Plastic cards for Google’s digital wallet?

Nov. 10, 2012, 9:00 a.m. EST

This week, the search giant added the “ Google Wallet Card ” to the list of devices able to use its Google Wallet mobile payment system. Asked why users would want a physical card, when the whole point of a digital wallet would seem to be to dispense with the need for a carrying around a deck of plastic, a spokesman replied that the company is “always working on ways to make shopping a better experience for consumers.” By Thursday, all references to the “Google Wallet Card” were pulled from the site. The company would not comment on that.

It’s not the first time Google introduced its own cards. Earlier this year, the company launched a pilot Google “AdWords” business credit card for small businesses in the U.K. and U.S. to help them pay for and track their online advertising accounts with Google.

But does it make sense to have a plastic card to go with a virtual wallet? Perhaps, analysts say. The physical card could help Google get people to embrace mobile payments. “They can’t change people’s habits overnight,” says e-commerce consultant Bryan Eisenberg . Plus, not all merchants have compatible terminals Walt Mossberg says the Nexus 4 is a good phone, with especially good prices for unlocked versions, but Android buyers should consider other models with LTE, better speakers, more memory expansion, and the ability to use all carriers.

Introduced in 2011, as a kind of Swiss army knife that could replace photo identification as well as bank and credit cards, Google Wallet has so far been a bit of a flop, says M.G. Siegler, a general partner at venture capital group CrunchFund. And he thinks the plastic card is unlikely to help, because, as he puts it, “you can’t get to the future by living in the past.”

Google Wallet has already had its share of stumbling blocks — and faces some tough new competition. Verizon Wireless, one of the country’s major cell phone operators, stopped supporting Google Wallet last year. Instead, Verizon is part of the rival Isis mobile payment system it launched with AT&T and T-Mobile. PayPal has an Android and an iPhone app. And Square Wallet, an Android/iOS mobile app launched by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, just signed a deal to access some 7,000 Starbucks stores nationwide.

Google declined to comment on how many users have signed up, but says it is supported at 25 national retailers and works in 200,000 “points of purchase” terminals nationwide. But Brian Wieser, a media analyst at Pivotal Research Group in Portland, Ore., says the reception among consumers has been tepid at best: Google is “throwing ideas against the wall to see what sticks.”


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