PayPal’s March Into the High Street

May 25th, 2012 | Posted by

The readers of this blog and Celent clients with access to our reports will know that when we talk about “mobile payments” we are careful to specify what we mean by it. While many talk about NFC payments, we prefer to discuss “mobile at the retail point-of-sale”, recognising the diversity of ways how a mobile could be used to make a payment. Last year we predicted that the biggest rival to the emerging NFC solutions (and a threat to the banks and card issuers) would be PayPal with its “wallet-in-the-cloud” approach to in-store mobile payments.

This week PayPal announced two massive steps in that direction – a deal with two large POS manufacturers, Verifone and Equinox, and new relationships with 15 retailers, including household names, such as Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle Outfitters, Barnes & Noble, Foot Locker, JC Penney, Office Depot, and Toys “R” Us among others. This is in addition to the last year’s pilot with Home Depot, which has now seen the solution rolled out to 2,000 stores. Some of the press has already called PayPal the “world’s fifth payments network.”

In case you are not familiar with PayPal’s in-store vision, essentially, you are checking out with your PayPal account rather than your Visa/ MasterCard/ Amex card or cash. You may have a PayPal card, but it’s simply a way to identify and communicate your PayPal account credentials. The same could be achieved by entering your mobile phone and a PIN into the terminal. The solution does not rely on NFC, so the consumers don’t have to purchase NFC-equipped handsets and merchants don’t have to do hardware upgrades to their terminals. Usually, software upgrade is sufficient, which is why the deals with POS manufacturers as well as POS software developers are crucial to make it easy to the merchants.

Of course, the merchants still need to have a commercial agreement with PayPal to accept it as a payment method, which is why securing relationships with the US leading merchants is so important. However, PayPal understands very well that scaling up the merchant relationships on a global basis is going to be the hardest task in creating a truly universal payments scheme. That could be one of the reasons why PayPal continues to position itself as a “bank’s friend” – it understands how difficult it would be to achieve the necessary global scale on its own. However, that would require to “open up the scheme” and go from a three-party to a four-party model. Would PayPal be prepared to do that? Would banks be willing to join in?