Trying to Understand QR Codes and LevelUp

Trying to Understand QR Codes and LevelUp

I think mobile payments would be very cool to have, but I’m not blown away by the current solutions right now (at least in the US market). LevelUp seems to be gaining a lot of momentum right now around me (since they do have a large Boston-area presence). I had heard of them some while ago, and now I’m seeing a lot of their mobile station things at various in-store retailers and restaurants. They appeared recently within the past few weeks at my office complex’s cafeteria, and yesterday representatives were there to promote LevelUp.

Using your smartphone to pay for something sounds like a cool idea, but I think LevelUp still falls flat in the push for mobile payments. You link up your smartphone (using an iOS or Android app) to your debit/credit card, and then use your phone to display your QR code and have it scanned. To me, the number of steps involved in pulling out your phone, bringing up the app (or using your browser) and scanning your QR code doesn’t offer any better advantage than taking out your wallet and paying with your card. It may involve less time, but a few seconds won’t kill me.

I don’t know why QR codes are so popular either (or so they seem). I don’t scanning them is a fun thing to do especially when a lot of them just open up a browser to point to a website (which could be a malicious one at that). When I told the representative that I have no smartphone nor a browser, he mentioned that LevelUp offers plastic cards that feature your own unique QR code. I nearly cringed. A plastic card with some representation of my account. Like the ones I carry around that say Visa or MasterCard on it.

That’s supposed to be a benefit for me? The abstraction of it doesn’t make the LevelUp solution any more attractive than using a credit or debit card. The QR code might be harder to steal or fake over a series of numbers, but it’s not as if QR codes are foolproof and stealing that data can’t be done. Some people might place more value on their phone than their wallet. To them, they’d always carry it around. For me, I’m not that kind of person. I’m not the right customer/user/target market for LevelUp (because I’m just weird like that, or just “old” person.

What I would rather see is something like what East Asia (specifically Hong Kong) has had for years way ahead of the United States. They used RFID smart cards for a variety of things like public transportation, convenience stores, parking, etc. I think LevelUp┬ácan hit that potential ubiquity at some point, but the RFID touch-and-go convenience advantage means I never have to pull my phone or wallet out. I can leave it in my bag or other holding and have it register just by being near a scanner instead of pulling something out and holding it up. There’s no visible risk of exposing your card to someone else. I’d take what’s available in RFID further and have it embedded in cell phones as hardware. I think that is a better future than using QR codes.

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