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Google wallet : the facts you can’t Google

It’s official – Visa wants a piece of the Google Wallet pie. The mobile wallet payment method launched in the US last week, with already over 140,000 merchants across the country able to accept NFC payments. It is being touted as the new way of paying by many commentators, not to mention the big names backing it – CitiBank, MasterCard, Visa and the mothership of Google.

In true big business style, it appears Google Wallet could be yet another fine example of style over substance. Google Wallet is the sparkly product, offering users quick, easy and secure payments from their mobile phones. Then there are those potentially empty promises – apparently, every man and his dog will be able to use this in no time. But the truth can’t be denied – Google Wallet users will be scarce to begin with. It is a distinct possibility Google Wallet will follow in the footsteps of the ill-fated Google Plus social networking site. Touted as a major competitor to Facebook, the site grew at a rate comparable to Facebook. This initial growth was called a success, but when all is said and done, no one actually uses it.

The unusual marketing scheme is leaving much to be desired, which may stop banks joining up to the scheme. At the RAMP conference in Chicago earlier this month, senior vice president of CitiCards Andrea Chin said they would get their customers using Google Wallet by sending out direct mail to their 20 million customers.  This strategy lacks a serious dose of creativity. With the money backing this product, you would think there would be a marketing team coming up with an effective way to launch this product to existing customers that doesn’t involve spamming them with advertising material that will – nine times out of ten – be deleted in an instant.


According to Osama Bedier, vice president of payments at Google, it’s only a matter of time before Google Wallet will take over the payments industry. In the future, our goal is to make it possible for you to add all of your payment cards to Google Wallet.  What has to happen next is that the banks have to have to agree to give access to their payment credentials. Those discussions are already under way. I’d say it’s a matter of months. Not a long period of time.”  This needs to be met with a teaspoon of scepticism, as this comes from the man who said, only last October, the relationship between PayPal and Bling Nation would take mobile payments into the main stream. He may have jumped ship from PayPal to Google, but his big promises while at the former have never come to fruition. As of today, we are still waiting for the payment revolution that never came.

It is important for us all to remember that payments are not Google’s game. Unlike other payment service providers, who are created to make the payments industry as user-friendly as possible, Google’s motives are questionable. Gary Kim, contributing editor for NFCData.com, says Google has its sights set on the extra cash flow Google Wallet will bring from its enhanced advertising opportunities.  “Google believes its own revenue will be created by advertising and promotion opportunities, including various discount offers, retailer promotions and local advertising services.” While a potentially smart business move, this does not equal a successful payment method for consumers.

In a perfect world, this idea would flow right into the marketplace. But if a system like Google Wallet is to truly work, it needs a provider who is agnostic to banks from the get-go. Despite its massive hype, Google Wallet has received a backlash from the exclusive nature of its system. Rather than creating an alluring exclusivity, it is developing a common thought that while a good idea and an inevitable direction for payments to go in, the Google Wallet is only for certain people from certain banks. This will be hard for Google to shake when – or if – they secure wider horizons for potential users.

One of Google Wallet’s main competitors is carrier backed mobile wallet ISIS which, while receiving criticism for taking so long to enter the market place,  is set to offer users the one thing Google Wallet is failing to provide – choice.  Jaymee Johnson, head of marketing at ISIS, assures the industry their product will shake things up. ‘”It’s safe to say that when Isis launches we’ll have multiple payment networks, multiple issuers, multiple handsets, multiple operating systems, multiple manufacturers.”

While ISIS is promising a much more attractive service, the fact that they are yet to launch is somewhat worrying. Worse still, we will have to wait until spring 2012 to see any action from their mobile wallets, which may be too late if Google succeeds in making their wallet used by the majority of consumers. Even as recently as last week, people involved with ISIS were unable to talk about the launch date. Johnson says, despite any concerns over ISIS and its launch date, Google Wallet is simply not offering enough. “It is really, really limited in scope: single handset, single carrier, single bank. It’s not enough to impact the behaviours of tens of millions of consumers, which is what the industry needs to go forward.

IT industry publication EWeek has compiled a food-for-thought article on its website, created by journalist Don Reisinger. The article, entitled Google Wallet Won’t Dominate Mobile Payment Space: 10 Reason Why, covers a number of interesting points Google’s talented PR team have failed to add into their numerous marketing ploys. The most interesting point made by Reisinger is the fact not all wireless carriers are onboard. Rumour has it many of the wireless carriers not in partnership with Google have their own NFC plans in place, and they will not necessarily be willing to jump on board with Google. Reisinger notes that until wireless carriers jump on the Wallet bandwagon, the service won’t be rapidly adopted in the market. The only way to bypass the carriers is to work with the manufacturers and get access to the embedded NFC capabilities in the new headsets going to market – a move that certain alliances in Silicone Valley may attempt to frustrate.

All of these concerns boil down to one basic fact : an agnostic provider of mobile payments will be the most likely success. This will allow users from all banks and all credit cards to use this new trend in payments. Rather than alienate people based on the banks they use, an agnostic provider of mobile payments will allow users a service where everyone can swipe and pay using their mobile phones, regardless of which cell phone you use, which bank you belong to and which credit card you own. This appears to be the only logical way to provide the world with an effective mobile wallet payment scheme.

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