There are more than a few mobile payment schemes all threatening to break out...any day now -- just you wait and see. From the nearly invisible Google Wallet to the endless collection of pre-launch deal announcements, from the ISIS coalition to all those card-swiping doohickies, everyone is rushing to fill a need that no consumer really seems to have yet. For the longest time now, PayPal has been the usually-around but never really standard alternative payments system for the Web. It desperately wants to make a play for m-payments, too.
The latest plan is to let you buy your gas with a PayPal account. The test starts with the Cumberland Farms chain, which is issuing an app that the user downloads and ties to their PayPal account. The SmartPay model is outlined in a recent Boston Globe report from blogger Scott Kirsner. He recounts opening the app at the pump and it locating the store location via GPS. He then keyed into the app the pump number at the station. Within a few keystrokes, the pump lit up, ready to pump for him.
According to the report, Cumberland Farms is hoping to roll this out eventually to 600 outlets.
For the time being, the value add for consumers is 5 cents off a gallon to try it. Ultimately, they will have to come up with a lot more than that for someone to bother. As Kirsner points out, this method of payment may be welcome on frigid days where you can do the payment piece of filling a tank from your warm car before going out to man the pump. But you are still replacing a reflex card swipe with an app load and keying process. Where is the extra value there?
Curiously, the report also mentions that Cumberland Farms had to get permission from each of the local fire departments involved. Apparently, urban myth has it that using mobile phones in the proximity of gas pumps could spark fires. Cumberland Farms says there are no known instances of this, but they had to get official permission to deploy the payment method anyway.