Few companies can claim to have created a wildly successful mobile wallet app. Even fewer can claim to have done it twice in a row.
Wireless transaction and security company Apriva, which landed a deal with Global Payments last year to deliver AprivaPay Plus to clients, has experienced the highs and lows of mobile wallet app development.
"We released a mobile wallet for a large merchant, Dave & Buster's, that was really successful," Stacey Tappin, senior vice president of Apriva, said of the restaurant/video arcade client. "It was a true mobile wallet to link a card and use it to play games and make payments at the merchant location."
That app eventually had as many as 400,000 users.
But Apriva stubbed its toe on another mobile wallet app it felt would be an instant winner. The "ASU Deals" app for students at Arizona State University had all of the promise one could hope for in launching a wallet app, Tappin said.
"The app had great technology, it was tied to social media, we had merchants signed up for it, and we concentrated it with one ISO to sell, kind of a beta test to see if it would fly."
It did not.
"We released it and it had no adoption," Tappin said. "It was maybe not cool enough for the students, or maybe the offers weren't so rewarding."
The ASU Deals experience left Apriva executives realizing the importance of the offers and rewards and the various other factors that come into play when launching a niche wallet app. Students might not care enough about a free soda to consider it worth their time to download the app to redeem the offer.
Tappin shared this experience last week at the annual Midwest Acquirers Association conference in Cleveland.
Mobile wallets have been in front of consumers and merchants for nearly five years now, and none are meaningfully displacing cash and cards, other than Starbucks. But the phenomenon has potential to catch on in the U.S. as wallet providers watch closely as to what works and what doesn't in other global markets.
"In China, a big deal is the communication app called WeChat, which has 700 million active users," said Dickson Chu, executive vice president of Ingo Money, at the MWAA event.
It started as a communications tool, but developers moved a closed-loop, stored-value wallet into the app after considering that users were on the WeChat app for an average of five and a half hours a day, Chu added.
"At some point, you can't ignore that," Chu said. "They started selling movie and event tickets through WeChat, and have started going to merchants to say they have hundreds of millions of users."
WeChat developers have made it easy for merchants in China to accept payments from the app through a QR code reader at the point of sale.
"When I was in Beijing recently at a McDonald's, not a single person was using cash or pulling out a physical wallet," Chu said. "They were using WeChat on their phones, completely bypassing China UnionPay cards."
Many companies in the U.S. and other markets are moving in a similar direction, as it is all becoming "part of the evolution of this change," Chu said.
Indeed, Starbucks has noticed the advancement of mobile pay apps such as WeChat and is making its mobile pay/rewards app available at its stores in China.