Buying-in to Mobile Payments

Someone holding their smartphone to a contactless payment machine.
Written by Mark Gentry,

Expectations have been running high for Mobile Payments for some time. In a recent study by the Co-operative Group, 65% of UK shoppers were reported as thinking they will only need a mobile phone to pay with in shops by 2025 (The Grocer, April 2016).

And yet in-store mobile payment remains a minority activity. In research we conducted in May this year*, just 12% of UK shoppers had used a mobile payment app in a shop during the previous month. This is nowhere near reaching the levels of dominance that have been widely predicted.

Other key findings from our May 2016 study:

  • Awareness of mobile payment apps is high: 75% have heard of at least one
  • 29% of UK shoppers have access to a mobile payment app, but less than half of these have used them
  • PayPal is the most widely used payment app, followed by ApplePay.

Our research showed opinion on future usage to be fairly evenly divided: 31% expect to use these apps in the future; 35% don’t expect to use them; and 30% are neutral.

Despite evidence of positive sentiment, it is clear that a widespread switch to mobile payments would represent a major shift in shopper behaviour. People have a natural bias toward continuing current behaviour, and such a major shift can only happen if the unconscious biases and “rules of thumb” that underlie and shape behaviour change radically.

Our research found that there are several key “top of mind” barriers to using mobile payments when shopping:

  • Security concerns: far and away the biggest issue is the perceived risk of incurring losses through fraud, hacking or device theft
  • Practical problems: there are concerns around losing, breaking or forgetting devices, battery life and people’s doubts about their own abilities to use the technology
  • Limited opportunities: many shoppers say that mobile payment technology is not present in enough stores to gain much benefit from it. We expect this concern to subside considerably as shoppers see the technology rolling out in more and more stores, with Android Pay widening its reach to a much broader range of shoppers
  • Limited benefits: interestingly, many consumers clearly expect discounts or rewards in return for using technology of this type, and the lack of obvious incentives is seen as a limitation on its value.

Balanced against these is the one clearly expressed upside to mobile payments:

  • Convenience: its quick and easy, and raises the prospect that people may, in the near future, only need to carry a single mobile device with them, with no need to also carry a wallet or cash.

The other potential unconscious driver is social. Whilst we did not find many shoppers openly stating that they think mobile payments are “cool”, this should not be underestimated as a driver, at least among those adopting early. PayPal’s current advertising strategy (“New Money vs. Old Money”) certainly focuses on this aspect.


The ‘mobile device - no wallet’ scenario may seem a long way off, and yet it is not unreasonable to foresee a situation where large numbers of people soon reach a “tipping point”, where mobile payment becomes such a “no brainer” and they take the plunge and leave their wallet behind when they leave the house.

There are a number of specific unconscious thought patterns that would need to become established in people’s minds to drive this behaviour. Some of these are relatively easy to establish, and are already present to some extent:

  • It is easier and quicker to pay this way
  • Lots of other people are paying this way and it is a “cool” thing to do
  • I will be able to pay for anything this way.

However, in order to really drive usage, shoppers need to develop an innate sense of confidence in the technology, driving new unconscious thought patterns:

  • I am not at risk of losing any money - my financial security will not be compromised
  • If I lose my device or the battery runs out, I will still be able to pay
  • I will get good deals and/or receive rewards if I pay this way.

These thought patterns are essential to driving rapid growth of mobile payments. Delivering solutions and messages that address these areas are essential if Mobile Payments are to become mainstream. These are, without doubt, challenging, but they have the potential to drive one of the greatest changes in payment behaviour ever seen and, in turn, drive even greater changes in how people use financial services to manage their money more generally.

*Research carried out in May 2016, Online interviews with a nationally representative sample of 508 UK Adults responsible for household grocery shopping

Mark Gentry

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