If Amazon Re-Enters Mobile Payments, It’ll Be a Long, Uphill Battle

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Earlier this year Amazon (AMZN) killed its mobile payment platform, Amazon Wallet, but it turns out it may have been more of a pause then a full stop.

Amazon is reportedly working on a new strategy for mobile payments, according to The Information. The big question though is whether or not it's too late for Amazon to get in on the race in the $507 billion U.S. mobile payments market.

"Amazon in recent months approached retailers and smartphone and smartwatch makers like Samsung Electronics (SSNLF) to partner on an Amazon payment service that would work on merchants' websites, apps or in their physical stores," The Information's Amir Efrati wrote.

Amazon declined to comment for this story.

In the mean time, Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) have already secured these sorts of retail partnerships, plus bank partnerships, and on top of that, they already own a large share of the device market. Amazon has a ton of catchup to do.

"The mobile wallet opportunity for Amazon is effectively eradicated as operating system-based solutions such as Apple Pay and Android Pay work their way into the market," 451 Research senior analyst Jordan McKee said. "I see very little opportunity for Amazon to go direct-to-consumer with a mobile payment solution."

With Amazon Wallet, the company made a feeble attempt at providing some sort of mobile platform, though the wallet only stored gift cards and loyalty cards as opposed to credit cards and debit cards. Amazon discontinued the product after just six months, making sure to emphasize the fact that it was a trial that provided the company with some useful learning.

"We've learned a great deal from the Amazon Wallet beta program and will look for ways to apply these lessons in the future as we continue to innovate on behalf of our customers," Amazon spokesman Tom Cook said at the time.

This line alone hints at the fact that Amazon wasn't finished.

"I'm not surprised that they're doing it again because even when they shuttered Amazon Wallet the way their spokesperson said it was that it was a beta and had shortcomings," said Kosha Gada, a principal at global management consulting firm AT Kearney. "Amazon is good at being quick and failing fast and getting market feedback from consumers and trying something slightly different."

So this time around, Amazon may try to differentiate itself from the other players by tapping into its relationships with smaller retailers, Gada said. For instance, Amazon could cut transaction fees for brick-and-mortar stores that already sell on Amazon Marketplaces, and then it could work with those stores to offer incentives and promotions to consumers who use an Amazon mobile wallet.

Depending on how much they discount fees for merchants though, this could actually get pretty pricey for Amazon, which may not make investors too happy. "It could get expensive for them if they price it below what it costs them to offer the payment service," said Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster. "When you think about the cost of what Amazon's going to do in mobile payments, the biggest factor in the cost is what they're going to charge merchants." Google, for instance, ran into this same problem when it cut fees for merchants offering Google Wallet.

Even barring those extra costs, if Amazon taps into its marketplace advantage, it'll still be the underdog. Apple and Google's Android largely dominate the mobile device market--Apple owns 41.3% of the U.S. smartphone market, and Google Android operates on 53.2% of the U.S. smartphones. If they preload their mobile wallet on their operating systems, why would consumers go out of their way to download an Amazon mobile wallet? Yes, Amazon has some Fire devices, but the market share there isn't enough to be a real driver. Amazon's Fire smartphone accounts for less than 1% of the smartphone market.

"I wouldn't say they could never catch up but it's hard," Gada said. "They can still be successful and have enough of a market that it's ROI positive for them, but in terms of being the leader it's an uphill battle for them. Amazon is always going to be swimming upstream a bit."

But with all the attention mobile payments are getting, it's not hard to believe that Amazon would want to at least give it a shot, with the domestic mobile payments market expected to grow to $142 billion by 2019, according to Forrester.

"If you look at the consumer tech experience, I think the wallet is probably going to have the most profound change for consumer behavior in the next five years," Munster predicted. "It makes sense that Amazon try something, but since it's going to be such a profound change there are companies that are going to have an advantage and be more successful."

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