Just when it seems like we can’t possibly do anything else new and innovative with our phones…we can. Paying for purchases through smartphones is all the rage overseas, and we’re seeing slow adoption in the U.S. as well. Here’s a look at what you thought you couldn’t buy with a phone…but now can.
Food and Drink
Have you ever been out for a walk without your wallet and wanted nothing more than a bottled water from a soda machine? If you’ve got your phone, you can make that purchase, at least in Korea. Tesco Homeplus brings the grocery store to the subway, where many citizens of Seoul spend their time on daily commutes. Simply by swiping your phone across a QR code, the purchase price is deducted from your bank account, and the goods are delivered to your home. Here’s a demonstration of how this works: YouTube.
The closest we’ve come to this in the United States is Starbucks’ iPhone app, which allows you to pay for your double-shot grande latte with your phone, where your Starbucks card is linked. There’s also the BarTab app, which lets you buy drinks at participating bars and share your purchase on Facebook.
Instant Gift Cards
Rather than having to wait for a gift card to be sent in the mail, smartphone users can now purchase and use them instantly from their phones using Cardpool Mobile. You can literally be standing in line to check out, find a discounted gift card, and save on your purchase. This app ties the online and offline shopping experiences together.
Anything That Takes Google Wallet
The sky could be the limit on what your phone could buy if Google has anything to say about it. The Internet mogul launched its mobile Google Wallet payment platform in 2011 and started a campaign to get retailers to set up the hardware it takes to accept mobile payments. As more phones offer the app, we may see wider adoption of this service in places like grocery stores, retail shops, and fast food restaurants.
A Line of Credit
It’s hard to imagine your mobile phone as a lender, but that’s exactly what Mobiloans wants it to be. The company plans to release a mobile line of credit app for the iPhone in early 2012 that will make it easy to get funds on the go – to be used only in emergencies or other dire situations, of course. This is likely to be the first, but not the last, in the lending industry to go mobile.
A Bike, an Apartment, or a Grill
If you like browsing Craigslist or eBay listings, you can also take them in your pocket and buy items from your phone. Craigslist’s app for both Android and iPhone lets you search by category or area so you can find local deals on the go. Using eBay’s app, which is available for most phone operating systems, you can buy items using your existing eBay account or even scan a barcode in a store to compare it to prices on the auction site.
Why We’re Not Seeing More of This in the U.S.
Mobile payment apps have taken Asia and Europe by storm, yet it’s still only drizzling here in the U.S. The reasons we’re not able to buy more with our phones? Many speculate that it simply takes too long to get widespread adoption. For example: Customers won’t download an app and enter their payment info if they can only purchase items at a handful of grocery stores. And grocery stores don’t want to spend the money it requires to upgrade their hardware if only a handful of customers use the mobile payment app.
Another potential reason (though this hasn’t deterred mobile payments’ success elsewhere) is the concern about identity theft. When phones become wallets, what’s to stop a thief from taking advantage of the personal info he can find in your phone?
Mobile industry experts also ask: Who pays for the mobile payment service? Should it be the end user or the retailer? What about the phone manufacturer or wireless provider? Until this question is answered, growth in this area will remain sluggish in the U.S.
Why We Buy (Through Our Phones)
As consumer behavior shifts around the technologies that make things easier to do (like shop), we begin seeing real value in the tools we have. Google research shows that more than half of smartphone users who research products on their phones buy them, whether that’s in the store (40%), online (35%), or directly through their phones (20%).
This creates quite an opportunity for retailers, both brick-and-mortar and online, to reach even more customers through their phones. For consumers, it gives us even more access to the products we want – and we want them now!