WalMart leads latest m-payments initiative

Store giant joins with two dozen US retailers to take leadership of NFC wave away from Google and Isis

Mobile payments’ progress has been held back by the sheer number of vested interests battling to take the upper hand in driving the platform. This is seen best in the US, where the main parties each have one or more initiatives – three of the top four cellcos in Isis; Google Wallet; schemes led by the credit card giants such as Visa; and separate programs by PayPal and others. Now the retailers, too, want a say, and about 25 stores, including Walmart and Target, have formed a consortium to develop their own m-payment system.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, citing several unidentified sources with direct knowledge of the deal, the retailers are eager to limit the influence of either Google or the operators in this area. They would have various advantages in bringing store-based mobile payments, such as NFC-enabled systems, to market. They have an existing trusted brand for consumers, and would get round one of the major blocks in NFC’s path – merchant indifference or unwillingness to deploy terminals.

There are few details as yet, but Target said in a statement to the WSJ: “We are exploring potential solutions that would help us to deliver the fastest, most secure mobile-payment experience possible for our customers.”

However, Google claims 22 large US retail chains now support its Wallet initiative, even though that suffered recently from security issues, and is available only on the Sprint network and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus handset. Google is working with MasterCard and its PayPass network, while Isis is working with most of the major card processors, including Visa, MasterCard and Amex, and will start trials of its services this year.

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Mobile payments at retail to explode.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt is bullish on the growth of mobile payments in the coming year.

Speaking at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity today, Schmidt said he believes one-third of all restaurants and retail outlets will allow for mobile payments within the next year, the Financial Times reports him as saying. He reportedly told those in attendance that that number should be enough for widespread adoption of mobile payments.

“I judge that based on how long I think it takes, because the terminals are available now, the software is available now or this summer,” the Financial Times reported Schmidt as saying. “How long does it take an infrastructure player to upgrade a significant percentage of their infrastructure–it’s on the order of a year, it’s not a week, it’s not a month but it’s also not five years. It’s an educated guess.”

Schmidt, who stepped down as Google CEO in April, has a vested interest in seeing more establishments allow for mobile payments. Late last month, his company unveiled Google Wallet, a service that uses near-field communication (NFC) to let users pay for purchases with their Android-based devices. Google said it will be partnering initially with Sprint, MasterCard, Citi, and FirstData on the service.

Google Wallet will be available on the Nexus S and will work with “a PayPass-eligible Citi MasterCard and a virtual Google Prepaid card.” The search giant was quick to point out that there are currently more than 124,000 PayPass-enabled merchants in the U.S. and more than 311,000 operating around the world.

Google said last month that all future Android smartphones will be NFC-compatible. Rumors suggest the next iPhone will also feature NFC technology.

But as Schmidt pointed out today, support for NFC in devices is just one piece of the mobile-payment puzzle; payment processors must also double down on the technology. However, Schmidt isn’t worried about that happening for one major reason: “fraud rates are so much lower” with the use of NFC, he said.

“Nobody knows how quickly this will occur,” Schmidt said of credit card companies updating payment terminals with mobile-payment support, “but it’s in their interests to convert as fast as they humanly can.”

 

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