An Inconvenient Apple Pay Truth
Let me tell you a story about global warming and mobile pay — Apple Pay in particular — and what they have in common.
Let’s start with Al Gore. Al Gore’s interest in global warming started when he was an undergrad at Harvard University.
While there, he studied with a professor who was one of the first, in 1957, to measure carbon dioxide levels in the Earth’s atmosphere. That body of work suggested that global warming was the likely future result of the oceans’ inability to absorb excess levels of CO2 generated by the projected growing use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels — such as coal, natural gas and oil — generate nearly 90 percent of all human-produced CO2.
That topic, and Gore’s interest in environmental issues more broadly, became the cornerstone of his career as a senator and his legislative agenda as President Clinton’s VP — with mixed success. The data backing up his claims was challenged and politicized by growing concerns over job losses at home and possible trade wars with developing nations that were among fossil fuel’s heaviest users.
Gore’s 2006 movie, An Inconvenient Truth, was his attempt to take his story to a different audience — the lay consumer. In it, he shares the data used to support the same environmental concerns and likely “planetary emergency” that he had begun raising 17 years earlier.
“I’ve been trying to tell this story for a long time,” Gore says at the beginning of the movie, “and I feel as if I’ve failed to get the message across.”
It’s a message he continues to share every opportunity he can — now with new data points to support his thesis. As our keynote speaker at our first Innovation Project 2013, Gore managed to traverse the connection between commerce and global warming. His exchange with Russell Simmons that year on the topic sort of brought down the house.
You had to be there.
In the ten years since Gore’s crusade, consumers and innovators alike have taken his call to action to heart and have done everything from paying more attention to recycling, to pouring investment capital into renewable energy and electric cars.
The “inconvenient truth,” though, wasn’t so much the story Gore was telling — and had been for many years — but the broader conversations that it started and the realities that very powerful stakeholders were forced to address as they listened.
Which brings me to Apple Pay and The Wall Street Journal’s article last week on its hype not living up to its hope, 2.5 years after its launch.
The WSJ’s article is dated April 6, 2017, and cites Apple Pay’s struggle to get adoption because of consumer concerns about security and sales clerks’ confusion over how to instruct consumers to use it.
Better 30 months late than never, I suppose, and somewhat ironic to have this story told now by one of the outlets that helped to fuel its hype, even after it became increasingly clear that the bloom was falling off the Apple Pay rose – and not long after its start.
Just three weeks after we released our latest quarterly mobile payments adoption study results, it was made astonishingly clear that the already disappointing Apple Pay performance was being taken to a new level: Consumer adoption and usage moved from flatline to decline.
Coincidence? Or is it simply impossible not to tell the non-hyped Apple Pay story any longer?
The Inconvenient Apple Pay Truth
Despite being the most adopted general purpose instore mobile wallet in the market, our research over the last 2.5 years suggests that Apple Pay isn’t used much.
Consumer adoption — consumers with the right phones and the app in a store that accepted it and who tried it once peaked in March of 2016.
Consumer usage — consumers with the right phones and the Apple Pay app shopping in stores that accepted it and who used it more than once peaked in March of 2015. Nearly 49 percent of Apple Pay users (48.6 percent) told us in March of 2017 that the reason they don’t use Apple Pay is because they’re happy with their existing payments methods — up from 37 percent two years earlier.
And even though we’ve seen a slight uptick in security concerns (15 percent in March of 2015 to 20 percent in 2017), we’ve also seen steady declines in users telling us that their reasons for not using the app have little to do with knowing they can or how to do so in the store.
After watching what consumers do and reporting what they’ve said for the last 2.5 years, we can also safely conclude that Apple Pay’s lack of usage isn’t for the reasons the WSJ’s story cited, either — it’s not because consumers don’t think it’s safe to use Apple Pay or they are confused about whether they can. And, at least in the stores in which I’ve shopped, sales clerks seem well-versed and helpful.
What we see from our data is that consumers with phones that have the Apple Pay app and who shop in a store that accepts it know they can use it, know that it will work and 80 percent of them feel safe doing so.
They just think what they’re using instead – the dowdy plastic card – is just fine – and have decided not to use Apple Pay.
They’ve simply chosen not to use Apple Pay.
For Apple Pay, that means that the storyline can no longer be “just give it time and consumers will come around.” The inconvenient Apple Pay truth is that not enough consumers see the value in it, so 19 out of every 20 people who could use it don’t even bother anymore.
No consumer interest means no merchant interest. No merchant interest means no partner interest to prioritize Apple Pay over something else — at a time when partners have plenty of other options.
All of this, of course, is coming at the most inconvenient time of all for Apple Pay — when contract renewals for the app are being re-upped. Apple is hoping the banks don’t turn the negotiating tables on them and pull, well, an Apple.
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