Mobile Payment Numbers Are Useless

An article on, titled Mobile payments increased 19.5% on Cyber Monday, reported that: 

“IBM said online sales during the day increased by 19% compared to 2012. However, retailers catering for mobile shoppers benefitted the most, seeing mobile traffic hitting 30 per cent of total site visits, a rise of more than 58% from last year. Since Thanksgiving, tablets have proved to be more popular for purchases, while mobile phones are preferred for browsing. Tablets accounted for 9.8% of purchases, compared with 5.7% from smartphones, IBM said. Consumers spent more cash when buying on tablets, with average order values hitting $128.30 per order, compared with $110.95 for smartphones, the company said.”

Well, I’m confused. Did online sales grow by 19.5% or did mobile sales grow 19.5% from last year?

If it’s the latter, then I’m really not impressed. The percentage of consumers who own a smartphone increased from about 38% in 2012 to roughly 60% in 2013. If mobile Cyber Monday sales only increased by 20%, that’s not particularly impressive. 

And I’m sure it was just a linguistic convention used by the author of the article, but exactly how did consumers use cash when making purchases from their tablets?


The bigger issue here is what constitutes a mobile payment. Does sitting at home, with a tablet on your lap, using a browser to surf the Web, and buying something constitute a mobile payment?

For that matter, if you’re at home, and you use your smartphone to access a firm’s website, and you buy something, should that count as a mobile purchase?

My take: Device shouldn’t be the only factor determining what constitutes a mobile payment. Location matters.  
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To me, a mobile payment is when I’m sitting on the MBTA train in Reading, MA , ready to head into Boston, and I access the MBTA app and buy my ticket before the conductor gets to me.

Or when I access the Uber app from some bar in Atlanta to come pick me up and take me back to my hotel. 

Or when I wave my smartphone in front of some device at Starbucks to pay for the lousy coffee they serve there. 

Those are mobile payments (IMHO). 


My own argument — that location matters — could come back to haunt me.

If I imply that you have to be out-of-home in order for a payment to be considered a mobile payment, then wouldn’t my making a purchase using a PC, accessing wifi, while sitting at the airport, count as a mobile payment?

I guess not, because it’s the wrong device. 

Now, what if I was using my iPad, instead of a PC, would that count?


Bottom line: As long as the numbers being reported include home-based, web-based purchases, I remain skeptical that mobile payment statistics really capture the shift in behavior.