Last year, I read a Deutsche Bank Research note about mobile payments that was given to me in a meeting with one of our clients (E-Banking Snapshot 34, August 2010). It highlighted a Forrester Research finding that 74% of European consumers and 64% of US consumers are not interested purchasing goods or services via their mobile phones and said that this means there are substantial barriers to adoption of mobile payments. Well, there are certainly substantial barriers to the adoption of mobile payments, but in my experiences consumers are not one of them. Quite the reverse: in every project that I have been involved in, consumers have loved buying things using their mobile phones. The discrepancy comes, I think, because when you ask consumers about something in new in a field they don’t care about (let’s face it, consumers don’t really spend that much time thinking about payments) they will react conservatively. Say to the average British consumer “would you like to use your mobile phone to pay for cups of coffee” and they can’t envisage what you are talking about, especially if they don’t live in London and use Oyster all the time or use 2D barcodes for travel tickets or whatever.

In a survey of 2,500 members of Springboard UK, the market research experts, on behalf of Vision Critical, half of respondents (51%) reported being fairly or very uncomfortable at the prospect of mobile payments.

[From British ‘uncomfortable’ about making mobile payments – Marketing news – Marketing magazine]

When consumers are given a mobile payment system that works and is convenient, adoption is rapid. Incidentally, in that survey only a fifth of consumers said they were interested in a prepaid wallet. I’ve heard this over and over again: one of the arguments against substituting cash (which most consumers don’t see as a pre-paid product) with some form of “purse” product is that people don’t want to pay up front for good or services that they might use in the future. Fair point. Oh, wait…

Starbucks Corp. customers loaded a record $700 million on to the Seattle coffee chain’s prepaid card accounts during its most recent quarter, up 39% from a year earli

[From Starbucks Prepaid Loads Jump 39% – American Banker Article]

Turns out that if you know stuff about marketing, consumer behaviour, distribution, management, convenience, payment choices, advertising, incentives and, above all, retailing then customers are only to happy to go with mobile prepaid. That’s how come Starbucks went from a mobile payments experiment…

The ultimate goal of the program is to get customers to trade in their physical Starbucks Cards for the digital variety — it’s a time saving exchange for the customer and a cost saving exchange for the company. Already, one in five of all in-store transactions are paid for via Starbucks Card (mobile or physical), and more than $1 billion will have been loaded on to cards by year’s end.

[From Starbucks in New York Now Accepting Mobile Payments | The Total Footballer]

…to a national roll-out in a quarter. Our good friend Brett King gave the Starbuck’s national mobile payment scheme a try and said that

this is far superior to a current interaction using cash or a card for a number of reasons. This gives us a glimpse of what the cashless society will be like; it isn’t risky, it isn’t subject to fraud or theft, it is safe, secure and fast.

[From Brett King: Starbucks Mobile Payments — The Future Is Coming Fast (VIDEO)]

We all know that mobile will be the focus for the evolution of retail payments, and I think the message is getting out. Eric Schmidt’s talk at Barcelona — saying that NFC will be profitable — attracted a great deal of attention, mainly from people who didn’t listen to what he said when still CEO of Google.

Google wants the next generation of Android phones to replace credit cards, Eric E. Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, said Monday at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco. The newest version of Android, Google’s mobile phone operating system, code-named Gingerbread, will come out in a few weeks, he said. It will include NFC…

[From Schmidt: Android Phones Will Be Credit Cards –]

There’s still a long way to go in the mass market though, and it’s fair enough to comment on it. Consumers, journalists, commentators don’t yet understand how this new infrastructure is going to work. But I think that’s about to change. Britain’s biggest retailer is Tesco, so they are a benchmark for the acceptance of new technology, and they are going to go contactless this year.

Tony Saunders is the director of marketing for VeriFone in Europe, the Middle East and Africa… Saunders told us that within six months, Tesco will be rolling out near-field communications capabilities to its 35 – 38,000 checkouts across Britain

[From The future of the high street: near-field communication (Wired UK)]

This might be connected with a story that I touched on before in another context, illustrating the point about the ability of retailers to exploit the new contactless technologies in interesting ways.

Tesco will relaunch its Clubcard scheme as an online rewards programme as it gears up to reach customers in the digital age. Developing a ‘secure, multichannel’ smart card, the UK retailer will move the scheme to digital channels in an effort to simplify its rewards programme and cut down on direct-mail costs.

[From Tesco will relaunch Clubcard scheme in 2011 : WCJB]

Incidentally, I didn’t quite understand the rest of the Wired story, so I dropped an e-mail full of NFC articles to the reporter who had said that

The only obstacle could be similar, but proprietary, technologies set up by banks — which are known as “contactless” payment options. Barclays’ contactless cards are a good example, as are Visa’s PayWave cards, which are being trialled in Europe using an iPhone dongle.

[From The future of the high street: near-field communication (Wired UK)]

I shouldn’t make fun. The technology might be old to us, but it’s new to the mass market. And I should not that it isn’t just UK journalists who get a bit confused.

For example, special payment stickers are available already that allow merchants to NFC-enable their point of sale terminals by simply affixing a sticker to the terminal, Litan said. Such stickers go for as little as $18

[From Analysts: Apple could disrupt mobile payment industry | BappProducts | iOS Central | Macworld]

Wait, what? I think the journalist got the wrong end of the stick on this one! Let’s be clear. The contactless payment schemes are NFC and the cards, phones, stickers, watches, hat, badges or anything else will all work with the NFC POS terminals. The key point here is that the retailers are rolling out NFC at POS not just because they want to accept NFC contactless cards, which many of them don’t really care about, but because of NFC contactless phones, which promise an entirely new mobile shopping experience. The retailers want mobile wallets as soon as they are practical, because the value-adding opportunities around coupons, loyalty, location-based marketing and all sorts of other things besides payments are so great.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]


  1. “Retailers want mobile wallets”?
    Really? Seems to me the retailers simply want more sales.
    Payments are at the end of that chain – almost, but obviously not quite, an afterthought. Show me a vision for a mobile wallet that helps increase retailer sales.

  2. I’ve seen research — it wouldn’t be appropriate to mention the source — that says that retailers like mobile wallets for three main reasons:
    1. Reduced abandonment, because it’s easy for customers select payment mechanisms within the wallet,
    2. Retailer-specific offers can be sent to and stored within the wallet. and
    3. Electronic receipting and more detailed purchase data to reduce costs and chargebacks.
    I’m rather keen on ideas like the MacDonald’s club in Japan, and similar things to this could be very successful in UK.

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