Truths about that 6% of People with iPhones in the US Use Apple Pay In-Store

A new article from PYMNTS claimed that only 6% of iPhone users use Apple Pay in stores.

As someone who works in the credit card industry and a follower of Apple, I have a few points to make with regard to this article. Per PYMNTS.com

Seven years post-launch, new PYMNTS data shows that 93.9% of consumers with Apple Pay activated on their iPhones do not use it in-store to pay for purchases. That means only 6.1% do. After seven years, Apple Pay’s adoption and usage isn’t much larger than it was 2015 (5.1%), a year after its launch, and is the same as it was in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic.

That finding is based on PYMNTS’ national study of 3,671 U.S. consumers conducted between Aug. 3-10, 2021.

First, I am naturally skeptical of surveys. To properly design and execute a representative survey whose results you can use to project trends both an art and a science. In other words, it’s difficult and tricky. Without knowing the specifics of the surveys that PYMNTS used over the years, I can’t really say for sure that their data is 100% accurate or representative. For instance, did these survey represent the U.S population demographically? We all know that older folks tend to be more reluctant towards technology than the younger crowds are. What if some of these surveys were more skewed towards Baby Boomer or late Generation X?

With that being said, let’s assume that these surveys were properly designed and conducted as there is no reason to believe that they weren’t either. Still, there are some important context points that I’d love to discuss. The U.S is traditionally slow in adopting tap-to-pay payments, compared to other developed countries in Europe. Here is what Visa had to say at the RBC Capital Markets Financial Technology Conference back in June 2021:

Canada is almost 80% of all tap to pay of all face-to-face transactions, almost 80% are tap to pay. In Europe, it’s over 80%. Australia, it’s almost 100%. Across Asia, it’s over 50%. And in the United States, it’s now over 10% from basically a dead stop a couple of years ago. So right now in the U.S., we’re a bit over 1 in 10 transactions with tap to pay, 1 in 10 of all face-to-face transactions of tap to pay. About 350 million cards, last time I looked, 268 of the top 300 merchants, 23 of the top 25 issuers are issuing contactless.

What Visa essentially said there is that mobile wallet transactions in stores basically didn’t exist two years ago. The low adoption isn’t confined to Apple alone. It’s applied to all mobile wallets on the market. Hence, it’s not a surprise that only a small number of consumers used Apple Pay in stores. Since then, the tap-to-pay transaction share has increased a lot, but from contactless cards, not from mobile wallets.

The issuer where I work only introduced contactless cards in August 2019. The roll-out was gradual as we enabled the feature only on new cards and renewal replacements. Before August 2019, we saw contactless transactions make up only a low single digit percentage of all transactions. After the change, there was an increase in contactless transaction share, but it mostly came from contactless cards (as in you tap a plastic card against a card reader). It makes sense for several reasons: 1/ Using a plastic card, whether it’s debit or credit, is a habit. It’s unreasonable to expect consumers to change their habit overnight; 2/ To some consumers, it’s just not convenient to take out a phone to pay. During the pandemic, we all had to wear a mask. That contributed to the inconvenience as most Apple Pay transactions have to be approved by using Face ID (few iPhones in circulation are too old for Face ID); 3/ Sometimes, the card readers just don’t accept mobile wallet transactions. I personally experienced it myself several times when a technical glitch forced me to pull out my wallet and use my plastic. Even when card readers are to become more reliable & friendlier with mobile wallets and the pandemic closes out soon, the current habit of flashing a plastic card in stores won’t go away any time soon. It’s a painstaking process that will take quite a while and it’s not even a guarantee that it will change significantly at all.

The low adoption of mobile wallets in general leads me to my next point: how is Apple Pay compared to other wallets? The article by PYMNTS did bring up some comparison between Apple Pay and its peers:

Today, Apple Pay remains the biggest in-store mobile wallet player, with 45.5% share of mobile wallet users. Over the last seven years, the total amount of Apple Pay transactions at U.S. retail stores has increased from an estimated $5 billion in 2015 to $90 billion in 2021.

Although that growth is commendable, it is largely the result of more people with iPhones upgrading to newer models and more merchants taking contactless payments, both leading to a general increase in retail sales – 12.9% greater in 2021 than 2019. But to be successful, innovation must solve a problem, fix a source of friction or improve an experience that is so painful that consumers or businesses are motivated to switch.

The article is so focused on Apple Pay that it missed two important points. One is that Apple Pay isn’t Apple’s main business. It may well be in the future, but it surely hasn’t been since 2014. Why is it Apple’s fault that the adoption of tap-to-pay payments in the whole U.S is low? It’s not really reasonable to expect Apple to go all out and force a new habit on consumers when there is little financial reward. The other miss is that if only 6 out of 100 people used Apple Pay, which captured 92% of all mobile wallet payments using debit card in the U.S in 2020, what does it say for others? 1% or lower? Yes, 6% adoption is low for the most valuable company in the world, but in the grand scheme of things and in comparison with its peers, that figure suddenly looks significantly different, does it?

