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Opinion

The Shame of Being an Early Mobile Wallet User

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Users of new technology often invite derision—Google Glass wearers are "Glassholes," iPhone devotees are "iSheep"—and mobile wallet users may soon be the next target of such ridicule.

The problem is this: Technology that is meant to make payments easier is adding steps in a way that can infuriate impatient store clerks and other customers waiting in line.

It's the same problem that arose back when banks introduced contactless cards. Years ago, after tapping my card to pay for a McDonald's meal, a cashier started screaming at me, insisting that I had to swipe my card or it wouldn't be valid. And years later, using a mobile wallet at Duane Reade—a store that has signs encouraging shoppers to tap their phones to pay—a similar event unfolded.

If I had just swiped my card to pay, I would have left the store without shame. But because I chose a mobile wallet, I had to first unlock my phone by typing a PIN, then open my wallet app and unlock that with a separate PIN.

(I'll leave it to the reader to decide whether this was Isis or Google Wallet. It doesn't matter; both apps follow the same process.)

To me, this was merely tedious. To the cashier, it looked like I was some jerk holding up the line by playing Candy Crush on my phone when I should have been swiping my card.

To her credit, she was polite. "Are you ready to pay, sir?" she said as my wallet app insisted that I "please wait" while it judged the validity of my PIN. At that point I realized that the cashier—and everyone lining up behind me—had no idea that I actually had been trying to pay.

When my phone finally caught up, I waved it over the terminal and put it back in my pocket. Once my payment went through, I took my receipt and left the store before any of the angry shoppers behind me could memorize my face.

I will still use mobile wallets on later visits, though I'll be more mindful of the need to unlock the app before I get to the front of the line. As technology advances, payments will likely migrate to other devices such as an NFC Ring or smartwatch, which presumably will not need to be unlocked multiple times before each use.

But until then, we mobile wallet users must mind our manners, or else we may be seen as the modern-day version of people who still write checks at the supermarket.

Daniel Wolfe is Editor-in-Chief of PaymentsSource

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