Why Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Google Are Winning at Mobile Payments

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Four consumer technology brands — Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Google — are gathering strength and momentum and have the ability to win in a world of integrated social media and payments, maintains Mary Monahan, executive vice president and research director, mobile, Javelin Research, in a report released yesterday and a follow-up interview.

"The four companies are each developing different types of platforms and are going to have a huge head start if they can transition their online services and products to this new mobile and social environment," Monahan says.

"It's a huge threat," she says. "The platforms that gather the biggest user base can take away market share, they're going to gain power and wealth in the next technology cycle."

In a pair of consumer surveys: (5,878 surveyed in December, 5,211 in October), Javelin has documented some of the trends on consumer behavior on mobile devices and social media sites: adoption of smartphones currently at 45% and poised to cross the 50% barrier sometime next year; by 2016, it's estimated that 72% of U.S. adults will use smartphones, accounting for 158 million consumers. Social media usage among U.S. adults is at 69%, and 74% of U.S. consumers who access social networking sites logged on to Facebook during the previous week.

"That's huge, there are a lot of consumers spending a lot of time on social media. Whenever that happens, you've got to follow where your customers go." About 20% of consumers say they're willing to friend a company, Monahan notes. About 15% say they'll interact to receive updates on promotions or discounts or promotions from their bank. That rises to about 30% among the 18-to-24-year-old group.

"That's creating a demand for mobile products that tag social networks and the web," Monahan says. "All this gang [Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon] is positioned to dominate in the tech cycle, Amazon included."

Amazon's peculiar strength is the older demographic that use its Kindle e-reader devices, which have transitioned to tablet devices. "Readers are older; if you're a reader, you're just as likely to be over 65 as you are to be 18 to 24," Monahan says. "We can actually pull some of these middle aged and older folks into the online generation with e-readers." The Kindle Fire is a loss leader for Amazon, Monahan says; it sells for $199 and had strong uptake over the holiday season.

Apple has behemoth-level strengths, Monahan points out, with around 225 million iTunes accounts, 350 million iOS devices sold, 172 million "post-PC devices" (iPhones, iPods and iPads), 25 billion apps downloaded and 100 million iCloud users. Apple has the patents to provide near-field communications-based mobile payments over its devices. "Match that with a credit card and people could start buying on that platform," Monahan says. "These platforms they're developing could be used for purchasing and we can see that there's been a shift in mobile purchasing habits — one in six consumers made a mobile purchase in the past six months." Where in 2007, the top mobile app purchase was ring tones, today it's physical goods.

Facebook has 483 million daily active users. Google Plus has 100 million active users.

Banks need to get in the game, and partner and make alliances with these innovators, Monahan says. Citi's and Bank of America's rollout of Amazon Kindle Fire apps for mobile banking are examples of banks jumping in.

Banks do have an online strength that these other players lack, one that's been pointed out in several other research reports: they rank higher on trust for financial transactions and privacy. "In fact, if you look at the Google and Facebook models, they're built on a lack of privacy," Monahan says. "When it comes to financial transactions, privacy is mandated by law. They've got to have privacy protection." Most consumers ranked their own bank highest, next to Apple, on innovation.

"[Bank customers are] super loyal, you've got to factor that into any offering," she says. "They really trust their banks more than anybody else, once they have that relationship established."

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