The Apple Watch was undoubtedly the star of the show at Cupertino’s "Spring Forward" event on Monday (March 9) with the rest of the product line - like the gold MacBook and even Apple Pay - playing important supporting roles.
As is Apple’s custom, the event successfully ignited massive multi-angled media buzz. Apple fans temporarily shut down Apple’s online store with too much demand - and those consumers couldn’t even pre-order the much touted Apple Watch - nor will they be able to until April 10. However, not everyone who tuned in to Cook’s presentation was ready to grab for their credit card (or Apple Pay enabled iPhone 6) to place an order.
“We remain somewhat skeptical of the device’s ability to drive mainstream adoption,” Pacific Crest Securities analyst Andy Hargreaves wrote in a research note Monday. “The Watch’s primary functional value seems to be the convenience of being able to do certain tasks without taking your phone out of your pocket. This is nice, but does not appear game-changing.”
Apple’s stock was down 2 percent on the day after the company revealed details of its wearable device, and much of the weeks’ discussion has been about the watch -- will consumers buy, what it means for Apple's future, etc. Which may have made it easy to miss the progress that Apple Pay made during the second week of March.
Cook gave payments fans a peek into some Apple Pay data during his presentation, noting that Apple Pay has nearly tripled the number of merchant locations since its launch in October and is accepted at 720,000 merchant locations. Cook also singled out 40,000 Coca-Cola vending machines and the 2,500 banks that are now aligned with Apple Pay.
But here’s the latest and greatest Apple Pay news from around the ecosystem.
Stay With Marriott (Pay With Apple)
Marriott announced on Monday that starting this summer it would be allowing guests to check-in using Apple Pay.
“Approximately 75 percent of our guests travel with one or more mobile devices, and it is even higher among 25-35 year olds – a group that will make up a much larger proportion of our guests over the next three years," said George Corbin, senior vice president of Marriott Digital, in a press release. "Millions of customers already use Marriott Mobile to quickly book a hotel, check-in, or check out. Now, Apple Pay can make it virtually effortless."
The company did not note any specific plans in regards to Android, though sources familiar with the matter said an Android implementation is likely forthcoming. Marriott launched its branded app in 2013, which they can use to browse and book reservations. The company is looking for ways to motivate consumers engage with the application more. Currently, Marriott is piloting a program that will allow guests, once checked in, to use the app to make requests and chat in real time with hotel staff.
Marriott will rollout with Apple Pay this summer at select locations in popular cities including The Ritz-Carlton in New York and Washington D.C., EDITION in Miami, JW Marriott in Chicago, San Francisco Marriott Marquis and the Courtyard Los Angeles, to name a few.
GameStop (And Winning Against Walmart)
GameStop started 2014 as a company to be bullish about. By the second half of the year, it was dealing with the unpleasant reality of competing directly with the world’s largest retailer. Walmart decided to enter the secondhand video game market - heretofore Gamestop’s territory - by allowing customers to resell their old games at Walmart locations for store credit.
Going head-to-head with Walmart drove down analysts' predictions for the company - particularly around the holiday season when a forecasted 12 percent pick-up in sales suddenly seemed far too aggressive.
“There’s concern that this holiday will disappoint,” Credit Suisse Group’s Seth Sigman told Bloomberg in a 2014 interview. “We’ve had pretty choppy trends throughout this year, yet you have sales estimates at the high end of GameStop’s guidance. That leaves little room for error. If Wal-Mart continues to price the trade-in and the resell more aggressively than GameStop, that’s something to monitor for sure.”
However, in 2015 GameStop has emerged aggressively and looking to compete.
While Walmart’s digital payments ambitions are tied to the fortunes of the yet to be launched CurrentC Wallet, GameStop announced this week that it is joining team Apple Pay, and will bring with it its approximately 4,200 retail locations around the United States.
“We are excited to make it easier and more convenient for our customers to shop at GameStop,” said Jason Cochran, senior VP of U.S. stores at GameStop. “Providing a positive, memorable customer experience is our top priority. Incorporating the latest in mobile technology, like Apple Pay, into our stores is another way we are offering customers options to help simplify their purchases.”
GameStop then announced Wednesday that, going forward, it will be buying back the gift cards of other (select) retailers in-store, in much the same way the retail chain currently purchases used video game and gaming equipment.
“We’ve always provided the best value through our trade-in and pre-owned offerings, and the success of our original gift card exchange offering has proven that,” Jon Haes, senior director, pre-owned merchandising at GameStop, noted in a statement about the release. “We’re excited about our growing partnership with Cardpool. This is the logical ‘next step’ in revolutionizing the way major retailers offer prepaid gifting exchange while providing customers even more ways to access immediate value both in their retail stores and online.”
The gift card buyback program in-store is an extension of a gift card purchase program piloted online. Walmart’s gift cards are among those GameStop will be buying back.
“GameStop is already the leader in the game trades business,” said Tomas Campos, Blackhawk Network general manager of digital & emerging services. “Gift card exchange is another valuable service to offer to their customers that further differentiates GameStop in the market.”
Kickstarter (“Shutting up and taking my money has never been easier”)
The last of the big new Apple Pay acceptors is the popular crowdfunding site Kickstarter.
“Today we’re happy to introduce an amazing new feature to the Kickstarter app that makes it even easier to back a project on the go. Thanks to the addition of Apple Pay, you can now back a project with the touch of a finger,” the company wrote on its blog. “No more manually entering your card details. No more holding your phone in two hands, even. Install our latest app update and you’ll be on your way to backing with nothing but a single thumb.”
There are some limitations - Apple Pay can only be used to fund U.S. based projects on Kickstarter. And of course there is the standard limit - one must have an iPhone 6 or 6+ to use Apple Pay (or an iPhone 5 model and an Apple Watch later this year).
Reactions to the news on Kickstarter’s blog:
“Awesome,” noted one commenter.
“Great news,” wrote another commenter. “When can we expect this type of feature on an Android App? Or should I be asking when we can expect an Android App?”
That commenter is referencing that although the Kickstarter App has been out on iOS for two years - and now takes Apple Pay - there is still no official app for the Android platform. Kickstarter seems to be in the process of building one, as they recently posted a job listing for an Android developer who loves the OS “like their own bones.”
Earlier this year, Tim Cook already declared 2015 the “year of Apple Pay,” a sentiment he affirmed during the "Spring Forward" corporate pep rally earlier this week. He told the assembled that the payment app aligns with Apple’s strategy to change how everyday tasks are done using technology innovation.
However, to change everyday tasks, Apple Pay must first become part of everyday life and that requires capturing both merchants and consumers. This week, with the announced tripling of the number of merchant locations in which Apple Pay can be used, and some interesting new sign-ons, the momentum seems to be building.
Then again, reports earlier this week indicate that consumers still aren’t quite being mobilized by mobile and still seem to feel much the same way (if not somewhat more dimly) than they did before they had ever heard of Apple Pay.
Innovation Project 2015 attendees will hear firsthand just how the average consumer with iPhone 6’s are adopting Apple Pay, using it and making merchant decisions on the basis of Apple Pay acceptance. PYMNTS and InfoScout are collaborating on a survey to be released publicly for the first time on March 18th at 4:30 PM. Watch PYMNTS.com on Thursday for the results, or better yet, join us and hear them for yourself firsthand.