Google Wallet: a fun beginning

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The new service from Google Google Wallet is a fun beginning. While it’s rather limited at the time, I believe it could be a nice and useful way to help users to save real money. But there are certain things that should happen first or at least very soon:

- Any card, any bank, for real
Right now the service is quite limited — only MasterCard, only CitiBank. There are rumors that Visa is about to join (heck, all card providers support some form of NFC — Blink payments for Chase, ExpressPay for Amex, etc — look at that little terminal at CVS — it’s covered with logos like a toad with warts). Right now Google offers a “virtual card” as an intermediary step between your non-MasterCard and your favorite Diners Club. This is bad. What if you want to return a purchase. A problem with an item? No matter how “evil” some credit card companies are, other offer quite a lot of benefits, from extension of your initial warranty (yes, on most “platinum” or equivalent cards with up to a year), to a price guarantee. It may require a phone call, but generally your credit card will be happy to help you. Plus, it’s just inconvenient that you’d have to “freeze” some money on your Google pseudo-card instead of just making a direct purchase.

- Help users pick the best card, every time
There’s no information about “additional” help at this point that Google Wallet could provide to users. Specifically, if they were supporting many different cards (heck, even Citi has a set of MasterCards) that have different points/miles/specials. I.e. if card A offers double cash-back at a gas station, show that, and let user know. People would be quite happy with it. Such “hint” can be also extended to other things, such as spreading out credit line usage, or picking the one with smallest finance charge at this time. Credit card companies will probably balk at this (competition, reduction of profits for them), but user adoption would increase. A lot.

- More phones, more carriers
Only one model? Sorry, but that’s just a technology demo, not a real product. Nokia way back then had one just like this, failed miserably (though Japan does have pay systems like that). Only one carrier? Even biggest problem. When marketing push comes to shove (as in now) users should be able to go to their favorite carrier’s store and get a phone with this wallet thing NOW. Otherwise it’ll take a constant torrent of ads to remind them when they finally decide to switch from carrier A(T&T) to carrier S(print). You know, minimize the expense. Of course the advertised system requires actual phone module (even though there’s a talk about “sticker-type of solution”, but that wouldn’t really be the same, security-wise etc)

- Expand Google Offers
Right now only special deals from Google are considered. That should be expanded and open to any provider. Okay, maybe not just any but many, so all of those savings communities (FatWallet, Slickdeals, Retailmenot etc) would be able to offer you a subscription that integrates into Wallet. You go there, and it shows you a coupon for office supplies, or a pizza. Yes, Google offers are nice (where they are available) but the more the merrier. Provide a platform, let users enjoy variety of services.

- Integrate Google Checkout/Mask the card when user wants to
This is mostly similar to “any card any time” — add your own Google Checkout into the mix, and, when user requests, use single-payment-number type of transaction. That way the convenience extends to regular online purchases, small stores, everywhere. You can even throw in Mint-like data organization (though some users may somewhat freak-out about it)

- Real human support, please
The biggest concern will be “what if my phone is lost or stolen”. Yes, the pin number should help (and/or annoy for cases when you’re buying stuff yourself), but users should know that they won’t get in trouble if unfortunate happens. There should be live support line that would immediately block the phone, and help by informing relevant card providers of a possibility of fraud as well. I know this will be the biggest challenge for Google as user support is the last thing engineering geniuses think about (and Google is not generally known for tendency of allowing human interaction)

I hope Google will move forward quickly. While the economy is not smelling like a bunch of roses right now, this is a real chance to help users in a meaningful way to save some money. Some people might dismiss $5 or $10 savings this could bring, but such service would have no costs to the end user. You have a cell phone? You should be able to get Google Wallet, and save a little…

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