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Mobile Wallet Guide: Google Pay vs. Apple Pay vs. Samsung Pay

By Adam C. Uzialko
Business.com / Mobile / Last Modified: June 21, 2018
Image credit: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

Paper money is so 2015. Just pull out your phone and click to pay. But which app should you use?

Mobile payment platforms aim to streamline payments for consumers, combining cash, credit and debit cards, and gift cards in one mobile application. Point of sale (POS) systems that support near-field communication (NFC) transactions allow immediate, contactless transactions with a wave of a customer's smartphone. Best of all, most mobile wallets are free to use.

For consumers to begin using this method of payment, they simply download an app on a smartphone. Many apps, such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay, are becoming increasingly popular and compatible with many merchant card readers, credit cards and banks. [Interested in POS Systems? Check out our best picks.]

The most prominent mobile wallets come from familiar companies. Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay are the most predominant mobile payment solutions out there, but there is also Chase Pay, MasterCard PayPass, PayPal, and Visa Checkout.

While each platform serves virtually the same function, each one is slightly different with its own strengths and weaknesses. And despite slow adoption, use of these mobile payment platforms is growing as the support infrastructure for them – mainly NFC-enabled POS systems – is adopted by more merchants.

Here's a look at the three top mobile wallets and how they work, and what consumers and entrepreneurs alike can expect in terms of more widespread adoption.

Google Pay

In January 2018, Google announced a rebrand of its consumer payment products and merged Android Pay and Google Wallet into a single, unified service known as Google Pay or, informally, GPay. Further, Google Pay incorporates Google Chrome's autofill feature. 

"With Google Pay, it'll be easier for you to use the payment information saved to your Google Account so you can speed through checkout with peace of mind. You'll see Google Pay online, in-store and across Google products as well as when you're paying friends," said Pali Bhat, Google vice president of product management and CEO of Google Payment Corp. 

As with prior iterations of Google's payment products, consumers can add most credit, debit and gift cards to the application. You can store loyalty cards as well, helping you maintain reward points. 

In-store, Google Pay uses near NFC technology to transmit your credit card information between your mobile phone and the card reader. If the store has a compatible card reader and accepts Google Pay, you simply hold your phone to the card reader while the phone is open. 

There is no fingerprint authentication required with this application, but you can use it if you want to unlock the screen. It also works with a PIN, pattern or password but does not work with Smart Unlock, Knock to Unlock or retina scanning. Purchases can be verified with a security code Google sends to the user. Google doesn't charge transaction fees for purchases made with Google Pay.

Credit, debit, gift or loyalty cards previously added by consumers to Android Pay or Google Wallet operate as usual and don't need to be re-added to Google Pay, and consumers don't need to add another app to use Google Pay. For users who already have Google payment apps, the only change is the automatic device update to reflect the Google Pay name. 

Google Pay is currently available for use with several e-commerce companies' Android apps, including Airbnb, Boxed, Caviar, Fandango, Houzz, Instacart, Kayak, Papa John's Pizza, Postmates and more. Participating Acme, America Eagle Outfitters, Bloomingdale's, Best Buy, Chevron, McDonald's, Trader Joe's, Walgreens and Whole Foods locations accept Google Pay, among several others. The Las Vegas Monorail system accepts Google Pay as well. The list is growing. 

Security is always a concern when it comes to your financial information. Instead of using your actual credit card number and other personal information, Google Pay (like predecessor Android Pay) uses a virtual account number that ensures your personal information is secure on your phone. 

If your phone is lost or stolen, you can easily lock the phone, create a new password or completely wipe all financial information until the phone is recovered. 

Editor's Note: Looking for information on POS systems? Use the questionnaire below and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need:

Apple Pay

Apple Pay, accepted by more than 50 percent of stores, offers a similarly easy, secure, and private electronic payment service using iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, or Mac. In addition to an Apple device, all that's needed is the latest version of iOS, watchOS or MacOS, Apple's Wallet app, and an Apple ID signed in to iCloud. 

