Chase's mobile ambitions turn New Yorkers into test subjects

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By Chase's way of thinking, a major hangup in consumer adoption of mobile wallets is the fear of that first try.

What if it doesn't work? What if the cashier is even more confused than the consumer? Chase Pay in particular has a lot of friction at sign-up — its security mirrors that of Chase's mobile app, meaning consumers must remember their online banking password, agree to multiple End User License Agreements, and set up optional fingerprint authentication.

The whole process can seem futile if, in the end, it's not even clear where the wallet can be used. To address that, Chase has coordinated a group of 20 merchants to set up shop at a highly trafficked transit and shopping hub in New York called the Oculus. In the center of this environment, which the bank calls Chase Pay Village, is a kiosk staffed with people who can help commuters and tourists alike set up the Chase mobile wallet.
"We had a vision of creating a space where our consumers can go and feel very comfortable trying this new form of payment," said Dina DeMerell, head of marketing for Chase Pay. "Mobile payments haven't really taken off yet in the U.S. and we think a big part of it is consumers are afraid to try it at a POS, so with the Oculus we wanted to create this safe place to try it."

The Oculus, which is located among the World Trade Center properties, will host Chase Pay Village until Jan. 7 with an emphasis on holiday wares such as toys, jewelry and chocolates. The merchants also accept standard payment instruments such as credit and debit cards, but each is equipped with a Chase-branded QR code reader identical to those used by LevelUp, a Boston-based mobile payments company in which Chase invested $10 million a year ago.

Chase Pay has a clear value proposition for merchants: It's built on ChaseNet, a closed-loop processing network that lowers costs for merchants when accepting payment from a Chase-issued card. For consumers the value is less focused; the standalone Chase Pay app provides transaction details and location-based offers, as well as an easy way to choose among cards loaded into the wallet. Part of Chase Pay Village's mission is to determine which of these features — if any — are most compelling to shoppers.

"We are doing quite a bit of consumer research ... gathering intelligence about perceptions of the product because we are still very much in the early stages of rolling out Chase Pay," DeMerell said. "We are doing so much now in marketing, but we are trying to find out the magic of what it will take to get them to use Chase Pay."

For better or worse, Chase Pay seems to be simply working as intended in this environment.

"For us, it's just another form of payment, like taking coins or bills," said Andre Bialuski, owner of Hanami Real Flower Jewelry, one of the merchants with a pop-up presence in Chase Pay Village. "From that standpoint, there is no real positive or negative experience that stands out in the process."

From the merchant's perspective, the most immediate benefit seems to be speed. "The customer opens the phone on the app and scans the code, and it works really fast," Bialuski added. "It's just another alternative payment option."

The choice of venue works in Chase's favor. The Oculus hosts several high-end stores, and the pop-up Village itself is right next to a two-story Apple Store, giving Apple devotees an opportunity to set up Chase Pay as soon as they unwrap their new iPhones.

But since the Oculus is also a commuter hub, connecting to several NYC subway lines and the PATH trains to New Jersey, Chase may find it hard to get many hurried office-goers to stop long enough to set up and use its mobile wallet.

"Generally, if you look at the numbers involved in something like this, there is no doubt that teaching somebody how to use something will work," said Brian Riley, director of card services for Mercator Advisory Group. "But it's a big world out there, and New Yorkers are not particularly known for slowing down to look at and try something like this."

At its core, Chase Pay Village is an effort to advance financial literacy, Riley noted.

"If the goal is to try and teach about Chase Pay, they picked a place with a lot of people," he said. "But it's hard to determine ahead of time how many would actually do it. It's a tutorial process, so it would take some time."

Chase isn't alone in using a venue such as a village or festival to test mobile payments. Visa, for example, has had a major sponsorship role at past Olympics. The card brand will use the upcoming Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, to push wearable technology. In London in 2012, Visa equipped its sponsored athletes and guests with mobile phones and payWave software to test the early days of contactless payments. In Brazil last year, Visa athletes and guests wore an NFC Ring with a tokenized, general-purpose reloadable Visa prepaid card, its first venture with a ring carrying payments capabilities.

Chase Pay launched a year ago after spending the previous months solidifying relationships with merchants like Walmart, Best Buy and Starbucks, then later with Atom Tickets for movies, to incorporate the use of the QR code-based mobile wallet in-store or in-app.

The result to this point has been hundreds of merchants accepting the wallet, and "thousands" of restaurants taking Chase Pay as a mobile order-ahead application, DeMerell said.

The shops participating at Chase Pay Village include Artisans of NY, Bench Body, Churoncalla, Eataly, Fever Tree, Honey Gramz, Insiders1, Love Menu Arts, Lovepop, Mr. Ellie Pooh, No Chewing Around, Pamela Barsky, Papyrus, Pipcorn, Royce Chocolate, The Giving Keys, Toytoise, United Chocolate Works, and W. Britt.

Chase Pay allows Chase Visa consumer credit, debit or Chase Liquid card customers to transact through the app. The transactions can take place at retail locations or in other apps, and the user can pay with Ultimate Reward points, while also receiving other offers.

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