International mobile pay adoption isn’t a blueprint for the U.S.

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We often point to international markets like the U.K., Canada and Australia to provide evidence or justify how emergent payments innovation can (or should) work in the U.S.

But those successful case studies clearly don’t always translate from one nation to another.

According to Vocalink, “39% of [U.K. consumers] surveyed in 2017 had used a contactless card or mobile payment service to make a small daily purchase, up from 17 percent two years prior.” Even 17 percent is impressive compared to penetration in the U.S., while 39 percent surely surpasses the threshold for critical mass.
Having said that, we’ve slowly realized that comparing the U.K. payments landscape to that of the U.S. is sometimes like comparing apples to oranges.

It’s not that U.S. consumers aren’t as tech-savvy as their counterparts across the Atlantic, it’s that major industry shifts happened at different times and in a different order, more players are involved on the U.S. side and payment infrastructure and entangled relationships are far more complex Stateside. A prime example is how the U.K. enjoyed contactless cards as a bridge from standard magstripe cards to mobile. We didn’t have that historical luxury in the U.S. and thus shouldn’t have expected the process to unfold the same way.

Beyond geography and the vast range of technology that dilutes best practice, there are other factors that hold back mobile payments in the U.S. Although we’ve discussed some very core business and technological issues stunting the dissemination, adoption and growth of POS mobile payments, there are also fringe factors that still haven’t been resolved.

One example that’s impossible to ignore lies in batteries. To be candid, until mobile phone battery life drastically improves, is anyone going to make mobile payments their primary mode of transacting, risking being left high and dry without a way to pay, thanks to a dead or malfunctioning phone? Batteries in devices have absolutely nothing to do with the baseline purpose, design, features and functionality of mobile payment apps, but they sure do impact whether consumers can use them in the world.

While I’m well aware that much of this could be considered water under the bridge, I believe it’s important to reflect on these realities if point of sale mobile payments are ever going to take off in earnest. Beyond that, it’d behoove all of us in the technology space to appreciate this as an instructive example, generalize these observations, and learn from our mistakes and misconceptions for all types of future innovation rollouts.

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