Mobile Momentum

By Tina Alva, Administrative Coordinator for Cash Services and Payment Strategies
February 2014

As a reluctant mobile shopper, I was interested to find out if my colleagues had similar attitudes toward mobile payments.  I interviewed five colleagues at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, including two men and three women ranging from ages 23 to 54.  I posed the following five questions to each person to better understand their perspectives and behaviors related to mobile phone use, purchasing habits, mobile wallets and mobile apps:

  1. Do you consider your mobile device a convenience or a necessity?
  2. How do you most often use your mobile device: as a phone or a handheld computer?
  3. Do you use your mobile phone to make purchases? 
  4. Do you or would you use a mobile wallet?
  5. Do you use apps and if so, do you have a favorite? 

Convenience or Necessity

The respondents were nearly evenly split on whether they considered their mobile phone a convenience or a necessity.  The 41- and 30-year-old women both considered their mobile phones to be a convenience.  The former revealed that she had only recently purchased her first mobile phone - a Samsung Galaxy S4 - on the advice of friends.  On the other hand, the 54-year-old woman and the men, ages 46 and 23, all considered their mobile phone to be a necessity.  The 23-year-old added that he does not have a landline phone, so he keeps his mobile phone with him at all times.

Mobile Phone Behavior and Use

When asked if they use their mobile phone more as a phone or handheld computer, all respondents indicated using their devices primarily as a phone, but not necessarily to make calls.  Both the 41-year-old woman and the 23-year-old man use their phones mainly for texting.  All respondents noted that they frequently access email from their mobile phone.

Mobile Payments Behavior

Eager to understand if my colleagues were as reluctant as I am in using my mobile phone to  make purchases, I asked them about their mobile payment behavior, or if they had ever used their mobile phone to make a purchase or payment.  Surprisingly, only one of the respondents had ever made a mobile payment.  The 54-year-old woman had used the mobile banking app on her phone to send a payment to an individual.  The 30-year-old woman is quite familiar with mobile payments having travelled to Hong Kong, where she observed that mobile phones are used to purchase anything, anywhere versus the minimal usage seen in the U.S.  Accordingly, she is reluctant to use mobile payments in the U.S. until they become more commonplace and secure.  The 23-year-old man had never made a mobile payment, but said he is likely to do so in the near future when he acquires a new phone.  He added that his friends use LevelUp often, and that he has no security concerns about mobile payments.  The 41-year-old woman recently had her credit card account compromised twice within six months while using her actual plastic card and subsequently believed her account information would be even more susceptible to theft on mobile phones than on computers.  Consequently, she remains suspicious of mobile payments.  She added that she browses on her mobile phone when considering a purchase, but waits to use her laptop computer to complete the purchase.  The 46-year-old man admitted that he has no use for mobile payments and they simply do not appeal to him.  I probed him further to determine whether he had any security concerns, and while he admitted that he did, he noted that his concerns would largely be alleviated by dealing with a reputable, well-known merchant.

Mobile Wallets

None of the respondents expressed an interest in using mobile wallets.  The majority of my colleagues were not comfortable with the concept of a mobile wallet (a container on the mobile phone that stores payment credentials/information) and noted security concerns.  The 30-year-old woman and the 23-year-old man were the most optimistic about using mobile wallets in the future as they become more widely-used and secure.  The 23-year-old man said he would probably use a mobile wallet in the future and that he would like it better than having to carry his wallet.  The 41- and 54-year-old women as well as the 46-year-old man seem the least likely to ever use a mobile wallet principally because of their security concerns, but also because they feel a mobile wallet would not afford any additional convenience over existing payment methods (i.e. cash, credit and debit cards). 

Mobile Apps

Despite the lack of use of mobile wallets or mobile payments, all respondents are using mobile apps.  Mobile app usage varied broadly; however, the majority of the respondents use Google Maps and a radio or music app.  The 54-year-old woman is an avid user of apps, noting the following among her favorites: Audible, Bank of America, Evernote, HBOGO, Pandora, Passbook, and Shazam.  For the 30-year-old woman, Google Maps is her favorite and commands daily use.  She also regularly uses her Bank of America mobile banking app.  Even the 41-year-old woman, new to mobile phones entirely, admitted to enjoying her Pandora music app and was quick to remove the Facebook app from her mobile phone.  The 23-year-old man noted some of his favorite apps which include Amazon, ESPN, Google Maps, GroupMe, The New York Times, NPR, and Twitter.  The 46-year-old man uses the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) app and TuneIn Radio.  I further asked him if he uses the MBTA mobile ticketing feature and he responded that he did not because of data tracking and privacy concerns.

My colleagues offered a variety of perspectives and behaviors in their attitudes and use of mobile phones, particularly toward using devices to make mobile payments.  While some of my colleagues may be reluctant to make purchases using their mobile phones (much like myself), others are highly likely to become adopters in the future, given their use of mobile banking apps and other apps. Perhaps adoption will grow  if mobile payments appeal to consumers’ desire for speed, convenience, and necessity.

From these interviews, I have observed that reluctance to make mobile payments comes in many forms.  While there are some concerns about security, no one is completely opposed to making mobile payments in the future as they continue to gain experience.  My colleagues’ usage of their mobile phones largely boils down to personal habits and preferences.  Their perspectives may be as varied as their personalities!