A collection of retailers including Rite-Aid and CVS have decided to disable NFC at their payment terminals. As a result, they have disabled Apple Pay functionality, along with Google Wallet (which also allows payments through NFC) as a beneficiary of the decision. They are part of Merchant Customer Exchange, who are working on their own payment system that uses CurrentC, an app currently available in the App Store. If you want to actually use it, you’ll need to wait for an invitation. That hasn’t prevented it from getting review torched by disenfranchised Apple enthusiasts, unhappy with the Apple Pay being turned off. The list of merchants supporting CurrentC is actually quite extensive with well known retailers like Walmart, Best Buy, Dunkin Donuts, Lowes, Kohl’s, Old Navy and more on board. Most of them have never enabled Apple Pay, so they aren’t feeling the wrath of scorned iPhone owners, eager to test payments through their phones. It had presented a unique opportunity for these pharmacies, allowing them to be associated with cutting-edge payments. If you hadn’t visited your local CVS or Rite-Aid recently, Apple gave you a reason to visit your local pharmacy. It’s an opportunity lost on so many levels. So why disable Apple Pay and align yourself with an obscure payment app, that before this weekend, no one has heard of?
Prior to Apple Pay, NFC hadn’t set the mobile payments world on fire. It’s not surprising that retailers were looking for a mobile payment system and MCX solves lots of problems for retailers. By supporting a single third-party app, that can be used across numerous retailers at over 110,000 locations, they’ve got a greater chance of acceptance. Similar to Apple Pay, consumer acceptance is going to be impacted by the number of retailers that are on board.
For this group, it’s much more than offering secure mobile payments. Loyalty cards help retailers better understand and target their customers. If you’ve used a CVS loyalty card, those seemingly never-ending receipts are filled with coupons and promotions targeted to you. This often extends to other forms of marketing that can include snail mail and email. CurrentC is a single app that wraps this sort of targeting with payments. They have your name, address, date of birth, payment method and sales history. The next time you wander into a CVS, presumably they can offer a coupon on your favorite toothpaste or shampoo, all based on your history. Since its tracking payments, it makes it easier to manage a loyalty program. MCE, for their part, also promises merchants an opportunity to wrap payments within their own loyalty apps. From the description, the actual payment process is clunky, compared to what we’ve seen from Apple Pay. You’ll need to open your iPhone, open the app and have them capture a QR code. This is after you setup the app with either a checking or accepted credit card. This all sounds great, if you are the retailer.
Apple Pay is the antithesis of CurrentC. It’s a completely private and secure transaction. Information regarding your purchase isn’t stored, nor is it shared with the retailer. When you make a purchase with Apple Pay, you’re not even transmitting your credit card numbers. Making payments couldn’t be easier. Placing your finger on the Touch ID button near a contactless reader and the payment is made, confirmed by a vibration and beep. Private, secure, fast and convenient. It does one thing and it does it right. This all sounds great, if you are the customer. It’s already seen over 1 million activations in the first 72 hours it was available.
Merchant interests don’t always align with customer interests. That’s not surprising, nor is the initial reaction from Walmart, CVS, Rite-Aid and others. These are big retailers and they build extensive marketing plans around big data. CurrentC expands upon those initiatives and it’s easy to see why merchants may be excited by it’s potential to collect data. The trouble is, it’s not even a working solution. Even if it does get off the ground, what major benefit does it offer consumers. Is it easier to pay for things? Is it more secure than using a credit card? Are customers lining up to share their personal data?
At the same time, early reviews of Apple Pay herald its convenience. It just happens to be the technological byproduct of secure and private transactions. The NFC terminals at stores like CVS and Rite-Aid that work with Apple Pay aren’t new. As soon as Apple Pay started to look as if they were going to be a formidable player in mobile payments, the terminals were shut down. It’s a ringing endorsement for Apple’s payment system. It hasn’t happen in all the years Google Wallet has been supported. I get that loyalty programs are important, but it might be time these retailers to shift gears and not be so focused on creating a single half-baked solution. At a minimum, they should offer their customers a choice. Their goal should be happy customers. Payments that are convenient, secure and private gets that done. That’s the Apple Pay off.
Have you used Apple Pay?