Last month, Google announced a plan to merge its Checkout and Wallet electronic payment services into a single product for both Web browsers and mobile devices. The announcement of the combined product, which will use the Wallet name, comes more than five years after the launch of Checkout, which back then was seen by some as a potential “PayPal killer”. Checkout never came close to fulfilling that prediction, becoming instead a payment system primarily for Google sites. However, Google hasn’t given up on the e-payments market and has high expectations for Wallet. IDG News Service recently had a chance to chat with Osama Bedier, the company’s Payments vice president, about Google’s plans for Wallet and vision of the e-payments market. An edited version of the interview follows.
IDG News Service: Why is Google in the online payments market?
Osama Bedier: Payments has always been a friction point to commerce in the history of the world — it has led to less commerce. In the digital world, our native home, we need to remove the friction in digital payments. It’s a problem we don’t believe has been solved. So it’s in our interest and in the whole industry’s interest for this problem to be solved. We have a unique ability to help get this solved in a way that is complementary to the existing ecosystem of players as opposed to just competitive.
Consumers don’t look at the web and mobile as separate channels from the physical buying experience anymore. They look at it as a continuum. They start their shopping experience online on a website, save a few things to a basket, and then they may want to pull up those things in the retailer’s mobile app. They may want to buy the products on the phone and pick them up at the store, or show up at the store and find a list of things they saw online.
We want to ease that experience with a single wallet that works online, on mobile, offline, that has all those instruments that can be used in all of those places the same way, that keeps track not only of your payments and payment history and enabling those in the simplest way possible but also ensuring that you can save money with offers and retain your loyalty status with club cards and rewards regardless of where that experience happens. That is a big gap that needs to be filled. The idea of the Wallet is to let you save time and money across those channels.
IDGNS: Why did you decide to merge Wallet and Checkout? Wallet was only introduced a few months ago and its reach is pretty limited right now.
Bedier: We had a product where we helped payments happen online and another product that helped payments happen offline and it made sense to pull those together. If one of the biggest retail problems in the next decade is multi-channel, we need one wallet that works across channels. Our goal is a wallet that works on every computer, on every mobile phone and on every terminal in the world. But we’re starting in the only way payments works: in a small microcosm and then growing it out and solving problems that haven’t been solved yet: How to buy things on my mobile phone? How do I use my mobile phone to make my payments in the real world smarter? How do I use it to save me money and save me time, and delivering the continuity of experience across channels that hasn’t happened yet?
IDGNS: Why did Google decide to start to merge Wallet and Checkout during the busy holiday shopping season?
Bedier: It had to do with the timing of us connecting these products on the backend, less to do with any specific timing in the holiday season. Now, of course, we put a lot of effort into making sure it wouldn’t impact anything in the holiday season. As it relates to platforms and technologies and trying to combine products and simplify things, sooner is always better. The longer you wait, the bigger a problem it is to do down the road.
IDGNS: At this first stage, is it mostly a branding integration where people can merge their Checkout and Wallet accounts? If so, what will the deeper integration later involve?
Bedier: Yes, right now, the impact is mostly branding. Down the road, you can expect to see that anything you do in your mobile wallet will be available in your online wallet and vice versa. We want all your payment methods, coupons, offers, rewards, to be available to you whether on the web, on a mobile phone or any connected device you log into. It’s all one platform on the backend. We did quite a bit of the platform work over the last few months and now we’ll continue to connect these products together over time.
IDGNS: Your mobile carrier partner for Wallet is currently Sprint. What do you think about ISIS, the competing NFC (near-field communication) wallet initiative from AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile USA, and Verizon Wireless?
Bedier: It’s good for NFC. It’s an example of what we’re trying to accomplish, so it’s good to see other players helping move the ecosystem forward. The better we collaborate, the more valuable it is for consumers and merchants, so it’s healthy. There will be multiple wallets in the future. Industry standards, collaboration, together figuring out how to solve the merchant and consumer needs that are emerging with these new technologies will help the whole industry grow.
Juan Carlos Perez covers search, social media, online advertising, e-commerce, web application development, enterprise cloud collaboration suites and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.