PayPal chief on the state of digital payments: Mobile is everything

PayPal's president defends the digital payment provider's place at the forefront of mobile commerce while quipping he welcomes competition too.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor on

SAN FRANCISCO--Eventually, mobile will be everything, according to PayPal president David Marcus.

That might have been a bold statement a year or even six months ago. But based on traffic and ad revenue figures experienced by some other tech giants lately (see: Yahoo and Facebook, for starters), perhaps it's just stating the obvious at this point.

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    During a sitdown conversation with ReadWrite editor-in-chief Owen Thomas on Tuesday evening, Marcus reiterated a prediction made one year ago that within five years, consumers in a dense metro areas in North America, Europe or Asia will be able to complete all payment transactions with a phone versus carrying a physical wallet.

    He quipped that there are still four years left to make that happen, remaining steadfast in the ambitious forecast.

    "Mobile is the territory where we want to lead and be best-in-class at across the board," Marcus said matter-of-factly, stressing a need to put developer needs first in this sector too.

    Marcus implied that PayPal was able to overcome numerous competitors by making strides to tap into all of these different platforms. Just one example, Marcus asserted that PayPal was the first to be able to integrate itself into Apple Safari and utilize the iPhone's camera to scan barcodes to enable purchase power.

    "It's considerably harder to do payments in an ecosystem that you don't control," Marcus explained in try to differentiate PayPal's approach to digital payments infrastructures from Google Play and Apple iTunes.

    Nevertheless, Marcus defended that he is "all for competition," positing that competition gives way to the best experience possible for customers.

    Marcus showed some humility too, arguing while PayPal is "shipping more experiences" for online shoppers, he admitted that some of the products were developed either in "catch up" mode or simply "outdated." (The latter referred to Marcus's assessment of the defacto checkout process.)

    Yet PayPal is experimenting with some technologies that are a bit of a stretch from its desktop channel and mobile apps.

    Marcus didn't go into too many details, but he did note while reflecting on the recent Target security breach that PayPal is looking into EMV chip technologies, which are used by payments providers worldwide but have yet to catch on in the United States.

    But Marcus seemed wary about EMV usage, commenting he doesn't see it working in the long run in the digital app age.

    Marcus's comments also suggested that PayPal doesn't dramatically refresh its interfaces and infrastructures -- compared to some other e-commerce and even social media companies -- in consideration of its merchant base. The PayPal chief honed in on small business owners especially, noting the number of priorities and risks that SMBs are concerned with while balancing smaller budgets and workforces. 

    Such an argument reflects a common trend (and even roadblock) for mobile and digital payments over the last few years: merchants just can't afford the time or money to constantly invest in new technologies, especially when they can't be certain that customers will respond.

    Thus, we'll likely see more digital payment strategies and options from PayPal, but don't expect anything too out-of-the-ordinary on a regular basis. 

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