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35 percent of US merchants accept Apple Pay

35 percent of US merchants accept Apple Pay

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Apple Photoshoot At Puerta del Sol
Photo by Pablo Cuadra/Getty Images for Apple

Apple is making the case that Apple Pay has bigger and broader adoption than it’s getting credit for. Jennifer Bailey, who leads Apple Pay, spoke today at the Code Commerce conference in San Fransisco and said that in the span of just two years Apple has managed to move from four to 35 percent of retailers (or 4 million locations) supporting Apple Pay in the US. Apple is also targeting big retailers for the next year, including GAP, to increase that growth.

Bailey says that EMV chip cards are annoying for consumers (she’s right), and that’s helping to drive adoption. “Once you figure out you have to dip, you wait awhile, you wait awhile,” Bailey said. Then she went so far as to mimic the annoying “BEEP BEEP BEEP” that those chip card readers require.

Those hassles present a significant opportunity for Apple (and other contactless payment providers), but Apple hasn’t done a massive amount of marketing around it — in part, Bailey says, because Apple has to work alongside lots of partners.

“Knocking EMV is not necessarily the way to go,” Bailey says, “I think it’s to increase acceptance and work with great partners.” Instead, Apple is focusing on those partnerships, pushing out offers with retailers and banks. One example Bailey gave is bonus points with American Airlines.

“Knocking EMV is not necessarily the way to go.”

The reason Apple works with partners for those offers instead of just doing it directly is that Apple is somewhat unique in the payment industry: it doesn’t collect or keep transaction information, so it wouldn’t really be able to do those kinds of offers itself in the first place.

Nobody really knows what the magical tipping point is for mobile payments, when they go from a weird thing a few people do to a normal thing everybody does. And Apple is clearly excited at the speed of the transition to contactless payments — it is happening more quickly in the US than it did in the UK, Bailey argues.

The good news / bad news for Apple is that transition seems to be happening alongside the point-of-sale terminal upgrades for EMV chip payments — which haven’t gone as smoothly as they might. So the challenge for Apple is to get retailers to support Apple Pay at the same time they’re being forced to support EMV, and then to get consumers to clearly see that it’s a better option than EMV and not associate the hassle of one thing with the other thing. It’s a fine line to walk, but obviously Bailey and Apple believe they’re pulling it off.

What’s next for Apple Pay? “Everything in your wallet we’re thinking about,” Bailey said, but wouldn’t give more details (she works for Apple, after all).