The Mobile Wallet? Don’t Hold Your Breath

mCommerce is a hot topic. But by definition, hot topics emerge before the event, and run the risk of becoming buzzwords that are difficult to define in real terms. In many ways, we struggle to put a value on them.

The concept that the future mobile-connected user will use their mobile phone to find and pay for everything we sell is a compelling one. With devices in the hands of the majority of living souls on this planet who are a captive market to sell to, this is a marketer’s, and a retailer’s, paradise.

mCommerce companies use mobile to separate the user from their cash in return for products and services. And from the perspective of our position as a mobile internet company, we assume that consumers want this too. But there are many ways to trade, and many ways to market.

Mobile wallets
In the mobile world there is a horizon littered with potential solutions, ranging from Near Field Communications (NFC) and mobile wallets, to older technologies such as WAP and Premium SMS-based payments. We have to plan from our silos what our favoured approach will be, and it’s not easy.

In our fervour, formed from this dream market, we often fail to consider the consumer. We don’t ask them if this is something they want, and we fail to look backwards to other big ideas that in their buzzword days, seemed so promising, yet are now consigned to the recycle bin of failure.

Here are just a few some epic fails from recent years: set-top box payments; the entire Ebay community selling through Skype; MMS replacing SMS; video-calling your mum from your mobile. We’ve been here before and we will doubtless be there again. Some ideas are marvellous, but it was the raising of expectations that was the downfall of many of these ideas.

Don’t get me wrong – I understand the appeal of mCommerce. Consumers can interact with brands and businesses at each decision-making point of their purchase journey. They can research their choices from the bus or the bath. We can advertise to them and respond to them, whenever and wherever the consumer desires.
It’s totally awesome. In all these ways, mobile is already a commerce platform. Just because consumers still take our products to the till and pay by cash or card does not mean that mobile has failed. If that were the case, then print, TV and outdoor would all be a waste of time.

No, far from it. Mobile does its job and we get paid. A recent study from InsightExpress noted that the efficacy of marketing on mobile is more effective in raising “unaided awareness” than print, TV and online marketing combined. This is a golden opportunity, that it would be sinful to waste.
Yet the buzzword that merchants still peddle is this idea of people waving their phones around to buy everything from toothpaste to tickets, as if it’s just around the corner. Well, it’s not. It’s a long way off in the distance, way too far to define. But here we are trekking on.

Optimistic intentions
As we muddle towards that distant horizon, mulling over possibilities, we will inevitably find that the consumer and market trends, rather than our optimistic intentions, define how we evolve. I don’t believe there is a need for our phones to be the mechanism by which we pay for all the things we need.

Cash and cards do just fine. If I’m wrong on that then please don’t kid yourself that the winning mobile payments piece has been played yet. It’s not even on the table… and there are many, many hands to be played before somebody takes the mobile payments pot.


Rich Holdsworth is CEO at Wapple