Paper money is so 2015. Today's mobile payment platforms streamline transactions for consumers by combining cash, credit cards, debit cards and gift cards in one mobile application. It's easy to pull out your phone when you're in the checkout line and tap to pay your bill. But which app should you use?
What's the best mobile payment app?
Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay are popular options compatible with many merchant card readers, credit cards and banks. Other options include Chase Pay, MasterCard PayPass, PayPal and Visa Checkout.
While all these platforms serve virtually the same function, each is slightly different, with its strengths and weaknesses. Despite slow adoption, the best point-of-sale (POS) systems support these mobile payment platforms as more merchants allow for NFC-enabled payments.
We'll take a look at the three top mobile wallets, how they work, and what consumers and entrepreneurs can expect in terms of more widespread adoption.
Digital wallet comparison
Here's a comparison of Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay.
|Digital wallet||Number of users||Pros||Cons|
|Apple Pay||43.9 million|
|Google Pay||25 million|
|Samsung Pay||16.3 million|
Credit card processors
If you're a small business that wants to accept digital wallet payments, you'll need to ensure your credit card processor supports them.
The best credit card processors allow merchants to accept one or more digital payment methods in addition to credit cards. Our pick is Clover (see our full review of Clover). Clover lets merchants accept Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay. While Google Pay is available on all Android phones, Samsung phone users would need to toggle back and forth from Google Pay to Samsung Pay and are required to designate one as a favorite.
All Clover credit card readers accept near-field communication (NFC) payments, which is required for digital wallets (except Samsung Pay, which can also work with a magnetic stripe reader).
By allowing merchants to accept all three top digital wallets, Clover will help you accommodate most consumers.
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In January 2018, Google announced a rebrand of its consumer payment products and merged Android Pay and Google Wallet into a single unified service known as Google Pay or, informally, GPay. Google Pay also incorporates Google Chrome's autofill feature. Google Pay got another redesign in 2020 that aimed to streamline its interface and make the service easier to use.
Google Pay has mobile apps for iOS and Android (functionality is limited on iOS), allowing consumers to pay in-store and online, as well as earn rewards and send payments directly to friends' bank accounts. With Google Pay, you can store credit and debit cards along with event tickets, gift cards, coupons, loyalty cards and more.
When you use Google Pay online, you can split expenses, earn rewards, manage your account and more.
How to use Google Pay
In-store, Google Pay uses NFC technology to transmit your payment card information from your mobile phone to the card reader. If the store has a compatible card reader and accepts Google Pay, just hold your phone to the card reader to initiate payment.
Google Pay doesn't require fingerprint authentication or Face ID to work, but you can use these biometric features to unlock your phone. As a security measure, Google Pay requires a Google PIN, pattern or password – or your existing screen lock – to use the payment service. (A Google PIN is different from the PIN you use to unlock your phone.) Google Pay doesn't work with Smart Unlock, Knock to Unlock or retina scanning.
Purchases can be verified via a security code Google sends the user. Google doesn't charge transaction fees for purchases made with Google Pay. If you previously added credit, debit, gift or loyalty cards to Android Pay or Google Wallet, they operate as usual, and you don't need to add them again to Google Pay.
Google Pay availability
You can use Google Pay in-store at places like Burger King, Chevron, Dunkin' Donuts, Lululemon, Panera, REI, Shell Gas, Target, Sweetgreen, Albertsons, American Eagle Outfitters, Acme, Aeropostale, Arco, Best Buy, BevMo, Chick-fil-A, KFC, McDonald's, Sephora, Sprouts, Staples, Subway, Stater Bros., Trader Joe's, Ulta, Walgreens and Whole Foods. More merchants are being added all the time.
You can also use Google Pay with apps and websites like Airbnb, Caviar, DoorDash, Etsy, Groupon, Instacart, Postmates and Starbucks.
Transit partners include the Las Vegas Monorail, MTA Omny, Metro, Hop Fastpass and Clipper.
Google Pay security
Security is always a concern when it comes to your financial information. Instead of using your actual credit card number and other personal information, Google Pay uses a virtual account number that ensures your personal information is secure on your phone.
Apple Pay – which Apple says 85% of U.S. retailers accept – offers a similarly easy, secure and private electronic payment service using iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch or Mac. In addition to an Apple device, all Apple Pay requires is the latest version of iOS, watchOS, or macOS; Apple's Wallet app; and an Apple ID signed in to iCloud.
How to use Apple Pay
Start using Apple Pay as soon as you add your credit, debit or prepaid cards to your Apple Wallet on any iOS device. Apple Pay is compatible with most credit cards and U.S. banks.
