The “mobile wallet” concept has been bandied around for years as a promise that one day “soon” we’ll be able to leave our purses at home and pay for everything via the cellphone.
Of course we were also meant to to get to work using Jetpacks and have robots cleaning the house by now too.
However, with credit card companies and banks desperately looking at new avenues for growth, they’re starting to talk up mobile with a vengeance as they all battle for a dominant place in the fledgling mobile payments industry.
And since they’re doing it, online payments provider PayPal has joined the fray because if consumers really want to move their lives to the cellphone, it can’t limit itself to the desktop.
Interestingly PayPal says it is seeing early signs of mobile success in an area where it looks to make an old fashioned bank service – check cashing – more convenient.
The unit of eBay says it handled $100,000 in checks from its mobile customers in roughly a day and a half after it kicked off its mobile check cashing service, which allows you to add money to your PayPal account by just taking a cellphone photo of a physical check and using the PayPal mobile app.
Roughly a month later, PayPal says it processed over $1 million worth of checks.
This is a pittance in comparison with what banks handle — U.S. banks processed $30.6 billion of checks in 2006, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, implying $2.55 billion worth of checks every month.
Still PayPal is happy enough with the result that it is already looking for ways to improve the service, specifically by reducing the check-clearing window from six days, where it currently stands.
It is also experimenting with other services aimed at expanding beyond eBay auctions and other online transactions where it is most popular. One is allowing consumers to pay for goods in a store by using a mobile PayPal app on their phone, which would require the vendor as well as the consumer to open a PayPal account.
For this service PayPal says it has signed up 200 merchants in just a few weeks. In comparison the credit card industry has convinced retailers to install contactless payment terminals in all of 150,000 locations in about five years.
The idea with contactless payments is that you can wave your phone to pay instead of having to fumble in your wallet for a credit card. Paypal is also trying out this method for size via its partnership with a company called Bling Nation, which lets you spend from your PayPal account by slapping a “Bling” sticker to the outside of your phone and waving at the machine.
“We don’t know which will take off so we’re experimenting,” said Laura Chambers, a senior director for PayPa.l But she noted that “merchants aren’t excited about hardware upgrades.”
At a New York event where the company showcased their mobile services, a bunch of which were launched on October 6, Chambers said that this year would be a year of experiments for her company.
And since mobile operators have a direct relationship with their customers, Chambers said PayPal is also in talks with U.S. operators about how they can work together. She would not disclose any details but said: “There’s a great opportunity to replace the wallet and for the mobile phone to become the wallet.”