Mobile payments success can take different forms in the US

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The payments industry needs a better barometer for how it measures success with mobile payments in the U.S. because the definition of what is and isn’t working has changed over the years.

That was one of a few noteworthy talking points to emerge Monday from a panel about mobile payments at the sixth annual Money20/20 conference in Las Vegas.

While the running joke in the industry has been to predict when a certain year will be the year for widespread mobile payments adoption in the U.S., the panelists believe executives should ask themselves a different question: What does success for mobile payments look like for certain consumer or merchant segments?

“There are a variety of experiences you can build that you can find success in,” Karla Allen, senior director of mobile wallets for Walmart, told attendees.

And Allen would know.

The world’s largest retailer launched Walmart Pay in late 2015, with a larger rollout in 2016. In the initial six months that Walmart Pay was active, four of five customers, 80 percent, were recommending Walmart Pay and nearly 90 percent were repeat users. Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of Walmart Services, cited those figures during a keynote speech he gave last year at the annual Mobile Customer Experience Summit, which Mobile Payments Today partly produces.

Allen mentioned what Walmart views as a success in what she termed “repeat use cases,” whether it’s continued Walmart Pay use at the physical point-of-sale or browsing for items on the mobile web that eventually lead to a purchase and a curbside pickup at a physical location.

“We’re adding value that ends in payments but it’s not necessarily about payments,” Allen said. “Those kind of services make a customer want to use mobile.”

Mobile order ahead, which has been on the rise with restaurants in the past 18 months, was another area the panelists brought up as one providers can tout success in.

The industry is well aware of the successes of brands such as Domino’s, Panera and Starbucks with mobile ordering.

“[Mobile ordering] is going to be an enormous explosion and [brands will] find this incremental demand [for it] from their customers,” Tom Poole, senior vice president of digital payments and identity at Capital One, told attendees. “That [feature] is going to expand everywhere because [of the revenue potential].”

As far as the common and familiar tropes about mobile payments that are often discussed at such conference, the general feeling from the panel is that the industry is making extremely slow progress in some areas, which is the nature of payments.

“Payments work at a glacial pace because there are many different factors at play,” Poole said. “You are seeing few glimmers and signs that things are progressing. Merchants have found ways to deliver value in the store with their own wallets and apps. There is steady growth at the point of sale, but not a true inflection there.”

Transit is another area where providers can point to success.

Erik Vlugt, the vice president of product management at Cubic Transportation Systems, discussed his company’s involved in helping transit agencies deploy open-loop payment systems in major metropolitan areas such as Chicago and London.

“As long as we can derive the value for consumers, then it makes sense,” Vlugt said about giving consumers the ability to pay for transit fares with a mobile wallet.

Providers such as Google have taken notice of those transit initiatives as a way to help consumers adopt mobile payments at a higher rate.

Spencer Spinnell, director of emerging platforms for Google, singled out the London scenario.

“We’re quite happy with the progress we’re making when the right consumer use case is there,” Spinnell said. “A great example is transit in the U.K.”

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