Old Shoreditch Station, a bar in east London, is among the few retailers in London that accepts digital currency in payment for a drink. And at that, probably no more than 20 people have offered it up in the last two years, a manager tells The Guardian.
For all the buzz over Bitcoin, and crypto or digital currencies generally, there’s a point to be made in that story. It’s this: Until the experience of using digital currencies for everyday transactions is improved, the pace of adoption will be quite slow. And it may well be the slowest in the most developed nations like the U.S., Canada and the U.K.
“Cryptocurrencies present huge promise as a secure, fast and efficient means to drive transactions and build economies,” says Bo Zou, a Toronto expert in customer experience strategy and design. “They’re the ideal solution, for example, to opening up banking and credit services to poor and unbankable populations.
“But whether it’s the currently unbankable or those in advanced economies tied to the old ways, until we improve the digital currency user experience, it will remain a curiosity more than anything else,” Bo Zou adds.
When people don’t “get” a technology, they drag their heels on adopting it, even if the benefits have been well-established. A new report by Adobe, for example, says the most successful businesses do it better than their competitors.
Artificial Intelligence (AI), for example, has numerous exciting applications, from self-driving cars to virtual dialog agents that anticipate what we want to buy or eat. But Adobe found that 43 percent of top performing businesses and 58 percent of mainstream businesses have no plans to use it at all. Why not? They lack the knowledge on how to use it.
When it comes to digital currencies, Zou says a major challenge is the “mental model” of how we as users see the world. We see cars as having four wheels, for example, and “money” as paper or metal coins.
“We need to package new technologies in ways that people can understand,” he says. “It’s hard to intuitively grasp something that is not paper, there’s no metal – ‘money’ is just something intangible in the clouds.”
The challenge is to bring more conventional interactions and behaviors into the crypto world, creating mental associations that make these new currencies more physically tangible.
Ironically, Zou points out that it’s those countries considered lesser developed that have embraced cryptocurrencies and can show the way. Countries like China, Indonesia and Thailand, for example, have never had a system of credit cards and traditional banking, so they’re not stymied by traditional third-party financial constructs.
In China, for example, transactions are facilitated through an entirely different ecosystem that’s advanced beyond traditional, credit card-based e-commerce. Social and tagging apps are part and parcel of the “social economy” that is powered by digital currency.
WeChat, called an “app for everything,” is a social/messaging tool that was actually developed by a Chinese firm and now has over 1 billion monthly active users. Zou notes that for Chinese New Year, he used WeChat to tag a nephew to send him money, which he received instantly.
“It’s all peer to peer and based on social trust and very different to what we are used to in the Western World. But it’s where we are heading with our cryptocurrency. We just have to get the experience right,” Bo Zou adds.