What Brand is Your Wallet?

August 15, 2012

Today The Official Merchant Services Blog keeps examining the rapidly growing payment processing sector of Mobile Payments. With an never ending stream of deals being made by startups and established companies developing the latest gimmicks and technology to bring mobile payments and mobile wallets to the average everyday U.S. consumer driving the marketplace, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of mobile payment processing media hype.

In our blog yesterday we were able to see how some of that disconnect works. Visa pushed mobile payment technology aggressively at the London games. Their plans were almost scuttled by a malfunction with the processing terminals during a men’s soccer match between Great Britain and United Arab Emirates. The crowd was cranky as they were unable to pay for concessions using a mobile phone or a credit card. They had to resort to cash, and many patrons were unprepared for the anachronism.

This wrinkle in Visa’s mobile plans underscores how fragile mobile payment technology still is; and it also highlights how close we’ve come to a cashless society — the kind of society where mobile payments promise to be a thriving and convenient way to pay for goods and services.

The Knock on Mobile Wallets

The continued skepticism U.S. consumers have with mobile payments can be found summarized well in this L.A. Times article by David Lazarus. The main theme is something we’ve covered extensively in the past year: Mobile Payments are the future, but people are worried that the payment processing is not secure. It seems that for almost every story published about how mobile wallets are going to revolutionize e-commerce and make billions and billions of dollars in profit, there’s a story like this one that says consumers are worried about security, fraud and identity theft.

Host Merchant Services image for article on Mobile Payments and Near Field Communications

These are valid concerns. Much like regular old online shopping — which has become ingratiated into the average U.S. consumer’s shopping habits — the threat of tech savvy criminals stealing pertinent payment information is an ongoing issue. Everything from phising scams to data breaches affect e-commerce. But none of it has stopped the juggernaut from steam rolling consumer buying habits. Everyone shops online because of the ease and convenience. This is powered by how easy it is for people to be online, click some buttons and buy something. The power of convenience trumps security concerns.

This will happen for mobile wallets as well. Once the technology gets out in front of people they will flock to it because it is easy to use and available where they shop.

Convenience is the Key

So what I believe is the current obstacle holding Mobile Payments back from making a huge splash with U.S. consumers is the fractured marketplace. They’re not readily available at the store when you go there. There’s too many variations on the theme. And too many different companies trying to inject a new technological advance into the sector before it gets traction with consumers. We covered the top types of Mobile Payment technologies recently, and even keeping our analysis to just a few contenders we’re stuck noticing a competition between Near Field Communication driven “Swipe Phone” technology and QR-Code driven “Scan” technology.

iPhone 4S Drives Mobile Commerce

Recent reports by Monetate show it gets even simpler than that — Smartphones themselves. Gone will be the advertising slogan of Captial One, “What’s in your wallet?” that questions what plastic card you use. Instead it will be “What brand is your wallet?” Or rather, which smartphone are you using to pay for things with — iPhone or Android?

According to the data from Monetate, the answer used to be in doubt as late as Q4 2011; and is now a resounding iPhone by Q2 2012. Monetate released its E-Commerce Quarterly Report for the second quarter of 2012, and the figures showed some dramatic changes in smartphone usage driving e-commerce traffic.

According to the report, “Leading e-commerce websites receive 3.31% of their total visits from smartphones running Android, up from 1.76% last year and an increase of 85% in total shopping sessions. These same websites receive 5.41% of their traffic from iPhones compared to 2.45% a year earlier, an increase of 117% in total shopping sessions over the same time period.”

The data showed that in Q4 of 2011 websites received 1.99% of their total visits from Androids and just 2.25% of their visits from iPhones, suggesting the two competing smartphone systems were about dead even. The iPhone 4S was released that quarter however, and iPhones spiked way ahead of the Android.

Despite that spike in iPhone usage, the report indicated that shoppers on Android-powered smartphones converted better than iPhone users — Android converting at a 1.26% clip and iPhone at a 1.00% clip.

What Does This All Mean?

Well even with iPhone getting a bigger spike than Android, both phones grew their e-commerce usage in 2012. That means the goal of realizing those heady revenue predictions from companies like Juniper and Gartner Research are on course. The security concerns may make good copy for the media, but the real obstacle remains saturation in the actual physical marketplace. Give people more opportunities to pay with their phones and they will readily begin to pay with their phone. It will start off as some new gimmick people want to try. And then it will become second nature.

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