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 – you just 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 that are compatible with many merchant card readers, credit cards and banks, but there is also Chase Pay, MasterCard PayPass, PayPal and Visa Checkout to consider.
While all these platforms serve virtually the same function, each one is slightly different, with its own strengths and weaknesses. Despite slow adoption, use of these mobile payment platforms is growing as more merchants adopt the support infrastructure for them, which are mainly NFC-enabled POS systems.
Here's a look at the three top mobile wallets and how they work, and what consumers and entrepreneurs can expect in terms of more widespread adoption.
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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.
"With Google Pay, it'll be easier for you to use the payment information saved to your Google account so you can speed through checkout with peace of mind," said Pali Bhat, Google's vice president of product management and CEO of Google Payment Corp., in a blog post for The Keyword. "You'll see Google Pay online, in-store and across Google products as well as when you're paying friends."
How to use Google Pay
As with prior iterations of Google's payment products, consumers can add most credit, debit and gift cards to the application. You can store loyalty cards as well, helping you maintain reward points.
In-store, Google Pay uses near-field communication (NFC) technology to transmit your credit card information between your mobile phone and the card reader. If the store has a compatible card reader and accepts Google Pay, you simply hold your phone to the card reader while the phone is open.
This app doesn't require fingerprint authentication, but you can use it to unlock the screen if you want. It also works with a PIN, pattern or password, but it does not work with Smart Unlock, Knock to Unlock or retina scanning. Purchases can be verified with a security code Google sends to the user. Google doesn't charge transaction fees for purchases made with Google Pay.
Credit, debit, gift or loyalty cards previously added by consumers to Android Pay or Google Wallet operate as usual and don't need to be re-added to Google Pay, and consumers don't need to add another app to use Google Pay. For users who already have Google payment apps, the only change is the automatic device update to reflect the Google Pay name.
Google Pay availability
Google Pay is currently available for use with several e-commerce companies' Android apps, including Airbnb, Boxed, Caviar, Fandango, Houzz, Instacart, Kayak, Papa John's Pizza and Postmates. Participating Acme, American Eagle Outfitters, Bloomingdale's, Best Buy, Chevron, McDonald's, Trader Joe's, Walgreens and Whole Foods locations also accept Google Pay. The Las Vegas Monorail system accepts it as well – the list is growing.
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 (like predecessor Android Pay) uses a virtual account number that ensures your personal information is secure on your phone.
Apple Pay, which more than 50% of stores 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 it 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
You can start using Apple Pay as soon as you add your credit, debit or prepaid card to Wallet on any device you want to use. Apple Pay is compatible with most credit cards and U.S. banks.
In-store, you use Apple Pay on your iPhone or Apple Watch at merchants with a compatible checkout card reader. On the web (in Safari), you use your iPhone, iPad or Mac. 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. You send money in Messages or ask Siri to pay someone using the credit and debit cards you have stored in Wallet. 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.
You can 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)
According to MacRumors, 74 of the top 100 merchants in the U.S. accept Apple Pay, and 65% of U.S. retail locations support it or will soon. It is accepted at Ace Hardware, Best Buy, Champs, CVS, Firehouse Subs, Foot Locker, Gap, KFC, JetBlue, PetSmart, QuikTrip, Starbucks, Target, Trader Joe's, Walgreens, Wegmans, White Castle and many other physical stores. 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 is not 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 on 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 updated to Android 5.0 or higher, with the latest version of Samsung Gear installed. These are some compatible devices:
- Galaxy Note5 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 US 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 technology. MST technology emits a magnetic signal that acts like the magnetic strip 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 own 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 should use Google Pay, Apple Pay or Samsung Pay largely depends on your smartphone. If you have an iPhone, you'll have to use Apple Pay. 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 in a similar manner. 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
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 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 is 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?
Apple Pay has experienced the most overall usage, with 13% of smartphone users reporting they had used the mobile wallet at least once. Only 3% report using it on their last shopping trip, though. The usage rates for Google Pay and Samsung Pay are even lower, at 7% and 5% respectively. Only 1% of those two platforms' users used the application during their last shopping trip.
Mobile payment platforms offer significant convenience, speed and security over conventional payment methods, 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.
- A lack of familiarity with contactless payment: In U.S. markets, contactless payments are largely a foreign concept. This lack of familiarity with solutions like contactless cards has led to a consumer culture unacquainted with NFC-enabled payment solutions. In turn, that lack of consumer interest directly contributes to another major barrier.
- Sluggish infrastructure adoption: Without much expectation for contactless payment, consumers haven't driven more merchants to adopt the necessary POS systems to make NFC payments commonplace. This has led to unavailability of the platform and harmed usage rates, even among users who would prefer to use mobile payment platforms regularly. If NFC support was more readily available, consumers would be more likely to utilize the payment platforms.
- Ingrained habits: Most U.S. consumers don't think much about the steps necessary to transact with a card, but many have never used contactless payment and don't know how to use their phones to pay on an NFC-enabled POS system. Compounding this problem is a lack of uniformity in the precise method each manufacturer uses, meaning the location of the NFC reader differs from terminal to terminal.
However, slow growth is still growth, and the more widespread contactless payment capabilities become, the more consumers will be exposed 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 point-of-sale systems
If you're considering implementing a POS system that supports contactless payment platforms like Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay, the good news is that most POS systems shipping in North America integrate NFC technology.
As adoption rates mature, 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 method of payment. If you run into issues, you'll probably need to contact your POS system provider before you talk to Google, Apple or Samsung, though all three offer customer support phone lines for their digital wallet services.
Sean Peek and Pamela Oldham contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.