Despite the relentless onslaught of news about mobile-payment initiatives, there’s very little paying by phone going on, new research suggests.

An online Harris poll of 2,056 U.S. adults conducted Feb. 6 to 13 found that only 5% of respondents had scanned their phone for admission to a movie or as an airline ticket, and fewer, 3%, had done so to pay for clothing or electronics, admission to a concert, live theater or performance. The same percentage had paid for a convenience item such as coffee, while 7% had paid for something else.

Some 40% of respondents had never scanned their mobile or smartphone for any reason, and slightly more, 45%, said they did not have a mobile or smartphone with this capability.

Although consumers ages 18 to 35, whom Harris calls Echo Boomers, most likely were to have scanned their phone for all of the items listed, even they were not doing so at high rates–between 5% and 10% for each item.

But the levels of comfort with nascent mobile-payment technologies were much higher. Just less than half of respondents, 47%, said they were comfortable using a mobile scan for admittance to movies, concerts or live theater performances, while 38% were not comfortable doing so and 25% were not at all comfortable; 15% were not sure. About the same percentage, 41%, of respondents were comfortable using a mobile scan as an airline, train or other transportation ticket, while 43% were not comfortable and 15% were unsure.

Slightly fewer respondents, 39%, were as comfortable using a mobile app that would allow them to make purchases at a retailer or company as they would with a gift card, while 47% were not comfortable doing so and 14% were unsure.

Interestingly for banks getting into mobile payments, the Americans surveyed were more uneasy about using a mobile phone like a credit card. Sixty-three percent were not comfortable storing credit card information with a mobile app and using it as they would with a credit card in a store; 45% were not at all comfortable. Only 24% of respondents were comfortable doing so, and 13% were not sure.

Overall, younger respondents were more comfortable with mobile payments than were older ones, and men were more comfortable with the concept than were women.

Harris asked participants if they thought information stored on mobile phones would eclipse cash payments for a majority of purchases. While very few respondents, 3%, thought that would happen within the next year, 13% thought it would happen in one to less than three years, and 18% thought it would occur between three and five years. One 21% said it would happen in five to less than 10 years, and 15% said it would happen in 10 years or more; 30% said it would never happen.

There were only slight differences in opinion by age, although significantly more women thought information stored on mobile phones would eclipse cash payments for a majority of purchases in less than 3 years than did men, 20% versus 13% respectively. Men, on the other hand, were more likely to say it would happen in 10 years or more, 17% versus 12%.

Auriemma Consulting Group similarly found in a survey report released March 1 that most consumers use mobile browsers instead of downloadable mobile apps to conduct any mobile-banking activity, and not many are interested in the prospect of emerging mobile digital wallets or paying for such services (see story). 

It’s tempting to look at research like this and say mobile payments don’t matter. However, too many well-run technology and financial-services companies are working on this, and there’s too much momentum behind them for these initiatives to fizzle out. Most likely, within the next year mobile payments will reach a tipping point where consumers recognize the convenience and start adopting in droves.

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