Why 2014 could be the year mobile payments explode on the iPhone

Joel Mathis

"Some would say the consumer is going to have one wallet (app)," Crone says. "The fact of the matter is there isn't one card or credit card today," pointing to the credit, debit, and loyalty cards that can often fill a consumer's pocket. "There will be all three types of ways of making payments" on the iPhone as well.

So far, eateries seem to have led the way in pioneering the field. In addition to Starbucks and Chop't, outfits like Saxby's, a Philadelphia-based coffee chain, and Taylor Gourmet, a D.C.-based hoagie joint, have also jumped in and seen results.

"Coffee is a very habitual product for consumers to consume," says LevelUp's Kiernan, which created apps for Chop't, Saxby's, and Taylor. "We picked this market as a starting place, because it's the place where tying habit to loyalty is easiest to kick off.

Saxby's launched its app in December. "We've had unbelievable success," says Richard Rollier, the company's director of technology. "I think we expected to, but it's nice to see adoption rates. At some of these locations, we've sustained more than 20 percent" of transactions through the app already.

Taylor Gourmet's David Hahn says the loyalty program was being utilized three- to four-times more often as his chain's old loyalty card. That means regular customers are marching in the door even more often, to redeem rewards. "It definitely engages people more," he says of the app. It puts (your business) on the forefront of (customers') thought process."

But mobile payment apps won't stay confined to the food sector. Dozens of merchants—including Walmart, Target, Lowe's, Old Navy, and more—have banded together to form the Merchant Customer Exchange, which should be unveiling its own mobile payment app later this year. "Right now the team is heads down working on the product," says Linda Walsh, "and not ready to share details just yet."

Where's Apple?
Some Apple observers have worried the iPhone will be left behind in this sector because it lacks near-field communication (NFC) technology, which Android phones and Google Wallet exploit to enable making payments simply by swiping your phone near a merchant's scanner. Apple-based apps scan QR codes, instead.

But experts say Apple's share of the mobile market is big enough that the financial-services sector is happy to accommodate the company. LevelUp, for example, doesn't use NFC technology with its apps—though programming is built in to switch that service on, if Apple's approach ever changes, without major revisions of code.

"It hasn't been an issue at all," LevelUp's Kiernan says. Anecdotally, merchants surveyed by Macworld each say that iPhone users comprise more than half their mobile payment customers.

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