Will Amazon’s palm reader reveal the future of retail payment?

Discussion
Photo: Amazon
Oct 01, 2020
Matthew Stern

Facial recognition and other forms of biometric identification have proven controversial as U.S. retailers have begun to experiment with such technologies for payment and other interactions requiring the verification of identity. Amazon.com, however, is going live with a test of a biometric solution that will let customers pay by palm in select Amazon Go stores.

The Amazon One biometric payment and authentication tool associates a digital signature with an image of a customer’s palm or palms. Once customers have their palms scanned into the system, they can then hold one or both palms in front of a reader at checkout or other points of the shopping journey where verification is needed, replacing the need to scan a credit/debit card or loyalty card.

Amazon has been experimenting with hand-based biometric payment for a while. Late last year it was revealed that the retailer had been running tests of a hand recognition-based payment technology at its home offices. The solution was described as using “depth geometry” to identify unique characteristics, like the shape and size of a user’s hand, and was purported to be able to carry out transactions markedly faster than a credit card.

Amazon One works by identifying the vein patterns in the palm of a user’s hand, according to an article on Hypebeast, which says that the hardware is roughly as accurate as a fingerprint scanner.

While fingerprint-based and face-based identification have become standard features on some iPhones, using biometrics remains a thorny topic in the U.S. due to the privacy issues that arise, especially as concerns being identified by retailers in public places.

Legal battles have already emerged due to biometric technology. Macy’s was hit with a class-action lawsuit earlier this year in Illinois for identifying shoppers with its security cameras using facial recognition software.

Early on in the novel coronavirus pandemic, however, U.S. retailers began giving the technology a second look. Fears that touching contaminated surfaces could spread the novel coronavirus led the city of Pasadena, California to launch a facial recognition-based payment network with 25 retailers on board. Biometrics are also being piloted for contact-free entry into sports stadiums.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see greater potential for the use of touch-free palm print readers compared to other types of verification, such as retinal scans, facial recognition, fingerprint readers, etc.? Will we reach a point when using biometrics to pay at a store is widely accepted?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"This type of sensor avoids the perceived challenges with anonymous facial recognition but is also ADA friendly. The problem, however, is Amazon."
"I’m dubious of the investment in another payment terminal, or even a new POS/kiosk — when the technology capability is already in the pocket of most consumers."
"Anyone who has struggled to unlock their iPhone while wearing a facemask will realize that this has potential."

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23 Comments on "Will Amazon’s palm reader reveal the future of retail payment?"


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Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

This is simple, convenient and appears to be very secure. In that regard, it is similar to all of Apple’s work on using facial recognition to unlock devices and make payments via Apple Pay. I do wonder, however, why it is left to Apple and Amazon to come up with these solutions while most U.S. banks are still relying on ridiculously outdated technology that is far from secure. As for privacy, if you use a card in a retailer then you also provide a retailer with information about yourself. I don’t really see how this is any different. The only potential issue is not being able to use cash in some of these stores.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader
1 month 26 days ago

I think we all know the answer, Neil, about why banks aren’t involved in this technology development! They don’t view developing these technologies as anything other than invading their payments territory and they’d much rather keep things the way they are, despite the potential to reduce fraud. Too many industry leaders that want to stay in the past and reject the future unless they see an immediate ROI benefit. Perhaps they see all of these technologies as tools retailers and consumers would use to avoid all of the fees that they live off of in the payments flow.

David Naumann
BrainTrust
David Naumann
CEO and President, Cogent Creative Consulting
1 month 26 days ago

Touch-free palm print readers would be much more acceptable than facial recognition from a privacy perspective. However it seems like a much more expensive alternative to touch-free mobile payments. Also there is the cumbersome task of getting consumers registered in the system, and will the system be exclusive to Amazon or open to all merchants? If it is exclusive to each retailer, it will be very difficult to appeal to the masses.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

This a wait-and-see innovation. If I am wearing gloves, I have to take them off. I first have to register my biometric hand-print. The cost of the biometrics recognition equipment is not spelled out so we don’t know what investment is required as opposed to other contactless forms. An interesting innovation whose success will depend not on its accuracy, but on acceptance rate by both consumers and retailers.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Imagine you arrive at the airport for your flight. The entire passenger journey from check-in and bag drop through to immigration, security, and finally boarding is totally biometrically driven. Smooth sailing.

