First-time success rate of my Apple Pay transactions today: 0%

Yes, you did read this right – today I could not complete a single Apple Pay transaction successfully first time. This was my experience today:
  • I tried using Apple Pay five times – four times to get in and out of the London transport network and once at a coffee shop to buy an espresso.
  • Not once did I manage to complete the transaction right away.
  • Only once I could complete the transaction via the fingerprint. And before you accuse me of sweaty fingers, on all occasions I made extra efforts to wipe clean my phone’s TouchID reader and my fingers before approaching the terminal. And while I did have some issues with TouchID in the past, now the fingerprint unlocks the phone just fine most of the time.
  • Three other times, I had to type in my password, which then completed the transaction.
  • I could not get my coffee on Apple Pay at all – no matter what I did, the transaction would not go through. My default card is Amex, so I asked the merchant if they accepted Amex cards in the first place (I couldn’t see any obvious signs that they did). He confirmed that they accepted Amex, but not if the card was contactless! Which I guess explains my lack of success in that instance, but there was no way of me knowing it in advance – the shop clearly had contactless terminals, so I assumed my Amex inside Apple Pay would work just fine. In the end, I embarrassingly put my phone away and paid cash.
OK, I admit, the sample size is not big – only five transactions and I haven’t tried a diverse POS environment (TfL and a coffee shop), so maybe I’ve just been unlucky. But it’s not the first time this is happening to me. I already highlighted my trepidation of going up with Apple Pay to the tube gates in an earlier blog. And I had other bad experiences: after trying to pay with Apple Pay and failing at a local Co-op shop, I was told that I couldn’t just use a plastic contactless card or pay by cash – I had to insert my actual Amex card into the reader and type in the PIN code to complete the transaction. Really?? Looks like I am not alone struggling with Apple Pay in the UK, as this Twitter conversation demonstrates: I also have a Visa debit card registered with Apple Pay, so I will try it out as well, but based on Richard’s comment, it doesn’t look like it’s a card type-specific issue at the moment… I love the idea of Apple Pay and easy payments by mobile phone. And I know that people like Jeremy and Richard are just as passionate about payments as I am, so we will continue to persevere and keep trying. But what will a “normal” consumer do if they have a bad experience? Will they be excited enough to come back and try again or will they just give up on mobile payments before they had a chance to succeed? I hope they don’t, but these early Apple Pay glitches clearly show how difficult it is to create a truly great customer experience in payments, especially at the POS.

The Power of Headlines

We are all familiar with the power of a good headline – it grabs our attention and compels us to read the rest of the story. In the world of printed newspapers, front-page headlines are there to sell papers. And it seems that ability to write a witty headline is a pre-requisite to getting a job at any of the UK’s tabloid newspapers. Headlines also have the power to mis-lead. Just a few days ago, a news story caught my eye, which implied that 42% of the US POS terminals were infected by malware. With a healthy dose of disbelief, I clicked on the link and sure enough, it became clear from the article itself that 42% of all known instances of a single malware type were detected on the US terminals. The story and the headline’s implication couldn’t be further apart. As someone who keeps an eye on the developments in mobile payments, naturally, I was intrigued by some other recent headlines announcing that “the UK banks were to launch mobile P2P network next year.” Did I miss something? No, there was indeed a new announcement by the UK Payments Council, but it was talking about the same initiative announced nearly a year ago on 21st Feb 2012. And it became clear shortly thereafter that the service would likely be launched in 2014. As far as I can tell, the main piece of news this time is the list of 8 banks who have now committed to launching the service. Again, given that it was expected to be an industry-wide initiative from the start, it is no surprise to see all the major UK banks signing up to this, including Barclays, which has its own P2P service, PingIt. For our non-UK readers who may have missed the story last year, The UK Payments Council has commissioned VocaLink to build a central database that will allow bank customers to link their mobile phone number to their bank account. Having done so, they will be able to send a payment from their mobile phone by simply entering someone else’s mobile phone number and would not need to know their banking details. The actual payment would run over Faster Payments, a system that’s run by VocaLink and settles payments in nearly real-time. Is P2P really that important in the UK? Despite some early successes of PingIt, I think the jury is still out. Obviously, it simplifies making a payment to another person (or potentially, business) which is a good thing. However, in the UK it is already quite common to tell someone your bank account details for them to make a one-off payment. As I pointed out in my blog commenting on the original announcement, the ever-popular “splitting a restaurant bill” example is over-used – most people in the UK would settle the bill by asking the waiter to split the total onto multiple cards right there at the restaurant. And the popularity of Direct Debit drastically reduces the need to proactively pay regular bills. Paying to a small business/ merchant/ tradesman appears the most promising scenario, but there this payment method is going to compete against the new mobile POS solutions, which enable those same tradesmen accept cards, and more realistically, cheque and cash payments, the ingrained practices of today. Having said all this, it’s a very welcome initiative and it could be just a start. As the service grows, I would expect it will allow use of other proxies in addition to the mobile phone number (e.g. email, Facebook account, etc.) and will enable them to be linked to multiple bank accounts. And once the infrastructure is built, other services (e.g. merchant payments) can be developed, which would help the UK banks maintain their leadership in payments. I am looking forward to the real news announcing the launch of the actual service in 2014.

PayPal’s March Into the High Street

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?

Bank Mobile Wallets: NFC or Cloud?

Extensive travel tends to wreak havoc on the usual patterns and the best intentions. As a result, I haven’t yet had a chance to blog about an interesting development first announced a couple of weeks ago. FIS, a large technology and services provider, has announced a new m-payments system, developed in partnership with Paydiant, a mobile technology company. Celent clients may recall my recent report, “What’s In Your Mobile Wallet? Winning the Battle for Mobile at the Retail POS” where I described the four major domains which represent the key battlegrounds for bringing mobile payments to the physical stores in the developed markets. In that report, I suggested that banks are in danger of losing control over POS payments to cloud-based wallet providers, such as PayPal and others. I also said that NFC, despite all the concerns around infrastructure and business models, represents the best chance for banks to keep their payments credentials used at the POS in the mobile world. With the announcement from FIS, it seems that banks can take on the cloud-based wallet providers at their own game. FIS and Paydiant developed a cloud-based solution that can be integrated into the bank’s mobile app and simply requires downloadable apps for consumers and retailers. Because the app resides in the cloud, no payment credentials need to be exchanged at the POS, giving everyone an additional piece of mind and alleviating the retailers from PCI compliance requirements. In the demo showed to Celent in Boston, the POS terminal produced a QR code, which a consumer would scan with his app on a mobile phone, which then triggers the payment transaction. The QR code is only one possible communications technology – NFC could be used instead if both the terminal and the phone were NFC-capable. The payment is done via one of the payment instruments (e.g. a card) that the consumer has pre-registered with the app and the retailer already accepts. The app could also be developed by retailers rather than banks. In fact, the retailers might find the solution easier to implement than banks, as they can control the acceptance side. The banks wishing to use this solution must ensure that there are enough merchants that have downloaded the appropriate app and are willing to let customers use it. All of which points for the need to create and manage a new scheme, one that consumers recognise as they decide which app to pull up on their mobile phone at the POS. Still, I think it’s a very interesting solution and one that allows the FIs and retailers explore the opportunities around cloud-based wallets.