Canadian retailers talk a better game than they play when it comes to adopting mobile commerce.

In a new AMEX survey released Tuesday, 76 per cent of Canadian merchants agreed mobile commerce is “the way of the future.”

Despite those bullish sentiments, “there seems to be a disconnect when it comes to actually implementing these new technologies,” said Kerri-Ann Santaguida, VP and general manager of merchant services at American Express Canada.

Santaguida presented highlights from the study at the Canadian Retail Council’s STORE 2017 conference in Toronto on Tuesday. AMEX polled 375 Canadian retailers for its Canadian Retail Insights Report.

AMEX Canada’s Kerri-Ann Santaguida.

When AMEX asked retailers who hadn’t implemented mobile commerce if they planned to do so within the next 12 months, only 12 per cent of general category retailers said they had such intentions. Although 31 per cent of fast food businesses said they have similar plans, rates were much lower for retailers in other sectors: just 16 per cent among grocers, 11 per cent among restaurants and six per cent among gas retailers.

Santaguida warned conference attendees that slow action on mobile commerce could alienate Canadian shoppers, who expect a “seamless, cohesive end-to-end experience. It’s no longer simply about the products being offered but the holistic experience.”

Reasons for sluggish adoption

The AMEX survey doesn’t shed any light on why Canadian businesses have been so sluggish to embrace mobile payments. But issues around tech integration may have played a role, said Steve Doswell, CEO of Toronto payments startup Soundpays.

“Part of it was because different smartphones had different versions of RFID or NFC (technology). That’s why it took longer for mobile commerce and (POS) terminals to take hold in Canada,” Doswell said.

“Also, in Canada, our banks maybe haven’t come up with a uniform platform everybody can use. That’s really just coming now with Google Pay and Apple Pay, that kind of standardization,” he said.

Another possibility is that “in general, Canadians are just a bit slower to adopt some of these payment technologies” compared with businesses in other countries, Doswell theorized.

Startup Soundpays 

Founded in 2015, Soundpays is one of the more unique players in the burgeoning mobile payment space. It touts itself as the first mobile wallet app that uses ultrasonic sound waves for mobile purchase transactions.

Toronto startup Soundpays says its mobile wallet app is the first to enable mobile payments using sound waves. (Photo: Soundpays)

Here’s how Soundpays works: when a consumer looks at a video or ad on a website, mobile device, TV or digital display sign, a visual cue on the screen or sign notifies them they can use their Soundpays smartphone app to find out more about the product or even buy it.

Touching the Soundpays app on a phone activates a scanner that ‘listens’ to a sound clip embedded in the digital ad. (The sound clip is in a frequency that can’t be heard by human ears.) The sound clip triggers product, pricing and shipping details to be displayed on the screen or digital sign the user is looking at. If a user wants to buy the item, they “can pay with one touch” on their phone, Dowsell said, provided they’ve linked their credit card or bank account to the app.

Soundpays CEO Steve Doswell.

Doswell said the technology can be used in any type of digital display advertising, from online ads to interactive bus shelter signs and huge video display boards at sports stadiums. He said the Soundpays app is quick and convenient because shoppers can get information about the advertiser’s product directly from the ad, then buy it directly in the app, all without going to the advertiser’s website.

Making up mobile ground

While Soundpays may be on the cutting edge of mobile commerce, more mainstream payments technologies still have fairly low usage rates among Canadian consumers.

According to a recent poll by Payments Canada and Leger Marketing, less than 15 per cent of Canadians have used electronic payment tools such as e-wallets. Just half of the surveyed consumers said they’re willing to abolish cash completely. The same amount – 50 per cent – expressed some anxiety about e-wallets.

In any case, new mobile commerce options continue to enter the Canadian market. Google Inc. has finally confirmed Android Pay will hit Canada within the next few months. The company also just announced a new API for retailers. Besides allowing shoppers to pay with their phones, the API will give them the option of signing up for merchant loyalty programs and targeted promotions.

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