Alphabet Inc.’s

Google is trying to draw more people to its payment app and keep them there longer with features such as a reward system, new financial management services and a format for listing payments that evokes text-message conversations.

The Google Pay app will eventually offer Plex, mobile checking and savings accounts being introduced by Google in partnership with 11 banks and credit unions.

“It positions the mobile app and Google Pay to solve for a broader set of a customer’s financial needs beyond payments,” said Ross Cosner, vice president and analyst at Gartner Inc.

Google’s redesigned app, which arrived in November, comes at a time when its digital wallet competitors are rapidly expanding both users and functionality.

PayPal Holdings Inc.

has its own app with features like a payment installment plan, and the company’s peer-to-peer payment system, Venmo, offers check cashing and a physical credit card with a QR code .

Many of these apps also include some of the same features as Google Pay. Venmo provides users a social-media like feed of their friends’ payments, for example, complete with emoji and stickers, and offers a cash-back reward system.

Intuit Inc.’s

Mint offers users insights into their money, such as tracking spending in a certain category.

Google Pay provides users with personalized snapshots in areas such as weekly spending


Alphabet Inc.

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the use of digital wallets on mobile devices and other forms of contactless payments. The number of people using digital wallets at a point-of-sale system is expected to increase to 93 million this year from 86.9 million in 2020, according to June estimates from research firm eMarketer.

The design of the Google Pay app—including illustrations, the threaded payment “conversations,” and a muted color palette—aims to make it feel less transactional and more about building relationships with people and businesses in the app, said Mike Holzer, director of user experience at Google Payments.

“It reflects this very conversational type of interaction,” Mr. Holzer said.

The app also tries to channel the “stories” format of short vertical videos that are popular on social media platforms. The stories-like images offer users a snapshot of coming bills and bank fees. Google Pay has about seven types of these “stories,” which are personalized according to a user’s spending, said a Google spokesperson.

Other options let users connect the app to their Gmail and Google Photos accounts to search for receipts and categorize transactions.

Some of these user experience additions can make the app feel more personal than others, experts say.

Threaded transactions feel chat-based, a design element that many people are familiar with, said Chelsea Matthews, founder and executive creative director at Another

Creative Inc.,

a creative agency. “It feels a bit more native than the way things are very transaction-oriented on Venmo,” she said.

The illustrations in the app are vibrant and give it a more friendly feel than many payment apps, said Jess Jaime, senior designer at Jaime Studio, a design agency.

Google Pay lags behind its more established rivals and the question remains as to whether the new features are enough to help it catch up. The app had 1.35 million average monthly active iOS users in 2020, compared with 26.8 million for Cash App, 13 million for PayPal, and 11.4 million for Venmo, according to Gartner analysis of SensorTower Inc. data of the top five iOS payment apps. Google faces a similar challenge on Android devices, with 1.33 million average monthly active users, compared with 12.4 million for Cash App, 12.2 for PayPal and 10.7 million for Venmo, according to Gartner’s analysis of SensorTower data.

And because Google Pay’s capabilities function best when users allows the app to access their Gmail and Google Photos accounts, it may face additional hurdles, said Jenny Nicholson, executive director, brand experience at McKinney Ventures LLC., an advertising agency.

Google faces a series of antitrust lawsuits, including one filed by the Justice Department in October. Google has responded in posts online, saying its free products help people and small businesses, and that the Justice Department’s suit is “deeply flawed.”

People like that they can use Google for so many purposes but can be nervous about giving up even more information to the company, Ms. Nicholson said. “Does Google have the kind of trust where people want to connect all of their financial information to Google?” she said.

Google Pay’s Mr. Holzer said the app was designed with privacy principles such as transparency and control in mind. The integrations with Gmail and Photos are off by default and need to be activated by users who are interested.

“We have seen from our experience around the world that when we build features that are truly helpful for our users and provide transparent controls for them, adoption does follow,” Mr. Holzer said.

Write to Ann-Marie Alcántara at [email protected]

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