Commentary

Apple Pay Is Not Selling Itself

I can’t remember the last time I used Apple Pay. After a few test runs at Panera, Whole Foods and Walgreens, the functionality was easily forgotten. After some iOS updates, my authorized credit cards seemed to fall out of Passbook by themselves, and I never bothered to reauthorize them.

Apparently I am not alone. According to rolling surveys from PYMNTS.com, in the last quarter the share of Apple Pay-eligible iPhone owners that had tried the service declined from 15.1% in Q1 to 13.1%. Of course, some of that decline is explained by the expanding base. As more and more iPhone 6 units hit the market, the pool of early adopters becomes less a share of owners.

Still, the underlying numbers are not good. When Apple Pay users were asked in the survey “Did you use Apple Pay on this transaction?” only 23% said yes, compared to 30.3% last quarter.

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Even more troubling for the mobile payments model is someone like me, who has tried Apple Pay but lost interest. Among those reusing Apple Pay, the survey found a sharp decline in those saying they were using the system now (from 48% to 33%).

There is nothing entirely shocking about these numbers, unless anyone thought that by sheer force of Apple’s brand appeal people would change their behavior patterns for no earthly reason other than to make Apple happy. Apple Pay is nothing more than an NFC payment method with no other discernible value. There is also an online payment component to the platform, but that aspect doesn’t seem to have been measured here.

The only real surprise here is that mobile payments, even from Apple, continue to ignore what everyone has known about this model for nearly a decade now. An alternate retail payments system will not sell itself by itself -- unless it is tied to some other value proposition (savings, loyalty, etc.) it is a solution without a problem.

But this is no great insight. I started reporting on NFC payment systems back in 2007. And even then, hardware and infrastructure companies told me that the biggest hurdle was not technical -- it was that consumers just didn’t see the point. I have heard this same refrain repeated for years by the very companies that launch new mobile payment systems that are nothing more than credit cards on a phone.

All of this seems to give the lie to our living in a so-called “consumer-centric” marketing environment. Really? An entire mobile payments infrastructure has been built (at least thus far) on the premise that consumers are stupid enough to change their behaviors for the sole benefit of tech and credit card companies.

This column was previously published in Moblog on August 10, 2015.

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