"I'm a software guy and this just really pisses me off." It was a rare outburst, but I'd had enough. It was quickly followed up with a sheepish, "Sorry."

It's Friday night and I'm picking up a prescription for my daughter. I swipe my Visa check card to pay and am then prompted with a screen asking for my PIN. The screen is empty beside “Enter PIN” and a textbox. Although they accept other forms of payments, there are no instructions on how to switch.

My card serves double duty. It's at once a debit and credit card. I guess having the two in one adds convenience - somehow - but I always pay by credit. It doesn't really matter because the money comes out of my checking account either way, but a long time ago the bank trained me to always pick credit (when it was just a credit card) so that's what I do now.

Now the question to the pharmacist's assistant is, "Which button do I have to push to pay by credit?" This has to be asked because with some retailers it’s the red cancel button; others make you click another button. I can't memorize which merchant needs me to jump through which hoop to pay them, so I have to ask each time.

It really shouldn’t be this difficult to pay someone. With the onslaught of payment options, it’s getting even more complex to pay. We’re going in the wrong direction – it needs to become easier and faster to pay.

Have you tried Home Depot’s pay by PayPal option? What a disaster. Their credit card terminal includes an option to pay using your PayPal account. I'm a techie so I think that's just cool. I select pay by PayPal and am prompted for my phone number. Hmmm…which one does PayPal know about? My cell, my old cell, or the home land line that we disconnected years ago? I enter my current cell phone number and hope for the best.

Now it's time to enter my PayPal password. Like being trained by the banks to always pay by credit, I've also been trained by web sites to use strong passwords, especially for financial websites like PayPal. My PayPal password is 8 characters long and includes numbers, letters, and a special character (ex: !@#$%^&). I gaze at the little number pad on the payment terminal and realize I can press a number key multiple times to enter a letter instead. I fumble through that and somehow figured out how to enter the special character in my password.

It took about 25-30 seconds to enter my phone number and password before I could submit the payment via PayPal. The outcome? Invalid email/password combination. I wasn't going to go through that pain again, so out came my trusty Visa check card. Now I just had to figure out which button to press to pay by credit.

Most retails handle payments very poorly, but Starbucks stands out as a company that's doing it right. If you go to Starbucks, even occasionally, then do yourself a favor and download their phone app. Although it seemed kind of silly to me at first, you can pay for drinks using the app.

Paying by app is convenient for several reasons:

  • Paying is fast and easy. There's no guessing which button to press, or having to type in encrypted passwords. You just launch the app, click the Touch To Pay button, and put barcode displayed on your phone's screen in front of the bar code reader at the counter. Beep, and it's done!
  • Paying by app includes automatic tracking of points. At Starbucks you get a point for each drink you buy. Earn points and get perks, like free refills.
  • You can load your Starbucks app from your credit card, debit card, PayPal account, or from the Starbucks gift card Aunt Sally gave you for your birthday.

As novel as pay by app seemed at first, I've noticed that my buying behavior has changed. I now always pay by app at Starbucks, and am looking forward to earning just 12 more points to get to their gold level. I'm now playing Starbuck's game.

More retailers should follow Starbuck's example. Even better, the credit card companies need their own apps so that you could pay the Starbucks way but at all retailers. Enough with the credit cards, debit cards, and punching in PINs. I just want to flash my phone and pay. It needs to be that simple, or simpler.

Come on retailers; you can do better. I want to pay you, now just make it easy.


Also published in Inside Business on Feb 28, 2014.