The last point I want to make is that it is NOT comprehensive and helpful to look at the mobile wallet share of in-store transactions. What about consumers who use Apple Pay or other wallets for online transactions? How many transactions do Apple users make using Apple Pay on their phones or through the App Store? How many transactions on web pages are through Apple Pay? Said another way, is Apple Pay more suited for online transactions than for in-store payments? And PYMNTS is judging Apple Pay on something that it’s not meant to address in the first place?

In short, I believe that this article from PYMNTS is useful to some extent as we have a reference with regard to in-store mobile wallet payments. However, the entire write-up lacks important context that can lead readers to misguided conclusions. My hope is that the whole conversion is more balanced now with what I mentioned above.

Disclaimer: I own a position on Square, Apple and PayPal.

My notes from 2021 Debit Issuer Study

Every year, Pulse, a Discover company, publishes a Debit Issuer Study, which covers the debit card landscape in the U.S. This year’s version is the 16th annual edition of the study and comprises of data from 48 financial institutions of different sizes in the country. If you are interested in the payments as well as financial services world, you should have a look at this study. Below are a few things that stood out the most to me, accompanied by some of my own comments

Debit spend per active account increased as growth in ticket size more than offset the decline in transactions

Unsurprisingly, stay-at-home orders last year curtailed debit transactions as stores were closed and folks were forced to remain at home. As a result, 2020 saw a decline of 2.5% in the number of debit transactions, the first contraction of the industry ever. Most of the damage took place in Q1 and especially Q2 before the use of debit cards recovered in the back half of the year. Compared to 2019, last year saw an increase in debit spend per active account, from $12,407 to $13,550. The increase resulted from 10.5% growth in ticket size despite the drop of 1.3% in the number of monthly transactions per active card.

Annual Spend Per Active Debit Card Increased In 2020 By 9.2%
Figure 1 – Annual Spend Per Active Debit Card Increased In 2020 By 9.2%. Source: Pulse

Whether issuers are subject to the regulated interchange cap determines their unit economics

For issuers with $10 billion in assets or more, they are subject to regulations that cap debit interchange rates. Before we move forward, let’s take a step back to revisit what interchange rate is. Every time a transaction takes place, the merchant involved has to pay a small fee to the bank that issues a debit/credit card that the consumer in question uses. The fee is calculated as % of the transaction value and usually determined by networks like Visa, Mastercard, American Express or Discover. In this case, the Federal Government caps the interchange rate for big issuers that have $10 billion+ in assets. According to the 2021 Debit Issuer Study, exempt issuers earned 42.5 cents every transaction, compared to 23.7 cents for regulated issuers. Due to this difference, exempt issuers generated almost twice as big as regulated issuers in annual gross revenue per active debit account ($132 vs $71).

Exempt issuers earn much higher interchange revenue for debit transactions than regulated issuers
Figure 2 – Exempt Issuers Earn 42.5 Cents Per Every Debit Transaction. Source: Pulse

This is one of the reasons why neobanks can offer debit cards with rewards and no fees. Neobanks or challenger banks are usually technology startups working with exempt issuers to offer banking services. The startup in this partnership takes care of the marketing and the product development while the exempt issuer rents out its banking license and deals with all the banking activities such as underwriting, regulatory compliance or settlement. Because the exempt issuer earns higher interchange rates, it can afford to share part of that interchange revenue with its startup partner which, in turn, uses that revenue to fund operations and generate profit. However, I wonder if it’s really fair when a neobank or a financial service company becomes so big while still taking advantage of this “loophole”. Take Square as an example. It’s a $120 billion publicly traded company. It works with Marqeta and by extension Sutton Bank, which is exempted from the regulations over interchange rates, to offer Cash App. Is it truly fair for Square to be able to leverage this loophole when it has a much bigger valuation than many banks with more than $10 billion in assets?

The rise of Card-Not-Present transactions means the rise of fraud threats

When stay-at-home restrictions were in effect, consumers didn’t shop at the stores and instead switched to digital transactions. Consequently, Card-Present (CP) transactions per active card fell by 10% last year. On the other hand, Card-Not-Present (CNP) per active card increased by 23% and made up for one-third of all debit transactions.

Because CNP transactions are less secure than CP ones (due to lack of customer verification), the growth of CNP during the pandemic led to more fraud incidents. CNP and CP with PIN transactions both made up 34% of debit transactions in 2020. However, while the latter made up only 5% of the total fraud claims, the former were responsible for 81% of the claims. Among the CNP fraud claims, 47% were successfully recovered, meaning that consumers had their money back and merchants lost some revenue.

CNP Saw Many More Fraud Incidents Than CP
Figure 3 – CNP Saw Many More Fraud Incidents Than CP. Source: Pulse

Whenever a fraud claim happens, it brings an unpleasant experience to both the cardholder and the merchant in question. Hence, issuers may want to focus on ensuring that fraudulent transactions don’t even happen in the first place, especially with CNP.

