We’ve likely all seen people paying for their morning coffee by tapping their phone on the payment terminal. You may have also wondered why you’re still fumbling with cash and an endless number of cards when the technology clearly exists to make physical and online payments more streamlined. But while our wallets can become digital, why aren’t they quite mainstream yet?
Evolving technology has made those tap payments with your phone possible at the same time as making online payments possible without typing in your credit card information. eWallets, or digital wallets, are the consumer facing piece that allows for easy, totally electronic transactions to occur.
Technically speaking, an eWallet is a piece of software that stores credit, debit, bank account, loyalty card or gift card information and allows the wallet owner to use those stored payment details to pay merchants or peers online where the eWallet will automatically fill in payment information. EWallets installed on mobile devices (mobile eWallets), can also work for in person purchases, with phones and payment terminals equipped with NFC (near field communication) technology being able to communicate payment details and authenticate transactions in fractions of a second.
Apple Pay, which launched in 2014, was the first touchpoint many U.S. consumers had with an eWallet. But elsewhere in the world, consumers have been using digital wallets to make all their purchases for over 10 years.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Japanese Osaifu-Keitai, or “mobile wallet”, was introduced in 2004 by NTT Docomo and allows millions of Japanese consumers to make payments to more than million retailers simply by tapping their cellphones on a merchant’s terminal or on a transit ticket machine.
While only 17% of all U.S. online consumers say they use digital wallets, that number nearly doubles to 30% for those in the 18-29 year old age group. It’s worth noting that vast majority of that usage is tied to PayPal’s ubiquity within the ecommerce payments space. In fact, over three-quarters of those that do use digital wallets use PayPal.
Even though eWallets aren’t exactly universal in North America, they’re still being used by some consumers regularly. Mobile eWallets for in store purchases, on the other hand, aren’t nearly as common as companies like Google, Apple and Samsung had anticipated, at least not yet.
In 2016, mobile eWallet payments made up $75 billion worth of transactions, which equates to just 1% of U.S. retail sales, and that’s with some very big-name ad campaigns promoting them. A recent MasterCard study shows that lack of awareness can’t be blamed for the lack of user adoption in the U.S. as many know and understand the concept behind digital wallets.
China on the other hand has been much more enthusiastic about adopting eWallets. Three in five Chinese consumers make payments with their smartphones and eWallets are seen as the norm.
China’s middle-class consumers accumulated wealth in lock-step with the rise of the ecommerce. As a result, Chinese shoppers were very familiar with online shopping, and when combined with China’s late-mover advantage (China shifted to digital payments directly from a cash-based economy), this simply resulted in the right conditions being in place at the right time to successfully establish China as a large-scale early adopter of digital payments.
While countries like the U.S., having already made the switch to credit and debit cards from cash, won’t benefit from the same late-mover advantage, China’s mass adoption of digital payments does present an eWallet framework for the rest of the world along with insight into what consumers expect from an eWallet.
Forty-nine percent of U.S. consumers simply feel that it’s easier to make a payment with their card than with a mobile eWallet, and 43% don’t believe mobile wallets to be safe. For others, the features simply aren’t enough yet to make the switch worthwhile and integrated loyalty programs, which many consumers consider to be key, are only just being integrated. Features on the horizon that have proven popular in other markets, like in-app, in-browser and peer-to-peer payments, should further help adoption going forward.
While eWallets haven’t been adopted as quickly as many hoped or expected, the trend appears to be shifting. New research predicts that mobile wallet payments will reach 9% of U.S. consumer spending by 2020 and, more broadly, digital wallets will represent $1.2 trillion, or 18%, of overall U.S. retail spending within the same period.
For eWallets to achieve widespread adoption, each branding and marketing approach will need to target the key pain points that are preventing consumers from taking the plunge. Previously, established players have focused on building awareness around eWallets. However, consumers remain reluctant to switch away from the payment methods they are accustomed to and already trust, despite being aware of the digital wallet options available to them.
Being slow to offer the features consumers are consistently asking for in their eWallets, like loyalty programs and peer-to-peer payments, is contributing to the slow adoption on a mass scale. With those features on the horizon, retailers and merchants will increasingly need to support eWallet payments.