The Beginnings Of A Usable Mobile Wallet: Target Brings Mobile Coupons To Apple’s Passbook

Not that it should come as a big surprise, given that Target was one of the brands showcased in the Passbook demo at Apple’s WWDC in June, but today it’s official: Target’s app is now Passbook-enabled, the retailer has announced. (Although it actually looks like the update was pushed on Wednesday.) The app joins what is now a fast-growing lineup of apps supporting the new mobile wallet-like feature in iOS 6 called Passbook, out this week. Other big brands also offering Passbook integration include American Airlines, United, MLB, Live Nation, Walgreens and Fandango, to name a few.

Target’s app, however, is one of the more practical ones, because it offers shoppers the ability to save and store mobile coupons – and couponing is one of Passbook’s most important use cases that will eventually help move our society from mobile apps to mobile wallets.

Or so I bullishly believe.

Despite the fact that we have these small devices that we carry with us everywhere, it’s actually been fairly difficult for mobile coupons and related apps (not counting “daily deals” here, obviously) to gain traction as tools for mobile couponing. I’m specifically thinking of things like the apps from places like Coupon Sherpa, or, for example. The problem is that the coupons consumers often want to use – grocery coupons – either have to be preloaded onto their store’s card from within an app, or they have to be (ugh) printed out when their store doesn’t provide a savings card. In other words, mobile couponing apps, for many, have been just another way to print out e-coupons. If that’s the case, you may as well buy a newspaper and get out some scissors.

But some retailers are starting to address that problem by offering their own store coupons, including those on grocery items, via mobile. In November, Walgreens notably joined the crowd of early adopters among national retailers to support mobile couponing directly from their mobile app. And, as noted above, they’re already working with Passbook. Target has been a leader in the space, too, having first launched scannable coupons in 2010. Having brands like these on board with Passbook is going to be a big deal in terms of mobile couponing adoption, and possibly then, mobile wallet adoption. After all, movie, bus and airline tickets offered via Passbook are really just a “gee-whiz” kind of thing that isn’t currently offering significantly more value than their offline counterparts do. And that’s when they actually work, which seems to be a problem.

But clipping coupons has a real dollar-and-cents value to it. It’s something more of us would like to do, but either forget or can’t find the time for it. Even though these features have been offered in the past through retailers’ standalone apps or via SMS, by becoming part of a more comprehensive system – one that even pushes you reminder notifications as you walk into a store – it has the potential to actually change user behavior. “Remember to save $20,” e.g., can leave a lasting impression in a shopper’s mind. And that means that they’re more likely to return to the app to “clip” and use mobile coupons again.

Some Struggles Remain

That’s not to say that there aren’t problems that need to be addressed on the implementation side. Passbook could use a better onboarding flow, for starters. Plus, Target put me through a painful password reset process because, apparently, it had at some point implemented a stricter password policy. First I had to sign in, then get a password reset via email, click a link and create a new password, then confirm again by clicking a link sent via SMS. That’s some barrier to entry! Target is lucky that I’m sort of obsessed with shopping there – I wouldn’t bother for a no-name retailer. In any event, it paints a picture of how advanced, yet still how backward, our progress is in the mobile wallet landscape. No wonder Apple is starting off small with passes, tickets and coupons only, not credit cards and full mobile wallet functions. It’s not just consumers who aren’t ready. These retailers have work to do.

So yes, it may have been two years since Target launched scannable coupons, and it may be two more years before people get the hang of using them in Passbook at any noteworthy scale. But with Passbook, we at least have the potential to start pushing what has been an otherwise geeky behavior into the mainstream.