The already high-tech QR code has become even more high tech.
Paytm has unveiled a QR code scanner that announces when a payment has been received. Called the Sound Box, the QR code device has a QR code on its front, and a speaker behind it. As soon as a payment is received, the device loudly announces that a payment of a particular amount has been made. Paytm said that it would retail the device to $10 (Rs. 700).
The device might feel like overkill — merchants anyway receive a notification from Paytm on their phones when they receive a payment — but it solves a problem that several small store owners face. Customers at times pretend to make payments through their apps, tell the shopkeeper they’ll soon receive a notification, and then walk away. Worse, there are sophisticated ways in which people cheat too — an app created a few years ago showed a fake Paytm payment screen of a desired amount, which could be shown to shopkeepers to make them believe that payments had been received. The device can also be useful when the shopkeeper isn’t physically present at the shop — if the shopkeeper has his phone with him while he’s away, his assistants at the shop have no way of verifying if the payment has been received, but with the device they’ll be able to know the payment status through a voice message.
Apart from being useful to shopkeepers, the device also enables Paytm to differentiate itself from other UPI players. UPI codes have been commoditized, where a UPI code issued by, say, Google Pay, can also accept payments from Paytm, and vice versa. As such, shopkeepers often end up choosing the QR code of the payment partner that approached them first. But with Paytm’s QR code now better than those issued by other players in how they also announce out “Payments Received” notifications, Paytm has an opportunity to get shopkeepers to adopt it instead of the Google Pay or PhonePe codes they might be using. The Sound Box, if it receives widespread adoption, could help Paytm grow its presence at small shops and stores.
Paytm’s move just goes on to show that it’s nearly always possible to innovate and make existing systems better. UPI had put all payments providers on an even keel by making QR codes inter-operable, but Paytm has just managed to add some value to the humble QR code. It remains to be seen how popular the Sound Box QR code ends up being, but if it does add value, India could see a whole new generation of QR code accepting machines with value-added services built in.