What is the biggest obstacle to getting consumers to start using mobile wallets? Simply put, they don't really have much of an incentive to do so. But, this obstacle can be overcome by savvy incentive systems -- and one company has already paved the way.
There are two main reasons people adopt new technologies or products. First, they'll switch if the new solution is easier than the old way. For example, it's easier to swipe a debit card than to write a check, so getting debit cards in the wallets of American consumers was a pretty easy sell. However, using a mobile or digital wallet is not necessarily easier than swiping a credit card.
The second reason people adopt new technologies is that they have an incentive to do so. And this will be the key to mobile wallet adoption.
It's all about loyalty
The most successful mobile wallet program so far has been Starbucks', which is both easy to use and incentivized. If a customer makes 12 purchases with the Starbucks mobile app (or card), they get a free cup of coffee.
According to Christopher Barnard, President and co-founder of loyalty currency management company Points, loyalty programs such as this one are "without question" the essential component to expanding mobile wallet usage. Mobile wallets must go beyond simply being a functional payment mechanism and give consumers a really compelling reason to adopt them. Starbucks' loyalty program has been crucial to building up their mobile payment platform to more than 7 million transactions per week, according to Barnard.
Similarly, if other companies can use their loyalty programs to incentivize mobile payments, we will almost certainly see an increase in usage. As one example, Starwood Hotels offered bonus Starpoints on hotel reservations booked through its mobile app shortly after it was released. A similar program could be put in place by virtually any retailer, airline, or other company with an incentive program.
A similar system has already worked
Credit cards have existed for decades, but the relatively new concept of a co-branded card illustrates well the power of incentives. With the advent of cards that give consumers frequent flyer miles, hotel points, and cash back rewards, credit card usage exploded.
These days, it actually seems rare if someone uses a credit card that doesn't offer some kind of reward points or cash back incentive.
By the same logic, an incentive system attached to mobile wallet usage could lead to an explosion of mobile wallet adoption.
Why we need mobile wallets to work
Retailers might not see substantial direct cost savings from mobile wallet adoption. For example, if Visa charges a merchant 1.5% of each credit card transaction, a mobile payment isn't likely to change that. However, there are some good reasons to adopt mobile wallets on both the consumer and retailer sides of the equation.
For consumers, mobile payments can be much more secure and convenient than swiping a credit card. While your data is still somewhat vulnerable to breaches, the fact that you won't need to carry a physical credit card leaves it less exposed to physical card theft and information-stealing devices like card skimmers. Plus, it allows you to keep track of all of your credit cards and bank accounts in one place, instead of having to carry a wallet full of cards and keep track of each balance individually.
And for merchants, using loyalty programs in conjunction with mobile wallets could be an excellent way to build new business from tech-savvy consumers in the same way Starbucks did.
According to Barnard, it is inconceivable for people to not use mobile wallets five years from now. There are just too many good reasons for their adoption, and the technology has evolved at a tremendous rate.
As companies begin to attach loyalty programs to mobile wallet usage, we should see a pretty strong increase in their use, which means smoother transactions and more information security for consumers, not to mention the potential for some pretty nice rewards for embracing the new technology.
Matthew Frankel has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Starbucks and Visa. The Motley Fool owns shares of Starbucks and Visa. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.