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In yet another indication that the world’s largest digital store is seriously interested in real-world commerce, Amazon has released a beta of its first mobile digital wallet.

Available since late last week at the Amazon Appstore and the Google Play marketplace, this first version — for the Fire and Android smartphones — only offers the ability to store and organize virtual gift, membership, or loyalty cards. No credit cards or debit cards, and no mobile commerce.

Like Apple’s Passbook, it’s intended right now only to reduce physical wallet clutter by allowing a user to scan or enter a real card’s info so it can be stored digitally. A user can also add virtual cards through the website, and they’ll appear in the wallet. The site-based Wallet does allow management of credit and debit cards or checking accounts, but only for use on Amazon.

Why would Amazon release such a bare-bones mobile version?

“From our point of view, [the beta version is] a sensible move,” Gartner research VP for banking Alistair Newton told VentureBeat, because “targeting loyalty over payment for digital wallets in the physical world is something that Gartner has been calling out for some time.”

The reasoning: A customer will only have a limited number of payment cards but could have dozens and dozens of loyalty cards.

“Do they get more value from storing those additional loyalty cards on their device rather than the payment cards?” he asked, adding, “The likely answer is yes.”

Parks Associates’ analyst Tejas Mehta, however, sees this beta version as testing the waters for mobile transactions — plus adding functionality for Amazon’s new Fire phone, where the wallet will come pre-installed.

“The launch of Fire smartphone heralded Amazon’s entry into mobile commerce,” Mehta told us, “and [with] a digital payments app Amazon can be in a position to offer an integrated user experience across the online, mobile, and offline retail space.”

If “digital wallet” also means some form of payment, one immediate comparison is to Google Wallet.

“Google Wallet is challenged across a number of areas,” Newton told us, “not least [being] a pretty unsustainable business case.”

Amazon’s Wallet thus far, he said, “appears to be simple and focused on a specific customer need — that is, help manage loyalty applications.”

“Personally, I’d have the greater need for the Amazon product over Google Wallet,” Newton said. “That is, of course, if I [hadn’t] already shuffled all my loyalty cards onto [Apple’s] Passbook.”


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