Payments Companies Making Mobile Wallets a Reality

Connected smartphones and other devices can take the place of any number of other items, including calculators, watches, maps and GPS devices. It’s only a matter of time before they also become mobile wallets, too, and in fact, that’s already starting thanks to companies like Square, PayPal and Google. But it isn’t only big companies rushing to fill that need; the space is a point of focus for plenty of smaller players, too, many of which are trying to do something a little different than what’s already out there.

Take Boku, for instance. Founded in 2009, the company provides mobile payment services tied to users’ cellular services, meaning they’re billed for things they via their monthly phone bill. This not only provides convenience, Boku VP of Marketing Ray Ramillosa told BetaKit in an interview, but also makes it possible for non-credit card users to buy things they otherwise may not have been able to.

“There are more than six billion mobile phone subscribers in the world – far more than there are credit card users,” he said. “For those consumers who do not have access to a credit card or other banked form of payment, mobile phones become the best way to electronify cash and make online purchases. By enabling mobile billing, merchants can greatly increase the size of their potential market.”

Boku is also trying to leverage the transaction process to make it possible for businesses to use the moment of business/customer interaction to create additional marketing opportunities.

“The BOKU Accounts platform that we recently launched was specifically developed to bring new value to consumers/mobile subscribers, merchants, and Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) during in-person transactions at the point of sale,” Ramillosa said. “Through the platform, merchants gain the ability to send targeted and contextually relevant marketing to any mobile subscriber making electronic payments (via debit card, via NFC sticker, or via NFC enabled phone) from their MNO-issued BOKU Account.”

Other mobile payment companies are also keen on selling the tech to merchants as an opportunity for additional promotion. LevelUp, a mobile payments player that uses QR codes to allow people to pay with their mobile devices, ties a built-in rewards program to its platform that’s easy for merchants to set up on their own, and Square and PayPal have also introduced loyalty program functionality to their payment products. Alone, the slow consumer uptake of mobile payments would be a hard sell for merchants who want to offer payment methods that most people are most comfortable with, but paired with turn-key loyalty, and the marketing insights and opportunities that provides, mobile payments becomes a more attractive proposition.

Another way to sell vendors on mobile payments is by helping them set up mobile-based systems on the point-of-sale side. Cashier Live is one player in that space, which is growing more crowded by the day not only because of established players, but also thanks to startups gaining traction like Revel and Touch Bistro. Cashier Live co-founder Tom Greenhaw told us that making merchants more mobile is just better for business.

“If a store’s employees have a mobile cash register in their hand, they’re now able to engage the customer and provide one-on-one service,” he said, referring to the ability of mobile payments to get customer service staff out from behind a desk. “This will undoubtedly help stores turn browsers into buyers. When it comes to smaller stores it is very important to take advantage of technology the store owner already has, in this case an iPhone, to eliminate costs that would put a traditional POS system out of reach.”

It’s an idea Apple made popular with its roving check-out staff, and Greenhaw says Apple is already showing what comes next. “[Apple] began the trend of mobile POS and emailing receipts, and other stores are just now beginning to adopt these technologies,” he said. “Apple has already built on these successes and they now provide a way for a shopper to purchase items directly from their own phone [Apple's EasyPay system], without ever having to speak to an employee. If that proves to be successful, other retailers will try to emulate that as well.”

Apple’s EasyPay is an early example of a single-party transaction, in which the customer deals directly with the company as they might online, even in real-world shopping situations. Online pop-up shops like the ones described by BetaKit contributor Rob Kenedi are a perfect example of applications of this kind of tech, but Seconds founder Nick Hughes thinks it will go much further than that.

“More activities in your everyday life than you realize will become single party transactions,” Hughes told Betakit. “Things like paying rent. Buying a sandwich, or any food for that matter. Purchasing tickets for entry into an event or concert. Pre-paying for a coffee ahead of time. Payment for transportation like buses or subways. Quite frankly, anything outside the service industry can and will become single party transactions driven through our mobile device.”

But it doesn’t stop there. Hughes envisions a future where searching and buying are virtually one and the same. “Google has estimated almost half of mobile searches are locally oriented and purchase intended,” he said. “A logical evolution for mobile search is toward mobile transactions, which would also qualify as a single party transaction.”

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