Most definitions of the wallet refer to it as a pocket-sized case – typically made of leather or some fabric – for carrying money and cards. Historically, there is a broader interpretation where the money and cards can be replaced with articles of necessity, or as the classicist Campbell referred to it "a thing that you stocked with provisions."
For the sake of our discussion, we will freeze such articles as tokens for facilitating transactions, including but not limited to payments, and unrestricted by form factor or mediums.
The very definition of the wallet – literal or philosophical – indicates a disjointed experience; meaning there are two very distinct activities. The first of which is related to the procurement of the goods or service, followed by a separate and disparate act of paying for the goods or service. In the current parlance, there may be few other steps joined with the act of payment, such as the application of discounts and collecting loyalty-related benefits.
This disjointed experience is essentially second nature to all humans, where the only thing that really changes as we cut across different markets, demographics or even generations, are the actual tokens and the form in which they are redeemed. In some parts of the world, credit cards are prevalent, and in others, postal accounts. Some of us still mail paper checks and go to the bank to wire funds – a concept as alien to our children as their using Facebook to pay their friends is to us.
As leather wallets evolved into digital wallets and subsequently into mobile wallets, the disjointed experience has fundamentally remained intact. As a matter of fact, one could argue that the current generation of mobile wallets have reinforced the disjointed experience. Hence, beyond some superficial argument of convenience and security, it has been difficult to justify the investments into deploying infrastructure for mobile wallets. It has been even more challenging coercing consumers to dump the time-tested leather wallets for the mobile variety. Where convenience and security fall short, and discounts and loyalty seem to be stepping up to push potential converts over the fence.
As the adage goes, if we ask the wrong question, we will most certainly get the wrong answer. With user adoption, especially for something like a mobile wallet that has the potential to touch consumer’s lives a dozen times a day, this wrong question is deeply rooted in the experience.
At a tactical level, the simplest analogy of the challenge with the current user experience is the fact that a leather wallet does not need a user manual or FAQ. The larger challenge is at a strategic level. With all the developments and promise of technology, whether it is on the device or in the cloud or everywhere in-between, why do we still need to take something out of our pocket, punch a password or press our thumbs, answer annoying prompts about discounts and loyalty, and then finally pick a card from dozens of options that we now store on our device since we have been sold on the convenience of not having to carry our plastic with us all the time?
All of this comprises the preparatory phase, which is typically followed by some apprehension related to the network performance or experimentation in terms of how close is close enough when we are told this newfangled technology works in proximity.
If we succeed in establishing a connection, we still have a few more decisions to make in terms of how we want the receipt, and then possibly a few more annoying prompts on how soon we will be coming back to relive this exhilarating experience.
While there is some exaggeration, this largely represents a best-case scenario. When Amex said ‘never leave home without it,’ they were clearly onto something.
Check out Mehul Desai’s August of Money.