Throughout all of 2014, only 22% of consumers surveyed for an annual Federal Reserve Board study said they initiated a mobile payment during the year. This was just five percentage points more than the prior year, despite 2014 bringing the launch of Apple Pay.
Apple Pay debuted late in the year, but its October launch followed massive publicity and accompanied record sales of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, the first iPhone models to support Near Field Communication payments.
That said, Apple hasn't concluded its promotional efforts around mobile payments; the 2015 launch of the Apple Watch will bring fresh attention to Apple Pay and other mobile payment methods.
"It will continue to be a slow pace for mobile payments in the U.S., though I do believe Apple Pay is raising awareness," Angela Angelovska-Wilson, a financial services and banking lawyer at Reed Smith LLP.
Mostly, it is difficult for a mobile wallet provider to get a foothold in a fragmented U.S. market that presents high costs for development and distribution, Angelovska-Wilson said. "It is not like Sweden, where mobile payments is a very popular option," she added.
Mobile wallets still need to provide a compelling reason for consumers to use them, Angelovska-Wilson said, citing the Starbucks model and some restaurant mobile payment options as giving consumers a better option than they get from other payment methods.
In differentiating the types of mobile payments available to consumers, the research from the Fed's Division of Consumer and Community Affairs found that paying a bill from a smartphone online or through an app was the most popular practice at 68%, up slightly from 66% in 2013.
However, 39% of all mobile payment users with smartphones said they made a point of sale payment using their phone last year. The most common method of payment at 31% was scanning a QR code or bar code, but it marked a drop from 39% the previous year. Use of an app to make a payment increased from 17% in 2013 to 22% in 2014, possibly signaling a desire to pay without having to scan or tap a handset at the point of sale.
As more merchants provide incentives and payment options for consumers, they will hold the key to fast-tracking mobile payment adoption in the U.S., said Richard Crone, chief executive of San Carlos, Calif.-based payments consulting firm Crone Consulting LLC.
The Fed's DCCA has conducted research on financial services mobile use since 2011. For the 2014 results, the Fed surveyed nearly 5,000 consumers ages 18 and older, with just less than half of those being repeat interviews from the previous year to determine consumer habit. The Fed acknowledged that its Web-based survey has the potential for "underrepresentation" of adults who simply are not comfortable with any type of technology.
The survey also confirmed that mobile devices are changing the way Americans shop. Among smartphone owners, 47% have used their phone to compare prices over the Internet, and 33% had scanned a bar code to find the best price while shopping in a store.
The primary reason, at 75%, amongst those not participating in mobile payment was a belief that it is easier to pay with cash or a payment card.