Mobile payments could make shoppers spend more

With mobile pay, checking out is as easy as a single tap. But could all that ease be too much of a good thing?

Just as credit cards are blamed for causing consumers to spend between 12 and 18 percent more than if the purchaser had used cash, experts said that mobile payments could similarly lead shoppers to spend more frivolously at the register. (Tweet This)

A worker demonstrates Apple Pay inside a mobile kiosk sponsored by Visa and Wells Fargo.
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What's more, the effect could become even more pronounced as mobile wallets are adopted by a broader base of consumers, and evolve to incorporate loyalty points and targeted promotions.

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"People spend significantly more when they're using a credit card," said Ross Steinman, chairman and associate professor in the psychology department at Widener University. "If we take that idea and extend it to mobile payments, I would expect that to be at least in [the 12 to 18 percent] realm, perhaps a little bit more."

Cash has long been regarded as the best way for shoppers to budget, as there is a physical action associated with it. In other words, as shoppers take the money out of their wallet and count out the bills, there are multiple reminders that they're making a payment.

"If you're actually handing over physical cash, you can reflect on what it took to get that cash," Steinman said.

On the flip side, he said it's easier for shoppers to disassociate from the money they're spending when they swipe a piece of plastic. When using digital payments, shoppers are yet another step removed.

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Then, there is the "newness" of the process. As mobile wallets are first adopted, some consumers will make purchases just because of the novelty effect, Steinman added. And as the technologies evolve to incorporate more than just touch and pay capabilities—by tying in loyalty programs and targeted deals, for instance—consumers will be tempted even more by the desire to reap the rewards they are offered.

According to a recent report by Forrester, 57 percent of adult online smartphone users in the U.S. are interested in accessing loyalty program points and rewards through their mobile wallet.

Next fix for mobile payments

P.J. Ritters, a director in the retail and consumer practice at PwC, agreed that these types of benefits could get consumers to spend more—particularly as shopper data are leveraged to send them relevant promotions based on things such as their purchase history. Retailers also stand to gain by bridging the gap between the Web and physical store shopping, making it easier for consumers to make purchases.

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But until mobile wallets offer more benefits than simple transactions, Ritters said he doesn't think they will impact customers' spending habits. That's partly because the systems are still "clunky" to use, he said.

"Right now I don't see it as being any more convenient than getting my card out of my wallet and swiping and signing," he said. "How do you connect the dots? How do you think more broadly?"

There are other hurdles before mobile pay goes mainstream, including security concerns. Both Apple Pay and rival CurrentC have made headlines in recent months for identity theft or hacking. The current market also is fragmented and one winning platform has not been determined yet.

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While mobile payments only accounted for $52 billion in 2014, that's expected to hit $142 billion by 2019, according to Forrester.

"Despite the accelerating rate of disruption and innovation in mobile payments, no one, including Apple, has yet cracked mobile wallets," Forrester analyst Thomas Husson wrote.