When MasterCard used the Consumer Electronic Show on Tuesday (Jan. 5) to unveil its Groceries By MasterCard program, it was an all-too-common payments trend: the introduction of an interesting product with long-term potential, but with the initial version being so limited as to be almost pointless.
MasterCard also used the show on Tuesday to announce a deal with Coin to integrate payments on a wide range of wearables.
The idea behind the Groceries introduction is compelling. The concept is that the card brand would integrate payments deep within Samsung’s new Family Hub refrigerator, a first-class example of the Internet Of Things becoming reality. That is until you start asking questions.
The service allows shoppers to easily order groceries from various online services—which can already be done today via Google, Amazon and an almost endless list of mobile apps. What functionality does the integrated frig system offer that current mobile apps do not? The only answer that MasterCard came up with: “Leveraging the size of the (21-inch) screen allows us to give the user a richer experience.” True, but not especially compelling.
The service got me a little excited because of a Samsung-enabled ability to see the products within the frig without having to open the door, courtesy of multiple cameras inside. But there are only two cameras and they are both mounted within the door. In short, y’know those items that get buried in the back of the third shelf, the ones that are hiding behind taller items? They’re going to stay invisible from these door-mounted peekers.
And what about leveraging refrigerator actions, such as scanning products as they are put into the refrigerator, noting their expiration dates and using product weight and other mechanisms to flag when a product is running out? Not yet. Maybe someday.
“Our roadmap for 2016 includes the integration with a lot more features of the fridge including bar code scanning and voice activated controls,” said Betty DeVita, the Chief Commercial Officer, MasterCard Labs, via e-mail. “Right now, it is possible to scan barcodes using the companion app, which will then automatically add the item to your cart. Other functionality will be recipe integration and list creation.”
We asked about some of those other capabilities, such as the system noting that “Milk was placed in the refrigerator 15 days ago and has not yet been removed. Please check the expiration date” and “The mustard jar is 97 percent lighter than when it was placed into the refrigerator. Shall I add it to your shopping list? Alternatively, do you want to order more right now?”
DeVita’s response: “We received similar feedback during our national in-home testing. This will absolutely be part of our roadmap in the future. For initial launch, we have built an intelligent cart feature that will automatically suggest items for you based on your propensity for purchase. It won’t just blindly recommend all your previous purchases, but instead it will learn the frequency at which you purchase certain items and recommend them to you at that time.”
Although that is a wonderful feature, it’s app-based, meaning that the refrigerator isn’t doing anything that your smartphone couldn’t do just as easily.
By the way, MasterCard deserves majou kudos for not even trying to limit payment options to its own brand. “The application accepts all debit and credit forms of payment,” DeVita said.
To be fair, I believe it was Lao Tzu’s corner grocer who said that every journey of a thousand miles begins with an almost empty milk carton. Although MasterCard’s grocery move is unlikely to make George Jetson jealous yet, it’s a start.