Mobile Wallets: Looking For Convenience In All The Wrong Places

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Lots of discussion these days regarding the adoption of mobile wallets, and whether or not they provide an added level of convenience for consumers. Writing in American Banker, Daniel Wolfe says:

“Convenience is a tired selling point for mobile wallets. The argument goes that tapping a contactless card or payment-capable phone against a special reader is so much easier and faster than swiping a card that a consumer would be eager to change their habits. In reality, most people, of course, don’t consider plastic cards all that time-consuming. Checks and cash may take a little more time than cards, but not enough to make most people demand some kind of relief.”

My take: The industry needs to redefine its perspective on mobile wallets’ convenience.

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Daniel is totally right that swiping a plastic card isn’t all that time-consuming. And even if checks and cash do take longer, let’s get real here: The heavy check writers are not the people who will be adopting mobile wallets because of its promise added convenience.

But I disagree with the point regarding mobile wallets’ selling point. Convenience is not a tired selling point. In fact, more broadly speaking, added convenience is usually the best selling point — or reason for adoption — for new technological innovations.

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The problem with the mobile wallet convenience story is that many people aren’t looking at it broadly enough. The real added convenience for mobile wallets isn’t at the point of tender transfer (I’m trying to avoid saying “point of transaction” because there are multiple steps in the transaction process, of which “tender transfer” is one).

Mobile wallets will prove out their convenience advantage in three aspects:

1) Receipts. Even though swiping a card is fast and easy, credit and debit transactions still produce a paper receipt. And if that transaction occurs at a Staples, Best Buy, or CVS, it produces about 3 pounds of paper receipts.

There is a growing segment of the population that wants to go paperless — not just for monthly bills and statements, but — for everything. It’s not a “green” thing. It’s a convenience thing. Managing all this paper is a huge hassle.

Personally, when I travel now, after making a reimbursable purchase, I take a picture of the receipt, email it to Xpenser, and throw the stupid piece of paper away (on the ground, of course, because I don’t want to be confused for some Green-weenie).

2) Rewards. Reward redemption is a real pain-in-the-you-know-what. Redeeming rewards at the point of sale using mobile wallets will become a key selling point for consumers to shift their behavior.

3) Coupons. Is there anything more 1980 than seeing someone in the supermarket scanning a ton of coupons at the register? Eventually, even the least likely candidate to adopt mobile wallets will recognize that the technology’s ability o to store and use digital coupons is way more convenient than what they do today.

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One last question to consider: Why is the industry’s view of mobile wallet convenience so limited?

I have a theory, and it has to do with organizational structure.

In many banks and card issuers, mobile payment (and wallet) initiatives are still led by, and perhaps even limited to, the payments group.

What that means is that marketing’s, and maybe even the online channel group’s, level of involvement is limited.

No offense to the payments people, but I find that their focus is often limited to the payments transaction and how it’s processed and cleared. And not on how it impacts consumers.

Time to move over (Payments) Rover, and let (Marketing) Jimi take over.

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