Android Pay in Russia, Apple Pay adds Gift Cards

Android Pay, Alphabet’s (NASDAQ: GOOG) mobile wallet is scheduled to debut in Russia sometime in 2017.

All Android-based smartphones in Russia that are equipped with near field communication (NFC) chips will be equipped with Android Pay, Sputnik reported. No specific date was mentioned for the roll out.

Several Russian banks including Alfa-Bank, B&N Bank, Raiffeisen Bank and Tinkoff Bank will support Android Pay, Sputnik reported. The website did not say whether credit cards will support Android Pay in Russia.

Apple Pay premiered in Russia in October and Samsung Pay in December making Android Pay the third NFC-based mobile wallet available in the Russian Federation. Sputnik did not say whether Android Pay will be available all over the nation or mention which retailers will take it.

If the reports are true Russia would be the ninth country after the United States, United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Poland, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand where Android Pay is available. One reason why Android Pay is in Russia is that nation’s central bank has been more willing to work with payment apps than some.

Closer to home Android Pay users might soon be able to use the app to buy shoes at Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) subsidiary One has to wonder if this means, Android Pay will be coming to Amazon. That would be a huge coup for Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOGL) because Amazon has refused to accept any mobile wallet even PayPal.

In the brick and mortar realm, Android Pay users can now buy gas at ARCO filling stations.

Apple Pay Adds Gift Cards

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) is trying to expand Apple Pay’s capabilities by partnering with the gift card provider Blackhawk Network (NASDAQ: HAWK).

Blackhawk sells gift cards through and for a wide variety of companies including Kroger, Safeway, Lowe’s, Target, The Home Depot, eBay, Facebook, Visa, Britain’s Tesco, and Verizon. Since some of those companies currently refuse to take Apple Pay this might indicate that Apple is trying to work with them.

If all goes as planned; Apple Pay users will be able to load gift cards into the app by simply snapping a picture of them with an iPhone camera, Blackhawk’s Chief Marketing Officer Teri Llach told Mobile Payments Today. Apple and Blackhawk will also work directly with merchants to integrate loyalty cards with Apple Pay.

Is Apple Pay Coming to Kroger and Safeway?

That might be a move to get America’s two largest supermarket operators Kroger and Safeway to accept Apple Pay. Both Kroger (NYSE: KR) and Safeway rely heavily on loyalty cards to drive new business.

Kroger’s popular loyalty card program provides customers with a wide variety of discounts; and lets them save up to $1 a gallon on fuel at convenience stores and supermarket fuel centers. The discount is based on the amount a customer spends at a Kroger store, currently Kroger gives one point for every dollar spent. Kroger owns several of America’s top supermarket brands including; Ralphs, King Soopers, Harris-Teeter, Pick n’ Save, Fred Meyer, Lucky’s and Smiths.

That means it might be possible to use Kroger or Safeway fuel points through Apple Pay in the near future. It might also mean that customers will automatically receive value card and coupon discounts at the register by using Apple Pay. More importantly customers would be able to accumulate points by simply using Apple Pay at Safeway or Kroger.

Since neither Safeway nor Kroger has made an announcement on this, it might be a while away but it is an exciting possibility. One new retailer Giant Food Stores; a subsidiary of the Dutch Ahold which operates supermarkets in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, is now accepting Apple Pay. Giant also operates the Martin’s and Stop & Shop chains.

There is no word on whether Android and will follow Apple’s lead and partner with Blackhawk but it is quite likely. The use of gift cards would enable both mobile apps to serve the 7% of Americans that lack bank accounts. It will also help them fend off the challenge from store based payment apps like Walmart Pay and bank-owned apps like Chase Pay.