Over the past couple of years I have been intrigued by the concept of a 'digital wallet' that will combine mobile payments with a variety of other benefits for customers. The more people I talk to, the more convinced I am that mobile digital wallets will mark a big shift in retail payments. A mobile digital wallet is more than just a mobile payment system because it combines:
Mobile payment. Digital wallets are likely combine several different payments systems into a single service, including mobile contactless payments, online (i.e. web) payments, and over-the-network mobile payments, making it easy for customers to make a variety of different types of payment from a mobile device.
Barcode scanning. Scanning barcodes or QR codes will let customers get more information about products, and let them pay for items on their phones before showing an on-screen receipt to leave the store.
Loyalty rewards. Instead of carrying (and sometimes forgetting) a separate loyalty card, digital wallets will track customers’ spending and offer merchant-funded rewards, either on the phone or at the point of sale.
Coupons and offers. Digital wallets are likely to offer customers coupons and location-based offers.
For the next 2 minutes as you read this blog post, please try to forget about Apple the product company and instead focus on Apple the retailer. Two years ago, Apple undertook a worldwide roll out of iPod Touches to its store associates. These devices came wrapped in a sled adding a 2D bar code scanner and credit card swipe capabilities to the hardware lineup and enabled store associates to perform mobile POS transactions anywhere in the store. Ever since the retail industry has been playing catch-up with retailers like Lowes, Gap, and Home Depot recently following suit with respective rollouts of mobile POS functionality to their store associates.
Today Apple raised the bar. Customers in the US can now use their own iPhone 4 or 4S in conjunction with the Apple Store app (one of my favorite mobile shopping experiences and complete with a fresh update) to scan the bar code of most in-store products and perform a self-checkout. The feature, called EasyPay uses the iPhone’s rear-facing camera to scan a product bar code with payment occurring via a simple authentication to iTunes, just like any other in-app purchase. The core difference is that Apple is now allowing in-app purchases of physical merchandise, albeit restricted to Apple at this time. Once payment is complete, the customer simply strolls out of the shop showing their digital EasyPay receipt to a member of staff as they exit. Time will tell if EasyPay results in any increase of in-store fraud for Apple, but for the consumer that knows what they want the convenience of EasyPay is crystal clear.
Today Barnes & Noble (B&N) announced the Nook Tablet, a beefed-up version of the Nook Color that, in our view, gets everything right. My colleagues J.P. Gownder, James McQuivey, and I spoke with several product strategists from B&N about the Nook Tablet, including CEO William Lynch, President of Digital Jamie Iannone, and GM of Digital Newsstand Jonathan Shar. Our conversations and hands-on time with the device led us to conclude that the Nook Tablet:
Is a “wow” product. No, it’s not an iPad lookalike, and it doesn’t need to be. The Nook Tablet improves upon the Nook Color in key areas that matter for tablets, including a dual-core processor and a screen that’s fully laminated with no air gap—two technical details that add up to a better Web and video experience. Compared with Amazon’s Kindle Fire, the Nook Tablet has longer battery life (9 hours vs. 7), 2x the memory, and nearly twice the RAM—feeds and speeds that will make the device more convenient to use and snappier for media consumption and app multitasking. In addition, the Nook’s software update includes innovative experience improvements, such as the integration of recommendations into the navigation UI—think of it as a “Netflix-ization” of navigation.