By Venkatesh Bala, Chief Economist, The Cambridge Group
This morning, more than 85 percent of American workers drove to work, and many used E-ZPass to avoid slow, cash-only toll lanes so they could get to work earlier (or sleep in for a few extra minutes). Introduced in the 1990s, available in 15 states, and with 14 million accounts and more than $6 billion in electronic toll collections, E-ZPass is a prime example of the emerging field of mobile payments.
Why hasn’t the E-ZPass formula taken off for everyday purchases in the U.S.—especially given the widespread use of smartphones and tablets?
Put simply, most consumers don’t see enough benefits from mobile payment programs to give up their cash or plastic—despite technological advancements or broad availability. At best, marginally better transaction speeds that typically accompany these digitized payments are quickly outweighed by shortcomings in other areas, including decreased security or lack of in-store and/or credit card rewards.
E-ZPass’ success was possible due only to the ability to look through the lens of the consumer to tap hidden demand. We didn’t know there was an alternative to bumper-to-bumper traffic and fumbling for loose change until the introduction of digital toll payments. E-ZPass gave us an answer to something we didn’t know we needed (and now can’t live without), a concept otherwise known as latent demand.
To reduce poor consumer acceptance or a highly fragmented landscape, executives must focus as much or more on investigating what drives use, as they do on supply and distribution of these programs.
Disney took this cue with the introduction of MagicBands at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., which will replace theme park tickets, hotel room keys and credit cards for visitors. The technology will also allow Disney employees to identify guests more easily, creating a personalized experience for them on rides, restaurants and beyond.
There’s no doubt that mobile payments will one day be the future in the U.S. To propel adoption, however, business leaders need to identify latent demand and clearly convey customer value to ensure success. It’s that E-Z.
This article was originally published on Businessweek.com.