Google Wallet Launch Largely Symbolic But Important

Google WalletAccording to documents seen by TechCrunch, Google Wallet is launching later today a bit behind schedule. As we discussed when the announcement was initially made in May, only a small number of people will initially have access to Google Wallet.

There are only a handful of merchant and retail partners and only one handset currently NFC-enabled: the Sprint Nexus S (although you can affix a sticker to your phone that makes it NFC-capable.) Future Android handsets will also embed an NFC chip.

The limited availability of Google Wallet makes the launch largely symbolic in many respects. But because of Google’s brand clout and visibility mobile payments are now on the radar. And intensifying competition guarantees innovation will continue to happen.

Indeed, beyond Google there numerous other competitors in the segment: Visa, Amex, Intuit, PayPal, wireless carriers, Square and others. Not all of these competitors are pushing NFC; Square and PayPal for example have NFC-free products. It remains to be seen whether and how quickly NFC takes hold. It probably eventually will but adoption may prove slower than Google and others hope.

Changing consumer behavior could prove challenging in the near term. Using plastic cards is comfortable and familiar to most people and many users will see no reason to alter their behavior, unless there are deals or other incentives to get them to adopt mobile payments. There are also some consumer security fears, but NFC payments are in fact more secure than current plastic payments.

Regardless of these barriers, with today’s anticipated launch of Google Wallet (as I said previously), the era of mobile payments has arrived in the US.

The ultimate prize, from Google’s point of view, is a closed loop transaction that yields actionable data for marketers. This represents a kind of “holy grail” for marketing analytics: tracking online to an actual offline transaction. (Calls are a surrogate for offline transactions.)

Here’s the now widely viewed ad for Google Wallet featuring Jason Alexander as Seinfeld’s George Costanza (and his infamous overstuffed wallet). Especially if you’re familiar with the series and the joke, it’s a great product promotion. Strangely it was originally released in August but only recently noticed by people.

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Postscript: Google has formally announced Google Wallet. See our story, Google Wallet Now Live, But In Very Limited Availability.

Related Topics: Channel: Mobile | Features: Analysis | Google: Maps & Local | Google: Mobile | Google: Wallet


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • James

    I agree that it’s symbolic in a sense, but at this stage symbols matter. Also, a couple of points are incorrect.

    First, Square is not a competitor for the Google Wallet. Square is a mobile point of sale product. That means it’s a mobile phone AS the point of sale not AT the point of sale. Second, Google’s Wallet is never meant to be a “closed loop transaction.” I get your meaning that Google wants to “close the loop” with online and offline marketing, but “closed loop transaction” has a specific meaning in payments. In payments it means the merchant processes a transaction without riding the rails of Visa or MasterCard. Google’s Wallet is meant to be wide open and calling it a “closed loop transaction” is confusing.

    All the best!
    James Wester

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