Will it be available in five years? Ten years? Never?

While we struggle with the development of these convenience enhancing technologies — will we have them, won’t we have them, when will we have them — International Terminal 3 at the Beijing Capital Airport has what is described above. The second Beijing airport being constructed now will have that technology throughout the entire airport.

Sometimes I think retailers are trying to reinvent the wheel.

Scott Norris
Guest

And the Chinese Government uses that same tech to deny you boarding on airplanes and trains to keep you location-locked, and freeze your payment apps if they don’t like your browsing history or if you have “low social credit.” Your location info from cameras and your phone is cross-tabulated against other undesirables and if you’ve been in close-enough proximity (whether intentionally or just by chance) you are also “invited for tea” at the local police station.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Yes, that is all true. But it doesn’t mean that that they do. It is highly supported by the people. The social credit system is embraced by the population. It certainly would be wrong here, but the culture of the people is very different there. Here we are individualistic. There, their society comes first. The individual comes last. That was not imposed or brainwashed into them by the government. The government was made possible by this culture that is thousands of years old.

David Leibowitz
BrainTrust

As you mention, biometrics is already part of the mobile device carried by many. Or they have pin authentication. So I’m dubious of the investment in another payment terminal, or even a new POS/kiosk — when the technology capability is already in the pocket of most consumers. Along with supporting technology like NFC, Bluetooth, encryption.

If I were a retailer, I’m not sure I would invest heavily in terminals. Rather, I’d look for ways to ease the scan, product collection, and payment in the device that has been adopted by consumers. By focusing on apps rather than new hardware, there’s also a lower barrier to entry – and it’s easier to adapt to customer behavior changes in-store and at the curb.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

I agree, and that is the subtlety of the discussion.

Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust

I’m heavy into this kind of work, and I do think that biometrics are just starting to get their sea legs. This type of sensor avoids the perceived challenges with anonymous facial recognition but is also ADA friendly. The problem, however, is Amazon. They want in on retail systems/POS and they want in on tracking our biometrics. Their real currency is data, so why wouldn’t they?

Sensors to make payment, health screening, gate/building access and personalization frictionless are really exciting — take a look at this if you want to see how global and active this emerging category is. We’re testing our software on a wrist sensor that’s very similar to this one featured, but it’s not under the Amazon umbrella. There are many other cool sensors like it, and they enable businesses to operate under their own data locks and dams — which in my mind is the ticket.

Rodger Buyvoets
BrainTrust

I think this will slowly be accepted. But we shouldn’t underestimate how careful people are these days given increased awareness about sharing data, especially of the biometric kind!

If it ever will reach the masses, I’m not sure. It will depend on the surrounding innovations around payment solutions which, in my opinion, are already pretty frictionless.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Although this is less obvious PII, it’s still PII. In most cases, facial recognition has had pushback, especially where it misidentifies some women and more so, people of color and where it can more easily be abused. This is something less invasive feeling for most people and likely more acceptable and likely a point not at all lost on Amazon–especially with its depth of admirers.

Nevertheless, like finger(print) IDs it’s another corporation gathering personal data that it will never let go of. Correction, not “another corporation,” but likely one of the top two data gatherers in existence.

Liz Crawford
BrainTrust

The security of fingerprint or palm print technology seems obvious – only you have your fingerprint. If retailers, airports, and government buildings can agree on the particular biometric, then it’s easy to imagine this becoming the universal sign-in and payment method.

However there are clear drawbacks. Governments may have more access to the whereabouts of its citizens. That may encroach on personal privacy. (You can share a credit card, but not your fingerprint.)

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

Biometric payments are coming, no question. How long it will take for consumers and retailers to adopt them remains to be seen. I think scanning palms to pay for a product will be a lot less controversial than facial recognition. I don’t have to give up my data if I don’t want too, I can still use other methods of payment. When it comes to facial recognition I have no choice, I’m getting scanned when I walk in the store or when I walk outside a store. I think that’s an important distinction.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

This is very much like Gattaca (which was a pretty good movie) but, as with anything else, there will be a need to make sure all the ways to get around the system are thoroughly investigated and holes in the process are addressed.

