Mobile Wallet Developers Must Confront Gender Bias

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CHICAGO --  A gender disconnect in mobile payments is emerging as one of the persistent obstacles to the new technology.

Even though 80% of retail payments are completed by women, much of the technology and payment solutions are designed by men, who aren't the active shoppers, said Margaret Weichert, principal of financial services performance improvement for banking industry consultant EY, during the Women in Payments Leadership Exchange at SourceMedia's Card Forum & Expo taking place this week in Chicago.

“Men have to sit on wallets or put them in their coats, and they hurt their backs when they sit on them," Weichert said. But for women, replacing the leather wallet isn't as urgent a problem.  “Women don’t hate wallets because women have giant bags,” and wallets to match, she said.

To solve this problem, men and women alike must confront the issues that create this disconnect, Weichert said.

"This is not a conversation by women for women," she said. "I believe it is a conversation about our industry and making our industry stronger and more relevant."

One way to bridge the gender gap is to move the conversation away from phones and on to wearables. Watches – smartwatches and traditional watches alike – are designed with to suit the different needs and styles of men and women.

But again, there is the risk that even if a smartwatch makes for a better mobile wallet, it is being designed by the demographic that is least likely to use it at the point of sale.  "The issue of fashion and wearables in Silicon Valley: Talk about gender mismatch," Weichert said.

PayPal, for example, has been deeply involved in exploring the potential of wearables. The company, which is ahead of most other technology companies in gender diversity, developed apps for multiple smartwatch platforms – including Android Wear, Samsung Gear and Pebble – and it made most of those apps available from the start of each device's lifecycle.

But it is still too early to tell whether fashion and wearables will appeal enough to shoppers to change their habits.

Despite PayPal's aggressive development of wearable technology, "we're just at the tip of the iceberg... [of] this collision of technology and fashion," said Carey Kolaja, vice president, head of global consumer products for PayPal.

"PayPal has tried different ways and the reality is we haven't succeeded at all of them," she said. "There have been some that have been quite successful and others that haven't...  some of it's because the market's not ready, the consumer's not ready."

Apple Pay helps bridge the gap by creating a more comfortable experience for the shopper, Kolaja said. The consumer sees a confirmation on the phone that a payment has gone through, and doesn't have to wait for the clerk to communicate this.

Ubiquity is the key element that the industry is seeking with any new payment technology, said Leslie McNamara, managing director for partnership management at Citi Retail Services.

“No one refuses any one of my purses when I offer any kind of tender, but that’s not true of the different payment types because merchants are not using them,” McNamara said. “What I loathe now is the lack of ubiquity or simplicity [in mobile payments].”

Apple, PayPal and Google are encouraging mobile payment activity simply by driving the conversation about how technology is changing, said Kim Fitzsimmons, U.S. market president for Chase Commerce Solutions.

“They are getting merchants to think about payment technologies,” Fitzsimmons said. Merchants in the U.S. are going through a re-terminalization because of the Oct. 1 liability shift for EMV chip-card acceptance, so many may consider it a good time to consider the other payment technologies, she added.

As payment technology continues to evolve, creating a seamless experience for consumers remains the Holy Grail that all developers seek.

“Unfortunately, the most seamless experience for a consumer is to not pay at all – and some people do that – but we want those payments,” said Kara Kazazean, director of payment services for Walmart.

Even though Walmart has to prepare for the EMV shift, the retailer is looking beyond the need to swap out old terminals, Kazazean said. “We are interested in the total commerce experience and how technology can interact with the consumer.”

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