PayPal: Mobile payments and location-based offers go hand-in-hand

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As we have been reporting, PayPal is gearing up to launch an in-store payment system that will compete with Google Wallet, Isis, Square and others. But the company isn’t just building out a point-of-sale transaction network. It’s looking to engage consumers well before they set foot in a store.

Walt Doyle, the CEO of WHERE, which was acquired by PayPal last year, said that will be a key battleground in mobile payments, pulling in consumers off the street. WHERE, which operates a location-based ad network, will be used as a way for merchants and retailers to engage consumers with deals and offers and lure them into stores, where they can check out using PayPal’s upcoming payment system. Doyle told me in an interview that the system will make mobile payments interesting to both consumers and merchants.

“If you only enforce payments without content advertising or offers, it’s simply not compelling from the acceptance side or from the consumer side,” Doyle said.

WHERE is able to target consumers based on a variety of factors including location but also search and purchase data. The goal is to be able to find nearby users and walk them into a store so they will buy a product based on an offer or deal. That will allow PayPal to close the redemption loop and show merchants how much business they are getting from PayPal, Doyle said.

We talked about the potential of offering local deals when PayPal bought WHERE. But it is interesting to see that PayPal considers WHERE a key tool in its larger mobile payments efforts. It’s not surprising, considering Google Wallet is being combined with Google Offers, but it shows that this is becoming table stakes in mobile payments. You can’t just have a great payment solution; you also need to have marketing and outreach tools to distinguish yourself from other offerings. And you need to provide merchants with more benefits than just an alternative to a card swipe. Having a way for merchants and retailers to grab people off the street is going to be key for successful payment systems. And putting coupons and deals in the hands of consumers can help convince them that it makes sense to use an alternative to credit cards or cash.

One of the problems I see, however, is that with WHERE there is no guarantee that consumers must pay via PayPal at the point of sale. A user could receive a mobile ad for a deal or coupon and then choose to pay with cash or a card, which would leave the redemption loop open. That, Doyle said, is something PayPal will be working on as it rolls out its payment system.

But he said this is part of the bigger challenge for all mobile payment providers. They have to provide more benefit than a card swipe to both consumers and merchants. It is going to take an ecosystem to accelerate adoption, said Doyle, and there is a lot more learning needed in the years to come.

“2012 in mobile payments is where location-based services were, like, three to four years ago. It’s, like, the year when things begin but it’s not where the critical adoption curve kicks in. You need consumer adoption on handsets and merchant adoption on the point of sale side. You will see it begin this year, and we will all learn a ton,” Doyle said.

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