Before most of you were born, the United States was seriously contemplating ditching feet, pounds and gallons for meters, grams, and liters (or is it litres?....blimey). The conversion to the “metric system” went down in a crushing defeat. Although Americans did agree to add scones to the breakfast menu.
Most folks cite “resistance to change” as the reason we still measure length, weight and volume in incomprehensible units (how many ounces in a cup, again?). But that impediment exists all the time, for every choice we make.
Instead, the metric system failed in the U.S. because it was a dare to Americans’ collective intelligence. The metric system blinked, and the U.S. won. “You need us to learn a whole new system because…?”
No one had a good answer. (Being “like the Europeans” was probably the worst rationale given, at the time.)
Fast forward to the current time. Americans are being challenged again. The mobile-technology tsunami has perhaps reached a bit too far with the promise of – * drumroll * – the mobile wallet.
It is as it sounds – a smartphone that allows its owner to conduct financial transactions. Just like he already can with a physical wallet. Cash, credit, debit, deposits, transfers, coupons, loyalty programs, etc. Just push a few buttons, or tap a couple of screens, or wave your phone at some other high-tech object.
Dozens upon dozens of companies – banks, payment processors, mobile techies, and more – have been trying to stoke a mobile wallet industry, in part or whole, for more than four years now. We wrote about one of Citibank’s abandoned efforts back in 2010.
To what end? Are we facing another “conversion” failure? A tiny sample of consumers surveyed by one stakeholder, payment processing firm Litle & Co., found that 71% say they have never “swiped” a smartphone in a retail store. We’ll estimate that number is low by at least 15 percentage points.
Is our collective intelligence being challenged once again? A survey by Javelin Strategy & Research in 2011 found that “ease of use” and “speed” were the top two reasons to use mobile payments. How is the mobile method appreciably easier or faster than ye olde leather billfold?
To be successful at building a new market, education about the category – not just the product itself – is mandatory. Why is the new way better than the old way? The metrics system proponents weren’t successful at addressing this question.
And, so far, the stakeholders in the mobile payments aren’t providing consumers any education to answer that same question.