Contactless and mobile wallet transactions are on the rise

According to the study, contactless is projected to be available on 64% of all debit cards by the end of 2021, up from 30% in 2020, and 94% by 2023. Even though contactless volume grew by 6 times in 2020, it still made up only 1.6% of total debit volume. As consumers become increasingly familiar with contactless and the feature is available on more cards, I expect the share of contactless volume to keep that impressive growth pace for at least a couple of years.

Meanwhile, mobile wallet transactions funded debit cards through three major wallets (Apple Pay, Samsung Pay & Google Pay) reached 2 billion in 2020, around 2.6% of the total debit volume, with the average ticket of $23, up 55% YoY. 57% of this mobile wallet volume were made in-app and the rest took place in stores. If we look at the competition between the aforementioned wallets, Apple Pay is the outstanding performer in every metric. In fact, Apple Pay had an overwhelming 92% share of all mobile wallet transactions using debit cards.

Starting 2022, Visa will put in place new interchange rules that are aimed to encourage more tokenized transactions such as mobile wallets. Hence, I expect that when we read the 2023 edition of this study or beyond, we’ll see a more prominent role of mobile wallet transactions in our society.

Contactless Volume Grew 6x But Still Made Up 1.6% of Debit Volume
Figure 4 – Contactless Volume Grew 6x But Still Made Up 1.6% of Debit Volume. Source: Pulse

Weekly reading – 7th August 2021

What I wrote last week

I wrote about why credit card issuers should try to get into consumer digital wallets

Business

Pearson bets on direct-to-student subscription shift. I am never a fan of publishers like Pearson for a simple reason: books are murderously expensive in the U.S. In addition to the sky-high tuition fees, students have to pay easily a few hundred dollars or a thousand dollars a semester for books alone. There are ways to go around that challenge, but sometimes these guys work with professors and students are left with no choice, but to make a big splash on books. Pearson seems to be aware of the unsustainability of their current model. By going straight to students, they can establish a direct relationship and avoid relying too much on educational institutions. $15/month means students can pay $75/semester for access to all the books required. However, there are other publishers on the market. If students must get books from multiple sources, it can dilute the appeal of this new service from Pearson. I really look forward to seeing how this strategic move will pan out in the future.

Apple Is Now an Antifragile Company. A nice article on how shrewd Apple is when it comes to securing its chip supply while other struggle. I feel that not enough has been said about what a great job Apple’s management team has been doing. It takes a great deal of discipline to use billions of cash wisely quarter after quarter. The executives also have the foresight to develop their own chip M1 to keep more control of their fate and avoid being in the mercy of Intel. Additionally, the decision to make forward orders in bulk in advance has proven to superior. While others cite the struggle with chip supply as the reason for their relative subdued performance, Apple still posted strong results.

Music labels split over Spotify’s push to promote songs for lower royalties. I haven’t used the Discovery Mode yet, so I don’t know what it is like. I did have a less than stellar experience with the Spotify app; which I haven’t used for a long time. It’s not user-friendly at all. And if what is reported in the article is true, as a shareholder, I’ll be very disappointed. Sacrificing the user experience and the integrity of an algorithm like that over lower royalties and higher margin isn’t in the long-term best interest for the company, in my view.

Disney, WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal wrestle with balancing the value of cable networks and streaming services. I don’t think streaming is the best place for a newcomer with one cash cow to enter. The likes of Apple can arrive late at the part and compete because they have enormous resources and streaming isn’t their top 5 or 7 revenue stream.

The Verge interview with YouTube Chief Product Officer.

5 charts show Amazon’s growing logistics network as it puts inventory closer to consumers. Some great data and information, but I don’t think Amazon is playing the same game as Walmart. Operating huge stores with a lot of SKUs is not Amazon’s strength, at least compared to Walmart, for now. I don’t think it’s wise for Amazon to get into that arena. What I think Amazon is plowing money into is the last mile delivery. If groceries are what needs delivering, they are building out Amazon Go shops and can leverage Whole Foods footprint. However, if we are talking about non-grocery items, then Amazon is taking a very different approach to Walmart and staying at what Amazon has been great at: an online store with great customer services and unrivaled last-mile delivery network

What I found interesting

U.S. generates more plastic trash than any other nation. The amount of plastic bags in supermarkets in the U.S such as Target or Walmart staggered me. I don’t understand why they don’t implement policies that encourage shoppers to bring their own bags or boxes like Aldi does. At Aldi, you have to bring your own bag unless you are willing to pay for one every single time. I don’t think shoppers are bothered by that. If the likes of Target and Walmart can join the fight against unnecessary use of plastic, it’ll be a huge step forward given the reach and size of these retailers.

London’s Crossrail Is a $21 Billion Test of Virtual Modeling. Technology is mind-blowing. So is human imagination

Stats that may interest you

Luggage sales are up more than 460% year over year (Q1 2021)  on Amazon while swimwear sales have more than doubled year over year as of March and April 2021

From 2006 to 2021 per-capita volume consumption of juice and nectars in the U.S. declined 36%