Commentary: Transforming Mobile Wallets from Payment Tools Into Engagement Tools

Mobile technology has enabled people to be connected virtually anywhere and use their smart phones for pretty much anything, including gaming, photography, GPS navigation, and online shopping for both big and small purchases. However, there is one element of smart-phone technology that isn’t being utilized to its fullest extent.

Adoption of mobile wallets—while growing—has had slower consumer acceptance. This may be caused by retailers that view mobile wallets as merely a payments tool. Instead, merchants could consider integrating greater engagement opportunities for their brands into mobile wallets that move beyond payments and instead provide greater value for consumers.

Brands constantly look for new channels to engage with consumers and mobile wallets are often underutilized—yet promising—tools that can do just that. People use physical wallets to hold their rewards cards, gift cards and more—and expect the same capabilities from their mobile wallets.

But until a mobile wallet can provide the same functionality as a physical one, there’s no reason for consumers to leave their leather billfold at home. Mobile wallets that don’t bridge this gap are less likely to be used to their full potential because they don’t provide consumers with added value that eliminates the need for a physical wallet—causing brands to miss out on engagement opportunities.

Advancing mobile wallets from payments tools to engagement platforms is one way for businesses to meet consumers’ expectations for a more complete brand experience. For example, incorporating branded value solutions—branded objects of value that can be accepted in payment or exchange for another product or value—into mobile wallets can lead to a win-win solution for consumers and the brand providing the incentives.

Delivering customer incentives and rewards—such as prepaid and gift card rewards, branded rebates, and other incentives—into a wallet can help promote a company’s mobile-payments capabilities while also increasing the amount of interaction it has with existing and prospective customers. Research last year from of 1,500 consumers found that 41% of respondents reported looking for targeted deals in mobile wallets.

A survey of 1,502 adults this spring for Blackhawk Network found that consumers report higher levels of engagement with the brands they are most loyal to—and 76% of the respondents said an easy payment process will make them more loyal. These same respondents reported more frequently engaging with their favorite brands through various marketing vehicles such as rebates, gift cards, e-gifts and more.

By combining these insights to create an integrated mobile-wallet experience that combines payment and incentives, merchants can benefit from:

  • Regular consumer engagement: Companies can leverage brand loyalty and consumers’ tendency to keep their mobile devices nearby at all times by offering rewards and rebates within mobile wallets to encourage brand interaction. This can extend the customer lifetime and help create and retain loyal customers.
  • Positive brand engagement: Consumers who have a seamless mobile-wallet experience are more likely to feel positively toward a brand.
  • More effective mobile-marketing tools: Merchants can deliver rewards, like company-branded e-gifts, via mobile wallets quickly, and drive promotion dollars back to their business while creating improved digital connections with consumers.
  • Higher in-wallet engagement: Customers won’t be using their mobile wallet only to pay; instead they’ll have greater access to earn rewards, redeem rebates, use gift cards and more. When consumers can redeem and earn different incentives using their mobile wallet, they may be more likely to engage with a brand.
  • New customer acquisition: Another study for Blackhawk Network, this one of 1,034 consumers in October 2016, found that nine in 10 of the respondents would use a gift card or e-gift they received from a brand they had never tried before. Offering these promotions via a mobile wallet could be one way to attract new consumers who otherwise may not have engaged with a retailer.

Incentives can help brands more effectively engage with mobile-minded customers that expect a seamless and more complete mobile-wallet experience. Businesses that drive mobile-wallet usage using incentives can better leverage their brand power for maximum consumer engagement—helping advance mobile wallets into effective engagement platforms.

—Theresa McEndree is vice president of marketing at Hawk Incentives, a unit of Pleasanton, Calif.-based Blackhawk Network Holdings Inc., a global provider of gift and prepaid card solutions. Contact her at