[Dave Birch] Despite the fact that the Japanese have a very unique payments sector, quite unlike (say) the UK or the USA, we are fascinated by what they are doing in mobile payments, and always have been.

Back in 2001, on a visit to Tokyo, I witnessed an incident that shook my conceptual framework to its core. I saw a teenage girl use her cell phone to buy a can of soda from a vending machine.

[From The Cashless Society: One man’s quest to survive without bills or coins. – Slate Magazine]

In an article in The Telegraph called “Across Japan with a smartphone for cash”, 25th February 2012, page Y13 (I can’t find it online), Michael Fitzpatrick relays his experiences as one of the 70 million “tap and go” phone users in Japan. His tale makes me green with envy. He used his phone to take the taxi to the station (most Japanese taxis have contactless readers, and I doubt they charge you an extra 12% like the ones in London do), to take the train, to buy a coffee from a vending machine, to fly on ANA (the phone acts as ticket and boarding pass through the contactless interface), to have lunch (although he does point out that many restaurants in Japan don’t take contactless yet), as a ski pass in Sapporo, to buy groceries at a convenience store and even as his hotel room key in Kyoto. To Telegraph readers in the UK, this may read as a dispatch from Moonbase Alpha, but in Japan there’s nothing remotely interesting about any of this.

Most of the population uses eMoney on a daily basis with mobile FeliCa RFID wallet phones to purchase train/bus fare, a beverage at a vending machine, a meal at a local restaurant or a snack at a convenience store. Many local business and convenience stores have their own chargeable eMoney cards as well as loyalty cards.

[From What the U.S. Can Learn from Japan’s eCommerce Ecosystems – pymnts.com]

He makes in interesting comment in passing, though, about interoperability. This is still not universal, so consumers find that some readers won’t recognise some phones, which is really annoying and you can see why is holds down usage: if you’re not sure whether your phone will work in the coffee bar, you won’t even try using it because you don’t want to be embarrassed at the POS. This is why a strategy of branded ubiquity makes sense: it doesn’t matter if all burger places take contactless as long as customers know that (as in the UK) all MacDonalds take it.

In total, [Edy] is accepted at 255,000 stores across Japan. There are now several rival e-money services including to Edy including; Nanaco, a proprietary system set up by retailer Seven Eleven; and, Waon, issued by Aeon for use in its shopping malls.

[From Prepaid in Japan: A ‘Clicks and Mortar’ Approach | MasterCard®]
Competition drives innovation, but sooner or later some network effects are going to cut in and there will be pressure to interconnect. The lack of complete interoperability (although that is slowly changing) might be one of the reasons why the Japanese mobile payment market appears to have plateaued with around one in six or one in seven people using their phones to pay for things on a regular basis.
To illustrate just how far we are from that amazing figure for penetration: I’m in Barcelona, home of the Mobile World Congress, with 60,000 international switched-on tech-savvy mobile enthusiasts, and I haven’t seen a single contactless terminal outside of the show ground. Oh well.

These are personal opinions and should not be misunderstood as representing the opinions of
Consult Hyperion or any of its clients or suppliers

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