September 17, 2013, 4:45 PM

Google adds value to its mobile wallet app

New updates include digital loyalty cards and access to offers found in Google programs.

Lead Photo

Google Inc. said today it has updated its mobile wallet app for smartphones using its Android mobile operating system version 2.3 and higher.

Google Wallet App users can now store loyalty cards and access offers and discounts from merchants who run offers through such Google programs as Google Maps, Google Search or Google+. They also can view all Google Wallet activity and send money to others within the app.

The ability to store loyalty cards in the app eliminates the need for shoppers to carry around and keep track of numerous plastic rewards cards, Google says.

“To add your cards, simply scan the bar code or input the card number into the app,” Peter Hazlehurst, director of product management for Google Wallet, writes in a blog post. “The next time you’re at the store, you can earn points for your loyalty program by scanning the app at checkout.”

Google Wallet allows consumers to store their credit and debit card numbers and billing information in one place so they can check out on any site or app that accepts Google Wallet, or, for consumers with one of 29 NFC-enabled Android smartphones, pay using NFC technology at hundreds of thousands of retail and restaurant locations, Google claims, by tapping their phones on NFC-enabled payment terminals. NFC is short for Near Field Communications, a wireless technology that exchanges data between devices, for example, between a chip in a smartphone and a reader in a store checkout system.

Also new to the app, shoppers now can join rewards programs from participating merchants and other companies from directly within the app. Such companies include Alaska Airlines and frozen yogurt merchant Red Mango. With these and other participating merchants, consumers can view their rewards point balances and offers, and in the coming days Google will notify shoppers when they are close to participating merchants where they have loyalty accounts.

In the coming weeks, Google plans to incorporate such loyalty updates and features for more merchants, including Avis Car Rental, BJ’s Restaurants, Hard Rock International, InterContinental Hotels Group, Marriott International and The Body Shop.

In addition to loyalty card updates, Google Wallet app users can now access and redeem offers they have found from Google programs including Google Maps, Google Search, Google+ or Google Offers directly from within the app. “No matter where you’ve found your offer  they’re visible and redeemable in your Wallet app at checkout,” Hazlehurst writes. “Just show the offer on your app at checkout to redeem it.”

Another update enables wallet app users to see all their purchases made with Google Wallet in one place. For example, shoppers who own one of the 29 NFC-enabled smartphones can see all their in-store Google Wallet purchases within the app. Consumers can also see all their web and mobile Google Wallet transactions within the app.  

Another Google Wallet app update enables shoppers to send money to any U.S. adult with a valid e-mail for free from within the app using the balance in their Google Wallet or from their bank account. Consumers can also send money via the app from their credit or debit cards for a 2.9% transaction fee or a minimum of 30 cents per transaction.

In 2011, Google rebranded Google Checkout to Google Wallet. Google continues to provide payment processing for retailers that had added the feature to their sites when it was Google Checkout. However, in May Google announced that in November this year merchants that want to continue allowing customers to make purchases using their Google account information will need to set up their own payment processing. The same change in process does not apply to sellers on Google apps or web sites like its digital marketplace, Google Play, who will automatically be switched to Google Wallet for processing transactions, the company says.

Adoption of both mobile wallets and NFC technology has been slow. Google and another high-profile NFC mobile wallet contender, Isis, have been tight-lipped about in-store mobile payments volume. Earlier this week, PayPal and Apple Inc. embraced the new Bluetooth Low Energy wireless technology for exchanging data between devices in close proximity. Bluetooth is an industry standard wireless networking technology, but it consumes a lot of power on mobile devices. The low energy form of Bluetooth takes far less power to operate, and has been adopted by many smartphone and tablet manufacturers. Some mobile experts believe if PayPal and Apple are successful with Bluetooth Low Energy, they could make matters even worse for companies pinning their hopes on NFC.

“Silicon Valley has anointed Bluetooth as its mobile payments technology of choice, and an all-out war against the established payments industry could be just a short time away,” says Rick Oglesby, senior analyst at mobile payments consulting firm Aite Group.

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