In-store, use Apple Pay on your iPhone or Apple Watch at merchants with a compatible checkout card reader. On the web (in Safari), use your iPhone, iPad or Mac to pay with Apple Pay. Loyalty points, rewards and benefits from your cards continue to accrue when you use Apple Pay.
You can also send or receive money from your iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch. Send money in Messages or ask Siri to pay someone using the credit and debit cards you have stored in Wallet. The money you receive is added to the Apple Pay Cash card in Wallet, so it's ready to use right away. You can also transfer money in your Apple Pay Cash card to your bank account.
Use Apple Pay to quickly pay friends, but the credit card you choose may charge you a fee for this. Apple doesn't charge a fee to merchants or consumers.
Apple Pay availability
Devices capable of using Apple Pay within iOS apps or on the web are those with Face ID or Touch ID (except the iPhone 5s):
- iPhone 6 and newer
- iPad Mini 3 and newer
- iPad Air 2 and newer
- iPad (fifth generation and newer)
- iPad Pro
- Apple Watch (first generation and newer)
With 85% of U.S. retailers accepting Apple Pay, it's not hard to find a merchant where you can shop with Apple Pay. The bigger names include Ace Hardware, Best Buy, Champs, CVS, Firehouse Subs, Foot Locker, Gap, KFC, JetBlue, PetSmart, QuikTrip, Starbucks, Target, Trader Joe's, Walgreens, Wegmans and White Castle.
Apps and websites that accept Apple Pay include Chipotle, Etsy, Jet, Lyft, MLB.com, Seamless, Staples and Ticketmaster. You can even use Apple Pay to donate to various charities, such as American Red Cross, Feeding America, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and UNICEF, or for mass transit systems.
Apple Pay security
When you make a purchase with Apple Pay, your receipts are kept in your Wallet app, but the transaction information isn't stored elsewhere. Every transaction you make on your iPhone, iPad or Mac requires authentication with Face ID, Touch ID or your passcode. Your Apple Watch is protected by its unique passcode. If your Apple device is lost or stolen, you can suspend or permanently remove the ability to pay from that device.
When you make an in-store purchase, card numbers and identity credentials aren't shared with merchants, and your actual card numbers aren't stored on the Apple device or Apple servers.
As far as available devices go, Samsung Pay is much more limited than Google Pay and Apple Pay. This electronic wallet is compatible with select Samsung Android mobile devices. Samsung phones must be running Android 5.0 or higher, with the latest version of Samsung Gear installed. These are some compatible devices:
- Galaxy Note 5 and newer
- Galaxy S6 and newer
- Galaxy Watch, Galaxy Watch Active 2, Gear S2, Gear S3 and Gear Sport
How to use Samsung Pay
When you use this electronic wallet, you can add any qualifying Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover credit cards. More than 1,000 banks and credit unions support Samsung Pay, including Chase, Navy Federal Credit Union, TD Bank and U.S. Bank. You can add gift cards and loyalty cards, making it easier to manage and use them. If a card has a barcode on it, you can store it in Samsung's electronic wallet.
When you make a purchase with Samsung Pay, you access the card you wish to use on the app, validate your purchase and place your phone near the card reader. You can also make online purchases with Samsung Pay and then verify the purchase with your fingerprint.
Samsung Pay availability
Samsung Pay is accepted in stores, in apps and online, and it works with most card readers. It uses both NFC and magnetic secure transmission (MST) technology. MST technology emits a magnetic signal that acts like the magnetic stripe you find on most credit cards. This allows you to use this electronic wallet at more terminals than some similar applications allow, but it will not work at gas station pumps or ATMs where you physically stick your card into a reader.
Samsung Pay security
Numerous security measures are in place for Samsung Pay. You must verify every purchase with your fingerprint, iris scan or PIN. Additionally, your credit card number is never used for transactions; instead, a random set of numbers is transmitted. There is no fee for using Samsung Pay.
If you fear storing all your credit card information on your phone, you may be comforted to know that Samsung says all account information is encrypted and stored in a data vault. Also, you can remotely lock or erase your account with Find My Mobile.
Samsung ties its electronic wallet to its rewards program. With every purchase, you earn points that can be redeemed like gift cards. Unsurprisingly, many of the items in the rewards catalog are other Samsung products. The company regularly runs promotions that change with the season.
Google Pay vs. Apple Pay vs. Samsung Pay: What should you choose?
