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Isis entices customers with cash to start paying with their smartphones

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The mobile payments service Isis got off to a rocky start, but now that it’s finally cranking nationwide the carrier consortium is trying to make up lost ground. It’s launched a series of promotions intended to make it worth your while to start paying with your smartphone at the cash register. Most notably Wells Fargo is paying customers up to $300 just to use the Isis wallet for purchases.

Wells Fargo(s wfc) card holders that attach their cards to the Isis wallet will get a $20 credit the first time they “tap to pay” at any store or business that accepts Isis transactions. After that, they’ll get 20 percent cash back on all other Isis purchases until April 30 or until they reach $300 in total rebates ($100 each month).

Isis Store payment

Isis is also working with other partners with a few of its merchants to offer incentives:

  • American Express is offering 20 percent off on Isis purchases up to $200 if you use its Serve prepaid service.
  • Jamba Juice is giving out a free 12 oz. smoothie every time you make a purchase at its stores with Isis.
  • Toys’R’Us is knocking $15 off of any purchase over $30 for wallet payers.
  • Coca Cola is giving three free drinks to customers at its Isis-enabled vending machines.

Those are definitely some nice perks, but there’s nothing that captures America’s imagination more than cold hard cash. Wells Fargo customers with an Isis-enabled phone will have plenty of reasons to try out the service.

Isis America ExpressAnd if you’re not a Wells Fargo customer or don’t have the right phone? The problem is – and this is a problem with all point-of-sale mobile payments services – there are a whole bunch of factors determining whether any given person can use the payments service.

Isis has largely overcome the issue of building up a merchant base. Isis claims to have recruited hundreds of thousands of U.S. merchants with the contactless infrastructure necessary to accept digital wallet transactions. A quick search of my neighborhood revealed a surprising number of businesses in the program. These weren’t just chain stores. Even our favorite neighborhood bistro and a local artisanal candle maker was on the list.

But even if the merchants you want to buy from accept Isis, your phone won’t necessary make contactless payments. Isis says some 50 phones now with the near-field communications (NFC) necessary to perform a tap transaction, including some of the most popular new Android(s goog) devices, but the iPhone(s aapl) is still a big exception. You can buy a special case for the iPhone to make Isis payments (though you can buy a special NFC case for the iPhone if you’re that committed).

Finally, you need to have the right bank. Isis works with American Express(s axp), Chase(s jpm) and Wells Fargo cards for now, but if your credit card or debit card is issued by another financial provider, your only option is to shoehorn it into the Isis Wallet by linking it to American Express prepaid account.

Even if you have the right carrier – Isis works with AT&T(s t), Verizon(s vz) and T-Mobile(s tmus) – the right bank and the right phone, Isis still isn’t just a service you can turn on. You still have to get a special secure SIM from your carrier. I’d love to give Isis a whirl, but while I’m a Verizon customer, I use an iPhone and bank with Citi. I’m not going to jump through any hoops to get access to a service that delivers only incremental value. The plastic and cash in my wallet works just fine.

Still the more Isis’s portfolio of financial institutions, phones and merchants grows, the greater the chance more consumers will have the right combination of factors necessary to make it worthwhile. And for those who do have that right combination, promotions like Wells Fargo’s could go a long way to get them to try out the Isis service.

7 Responses to “Isis entices customers with cash to start paying with their smartphones”

  1. Donald Lacey


    I’ve had it for about two weeks now all I can say is that set was easy. Here in the Frisco/Plano area there aren’t a lot of vendors that are setup for Isis wallet. To set up my Wells Fargo secured credit card was easy and for initial setup I started with $50. Wells Fargo has a good incentive but no useful vendors.

  2. I live in Austin and been using ISIS since the trial period began. It was simply built into the new phone I was getting at time and I suspect will be plenty common as the years go on. Initial set up was a bit difficult but they paid me 10 or 20 dollars to sign up so I did. I had the Chase prepaid thing at first but now have the American Express Serve attached to my bank card with a limit set that I feel comfortable with. I’ve been using it whenever I can and it’s becoming way more common for me. Most of the fast food places around here take it, my vending machines at work take it and right now they have a promotion going on that pays me 1.00 per tap so I’m really like that. Gets me talking about it to others who, that when demonstrated, are very impressed. They may not be willing to run right out and get a new phone just for the service but when the next phone they get already has it, they may find themselves enjoying it more. It’s like all new things, you didn’t know that you wanted it until you have had it for awhile and somehow can’t live without it. . i.e. Smartphone’s, Cable, running water:) Right now it does seem a bit gimmicky for most, but in time, paying with a phone could be very normal. There are people with vision and see things differently than most. Sometime their ideas work sometimes they don’t but where would we be without their ideas? Fetching water from a river with a bucket right?

  3. It took me a month or so to get it going, issues with the Serve Card because we already had Bluebird account for the kids allowances and you couldn’t have both and etc. The only retailer that has the infrastructure that I have found doesn’t take it is Best Buy of all places. Did some Christmas shopping and was counting on the 20% rebate by AMEX so that was a bit of a bummer but no matter I still managed to max out my $200 rebate on mine and thanks to the end of February extension my wife should be able to get max’d out also.

    Note for Wells Fargo you can only use the WF “Credit Card” the Visa Debit does not work for ISIS. :-(

    Probably the most common issue with ISIS is the cashiers looking at you like you are an idiot for holding your phone up and just staring at you when the transaction has already gone through but they won’t even look at the register because they think you are a moron and are waiting for you to swipe your card. :-)

  4. You’re right. Several of us at work have tried ISIS and its full of hurdles. I was the only one who got it working with an existing AX card. The others have spent hours on the phone with ISIS customer care reps that know less than we do. Google Wallet is much simpler to set up and works with all VISA, AX, DI, and MC credit and debit cards. Yet that service has been out for years and has little usage. You can do the same with contactless (chip) cards and the mobile phone only makes it more complicated with little incremental value. It will become increasingly popular but remain complex and with a lot of overhead compared to a simple, plastic, chip card that requires no battery, no service, no SIM card, no third party accounts, and no wasted time on the phone training customer care reps.

  5. Steven L.

    >Isis claims to have recruited hundreds of thousands of U.S. merchants with the contactless infrastructure necessary to accept digital wallet transactions. A quick search of my neighborhood revealed a surprising number of businesses in the program.

    As far as ISIS payments are concerned, they’re just using whatever places that accept MasterCard PayPass and VISA PayWave… which is the exact same situation as Google Wallet.