Index, another start-up in Silicon Valley, is developing technology for retailers so that they can gather data about their most loyal customers and better reward and serve them.
Right now it's difficult for retailers to track a customer's history of purchases, said Index CEO and co-founder Marc Freed-Finnegan, who previously led the development of Google Wallet.
But having that information could help brick-and-mortar merchants offer more customized and personalized service and recommendations, much as online retailers like Amazon already do.
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One of the basic challenges remains getting all the necessary players on board—not just the consumers but also the retailers, banks and credit card companies—so that the mobile wallet can really be as easy to use as the industry claims.
While Apple secured more than 220,000 locations to accept Apple Pay at the onset, it also publicly lost CVS and Rite Aid as retail partners within days of its launch.
Instead, CVS, Rite Aid and other major retailers have joined forces to develop a rival mobile payment system, CurrentC, which is expected to debut next year. It promises to allow consumers to make purchases, automatically redeem coupons and promotions and receive rewards through a single app. But CurrentC has already faced its first major hurdle, a reported data breach last month. Small-business owners are not exactly falling into line either when it comes to Apple Pay.
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Apple CEO Tim Cook has been unfazed by CVS and Rite Aid's defection. Instead, he told the audience at a Wall Street Journal conference last month that Apple's legion of loyal customers had activated more than 1 million credit cards on Apple Pay in the first 72 hours.
"It's the first and only mobile payment system that's both easy, private and secure," Cook said. "We've hit on the three key points that customers care about." The company has stressed the security of its system as the main reason consumers are adopting Apple Pay.
Apple has never been known for giving consumers a "good deal"—in fact, its marketing appeal is predicated on it being the high-end product you willingly pay more to have.
The company's Passbook does let consumers save certain coupons, loyalty programs and gift cards to the smartphone. Still, a mobile payments skeptic might notice what was missing from the three benefits highlighted by Cook: getting any kind of discount or reward for making the switch, even after decades of the card swipe.
While Google Wallet and PayPal are offering holiday discounts, Apple Pay—the mobile payments offering that tech enthusiasts are betting on to change consumer habits—is offering none.