‘Wear’ to next for business first wearables?

For the Intro & Index to Wearables Week, please click here.

Mention wearables, and most of us immediately think consumer first – the Apple Watch, Fitbits, Google Glasses and so on. But when it comes to business or enterprise applications for wearables, many of us draw a blank.

The challenge for many of the companies that create wearables (Apple, Google etc), is the runaway success their mobile applications have already had in the market. In order for wearables to really step out of the shadow of smartphones then they’ll need to do things our phones can’t do, or do them better. We’re seeing this already in the consumer wearable space to some degree – Fitbits are marginally better than phones.  But when it comes to business focused applications, the complexity of what is required to deliver a superior experience is harder to realise.

So in the small business landscape, how could this play out? I see two distinct sides to this wearable coin. Either wearables will have to make it more convenient for consumers to pay a business or they will have to help a business owner manage their business more effectively. These tend to be the two largest friction points for a business owner when it comes to growth. Solve these, and you’ve got a killer product.

Looking at wearables from these two perspectives can help us understand how the sector could play out over the coming years. The first side of the coin is the easiest, as helping consumers make payments more easily is where most of the fintech applications of wearables has been focused.

Take RFID enabled wristbands for example. These are old news for millennials who’ve been frequenting festivals like Coachella. Companies like Intellitix are leading the field here. Festival goers simply load up their accounts before they arrive, then tap their wristband against a card reader or mobile app at a small business owner’s stall. This is great for the small business owner who now doesn’t need to handle cash or install a temporary merchant facility.

The line between wearables and biometrics is also blurring. Nymi is a company developing wearable devices that use a heartbeat to identify an individual and authenticate a payment. It’s another technology that promises to reduce point of sale frictions. How? Well, when a customer no longer has to reach for their wallet or open an app on a phone, precious seconds can be shaved off a sale. In a busy retail environment, seconds are not inconsequential.

Some banks are in fact on the front foot when it comes to payment focused wearables, seizing the opportunity to build partnerships with businesses to bring new wearable devices to the market. Barclays is one of these banks. Its bPay solution already has brands like Topshop, Garmin and Mondaine on board, who have designed devices that are compatible with its bPay chip, linked up to a credit or debit card. Whether the cost of partnering with bPay is affordable for small businesses is not clear, however the bank is openly calling for business partnership enquiries.

On the business management front, Apple leads the field in enabling business owners to be more productive via their Apple Watch. Companies like Salesforce and Evernote have already started to replicate their mobile offerings on Apple’s latest platform.  And for small business owners, Invoice2Go on the Apple Watch is probably one of the more useful tools. Simplify Commerce is another useful tracking tool available on the watch and powered by MasterCard.

So ‘wear’ to next (excuse the pun)? Well, wearable banking is probably the next big trend, superseding the now mundane concept of mobile banking. In fact St George Bank in Australia is already promoting their wearable smart watch apps, as are a number of other banks. However the key thing will be whether wearables can move beyond the realm of simply replicating your mobile app, just on a far smaller screen.

Managing incoming payments is one area that today can be fragmented across online platforms, and between online and offline merchant facilities. What will be interesting is how ubiquitous payment platforms like PayPal could continue to build market share by offering better synced reporting across multiple devices, including wearables. We’ve already seen how banks that fell behind on mobile reporting lost out to more nimble competitors. Wearables will be no exception.

While direct wearable applications in business are still hard to find, there is no question companies are keen to embed themselves even further into their customers worlds, to remove frictions and increase purchasing opportunities. And being physically worn by your customer certainly makes the idea of being omnipresent a lot easier to achieve.

Daily Fintech Advisers provides strategic consulting to organizations with business and investment interests in Fintech. Jessica Ellerm is a thought leader specializing in Small Business.

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