Google Wallet a Question for Small Merchants

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Even small businesses are invited to take part in Google ( GOOG) Wallet, the mobile payments platform announced Thursday by the online search giant.

Google announced plans for a summer launch of the program, which allows consumers to pay for purchases with the tap of their Android phone at select merchants. It starts in New York and San Francisco and piggybacks on MasterCard ( MA) PayPass, a tap program already in place at thousands of merchants.
Small businesses using card readers might benefit from the upcoming Google Wallet program, but have other options as well.

Small businesses can check out Google's pitch here.

But merchants touted as already being part of the programs -- from eye care shops in Cambridge, Mass., to a Gristede's grocery in New York -- denied knowledge of Google Wallet and said they couldn't take smartphone payments of any kind, and the partnerships Google are touting first are with large retailers, including Macy's ( M), Subway, American Eagle Outfitters ( AEO), Walgreens ( WAG) and Bloomingdale's.

A Google spokesman said late Thursday that there will be small businesses involved this summer when Wallet rolls out, but they will number in the hundreds. He wouldn't release names or dates.

Impatient small businesses have other options. Several companies are targeting mobile payment systems specifically to small businesses, including Intuit's ( INTU) GoPayment, Sage Mobile Payments and Square, founded in part by Jack Dorsey, the name behind Twitter.

The foray into mobile payments is the next step in the payments chapter, with banks, credit card processors and technology companies itching to get into the space.

Steve Ledford, a partner at management consultant Novantas, says one way of looking at the advantages of mobile payments offerings is to compare advantages of the service over more traditional formats, such as instant inventory and targeted advertising by collecting customer data.

"Right now mobile payments is still fairly small, but it is shaping up to be a very important battleground," Ledford says. "The mobile phone will end up being the point-of-sale terminal of the future, especially for micro-merchants."

Wide acceptance of mobile payments by small businesses is still a while off, though, experts say.

"It's very difficult to convince a business to change their payments system , because what they have works," says Sean Harper, CEO of FeeFighters, a website focused on credit card processing options for small businesses. "The last thing they want to think about is their payments technology."

For small businesses to accept mobile payments technology, "there is going to need to be some sort of compelling value function around it," Harper says.

"When credit cards came out, the value proposition was just that 'There are a lot of customers that have these things and they spend more when they use them and you should accept them.' It was really consumer driven -- 'Your sales will go up X amount because of Y.' That's the kind of thing businesses will respond to," Harper says.

If payment channels that include mobile payments are "a way to enhance the buying experience and some way increase sales," that's a compelling reason, Ledford adds. "That's where a lot of these emerging players are looking to make their mark," he says.

--Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

To follow Laurie Kulikowski on Twitter, go to: http://twitter.com/#!/LKulikowski

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