Industry News

Beware of mobile payments experts bearing polls

phone-confusionA recent survey suggesting American college students have little interest in making mobile payments has made a small splash in the payments industry. Among the findings of the poll, which was conducted among approximately 2,500 students around the country, was that 42% would “definitely not” or “probably not” make more mobile payments even if the option was widely available. The result was seen as especially notable given that the age group surveyed is among the most avid in terms of smartphone use, and tends to serve as a bellwether for future technology trends.

Leaving aside questions about the survey’s independence and trustworthiness – its sponsor, Balance Innovations, specializes in cash office software – there are good reasons to treat such polls with even more skepticism than today’s college students are supposedly treating tomorrow’s mobile payment solutions.

To understand why, just think back to the development of the smartphone itself, which was in many regards introduced to solve problems that didn’t exist. A decade ago, what percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds would have told you that they couldn’t live without a handheld computer always connected to the Internet?

The issue brings to mind a famous quote from the late Steve Jobs, who in 1998 said “a lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” It also reminds one of an earlier titan of American technology, Henry Ford, who purportedly once cracked that “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for a better horse.”

This is not to say that certain aspects of this and other surveys on customer attitudes towards mobile payments aren’t accurate and useful. (The poll found men almost twice as likely to say that they would be willing to use mobile payments all the time, and that students studying such fields as accounting and business more likely to be adopters of mobile payments than those in the humanities.)

Meanwhile, even those in the industry who believe most strongly in the future of mobile payments can clearly see that customers still need to be shown the benefits first-hand. “Without merchants taking the lead, users have too few locations to use the solution and it will not develop habits in the user,” says Jeff McAllister, Cellum’s senior vice president of sales. “Without the merchants, mobile payments will remain niche and gimmicky.”

But with even young and tech-savvy American smartphone users not yet being given an opportunity to fully utilize what mobile payments has to offer, asking how they will use their mobile wallets in the future is like asking someone in 2004 whether they would prefer an iPhone 5 or a Samsung Galaxy s5.