The Ticket to Our Wallets

At this point, it’s become apparent that the human ability to invent technology far exceeds our ability to make it functional in the real world. For example, consider the digital wallet, which has been spinning in circles for years.

It’s easy to imagine how convenient it would be to use a smartphone to pay for parking, purchase items from vending machines and conduct an array of other small transactions. And that could also lead to far more secure transactions, particularly at restaurants and other locations where consumers routinely hand over credit cards for processing.

But all is not lost. In fact, e-wallet transactions are finally taking place—though not in the way most of us had first envisioned. ABI Research reports that 34 billion tickets will be delivered to mobile devices over the next five years, using technologies such as QR (Quick Response) codes, NFC (Near Field Communication), SMS (Short Message Service), mobile wallets, Bluetooth Smart and dedicated apps.

I’m now downloading boarding passes for flights and dropping them into Apple’s Passbook app. Ditto for hotel reservations and tours. While booking an upcoming vacation in South America, I was able to download e-tickets for a day tour through travel firm

Kudos to the travel industry for taking a lead in digital tickets and transactions. The entertainment industry isn’t too far behind. A number of apps—including Fandango, Eventbrite, Major League Baseball, Ticketmaster and Live Nation—allow consumers to store event tickets in Passbook. Of course, Android users can use Google Wallet.

However, many industries—retail is probably the worst offender—are woefully lagging. Most department stores, home improvement centers and home electronics superstores still make it exceptionally difficult, if not impossible, to manage coupons and promotions digitally.

Too often, I’m stuck with scraps of paper and a lot of frustration. And, somehow, most retailers haven’t figured out that it might be advantageous to place their loyalty cards in their own app or in a third-party app such as Passbook or Google Wallet.

Still, it appears that we’re creeping toward a full-fledged digital wallet. When we finally arrive at this destination, expect a big payoff for everyone. Consumers will enjoy faster, simpler and more secure transactions, while businesses will realize a new era of automaton, cost efficiency and marketing gains.