As autonomous checkout technology spreads to more brick-and-mortar stores, several companies are working to create a similarly invisible payment experience in homes.
The idea is to make paying for food as automatic as paying for an Uber ride. One way is to allow a smart appliance to handle the shopping for the consumer, as LG Electronics is doing with a new range of products announced Wednesday.
Another is to use loyalty cards and other incentives to direct more of a consumer’s spending to a specific service and away from the grocery store, as Blue Apron is doing with a Mastercard planned for 2022.
The challenge with either approach is to make the interaction so compelling — and seamless — that it becomes the norm. In both examples, the payment is a part of the pitch. And once consumers enroll a payment card or mobile wallet with any of these systems, that choice is the default option for any future purchase.
The internet of things “is the gateway to embedded recurring payments, where consumers subscribe in advance of receiving add-on services to the original product, which comes together in the examples of LG’s new appliances,” said Richard Crone, a principal with Crone Consulting LLC.
This month, Blue Apron announced plans for a Mastercard issued by Beneficial State Bank in Los Angeles. The rewards card, set to launch early next year, is cobranded with Aspiration, which promotes environmental sustainability. The card will tie into Blue Apron’s loyalty program and reward consumers for shopping on the meal kit service.
Blue Apron also announced an integration with Amazon’s Echo Show home speaker to allow the Alexa voice assistant to read recipes to consumers as they cook. Owners of Amazon’s Echo Show devices can also place orders for Blue Apron meal kits, skipping the enrollment process.
Separately, LG is integrating the shopping experience into its appliances by enabling users to create and send recipes to Walmart or Amazon Fresh to order the ingredients. LG’s ThinQ Recipe app, based on technology from mobile app maker SideChef, is optimized to work with LG’s new line of smart kitchen appliances, which can automatically set the timing and temperature of ovens and microwaves by scanning certain food products.
The moves suggest that smart-home apps and voice-controlled speakers will increasingly become the connection to running household appliances and devices, which in turn are connected to payment credentials at stores and product marketers for automatic order and delivery of staples.
LG and its partners may also hope that consumers who became accustomed to in-app grocery ordering will maintain those habits as pandemic restrictions ease.
Amazon’s involvement with LG’s new line of smart ovens and Blue Apron is no coincidence. The online retailer has long wanted to find a way into customers’ kitchens.
Amazon spent four years experimenting with the Amazon Dash Button and Dash Replacement Service, which enabled consumers to order specific brands of products such as laundry detergent and toilet paper by pushing buttons placed strategically around homes. Another product, the Dash Wand, allowed consumers to scan the bar codes of any kitchen product to place an order for replenishment.
Dash services were discontinued in 2019, but Amazon has continued testing home shopping services using apps or voice control.
Last month, Amazon rolled out a personalized meal-recommendation feature called “What to Eat?” that recommends restaurants and recipes — complete with the option to add ingredients to an Amazon Fresh shopping cart — or order a Blue Apron meal kit.
Blue Apron, which has struggled to gain mass adoption, said it plans to expand its partnerships next year. Blue Apron had 350,000 U.S. users at the end of September 2021, the company reported, down from 386,000 in 2019.
LG has not had much luck gaining scale with its own payments initiatives. A proprietary mobile payment service called LG Pay launched in 2017, only to fizzle within months.
“The key here will be registering consumers to various services, with payment credentials embedded so that any grocery store or appliance maker or meal-kit company in the chain so transactions will be invisible and automatic,” Crone said. “It’s not surprising these trends are coming together through consumers’ kitchens because there is nothing more engaging than eating three meals a day.”