Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) Pay was perhaps the tech giant's biggest innovation in 2014, and a cornerstone of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, but its contactless system has not benefited from the usual Cupertino halo effect.
Launched last October, Apple Pay was hailed by CEO Tim Cook as the leader in mobile payments in just its first week, as it registered 1 million credit cards in its first three days, but the program ran into trouble early on.
While banks embraced it, retailers never really got on board. A week after its debut, CVS and Rite Aid, two of the nation's three biggest drugstores chains dropped Apple Pay, citing their membership in a consortium known as Merchant Customer Exchange, which aims to launch its automated payment called CurrentC this year, which would relieve retailers of the onerous burden of credit card processing fees. The Merchant Customer Exchange, or MCX, also includes the likes of Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Gap Brands, and ExxonMobil. Together, these companies account for over $1 trillion in sales.
CVS and Rite Aid were ridiculed by many in the tech media when they dropped Apple Pay, and Tim Cook himself belittled the decision, saying plenty of other retailers would sign up. But a new survey shows that Apple Pay may have mostly itself to blame for its problems.
One strike and you're out
The survey by Phoenix Marketing International said that two out of three people who used Apple Pay experienced problems at checkout, which included "terminals not working or taking too long to make the transaction, inaccurate posting of transactions and the inability of cashiers to help buyers who needed assistance." Half of users who try it once don't try it again.
In addition to the problems above, 47% of users said they visited a store listed as accepting Apple Pay only to find that it did not. The survey concludes:
Apple Pay is still in an introductory mode and the NFC acceptance network still has a long way to go, adding a continuously updated "local store directory" to the Passbook app is a necessary, short-term product improvement. Posting a list of participating retailers on a website is not cutting it. In the last four months, 48% of users have paid with Apple Pay just one time and that's not going to cut it either.
99 problems, but credit cards aren't one
Part of the issues surrounding Apple Pay are that there is little incentive for adoption by retailers or consumers. Aside from Apple's halo effect, the near-field communication system offers little advantage over traditional credit cards, as Google has found with Google Wallet. The argument for convenience seems nullified when many stores aren't prepared to accept Apple Pay, or struggle to do so.
Similarly, there is even less of a benefit for retailers, and it's unsurprising that many are unprepared to accept it, as many retail chains likely find that the money that would be spent on training and equipment for Apple Pay could be put to better use elsewhere.
Even retailers who are not part of the Merchant Customer Exchange may be reluctant to give credit card processors another vehicle to charge them. Essentially, Apple Pay may be a solution without a problem.
Apple's cut is reportedly 0.15% for every dollar spent through Apple Pay, or $0.15 for every $100. For a company with nearly $200 billion in revenue, that percentage is not going to make revenue from Apple Pay meaningful anytime soon.
Perhaps the lesson in the slow adoption and shaky rollout of Apple Pay is that it doesn't really matter. iPhone 6 sales are through the roof, and the stock is near an all-time high as the company has become the most valuable enterprise ever. The payment system is important enough to some users to serve an added benefit to the iPhone, but Apple doesn't need it to succeed for the company to be successful. And once the Apple Watch debuts later this month, all discussion of Apple Pay may be forgotten.