How I failed the PowaTag Tesco meal deal 30 second challenge. Twice.

We all know that supermarkets are under pressure and that every little helps when you’re fighting for business in a high volume, low margin market. One problem that keeps coming up when you talk to the grocers is how to process the lunchtime trade faster.

This is why Marks & Spencer and others have been keen to adopt contactless payments and also why many are evaluating mobile-phone based payment ideas. The latest of these is PowaTag, which is on trial in Tesco’s Dean Street store in Soho. It’s a good location for trying new technology ideas – a cramped shop that needs help and which services an early adopter media crowd that embrace innovation.


This is not a full pilot. Tesco’s technology lab called it a “live experiment” from which they hope to learn more about customer reaction to the new ways of paying. PowaTag is not integrated with the store’s EPOS and you can only buy from a single aisle from which you pick your “meal deal” – a sandwich, a bag of crisps and a drink.

PowaTag Tesco Meal Deal
PowaTag Tesco Meal Deal

One the first day, the shop was bursting with PowaTag people, Tesco management and (an unexpected surprise) Barclay’s bPay team who have equipped Tesco top brass with their contactless bracelet. Helpfully, each team wore their employers’ T-shirts so that we could tell who was who.

PowaTag works like many other mobile wallets. You download the app and enter your details: name, email, street address, card number and CVV. It prompts you for date of birth and gender too but these are not compulsory. You also enter a four-digit PIN security code. This takes a couple of minutes although would be quicker if you could photograph your card to get the details uploaded automatically.

When in the store, you pick your three lunch items and then check out by opening the app and scanning a large QR code. In this live test, there was one of these positioned on a special table away from the mail till points but next to a portable card machine. Belt and braces. There was also a giant PowaTag QR code stuck on the floor.

So far, so easy. How did I fail the challenge? When I scanned the QR code and hit the “pay now” button the app asked for my CVV code. Oh dear, I’d pre-loaded my Amex card. The PowaTag folks were very helpful. Sorry, the app doesn’t work with Amex, they said. Yes, we should warn customers about that earlier in the process.


I stood to one side, let the queue pass me by, went back into the app and added a Visa card.

Then I went back to the giant QR code. I had my purchases in one hand and my phone in the other. I opened the app, scanned the code and hit the confirm button. Then the app asked for my CVV code again. So, I put the phone in the same hand as the purchases, pulled my wallet out of my inside pocket and teased out the Visa card. Running out of hands, I put my wallet in my mouth, flipped over the Visa card, memorized the CVV code, took the wallet out of my mouth, put the Visa card back in the wallet, put the wallet back in my pocket, used my free hand to pick up the phone, scanned the QR code again, hit the “pay now” button, inputted the CVV code and completed my transaction. Failure #2.

The PowaTag app next presents you with a nicely laid out receipt which sits in your “tag history” screen.

powatag history

PowaTag also emails you a receipt. This comes from a PowaTag Tesco Meal Deal account and is jointly branded. This may be good practice but I can’t think why you’d want to keep an email receipt for a sandwich. If you used the app several times a day, this would become irritating.

tesco powatag receipt

The overall user experience is okay although the requirement for CVV is really annoying for people who haven’t memorised this number. Disappointingly, PowaTag weren’t demonstrating any advance over FlyPay, PayPal, Droplet or any of the other competitors that have been around for a while. For example, there are no loyalty features, social networking, geolocation or iBeacon prompts. I’d expected more of a wow-factor from a business now valued at >$1bn.

To be fair, buying lunch at Tesco is a not good use case for mobile payments. The pressing need for both merchant and shopper is speed in checkout but the primary bottleneck is not payment at all. It’s the queuing and scanning to have the merchandise scanned. This is unavoidable, as the shop needs to know which SKU’s it’s sold so that it can replenish the shelves correctly. When it comes to paying, contactless is quicker and more consistent than a mobile app. Even if the mobile app delivered loyalty points, there would be precious few associated with a £3 lunch.

Barclays bPay contactless bracelet in action at Tesco.
Barclay’s bPay contactless bracelet in action at Tesco (via @jayadeep_nair).

The near future of mobile app based payments is not in convenience retail at all. It’s in table-service casual dining where the technology shortens checkout times by up to 10 minutes. If you want to eat lunch tomorrow, I’d try Wahaca where FlyPay’s  implementation sets a high standard.

The food is better at Wahaca too. In all the excitement today, I paid scant attention to my choice of sandwich and can report that the egg and bacon on white is not one of Tesco’s finest.


4 thoughts on “How I failed the PowaTag Tesco meal deal 30 second challenge. Twice.”

  1. Thanks for the feedback, some good points (I currently work for Powa). CVV is for security and is only required the first time you use that card. Card entry should definitely be smoother and easier. Sorry to hear about your issues with AMEX, that was not communicated well initially. Will have to try out Wahaca.

  2. It’s a business that’s supposedly worth > $1B that’s offering a QR code payment solution when everyone else has already moved to contactless.

    They’re dead in the water before they ever launched. And let’s not even look at the rest of their product suite, it’s a joke. The ecommerce platform is basically what you’d have considered barely adequate a decade ago.

  3. Dan Wagner used to begin every staff meeting with the words ‘Fred Goodwin is the only CEO who leads another UK company effectively’ and was the model Ricky Gervais used for David Brent in ‘The Office’.

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