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Google Wallet distances itself from NFC with Sionic Mobile integration

Google Wallet users will now be able to access Google Wallet Instant Buy via Sionic Mobile’s ION Rewards application, getting rid of the wallet’s dependence on near-field communication and switching over to bar codes.

The ION Rewards app gives consumers rewards for paying with the app, and to promote the new Google Wallet integration, consumers will receive double rewards when they checkout using the technology. While Google Wallet requires merchants to accept NFC, this integration translates the digital wallet into a bar code technology, which is more commonly accepted in retail locations.

“I think NFC has held the mobile payments industry back as a whole,” said Ronald Herman, CEO of Sionic Mobile, Atlanta, GA. “As a technology it just never gained traction here. It’s not so much the technology itself, it’s the participants and the environment.

“I believe it’s held Google Wallet and Isis back,” he said. “It’s unfortunately become the poster child for what goes wrong when you have a lot of interest at stake, whether its banks, carriers or merchants.

“I think Google Wallet has made some really great steps recently, not that their abandoning NFC, but they’re certainly moving to solutions that don’t require the tapping or direct connection from device to device. I think that’s another reason that Google Wallet combined with ION Rewards is going to gain pretty rapid adoption. Think of us as yet another step in that direction.”

Google rewards
ION Rewards lets consumers purchase products at more than 28,000 retail locations, including Lowe’s, Staples, Sephora and Papa John’s Pizza. For every purchase they make, consumers earn one percent back in ION rewards that they can then spend immediately at the same locations.

Consumers can pay through methods such as electronic checks, Dwolla and now Google Wallet. The app will soon integrate from Visa as well.

Consumers can complete a Google Wallet purchase in two clicks, and all transactions are secured, monitored for fraud 24/7 and covered by Google Wallet Purchase Protection.

When consumers are at the cashier in-store, they simply open the ION Rewards app, enter the total on the point-of-sale and checkout in the app. The app then displays a bar code that the cashier can scan or manually enter into the POS system.

Consumers can only access the “Buy with Google” option on the Android version of ION Rewards since Google Wallet Instant Buy does not yet work on iOS devices.

For a limited time, consumers that pay with their Google Wallet will get paid double ION rewards.

NFC alternative
While Google Wallet started off as an NFC-based solution, it seems to be distancing itself from that technology, or at least creating alternative solutions.

This past November, Google Wallet launched a physical card. While the card still connected to the smartphone app, it signaled that NFC was not enough for Google (see story).

With merchants such as Best Buy and 7-Eleven shutting down their NFC capabilities, Google Wallet is likely to face even more struggles if it continues to bet on the technology (see story).

Integrating Google Wallet in the ION Rewards app represents yet another step in the direction away from NFC.

Added incentive
Besides for its issues with NFC, one of the major setbacks with Google Wallet — and all mobile payments — is that there needs to be an additional benefit to make it more valuable than swiping a card, which is already easy and fast.

With ION Rewards, consumers actually save money by using Google Wallet. This may be enough of an incentive to convince consumers that it is a decent tradeoff for swiping a physical card.

“It’s so much faster and easier to pull out cash or a credit card,” Mr. Herman said. “We think that with the addition of two-tap checkout inside our app, it’s enough of an incentive to use the app and choose to pay that way.

“Our strategy is let’s make it easy and reward those Google Wallet users for paying with Google Wallet Instant Buy every time they check out,” he said. “We believe that added incentive is enough to not take a card and swipe versus tapping on their phone and paying that way.”

Final Take
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York