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Google Wallet to Go “Back to the Future” to Drive NFC Adoption?

It is no big secret that Google Wallet has been challenged to gain adoption since it officially launched in September 2011. While the app faced a number of headwinds in its very early days, the initial version of Google Wallet was especially hamstrung by the very limited number of payment card types and smartphones that supported the app. Since its introduction, these problems have generally been addressed, as the app is now available on a broader range of devices and has implemented a new hybrid architecture that leverages cloud-based technology to enable almost any common credit/debit card to be used with Google Wallet.

Still, despite these improvements to accessibility and usability, Google Wallet has yet to gain traction with consumers and has left its management looking for other strategies to drive adoption. If recent rumors prove true, Google plans to introduce a decidedly low-tech expansion—in the form of a traditional plastic payment card—to its solution sometime soon.

Essentially, the Google Wallet card—as it is rumored—will enable consumers to load all the cards in their wallet onto an online portal and link them to the Google Wallet card, thereby offering the potential to slim down the brick-like stacks of cards many of us carry in our pockets and purses. The Google Wallet app (in conjunction with the online portal) would provide consumers the ability to manage which credit/debit card they want to pay with when using the Google card and continue to offer contactless payment for devices and merchants that support it. Rumors indicate that the card will only be available to Android users if/when it launches. Perhaps it will eventually be offered to iOS users too, but given the state of affairs between Google and Apple, we are not betting on it.

From a strategic perspective, we think adding a card extension to Google Wallet is well-advised, as it opens the app to a broader audience of potential users—including the majority of the US population that does not own an NFC-enabled phone. Furthermore, a Google Wallet card is a palatable intermediary step that could allow Google to ease mobile-payment-weary consumers into migrating from traditional card-based payment to mobile contactless payment.

From a consumer’s standpoint, consolidating multiple credit/debit cards into a single one is certainly an agreeable concept to those of us—myself included—that carry overloaded wallets. However, it is difficult to envision many consumers taking the initiative to obtain, configure and use a Google Wallet card/app solution for this benefit alone. To justify consumers’ investment of time and effort, there needs to be some kind of compelling, undeniably attractive incentive to reward them—something along the lines of cash-back rewards, discounts or some other feature that will capture consumers’ attention and keep them coming back for more. Otherwise, we see this rumored Google Wallet addition being another payment innovation flop.

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