Here we are more than six months in, and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) new Apple Pay mobile payments service is already larger than all rivals combined, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook. However, there's still a lot of work to be done.
We're still pretty far away from anything resembling mainstream adoption when it comes to retailers and consumers alike. Therein lies something of a chicken-and-egg dilemma, because retailers won't adopt Apple Pay unless consumers want it, and consumers won't adopt Apple Pay unless retailers support it.
According to a recent Reuters report, many retailers are still skeptical about the new service. Reuters took a survey of the nation's 100 largest retailers to get a sense of Apple Pay's reception. Less than 25% of the respondents currently support Apple Pay, and almost two-thirds don't plan on offering the service this year.
These retailers said that there wasn't a whole lot of consumer demand, and they weren't too thrilled about not having access to the underlying data. On top of that, some retailers would face significant costs to upgrade their payments infrastructure.
He said, she said
On the contrary, Apple unsurprisingly told iMore a rather different story.
Customers love Apple Pay and we are very happy with the progress of our rollout since launching just six months ago. We've spoken to all of the top 100 merchants in the U.S. and about half will accept Apple Pay this year, with many more the following year. There's tremendous momentum from not only large retailers but also Main street merchants, with payment service providers telling us they're seeing unprecedented demand from small and medium businesses nationwide.
Who should you believe?
There's plenty of reason to believe that retailers are proceeding cautiously with supporting Apple Pay. Retailers certainly want to have all the purchasing data at their disposal, which Apple is attempting to guard as part of its broader privacy crusade. Besides, relinquishing that data for the sake of security should appeal to consumers, given the continuous stream of credit card hacks we've seen in recent years.
At the same time, Apple's impressive and growing list of Apple Pay partners should only gain momentum as the company continues working to get retailers and financial institutions onboard. Regardless of survey results or what retailers tell Apple, the proof will be in the pudding. Investors will see whether or not Apple can continue to grow its list of retail partners in the coming months and years.
From a consumer perspective, Apple Pay offers a more seamless and secure transaction wherever it's supported. The real question is how to make consumers "demand" it from their merchants. If Apple Pay is available, then it's nice to use it; but it's hardly a deal breaker if the retailer doesn't support it. Consumers aren't going to not shop somewhere because they can't use Apple Pay.
It's a nice addition, but it's also true that there's little downside to retailers that prefer to sit on the sidelines. In this case, there's a semantic distinction between customer "interest" and customer "demand."
Will Android Pay be any different?
Just last month, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)(NASDAQ:GOOGL) announced a rebranded version of its own mobile payments service. Now called Android Pay instead of Google Wallet, the most important distinction is that Google now has carrier support, and all four of the national carriers will preinstall Android Pay on phones. Google Wallet will not be relegated to peer-to-peer transfers.
Beyond that, Google has effectively replicated the Apple Pay experience, where you simply hold your phone up to the terminal after unlocking the device. This removes several steps compared to the way Google Wallet used to work, where you had to unlock your device, open the app, and then enter a PIN. Every second counts when you're trying to beat swiping a card. Apple still has the advantage in that users don't even need to unlock their phones because they can authenticate with Touch ID.
But because Android Pay and Apple Pay both use near-field communications as the underlying protocol, retailers will adopt both or neither. That also means that a rising tide could lift both services as consumers begin to adopt mobile payments. They just need to start "demanding" it.