Fear, excitement, and aspiration: understanding the human motivations behind payments
I recently spoke with Logan Vander Linden, Head of Payments Partnerships and Operations at Scribd. We delved into the psychology of payments and the history of value exchange — from violent clamshell theft to personal ‘best-self’ aspirations.
Longan’s insights are truly fascinating. And they’ll give food for thought to anybody focusing on optimizing the payment experience and understanding what consumers really want from payments.
What is it about digital payments that excite and interest you?
One of the reasons I love payments is rooted in its ancient history and the massive shift which digital brings. Human Beings have exchanged value amongst themselves since the beginning of time, and there's always been this awkwardness about it. There’s the physical awkwardness of handing money to another person. There is also the awkwardness of not understanding the value of the commodity you're exchanging.
Physical violence has also played a role in how humans think about monetary or value exchange. At the back of our minds, we’re always wondering: ‘what if somebody steals something from me? What if somebody knocks me over the head and takes my clamshells?’
But with digital payment, there are more and more security and verification layers. So the threat of violence and that threat of loss of value through fraud or something more physically brutal all starts to decrease. As a result, people put more faith in the system and more faith in the value exchange.
So you think that despite the risk of digital fraud and theft, detaching payments from their physical, bodily threat of violence has profoundly changed something?
Yes! This shift allows for something exciting to happen. Instead of worrying about physical harm, we can now focus on the value of the product and the experience we’re having when exchanging value.
And more so, we can ask: ‘what is the value of the aspiration that I have for who I want to be? And is this value that I'm exchanging keeping me on a path to becoming a better version of myself? And a more productive version of myself? A more engaged version of myself?’
Please elaborate on this idea of personal aspiration and the role of payments in that?
This is where subscriptions come into play. What’s nice about subscriptions — whether it’s a reading subscription, a video subscription, or a gym membership — is that we're making these purchases to align with a particular lifestyle we’re creating.
So they're not decisions made on impulse. They’re a commitment to something that we value — and something that we want to engage with repeatedly. And because of that, the service becomes a part of our life and our identity.
That’s interesting, so it’s also the absolute seamless immediacy of digital payments that feeds this sense of aspiration and identity?
Yes — and also no! It depends on the nature of the purchase, the product, or the service.
People often talk about making payments seamless and making payments stop existing, but do people want payments to stop existing in the spur-of-the-moment emotional sense?
I don't think they do. When people seek ‘instant gratification,’ they want to define the moment through action or a series of actions.
Some studies show conversion goes down over time if you take the friction away from spur-of-the-moment purchases. It’s because people don't want payments to become seamless. They want some friction. And overcoming that friction is what gives people the buzz when they're making a purchase.
Are you suggesting that we humans like to distinguish between the adrenaline rush of an impulse buy — which needs a bit of friction to complete the experience, versus the subliminal one-ness signified by a subscription?
Subscription payments are the opposite of those spur-of-the-moment purchases. With subscription payments, you want it to be seamless and to never think about it again because it's a different sort of engagement with the product itself.
So we all need to think carefully about the meaning of different forms of engagement when we think about payments.