Americans love their phones, but apparently not when it comes to payment. The high hopes of app makers are being dashed by low adoption rates. An estimated 195 million U.S. adults own smartphones and just a tiny fraction use them as wallets.
Ready for a reality check?
Paying at the pump by phone was the choice of only 4.5% of 10,000 consumers surveyed by GasBuddy in collaboration with pymnts.com. Debit cards, credit cards and cash were the preferred methods of payment when fueling up by a wide margin.
And some of the biggest names in mobile wallets — Google Pay, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay — had similar low numbers when a study of 2,000 consumer transactions was conducted by InfoScout and pymnts.com
The survey found that while 13% have used Apple Pay on their iPhone at some point in time, only 3% did so on their last visit to a merchant accepting the mobile wallet.
Google Pay (formerly Android Pay) and Samsung Pay came in at 7% and 5%, respectively, for use of those mobile wallets at one point. Usage of both fell to 1% on the last visit to a participating merchant.
The big winner — if you can call it that — was Walmart Pay, with 24% of adult smartphone owners (regardless of operating system) using it at some point in time, but dropping to a mere 6% on their last participating merchant visit.
GasBuddy’s study shed light on what motivates consumers to pay by phone at the pump — saving money. And while speed and convenience also factor in, it’s getting a discount or building redeemable reward points that drive mobile wallet adoption at gas stations.
Unlike smartphone pay-crazed countries like China that grew organically through gaming apps and social networks, mobile wallets in American society struggle to compete against the credit card industry which has decades of infrastructure in place and billions poured into marketing campaigns enticing the public to pull out the plastic, spend and get rewarded.
At a recent convening of the laundry industry at Clean ’19, both third party mobile pay app providers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) rolled out coinless options to a self-service laundromat segment where the overwhelming majority remain tethered to the low denomination quarter.
Coin-op laundry owners are, by and large, at Point A when it comes to payment, and the phone apps are at Point C. Jumping from quarters to mobile pay means leapfrogging past the higher denomination dollar coin — a field-proven format with no learning curve.
The bells of whistles of the newest handheld device “pays” require a bit of hand holding and incentives to get people on board to download the app and use it to transact. And most operate in concert with a QR code to facilitate individual machine identification.
One company’s online marketing presentation is particularly eye-opening, suggesting owners attract users with a $5 top up for every $20 loaded to the mobile wallet. Yes, that’s a 25% bonus (or discount), depending on your perspective.
It appears some hoping to change the habits of a largely coin-operated industry to one where smartphone pay rules caught wind of lackluster adoption rates tallied at gas pumps and retailers and decided big giveaways would win ’em over.
Taking a cue from the value-added laundry card crowd — which boasts of 10% loyalty bonuses ($2 added for every $20 load) — this one particular app upped the ante betting that 25% would get wash customers to pull out phones, not coins.
The laundromat’s low profile, yet high stakes game of pay just got a whole lot more interesting.
The goal is simple: Getting rid of quarters — lots of them. Getting there is another matter.
Strange as it sounds, less is more when it comes to coins in the coin laundry biz. Less coinage translates into less collecting which, in turn, allows for more free time.
Running a prosperous self-service laundromat and enjoying the fruits of your labor is a balancing act that eludes many overseeing these seven-day-a-week operations and their endless circulation of quarters.
Desperate to stem the coin flow into the cash box, some operators throw buckets of money at the problem, installing costly loyalty card systems or credit card readers on every machine. Tens of thousands or —in the case of multi-store owners — even hundreds of thousands of dollars are expended in the mission to cut down the number of coins.
This isn’t anything new. Keeping alive a quarter century of quarter vended machines while equipment capacity grows and prices rise doesn’t sit well with those forced to make an extra weekend run just to empty out money boxes filled to the brim. If you’re reading this, chances are I’m describing your routine. A first world problem indeed, but one that more and more store owners have been dealing with for years.
Short of chucking out every coin acceptance device, there is only one field-proven solution to do away with up to 80% of quarters in the money box — dispensing dollar coins or dollar-valued tokens. Go ahead and pay out those “golden” beauties from your changers and customers will plunk ’em in the drops, leaving plenty of room for more inside the vault. And best of all, reaching the big 8-0 mark won’t cost you a princely sum.
Among those attending the recent Clean Show in New Orleans were owners from far and wide visiting the Imonex booth seeking a way to take back their weekends. Carrying big key rings to church, missing noon kickoffs and dragging oneself out of a warm, cozy bed — all to empty the big boys — wasn’t what these operators had in mind when they inked the store lease. Their message was loud and clear: I want to run my laundry, not have the laundry run me.
Some weren’t quarter-weary and happy to share how they were enjoying laundry life.
Ken Barrett, the Alabama entrepreneur who coined the phrase “Dollar Coin Mostly,” stopped by to offer me a status report. Dollar coin only changer payouts while welcoming those carrying in quarters is yielding a collection bucket ratio of 80% dollars to 20% quarters at his three-year-old Washin Oxford.
Dollar-valued tokens — used exclusively for store promotions and refunds — are accepted alongside the two coins at every washer and dryer drop, adding another dimension to Barrett’s format.
With eighty percent of the quarters gone and plenty of breathing room between collections, Ken and his wife Trina hit the Clean convention floor, volunteered for a charity free laundry event and took in the town. Collecting coins and filling changers wasn’t on their minds — only savoring the good life some 400 miles from home.
Read more about Ken and his Dollar Coin Mostly format in our Laundry Case Studies section.