On a recent visit to Germany, we noticed that major companies are investing systems that make purchasing items easy and, of course, digital. In Berlin, for example, we had the opportunity to try a new way to buy a train ticket. Deutsche Bahn and telecommunications companies Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, and O2  jointly developed the Touch and Travel app and Touchpoint system, a simple, fast and customer-friendly way of selling e-tickets for public transportation. To buy a ticket at a station, the customer takes a picture of the 2D bar code or enters the touch point number manually into the Touch & Travel app.   The price of the trip immediately appears on the phone, and travel is billed to the user every month. To prevent fraud, it is required to log out once the transaction has been completed. The system greatly simplifies travel across the country, as travelers can purchase any ticket, from the German InterCity Express (ICE) train to the local metro, with the same app. Customers don’t have to waste time digging in their purse for exact change, and they can even change their destination on route, as the system calculates the fare after the trip is completed.

Another technical innovation we noticed in Berlin was the “Easy Order” Machine at McDonald’s. These kiosks allow the customer to choose from different meals and pay for them with a card at the terminal. They then get a receipt and pick it up at the “Easy Order” counter. This system speeds up the ordering process while reducing errors in communication. (Unfortunately, we did not have a chance to see if the kiosks ask whether you would like fries with that.)

Germany McDonald's Easy Order
Back here in the US, we’ve noticed a couple of unconventional payment systems, and last week, PayPal released The Future of Shopping video,  which envisions a future in which consumers can scan the bar codes of products to check their inventory availability in real-time and pay for it by mobile.

The Touch and Travel app and the McDonald’s kiosks, however, show that alternative forms of payment and shopping are already moving from futuristic “what-ifs” to commonly accepted practices. While these innovations will make consumers lives easier, they also present opportunities and challenges to brands, even if they are not part of the transaction or telecommunications industry. Brands will be able to better track and target consumers, but will increasingly be forced to compete for consumers’ divided attention. Retail environments in particular will have to develop new tactics, such as creating a more entertaining shopping environment, as bar code apps will make it difficult to compete on price alone. Even time-tested strategies like putting candy in the check-out lane will have to be reconsidered as consumers skip the line altogether. Anticipating these changes now, when systems are still being experimented with and implemented, will give forward-thinking brands a head start in an increasingly cashless future.