You tap your smartphone at the store register, and not only pay for your purchase but you redeem coupons and earn rewards points. Google, which hopes that vision of real-life e-commerce becomes widespread, has announced an expansion of its recently introduced Wallet program.
The software giant is working with several large retailers in what it calls Google Wallet SingleTap -- American Eagle Outfitters, The Container Store, Guess, Jamba Juice, Macy's, OfficeMax, Bloomingdale's, Champs Sports, Foot Locker, and Toys"R"Us.
Although they won't be able to reap the coupons and rewards benefits of the SingleTap program, customers can also tap-to-pay at thousands of MasterCard PayPass-enabled merchants, including Coca Cola, CVS, Duane Reade, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Faber, Jack in the Box, Noah's, Peet's Coffee & Tea, Radio Shack, Sports Authority, Sunoco and Walgreens. Other retailers are expected to sign up soon.
Consumers know which stores are tappable by looking for one of three symbols -- either for Google Wallet, for MasterCard PayPass, or a symbol of a credit card being held up to signal waves.
With SingleTap, the Offers tab in Google Wallet is now updated to include a Featured Offers section with discounts exclusive to the program. For example, in the announcement of the SingleTap program on Monday, the offers included 15 percent off at American Eagle Outfitters and 15 percent off at Macy's. Discounts can be saved, to be used later if they're still valid.
Google is also making it easier to organize loyalty cards in the Wallet, such as ones from Foot Locker and OfficeMax. When you make a purchase with the Wallet at those stores, reward points are automatically added.
Additionally, the Google Prepaid Card now has real-time transaction information, such as retailer's name, location, dollar value, and time of the transaction.
'Next Big Shift'
Google clearly has big plans for this program. On their Wallet Web site, the company notes that the common method of payment has changed three times in the "past few thousand years," from coins to paper money to plastic cards. "Now we're on the brink of the next big shift," the site says.
The free Wallet app, available for Android devices, stores virtual versions of a customer's existing credit cards. Customers can then make purchases using near field communication technology, or NFC. Currently, the app is supported only on the Nexus S 4G on Sprint, but plans are to expand it to more Android phones. Google Wallet launched Sept. 19 in select markets.
The company's vision doesn't stop at credit cards, coupons or loyalty cards. The expectation is that gift cards, receipts, boarding passes, tickets, and even keys will eventually be seamlessly synced with Google Wallet.
Michael Gartenberg, research director at Gartner, said smartphone-based payments were "definitely here to stay." The only question, he said, is "how long it will take for use of the technology to become widespread."
Currently, he noted, the technology and service works "on too few phones, in too few places." But, Gartenberg added, "Google clearly has the ambition to turn every Google phone into a Google Wallet."