A recent article in Forbes, intended to help small-to-mid-sized merchants (SMBs) understand the potential of mobile payments (a.k.a. m-commerce), caught my attention with its preamble. The author wrote, “Many managers see the emergence of paying for goods and services via a mobile phone as a mere technological evolution…first customers used checks, then cards, now it´s m-payments. Others acknowledge its transformational impact on society and economic activity in general, but believe it will not affect their industry…Still others think that, by the time it becomes a widespread reality, they will be retired.”
I’ve been writing about mobile payments marketing since 2011, when the payments industry was trying to convince itself that the m-commerce wave was building. At that time, most of my colleagues at the large merchant acquirers wanted (and still want) to believe that m-commerce will always be another form of card payment, processing on the same rails with the same formulas and fees. But other colleagues saw m-commerce as a way to derail that system and cut out the cards. (Those people mostly defected to startups.)
The fact is, it’s all about friction. In order for m-payments in any format to become widely used, there need to be less friction for merchants and consumers. Using your phone, watch or tattoo at point-of-sale must be easier and more rewarding than pulling out your wallet.
If you’re reading this, you probably understand the SMB’s dilemma…invest now in the equipment, time and training to be m-commerce ready. Or wait until your customers demand it (by voting with their feet.) Never mind all the ancillary benefits and costs described in this Forbes article and endless others. SMBs will only convert if there’s less friction on the selling-side, and consumers will only make them if there’s less on the buying-side.
Marketers in the card-backed payment processors would have SMBs believe that they are already behind the curve. The October 2015 EMV deadline was celebrated as a tipping point because SMBs would have another reason to go mobile. But fear of liability for fraud didn’t scare as many as predicted. (Chip-card authorization speeds didn’t help.) Neither did countless campaigns promoting the benefits of customer data and loyalty programs. The fact is, no amount of marketing will convince the SMB until m-commerce is just easier.
So what’s a provider to do? Think like a small merchant and customer. Patronize SMBs and try paying with your phone. Ask questions and observe the friction in the process. Stop trying to think inside the rails and think about the possibilities. That’s always been the path to change.