3 Years Ago, Almost Exactly to the Day, I Wrote About my Google Wallet Experience; Deja Vu for Apple Pay Launch

Exactly 3 years ago, I wrote about my first hands-on experience with Google Wallet as soon as it was launched. It was an email to a colleague in the industry. I had summarized it as a novelty, not perfect, and certainly not seamless. Fast forward to this week and we have the newly launched Apple Pay! The LTP team wrote an article today about teething issues in Apple Pay, and I thought I should share this Déjà Vu moment with you…(please excuse the typos and lack of formatting - publishing the email as-is.)

---------- Forwarded message ----------

From: Aditya Khurjekar <>

Date: Sun, Oct 23, 2011 at 5:02 PM

Subject: 5 Days with GW

Day 1:

I had saved a few other offers in my Google Wallet, from Macy's, Jamba Juice, American Eagle Outfitters, etc. so headed to the Bridgewater mall, where i could redeem them and use the Nexus S with NFC. I could also search on the Google Wallet home page where the wallet would work. The places where tap and pay would work were identified with a red pointer and those with single tap pay/loyalty/offer were identified with a blue pointer.

However, I did not want to believe the map, and entered a few other stores anyways, went straight to the checkout counter without anything to buy, simply looking for an NFC terminal. The result - curious looks from the store reps and an irritated 'May I help you?'. When I told them what I was looking for, even more confused looks. The rep in Ann Taylor thought I was a Martian when I said I was checking whether I could tap my phone on their payment terminal.

Next stop, Macy's: we picked an item, it was already marked down, so wanted to check if the 15% from the NFC offer would also apply. I took it to the counter, and started tapping my phone on the terminal which clearly showed the MC pay pass logo, and an illustration of a card being waved at the terminal. The reps behind the counter were getting curious why I was tapping my phone on the terminal. 'only those cards with the wavy thing on it work there. Otherwise you have to swipe the card.' we explained that tapping the phone was the same thing as tapping those special cards. They were not convinced, but they figured they would let me do my thing anyways. So, I first tapped with the screen dark - nothing happened; then with the phone unlocked without opening the wallet - nothing happened. Then, I opened the wallet, entered my 4 digit pin, went to My Offers, clicked on the Macy's offer, clicked on Redeem Offer, and then tapped the phone. This time, there were some blinking lights on the terminal, my phone showed a large GW logo, and asked me to tap again to confirm that I wanted to complete the purchase using the default card and the offer I had selected. I tapped, and the rep was excited that it actually worked. I asked if she was seeing the extra 15% off, she confirmed, but I was not convinced because my card balance had not changed. So I tapped a few more times just to be sure. I figured i could not lose more than the 30 dollars I had deposited on the card. by the time the receipt was printed, the balance on my card on the phone had been updated with the correct amount of the purchase - only one. Oddly enough, the transaction history had a log of every tap of my phone. Overall, if I would have been a bit more patient and not so tap-happy, the experience was not bad. The 2 reps were amused, but were very clear: 'I am NOT going to let you hold up the line the next time.' I had taken far more time to complete the transaction than if I had used a paper coupon and plastic card, almost 5 times as much.

On the way back, we stopped over at American Eagle because I had an offer there too. I walk in, go to the counter, no NFC! I look at the fine print, and it says - 'select stores in NYC, SF...'. We were in an NJ store. In fact, the Macy's offer said the same thing, but it had worked. Here, I could not tap and pay but I had an option to show the offer, which was a long number (a 'voucher-code' had to be entered at the POS), and get the discount anyways with a traditional payment and coupon-code experience.

Final observation: I wanted to use up the remaining few dollars on the card, so was looking for a place to tap and pay in the food court. There was none. NFC was supposed to be adopted by quick service restaurants first, but that was not the case in the mall we were in.

Quick Takeaways:

  • A tremendous amount of education will be required by merchants to get people used to NFC.
  • The experience is going to be far from Tap-and-Go for some time.

Day 2:

I was in an NYC taxi-cab. Still looking to use up the 5-odd dollars left on the prepaid card, so I figured I could pay my fare by tapping at the touch-screen contactless terminals, which are installed in all the cabs. I saw the fare exceeding $5 half-way to the destination, so I quickly added more money from my credit card to the Google prepaid card. I had to punch in the CC#, expiry date, CCV, name, address, email and phone#. My Google card now had enough money to pay, so I added the tip on the touch-screen, and tapped the phone. The wallet acknowledged that the money was Sent, but the driver was still waiting for the transaction to come through. He noticed what I was doing, and told me to swipe. I told him I am tapping instead because his terminal was contactless-enabled. It had the PayPass Mastercard logo, so it was supposed to work. He objected a couple of times politely, but then became irritated: Sir, hundreds of people have tried tapping the phone, but it does not work. Trust me, just swipe your card. I swiped another card, and I was done.

The transaction log in the GW still says Sent with the correct timestamp, but the prepaid card was never debited. So, no money lost, but very bad experience.

I followed up by asking somebody in the payments acquisition space why this might have happened, and I was told that the terminals might not have been upgraded to recognize the Google Wallet. Point being that just because there was a PayPass logo on both the handset and the terminal, that was still not enough to process the payment.

Day 3:

The GW worked VERY smoothly at a ShopRite grocery store. No offer, just tap and pay. Needed signature still.

Day 4:

I was looking for a deal for a pizza close by. Found an offer from Papa John's in Google Wallet, not in the featured section. i called in on my way there, and the pizza was ready. The manager asked me to order online the next time, so i could choose my toppings myself. i asked if he would honor the Google offer, and he confirmed he would. when i reached the place, that same offer was displayed on his window, and there was no NFC terminal there.

So, clearly the offers are not exclusive to Google, especially if not in the featured section. they also do not imply that NFC is necessary to redeem.

Day 5:

Back to the same ShopRite. This time, it was a smaller value purchase (less than $25), so the GW tap experience worked, and i didn't even have to sign on the pin pad.

All in all: a mixed bag of experiences. There is clearly a novelty here - even someone like me was looking forward to doing this. It was a little inconvenient because this was not my primary phone, and i had to charge another device, and remember to carry it. Not sure how long i will continue to play with this...i don’t want to get booted out by security for holding up a line or tapping a phone where one is supposed to swipe a card...:)