Mobile payments will replace cash and cards. Or the technology will stall for lack of consumer interest. It all depends on which report you read.
In the same way the payments industry is currently flooded with mobile payment technology, it is also flooded with research and opinion polls addressing this turning point in technology. But this deluge of information doesn't make it any easier to get a good pulse reading on mobile payments.
Rather, it makes for sometimes confusing and conflicting conclusions, stemming from a shift in the available data. For years, market researchers in payments relied on the data coming from banks to begin to mold their theories or develop strategies for clients.
But that dynamic has changed.
"Maybe it is a fallout from the financial crisis, but over the last four or five years it seems like banks are commissioning a lot less," said Steve Mott, principal of BetterBuyDesign, a Stamford, Conn.-based consulting firm. "The banks don't feel like they have the same freedoms to change their strategies and do what the research indicates."
Now, when a bank sticks its neck out on a certain strategy, it runs the risk of "getting its head chopped off" and being asked by auditors why it did not perform regular due diligence, said Mott, citing the example of Apple Pay's recent fraud concerns and a weak link in how banks handled fraud security.
Banks used to see a need to get a pulse reading on the market, but some have backed away from that mindset, Mott said. "It's a little bit wrong-headed because there are clearly pockets of opportunity with mobile wallets, if they researched it."
So researchers must find a new starting point in how they assess the market, and each takes a different approach depending on what opportunities they are looking to measure.
Because of the importance of its entrance in the mobile payment field, researchers have kept a close eye on Apple Pay, which might be easier to monitor because the transactions go through traditional card networks. Still, each researcher can come to a different conclusion.
Recent Auriemma Consulting Group research in February revealed that Apple Pay has been tried at least once by 42% of iPhone 6 and 6 Plus users surveyed, and that 47% of those who have not yet tried it said they intended to do so. At the same time, a report from InfoScout says as of this month 85% of respondents with an iPhone and Apple Pay hadn't even tried the mobile wallet.
"We can only talk to what we have done in this space and we have spent a lot of time developing the surveys, thinking we had it right," said Scott Strumello, research analyst with Auriemma.
Once a researcher is "in the field" it is common to discover updates that need to be made for the next survey, Strumello said. "You can't predict what consumers are going to say or do because this is an evolving marketplace and there are going to be changes reflected in various surveys."
When CreditCards.com conducted its March research on mobile payments, it declared Apple Pay has provided an uptick for awareness of the technology, but only 17% of 1,000 U.S. adults said they would always use their cellphones to make purchases a number similar to those answering the same question in September 2014 before Apple Pay launched. Most telling was that 64% that fell in the "never" or "hardly ever" category about whether they would ever make a mobile payment.
In an example of how mobile polls can differ based on geography or demographics, a Timetric survey released last week found that, of 300 global financial business professionals polled, 52% consistently use their phones for payments. Those in the Asia-Pacific region used mobile payments more than those in North America or Europe.
Research will vary because some focus on only specific types of mobile payments, such as through wallets, person-to-person transfers, Near Field Communication or QR codes, while others concentrate on all payments carried out through mobile phones, Timetric stated in an e-mail.
"Our sample includes only professionals, mainly in financial services," Timetric said. "It could be that professionals in other industries are less prone to using mobile phones for payments."
Clearly, location makes a difference, as does the researcher's definition of mobile payments, said Thad Peterson, senior analyst with Boston-based Aite Group.
Mobile payments can include mobile commerce (buying something online with a mobile device), which is not the same as mobile proximity (initiating a transaction by tapping a phone on an NFC reader at the point of sale).
"It's a definitional issue and it's a big problem" for those unfamiliar with the differences, Peterson said.
"You have to look at research on a market-by-market basis, as each is evolving differently," Peterson said. "When you look at numbers, particularly in Asia, that country's primary connectivity is by mobile device, not a computer."
Despite the conflicting conclusions, Peterson said he "remains an optimist" about the future of mobile payments. Aite research indicates that online and mobile purchasing could be a $73 billion business in the U.S. this year and $104 billion in 2016.
"That area is growing very rapidly," Peterson said. "Mobile payments at the point of sale will be much smaller."
Having a proper grip on the various research findings is vital for those who advise payments clients or those considering devoting resources to the field.
"It's important if you want to make an investment in mobile technology to be as realistic as possible about factors surrounding what has happened so far in the market and what could happen in the future," said Beth Robertson, managing director at Robertson Payments Services LLC.
Understanding the data is important to the industry because it also helps "in the development of coalitions that help drive innovation," Robertson said.