Mobile Payment Metrics: NTT DoCoMo

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In today’s special Technology Report in Wall Street Journal, the lead article was “What’s New in Wireless,” by Amol Sharma. The article’s main focus is mobile video and advertising, but there are several paragraphs about mobile payments, mentioning the Cingular/AT&T/Citibank cellphone payment trial through MasterCard’s PayPass. The only statistical backup provided was the 1.3 million Japanese mobile users signed up for NTT DoCoMo’s year-old mobile credit-card service .

That number seemed low based on what I’ve been hearing about the popularity of all things mobile in Asia. It turns out the 1+ million number is just DoCoMo’s credit-card slice of the mobile payments pie.

In Japan, per capita credit card usage is just one-seventh that of United States and stored value is much more popular. DoCoMo has 20 million stored-value mobile wallets in place, 15x the number of credit users. The mobile wallet penetration is approximately 40% of DoCoMo’s 52 million wireless subscribers.

That’s a healthy uptake rate for a product that was introduced less than three years ago. Even the year-old mobile credit card adoption is dramatic given the country has just 130 million credit cards outstanding. DoCoMo’s market share is already higher than 1% of total cards outstanding, the equivalent of 8 million accounts in the United Sates.

Interestingly, part of the reason for the popularity of cash replacements in Japan is that the lowest paper-money denomination is 1,000 Yen, or about $8.80, making coins more common and somewhat less convenient for low-value payments compared to the U.S. and its ubiquitous $1 bill. However, the stored-value mobile wallet is expected to eventually become popular in the U.S. once merchant acceptance grows, especially in the youth and underbanked segments with less access to traditional bank cards; but it won’t likely reach current levels of Japanese penetration for another five to seven years


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