Talking payments

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about payment options and talking with others about their go-to strategy. The Equifax breach provided plenty of fodder for discussion, from imagining life without credit cards to exploring how trust has been compromised and whether it can be restored.

Then came the announcement of Apple Pay Cash, a new peer-to-peer payment feature announced as part of the iOS 11 update. Users can make payments via iMessage — or tell Siri to make a payment. There’s also an option to keep money on a virtual card in the Apple Wallet.

A day later I heard Mike Vaughan, chief operating officer at Venmo (which is owned by PayPal), discuss the astounding growth of his peer-to-peer money-transferring service, which works across multiple operating systems: 8 billion transactions were carried out over Venmo in the last quarter — more than 25 billion over the last year.

Vaughan also announced a partnership with Williams-Sonoma; the specialty home goods retailer will be among the first to allow shoppers to pay for items using their Venmo accounts. After years of reporting on companies trying to crack into mobile payments, this seemed like a watershed moment.

Shortly after that, a Cardtronics survey called “Health of Cash” landed in my inbox, extolling the view that cash has an important place in Americans’ wallets and hearts. Based on the responses of 1,000 U.S. adults, the survey found that 91 percent of consumers used cash in the last six months; 89 percent like being able to use a variety of payment methods and 61 percent get upset when establishments don’t accept cash.

To be honest, I put most purchases on one card to rack up points, I keep $20 in my wallet — just in case — and, while I downloaded the Venmo app years ago, the only time I use it is when my kids hit me up for a loan.

My money is on the growing acceptance of mobile/peer-to-peer (yes, Venmo) — with a sole credit card and a side of cash. The success of most products and the adoption of new behaviors can often be boiled down to two things: what causes pain and what triggers delight.

In a world where convenience and expediency reign supreme, cash remains a contender, but accessing cash requires a trip to the bank. Still, 85 percent of consumers try to keep cash on hand, according to the Cardtronics survey, and 67 percent feel nervous when they don’t have cash with them.

Cash clearly trumps plastic when it comes to payment safety and privacy concerns, but consumers delight in the ease of credit and the points accumulated toward rewards. There’s growing evidence that consumers are using credit for purchases as low as $5.

That’s where mobile payments and peer-to-peer take center stage. The one thing everyone carries today is a smartphone. Using it to enable payment is simple and convenient; as options such as Venmo have proven, experiences that are easy, efficient and user-friendly win over consumers.

Follow @Susan_Reda and #STORESMag on Twitter for retail news and trends.

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