Posted by Alison Arthur and Bethany Frank on 12 Aug 2019
An earlier version of this blog was first published in February 2017.
No longer a nascent technology, mobile payments at the point-of-sale are becoming more commonplace for merchants and consumers. As the technology becomes more ubiquitous, the lion’s share of mobile payments in the US are conducted via four platforms – Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, and the Starbucks app.
The Starbucks app continues to dominate the mobile payments space. In 2018, eMarketer reported that almost 24 million people (ages 14+) would use the app for a point-of-sale purchase at a Starbucks store at least once every six months. Compare this to last year’s user bases for Apple Pay (22 million people), Google Pay (11 million people), and Samsung Pay (10 million people), and it’s clear that Starbucks’ foothold will continue well into the future.
The Starbucks app’s closest rival, Apple Pay, has a strong and growing global user base. However, Loup Ventures reported that only 12% of Apple Pay users are in the US. This speaks to the larger trend of slow adoption of mobile payments in the US versus the rest of the world. What will it take to convince US consumers to change their payment habits and embrace the benefits of mobile payments?
For many consumers, mobile payments are still an abstract concept and key demographics might be uncomfortable using the technology. Widespread adoption of new payment methods often takes time, as seen previously with the transition from cash to card-based payments.
In order to convince these consumers to adopt a new payment method, digital wallet providers need to emphasize convenience and accessibility. From sign-up to daily use, everything about the app’s design must be seamless and intuitive. Any amount of friction in the user experience can mean the difference between a consumer quickly integrating the technology into his or her daily life, and one who never opens the app again.
Late adopters are out there, but for millions of other consumers who embrace the benefits of mobile payments, accessibility is not the issue. Despite their enthusiasm, they may be discouraged from using mobile payments due to a lack of merchant acceptance. Until merchant acceptance is as ubiquitous as credit cards and debit cards, mass adoption of mobile payment platforms will likely remain an uphill battle.
Consumers shouldn’t have to wonder whether their mobile payment platform of choice is accepted at the retailers and service providers they frequent most often. Businesses can display clear signage that helps take the guesswork out of whether a certain mobile payment type is accepted.
Merchants can also encourage adoption by offering customers enhanced rewards. Part of the Starbucks app’s success may be due in part to the seamless integration between its rewards program and mobile payment technology. Integrating these features (plus mobile ordering) into a single, sleek, and comprehensive app allows customers to place orders, make payments, manage their accounts, and collect rewards from the convenience of their mobile devices.
Mobile payments took off in India after the central government announced the sudden nullification of large-denomination rupee notes. This announcement left millions who were previously dependent on cash transactions panicking to find a secure and legitimate way to pay for goods and services. Without a similarly disruptive force giving consumers a real reason to change their payment habits in the US, adoption is expected to remain slow. However, the fast rise of mobile payments in other parts of the world could convince US consumers to embrace the trend as well.
The Bottom Line: Mobile payments can be faster, more convenient, and more secure than traditional payment methods. Convincing consumers to overcome the hurdles that challenge widespread adoption will require creative thinking from mobile payment providers and merchants alike. Enhancing accessibility, broadening merchant acceptance, and embracing disruption are just three factors that can help encourage a permanent shift of consumer behavior.
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