PayPal shines a Beacon on  the future of hands-free payments

PayPal shines a Beacon on the future of hands-free payments

Continuing its mission to re-invent the high street shopping experience, PayPal has unveiled Beacon, a Bluetooth plug-in for merchants that automatically checks in consumers for hands-free cashless payments at the point-of-sale.

Beacon uses Bluetooth Low Energy technology to enable a transaction to take place without having to open up an app, without GPS being turned on, and even without a phone signal for establishments with thick concrete walls.

Consumers will have full control of stores they will want to check in to, those they will want to get prompted to confirm payment for, and stores they will want to enable a complete hands-free experience for, says PayPal. In the latter case, simply walking in a store will trigger a vibration or sound to confirm a successful check in and the user's photo will then appear on the screen of the point-of-sale system so shoppers can be greeted by name.

"Paying only requires a verbal confirmation," says PayPal. "No wallet. No card. Nothing to do. Not even touching your phone."

PayPal is inviting third party developers to use its wallet API and Beacon specs to conjure new applications for the technology and says that it expects to conduct pilot trials later this year before a full roll-out in 2014.

Comments: (4)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 10 September, 2013, 10:46Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

If I am a merchant, how many customers do I lose because they cannot pay with cash or cards in my store? Zero! Why would I bother with any additional setup, especially if it cost me money on every transaction compared to cash and cards?!.. (PayPal charges "customer not present" rates)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 10 September, 2013, 10:591 like 1 like


This does sound like a nice idea, but as per usual the practicalities have been over looked somewhat.

Paying at a petrol terminal - erm we're not even supposed to have the dam thing on let alone it automatically pay for it.

I buy a pair of jeans, they will have a security tag that only the shop assistant can take off.  Shops will never take those things off for the sake of a quick sale.  So you will still have to queue to take it off, and they won't let you do it yourself, lest they see their rates of shoplifting triple overnight.

Buying a cold bottled/can drink - yeah sure makes sense and saves time.  Hot drink, will still need to queue to get it, again if you have to do that just pay at the till too.

This constant want for the likes of PayPal to get us to spend more than we should is frightening.  Has no-one learned from this last economic crisis?  Thousands in debt because they had to have the latest gadget NOW, or clothes.  We carry on like this and we will all be "up the creek without a paddle".

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 10 September, 2013, 11:16Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

NFC versus BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy). An NFC-critic may say: "If it ain't broken don't fix it - if it is broken don't automate it". The foundations of today’s contactless payment technology are limited (1990's ISO 14443 technology) so why to carry forward the legacy through means of NFC?

BLE fills a gap between WiFi and NFC. WiFi and NFC are in essence location based services: whenever you are in range, base station or POS device knows where you are. Retailers are keen to know whenever you're in their shop. NFC isn’t of much use here, by the time you are ‘in range’ (tapping handset on the POS) it’s basically too late already for customer engagement as the customers wants to pay and leave. WiFi was not designed for this purpose either.

PayPal is taking the two prime properties of NFC apart (the location based service, and the payment instrument) and replaces them with something more fit for use: BLE for tracking where you are, and the PayPal account for funding.

BLE technology is one to watch and will find many new fields of application, ranging from location-based Twitter feeds to new Passbook-like features. BLE is not yet ready to displace NFC, but merely a Beacon in the night – bearing towards where future payment innovations may lead us.


A Finextra member
A Finextra member 10 September, 2013, 11:43Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

BLE is an interesting tech, but what is the problem that PayPal is trying solve? And whom for? UX-wise, there is no ubiquity, so I still carry my wallet around.

As for offers etc, how many times do I need to receive useless irrelevant junk offers to turn it off?.. As for location, if there are a strip club and a coffee shop side by side, how do you know where exactly I am?..