PayPal’s Response to Google’s Payment Plans: A Wallet in the Cloud (Offers Not Included!)

PayPal unveiled its plan for mobile payments space yesterday at an event in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., where it revealed how it would compete in the physical retail world.

Ironically, the event took place at Terranea, which was the same resort where Google demonstrated its Wallet and Offers platforms at the D Conference only three months ago.

Since then, not only has the space heated up, with all the major players announcing their plans, but so has the rivalry between the two Bay Area companies. PayPal filed a lawsuit against Google for stealing trade secrets and key employees, and now they will compete for the attention of merchants and consumers.

In an interview, PayPal’s president, Scott Thompson, explained how the online payments leader was different, and why he believes the space will take off “faster than you ever imagined.”

In demonstrations earlier in the day, PayPal showed me a number of different scenarios, including using a phone number and PIN code to replace swiping a credit card at the payment terminal. It is also integrating check-in capabilities to its mobile application and location-based services to identify nearby stores or restaurants. What it won’t be doing is relying on near-field communication technology or implementing an offer network, unlike Google’s approach to the market.

Thomson, in his thick Boston accent, was eager to share his side of the story, after hearing so many other competitors go before him. Here are some highlights from the interview:

What problem are you solving?

Thompson: An offline merchant today is seeing slow to no growth. It’s tough. E-commerce companies are still growing, and if you have both, you are seeing slow to no growth.

First, we know merchants are worried about consumers coming to you from all different ways — online, in-person, mobile, etc. Multichannel retailing is real for them.

Second, retailers are asking “Who is the customer?” If you visit the site, we know. There’s a wealth of information about them. In offline, they don’t even know you are in the store.

You are battling the competition with your hands behind your back. The question is “How do I close the loop? How do I know that Tricia’s here?” Our solution does close that loop.

What about NFC? In the four presentations I saw, it wasn’t used once.

Thompson: We are not embracing technology, we are solving the problem of what can I do today. It’s hard for me to speak [about NFC] until there are standards. You can’t ask retailers to implement three to five standards.

We can’t be so bold or arrogant to think that you’ll adopt to the standards we’ve created. If we said “Throw away your terminals and get a new one, or buy a new phone” — no one has that level of influence and pull to say “You’ll have to adopt to the standards we’ve created.” … We will work with the new and the old.

If we only built something that worked with this phone, this bank, and this network and NFC, you might address 50 people out of the 350 million people in the U.S. We hope that all 350 million people use what we are doing today.

You boldly predicted recently that by the end of 2015, digital money will be accepted everywhere in the U.S. Some people think you are nuts!

Thompson: This wave is going to happen faster than you think. If every consumer can pay with PayPal with a mobile phone number and a PIN, then I don’t ever have to reach and find this [Thompson pulls his money clip out of his pocket].

Why is that a possibility? There’s lots of reasons!

The value to the merchant is compelling, and the other thing that’s true is that there’s been a lot of compression of credit. A whole lot of people don’t have credit cards, and there’s a higher number of debit transactions. That’s an important change, if your debit card is compromised. The bad guys will get your money. I need more security than ever before. So, will it happen? Will it be fast?

It will be faster than you ever imagined. The one that wins will be the wallet that lives with you everywhere.

How important is this intiative to PayPal? It has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in acquisitions to get to this point.

Thompson: At analyst day, we said we would double our business by 2013, and those numbers don’t take into account any revenues from this point-of-sales initiative we are working on. This is going beyond to the next three-year commitment.

We’ll see revenues next year, but we are planting the seeds now [for 2014]. We said revenues would total $6 [billion] to $7 billion in 2013. To continue to grow at the same rate in 2014, you better do things now. We see an opportunity. We see technology changing, and now is the time to invest.

Just because you aren’t using NFC right away, doesn’t mean you won’t have a steep adoption curve. You’ll have to sign up offline merchants and get consumers on board.

Thompson: Our work is hard, and the relationships we’ll forge will be hard, too. You’ll see next year, when we formally announce our partners, that they are very big merchants.

[On the consumer side] If merchants see value, and integrate it and push it, consumers will use it. It will become a natural thing for you to use it in the grocery story or the pharmacy. You’ll be able to use it for everyday spending — that’s age-old logic. If the companies with the most foot traffic use it, it will be adopted.

So, it’s not for the mom-and-pop coffee shop?

Thompson: It’s where you are most frequently visiting.

Let’s talk about the competition. There’s American Express, Visa, MasterCard, Google and others, like Square, all coming up with different mobile payment strategies.

Thompson: I love it! I actually do!

It reinforces that the opportunity is big. I find it humorous that they find it a novelty. It wasn’t long ago — after all these years of them saying that no one needed a [digital] wallet — that they are saying that the wallet is now important and we better have one.

Besides, this is not unique to PayPal, but we play better the more sophisticated the competitor is. It’s remarkable how competitive our organization is.

Other payment providers are rolling out wallet technology for the chance to offer coupons or offers to the consumers — which could be a lucrative local advertising strategy. Will you be doing the same?

Thompson: In subsequent releases, merchants will be able to do things in the wallet, like offer coupons, but it is not our intention to compete in offers. We are doing payments.

I talked to a major retailer recently that said they’d find it a conflict if the payments provider offered discounts, rather than the retailer being the one to own the relationship with the consumer.

Thompson: That’s where we are different. The others are about coupons and advertising. We are about payments. That’s where 110 percent of our focus is. I believe we have this right. This will be a really big phenomenon in the multichannel world. We are in the business to help merchants grow their business. We are not trying to take the customer relationship away from them.

If we do our job right, all of our businesses will grow.

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