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Home Depot’s In-Store PayPal: Mobile Without The Mobile

January 11th, 2012

But this really depends on how those 400 employees are being used. On the low end of that range of activities is an interesting notion: What if PayPal is using its own salaried people overwhelmingly to act as beta testers? This would enable PayPal to have hundreds of beta testers who test the system in the exact ways IT wants them to and requires them to make detailed—and precisely formatted—reports back to headquarters. It would be an IT director’s fantasy: hundreds of beta testers who follow all procedures and who can be fired if they don’t.

If the Home Depot locations are chosen well, the PayPal employees could be mostly local to the stores, too.

On the other extreme, many of the employees could be assigned to performing active support for the trial. Even if most are being used in this way, that’s hardly overkill. Consider the elements: it’s Home Depot, which means attention to detail and quick problem resolution is important; it’s the first attempt and will, therefore, be a place to bring others to visit; it’s the first, so that will means tons of lessons learned that will be applicable to every other PayPal wallet effort; and it’s reasonable that as it is opened to consumers, Home Depot will be disinclined to dedicate any staff to handhold customers. That duty will need to fall to the PayPal team.

One PayPal person said the teams will not necessarily be evenly distributed to each store, so some stores may be assigned fewer than 20 people. If you want staff there during all consumer-facing shifts, the number looks even less large.

The initial plan is for this to be opened.

Even though the Home Depot trial does not require a phone, it acts as a nice sales tool. Customers who do opt to use their phone number and PIN will be able to use them to interact with PayPal’s wallet. It’s not unreasonable to think that some of those customers will take the next step and download the PayPal wallet to a smartphone.

There’s also a very Home Depot-specific payment effort at play here. Accepting PayPal payments could be a test to see whether the retailer could eventually get out of the grip of Visa and MasterCard.

It’s true today that most PayPal transactions are backed up a payment card associated with Visa or MasterCard, but it’s not universal. With PayPal acting as a buffer, Home Depot could slowly put some distance in its Visa relationship. Merely the fact that it could do such a thing might be sufficient to pressure Visa to negotiate more reasonably.

This is all one of the subtexts behind Google Wallet, PayPal’s wallet, Square and even ISIS. Square explicitly is setting itself up as the merchant of record with the various card brands. This means a retailer could—under very specific circumstances, such as only accepting Square Card Case, cash or checks—avoid PCI requirements and, therefore, also avoid the interactions with the card brands. The same could presumably be done by Google Wallet, PayPal’s wallet and others.

Baby steps can be very appropriate in retail. After all, these mobile wallets will likely soon grow up—and then the real joy starts.


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