You can start using Apple Pay as soon as you add your credit, debit or prepaid card to Wallet on any device that you want to use with Apple Pay. Apple Pay is compatible with most credit cards and U.S. banks. 

In-store, you use Apple Pay on your iPhone or Apple Watch at merchants with a compatible checkout card reader. On the web, in Safari, you use your iPhone, iPad or Mac. Loyalty points, rewards and benefits from your cards continue to accrue when you use Apple Pay. 

When you make a purchase using Apple Pay, your receipts are kept in your Wallet app, but the transaction information is not stored elsewhere. Every transaction made on your iPhone, iPad or Mac requires authentication with Face ID, Touch ID or your passcode. Your Apple Watch is protected by its unique passcode.  

If your Apple device is lost or stolen, you can suspend or permanently remove the ability to pay from that device. 

When you make an in-store purchase, card numbers and identity credentials aren't shared with merchants, and your actual card numbers aren't stored on the Apple device or on Apple servers either. 

For online purchases, merchants only receive information that you authorize to share to fulfill your order, such as your name, email address and billing and shipping addresses. Apps that use Apple Pay must have a privacy policy that you can view, which keeps you in control of your data. 

You can also send or receive money from your iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch. You send money in Messages or ask Siri to pay someone using the credit and debit cards you already have stored in Wallet. Money you receive is added to the Apple Pay Cash card in Wallet, so it's ready to use right away. You can also transfer money in your Apple Pay Cash card to your bank account. 

You can also use Apple Pay to quickly pay friends, but the credit card you choose may charge you a fee. Apple doesn't charge a fee to merchants or consumers.

Devices capable of using Apple Pay within iOS apps or on the web include the following iPhones: iPhone SE, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X. It includes the following iPads: iPad mini 3, iPad mini 4, iPad Air 2, iPad (5th generation), iPad Pro and iPad (6th generation) models. Apple Watch (1st generation), and Apple Watch Series 1, 2 and 3 also work with Apple Pay.

Apple Pay is accepted at Ace Hardware, BabiesRUs, Champs, Firehouse Subs, Foot Locker, Gap, KFC, JetBlue, PetSmart, QuikTrip, Starbucks, Wegmans, White Castle and many other physical stores. A sampling of the apps and websites that accept Apple Pay includes Chipotle, Etsy, Jet, Lyft, MLB.com, Seamless, Staples and Ticketmaster, among others. You can even use Apple Pay to donate to various charities such as American Red Cross, Feeding America, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and Unicef, or for mass transit systems.

Samsung Pay

Samsung Pay is much more limited than Google Pay and Apple Pay. This electronic wallet is compatible with select Samsung Android mobile devices, including Gear S2, Gear S3, Gear Fit2 and Gear Sport watches. Samsung phones updated to Android 5.0 or higher with the latest version of Samsung Gear installed. That includes the Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 active, Galaxy S6 edge, Galaxy Note5, Galaxy S6 edge+, Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 edge, Galaxy S8+, Galaxy S8, Galaxy Note8, Galaxy S9+ and the Galaxy S9. 

When you use this electronic wallet, you can add any qualifying Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover credit cards. Additionally, more than 1,000 banks and credit unions support Samsung Pay, including Chase, Navy Federal Credit Union, TD Bank and US Bank. You can add gift cards and loyalty cards, helping you more easily manage and use them. If a card has a barcode located on it, it can be stored on Samsung's electronic wallet. 

When you make a purchase using Samsung Pay, you access the card you wish to use on the app, validate your purchase and place your phone near the card reader. Additionally, you can pay for online purchases by using Samsung Pay and then verifying the purchase with your fingerprint. 

One advantage of Samsung Pay is it works with most card readers. It uses both NFC technology and magnetic secure transmission (MST) technology. MST technology emits a magnetic signal that acts like magnetic strip that you find on most credit cards. This allows you to use this electronic wallet at more terminals than some similar applications. 

Samsung Pay is accepted in stores, in apps and online. Because of the flexible types of technology that work with Samsung Pay, it is accepted by any magnetic stripe payment terminal. But it will not work at gas station pumps or ATM machines where you physically stick your card into a reader. Samsung also made a deal with Visa to make Samsung Pay work at more than 350,000 retail websites.

