Source: Flickr user whiteafrican
The mobile industry is slowly addressing the challenges around near field communications-powered mobile payments, but it has yet to offer truly compelling reasons for consumers to reach for their phones rather than their (real) wallets at the retail counter. Simply put, if the technology doesn’t offer any more value than credit cards or cash, those consumers will be unlikely to make the switch to NFC. The key to changing that? Developing mobile applications that shoppers actually want to use as they conduct transactions.
With CTIA Wireless 2011 just a week away, the buzz surrounding NFC-based mobile payments is deafening. In just the last week, we’ve seen a flurry of activity from Google, ShopSavvy and Nokia. Those efforts are in addition to countless projects from credit card companies, network operators and a host of others. So it’s easy to see why there’s a day-long seminar dedicated to mobile commerce at next week’s show.
While I remain skeptical that mobile payments will enjoy the kind of skyrocketing usage some analysts have predicted, some key pieces are undeniably beginning to fall into place to pave the way for growth. Verifone’s vow to include NFC in all its point-of-sale terminals will go a long way toward spurring retailer adoption that so far has been nearly nonexistent, and handset manufacturers are finally beginning to package NFC in their smartphones. (It’s worth noting, though, that Apple reportedly opted not to support NFC with its upcoming iPhone 5 due to a lack of industry standards, a problem that will surely slow the growth of NFC given all the competing systems.)
But simply providing the technology for mobile payments isn’t enough to convince consumers to pay with their phones rather; mobile apps that actually improve the shopping experience and do more than just move money from one account to another will be crucial if the space is to get legs. Here are a few ways apps can make mobile payment systems more valuable than credit cards or cash, therefore spurring usage of the mobile wallet:
- Consumer financial information: A good mobile wallet app should enable users to track any account tied to the app, including checking and credit card accounts. This could even help manage finances by tracking users’ spending and alerting them when their bank accounts are low — or credit card balances high. That kind of functionality will force developers to work closely with financial institutions to create ultra-secure apps (see No. 5), but those kinds of measures are already becoming commonplace in this era of mobile banking.
- Product and pricing information: Like ShopSavvy and other offerings, a payment app should help users find more information about a product by scanning the barcode (or by tapping a phone on an NFC chip embedded in the packaging). And it should sense location via GPS (if a user chooses to allow it) that tells users when they can buy the product more cheaply at another store.
- User reviews: As Amazon, Netflix and Yelp have demonstrated, user reviews can be tremendously helpful for consumers looking to buy. Make it easy for me to see what others — especially friends — think of the products I’m considering. That kind of information is easy to find on the mobile web, of course, but making it available within the app itself would encourage consumers to use the app to complete transactions at the retail counter.
- Targeted discount offers for mobile purchases: The simplest way to encourage consumers to use a mobile payment app is by helping them save money; mobile payment apps should include occasional discounts just for using the app to pay. And because the app knows their purchasing histories, marketers will be able to deliver highly targeted offers based on what they buy as well as where they are.
- Airtight security: Any new payment technology is sure to be greeted with skepticism by some consumers, so the mobile wallet must be even more secure than credit cards. Not only must financial information be ironclad, the app should be able to track purchases against location, ensuring that users are actually where purchases are being made.