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Mobile Payments In Search Of A Holiday Shopping Season

Mobile payments are getting a fair shot during this holiday shopping season, but the timing may not be so good overall.

Each of the various payment methods have been pretty well fine-tuned over the last year or so, but that isn’t turning out to be the issue.

Rather than a single mobile payment system emerging, which was not expected anyway, the different systems available to mobile shoppers can seem somewhat bewildering, not to mention what the checkout associates are facing during the payment process.

Here’s a snapshot of what I’ve been dealing with over the last several weeks at numerous merchants, with answers from each, with each answer from a different establishment:

“Oh, I see your terminal can take chip cards.”   

“What’s that?”

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“No, it isn’t turned on yet.”    

“Let me ask my manager.”

“Do you take Apple Pay?”

“You’re the third person that asked me that today. I don’t think so.”

“Can I pay with my phone?”

“No.”

“We don’t have that here.”

Tapping a Samsung NFC-Enabled phone to the point-of-sale terminal to use Samsung Pay:

“That will not work, it is not activated yet. It won’t work until next year.”

(It did work)

Holding my iPhone 6S at a payment terminal that takes Apple Pay at a major retailer:

“That doesn’t always work. Do you have a credit card?

“Do you take mobile payments?”

“No. We just take Apple Pay.”

Handing my Wocket card -- a programmable card that sits inside a physical, smart wallet until I tell it what card to temporarily become -- to a sales associate:

“What’s that?” as she swipes it, it perfectly mimics my American Express card, and she hands it back to me.

One of the fundamental challenges in mobile payments is the lack of alignment in the market.

The probability of a shopper with the mobile payment choice at the moment being at a store and terminal that accepts that specific form of payment is nowhere near 100%. And when a sales associate gets involved, the picture can become even muddier.

An industry -- or more accurately, specific players in an industry -- have been diligently working on their respective pieces of the mobile payments puzzle.

On Black Friday, mobile payments hardly hit a home run, based on a tally by InfoScout that analyzed millions of receipts to see how people paid.

It turns out that Apple Pay was used for only 3% of Apple Pay eligible transactions, a decrease from a year ago. Android did not do any better, weighing in at 2% of eligible transactions.

On Black Friday, 74% of Android users and 79% of iPhone users paid by credit or debit card.

A lot of companies have spent a very lot of money to fuel mobile payments for the holiday season. Just because a lot of money and resource goes into something doesn’t necessarily mean it was money well spent (Google “Y2K”).

Of course, it also doesn’t mean that it’s not a good investment.

Thanks to consumer behavior, the issue still on the table is the time frame of the payback.

This column was previously published in MobileShopTalk on December 8, 2015.

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