Photo (cc) by kennejima
I dream of a day when forgetting my wallet at home doesn’t have to result in awkwardly asking the clerk to cancel my order because I can’t pay.
Turns out, that day is already here. With my smartphone and the right digital wallet, I can likely get away with paying at most major retailers even if I’ve left my cash and cards at home.
While many of us have heard of digital wallets – also known as mobile wallets – few of us use them. If you’re ready to learn more about the digital payment world, keep reading for a short primer plus details on five of the most popular wallets currently available.
Basics of digital wallets
For years, companies have been trying to convince us to go digital with our wallets, but it’s been a tough sell for the American public.
A digital wallet is an app that stores multiple credit cards in one place. For in-store purchases, wallets can work in a variety of ways. Some use near field communication to allow you to tap a credit card reader and transfer data. Others wallets display a QR code for merchants to scan for payment. Still others rely on Bluetooth to allow registers and phones to communicate.
In theory, the wallets should make it simple to organize and manage payments. In reality, consumers have been slow to adopt the technology. According to a March report from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, only 17 percent of smartphone users made a point-of-sale payment with their phones during the past year.
If you’re intrigued by the idea of a digital wallet, here’s a look at five options.
PayPal is the granddaddy of online payments. The site first attracted attention from users on auction sites such as eBay who wanted a faster way to send and receive money. Since then, PayPal has branched out and can now be used to make purchases on thousands of websites, including big names like Walmart, Best Buy and Sears.
More recently, PayPal launched a mobile app that promises to take its service off the Web and into stores. Already, some retailers allow you to use PayPal in stores by logging into your account at the cash register.
However, the app will supposedly communicate wirelessly with the register via a Bluetooth connection to make the transaction totally hands-free. But before you can do that, you need to wait for PayPal Beacon to be deployed and see how many retailers sign on.
It seems like everything Google touches is golden … except maybe its digital wallet. Its Google Wallet has struggled to gain traction among consumers, but that doesn’t mean we should overlook this option. It is Google after all.
Google Wallet does everything PayPal does plus a little more. You can store multiple cards, transfer money between bank accounts and other wallet users, and pay for purchases online. Plus, it allows you to input loyalty cards and to store Google offers.
Unlike the PayPal app, which will require merchants to sign on with its service separately, Google Wallet can be used at any existing tap-and-go terminal accepting MasterCard MasterPass. All you need is the app and a phone equipped with near field communication technology.
Square has been revolutionary when it comes to helping small businesses accept credit card payments. The company has undoubtedly hoped its Square Wallet would be similarly successful with consumers.
Back in 2012, Square partnered with Starbucks in a venture that was predicted to catapult digital wallets into the mainstream. While that failed to happen, Square Wallet continues to be a major player in the industry.
One reason Square Wallet may be having trouble gaining users is the limited number of retailers that accept the payments. While Google Wallet makes use of existing card readers, Square Wallet requires merchants to have a Square account and a device that can communicate wirelessly with your phone.
When it works, you simply open the wallet, tell the cashier your name, and the cashier should be able to wirelessly charge your account. Unfortunately, from the reviews in the Apple Store, the app doesn’t always work or merchants aren’t familiar with the process of accepting payments.
The brainchild of AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile, Isis uses near field communication in the same way as Google Wallet. You load your cards and then pay at any card reader equipped to accept tap-and-go transactions.
While paying with Isis is easy, it does limit your card choices. Only American Express, Chase and Wells Fargo cards can be loaded directly onto the app. If you want to use your debit card or another credit card, you’ll need to open a Serve account – that would be American Express’ equivalent of PayPal.
As the small fish in the pond, LevelUp is used by 1.5 million people and accepted at 14,000 merchants. It doesn’t rely on near field communication and instead requires that merchants have a LevelUp scanner.
While not yet a major player among mobile wallets, the company is hoping to woo businesses by reducing their merchant costs. On the customer front, LevelUp is undoubtedly hoping its rewards program will encourage individuals to download its app.
What do you think? Are digital wallets a fad or the future? And if you’ve tried a mobile wallet, let us know what you thought. Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.