Anyone who has visited a foreign country knows what a hassle it is to handle street vendors. From currency exchanges to intense bargaining, purchasing anything from these vendors is a complicated process. But luckily, a group of entrepreneurs in Thailand are starting to modernize this process. They have created a new mobile app that allows tourists and locals alike to buy items from street vendors…using their mobile phones! Street vendors simply put a QR code in the front of their booth and allow their customers to scan it with their phones.
One of the street vendors who has profited from this idea is sticky mango rice saleswoman Bamnika Sonthi. Using this technology has revolutionized her business, and she is adamant that it will catch on. In fact, it already has; out of the forty other vendors on her street, many of them use the same system of personalized QR codes.
Research shows that this option is most popular for Asian nationals aged 20 to 30. But the Bank of Thailand’s recent investment in the product proves that there is a larger market for these apps. Finalized just last week, this investment allows five major Asian banks to hook up their services to one of these apps, giving the vast majority of the Bangkok population access to QR code payment methods. On a smaller scale, many individual government figures support the QR code revolution. Somsak Khaosuwan, Thailand’s Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, believes strongly in this new technology for two major reasons. First, he acknowledges that the world is tending towards a cashless economy. Apps like Apple Pay have intertwined mobile phones and payment methods, and credit cards can now swipe through mobile phones. Secondly, Khaosuwan mentions that the QR code method is incredibly inexpensive, which means that even the poorest vendors will have the resources to jump on board. In the past, mobile payment technologies like iPads and attachable credit card scanners have been too costly for the average Thai seller to invest in. But with these new apps and the government’s support, every street vendor will be able to modernize their business.
While many young business owners and consumers are excited about the Bank of Thailand’s recent decision, the older population is a bit more skeptical. Dried fruit vendor Kitti Khoonphisitwong admits that “most customers, especially older people, find the app a hassle.” While he is excited about the future of mobile payment (“I don’t need to worry about finding change”), he’s cautious about going all-in before the population is ready for such a dramatic change.
If these technologies continue their current trend in Bangkok, the street vendor business will be entirely transformed–for the better. This investment in Bangkok is the first of many which will move the world towards a mobile-dependent, cash-independent economy. We see similar emerging technologies in the United States and the rest of the developed world, but since most stores already have convenient payment options, it will take longer for them to catch on. Thailand, on the other hand, completely leapfrogged the era of chunky cash registers and iPad swipes, jumping right into the wonderful world of mobile payment. If other cities and countries in the developing world hop on the mobile payment bandwagon, the United States will likely see a similar revolution in the near future. All it takes are these critical first steps in places like Bangkok for the rest of the world to witness a huge change.