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By Thomas Baekdal - July 2011

When Mobile Payments Make Sense

Mobile payment systems have yet to take off. Or oven reach of point in which paying with your mobile have any kind of disruptive effect. There are two reasons for this.

First, the technology is not ready yet. Mobile payment systems are just to complicated - or limited to a very small subset of your customers. It is not for lack of trying, there are many startups out there with many different types of mobile systems.

Even Google is out with a mobile payment system, which shows a lot of promise.


But that leads us to the second problem. In almost every case, mobile payment systems are pointless. There is very little difference between buying something with your credit card, and buying something with your smartphone. You still have to take it out of your pocket. You still have to put it in front of something on the counter. You still have to click some buttons.

You also still have to bring your wallet, because you need to bring you drivers license with you anyway. There is no reason for companies and people to invest in mobile payment systems. It doesn't change how we buy.

Forget the mobile phone; think the mobile person

The trick to revolutionizing mobile payments is not to try to replace the credit card. The real power of mobile is not in the device. It is how you as a person can be mobile. Mobile frees you from being chained to a specific destination.

10 years ago, you had to sit at your desk in your office to check email. Now, we just do it wherever we are. That shift from destination to anywhere changed how thought about it. Back then, checking was a tasks - a process. Now it is a natural flow.

It is the same with mobile payments. Right now, you still have to buy your products at a destination (i.e. in a shop). And you still have to go to the counter to check out. We need to look beyond that. The power of mobile payments needs to be liberated from the old destinations.

There are two companies who shows a lot of promise in this field. Square and the South Korean grocery store Homeplus.

Square - no checkout counter

Square is very interesting because it is a mobile checkout counter that lives on an iPhone or iPad. It is designed to make it easier for shops to interact with their customers. The entire system is basically just an app, and a tiny credit card reader that you can plug in.

The store assistant can focus completely on helping the customers.

If you think about this in larger terms, it also provides the possibility to sell outside your store. You can be mobile. Your store can be mobile. It is not a cash register that has to sit on a counter.

You can go out to where people are, and bring your checkout counter with you - in your pocket.

The possibilities of this alone are amazing.

Homeplus - what store?

South Korean grocery store chain Homeplus is another great example of mobile payments being used to get rid of the destinations. Instead of asking people to come to Homeplus, they come to you.

How do you bring a grocery store to where people are? The obvious answer is to create an online shop + home delivery. That way people can shop from wherever they are. But that is not actually "going to where people are", you still ask people to come to you.

The way Homeplus solved this is brilliant. They simply moved the store to the local subway stations. But instead of buying ad space, they placed huge posters with the actual products that you could buy. Then they added a QR code, and just like that, you can now shop while waiting for the next train.

Here is a video explaining how it works.


Arguably, the whole Homeplus "subway store" is a marketing gimmick - albeit a brilliant one. But just think about this for a moment.

With credit card processing, you need to put a credit card reader in each location you want to sell your products (or with Square, have a salesperson run around with a mobile + a card reader).

But if you think about mobile being about people - instead of devices - you can truly start thinking about being where your customers are. In the past, shopping has always been about going to a store. But now, with mobile payments and social commerce, you can put your product in places where people actually need it.

Most brands spend a lot of time putting marketing posters up all over the city, in bus stops, and at intersections in order to get people to come to their stores. But what if people could buy the product directly from the poster. What if you didn't have to go to the store?

What would happen if you removed the extra step of asking people to go to a destination? What if people could buy your product, without having to plan to go somewhere to do it. What if if just happened, because you were in the right spot at the right time?

That is the future of mobile commerce.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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