This September, Amazon’s US patent on 1-Click payments expires. Once the patent expires, any eCommerce retailer is free to implement 1-Click payments on their store. Amazon applied for the patent in September 1997 and it was granted — in the US — in 1999. Patents last for 20 years, so come September, we’re likely to see a proliferation of 1-Click payment systems on eCommerce stores around the web.
In the 90s, 1-Click payments were thought to confer a sizable competitive advantage. Amazon certainly thought so and made a remarkable investment in court actions to protect its 1-Click exclusivity. Only one other company has the right to use 1-Click payments: Apple licensed the patent from Amazon and that’s why it is able to offer the same slick checkout experience.
It’s worth distinguishing 1-Click payments from one-page checkouts. With 1-Click payments, customers complete the entire checkout process with a single action from anywhere on the site. Credit card information and delivery details are preconfigured.
One-page checkouts, which minimize the information shoppers have to submit when they checkout, reduce friction in the shopping process, but they aren’t frictionless in the way 1-Click payments are.
If you’re anything like me, 1-Click payments can be too frictionless. I’ve accidentally pressed the 1-Click payment button on many occasions, creating orders when I hadn’t quite made up my mind whether to make a purchase. That’s one of the major benefits of 1-Click payment: it removes any interval between a tentative decision and placing an order in which the shopper might change their mind.
Some eCommerce pundits claim the expiry of the 1-Click payment patent will “change the face of eCommerce.” I’m less enthusiastic. When only one retailer has 1-Click, there’s an obvious competitive advantage. When everyone has 1-Click, it becomes part of the everyday eCommerce experience.
I don’t image Jeff Bezos is particularly sad to see the end of his company’s monopoly on 1-Click payments, but there’s no doubt it contributed to Amazon’s dominance in the early years of online retail. Compared to the clunky checkout experiences most eCommerce retailers once offered, 1-Click was an asset.
The availability of 1-Click to every eCommerce retailer will mean that those who choose not to implement frictionless payments will be at a disadvantage. The wide availability of 1-Click payments will also diminish the difference between the experience Amazon can offer and that of smaller eCommerce retailers.
The only fly in the ointment is that 1-Click payments depend on technology that isn’t implemented by all payment processors, namely credit card vaults that allow for the secure storage of credit card data. While support for credit card vaults isn’t ubiquitous, you can bet that most payment processors are on the case and they, along with Magento and Magento extension developers, are working on 1-Click solutions in time for the coming holiday season.