Walmart and Dunkin' Donuts have poured millions of dollars into their proprietary mobile payment apps, and their most interesting lessons are the ones they didn't expect to learn.

For example, sometimes the apps have proven to be unexpectedly popular for certain audience segments and occasions without specifically targeting them, and their popularity reveals how shoppers prefer a self-service purchasing process, the two retail giants shared at Money20/20 this week in Las Vegas.

Walmart expected younger males would be among the quickest adopters of Walmart Pay when it introduced the payments app early last summer, but to the company's surprise, its latest data suggests women—including older, Baby Boomer age women—are among the app's heaviest users, said Daniel Eckert, senior vice president of Walmart Services.

Bloomberg News

Another surprise for Walmart: People who regularly use Walmart Pay may be more interested in saving time than in saving money, arguably the strongest of Walmart's brand associations, Eckert said.

"Saving time is the new currency for people who are extremely busy, and Walmart Pay helps people do that," Eckert said in a keynote address on Oct. 25.

Walmart Pay users say the app enables them to quickly identify available items and their location within the store, Eckert said. The app also enables users to build shopping lists and easily find receipts from past shopping trips, and get quick access to cash-back savings captured and stored from Walmart Pay's Savings Catcher feature.

"Payments are just one piece of the shopping journey in Walmart Pay," Eckert said, adding that since its launch the company continues to add features based on customer feedback.

Eckert didn't say whether Walmart plans develop a new mobile loyalty or rewards features, nor did he hint whether Walmart may eventually adopt contactless payments.

"We're focused on keeping mobile payments (as a central part) of consumer's digital experience, which is really a blended retail and shopping experience," he said.

Dunkin' Donuts' popular QR code-based app, which it's developed and refined over the last several years, also continues to generate surprises and bust internal myths and assumptions, Scott Hudler, Head of Digital, Media & Loyalty for Dunkin' Brands, said in a different presentation later that day.

Though Dunkin' Donuts' mobile app is often compared with the popular Starbucks mobile payments app, the companies have different audiences and a different focus for their apps, Hudler said.

"Our guests don't come to sit, chat and write their screenplay; their primary motivation for coming in is to get their food and drinks and get going on their way," he said, noting that customers place a very high value on speed and efficiency, in addition to discounts and deals the app offers.

When Dunkin' introduced its mobile ordering feature last year, the company saw a surge of popularity and usage because it further sped up customers' visits.

"We learned that our customers don't always like dealing with humans; they'd rather order and pay with the app because it's faster and it's always accurate," Hudler said.

Another key difference between Dunkin' Donuts and many other retailers' mobile payment apps is the fact that the company is composed entirely of franchised locations, which makes app development and implementation tricky at times.

To get store owners to support mobile payments and other new technologies, concepts have to be turnkey and presented "in a box" with minimal changes and training needed by managers and store employees, Hudler said.

"We have constant turnover of employees, with a workforce that doesn't last longer than a football season," he said, so training new employees to use the mobile app and handle new features has to be very simple.

Dunkin' Donuts expected consumers would embrace the convenience mobile payments added to their routines, but it didn't expect to see the growth of new products mobile payments inspired, including a huge surge in gift cards sold through the app.

One more unexpected discovery is the way Dunkin' Donuts mobile app users feel about their mothers versus their fathers when it comes to buying gift cards, he added.

"When Mother's Day comes around, we see a huge surge of mobile gift card sales in the weeks leading up to the day itself," Hudler said, noting that Mother's Day is one of the biggest gift card sales occasions of the year.

Father's Day, however, is different. "People buy mobile gift cards on Father's Day, but we see the big sales surge only on Father's Day—people don't put so much thought into it during the days and weeks beforehand," Hudler said.

Subscribe Now

Authoritative analysis and perspective for every segment of the payments industry

14-Day Free Trial

Authoritative analysis and perspective for every segment of the industry