CHICAGO — Mobile payments got the kind of promotional kick it will need in the future — from a veteran country music star — at the annual Mobile Payments Conference this week.
When Apple Pay debuted nearly a year ago, the major card brands threw music celebrities like Gwen Stefani into the TV advertisement spotlight to promote the new mobile pay system.
Though it wasn't in front of that type of widespread audience, musician Rick Monroe did get some attention from conference attendees when saying merchants need to get onto the mobile payment and commerce bandwagon in the same way the music industry has.
Many in the audience may not be familiar with Monroe's latest Billboard charts song, "Great Minds Drink Alike," but they understood his message about mobile payments.
"Merchants have to create more apps for payment and loyalty products," said Monroe, who is developing his own mobile commerce app with AP Technology to enable fans to easily purchase merchandise at his concerts.
After all, Apple was considered to have a foot in the door on mobile payments before Apple Pay came on the scene on the strength of its then 800 million iTunes accounts, most of those with credit card credentials attached.
Apple likely introduced the "buy button" to many young consumers on the iTunes dashboard. Other digital music venues, such as Pandora, were quick to add the buy buttons to songs on the "stations" that listeners created.
As part of a panel discussing the potential of mobile payments and other customer engaging services, Monroe acknowledged he is in the right industry to experiment with payments apps.
"Music is an impulse buy, you hear a song and you want it right now," Monroe said. "You have to incorporate payments into that immediate impulse."
Even if a merchant does not have a specific product or service that lends itself to habitual buying like Starbucks coffee or impulse buying like digital music, he is still in a position to build apps that make a payment possible without standing in a line.
That's where Monroe's focus is in developing his app. "My fairy tale for mobile payments would be eliminating the wicked witch of the wait," he said. "Instead of waiting in a long line, here's the app to buy the shirt at my concert."
As such, the example of mobile payments in music can move into other retail domains, said Nick Holland, senior payments analyst at Pleasanton, California-based Javelin Strategy & Research.
"I would like to see intelligent information sent to my phone on what I might like to buy, based on what I bought before," Holland said. "With music, they know what music I like and what I purchased before."
In her prior experience as systems development manager at OfficeMax, Christina Garcia said one of the worst things for a merchant was to spend time to add software and procedures to implement a technology like Google Wallet that did not have a lot of adoption or value-adds for consumers who were using it.
Bringing mobile technology on board has to be easier for the merchant and more beneficial for users, said Garcia, who is now vice president of technology and integrated services for SEQR Mobile Wallet.
"For those adding Apple Pay, they were really just adopting contactless technology, another form of tender," Garcia added.
The key is for providers to engage in "expanding and presenting value through payment, coupons and loyalty, all while reducing checkout time," Garcia said.
In the past, some acquirers and payments providers may have been telling merchants to simply consider a mobile payment strategy, while others weren't paying much attention at all. But the industry has quickly moved past that posture, said Mario Di Prizio, a technology expert who has worked on mobile, retail and engineering apps and contactless products at Sears, Kmart and Motorola.
"For those who don't have mobile, it's time to get on with the program," Di Prizio said.
Even if merchants adopt the latest in security and customer engagement on mobile platforms, it's going to take that "music industry" type of interest in payments technology to get more consumer adoption. Right now, it is much easier for consumers to know what kind of music they like and how technology can complement that, compared to what type of payment method they prefer.
"As more merchants get mobile payments right, more consumers will hear about it," said Greg Wilfahrt, chief mobility and marketing officer at AP Technology.
The industry needs a mobile payments "bill of rights" for consumers so they understand how the process will work if they were to encounter problems with the technology, Wilfahrt said.
"When the experiences are good, it will start to spread by word of mouth," he added. "That's the way mobile payments will take hold."