The following is a guest post on mobile payments from Michelle Ma. Michelle is a marketing specialist and occasional blogger at Fueled, a mobile design company in New York City.
In today’s world, when you want to buy an iced coffee, they ask you, “cash or credit?” In a few select locations around the country, though, there’s an additional option: mobile payment.
Think of all the hassle that comes along with paying for your purchases in the traditional ways: you fumble around for your wallet, probably deep within the clutter of your purse or pockets, finally reach for it and fumble around some more to find your credit card. If that particular merchant happens to not accept credit, you have to do some additional fumbling for cash (perhaps dropping a few coins along the way). Not to mention the additional time you spend waiting for change.
The Big Players
With this new trend in mobile development, you can buy a drink without taking out your wallet (or even your phone with the Square app). And for merchants, long gone are the hassles of applying and waiting for approval after a lengthy credit check; Square allows small businesses everywhere to get on the credit card bandwagon with their Square Card Reader and Square Register. The card reader is free and connects to any Android, iPhone, or iPad, and all you need for your own professional register is an iPad and the free Square Register app.
Beyond Square, many other companies have launched their own forms of mobile payment, from the ubiquitous Google Wallet to eBay’s PayPal. An increasing number of credit card businesses and financial giants are trying their hand at e-payments, but the irony in this is that the more different forms of payment that exist, the less likely merchants would be willing to convert to mobile payment. Without a universally accepted format, both consumers and merchants will be slow to convert, especially since cash and/or credit are readily accepted everywhere.
Despite the lack of any sort of universality at this point, there is one notable upside for both consumers and merchants in adopting mobile payments: customizable rewards programs. Starbucks is perhaps the best example of this, as it has perhaps the most popular mobile payment app in the market. Their app allows users to add money to their Starbucks account, then scan their phones at the register to pay. And it also allows the coffee giant to collect valuable information on their customers, as well as build a loyalty program that gives customers rewards per drink purchases, a program that has been invaluable in increasing revenue since its inception.
With all of the different mobile payment options available, an increasing number of apps are being made that address all aspects of financial transactions for the tech-savvy individual.
Take Lemon, a startup with a novel take on the conventional wallet. Lemon is essentially a digital wallet that organizes all its users’ receipts, credit cards, coupons, and miscellaneous identification cards. On the surface, Lemon seems like a pretty useless app. But what it claims to do is actually pretty impressive. One potentially useful feature not only stores all your coupons and loyalty punch cards, but also utilizes your smartphone GPS to notify you of impending offers when you’re in the relevant stores. It’s a cool idea, and it’s also nice to have a backup of all of your important cards in a cloud database if you ever lose your real wallet.
Another notable app on the market is Venmo, which is unique in its focus on small peer-to-peer payments rather than consumer-merchant transactions. What Venmo does is allow friends and coworkers to pay and charge each other through the app, which sends a text message to the receiving party about each transaction. It’s an easy solution to the hassle of, say, figuring out a check at the end of a group dinner, or dealing with rent between roommates at the end of the month.
Ultimately, it’s going to be a tough job converting the general public to mobile payments, especially since the market is so confusingly disconnected. You can pay for a drink at Starbucks with your Starbucks app, but not with Square, and some merchants only accept Google Wallet, others only accept PayPal. Until the industry comes up with a universal standard of transaction, it’s still cash or credit for now.