When a world-record holding, gold-medal wielding Olympic athlete has an idea, Visa executives are game to listen.
Visa, global sponsor of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, announced the prototype for a new wearable payment method in the form of a ring, an effort that largely came to fruition with the help of U.S. decathlete Ashton Eaton. The accessory can be custom-fitted to the user’s finger, and includes a microchip with an embedded antenna that enables payment capabilities at the point of sale.
The idea for the ring first began percolating during a company summit last September in San Francisco, according to Chris Curtin, Visa’s chief brand and innovation marketing officer. At the event, the Visa team was thinking about innovative payment methods, while simultaneously brainstorming ways to better engage Team Visa athlete sponsors, a group of 45 athletes around the world that Curtin called “brands themselves.” Among the most integral was Eaton.
“[Eaton] basically said ‘Look, for me, one thing I’m looking for in the context of wearables is stuff I don’t have to take on and off, stuff that matches my lifestyle, which is anchored in training and competing,” Curtin said.
The Visa team took Eaton’s feedback and ran with it, developing the prototype that will be provided for each of the Team Visa athletes, as well as select Visa employees and media members, though the ring will not be offered to the public at this time.
The ring is one of a number of high-tech payment options Visa is pursuing, including virtual reality shopping partnerships and a biometric offering that scans the irises of a user’s eyes to enable access to payment information.
Visa debuted the wearable at an event in New York City with Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first Muslim woman to represent Team USA wearing the hijab.
“Working with Visa on a platform of inclusion and acceptance has been such a big moment for me as an athlete,” she said at a panel discussion with Curtin at the event.
Jason Goldberg, svp of commerce and content at Razorfish, said that while Visa’s prototype is a useful and informative litmus test for a new wearable payment model, he doesn’t foresee that the ring model will withstand.
“It’s more interesting as a proof of concept for the future of payments than it is as an actual consumer product,” Goldberg said. “It’s not very likely that a ring, specifically, becomes the payment vehicle of choice, because there is so much individual preference and visual diversity in deciding if and what rings to wear.”
However, he added that he foresees growth in wearable payment technologies with the advent of the chip & signature payment system, which has transpired to slower checkout times for consumers.
Whether or not the Visa ring translates to commercial success, Ivan Kayser, strategy director at Redscout, said it is a major innovative advancement.
“This Olympic partnership is an incredible legitimizing platform for this nascent behavior,” Kayser said. “Whether or not it is a commercial success doesn’t matter, it is likely to be a watershed moment and I’m excited to see the new ideas it inspires.”
Visa is also partnering with augmented reality company Facecake Marketing Technologies on the Swivel product, a virtual dressing tool that allows consumers to view garments on themselves on screens in real-time. Facecake currently has an offering for Olympic-branded apparel, powered by Visa.
“Everyone knows that trying something on actually increases the likelihood of buying it, so being able to try something on virtually increases the likelihood of you being confident and purchasing it and not returning,” Peter Johnson, sales director at Facecake, said.
He added that virtual reality also helps reduce the likelihood of returns, a large expenditure for companies.