Will the new Apple Pay product, revealed on iPhone 6 devices, succeed?  There have been many entries into the digital mobile payments business, such as Google Wallet, Softcard (which had the unfortunate initial name of ISIS,) Square and Paypal.  But so far, nobody has really cracked the market as Americans keep using credit cards, cash and checks.

But that looks like it might change, and Apple has a pretty good chance of making Apple Pay a success.

First, a look at some critical market changes.  For decades we all thought credit card purchases were secure.  But that changed in 2013, and picked up steam in 2014.  With regularity we’ve heard about customer credit card data breaches at various retailers and restaurants. Smaller retailers like Shaw’s, Star Markets and Jewel caused some mild concern.  But when top tier retailers like Target and Home Depot revealed security problems, across millions of accounts, people really started to notice.  For the first time, some people are thinking an alternative might be a good idea, and they are considering a change.

In other words, there is now an underserved market.  For a long time people were very happy using credit cards.  But now, they aren’t as happy.  There are people, still a minority, who are actively looking for an alternative to cash and credit cards.  And those people now have a need that is not fully met.  That means the market receptivity for a mobile payment product has changed.

Second let’s look at how Paypal became such a huge success fulfilling an underserved market.  When people first began on-line buying transactions were almost wholly credit cards.  But some customers lacked the ability to use credit cards.  These folks had an underserved need, because they wanted to buy on-line but had no payment method (mailing checks or cash was risky, and COD shipments were costly and not often supported by on-line vendors.)  Paypal jumped into that underserved market.

Quickly Paypal tied itself to on-line vendors, asking them to support their product.  They went less to people who were underserved, and mostly to the infrastructure which needed to support the product.  By encouraging the on-line retailers they could expand sales with Paypal adoption, Paypal gathered more and more sites.  The 2002 acquisition by eBay was a boon, as it truly legitimized Paypal in minds of consumers and smaller on-line retailers.

After filling the underserved market, Paypal expanded as a real competitor for credit cards by adding people who simply preferred another option.  Today Paypal accounts for $1 of every $6 spent on-line, a dramatic statistic.  There are 153million Paypal digital wallets, and Paypal processes $203B of payments annually.  Paypal supports 26 currencies, is in 203 markets, has 15,000 financial institution partners – all creating growth last year of 19%.  A truly outstanding success story.

Back to traditional retail.  As mentioned earlier, there is an underserved market for people who don’t want to use cash, checks or credit cards.  They seek a solution.  But just as Paypal had to obtain the on-line retailer backing to acquire the end-use customer, mobile payment company success relies on getting retailers to say they take that company’s digital mobile payment product.

ibeacon

Here is where Apple has created an advantage.  Few end-use customers are terribly aware of retail beacons, the technology which has small (sometimes very small) devices placed in a store, fast food outlet, stadium or other environment which sends out signals to talk to smartphones which are in nearby proximity.  These beacons are an “inside retail” product that most consumer don’t care about, just like they don’t really care about the shelving systems or price tag holders in the store.

Launched with iOS 7, Apple’s iBeacon has become the leader in this “recognize and push” technology.  Since Apple installed Beacons in its own stores in December, 2013 tens of thousands of iBeacons have been installed in retailers and other venues.  Macy’s alone installed 4,000 in 2014.  Increasingly, iBeacons are being used by retailers in conjunction with consumer goods manufacturers to identify who is shopping, what they are buying, and assist them with product information, coupons and other purchase incentives.

Thus, over the last year Apple has successfully been courting the retailers, who are the infrastructure for mobile payments.  Now, as the underserved payment issue comes to market it is natural for retailers to turn to the company with which they’ve been working on their “infrastructure” products.

Apple has an additional great benefit because it has by far the largest installed base of smartphones, and its products are very consistent.  Even though Android is a huge market, and outsells iOS, the platform is not consistent because Android on Samsung is not like Android on Amazon’s Fire, for example. So when a retailer reaches out for the alternative to credit cards, Apple can deliver the largest number of users. Couple that with the internal iBeacon relationship, and Apple is really well positioned to be the first company major retailers and restaurants turn to for a solution – as we’ve already seen with Apple Pay’s acceptance by Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Duane Reed, McDonald’s Staples, Walgreen’s, Whole Foods and others.

This does not guarantee Apple Pay will be the success of Paypal.  The market is fledgling. Whether the need is strong or depth of being underserved is marked is unknown. How consumers will respond to credit card use and mobile payments long-term is impossible to gauge. How competitors will react is wildly unpredictable.

But, Apple is very well positioned to win with Apple Pay.  It is being introduced at a good time when people are feeling their needs are underserved.  The infrastructure is primed to support the product, and there is a large installed base of users who like Apple’s mobile products.  The pieces are in place for Apple to disrupt how we pay for things, and possibly create another very, very large market.  And Apple’s leadership has a history of successfully managing disruptive product launches, as we’ve seen in music (iPod,) mobile phones (iPhone) and personal technology tools (iPad.)

 

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