Isis entices customers with cash to start paying with their smartphones

The mobile payments service Isis got off to a rocky start, but now that it’s finally cranking nationwide the carrier consortium is trying to make up lost ground. It’s launched a series of promotions intended to make it worth your while to start paying with your smartphone at the cash register. Most notably Wells Fargo is paying customers up to $300 just to use the Isis wallet for purchases.
Wells Fargo(s wfc) card holders that attach their cards to the Isis wallet will get a $20 credit the first time they “tap to pay” at any store or business that accepts Isis transactions. After that, they’ll get 20 percent cash back on all other Isis purchases until April 30 or until they reach $300 in total rebates ($100 each month).
Isis Store payment
Isis is also working with other partners with a few of its merchants to offer incentives:

  • American Express is offering 20 percent off on Isis purchases up to $200 if you use its Serve prepaid service.
  • Jamba Juice is giving out a free 12 oz. smoothie every time you make a purchase at its stores with Isis.
  • Toys’R’Us is knocking $15 off of any purchase over $30 for wallet payers.
  • Coca Cola is giving three free drinks to customers at its Isis-enabled vending machines.

Those are definitely some nice perks, but there’s nothing that captures America’s imagination more than cold hard cash. Wells Fargo customers with an Isis-enabled phone will have plenty of reasons to try out the service.
Isis America ExpressAnd if you’re not a Wells Fargo customer or don’t have the right phone? The problem is – and this is a problem with all point-of-sale mobile payments services – there are a whole bunch of factors determining whether any given person can use the payments service.
Isis has largely overcome the issue of building up a merchant base. Isis claims to have recruited hundreds of thousands of U.S. merchants with the contactless infrastructure necessary to accept digital wallet transactions. A quick search of my neighborhood revealed a surprising number of businesses in the program. These weren’t just chain stores. Even our favorite neighborhood bistro and a local artisanal candle maker was on the list.
But even if the merchants you want to buy from accept Isis, your phone won’t necessary make contactless payments. Isis says some 50 phones now with the near-field communications (NFC) necessary to perform a tap transaction, including some of the most popular new Android(s goog) devices, but the iPhone(s aapl) is still a big exception. You can buy a special case for the iPhone to make Isis payments (though you can buy a special NFC case for the iPhone if you’re that committed).
Finally, you need to have the right bank. Isis works with American Express(s axp), Chase(s jpm) and Wells Fargo cards for now, but if your credit card or debit card is issued by another financial provider, your only option is to shoehorn it into the Isis Wallet by linking it to American Express prepaid account.
Even if you have the right carrier – Isis works with AT&T(s t), Verizon(s vz) and T-Mobile(s tmus) – the right bank and the right phone, Isis still isn’t just a service you can turn on. You still have to get a special secure SIM from your carrier. I’d love to give Isis a whirl, but while I’m a Verizon customer, I use an iPhone and bank with Citi. I’m not going to jump through any hoops to get access to a service that delivers only incremental value. The plastic and cash in my wallet works just fine.
Still the more Isis’s portfolio of financial institutions, phones and merchants grows, the greater the chance more consumers will have the right combination of factors necessary to make it worthwhile. And for those who do have that right combination, promotions like Wells Fargo’s could go a long way to get them to try out the Isis service.