mobile shoppingConsumer use of mobile payments—paying for purchases by tapping a smartphone against the merchant’s point-of-sales (POS) terminal, for example–is emerging, but perhaps not as fast as technology proponents had projected.

A combined 13% of Americans indicated they have made purchases this way themselves (4%) or seen others do so (8%). Positive responses were higher among smartphone owners at 18%, 7% and 11%, respectively, according to the results of The Harris Poll of 2,383 adults surveyed online between Nov. 14 and Nov. 19.

The majority of respondents see mobile payments as more than a fad, however. Rather they tend to view it as “a fundamental shift in how Americans are likely to pay for goods and services in the years to come,” according to a Harris Interactive press release.

Many respondents may see the drive toward broad usage of mobile payments technology as inexorable, but “considerably fewer appear to perceive it as imminent. Two-thirds believe payment cards will eventually be replaced by smartphone payments, but just 32% see this happening in less than five years. Fewer than half who think smartphone payments will eventually replace cash payments for the majority of purchases (61%) believe it will happen in less than five years (26%).

Few respondents indicated a strong personal interest in using smartphone payments rather their own payment card or cash transactions. Some 27% of Americans and 44% of smartphone users expressed overall interest in being able to use their smartphone to make in-person payments; just 8% and 16%, respectively, said they were “very interested” in doing so.

Overall interest levels did point out some segments most interested, however, such as:

  • Echo Boomers (40%) and Gen Xers (34%), perhaps predictably, display considerably stronger interest in doing so than either Baby Boomers (18%) or Matures (7%).
  • Men (32%) are significantly more interested in this technology than women (22%).
  • Those in households with children (38%) also display considerably stronger overall interest than those in households without children (22%).

Security figures prominently among smartphone owners who indicated they were not interested in making mobile payments: 68% said they don’t want to store sensitive information on their smartphones, while 51% said they don’t want to transmit sensitive information to merchants’ devices.

A full 50% of all respondents who said they were either “not very” or “not at all” interested in making smartphone payments said it was simply because they don’t use smartphones.

The other major hurdle to increased mobile payments is attachment to current use of payment cards and cash. Some 62% of smartphone owners indicated they didn’t see any reason to switch to mobile payments. Overall, 52% of respondents indicated this.

Offering incentives to make mobile payments doesn’t appear to make a huge difference, Harris found: 28% of Americans and 40% of smartphone owners indicated they would be more interested if they could take advantage of their existing credit card reward programs. Far fewer—9% and 15%, respectively—said they would be “much more interested.” Just 8% of those not interested in making mobile payments with smartphones said this would make them more interested, with 1% indicating it would make them much more interested.

Harris also looked at the potential impact of equipping smartphones to serve as digital wallets, thus enabling consumers to leave their payment and loyalty program cards at home—30% of Americans and 43% of smartphone owners said this would make them more interested in making mobile payments. Just 8% and 12%, respectively, said it would make them much more interested. Only 12% of those not interested in making payments with smartphones said it would make them more interested, while 2% indicated it would make them much more interested.

Debit cards rose to mass usage by offering the convenience of credit cards without having to add debt, Harris notes. “Thus far, the mobile payment industry has yet to find a similar ‘in’ with consumers. Finding such a silver bullet which gives Americans a reason to change how they pay will depend not only on bringing new ideas to the table simply because technology enables them – but paying attention to how Americans pay now and looking for a need that, once again, they may not even know is there.”