When it comes to the security of Samsung Pay, numerous security measures are in place. You must verify every purchase with your fingerprint, iris scan or by entering a PIN. Additionally, your credit card number is never used for transactions. Instead, a random set of numbers is transmitted. There is no fee for using Samsung Pay.

If you fear storing all your credit card information on your phone, you may be comforted to know that Samsung says all account information is encrypted and stored in a data vault. And you can remotely lock or erase your account with Find My Mobile.

Samsung ties its electronic wallet with its own Rewards program, too. So, with every purchase, users earn points that can be redeemed like gift cards. Unsurprisingly, many of the items in the rewards catalog are other Samsung products. The company is regularly running promotions that change with the season. As of press time, users could earn four times the points with qualifying purchases.

Why the slow adoption rates?

Apple Pay has experienced the most overall usage, with 13 percent of smartphone users reporting they had used the mobile wallet at least once. Only 3 percent report using it on their last shopping trip. The usage rates for Android Pay and Samsung Pay are even lower, at 7 percent and 5 percent respectively. For each platform, only one percent of users used the application during their last shopping trip.

Mobile payment platforms offer significant convenience, speed and security over conventional payment methods, so why are they struggling to gain more widespread adoption? There are a few major barriers to adoption that have stymied consumer demand and slowed merchant incentives to adopt the necessary infrastructure to spur further adoption.

  • A lack of familiarity with contactless payment: In U.S. markets, contactless payments are largely a foreign concept. This lack of familiarity with solutions like contactless cards has led to a consumer culture that is still unacquainted with NFC-enabled payment solutions. That lack of consumer interest has directly contributed to another major barrier.

  • Sluggish infrastructure adoption: Without much expectation around contactless payment, consumers haven't driven more merchants to adopt the necessary POS systems to make NFC payments more commonplace. Even among users who would regularly use mobile payment platforms, this has led to unavailability of the platform and harmed usage. If NFC support was more readily available, consumers would be more likely to utilize the payment platforms.

  • Engrained habits: Most U.S. consumers don't think much about the steps required to transact with a card, but many have never used contactless payment and don't even know where to swipe their phone on a POS system. Compounding this problem is a lack of uniformity in the precise method each manufacturer uses, meaning the location of the swipe differs from terminal to terminal.

These barriers can all be tied back to familiarity with contactless payments in the U.S. Particularly the slow growth of NFC-capable systems by U.S. merchants, due to lack of significant consumer demand, means exposure of the payment method and its benefits remain somewhat unknown to or irrelevant to the average American consumer.

However, it's important to note that slow growth is still growth, and the more widespread contactless payment capabilities become, the more consumers will be exposed to them. The most promising signs for contactless payment adoption come from younger consumers, suggesting that demand will grow as more young consumers age into the market.

Implementing NFC-enabled point of sale systems

If you're considering implementing a point of sale system that supports contactless payment platforms like Apple Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay, the good news is that most POS systems shipping in North America are integrated with NFC technology. 

As adoption rates mature, offering consumers the capability to pay with mobile payment solutions can be seen as a luxury for consumers wanting the option. However, as time goes on and familiarity drives consumer expectation for the payment method's availability at most stores, it could become a competitive necessity. Either way, with the shift in POS systems toward incorporating NFC, merchants should consider choosing options that employ the capability. 

Once you know you have the right equipment and the most up-to-date POS software, you're most of the way there for accepting these digital wallets in your small business. There is no application process or sign up necessary. You'll need to educate your staff on what it means for a customer to pay with their phone or watch or tablet. Then they can walk unfamiliar consumers through the process. 

For your customers to know they can use a digital wallet, you'll want to advertise in-store or on your website that this method of payment is acceptable. And should you run into issues, you'll probably need to contact your POS systems provider before you talk to Google, Apple or Samsung. But all three offer customer service phone lines for these digital wallet services. 

Pamela Oldham contributed to the reporting and writing of this article.

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