One of the most heartening things about this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona was that there was a lot of talk about direct carrier billing and where it is starting to become the de facto way to pay for many young people across Europe and the world.
DCB, as we all know, is easy to use, caters to that impulsive streak that drives the sale of some forms of mobile content and is, thanks to it appearing on the phone bill, relatively transparent.
The second Payment Services Directive (PSD2) has also opened it up to many more merchants who perhaps had never come across it before and, on trawling the halls and bars of Barcelona, it was pleasing to hear just how many companies are actively pushing it.
It was also intriguing too to see how, coupled with RCS, it offers an interesting potential new marketing channel, allowing brands to not only create rich and interactive messages, but also messages that can directly be monetised. It is slick and taps neatly into the rising tide of interest in next generation ecommerce, browser-less commerce (think voice devices, visual search, AR and VR, social media etc…. all of which now by-pass the browser in a conventional sense).
While all appears to be rosy in the DCB garden across mainland Europe, South America and Asia, there is, as ever, a UK shaped stumbling block. In a neat analogue of the UK’s inability to love nor leave the EU, the UK’s attitude to DCB continues to be one of outright loathing.
Back in December 2018, The Independent newspaper ran yet another story on how carrier billing services were being used to scam people. Basing it around one company’s service – which was not, incidentally, a scam – the story relied heavily on one activist’s determined campaign of destruction against DCB and, with it, anyone who uses it.
There is no point naming names – why publicise them? – but suffice it to say there is still a groundswell of fear about carrier billing based subscription services. And I think I know why.
First off, it has a poor history: let’s face it, there have been many carrier billing based scams over the 30 years that we have had carrier billing. Efforts to improve the flow and make it crystal clear what is happening have gone a long way to assuaging these concerns, but still for some they persist.
The other, much more pressing reason, is that incompatibility between carrier billing’s sating of impulse purchases and subscription services.
Impulse buying of a £2 video is one thing, finding yourself getting a bill once a month, perhaps as much as six months after you signed-up doesn’t work. Like the man who recently drunkenly did a £600 online grocery shop to stock up in anticipation of a Brexit collapse of the economy on 29 March, he awoke to find a vast amount of French wine and cheese and hangover and, perhaps most startlingly, a large bill.
The same applies to offering subscription services that are carrier billed. While the on-ramp is clearly labelled and the Ts and Cs all very blatantly laid bare before the user, the fact that the charge happens and then recurs after that moment of impulse buying gets them every time.
The answer? Perhaps there does need to be a reassessment of where carrier billing is used. It works really well with Microsoft for software downloads. It works really well with games. It works really well with media clips. It is, in short, great for one-off purchases.
Education is also needed to showcase what carrier billing is and what it can do. Perhaps if people fully understood it they would either avoid it if they didn’t trust it or embrace it if they did.
The problem lies in using it for recurring billing – perhaps that isn’t where it can be best used. Maybe it is a great way to get sign ups, but then they need to be converted to more ‘traditional’ forms of payment, much like the gambling industry does?
Either way, DCB looks set to have a bright and interesting future across the world, but here in the UK – where it appears at least half the population are enraged about something all the time – it perhaps needs some more work?