Walmart, Target others team to offer mobile payments network

Retailers will compete with mobile operators and Google for US mobile wallet dominance

More that a dozen retailers including Best Buy, Walmart, Target and 7-Eleven have joined forces to form the Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX), a mobile-payments network that will compete with Google and Isis.

The retailers claim that they are better suited than mobile operators and OS developers to develop a successful mobile-payment system.

No launch date was given for the exchange, which was announced Wednesday, but development of MCX's mobile application is underway. It will be available through virtually any smartphone, according to a statement from the merchants. MCX is not yet saying which payment technologies it will use, but that information will be provided in the near future, according to a spokesman.

Like their competitors, the retailers plan to combine their mobile wallet with targeted offers and promotions that will be available through smartphones.

MCX will enter an increasingly crowded U.S. market for mobile payments using Near-Field Communications (NFC) and other methods. The two main competitors for MCX are Google Wallet and Isis, which is backed by AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless.

Even more contenders are expected to enter the space, including Apple, according to Windsor Holden, research director with Juniper Research.

"There is no question that Apple will come out with some form of contactless payment technology," Holden said.

It remains to be seen whether the company will opt for NFC or something else, he said.

That the retailers are getting involved with their own offering doesn't come as a surprise, according to Holden. There is an undeniable momentum behind utilizing the mobile payments and no one wants to be left out of a new revenue stream, he said.

Google Wallet was launched last year and can be used at over 140,000 merchants where MasterCard PayPass is accepted. To get the wallet, users need a compatible phone such as the Galaxy Nexus on Sprint, AT&T or T-Mobile or the Samsung Galaxy S III also on Sprint.

Recently, Google launched a cloud version of its mobile-wallet application and also added new security features to the system.

Google's rollout has had a few hiccups. Earlier this year, it suspended the prepaid capabilities on credit cards linked to its mobile wallet after a security flaw was exposed.

Isis, meanwhile, hasn't launched its mobile wallet yet. It has said that this summer, consumers in Austin, Texas, and Salt Lake City, Utah, will be able to start using the service.

HTC, LG, Motorola Mobility, Reserach In Motion, Samsung Electronics and Sony have all stated that they will offer smartphones compatible with Isis.

At this point, the availability of different mobile wallets isn't necessarily a bad thing, because it will raise more attention and the mobile money market needs that right now. Consumer awareness is extremely low, according to Windsor.

However, in the long run there likely won't be room for so many different products that aren't interoperable.

"As soon as you have mass interoperability, that's when you have the opportunity for something to really take off," Windsor said.

The system with the easiest-to-use product and whose backers are the most successful at educating users will be the winner, Windsor said.

The companies pushing mobile payments are competing for a big market. The scale of global mobile-payment transactions is expected to rise nearly fourfold over the next five years to more than US$1.3 trillion, according to Juniper Research.


Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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