nuband devices are already available to buy through high street retailers in the UK.

How might consumers and sports businesses make the most of this functionality? Take, for example, a gym. Its customers may want to make purchases while working out – perhaps water or a snack – but probably don’t want to carry cash or even a card with them. In other words, gyms might currently be losing out on valuable transaction opportunities. Whether it’s through contactless vending machines, or payment-enabled merchandise, taking a consumer-focused approach to respond to these barriers is crucial.

Using a connected wristband can allow the customer to exercise freely, while still having access to payments at all times. It can also give them access to the gym itself, making that process more secure and convenient, and therefore the overall experience is better. At the same time, it helps the gym to continue to improve the member relationship through better insights into how customers are spending their money – for example, understanding which classes are most popular and generating the most revenue, so they can tailor timetables to meet that demand.

An improved fan experience

But it doesn’t stop there. Wearables are also having an impact on the events side of the sports industry thanks to the first-hand customer insights. It’s not just those playing sport or working out who can benefit from connected payments – fans can, too.

Imagine that a football club wants to improve how thousands of fans enjoy match day. They can now offer a product that fans will want – for example an official club key fob – which also enables connected payments. Using this fob, supporters can make all their usual purchases at the venue, up to the value of £30, without the need for cash. ‘Touch and go’ transactions are seven seconds quicker per transaction compared to Chip and PIN, and 15 seconds faster compared to cash, so this could also help reduce queues for refreshments at half time.

The technology can also be used to improve access, so not only can fans pay for their journey to the stadium using the fob, they can also potentially gain fast, easy access to the ground.

More importantly, the club can use the information from payments made at the stadium to refine and improve the experience it delivers. And, because fans will register to activate their fob, they can improve their marketing and potentially create special offers for this group of connected supporters. Imagine having a clearer idea of where and how your fans are choosing to spend their money while they are at your venue – this type of vital information could enable the club to tailor their offering accordingly and increase match day revenues.

Towards the end of last year, Barclaycard and Southampton Football Club collaborated to distribute bPay bands to fans, showing the full potential of the product’s functionality beyond contactless payments.

For those of us who have been working with mobile and connected payments systems over recent years, it feels as though we are now reaching a tipping point. There’s a clear opportunity for sports brands, gyms, and sporting events to leverage growing consumer enthusiasm for wearable payments. The benefits to both consumers and brands are clear – and they are beginning to see this for themselves.

Wearable technology will continue to develop and drive demand. We are entering the era of connected payments – and the sports industry is perfectly poised to get in at the ground floor and reap the benefits.

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