Survey: Mobile Payments Face Uphill Battle

My view about mobile payments is the following: once people have a positive concrete experience of using mobile payments they'll be sold, so to speak. Most people haven't had those experiences yet. Accordingly there's skepticism or indifference about mobile payments in the US. This, despite more than 20 companies scrambling in a kind of land grab that anticipates a glorious future right around the corner.

Several consumer surveys in the past 12 months indicate Americans are concerned about security and privacy or don't see the need for mobile payments: "see no benefit," "easier to pay with cash or credit cards" are some of the obstacles facing mobile payments adoption. Roughly 70%-75% of survey respondents say they aren't interested.

I'm the first to point out that attitudes and behavior are often two different things. The survey data are surprisingly consistent. Also consistent are findings that consumers in the 25-55 age range are typically the most interested in mobile payments. More educated, urban and usually more affluent consumers are also typically more interested.

Screen Shot 2012-08-24 at 12.23.16 PM

We just completed a survey (n=1,501 US adults), which asked whether people were interested in using their phones as mobile wallets, instead of cash or credit cards. The results are very consistent with other surveys from UC Berkeley Law School, the US Federal Reserve and others.

About 29% of respondents (a decent number) say they have varying degrees of interest. Those who are most enthusiastic, however, are a tiny minority (6.8%).

Again, as people start to have real experiences of mobile payments, I believe these numbers will start to rise. But these findings reinforce the notion that there's a mountain to climb. Providers must educate consumers, reassure them on security/privacy and offer them tangible benefits for trying and using mobile payments systems.

An exception to all this is Square and its various imitators (PayPal Here, Intuit's GoPayment, PayAnywhere, etc.). In most of these scenarios the consumer isn't doing anything new; there's a familiar card swipe. The change is all on the merchant side. However as consumers develop familiarity with and start to trust these providers that becomes the basis for trying some of their "more exotic" payment services, where there is a behavior change (e.g., Pay with Square, PayPal Mobile apps).

While we believe that the mainstreaming of mobile payments is "inevitable," the timing and the specific services/platforms that will mainstream them have very much yet to be determined.