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Google unfolds scan-to-pay app for Seattle’s homeless newspaper vendors

Google is powering a new scan-to-pay mobile application used by street vendors in Seattle selling the city’s Real Change newspaper to benefit the homeless, enabling users to scan a bar code to receive a digital edition and suggesting that scan-to-pay has a future for bigger items as well.

Seattle citizens will now be able to scan the designated bar code with their mobile devices to pay the $2.99 fee for a digital copy of Real Change, which is typically sold by homeless men and women. Although Google is powering the mobile app, it is owned by the newspaper and was designed by a former Real Change volunteer after realizing that many residents did not carry cash on their persons.

“This is a great example of how all payments will evolve in the future,” said Erik Burckart, chief technology officer at PointSource, Raleigh, NC. “Simplicity and convenience will drive the mobile payment innovation for some time to come.

“We believe Google will help integrate with various forms of receiving payments such as the scan-to-pay in comparison to Apple who will be more prescriptive.”

Driving newspaper sales
The app, which Google claims it will not profit off of, will likely increase the sales of Real Change newspapers and further benefit the underprivileged and homeless of Seattle. Although the digital copy fee of $2.99 is up from the print copy price of $2, the added convenience of mobile will help bridge that gap for consumers.

The creator of the app also realized that many vendors did carry mobile devices, meaning that a scannable bar code had to be put in place for patrons.

The digital version of Real Change is currently only available for Android customers, although it will be optimized for iOS and Windows platforms.

Users of the app may scan the black and white QR code emblazoned on Real Change vendors’ new badges to purchase a copy, a tactic that is bringing widespread relief to sellers who have long been searching for cashless options.

Vendors will also be able to retain a higher portion of sales from the app, due to the increased price of a digital version. They will now earn $1.49 per sale, up from $1.40.

Real Change employs around 800 low-income and homeless Seattle residents each year in the Puget Sound region.

Greater potential
A Google spokeswoman revealed that its Real Change partnership marks the first time this type of scan-to-pay mobile app will be used in the United States, but would not comment on whether Google expects to eventually make money from it.

However, this app does offer significant encouragement for other newspaper vendors, especially as consumers increasingly forgo carrying physical wallets and cash, and instead rely on mobile wallets or NFC payment solutions such as Apple Pay to make purchases.

There is also widespread potential for this feature to affect retail stores or stadiums, a move which could further cement the probable decline of paper money.

“Scan-to-pay can be extremely helpful in self-service arenas where there is no attendant to help process a sale,” Mr. Burckart said. “Another opportunity is for in-store self-checkout like you see at Apple stores.

“It is a convenient way to pay immediately when getting a product.”

Final Take
Alex Samuely is an editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York