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Back to the Future: Plastic Debit Card for Google Virtual Wallet

Back to the Future: Plastic Debit Card for Google Virtual Wallet
By Barry Levine

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Google's physical debit card for Google Wallet will allow users to get cash back from purchases or from ATMs. But the launch of Google's plastic debit card for its virtual Wallet raises the question whether plastic cards are here to stay, even when virtual, mobile e-commerce, handled mostly through smartphones, really gets going.
 



You know the fast-arriving world of virtual wallets? If Google’s new, physical debit card for its virtual Wallet is any indication, virtual and mobile e-commerce still need plastic.

On Wednesday, Google Wallet Product Manager Sandra Mariano posted on the Google Commerce blog that a new Google Wallet Card will allow money in the Google Wallet to be spent immediately, instead of transferring it to a bank account and waiting for it to show up in youbank balance.

The debit card taps funds in the Wallet, and the implication is that it can be used in the many places that are not yet set up for near field communication (NFC) payments that draw on the Google Wallet by tapping a smartphone to a retailer’s terminal. Additionally, the debit card allows access to ATM machines.

The plastic card can be linked to the Wallet or a bank account, and lets the user swipe the card at any retailer that takes MasterCard. The free card, with no annual or monthly fees, also allows the owner to get cash back from purchases or get cash from a bank. The company said that the card is currently only available in the U.S. and cannot be used abroad.

‘Inertia in Social Systems’

The debit card can be ordered from inside the Wallet app for Android, or from within the Wallet account. Money is added to a Wallet through a linked bank account, a credit/debit card or by someone sending money, such as through Gmail.

Reuters News Service has reported that data from the card’s use will be transmitted to Google to help marketers target ads at that user. The data will include the product or service purchase, the transaction amount and the seller’s address.

The launch of the card raises the question whether plastic cards are here to stay, even when virtual, mobile e-commerce, handled mostly through smartphones, really gets going.

Roger Kay, an analyst with industry research firm Endpoint Technologies Association, noted that there is still “inertia in the social systems” that is likely to keep plastic cards around for at least some time. But, he added, it’s not a function of moving money from the Wallet to the bank account, as there should be no technical impediment to a fast transfer.

The Coin Card

Kay noted that the evolution of plastic-less mobile e-commerce could resemble the movement toward EZ Pass automatic toll payment, where a small square of plastic on the dashboard of a card allows a driver to drive through a toll booth without stopping. He noted that it took him some time to adopt EZ Pass, but now he’s a big fan.

But the standing question is whether a plastic credit card just feels more like having a money instrument than, say, tapping a retailer’s terminal with your smartphone. Earlier this month, a new startup called Coin attracted a great deal of attention with the announcement of pre-sales of its black credit card, which contains a small digital display and can assume the identity of up to eight credit or loyalty cards.

Interestingly, the Coin card, which costs $100, requires the user to first transfer the credit cards to an app on a smartphone, via a card-reading dongle. Once there, the user could potentially use the smartphone in place of the cards, but the startup apparently believes users prefer an all-in-one plastic card.
 

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