Oliver Guy
BrainTrust

Anyone who has struggled to unlock their iPhone while wearing a facemask will realize that this has potential. Greasy fingers on thumbprint scanners can be frustrating. If this works well then it could become very popular. If it is as good as claimed then it can be much easier than face or retinal scanning and has the potential to eliminate a point of friction in many environments – payments, building entry, and immigration (although passports do not currently support this). Given Amazon’s track record in removing points of friction I suspect this will be very successful.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

This seems like a non-invasive technique that is frictionless and bypasses what could create privacy issues subject to legislated bans. Technologies that eliminate touch at POS are both customer and retailer friendly. The customer benefits from the safety of the no touch technology while the retailer gains faster throughput for the point of sale.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader
1 month 26 days ago
Smartphones have effectively trained most consumers in the use and advantages of biometric authentication systems, but the use of facial recognition to identify someone outside of a personal device still carries a strong negative connotation for most people. Amazon’s palm reading technology is a great compromise on this and should feel much more like the Touch ID-like experiences consumers are used to. Usage beyond Amazon locations, however, is more dependent on the willingness of retailers and other venues to trust Amazon with their data. While it appears to be quite secure, consumers tend to think twice when they see devices and brands out of the traditional context they expect to find them in. So while a shopper may not have any issue using Amazon One at an Amazon Go or Amazon Books store, they may hesitate if they see Amazon technology at their favorite c-store. Generally, I expect this type of advanced biometric payment to become more and more popular despite those potential concerns. Mobile wallets and contactless payment systems have become much more desirable… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Yes: the leap between personal recognition on INDIVIDUAL devices and a centralized database is IMHO a far larger one than people seem to realize … or at least make a point about.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Keep your hands off mine? I think a sizable portion of the population (though by no means all) will feel uncomfortable with this — as they should. Turning over your personal details to a Leviathan and getting nothing more in return than a small easing in how simple it is to buy something, and a hope — nothing more — that said process will be “safer” is a Devil’s bargain (even if the Devil can be delivered for free and in 1 hour).

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust
Touch free palm readers will be another option for retailers to select from, but at present it’s unclear how biometrics will evolve. My best guess crystal ball suggests a standardized input that would allow any form of biometric to be assigned to specific individuals through some sort of anonymous clearing house. The friction reduced just doesn’t show biometrics as the sole payment identifier — it’s not in the cards. A credit card takes seconds to pull out and process, and cash provides almost complete anonymity. Not enough advantages and too much privacy intrusion, and especially in the US, a general desire for consumers to control who and how they are approached. There is still a fear of unwanted access to data and until there’s standardization around containing personal data, cash is outlawed, and credit issuing financial institutions manage payments, there will be resistance in the marketplace. The amount of friction reduced doesn’t outweigh the potential risk and loss of personal data or worse, identity. Customers don’t necessarily want to be known for just browsing in… Read more »
Brian Numainville
BrainTrust

I think it will continue to grow at some pace, but one issue I think is important to many is how many different entities do you want to share biometric data with, given the absence of one central repository (not that it would be better or more secure, but again, how many times do you want to share it and with whom)? Plus, as someone pointed out, there is a big difference between using your biometric data on your own device and sharing it with corporations and other entities.

Kevin Merritt
Guest

I think there is a privacy barrier here that will be difficult to overcome in the near term. A physical card or even my phone is not a component of who or what I am. Will people be OK with registering a part of their anatomy in a “mysterious” system that they do not control? Some airport terminals offered touchless boarding with facial recognition — with very low adoption. At the same time, there has been some minor success with “clear” retinal scanning at airports, but the assumption is that system is secure and proprietary. Payment systems, on the other hand, are know to be very vulnerable. Call me a skeptic in the near term. In the long term, it seems obvious but the question is, really, how long? These early pilots are all part of the process.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"This type of sensor avoids the perceived challenges with anonymous facial recognition but is also ADA friendly. The problem, however, is Amazon."
"I’m dubious of the investment in another payment terminal, or even a new POS/kiosk — when the technology capability is already in the pocket of most consumers."
"Anyone who has struggled to unlock their iPhone while wearing a facemask will realize that this has potential."

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