UD researchers find support for ’pay by fingerprint’
4:59 p.m., Feb. 20, 2007--Consider it the payment card you cannot lose, one that is enormously convenient, exceptionally secure and always close at hand. It is your fingerprint. And as technology in the field of biometrics advances rapidly, it could become the payment mechanism of choice within a decade, according to researchers at the University of Delaware, who report that a growing number of consumers are willing to use fingerprints to pay in restaurant service settings.
Biometrics uses unique physical or behavioral characteristics such as fingerprints or irises to verify identity. Of late, the applicability of these technologies is expanding beyond security domains into the world of commerce in areas such as service augmentation and customization, according to Shelly-Ann Lumsden, a master's candidate in information management in UD's Department of Hospitality, Restaurant and Institutional Management, and Srikanth Beldona, assistant professor of hospitality marketing.
The use of fingerprint technology requires the user to first enroll in a company's biometric computer system by scanning their fingerprint on a device that captures the image, stores it in a central database or computer, and uses it to identify and verify the user upon subsequent purchases.
To evaluate the applicability of fingerprint technology in the restaurant industry, the UD researchers conducted a study that examined user acceptance of fingerprint technology as a payment option in institutional meal settings and quick-service restaurants.
Their findings indicate that as public awareness of biometrics increases, fingerprint technology has acquired a reasonable level of acceptability as a potential payment mechanism.
The research was conducted over a three-month period beginning in late October 2006 through early January 2007. The sample consisted of 256 UD students, faculty and staff, randomly selected.
Lumsden said the major objectives were to find out the level of awareness of biometric technologies among consumers, primary motivations for likelihood of use as a payment mechanism and the major rationale behind consumers' unwillingness to use it.
The study also compared prospective behaviors toward the use of biometrics in a university meal setting versus quick-service restaurants.
The major findings of the study are as follows:
Findings also indicate that younger consumers are more inclined to use new and innovative technologies than their older counterparts, the researchers said.
The study suggests that public awareness of biometrics is shifting gear and that biometric technologies have the potential to play a significant role in service augmentation and efficiency. However, deployment of these technologies should be done with a customer-centric mindset and strategic oversight, the researchers said.
"Although concerns remain to some extent, public attitudes certainly seem to have crossed the threshold of acceptability," Bedona said, adding that while it may not be a mainstream technology yet, it has traveled far from its origins of being associated with the trappings of law enforcement.
The researchers said they believe restaurants need to identify the objectives of a biometric payment mechanism before implementation. For example, is the system being used for customer convenience, service augmentation or service efficiency?
“The underlying strength of biometrics is that it uses traits that are unique to each individual. It cannot be lost or stolen. It is always with you, and it cannot be forgotten,” Lumsden said. “Biometrics is who you are.”
The researchers said they were somewhat surprised by the level of receptivity they found among those surveyed. “While on one hand, fingerprint technology as a payment can raise concerns about consumer privacy, it is also positively associated with protection from identity theft and fraud. We found that the positive association with the protection from identity theft and fraud outweighed concerns about consumer privacy,” Beldona said. “While we expected something along these lines, we did not think that this would be significant. The results did surprise us.”
Beyond security, Beldona said consumers also showed “significant support for convenience as a key driver for using fingerprint payment technology. “
Beldona believes a significant level of deployment of the payment mechanism could be seen in a few major retail chains within a year or two, with the trend taking a little longer in the quick-service restaurant industry.
Lumdsen said some retailers already are using biometrics, citing Thriftway Supermarkets in Seattle, Piggly Wiggly in South Carolina and Georgia, Lowe's Food Stores and Sterling convenience stores located mostly in North Carolina.
“Disney is also using biometrics to help prevent sharing of multi-day passes,” Lumsden said. “The University of Richmond recently opened a fitness and wellness center that uses hand biometrics for access, and the Body Classique chain of fitness centers in London has installed a biometric turnstile to ensure exclusivity and access to members.”
Lumsden said she believes the use of biometrics “will eventually become ubiquitous within the next 5-10 years.”
Article by Neil Thomas