Once upon a time, paying for a purchase in a store would have meant paying cash, writing a check, or swiping a card. Mobile payments, however, add another option to the mix by allowing shoppers to pay using their mobile devices. According to Worldpay's 2018 Global Payments Report, global use of mobile payments is expected to reach 28% by 2022, becoming the second most popular payment option after debit cards.
If you're not using mobile payments yet, you might have questions about where you can use them, how easy they are to use, and how secure they are. This guide breaks down everything you need to know about mobile payments and how they work.
What Are Mobile Payments?
In a nutshell, a mobile payment is a payment transaction that takes place through your mobile device. You load your debit and credit cards into a mobile payment app on your phone or tablet, for instance. The app stores your card information so you don't have to carry cards (or cash) with you when you shop.
Mobile payment apps can be used to make purchases but they also have other applications. Venmo, for example, is a type of social mobile payment app that you can use to send money to friends and family using an email address.
Where Are Mobile Payments Accepted?
Not every merchant accepts mobile payments but a sizable number does. According to Kount's Mobile Payments and Fraud 2018 report, 71% of merchants support mobile payments at the point-of-sale and another 21% of merchants say they plan to support mobile payments at some point in the future. Point-of-sale, or POS, just means at the checkout terminal in-store.
What's a Mobile Pay App?
Three of the biggest mobile payment apps are Google Pay, Samsung Pay, and Apple Pay, and each has different acceptance rates.
With Google Pay, for instance, you can use your mobile device to pay in-store, through partner apps and websites, and at featured transit agencies. Samsung Pay is accepted virtually anywhere you can swipe or tap your credit or debit card, and you can also use it to pay in-app or online with partner merchants. Apple Pay can be used to pay for transit services at partner merchants and make purchases at participating retailers in-app, in-store, and online.
You can visit each mobile payment app's website to see the full list of merchants for acceptance. Another easy way to tell if you can use mobile pay when you're shopping or dining out is to look for your app's brand symbol at the payment terminal.
With Apple Pay, you can also use mobile payments to donate to selected charities, including United Way and the American Red Cross.
How to Use Mobile Payments to Pay
The first step is downloading the mobile payment app you want to use to your device. From there, you can load your credit and debit cards.
You may also be able to load gift cards, loyalty cards, and transit cards to your mobile payment app to make spending even more convenient, depending on which one you're using.
If you're paying in-store, making a payment is as simple as opening the app, selecting which card you want to pay with, and holding your mobile device near the payment terminal. Mobile payments rely on Near-Field Communication technology, which allows the terminal to "talk" to your mobile device and securely retrieve your card's payment information.
From there, the terminal processes the payment transaction and you can be on your way. If you're shopping online or in-app, you'll only be able to use mobile payments if the website or app allows them. If it does, you just have to select the mobile wallet you want to open, then the card that you want to use to process your payment.
How Secure Are Mobile Payments?
You might be wondering how safe your personal and financial information is when using mobile payments. Generally, mobile payment technology uses several safety measures to protect consumers.
Tokenization, for instance, allows mobile payment apps to replace your banking details with a token ID to secure your information. The token is then used to process payments in-store, in-app or online.
Individual apps can implement their own security measures. Samsung Pay, for instance, relies on fingerprints, facial recognition, or a secure PIN to verify identity for processing transactions. The app encrypts your data and stores it securely and applies the same fraud protections to your linked credit and debit cards as you'd get from your bank. You can also remotely lock your device to prevent anyone from using it if it's lost or stolen.
Mobile payments aren't risk-free, however. Payment phishing scams, for example, can result in fraudulent transactions being processed through mobile payment apps. It's also possible that your account information could be susceptible to skimming attacks when using unsecured public Wi-Fi. Human error can also lead to your information being compromised if you aren't taking steps to protect your mobile devices, such as enabling face or fingerprint ID or multi-factor authentication.
Will Carrying Cash or Cards Become a Thing of the Past?
According to Worldpay's data, mobile payments are gaining ground but they haven't edged out cash, credit cards, or debit cards completely. And even if they do eventually, that may be several years in the future.
That means carrying at least one credit or debit card or a small amount of cash is still wise if you're concerned about being somewhere that doesn't accept mobile payments or losing your mobile device. In the meantime, you can begin easing into the transition by researching various mobile wallet apps to decide which one is right for you.