Canadians are skeptical of mobile payments because what we have works

Paying with your phone doesn't solve long lineups and poor service

Woman demonstrating Apple Pay with an iPhone 6

Mobile payments like Apple Pay don’t truly solve problems for many users. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Back in September, I suggested that mobile payments like Apple Pay were solutions in search of a problem. It seems the majority of Canadians agree, according to a new survey.

About 21% of Canadians polled by research firm GfK said they had made mobile payments in the past six months, compared to 24 % of western Europeans, 33% of Americans and 39% of Latin Americans.

One in three Canadians agreed with the statement that “mobile payment is more of a gimmick today than a major way I pay” while about 40% thought “mobile payment technology is still clunky,” according to the Canadian Press.


Privacy and security are big concerns, but the biggest obstacle toward acceptance of mobile payments looks to be a surplus of other options. As Stephen Popiel, vice-president of consulting for GfK Canada, puts it:

“The ATM infrastructure is huge and profound in Canada, even when compared with the United States, so the mobile technology itself is partly a solution for a problem that’s not as big of an issue here. We have a seamless ATM and debit card structure here and now the tap technology makes it fast and easy to make a lot of small purchases. Now we have to train ourselves: don’t use the wallet, pull out my phone, make sure the app is open. We have to get to a position where this technology is as seamless and easy to use as what we’ve been using for the past 15 to 20 years.”

John Lunn, senior director of developer relations for PayPal and Braintree, touched on this topic in a conversation we had last weekend. He said he likes the idea of Apple Pay and the near-field communications (NFC) technology it’s based on, but added that it doesn’t solve a real problem.

“NFC works, so do cards, and the stats say NFC saves five seconds from swiping the card to actually tapping. I’m not sure how that’s going to change the world. The much more interesting problem to solve is paying at all.”

Ironically, Apple has effectively solved this issue with its own retail experience. If you’ve ever bought something at an Apple store, you know it’s dramatically different from the traditional retail experience.

Staff ring up your purchase wherever you are in the store and email you a receipt, which saves customers from having to stand in lineups at a cash register (it’s doubly ironic that people often stand in line just to get into an Apple store).

One of PayPal’s efforts, Lunn said, is to emulate and advance that sort of system – or even the Uber format, which eliminates entirely the transaction part of buying something.

See something you like at a store? In the near future, you may just grab it and walk out, with sensors charging your mobile wallet via the smartphone you’re carrying.

“That kind of experience means I might start going back into shops,” Lunn said.

Maybe then Canadians will get excited about mobile payments.