Why Is Apple Pay's Adoption So Slow?

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Apple Pay was supposed to be the catalyst that finally convinced banks, merchants and consumers to leave their wallets at home and start paying with their phones. But a year later, it seems mobile wallets still need One More Thing to get off the ground.

Four months into its October 2014 launch, 11% of iPhone 6 users had linked a payment card to Apple Pay. A year after the launch, the number of Apple Pay adopters has reached only 14%, according to research from Phoenix Marketing International. Separately, banks and networks are reporting that their own audiences' adoption of Apple Pay is decidedly low.

It's not just banks that say Apple Pay isn't living up to the hype; the main reason consumers aren't using Apple Pay is that, even after going through the effort of enrolling a payment card, they find few opportunities to use Apple's wallet.

Nearly 50% of Apple Pay users have gone into stores fully expecting to use the mobile wallet, only to find out the retailer does not accept it, the Phoenix report said. For stores that accept Apple Pay, the number of consumers who reported problems at the point of sale has remained between 65% and 71% each quarter.

"The issue is lost opportunity," said Leon Majors, president of Phoenix Marketing. "If Apple had signed up five major retailers, like they did with the banks, and said each one had Apple Pay at all of its registers, it would lead to cross-marketing and pushing people to use it."

The issue will likely follow Apple Pay in its expansion to new regions, particularly as it faces trouble finding partners. Apple plans to launch its wallet in Canada this year, but it has so far named only one partner, American Express.

There were also problems with the Apple Pay interface itself. Apple Pay picks the first card enrolled as the default card for all transactions, and 25% of users surveyed said it was too cumbersome to choose a different card account.

Phoenix surveyed 3,000 smartphone users about their familiarity with, or adoption of Apple, each quarter for the past year. The company plans to continue monitoring Apple Pay adoption and familiarity with other mobile wallets in the coming years. The research focuses on Apple Pay adoption, or the linking of cards to the wallet, not transaction volume.

Phoenix also looked at CurrentC, the mobile wallet created by the Merchant Customer Exchange, an organization backed by the biggest U.S. retailers. CurrentC is still in testing but has attracted widespread merchant support, and counts superstores Walmart and Target among its founders.

CurrentC is also starting to make headway with banks, as evidenced by its collaboration with JPMorgan Chase on the newly announced Chase Pay wallet.

But Apple Pay and CurrentC represent very different products and philosophies, so Phoenix included a comparison in its research on Apple Pay adoption.

The survey, completed prior to the Chase Pay announcement, found that 63% of people who used Apple Pay would not try another wallet, while 27% said they would consider using CurrentC as well. Only 10% said they would use only CurrentC going forward. The numbers were similar for overall smartphone users, with 54% saying they would consider using only Apple Pay, while 23% said they would use both products and another 23% said they would consider only CurrentC.

"Apple Pay is promising private transactions, saying they have no interest in consumer data," said Greg Weed, director of card research at Phoenix. By contrast, CurrentC wants to know the customer better and collect information about them and use it to personalize merchant communications, Weed added.

"Consumers will fall on either side of that equation," Weed said. "Some will always love the shopping angle and will let retailers have all of their information."

But some consumers are thinking twice about giving personal info to merchants, or bank account information as required by CurrentC, instead putting more trust in Apple or their banks, Weed added.

Between 16% and 21% of the smartphone users surveyed over the last three quarters were iPhone 6 owners, with 14% of those in September 2015 saying they had already started using Apple Pay. Taking all smartphone users into account, 29% said they had used Apple Pay, Google Wallet or PayPal.

There was a clear need for Apple or any other mobile wallet provider to supply customer service support, as 43% said they needed help from a friend, the bank or Apple to get a grasp of the wallet transaction process.

Despite the problems Apple Pay's users faced, many plan to keep using the product. Seventy-five percent said they will add more cards to the wallet, and as many as 43% plan to at least modestly increase the use of the wallet.

But there is still friction. Apple is not offering merchant rewards, some merchants are saying they don't need Apple, and banks are not making issuer rewards applicable at the point of sale, Majors said. "No one is doing exactly what the customers want."

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