Banks give toasters to new customers, but what can tech companies give? The companies behind Android Pay and Samsung Pay hope to entice users with as much as $25 in gift cards (which, yes, can still be used to buy toasters).
The promotions also address a fundamental omission in many mobile wallet designs; other than the "wow factor," there is little incentive for consumers to sign up and start using them. Even those who got over the hurdle of enrollment may not have used the wallet apps in stores, which is perhaps why Google and Samsung targeted their gift card offers to existing users as well.
Luring users with cash is the oldest—and most expensive—marketing strategy in the book, analysts say. But it works.
PayPal is living proof of this strategy's success. The alternative payments company used a similar approach to break through with new users during its early years, giving first-time users a reward of up to $15 cash in their PayPal account.
"Giving people money to sign up works, as far as activating payment credentials on a consumer’s handset, because the whole business model of mobile payments is built on registering payment details," said Richard Crone, a payments consultant.
But it’s less certain whether paying consumers to try out Samsung Pay or Android Pay will reap long-term results. Apple Pay's earliest adopters would presumably be its most active users, but their use of the mobile wallet dropped off pretty quickly once the novelty wore off.
"Giving each new user cash is a very expensive approach, and it only primes the pump," Crone said. "What keeps it going is ongoing loyalty, offers and promotions that are integrated into the mobile payment experience, and that’s not a certainty here."
Cash lures won't convince anyone who has already made up their mind about mobile payments, but they could win over consumers who have been merely hesitant to enroll with a mobile wallet, said Tim Sloane, director of consulting for emerging technologies at Mercator Advisory Group.
"Bribes drive consumers that are on the fence, or those looking for savings, to take the plunge. But cash alone won’t keep a consumer engaged; it’s the convenience, or the rewards, a mobile payments service brings that will close the deal," he said.
Google also gave away cash and rewards to seed new users of Google Wallet when it launched in 2011, and Softcard—the telco-driven mobile wallet Google eventually absorbed—did the same thing with freebies from high-profile promotions with Jamba Juice and Coca Cola Co., among other companies.
Google Wallet still exists today, but it's a shadow of its former self. Google gutted its wallet app to create the new Android Pay wallet, and Google Wallet lives on only as a P2P app.
"Google had a bounty program for the first version of Google Wallet, and clearly that didn’t work out for them in the long run," Sloane noted.
Google's current offer is a $20 Best Buy e-gift card for shoppers who use Android Pay on a Google Nexus handset to make an in-store payment before Dec. 31. Ironically, consumers may not be able to use Android Pay at Best Buy itself, since the mega-retailer is still in the process of deploying NFC terminals. Back in April, Best Buy promised to begin accepting Apple Pay in stores by the end of this year.
Samsung last week dispatched 50 marketing teams to shopping malls across the U.S., dangling a "free gift" of up to $25 for anyone who activates Samsung Pay with a credit or debit card on their handset on the spot, with the assistance of Samsung representatives. Existing Samsung Pay users can get a $10 gift card, which can be used from within the mobile wallet. Consumers can also enter to win a trip to Los Angeles for a private performance with Usher on New Year’s Eve, and Samsung will support the promotion through Jan. 10, giving various rewards, including gift cards from various merchants, to new users activating Samsung Pay.
Samsung separately is giving consumers $200 off any purchase through Samsung’s website for consumers who buy a Galaxy handset and activate Samsung Pay; other consumers who activate Samsung Pay can enter a "50 Years of Football" sweepstakes promotion online.
The promotional pushes from Samsung coincide with a significant expansion of banks that support it. Nineteen new card issuers, including PNC Bank, Keybank, TCF Bank, Navy Federal Credit Union and more than a dozen larger, regional credit unions support Samsung Pay now, Samsung said Tuesday.