Convenience, the missing link in mobile payment schemes?

Consumers have a dizzying array of options for making purchases via smartphones. The simplest, most ubiquitous solution is the one that will win out.

There are many different special interest groups when it comes to mobile payments – which is why there continues to be so much noise about different "solutions" and why market research firm Gartner thinks it will be a $600 billion annual force to reckon with by 2016. (Triple the revenue expected this year.)

You've got retailers, of course, who are seeking a way to reenergize a sector hard-hit by the global recession.

You've got consumer products companies, who view this as a way of quantifying the millions of dollars (billions?) they spend on advertising and marketing.

You've got the financial services companies, who are salivating at the opportunity for more transaction fees – especially at small merchants that have traditionally relied more on cash.

Oh yes, then there are consumers, who are decidedly fickle about the whole discussion.

The only thing upon which everyone seems to agree is that any mobile payments solution needs to be simple, and pretty much ubiquitous.

The big thing that the latest mobile payments venture revealed this week, called Merchant Customer Exchange, has going for it is that last point – it will be available in a lot of places.

The companies behind the effort (listed on its Web site) include 7-Eleven and its parent company Alon Brands, Best Buy, CVS, Darden Restaurants (aka Red Lobster, Olive Garden or Longhorn Steakhouse), Lowe's, Michaels, Publix, Sears, Shell, Sunoco, Target and Walmart.

Chances are that most Americans shop with at least one of these merchants at least once per week – if not once a day.

And that's one big reason to keep close tabs on the venture, even though other options such as Square ( which just teamed up with Starbucks) , Google Wallet, Isis (which is a venture created from the financial service industry's point of view), or Paypal, which I consider to be one of the most intriguing options given its huge penetration with e-commerce buyers.

There will be a shakeout, for sure, especially since so many options will create confusion. The problems is that all of the interested parties from the business side of things wants to be in charge.

"We're open to all partners, but it has to be beneficial to member merchants in a way that improves the system and doesn't layer on additional costs," Mike Cook, corporate vice president and assistant treasurer at Wal-Mart, told The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) this week.

The retailers have one really big advantage – their huge brands and awareness with traditional "real world" customers. The WSJ figures that they represent combined annual sales of $1 trillion.

"I do believe that retailers are uniquely qualified to address what we believe are consumer desires in this space," Terry Scully, president of Target's financial and retail services, told the WSJ.

[via the Wall Street Journal]

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