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Shopping for a Mobile Wallet

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I recently read an article on The Motley Fool entitled “7 Products, Concepts and Ideas That Won’t Exist by 2025.” Among the items on the fast track to extinction: digital cameras, 3D televisions, energy drinks and credit cards.

Predictions about the demise of credit cards and the shift toward a cashless society have been bandied about for some time now, but in the last few months both seem entirely plausible — and likely to come about well before 2025.

Near field communication-enabled methods of payment using mobile devices are coming at us like a bullet train. The announcement that Starbucks is investing $25 million and creating a partnership with mobile payments company Square will certainly give the movement a caffeinated jolt. And word that McDonald’s is testing a mobile payments service featuring PayPal at 30 units in France (after a demonstration earlier this year at its franchisee conference in Orlando) suggests the world’s biggest fast feeder may be planning to take a big bite of this emerging payment platform.

Not to be outdone, Dunkin’ Donuts has launched its first mobile payments app: All doughnut lovers need to do is download the app and load it with some money, then hand the cashier their mobile devices to be scanned for payment.

It’s no wonder, then, that a number of major retailers, including Walmart, CVS, Target and 7-Eleven, are teaming up to develop a mobile payment network of their own. Though still in the early stages, the Merchant Customer Exchange (MCE) would compete with Google Wallet, Isis and numerous others to be the mobile payments system that will be embraced by the greatest number of shoppers. Merchants, who have been burned by banks and third party companies that have control over other forms of payment, are looking for the upper hand on the mobile front. Experts say the retailer-controlled program would allow companies to contain costs.

I’m in their corner, hoping they can succeed at managing costs and avoiding additional fees, but I have the feeling that it’s not going to be about who wins — the retailers or Google or PayPal; it’s going to be about the consumer. Is it easy for them to use? Can they be convinced that it’s secure? Will shoppers still be able to rack up rewards? Is the difference in speed and convenience compelling?

I’m a newbie on this front; I’ve had a personal smartphone for less than a year, so wading into the mobile payment waters is a big deal for me. The first time I tried to used my phone for payment, it didn’t work: Apparently I don’t have the “tapping” gene. I’ve also figured out that if I want to use more than one of the current options, I’ll need to keep track of which accounts are linked to which digital wallets.

Do I think mobile payments represent the future? Sure. Will we get there before 2025? It sure seems so, but I’m going to need to see some standards and have my security concerns assuaged before I’ll be ready to leave my wallet at home.