Like a good citizen of the FinTech community, I downloaded the major payments apps to my iPhone including PayPal, Square and Dwolla. I also searched for opportunities to add loyalty cards to my phone’s Passbook. I deposited a small amount in each payments app and added my Starbucks card to Passbook eager to make a payment with my mobile device. Unfortunately, each of these payments apps and features remain unopened after a year from downloading. I have not been successful in finding stores in my local area that accept payments from Square or PayPal or have a loyalty card compatible with Passbook, aside from Starbucks. To make matters worse, I typically just open up the Starbucks app directly and avoid Passbook all together! Clearly the mobile payments or wallet value chain is broken and innovators are struggling with defining how customers and businesses want to use the mobile device to drive their purchases.
Those of us who follow FinTech closely are well aware of the struggle for defining the mobile wallet correctly. “Wallet” is a loose term these days. Most people believe payment apps are wallets even though a wallet typically includes feature or cards beyond just payment tools. If this wallet perception is true, then why are apps like Square and PayPal NOT the driver of mobile wallet ubiquity? I think getting closer to the correct definition of the mobile wallet requires us to pay close attention to what’s happening at retail…specifically at the fast food franchise level.
National fast food chains such as Burger King and Wendy’s are launching mobile apps that enable customers to order and pay for food using a credit card. These apps are retailer specific mobile wallets that will enable the brands to build deep customer relationships by understanding buying patterns to then reward customers with specials offers and discounts. Frankly, I’m a little surprised it has taken the fast food guys so long to build and launch these apps. Starbucks has been doing this for over two years. Over the past few years Starbucks has clearly won my loyalty as they guide my purchasing through bonus star offerings. There are significant implications for mobile payments innovators if the Burger King and Wendy’s apps are widely adopted and are successful in generating more revenue and creating deeper customer relationships.
First of all, consumers are saying they want brand specific apps that enable them to pay and reward their loyalty. Think the Starbucks app. These mobile applications are essentially loyalty cards. Secondly, consumers are also saying they are willing to pay with their credit card through the application…and don’t need a new payment platform. For example, the Burger King and Wendy’s applications require the consumer to enter in credit card information upon sign up to make purchases. The consumer makes purchases on the same Visa, Mastercard or AMEX platform used to make all their online and offline payments. These mobile payments will also be covered by the policies defined by each credit card to protect against fraud. Given the entrenched credit card payments system and fraud protections, there is really no consumer need to sign up and manage another payment platform.
Brands and retailers will be monitoring closely the success of these fast food applications. If these applications continue to be effective payment empowered loyalty cards, what role does the mobile device play? Similar to a real wallet, the mobile device is the holder of the many branded loyalty and payments apps. Does this put the mobile devise in a unique position should these retail brand specific apps be successful? Yes, for the mobile device IS now the mobile wallet. No one should have a heart attack and die from digesting this concept. It’s nothing new and is a recurring theme a several mobile payments conferences. Daniel Mattes, the CEO and founder of Jumio, articulated his vision for the mobile device as a wallet at Money2020.
However, there has been such focus around the mobile wallet being an individual application that many people think of Square and a few others as being wallet innovators. This is starting to change as people digest what Apple may be doing in the payments space. Thinking this through, Steve Jobs may have had a similar vision. Passbook is a feature to store tickets and loyalty cards. It’s not a stretch to envision storing encrypted credit card information and ID on the device. I think it’s safe to assume that Apple will not be entering just the payments business….but will most likely be defining and enabling the iPhone to be a true digital wallet. Expect Samsung to follow a similar strategic path.
The big question will be how long it will take for the mobile payments vertical to evolve to this point. A lot of money has been invested in Square, Flint and PayPal to invent another platform. However, Visa and Mastercard will be active and well funded suppliers in the mobile payments war. It will be a matter of time until the right mobile device features emerge that enable the major credit cards to easily plug themselves in to mobile transactions. Once the right device feature emerges, the mobile payments vertical will be locked up quickly. Unfortunately, this means many payments apps will become part of those “hey, do you remember….” so common at cocktail parties.