Amazon's mobile wallet goes back in its pocket

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Amazon's forays into new markets in the last 12 months were not entirely successful. The Amazon Fire phone, for example, was labelled a flop in most quarters and the company's attempts at providing alternative payment methods have fizzled away. Last week, Amazon pulled its mobile wallet service off the market. The Amazon Wallet was designed to let customers complete transactions at the point-of-sale with a mobile app that had loyalty and gift cards pre-loaded. And let's not forget Amazon's peer-to-peer e-mail based payments system also had the plug pulled on it in 2014.

Don't feel too sorry for the e-commerce giant just yet however - remember this is what Chief Executive, Jeff Bezos, said about the company last year:

"I've made billions of dollars of failures at Literally billions. … Companies that don’t embrace failure and continue to experiment eventually get in the desperate position where the only thing they can do is make a Hail Mary bet at the end of their corporate existence."

And as Amazon, according to UK reports, can boast that it took one in every four pounds spent on entertainment goods in the run-up to Christmas last year - I shouldn't think it's too worried. So in the case of Amazon's withdrawn wallet programme, for a company not afraid of taking risk to drop the idea altogether, there must have been something pretty fundamentally flawed with the solution. So what went wrong with the Amazon Wallet?

What's in a name?

Names are a silly business. We put an awful lot of thought into them and when you get a name right - your reward is merely acceptance. A point is reached quickly where analysis of the new name stops, any clever pun is forgotten, and the name just becomes a handy jumble of letters or noises that gets us all on the same page. I mean, what is it about the word KitKat that sounds at all appetising? What makes us think Apple is trendy, Adele talented and Eastenders entertaining? But they are (well... apart from that last one).

Get a name wrong though and you are dead in the water. And I think that's where Amazon's solution perhaps has come unstuck. The phrase digital wallet has been around a good while now, I've certainly used it myself promoting Onescan. But I think the phrase limits and misses the point of a mobile solution - which has to be more than just a collection of payment methods and gifts cards. It has to do more than the wallet - not just replace it.

Google Wallet has been on the market a long time and not had a major influence either. Meanwhile, although Apple Pay hasn't broken into the mainstream, it's the mobile payment technology that's made the biggest splash. And it's noticeable that Apple has stayed clear of describing Apple Pay at any point as a mobile wallet, let alone putting it in the name.  The major selling point instead has been touch ID.

Amazon's payment division continues, and it will be interesting to see in what form, if at all, they come back. I would be very surprised if the phrase 'wallet' would be involved at all though. A mobile solution's biggest selling point shouldn't simply be replicating digitally something that already works just fine physically in your pocket. That's an evolution, not a revolution. Not to mention, the word 'wallet' is rather masculine, and could alienate half of the solution's target audience, much like the phrase 'digital purse' would. It's best left alone.

A Mobile solution's strengths should be so much more. Mobile can vastly improve security through tokenization, make transactions more convenient, provide alternative paperless ticketing systems, and services a physical wallet just can't handle. A mobile solution can work as a proof of identity, an access card and a payment method out on the street. What's more a highly developed mobile solution, can do all those things online as well. Payments can be completed online, in-store and on-the-go in exactly the same way and with exactly the same level of security. Online it doesn't just have to be a payment - the mobile can be your point of access, replacing easily forgotten usernames and passwords.

The point is, the word wallet is far too restricting to describe all the amazing things a mobile solution can achieve. A mobile solution can deliver simple, fast and secure transactions and interactions in-stores and online linking payment with loyalty and identity - and that's so much more than a wallet.