Remember the quaint old days when retail competition merely meant vying for a portion of the consumer's wallet? Well today that competition is literally over the wallet, and how consumers pay for their retail purchases.
A recent story in the Wall Street Journal reports that two dozen retailers, including Walmart and Target, are collaborating on a mobile-payments system to compete with Google Wallet and other similar products that allow consumers to purchase products with their smartphone apps. Turns out that merchants are dissatisfied with the mobile-payment products launched so far, in part because they limit the merchants to providing personalized offers and coupons.
In other words, digital wallets, as they are, prevent merchants from using the consumer data they collect to deliver a complete customer experience. Merchants understand their consumers' behaviors across many dimensions – from what they do while perusing the aisle to which products they prefer to order online. By building their own digital payment systems, retailers believe they could increase customer loyalty by layering their in-store and online behavioral data with purchase-processing data.
And it should be pointed out that digital transaction processing is a potentially lucrative business. The market for mobile payments is expected to exceed $600 billion by 2016, the WSJ reports.
But lost in the conversation is the need to make digital payments, like every other touch point where the consumer interacts with the brand, relevant. If the merchant's loyalty program remains intact, and it simply adds a digital wallet feature as a delivery channel, is it distinguishing itself from others or merely catching up?
There is a quagmire of delivery channels out there today, and consumers are as overwhelmed by these choices as merchants are competitive. In the end, the retailer that wins the wallet will be the one that provides an experience that really stands for change.
Bryan Pearson is President and CEO of LoyaltyOne Inc. and the author of the best-selling book The Loyalty Leap: Turning Customer Information into Customer Intimacy.