It was one of those days. … Monday morning after a long weekend and I was rushing to get out the door to make a 9 am meeting. I got in my car, drove to the train station, and realized I had left my wallet at home. I paused for a second and decided I would attempt to brave the day with no ID, no cash, and no credit cards. Although it’s not as ambitious as living for a day on Bitcoin, I figured I could take advantage of the investments made by Apple, Google, PayPal, and others into the mobile payments ecosystem. Armed with my Android phone, I set out to see how easy it would be to have independence from my wallet. Fortunately for my experiment, I switched a few weeks ago from Windows Mobile, where my options would have been even more limited.
I knew parking wouldn’t be a problem as our New Jersey town had implemented an app-based mobile payment platform over a year ago. I’ve enjoyed the convenience of it already daily. Similarly, I had planned to stop at Starbucks where I have been using mobile payments for a while now. The Starbucks app has yet to let me down, even though it uses a digital barcode and a point-of-sale scanner, which seems antiquated in a world where Near Field Communication (NFC) is how Apple and Google promise to reduce “friction.” Next was the train. While I complain a lot about NJ Transit, their app allows for both digital daily tickets and monthly passes. That simplifies the need to buy a ticket in advance and avoids the surcharge for buying a ticket on the train.
At first it seemed like everything was going great. Then lunchtime hit. I looked around our office at Techonomy and I was alone. The team was either taking a longer weekend, on vacation, or working from home. Then it hit me—Seamless! For those who are not familiar, Seamless is an amazing online ordering platform where you can get just about any cuisine delivered. I logged into my account and realized that I couldn’t get food delivered with enough time for me to get to my next meeting. So, I walked out of my building, in search of lunch that I could buy with my phone. After a failed attempt at a national convenience store chain, I hit Duane Reade, where I was able to grab a bottle of water and a granola bar and pay with my Google Wallet. It took two tries, but the cashier and I eventually figured out how to complete the transaction. Without my Metrocard for the subway, I then summoned an Uber and got to my Midtown meeting with time to spare. So continuing my quest for a meal, I ventured in and out of a half dozen national and local lunch spots. I inspected each window and cash register looking for some indication that they accepted mobile payments. But no such luck. They didn’t even accept the much touted Apple Pay. I tried searching online from my phone for a directory that listed places that accepted mobile payments but I couldn’t find anything.
Following my meeting, I took an Uber to the train station and am now thankfully back on NJ Transit heading home to my wallet. While there might have been alternative ways to get through the day (including heading to a physical bank branch and withdrawing paper money, after giving them my Social Security number, date of birth, home address, and account PIN), this experiment showed me that we are still a long way from a society with ubiquitous mobile payments. While I was able to cobble together a few proprietary apps and Google Wallet, it will take greater merchant adoption and a much simpler consumer experience before I will feel comfortable routinely leaving the cash and plastic at home.
Now, I just pray that my battery lasts another hour or so!