Study: The Problem With Mobile Payments Isn’t Awareness — It’s Utility

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mobilepaymentThe product marketing teams at Google Wallet and PayPal‘s mobile app might want to lay off the marketing spending: a new study from Thrive Analytics shows that the sluggish growth of mobile wallet initiatives is largely a product — not a marketing — problem.

In the study, which surveyed over 2,000 Internet users in June, four of five respondents said they were aware of mobile wallets from companies such as Paypal and Google, while only 32% said they have used the products to pay for goods or services. Among the respondents who used a wallet app, usage was intermittent with over half of consumers only using the wallet on a monthly or quarterly basis.

The only mobile wallet consumers used more regularly was Apple Passbook. The study found that 60% of respondents who used the Apple feature, which aggregates loyalty cards and airline tickets, did so at least once a week. Meanwhile, only 40% of PayPal users — the most popular wallet — said they used the app weekly to make payments.

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Part of what’s driving the sluggish adoption is that the cost-benefit ratio of using mobile payments still remains in favor of plastic. On the one hand, consumers remain weary about the security of paying through a phone, with 46% of respondents citing privacy concerns as the reason for not using a digital wallet. But they also do not see the utility: 34% of respondents said they did not use digital wallets because it’s just easier to pay with cash or credit.

While digital wallet initiatives from tech companies have struggled, merchant applications appear to have caught on. A majority of respondents say they have used an app from Starbucks, Macy’s or others to pay for goods. What’s more, the results remain consistent across age groups: baby boomers are as likely as millennials to use the services.

Consumer usage of mobile wallets still lacks the frequency and adoption to meaningfully influence the payments industry. However, one innovation — the dongle — appears to have made a lasting impact. The study found around half of consumers do carry less than $20 on a regular basis. Among those who said they tended to carry little to no money, three quarters of the respondents said they did so largely because they could use their credit card at almost any location.

In many ways, the concept of the digital wallet assumed a mobile payments landscape which didn’t really exist. Over the next two years, the mobile payments industry will focus on developing more unique applications which can create new and exciting ways for consumers to buy — and not only pay — for goods and services.

Steven Jacobs is Street Fight’s deputy editor.