Whether you use Google Pay, Apple Pay, or Samsung Pay largely depends on your smartphone. If you have an iPhone, you'll likely use Apple Pay, though Google Pay is available with limited features for iOS. If you have a Samsung device, you can choose between Samsung Pay and Google Pay. For all other Android smartphones, Google Pay is your only option.
Ultimately, all three systems function similarly. If you have a Samsung phone, you can test Samsung Pay and Google Pay to see which one you prefer, while all other mobile wallets are dependent on your mobile operating system.
Pros and cons of mobile wallets
Mobile wallets are convenient, but they're not a perfect payment solution. Here's a look at their pros and cons.
Pros of mobile wallets
- They're easy to use. Mobile wallets are easy to install on your phone and use for purchases. If your device is relatively new and has NFC-enabled features, you won't have any trouble in the checkout line.
- They're more secure than you'd think. Google Pay, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay are built with security in mind. All three platforms hide your personal information and credit card numbers from merchants, and they require you to sign in to your device.
- You don't need to carry credit cards. One of the main advantages of mobile wallets is that you can leave your credit cards at home (mostly). As long as you frequent supermarkets and stores that accept mobile wallet payments, you carry all your cards on your device.
- They have great rewards programs. Google, Apple and Samsung frequently roll out new promotion and reward programs to keep shop-savvy consumers on their platforms.
Cons of mobile wallets
- They are not universally accepted. While mobile wallets are convenient where they are accepted, it's still a good idea to keep a credit card or extra cash on hand just in case.
- You may have data privacy concerns. Even though mobile wallet platforms are very secure, they still have the potential to gather and record your transaction history.
- They are dependent on your phone. The greatest disadvantage of a mobile wallet platform is that it's directly tied to your phone, making your phone the single point of failure. If your battery dies or you lose your phone and don't have your wallet on hand, you'll be stuck with no payment method while you're on the go.
Why the slow adoption rates?
According to data from PYMNTS, Apple Pay is leading the digital wallet adoption race, but it's ahead in a very slowly growing market, where only 4.5% of users report using a mobile wallet for an in-store purchase in 2021.
In 2021, 44% of eligible iPhones were equipped with Apple Pay, but only 1.7% actually used Apple Pay for in-store purchases – down from 3% in 2017. Usage rates for Google Pay and Samsung Pay are even lower.
Mobile payment platforms offer greater convenience, speed and security over conventional payment methods, and they're widely accepted and available, so why are they struggling to gain widespread adoption?
There are a few major barriers to adoption that have stymied consumer demand and slowed merchant incentives to adopt the necessary infrastructure to spur further adoption.
- Preference for contactless debit and credit cards: Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many people were unfamiliar with the concept of contactless payments. Since the pandemic, however, contactless payments with debit and credit cards have become routine.
Contactless credit and debit card payments have many of the same in-store advantages as digital wallets, offering a touch-free checkout experience and convenience, and consumers often choose this payment method.
- Inconsistent infrastructure: Even though NFC payment-equipped POS systems are much more commonplace, many merchants aren't there yet. When NFC support is more readily available, consumers may utilize the payment platforms more.
- Ingrained habits: Most U.S. consumers are perfectly comfortable paying with credit and debit cards, particularly with pandemic-induced contactless debit and credit card transactions. Many people haven't used digital wallets or NFC-enabled POS systems, and these systems can differ from store to store and terminal to terminal.
However, as digital wallet payments become more widespread, more consumers will grow accustomed to them. The most promising signs for contactless payment adoption come from younger consumers, suggesting that demand will grow as more consumers age into the market.
Implementing NFC POS systems
If you're considering implementing a POS system that supports digital wallets, such as QuickBooks POS, the good news is that most POS systems shipping in North America integrate NFC technology, allowing you to accept Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay.
As adoption rates increase, consumers might see the capability to pay with mobile solutions as a luxury. However, as time goes on and familiarity drives consumer expectation for the payment method's availability at most stores, it could become a competitive necessity. Either way, with the shift in POS systems toward NFC, merchants should consider solutions that employ the technology.
Once you know you have the right equipment and the most up-to-date POS software, you're ready to accept these digital wallets in your small business. No application process or signup is necessary. You'll need to educate your staff on what it means for a customer to pay with their phone, smartwatch or tablet so they can assist consumers with the process.
For your customers to know they can use a digital wallet, you'll want to advertise in your store or on your website that you accept this payment method. If you run into issues, you'll probably need to contact your POS system provider before talking to Google, Apple or Samsung, though all three offer customer support phone lines for their digital wallet services.
Jennifer Dublino, Sean Peek and Pamela Oldham contributed to the writing and research in this article.