Mobile wallets have taken off faster in China than in the U.S., concluded a recent Forrester Research study. It found that 76% of metro Chinese consumers use mobile wallets or are interested in doing so, compared with only 36% of the urban online U.S. population.
The past influences the future, and as a fast-developing country, China has not had the payments infrastructure and regulatory legacy that developed in the U.S., said Brendan Miller, a principal analyst at Forrester.
“Incumbency is a factor. We have the highest penetration and usage of credit cards in the world, plus high debit card usage. As you go into other countries you will find they have alternative or local payment options, so consumers are used to using these methods like direct debit from a checking account and they avoid a lot of the credit card and interchange fees we have.”
Asia has smart cities and well-developed networks that are simpler than those in the U.S., where multiple levels of government make integration of payments and services more complicated.
Asia’s mobile wallet providers have the potential to gain the understanding of customers that department stores used to enjoy before the big brands replaced many store cards. “Nordstrom, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Sears — all those retailers had their own private label credit cards for years and years,” Miller noted. “They provided a way of getting a better understanding of what consumers were buying, and a way to avoid credit card and debit interchange fees.”
The rise of Alipay and WeChat in China has been driven by the value the services provide for consumers. “First they made it super convenient for consumers to buy, and then they layered on additional services that consumers found engaging, such as gamification and the idea of sending gifts on the Chinese New Year — red envelopes — that got people engaged with the system.”
In the U.S., payments systems have made it convenient, but that’s the lowest rung on the ladder, Miller added. “Mobile wallet providers will have to up their game.”
Mobile payments with NFC have the potential to be faster than EMV, which Forrester expected would drive mobile payments. Miller said that when he presented to a group of retailers last year, they told him that hasn’t been the case. “Retailers haven’t updated their terminal logic. So when you pay with NFC you should be able to tap and have transaction process immediately. Instead, I get prompted for my debit PIN or a signature because the POS is using the old terminal logic and not running NFC.”
If a buyer provides a thumb scan in Apply Pay, no additional identification should be needed. “But it is going to take a while for retailers to reprogram those terminals to improve the flow at checkout.”
Retailers have been preoccupied with getting EMV to work right that they haven’t focused on the user experience with NFC, he added. “Right now NFC is not that much more convenient, and meanwhile EMV is getting faster. Visa and Microsoft have done a lot to speed those up.”
The Forrester study predicted mainstream mobile wallets in the U.S. will add customer engagement features. The Chinese may provide some examples.
Miller said that Alipay has made some announcements of partnerships with American payment processors, primarily with a focus on targeting Chinese consumers within the U.S., such as pushing adoption in place where Chinese consumers visit. The Chinese payment companies may have the potential to reach beyond the Chinese markets, he said, but the attitudes of U.S. consumers will be different from the Chinese. “This is all harder that anyone thinks is it. Everyone is disappointed by Apple Pay or Android Pay adoption. This is going to take time; payments is hard to do.”
Consumers won’t bother with mobile wallets until they see some extra value beyond what cards or cash can offer, like the ability to order ahead at Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, or get recommendations or coupons while shopping. Alipay and WeChat have evolved into lifestyle platforms for Chinese consumers. Miller predicts space will open in the U.S. for third-party providers like Apple, Facebook, and Google that could merge their other customer engagement tools with a mobile wallet.
For more on this topic, see Survey: Mobile Payments Can Boost Growth And Profitability.